Snake Guards the Answer

The garter snake on the palm of my hand looks at me with round black eyes. His forked tongue flicks in and out. At eye level, we regard each other. Then, satisfied, he crawls across my hand and onto my forearm. I marvel at the way his cool belly scales undulate in wave-like rhythm. Could this snake on my arm feel my pulse, as it feels the pulse of the earth?

Snakes may well be the animal that elicits the widest range of responses from people. Snakes are associated with some of the oldest known rituals, and have been regarded as healer and destroyer, guardian and betrayer, good and evil, life and death. Mystical and mysterious, snakes appear as powerful symbols in religious traditions and mythologies around the world. They can appear as real snakes, or as magical dragons and sea serpents.

The Hindu deity, Lord Shiva “the destroyer,” is shown with a Cobra around his neck. The Hindu god Lord Vishnu, “the preserver,” rests on a seven-headed snake.

In Norse mythology, the serpent Nidhogg or “dreadbiter,” coils around and is forever trying to destroy the World Tree Yggdrasill.

Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of Toltec and Aztec mythology, is the god of intelligence and self-reflection, and patron of priests. He is a primordial god of creation and giver of life.

Readers of the Harry Potter stories will be familiar with the Basilisk, a European serpent with a dragon’s body that can kill just by its glance or breath.

In Greek mythology, a glimpse of the gorgon Medusa, with venomous snakes instead of hair, could turn people to stone. Yet a snake wrapped round the staff of Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing, is today the symbol of medicine and healing.

The stepped architecture of their temples and monuments reflects the three-level universe of the Incas: Condor rules the upper world (heaven), Puma rules the middle world (earth), and Serpent rules the underworld.

The Hindu and Yogic concept of Kundalini (a Sanskrit word meaning “coiling like a snake”) refers to spiritual awakening, as life force energy coils up the spinal column through the seven energy centers (chakras).

In Judeo-Christian traditions, the snake is regarded as evil, having tempted Adam and Eve with the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). It is interesting to note that the serpent in the Garden could speak. Some Christian Gnostic sects, though, honored the snake as a liberator who brought knowledge and the wisdom of Sofia to Adam and Eve, and thus helped them become fully human.

Snakes are seen world-wide as symbols of fertility and creative life force. They shed their skin in a recurring cycle of growth and transformation. A snake’s skin and eyes become cloudy before the shed, and are shiny afterwards – rejuvenation.

This cycle is shown in the Ouroboros symbol – a serpent forming a circle and swallowing its own tail. This circular symbol represents the cycles of life, eternity, continual renewal of life, and the soul of the world.

How does Snake itself feel about the widely divergent ways in which it is viewed? In meditation, I asked for a representative of the Snake people to speak with me. Snake answered,

“We are what people need us to be – destroyer, nurturer, vengeful, gateway, guide to other realms. We are the tunnel from one realm to another. Traverse at your own risk. We are birth, life, death, rebirth, in a continuous cycle. People fear the part that is unseen, the dark, underground, yet that is where transformation takes place. We shed our skin and are vulnerable in the process. The old is cast off, a visible sign of releasing what no longer serves, what restricts growth. Growth happens. Traveling belly to the earth lets us sense vibration and move in harmony with it. It is not to fear us, but to respect us. Meditate on the Ouroboros, be open to change.”

Cycles and change. They happen whether we’re comfortable with them or not. Teachers have told me to walk toward that which I fear, or that makes me uncomfortable. Dive through the circle of the Ouroboros. Somewhere between the polarities with which Snake is regarded, there is Truth. Each of us must find it for ourselves.

Sources:
http://www.wildlifesos.org/rescue/reptiles/snake-facts-myths
http://www.religioustolerance.org/gnostic2.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_%28symbolism%29
http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Sa-Sp/Serpents-and-Snakes.html
Garter snake photo: http://www.gartersnake.org/pictures.htm
Ouroboros image: http://www.google.com/search

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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