“Snakes have been associated with some of the oldest rituals known to humankind and represent dual expression of good and evil. ” - Wikipedia
I am a Snake Rider. We all are. But do we consciously mount the serpent? Here’s an excerpt from my account of the first official “awake” ride – my conscious initiation into snake-riding – at a sacred, healing jungle medicine ceremony (the medicine, ayahuasca, will be discussed throughout this blog):
The Serpentine Mother Possesses Me
(and lets me Ride.)
Curandero as Snake Charmer.
Plumo Blanco brought around a second cup of medicine. It tasted different from the first – more bitter and thicker.
Within no time, She came: the medicine began to take effect. The serpent arrived. I felt it rise gently up my spine and once it got to my head, it branched out like a root system into all the wrinkles of my brain.There was never a moment where I felt I needed to purge. The Serpent gave me the gift of possession: she completely took over my body, and yet she allowed me to hold the reigns the entire time. I rode her like a master surfer riding a massive wave way out in the ocean. It was a smooth ride and never once was there a loss of control or any fear.
She used my body: I undulated and twisted, writhed and wriggled, hissed and coiled. A few times I was able to pull myself into a tight pretzel-like full lotus position and sit that way for at least a half hour – a feat I could never accomplish ordinarily. I felt a snake moving in my intestines – she slithered about rapidly with much gurgling and dancing bubbles left in her wake. Sometimes she could come up and tickle the back of my throat with her tongue. Sometimes she moved into my limbs and I stretched and moved and cracked and got all the kinks out. Sometimes she heaved energy through my arms and they shook violently like one of those demon possessions you see in movies. The energy sprang out my fingertips and I would move my hands down along my opposite arms and wring them out with a flip of the wrist.
Most of the hissing came along with Pluma’s icaros (his chants and songs). While he was singing, I was completely entranced. I realized he was the snake charmer and “I” was under his control when he sang. I would smile and laugh and sway my head to the music. It was very playful. I hissed in time with the rhythm of the songs. During the songs was when most of the shaking and cracking and stretching was done, like the music was telling the serpent where the blocks and kinks were being held.
A few times, songs came out of me. I would have sung more but found myself self-conscious, despite the medicine. I was intimidated to really let the songs come out. I did finally manage to break some humming out into the open, but I could have sung more had I really surrendered. Even then, I found myself humming, hissing, and singing along with Plumo Blanco.
What is it about snakes? some people have fears of them. Is it because they are creepy and slithery or because they bite and some are poisonous? Why are they so often equated with evil? From Satan in the garden to Medusa’s writhing hairdo, the “Slitherin” dark magicians in Harry Potter, snake seem to evoke danger, the shadow.
Yet snakes also represent positive symbols such as fertility and rebirth, guardianship of sacred places, the body’s kundalini energy flow, and medicine.
I am very intrigued by this dual symbolism and what it means for the Rider. It means, as a Rider, you have access to both powers – the so-called “good and evil.” The very same venom that can kill can also be used as medicine to heal. Like surfing the ocean waves, one can either have an ecstatic connection with Nature, or drown in her power. Surely we ride with caution, wisdom, precision. And yet there is a necessity for some beginner’s foolishness; sometimes you have to be knocked off your board and receive a gallon of sea salt up your nose in order to learn the skill. So it is with snake riding: sometimes we take a little too much medicine and it turns into poison. The Serpent is not merciful, nor is she cruel; she is simply honest.
One of my favorite mythological characters is Hermes. I like him because he’s shifty. He can travel between the heavens and the underworld – a special privilege to have access to both realms. Hermes has many attributes, which I won’t go into right now (I most likely will bring him up in other posts). But the relevant symbol of Hermes in this discussion is, of course, his staff – the Caduceus – of two intertwined snakes. Surely there are multiple layers of meaning regarding the serpentine staff, but here in particular, the two snakes could represent the dualistic power of the snake – the poison and the medicine (and of course we recognize that the staff is used as an emblem for the medical profession, who apparently are claiming for themselves the power of healing and harming, and certainly do both). Hermes: trickster and messenger, wielding these seemingly opposing powers.
I think also of Quezalcoatl the Mesoamerican diety, who’s name means “feathered serpent.” Similar to Hermes, he is patron to merchants, arts and crafts, and knowledge, and of course, we see the similarity between his name and the winged serpents of Hermes’ staff. I found references to Quezalcoatl traveling to the underworld to create the 5th-world mankind from the bones of previous races.
Interestingly, Quezalcoatl is another name for the god of light, mercy and the wind: White Tezcatlipoca. He works with the god simply known as Tezcatlipoca, who is god of the night, judgement, deceit, and sorcery. Some sources say that these opposing forces created the world. Another source stated that Quezalcoatl was expelled from the Toltec capital by Tezcatlipoca for performing feats of black magic. As we see, this serpent god – like Hermes and like the snake archetype itself – is shifty, having access and ability to summon the forces of heaven and hell, black and white, medicine and poison.
I could go on and on here: the serpent is perhaps the oldest, richest and most widely used symbol throughout history. No doubt more will be said on this topic, as this blog is all about snake riding. Suffice it to say that should we decide to ride, we have great power and with great power comes great responsibility. I am not here to tell you which to wield – the medicine or the poison. I am not a “Love and Light-er”, nor am I an amoral sorceress from the Slitherin camp. I know what health, vitality, compassion and peace feel like and what they create; I know what depression, confusion, sickness and doubt feel like and destroy. I have felt the difference between angelic and demonic influence, and based on these experiences, I know how I choose to ride.
Ride consciously, ride wisely, ride foolishly, ride free. Ride as thou wilt. But be aware that once you ride – once you taste the medicine – the Snake is Awake, and there’s no going back to walking; it’s riding here on out.