Keynote: Rebirth, Resurrection, Initiation, and Wisdom
Of all the reptiles-and maybe even all animals-the snake has been the subject of great cont…roversy and paradox. Religious sources argue over whether it is the symbol of the higher or the lower. Sometimes seen as devil and sometimes as healer, it is an animal that truly has earned the mythical reputation.
In the Americas, the snake served as a prominent symbol in art and lore. To the Native Americans, the snake is a symbol of transformation and healing. Snake ceremonies involved learning to transmute the poisons within the body after being bitten multiple times. Survival of this would then enable the individual to transmute all poisons-physical or otherwise. It activated the energy of kill or cure, ultimately leading to dramatic healings.
In the Meso-American societies, the serpent or snake was depicted as feathered and flying. It was a symbol of their greatest god and hero, Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl’s story is the myth of a dying god who would someday return. In many ways he was the patron god of the Toltecs, and it was said that the heavens and stars and all the motions of the universe were under his dominion. “He was the master of the winds and of the clouds and the protecting genius of his people.
In Greece the snake was also a symbol of alchemy and healing. The god Hermes carried a staff upon which were entwined two snakes. This caduceus symbol is the primary symbol of modern medicine and doctors. It is a symbol of wisdom expressed through healing.
In India the goddess Vinata was the mother of snakes and a symbol of water and the underworld. Also in India there were demigods, Nagas and their beautiful wives, Naginis, who were usually depicted as half cobra and half deity. The god Vishnu is often depicted sleeping on the serpent of eternity called Ananta. Shiva wears snakes for bracelets and necklaces, representing sexuality.
The serpent and snake has long been a symbol of the sexual/creative life force within humans as is taught in Eastern traditions. The kundalini or serpent fire lies coiled at the base of the spine. As we grow and develop, the primal energy is released, rising up the spine. This in turn activates energy centers in the body and the mind, opening new dimensions and levels of awareness, health, and creativity.
In Chinese astrology one of every twelve years is named for the snake. Those born within that year are believed to have the qualities of compassion, clairvoyance and charm. They usually need to learn lessons associated with forgiveness, superstitiousness and possessiveness as well. A study of Chinese astrology will help you with this.
In Egypt the snake has also had mystical significance. The uraeus is a headband in the shape of the snake. The head of the snake rests and sticks out at the brow area. It was believed to represent a state of inner sight and control of the universe. It was a symbol worn by those who were initiated. Some believe it to be variations of the eye of Horus, while others see it as the sacred eye of Ra. It represented a certain degree of wisdom and understanding.
Because it sheds its skin, the snake has long been a symbol of death and rebirth. It sheds its skin as it outgrows the old. This death and rebirth cycle is part of what snake represents. It has ties and significance to the ancient alchemists and their symbolic transmutation of lead into gold. This is associated with higher wisdom that comes with the passing of time. This cycle of death and rebirth is often symbolized by the ouroborus, the ancient image of a snake swallowing its own tail. It is the symbol of eternity.
Before the snake begins to shed its skin, its eyes will begin to cloud over. It gives the snake a trance like appearance. To many mystics and shamans this indicated the ability of the snake to move between the realms of the living and the dead, of crossing over from life to death and then back to life again. As the skin begins to shed, the eyes begin to clear as if they will see the world anew. For this reason, alchemists often believed that wisdom and new knowledge would lead to death and rebirth, enabling the individual to see the world from an entirely new perspective.
The snake has often been depicted, along with its relatives, the serpent and dragon, as a guardian. It is found in myth and lore guarding treasures, the springs of life or sacred places. The snake/serpent guarded the tree on which the Golden Fleece hung in the Greek tale of Jason and the argonauts.
The snake is sinuous and fast. Although many people think of them as slimy, their skin is very dry. In fact, humans are slimier than snakes. If a human runs his or her hand on the floor, it will pick up dirt. A snake’s skin will not which is why it is able to slide and move in the manner it does.
A snake attacks quickly. It raises itself up and strikes quick, hard, and true to its mark. It is not unusual to find that those with this totem can respond the same way if need be. It is best not to anger snake people. Although slow to lose their tempers, once lost, their bite is quick, sharp, and direct. They almost always hit their mark. They may end up swallowing you whole or just poisoning you in some way.
Anytime a snake shows up as a totem, you can expect death and rebirth to occur in some area of your life. This rarely reflects an actual death but rather a transition. Look for a change in conditions and a movement to new life. Examine what is going on around you. Are you needing to make changes but aren’t for some reason? Are you trying to force change too quickly? Are you striking out at people and shouldn’t? Are you not striking and should?
Remember that a snake not only uses its venom and bite to overcome prey, but also for defense. What is needing to be healed? What new opportunities are surfacing that you need to strike out for and take advantage of?
It can also reflect that your own creative forces are awakening. The stimulation of the kundalini usually has physiological as well as spiritual consequences. Physiologically it can activate the sexual drive, bring more energy, etc. Spiritually it can stimulate greater perception of how to apply your insight and intuition. Your own vision and intuition will become more accurate.
To understand the specific role your snake totem will play within your life, first begin by examining the form it takes. This alone will tell you much. Every snake has a head, body, and tail, and there are a wide variety of snakes. Some are poisonous, almost all can bite, and some squeeze and strangle their prey by coiling around it. Examine your snake’s markings, and the patterns of its scales. A diamond-back rattler is named for its pattern of scales. Examine the significance of geometric shapes. This will help you to define the role the snake will have in your life.
The rattlesnake, for example, moves around only during the cool hours of the night. Extreme heat is deadly to it. You may find for yourself that becoming more nocturnal would be of benefit. It has a sidewinding motion to its movement. It also has a special sense organ, a small pit in the head that reacts to heat put out by other creatures. This is how it senses its prey. On a symbolic level this indicates for those with this totem an increasing sensitivity to the auras of others. You may start seeing them soon, but you will definitely start sensing them. Trust what you feel around others, no matter how strange it may seem.
Always examine some of the qualities and characteristics of the snake in general. Snakes are carnivorous. They swallow their prey whole. To be able to do this, their jaws will unhinge. The mouth is where we take in nutrition in the form of food. This unhinging ability of the snake reflects the increased ability for those with this totem to swallow and absorb greater amounts of nutrition for the head, i.e., knowledge. Learning opportunities, formal and informal, will surface frequently. Usually with a snake totem, there is little chance of overloading the brain circuits. You will be able to swallow and digest whatever you take in.
Some people have associated hypnotic qualities with the snake because of its stare. The unblinking stare occurs because the snake has no eyelids. Learning to use the eyes to mesmerize and look into the hearts and souls of others directly is part of what traditional snake medicine can teach. It may even indicate a need to look more closely into your own heart and soul.
Snakes have a keen sense of smell. They actually smell with their tongue, which is why it flicks in and out so much. Inside the mouth of the snake in the roof is an organ called the Jacobson’s organ. This organ enables the snake to assimilate the air around them. This organ helps them to taste the air and its odors, helping then to locate food sources.
The sense of smell is linked to higher forms of discrimination and spiritual idealism. Individuals with the snake totem will find themselves extremely sensitive to smells and fragrances. Aromatherapy may be a form of healing that is beneficial to explore. They should pay attention to what is going on around them. Do things really smell right around you? Make sure that you are very discriminating about what you say and to whom-and with what you involve yourself?
Snakes are symbols of change and healing. They have speed and agility, so those who have snakes come into their life will usually find the changes and shifts occur quickly and are soon recognized and defined. When snake comes into your life you can look for a rebirth into new powers of creativity and wisdom.