Two weeks ago I got a new pet. Her name is Levi (pronounced Leh-vie, not like the Blue Jeans). She is sweet, cuddly, playful, and she has brought me something I had been missing this past year – a young life to care for, to think about, to enjoy life with, and to teach me the beauty of nurturing something other than myself. And she is one of the most sacred creatures to span almost all cultures, religions and spiritual practices.
Levi is my new Snake.
Snakes are an amazing pet, one I would recommend for anyone, due to the extreme low maintenance. They eat once a week, enjoy being handled if you get them used to it from a young age, are perfectly content being by themselves, sleeping in a dark space for hours or even days, and despite what people may think – are very gentle creatures. Everyone has been bitten by their dog when they got a little too excited, it hurts, it sucks, but you’re not going to be scared of your dog – you know them, and you love them. It’s the same with snakes – if they ever bite you, they aren’t trying to kill you – you might have frightened them or they might have gotten confused and thought you were feeding them something – and we are much, much larger than them – they aren’t thinking about eating the one that loves them and feeds them – so if they ever bite you it’s the same as if your dog gives you a little nip – it’s nothing to be scared about. Snakes have lovely personalities, each one is unique – just like dogs – if you take the time to get to know them. A friend of mine, who owns 5 snakes, recently went on vacation and while he was away his roommates messaged him telling him that one of the snakes broke out of his enclosure – and he knew exactly which one it was – because he knew the personality of each of his slithery children. The snake was safely brought back to its enclosure, and when my friend got home, promptly wrote a shame sign for his snake, reading “I escaped three times while Dad was away”.
Growing up, I would have never thought I’d be the owner of a snake now. I always wanted a dog, or some other adorable furry creature (I’ve had a hamster, rats, cats, and a dog through the years), and as I got into my 20’s the idea of reptiles and snakes interested me, but I didn’t think I’d ever get one. With my partner being 1. allergic to cats and dogs and 2. a neat freak – furry, free range animals just aren’t in the cards for me anymore, and when my 5 snake wielding friend said he could get us a snake from his breeder, we decided to take the leap.
I think what makes snakes so amazing, but for some find so frightening, is how different they are from us. With no arms or legs, the inability to blink, the ability to swallow their meals whole and their constant shedding of skin, they are alien to us. For those who are scared of snakes, this alien quality makes it hard for them to understand that snakes can build a bond with you. But to me, this alien quality is divine, it is cosmic, it is deeply magical.
In my early 20’s I read a book called The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby. It is a non-fiction, about Jeremy writing a book about the cosmic serpent. It details his research of the serpent in ancient civilizations, and present cultures around the world. This began my fascination with snakes. At the time I was in the height of my hippie days, and although I still have not been to South America to participate, I was interested in Ayahuasca. Although the experience can be vastly different for everyone, Ayahuasca is often interconnected with the serpent, some saying the serpent spirit in is the vine used to make it. Many people recall visions of neon serpents, others feel as though they are a snake in these experiences. So why is the serpent connected to something like Ayahuasca, known to be one of the most psychedelic, psychoactive and hallucinogenic substances?
Serpents are intertwined into almost every form of spirituality. The story of Adam and Eve is one of the first that Westerners know of. Believers in Christianity see this story as a test of faith, to trust in what God tells you or not. Adam and Eve failing to heed God’s warning and listening to the serpent is the beginning of the belief that humans are flawed, and born of sin. I see this story a little differently. The Tree of Knowledge is enlightenment, divinity, expanded consciousness, and when we attain this in our lives, we realize that we alone, and collectively, all living beings that were and are and are to come – are God. Some, who see the story this way turn it around to say that God lied to Adam and Eve, saying that by eating the fruit (and gaining enlightenment) death will follow, where the snake told the truth. But really, They both told truths. Enlightenment brings death to the old you, just like the snake sheds its skin, you are reborn, vibrating at a higher frequency, living at a higher consciousness.
Just like how the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was guiding Adam and Eve towards knowledge, and enlightenment, Shamans believe the Snake is an astral guide, helping with insight, global and cosmic awareness and intuition. Ayahuasca ceremonies are deeply rooted in this rebirth of consciousness, a metaphorical shedding of the old skin. Similar to this interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, many people who participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies at one point or another, feel and believe they are dead – later to be reborn.
In Aztec tradition, the great feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, was the God of the evening star. There are a hand full of myths surrounding his birth, one of which being he was one child of millions from Coatlicue, all of which make up the stars of the Milky Way. Another and more popular story is he was a twin brother to Tezcatlipoca. Quetzalcoatl didn’t like sacrifice to the gods, and stopped a sacrificial ceremony honouring his brother when he came to Earth in human form to show the people of Tollan (roughly Hidalgo, Mexico present day) a better way of life.
