Monday, September 2, 2013

Snake Medicine

Movement is my medicine. Rhythm is our universal mother tongue. It’s the language of the soul. —Gabrielle Roth

I am feeling snake energy today. Rattlesnake energy. It is very deep.

I'm remembering a time when I was a young girl running around our woods with two of my younger sisters. I heard that unmistakable sound—a sound we had been trained to recognize—that dry-grass sound of a rattler curled up and ready to strike. 

I sent my sisters home. "Run!" I cried. 

When they were safely gone, and I was alone in the deep dark woods except for the trees and other wild things—including this rattler—I stepped carefully toward the sound, parting the plants around me like I was opening a curtain to witness a great mystery. And there she was, wound up like a gorgeous plump spring, three coils deep at least, the end of her tail moving so fast I could barely see it, her tongue quickly flicking in and out as she watched me. 

I was in awe.

I may have nodded to the snake. I may have just slowly backed away before turning and running home. I know my heart was beating in my throat from the thrill and fear of it. I can't remember if I told my father once I got home.

My father was a rattlesnake killer. He didn't like to kill, but he had five children. He felt he had to protect us from creatures who could kill us. I had seen him raise the shovel up and bring it down on a rattler more than once, severing the head from the rest of the body. He had told us to come get him if we ever saw a rattlesnake.

My mother was terrified of snakes. All snakes. She couldn’t even look at a photograph of a snake. When trucks graded our dirt road, the snakes would come up out of the ditches and into our big front yard. Many of these snakes were rattlers. We had to stay up on the porch until the snakes could find their way back to the ditches. 

Everyone was glad when they finally paved the road.

I took on many of my mother’s fears and illnesses, but I’ve never been afraid of snakes. Of course I’m startled when one seems come out of nowhere and slither too close and too suddenly. But then I want to follow it, I want to emulate it, and I want to dance its Earthly dance. 

Although snakes are living, breathing, amazing creatures on their own, for me, they are symbolic of the goddess or of women as divine. I remember the moment in my life when I suddenly realized that Eve had been thrown from paradise because she sought KNOWLEDGE from the serpent: the wisdom of the body. The snake was reconnecting Eve with her inherent bodily knowledge. Where was the sin in THAT? God preferred us stupid?

For a gal who was raised Catholic, this was quite a revelation.

Snakes are still near and dear to me. A few years ago, we traveled to the thousand year old Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, and I communed with the serpent and the surrounding lands. Years later, we named our publishing company Green Snake Publishing. And in The Salmon Mysteries: A guidebook to a reimagining of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Snake is an important guide to the initiates and to the goddess Demeter. In The Salmon Mysteries, Demeter calls upon Snake for help when she doesn’t know the way. Snake dances the way. She embodies it: Snake is the embodiment of the female shaman.

That summer afternoon when I walked toward the sound of the deadly rattler, I was completely in my body. I understood the possible consequences of what I was doing. But it didn’t matter. I was hearing the call to the wild. I was hearing, “Let’s start this dance, sister.” And so I gazed at the serpent. I gazed at my own mortality. Maybe I understood on some level that by stepping forward, I was asking for it: for the secret, the knowledge, the mystery.

We are reading and performing the rituals and ceremonies of The Salmon Mysteries this year. We haven’t gotten to the Day of the Snake yet, but Snake came to me this morning in the form of memories. I spent the night sick, uncomfortable in my own skin, wanting to shed this part of me that just can’t seem to...heal or be healed. I wasn’t bereft or frightened like I often am when these episodes happen, but by dawn, I was pissed. Even though this has been my life for nearly thirty years, I refuse to see this as my life. Yes, it happened. Yes, it IS happening, but THIS is not who I am. 

When I went to the Great Serpent Mound in 2001, I meditated while I sat next to the grass-covered snake effigy. I was exhausted and may have fallen asleep or into a kind of trance. I heard women laughing, although I didn’t see anyone else. By this time in my life, I had been chronically ill for many years, and I just wanted to be well. As I meditated (or slept), a giant snake rose up from the ground. The snake said to me, “You have the mark of the python.” 

I remember thinking, “There are no pythons in North America. Sheesh.” (I can be very literal.) 

“Accept your serpent qualities,” Snake said. “Snake healing is transformative—like what’s happening with your father.”

At that time, my father was having an allergic reaction to a medication, and he was shedding his skin. (They didn’t know it was the medication, although I had urged him to go back to the doctor and find out what the hell was wrong. He ended up in the hospital after he started to go into shock.) Everywhere he went, he left behind patches of his skin... 

I didn’t know what the snake meant when it said I had the mark of the python on me (or how transformative snake medicine related to me), but I hoped it meant I would soon be transformed into a healthy person.

That did not happen.

When I finally went to sleep this morning, I dreamed I was dead. I was walking around as a ghost, haunting someone or someplace.

That is what it feels like when one is chronically ill. Or at least, that is what I often feel like, although I hadn’t thought of it that way until I had the dream. I can no longer remember who I was before I got sick. Trying to hold on tight, trying to survive, takes every ounce of my energy. When I look at what I am able to do beyond that, I think, “You are a fucking Amazon, woman.” 

Despite hanging on by my fingernails, I create. I love. I am. Even if I’m not certain who that I am is. 

I am that I am?

Ahhh, I started this essay hours ago. The day is almost done now. What does it all mean?

I’m not sure. 

I started this essay feeling like I was going to strike out today. At someone. It felt necessary. 

Between that time and this, I’ve written a little. I’ve danced a little. I’ve gone outside and stood barefoot on the Earth. I took some snake skin I have, and I wrapped it around my arms as I danced. (I became the Minoan Snake Goddess!) 

I no longer feel like striking out. 

But I do feel like shedding this skin of suffering. 

Not sure about the way to do this. Thinking I need a map. Maybe I’ll do a little snake dance, and in the end, my feet will reveal the map to me.

We’ll see.

I’m ready for some transformation.


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