from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Friday, 29 November 2013

snake medicine

minoan snake goddess (from

Snake medicine has reared its head for me a little recently. In my postings on Mercury/Hermes lately I mentioned the very potent symbol of the caduceus wand, and I've spoken there or elsewhere on my blog (probably several times) of the bad press the snake or serpent, one symbol of the Goddess and also of wisdom in the Old Ways, has received under Christianity and the patriarchy. 

There's the shedding skins thing, too. Then there's kundalini, and the fact that the Buddha is portrayed sometimes with a cobra rising above his head: sign of the initiate, one who has transmuted the grosser aspects of being into the transcendent function, thereby opening the crown centre of realisation, or enlightenment.

In symbolic systems of thought, specifically in relation to shamanic practice, if an animal Other 'appears' to you three times, it's worth taking notice (I should say that clearly this doesn't count with domesticated animals whose viewing will be commonplace!).

A friend has just spoken to me of her experience with 'snakes in the grass'. 

Another friend last week told me a Hindu story about dealing with anger:

One of the gods called Snake to account for biting some people. 'This is not OK,' said the god. Snake slithered away, crestfallen.

Shortly after, some people beat snake to within an inch of his life (etc). Snake simply lay there writhing, letting it happen. After, he dragged his broken and bruised body slowly and painfully back to the god. 'Now look at what's happened,' said Snake, 'when you told me not to bite.'

'But I didn't tell you not to hiss,' exclaimed the god.

As someone who struggles with anger, my own and others, this was extremely helpful to me. I hate conflict, hate hurting others (and also took when I was in my late teens a Buddhist precept on trying my best not to hit out at others), and will almost always take the route of giving someone the benefit rather than lashing out, if I can. Fairness is extremely important to me. (Also I want to be able to look back and be proud of how I handled certain situations, too – and then there's the issue of karma!)

Sometimes this has been misguided and naive: it's left me too wide open (as I am beginning to realise there is such a thing as being too wide open), landed me in hot water because I don't stand up for myself when I should, and can become a doormat, bruised and battered without retaliating (if that's not mixing my metaphors too much). Sometimes, because I tend to swallow and say nothing, others don't realise the hurt they've caused me – and of course my own resentment builds, which isn't helpful to either them or me. 

It takes an awful lot to get me to red-hot anger (usually because I don't recognise my own anger), and I don't relish arriving there as I have a very sharp tongue; luckily, probably, it's only emerged a couple of times in my life. I also, fortunately, have some very good friends who are open and self-aware enough as to look at their own shit rather than simply hitting out, knowing that I'm doing the same; this is so useful because it provides a safe and trusting environment in which to explore difficult issues. In any difficult exchange, I will always examine my part in it; it seems the only compassionate and wise response. I so value people who will do the same. Sometimes, of course, I get it wrong; too often, that's unfortunately in the other's favour in cases where, for instance, my instinct tells me something and I over-ride it with rationalisations. But all this is how we learn, isn't it; and hopefully we don't cause too much harm en route – though I accept that sometimes we all will, too, and we so need to then forgive both self and others. We're all in this together.

Another little revelation for me, coming from  a Buddhist monk lately, was a teaching on forgiving. 'But we don't have to forget,' he said. That took me aback. Surely that was also the wise kind thing to do? But the more I thought about it the more I realised what he meant: that forgetting the causes means that we fall over and over into the same trap. Forgiving means stopping beating ourselves and others up and letting go of the grudges; not forgetting  means avoiding putting oneself into the same situation over and over; rather, learning and moving on.

So, as you might have gathered from a few posts lately, I'm learning to hiss; belatedly, perhaps, but better than never. It's also about self-respect.

So, given the 'appearance' of Snake three times in a week or two (I'm including my Mercury blogpost snakes), I thought I'd remind myself of its symbolic qualities.

