I slide along
with my scales.
You must listen closely
to hear my sibilant song
for there is Wisdom
in each of my tales.
Watch your step!
Know well what risk you take!
Without warning I might…
the hand that saved me
with Forbidden Knowledge
with steady eye
across the field of battle.
Surrender to your inner voice.
within your grasp,
how you live is,
always a choice.
the strength of the Sun,
with coiled patience remember…
For those new to this game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant, element, etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing?
“In the field of true spirituality, Experience serves as breakfast; Realization as lunch; Transformation as dinner.” Sri Chinmoy
“That’s the thing with magic. You’ve got to know it’s still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.” Charles De Lint
“… As soon as it touched his tongue he heard outside his window a strange chorus of delicate voices. He went and listened, and found that it was the sparrows talking together, and telling each other all they had seen in the fields and woods. The virtue of the snake had given him power to understand the speech of animals.” The White Snake by the Brothers Grimm
Snakes have been feared and revered for centuries in any culture that has encountered them. Fascinating and resilient creatures, snakes are scaled, elongated, limbless reptiles from the Order Squamata, Sub-Order Serpentes. Serpent, another name for a snake, comes from the word serp or herp which translates roughly as “to creep”. Because their skeletal system is relatively delicate and fragile it is extremely difficult to track them through fossil records for anything like a close time of appearance in evolution. It is generally accepted that they descended from burrowing lizards, varanids or something similar. Pythons, boas, and other snakes still show vestigial limbs leftover from the long ago days when snakes had limbs.
There are over 2000 species of snake worldwide, all of which are carnivorous. Depending on the snake and its environment they might feed on: other snakes, lizards, rodents, small mammals, frogs and other amphibians, birds, eggs, fish, or insects. Some snakes are venomous, others kill their prey by constricting them in their coils, and some simple swallow their prey while still alive. Snakes have very flexible mouths, and numerous skull joints that allow them to swallow food much larger than themselves. They become torpid after eating, and usually crawl off to a safe and quiet spot to digest.
As reptiles, they are cold-blooded and more active in warmer temperatures, and it is common for them to regurgitate their prey if they are disturbed after a meal in order to make a quicker getaway. It is not uncommon for snakes to die from attempting to eat something too large or too active for them to handle. Any plant matter accidentally consumed will be passed without being digested. It is very rare for a snake to deliberately attack a human, although small children have from time to time been consumed. On the whole, they prefer to avoid us.
“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little the truth we find bitter” Denis Diderot
“I believe that it is essential to appreciate our potential as human beings and recognize the importance of inner transformation.” ~HH Dalai Lama
“Ive always liked reptiles. I used to see the universe as a mammoth snake, and I used to see all the people and objects, landscapes, as little pictures in the facets of their scales. I think peristaltic motion is the basic life movement. Swallowing.” Jim Morrison
Snake skin is scaled, smooth and dry. Most snakes have specialized belly scales that help them to move in their environment. Their eyelids are transparent scales that stay permanently closed. Unlike other reptiles, when growing snakes shed their skin they peel it off in one piece. If you see a snake rubbing its nose on a rock or root, it is trying to begin the shedding process. This renewing/re-birthing process is what brings the snake its symbolism for renewal, rebirth, healing and powerful medicine. In snakes with rattles, their rattles are formed by this process are are actually old dry scales that they do not shed. Their age can often be closely guessed at by counting the number of rattles. Shedding is a dangerous process for snakes and if they do not shed their old skin properly or under the right conditions it may result in injury, death or blindness.
Snake vision is unexceptional to poor, but they do all sense movement which often triggers their predator response. Some snakes even have infra-red sensors in their nostril grooves and eyes which allows them to track their prey by body heat. Snakes do not have visible ears but they do have a bone, the quadrate, underneath their skin on either side of their head which focuses sounds into their cochlea. Their sense of smell is their most keenly developed sense and they smell by tasting the air with their forked tongues. The forked design also helps them determine the smells direction.
Being in close contact with the ground, they are very sensitive to vibration. Most snakes reproduce through internal fertilization and the laying of eggs, and most snakes do not raise their young. Some rare few carry their young until they are almost ready to hatch, and it has recently been discovered that some, such as the green anaconda, have live births instead of eggs.
