What’s your take on snakes? Do you find them attractive-repulsive? Maybe you’re the parent of a pet python or two? Love to look but never touch? Take ’em or leave ’em? Basically find them ewww? Whichever way you feel, your response is embedded in humanity’s collective consciousness.
That vibe explodes in your cells and snake-dances in your DNA, spiraling like the twin serpents of the cadeuceus. It slithers up and down your chakras as the Kundalini, the ancient serpent whose ascension eventually takes the spiritual seeker to the highest enlightment, the deepest understanding of the cosmic mysteries. It shimmers in every secret desire you’ve yearned for and it lurks in all those nameless longings that you have ever stuffed down or choked back. Those desires and longings can ultimately drive you to discover who and what you truly are at your core.
Love, Fear or Both
Consider that the eternal animal truth of the serpent is to evoke both love and fear. Because of all creatures, Snake has a truly epic back story.
“Awed for its ease to shed the skin of its old life and slip into a new one, and for its ability to kill with a single bite, the snake swiftly came to symbolize death and rebirth: the cyclical nature of existence itself, as when we see the snake depicted at the hub of the wheel of samsara, or hear it taunting Eve in the Garden of Eden.”
Hindu mythology portrays the snake as the massive Ananta Shesha, the sovereign of all snakes, who breathes fire and spews venom, who holds the world on his head. And let’s face it, how many times have you felt that fire-breathing and world-holding (plus a little venom-spewing) were somewhere in your own job description? It’s Ananta Shesha (whose name means the Eternal or Infinte One) that finishes off the world at the end of each four-billion-year cycle—yet is never destroyed himself.
Consider that in your own life many cycles have begun and ended. Relationships. Parenthood. Jobs and careers. Moving away from home or back in. Lifestyles that morphed from one to another. Yet through all the storms of change something within you remained perpetually unchanged. Coming to recognize and befriend your personal Ananta Shesha is to be united with that inner eternal force.
“Snakes were thus imbued with potent transformative energy, mystical powers and the wisdom to unlock the secrets of immortality. They were both feared and adored, linked with both the energies of regeneration and extermination, and connected to dark underworlds as often as they were to divine light.”
The Underworld Outside My Door
One spring morning I stepped outside to find the newly shed skins of no fewer than five pygmy rattlers strewn beside my front door. Despite their littering, I had to thank them for leaving a message: Become attentive to when it’s time to peel away the crusty old layers of your being that no longer serve you. Habits, patterns, perceptions, projections, attachments.
In an earlier post, I looked at the extraordinary relationship of Shiva, the Hindu deity of destruction, and Nandi, the bull who is both Shiva’s companion and mode of transportation. Shiva is also called (among his 1,008 names) Pasupathinath, lord of the animals. In Hinduism, animals represent aspects of our most basic nature, the beasts within us, beautiful or not.
Every image of Shiva depicts him adorned with snakes. They’re encircling his neck and arms or nesting in his matted hair. “Since a snake is one of the most feared and dangerous animals in the world, the garland of snakes around the neck firmly establishes this fact even the snakes fear Him and remain under His control,” according to allsaivism.tripod.com.
Sometimes Shiva is shown surrounded by a cluster of cobras, their hoods forming a fierce halo around his head. Some murtis (deity statues) dispense with Shiva’s image altogether portraying the cobras side by side atop a Shivalingam, so merged are the identities.
Now comes the eternal question: are Shiva’s serpents threatening or beckoning? Do they represent victory over our baser instincts or the highest potential of humanity? In a word, yes.
As the blogger at allsaivism comments, the snake necklace signals to devotees that Shiva, being unaffected by maya or illusion, has conquered desire.
To us mortals that is no easy task. You bop one desire, another rears up to take its place. So if we can breathe deep, laugh a little and take a moment to get centered, we can keep on dancing with the serpent. Anything is possible.
Sources: 1) Catherine Ghosh, “Summon the Snake in You Through Bhujangasana,” elephantjournal.com, January 30, 2012. For more by Catherine, visit her at catherineghosh.com. 2)allsaivism.tripod.com/snakes.html.
Images: 1)Vintage circus image, zazzle.com, 2)Bhaktianandascollectedworks.wordpress.com, 3)whoa.in