In the native/first nation American Medicine Cards of Jamie Sams and David Carson, card number 6 is Snake. Here's the opening, in case it's of interest for anyone else out there:

Snake: Transmutation

Snake medicine people are very rare. Their initiation involves experiencing and living through multiple snake bites, which allows them to transmute all poisons, be they mental, physical, spiritual, or emotional. The power of snake medicine is the power of creation, for it embodies sexuality, psychic energy, alchemy, reproduction, and ascension (or immortality).
    The transmutation of the life-death-rebirth cycle is exemplified by the shedding of
Snake's skin. It is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and the ability to
experience anything willingly and without resistance. [My italics, as it's also relevant to Buddhist thinking on not craving or pushing away any experience.] It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, and that those things which might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind.
    Thoth, the Atlantean who later returned as Hermes and was the father of alchemy,
used the symbology of two snakes intertwining around a sword to represent healing. Complete understanding and acceptance of the male and female within each organism creates a melding of the two into one, thereby producing divine energy.
This medicine teaches you on a personal level that you are a universal being. Through accepting all aspects of your life, you can bring about the transmutation of the fire medicine.

(The keynotes are to transmute all poisons, shed the skins of the past, and honour the change in progress.)


  1. ' who has transmuted the grosser aspects of being into the transcendent function, thereby opening the crown centre of realisation, or enlightenment.'
    I suppose this is what we refer to as rising above a situation, or feeling, when our instinct is to lash out, bite, wound because we feel wounded, humiliated or misunderstood. Easy – as I did for so many years – to turn away with furious sadness when someone went cold on me for some reason never explained, leaving me with conviction that I'd brought this about. When that happens you're well on the way to being a victim. This often reinforces the need to turn inside yourself and bathe in your own shit instead of stepping back but facing the situation and rising above: transmuting, in other words. I always apologised and at times felt able to confront the person very gently, sometimes by letter, and on a few occasions this worked leading to a deeper and more whole friendship. The crucial thing came later: to stop anguishing about me and imagine being the other person with all their shit.
    And I do agree that while it's relatively easy in the end to forgive and recognise the other person's responsibility (shit'n all) it's neither easy nor favourable to forget. To forget is also to forget the reason for forgiveness in the first place. To forget can also lead to unrealistic expectations of conciliation instead opt having to accept the loss of a friendship.
    Hope that's not a too laboured and tortuous way of saying yes, yes, and yes to all you say.
    What a gift to have friends who are 'open and self-aware enough. . .to look at their own shit. . .'

    With thanks and friendship,

  2. Miriam, as always I appreciate your wise and thoughtful – and honest - comments. I count you as one of the latter group of friends!

    You're right too about what you're saying about forgetting. Thanks for those (again wise) words - useful for me to hear right now. I still find it hard to simply close a door, always believing that a situation is salvageable, and so I fall into the same hole over and over! It's really only this year that I've accepted that that's simply not always the case (being able to salvage a friendship): sometimes you really do have to walk away, as I wrote in a blog post of that title. It doesn't mean anyone's 'wrong' or 'bad' - just that some combinations of personalities - or soul-groups, who knows - don't always work well.

    I love that there is always, always a lesson, though; painful though learning new stuff almost always is. Good friends, even in anger, can allow their friendship to shine through and can face things together; but when the ego is identifying with victim, or persecutor, for instance, it can be more difficult to 'hear' each other.

    I spent many years of my life - and often still do - agonising about whether I was/am the one at fault; I've usually, in any situation, also assumed responsibility and been the one to apologise. I've challenged that this year. A friendship depends on a mutuality of give and take, and a willingness on both parts to be open with each other. But it's still really hard, knowing that sometimes things you say/do will cause another hurt, but knowing that NOT to say them costs integrity or makes you into a doormat.

    My mistake has been in assuming that the other person in a conflict – given that there are always at least two sides! -– was also taking, or trying to take, responsibility for their own projected shadow-stuff or failings, but I realise lately not everyone is doing that. And that has to be OK, as we all have our own different karmic burden to work out in our own way; but a friendship has to nurture the best in each other, at least predominantly, and take place in a climate of mutual support, emotional generosity, encouragement, and trust. I've been lucky in that my good friends are all also emotionally generous - what a gift that is!

    But - it's been a hard hard lesson for me, realising that there are situations where, sometimes for both parties' sake, one simply needs to let the whole thing go. With that, I have to let go of my dream of resolving every painful situation and bringing the friendship home.

    So - as always - most of our growing happens through difficulty, doesn't it? And ultimately I have to be grateful for that, and those who bring me to face that - I suppose!

    And meantime, I'm very grateful for people like yourself, who bring so much of themselves to the table.

    With much love, Miriam - Rx


Blog Archive