“If you are bitten by a snake, what’s the best thing to do? Remain calm, separate the poison from the rest of your body, suck the poison out. Worst thing to do: get upset, chase and kill snake. Same when someone strikes out at you verbally. Remain calm, don’t try to strike back at the other person. Don’t let the poison spread throughout your system.” Unknown
“The more hidden the venom, the more dangerous it is.” Marguerite de Valois
Snakes are typically venomous rather than poisonous. Perhaps a fine distinction, venom is injected where poison is ingested, inhaled or of a contact variety. Keelback snakes found in southeast Asia retain the toxin from the poisonous toads they eat which they then secrete to ward off predators. Snake venoms differ and can affect the body in a variety of ways. Some attack the nervous system or the circulatory system, and others bind irreversibly with their prey’s nicotinic acetylcholine receptor in the brain causing paralysis, respiratory failure and death. Some venomous snakes secrete their poison directly from their fangs, which makes them very effective predators.
“Acknowledging our inner divinity as a step on the path to embodying it is not to be confused with narcissism or individualism, since we must further admit that everyone’s divine birthright is the same limitless creational potential of unconditional love.” Sol Luckman
“Meditation is not an escape. Meditation is the acceptance of life in its totality, with a view to transforming it for the highest manifestation of the divine Truth here on earth” Sri Chinmoy
“You and I are the force for transformation in the world. We are the consciousness that will define the nature of the reality we are moving into.” Ram Dass
In many cultures the consumption of snakemeat is a medicinal treatment or a spiritual empowerment. Snakes have been associated with Thoth, Apep, Medusa, Hercules, Perseus, Hermes, Bacchus, Shiva, Vishnu, Wadjet, Buto,Quetzalcoatl, Apollo, Kebechet, Athirat and many other deities, especially those associated with healing. Naga is the Sanskrit word for a deity or being that takes on the form of a snake. Nag and Nagina from the Rudyard Kipling tale of “Rikki Tikki Tavi” is drawn directly from this word, for in India the King Cobra male is called Nag and the female, Nagi.
In that story, Nag recounts the tale of how they shaded the lord Brahma, a Hindu god of healing and one of the aspects of the Vishnu/Shiva trinity, from the sun. In gratitude Brahma marked the cobras with the spectacle mark on their hoods to show that they were favored by him. There is a yearly festival devoted to the veneration of snakes called Nag Panchami. For all their Underworld connections throughout history, Snakes are most definitely seen as fiery in element. Perhaps it is their love of the Sun’s warmth that brought this connection, or perhaps it was the understanding that deep within the Earth, there is a powerful well of fire.
Even J.K. Rowling’s villain, Lord Voldemort, appears snake-like and keeps a giant snake named Nagini! The Midgard Serpent holds all the World in it’s coils and it’s constriction is said to herald Ragnarok. The Ouroboros, a snake swallowing it’s own tail, is a symbol of eternity, balance, and the cycle of life, death and rebirth that brings immortality. This symbol has been associated with many religions and cultures.
Snakes have an undeniable connection to all manner of healing, and continue to act as symbols of the medical profession today. Kundalini is a Sanskrit word which translates as “coiled up” or “coiled like a snake”. Kundalini comes from yogic philosophy of ancient India and refers to “serpent power”, the awakening of balanced power within the self. Balanced and properly opened Chakras with regular meditation opens one to the sensation of Kundalini, an untapped powerful creative force that uncoils in stages and can be felt as energy moving from the base to the apex of the spine. In it’s fullest force, it would likely feel as if you had become a volcano of creative fire.
When we experience and understand all levels of healing Kundalini though, we become powerful spiritually awakened beings. This goal might take a lifetime, or we might connect to it within minutes. Everyone’s journey is different. Interestingly enough the concept of Kundalini is also found in Red Tail Hawk Totem. Red tails include snakes in their menu and are one of the balancing energies for Snake Totem. I believe that when the majority of Humanity finally achieves an awakened state, we will change our World in a most profound and constructive way that has never truly been seen before.
“If every day is an awakening, you will never grow old. You will just keep growing.” Gail Sheehy
“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting and painful.” Adrienne Rich
In some Native traditions a Medicine Woman is called a Snake Skirt, and balanced Snake people are honored for their connection to this powerful and healing Teacher. In one tale a person encounters a snake. Sometimes the snake is wounded and in other tellings the snake is fine but asks for help in reaching the top of the mountain. The kind person assists the snake only to be bitten, often fatally, in the end. “You knew what I was when you picked me up.” is usually the snakes answer to why he bit the person who did nothing but good to him. Whether you are the snake or the helping individual, this is a good lesson!