He brought them knowledge through books, astronomy, and the calendar. He taught them how to cultivate corn, as well as how to work with Jade and Obsidian. Metaphorically, The Great Feather Serpent brought enlightenment to the Aztec civilization. Quetzalcoatl was also known as the Rain God, creating union between terrestrial and rain waters, and for agricultural peoples, this represented life itself, giving the serpent the symbolism of life creation and fertility.
In Native American history, the snake takes a different form from their brothers to the south. Instead of a feather serpent who can fly and break the boundaries of this atmosphere and explore the vastness of space, the North American snake god is a horned serpent of the waters. Native American tribes believe snakes, while they use their bodies to feel vibrations through the earth to smell and help see what isn’t in front of them, to be deeply connected to the earth. This connection to the earth, is related to water because it is water the helps the earth to grow, and thrive. The story of The Horned Serpent of Native America changes from tribe to tribe. In Muscogee Creek traditions, the Horned Serpent is a friendly and peaceful creature of the water, while in Sioux tribes, it is a dangerous reptilian monster, and when the Thunderbird eventually destroyed the creature, it left behind the snakes and lizards we find in nature today.
Although the name and the stories surrounding The Horned Serpent change from tribe to tribe, the description of them stays somewhat similar, Anthropologist James Mooney, describes the Cherokee Horned Serpent, named Uktena:
Those who know say the Uktena is a great snake, as large around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a bright blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glowing like sparks of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length, and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life. The blazing diamond is called Ulun’suti—”Transparent”—and he who can win it may become the greatest wonder worker of the tribe.
The Horned Serpent is sometimes seen as depicting a real animal, with some saying it was most likely a now-extinct giant alligator, but most stories speak of a supernatural character. They possessed magical abilities including shape-shifting, hypnotic powers and invisibility, and to those who either defeated or helped this creature, it would grant them powerful medicine.
In Egypt, Apep is depicted as a snake, as is the greatest enemy of Ra. Ra being the God of the sun, the light bringer and the upholder of Ma’at (order), and Apep being known as the Lord of chaos, are often at odds with one another. Legend tells the story of Apep, lurking in the shadows of dawn, in the western mountain of Bakhu, waiting for Ra to come (as the sun sets in the west) where they would battle. Every morning when the sun would rise again, people would worship Ra for his triumph over Apep. For this reason, Apep was known to be from the underworld, of darkness. I think this depiction of the serpent connects back to the biblical representation. Ra is quite similar to the Christian God, both being seen as the sun, the light, the creator. The snake in the Garden of Eden created chaos when he convinced Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, and playing off the notion that with light, there must be dark, Apep is there to be the ever-opposite to Ra. Even in this description of the serpent, being seen as the “bad guy” there is still something special about them. With chaos, comes an interesting form of enlightenment.
In India, snakes are both feared and revered. With snakes being found in all corners of the country, they are a huge part of the Hindu culture and religion. Serpents represent duality – eternity and materiality, life and death, time and timelessness – symbolizing the creation, preservation and destruction. In the Bhagavadgita, Krishna says “Among the serpents, I am Ananta”. Ananta is the infinite divine snake with endless coils, depicted in art as floating on the ocean of creation. Legend says that Ananta once eavesdropped on Shiva giving a secret lesson to Parvati – this lesson was the teachings of Yoga. When Shiva realized Ananta had overheard he told Ananta to go and spread this knowledge to mankind. Ananta assumed human form by the name of Patanjali, and wrote the Yoga Sutras.
Also in Yoga, the serpent is a huge part of Kundalini. Kundalini energy, or our divine sexual energy is depicted as a coiled snake living in our Muladhara Chakra (Root chakra). Through Yoga practice, both physical yoga as many know it to be, as well as other spiritual purifying practices, the Kundalini snake may begin to uncoil and climb up through the higher chakras, unlocking them. This is what people mean when they say “my heart chakra is open”, they have uncoiled their Kundalini energy up to the heart chakra, like how a snake can’t have its tail on the ground and reach the tallest branch without first climbing the lower limbs, Kundalini energy must grow through each chakra in order, until enlightenment is found at the crown chakra.
From personifying the clever and insightful people born in the year of the Chinese Zodiac Snake, to representing our inner desires which can sometimes be like snake poison – causing us to suffer for our dreams – Snakes are found in almost every culture and religion, so many that I got to a point in writing this blog post that I realized, I really can’t keep going!
So every time I hold Levi, I look into her ever-open eyes and wonder what she is thinking, what is she capable of thinking? She experiences the 5 senses in different ways from humans, so I wonder how snakes perceive the more complex parts of our consciousness as well.