When I first arrived at Spirit Mountain Retreat last Friday, something I had not seen in Idyllwild before, a snake, greeted me. Here’s her story.
The Ripple Effect of a Snake
The elder me
walks cautiously in thong sandals
over river smoothed rocks
and scattered pea gravel
to the main house.
Spirit Mountain, I’m here.
Our teacher Katya is here.
We walk back to Hill House and
are auspiciously greeted
by a long coral-colored,
black spotted snake
sunning on the boulders.
Yikes! We ooh and ahh,
not wanting to startle her away,
but also down-deep scared.
I slowly advance
heart in throat
camera in hand,
snapping shot after shot of the snake.
I’ve never photographed a snake before.
Esther calls the ranger station for identification.
They say it’s a king most likely.
Harmless, not to worry.
I move in more and more closely,
snapping shots and feeling suspicious.
Jan, Nancy, and Christa arrive
and begin laughing at our anxiety.
They quickly expose our snake
as fake, an excellent rubber replica.
Flipped over, her belly is fretted
like the hull of a hand-built boat.
Who would place a rubber snake
on the rocks of a retreat center,
for God's sake?
We agree, she’s a she,
goddess of fertility, rubber or not.
She’s symbolic of our psyches,
the collective, a fitting mascot
for a group of weekend writers.
Exposing one’s belly,
taking ourselves less seriously
is the lesson of a rubber snake.
This whole experience, taking a total of ten minutes at most, really did seem to get us all off on the right foot. A quick Google search on the spiritual symbolism of snakes, real or not, was found at Terra Wise. Fake or not, I will probably remember this snake forever.
Metaphor is a fine teacher...if a snake does not shed its skin it will become ill. A snake sheds its skin when its inside becomes bigger than its outside, a process that continues throughout its life. People who know snakes say that the actual shedding is not always comfortable, only when completed does the snake feel free--freed from itself, alive, youthful, and rejuvenated once again. However during the transition phase the skin must first become loosened and the shell of the old self released for the process to be a success. At times the transition can create a great deal of stress, one reason being that the eyes become blurry (with the old self) too. It is as if the snake is between states of being, the old self slowly moving toward the new self, however during the transition phase the snake is more vulnerable and can respond to its environment with agitation and uncertainty.
With this image we have the universal symbol of the power and importance of releasing the old and moving through cycles of transition. We hear of and see the archetypal serpent/snake theme cross-culturally in many traditions world-wide, including in fairy tales, myths, alchemical symbolism, ancient architecture, to the Egyptian Pharaohs and their cobra headdress (symbol of power placed near the psychic third-eye) the Hindu concept of Kundalini, the serpent energy that awakens consciousness as it rises through the spine and ignites the various energy centers-chakras,and of course the Western (medical healing) image of Hermes' caduceus. In most cultures the snake is revered and seen as a transformative symbol of healing regeneration, renewal and rebirth.