In Islam, Christianity and Judaism the Snake appears in the book of Genesis to tempt Adam and Eve with the Forbidden Fruit if Knowledge. Yet, God turned the staff of Moses into a snake as a sign of his power, and Moses later made a sacred object called Nehustan, a bronze pole with a snake on it, which had great healing powers and saved the Israelites from snake bites.
The serpent has even represented Christ the Redeemer who asked us to “be as wise as the snake and gentle as the dove”! I was never content with the notion that the Snake was some evil being who tricked Adam and Eve without the Creator’s knowledge. All things are, ultimately, as Creator made them. It is up to humanity to individually and collectively choose to live in a fit manner. Snake reminds us that we must shed many times and make many more transformations than just from egg to snake before we are truly Awakened.
“A kind word can attract even the snake from his nest.” Saudi Arabian Proverb
“New ideas stir from every corner. The show up disguised innocently as interruptions, contradictions and embarrassing dilemmas. Beware of total strangers and friends alike who shower you with comfortable sameness, and remain open to those who make you uneasy, for they are the true messengers of the future.” Rob Lebow
“The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.” Lao Tzu
Well balanced Snake people that I have encountered fostered a great love of knowledge, especially ancient and hidden truths. They tend to take a concept and not so much chew on it, but swallow it whole and then linger in contemplation over the subject for extended periods. Balanced Snake people don’t like to be rushed, and can be easily startled if they are lost in their own contemplations. If pushed too far by the perceived bad behavior of another, they will not hesitate to lash back in a quick decisive manner. While Snake people tend to prefer sitting back in quiet observation, when they choose to speak, they do so powerfully.
It is important to remember that the flexibility of the limbless Snake provides this Teacher with food as well as protecting itself. Remaining flexible while walking the path of this life is a tremendous asset in almost any situation. Snake people don’t require much food to keep themselves physically sustained, may enter into periods of metaphoric hibernation, and typically prefer warm and sunny weather over cold and snow.
Unbalanced Snake people I have encountered have generally displayed the worst traits associated with this Teacher; malicious or even pathological liars, cold-hearted, self-centered to the point of egomania, horrible communicators who could not open their mouths without saying exactly the right thing to anger or upset those around them, users, abusers, or thieves of material things as well as delighting in robbing others of their mental, emotional, spiritual or physical well-being!
Because of these encounters, it has been difficult for me to be as open to this Teacher’s many excellent qualities and lessons as I would like to be. I struggle not to be resentful of these misguided people who have a skewed vision of Snake’s lessons, and to remember that this wise and wonderful Teacher is not to blame for the choices of individuals who are drawn to them. We live in a time when people in general have isolated themselves from Nature, and typically live out of harmony with the World on a daily basis. It only makes sense that the majority are going to be displaying unbalanced energy and actions, whomever their guides in this life are meant to be. The magical Snake has many vital lessons to teach us, and we should try to receive them without the bias of personal baggage.
“Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for though art crunchy and taste good with ketchup.” Unknown
“You helped yourself. In doing so, you helped me, and now it’s time to be truly brave.” Puff the Magic Dragon
“I stopped when I smelled the magic. It was strong magic. Old magic. And it carried a faint scent of the sea.” Dragon of the Lost Sea, Laurence Yep
Snakes are also linked to Dragons, which are elemental creatures who carry all the lessons of snake plus their own potent individual lessons. These powerful creatures have inspired people for centuries. There are countless stories woven around them, and the study of them is an ever unfolding journey.
In the Chinese Zodiac those born in the years 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989 and 2001 were all born under the sign of the Snake. In that culture, Snake people are believed to be soft-spoken, graceful, deep thinkers, shrewd, mystical, wise, ambitious, cautious, purposeful and creative. They can also be loners, bad communicators, possessive, distrustful, deceitful and hedonistic. This matches fairly well with the general opinion of Snake people in other cultures too. The lines between Snakes, Lizards, Toads, and Dragons have often been blurred throughout history, and those interested in one of these totems would be wise to examine them all.
For a recent literary example, in Laurence Yep’s “Dragon of the Lost Sea” we learn of the most prized of dragon possessions, the fabled Dragon Pearl… much like the stone of wisdom once believed to be contained within the head of every toad. For an ancient example, examine the many depictions of Ouroboros and you may be surprised at how often this mystical symbol of eternity and balance is shown as a dragon swallowing its tail.
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” Eckhart Tolle
“When we meditate soulfully, devotedly, we have to accept humanity as our very own. We have to know that humanity as it stands is far, far, from perfection, but we are also members of humanity. We have to take it with us. If we are in a position to inspire others, if we are one step ahead, naturally we have the opportunity to serve the divinity in the ones who are following us. We have to transform the face of the world on the strength of our dedication to the divinity in humanity.” Sri Chinmoy
“With the venomous kiss you gave me
I’m killing loneliness (Killing loneliness)
With the warmth of your arms you saved me,
Oh, I’m killing loneliness with you…” Killing Loneliness by HIM
Meditation, silence, and solitude are extremely beneficial to everyone, but I have met more people who seem to be living in abject terror of moments of silence than I could possibly count! Snake people will find these tools a great aid in mastering themselves. Incorporating regular periods of meditation or silence in your day will bring greater clarity, increased sensitivity, balanced calm, and insight into any situation you are facing. Snake people may even find themselves feeling isolated, as there is something about their nature, the aura they project, that makes others perceive even the sweetest of Snake or Dragon people as someone powerful and potentially dangerous, someone to avoid. Developing a good relationship with a balancing Totem like Rabbit, sweet Apple, or cheerful Grasshopper can help to temper this effect. Trees are inextricably linked to this Teacher, specifically the Axis Mundi, and the study of trees and plants is another extensive area of beneficial study to Snake people.
Those drawn to venomous snakes should be especially mindful of their words, and those drawn to constrictors should be aware when they are holding onto something too tightly or not letting go of a situation, individual, or concept when they should. Next to transformation, one of the Snakes most powerful lessons for us is how and when to let go, shed the old so that we grow and shine. Creativity, rebirth, healing, awakening, spiritual growth, and wisdom are all potent Snake lessons.
There is a bookplate from the Grimms Fairy Tales book that was read to me as a little girl, and I always think of it when discussing Snake. A man and woman stand, dividing the Apple of Life between them, as the snake coils around the trunk behind them. “The White Snake” was one of my favorite stories and this picture recalls many memories for me, as well as the lessons of this Teacher. I still have this book, falling to pieces with much love, and have read these same tales to my own children, wondering if they wished for the powers of the White Snake; to hear and speak with the natural World, as I did so long ago. How does this ancient and amazing Teacher appear in your life?
“Everyday, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” HH Dalai Lama
“A long time ago there lived a King whose wisdom was noised abroad in all the country. Nothing remained long unknown to him, and it was as if the knowledge of hidden things was brought to him in the air.” The White Snake by the Brothers Grimm“Hence, let me say that while others are involved in philosophies, Zen is involved in metamorphosis, in a transformation. It is authentic alchemy: it changes you from base metal into gold. But its language has to be understood, not with your reasoning and intellectual mind but with your loving heart. Or even just listening, not bothering whether it is true or not. And a moment comes suddenly that you see it, which has been eluding you your whole life. Suddenly, what Gautam Buddha called “eighty-four thousand doors” open. ” Osho
Potential Balancing Energies: Other Snakes, Frog/Toad, Hawk, Raven and other raptors or birds like Crow or Sparrow, Mongoose, Mouse, Squirrel or other rodents, various Insects like Grasshopper, Spider, various Trees like Apple, Rowan or Ash, various plants like Snakeroot, Milkweed or Sedum, various stones like Opal, Cats, Weasel, Badger, Horse, Dog, Fish, Crayfish, Lizard, Earth, Fire, the Sun and other stars, like those comprising the constellations Serpens and Hydra.
Key Concepts: Kundalini, Rebirth, Transformation, Transcendence, Magic, Ancient wisdom, Knowledge, Balance, Meditation, Shamanic Journey, Intuition, Healing, Creation, Passion/Creativity, Deception, letting go, Fertility, Desire, Self-indulgence
Associated Gods, Mythic or Popular figures: Gaia, Danh, Indra, Bramha, Vishnu, Shiva, Minoan Snake goddess, Ra, Ouroboros, Gorgons, Naga, Apep, Yggdrasil, Velos, Aesculapius, Scylla, Midgaurd Serpent, Ndengei, Ndengei, Quetzalcoatl, Kebechet, Nehebkau, St. Patrick, Kaa (from Disney’s Jungle Book), Sir Hiss (from Disney’s Robin Hood), Cernunnos, Mercury/Hermes, Ceres, Wadjet, Athena, Brighid, Dionysus