[I am thrilled to post a guest blog by Smoky Zeidel, a rather gifted author (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and dear friend and fellow Earth Mage*. Smoky and I met on Facebook, that universe of universes, and bonded even more as she helped me with some final edits of my “Messages from Mother…. Earth Mother” book last year. And I’m humbled to say that she invited me to guest blog for her some time back. Smoky is a remarkable person with incredibly inner strength and great Love of Earth Mother, also. She’s been struck by lightning and let’s just say that her life has been more of an adventure with health, publisher challenges, etc. I’m so excited that Smoky is re-emerging after a bit of a hiatus from writing and the world will be a far better place for this. I absolutely LOVE Smoky’s writing. ps. if you like this piece of Smoky’s writing, drop her a note, either here as a comment or on her website. Sometimes we writers need a lot of kindness and support to keep us going. It’s a dreary journey at times. Smoky contributed to this piece about some of the writing challenges and dreariness last year too.]
*You can go to Smoky’s website to learn more about what an Earth Mage is. ;~)
The Bite of the Rattler:
One Woman’s Path to Healing Through Snake Medicine
By Smoky Zeidel
It’s little wonder Snake medicine bit me as an adult. I’ve always had a love affair with snakes, starting when I was a small child. It wasn’t my own experiences with them that began this affair. It was the fantastic tales my Uncle Ed used to tell me.
Uncle Ed lived and worked in India for many years during the 1930s. India, of course, is home to many snakes. His stories were wild and improbable, and to a little girl who both loved anything wild and who would grow up to become a storyteller, his stories were like the strawberries growing in his garden. I couldn’t pluck and devour enough of either.
There was the story of the king cobra that lived beneath the stairs to my uncle’s back garden. Usually, the cobra kept his distance from my uncle and aunt, but one time, the snake coiled up between my aunt and the back stairs, trapping her in the garden for several hours before my uncle arrived home and somehow got the snake to move. My aunt always swore the snake seemed to be amused by the game of keeping her at bay.
And there was the story about the time my uncle, my cousin, and several of their friends took a long bicycle ride through the countryside. They stopped for a rest, and sat on a large log. My cousin took out his pocket knife, picked up a stick, and began to whittle. When he accidentally dropped the stick, he stuck his knife into the log on which they were sitting in order to retrieve the dropped stick. The log began to move. It was, in actuality, an enormous python, its belly swollen from a recent meal.
How much of my uncle’s stories was true and how much was invented in order to capture his young niece’s rapt attention is anyone’s guess. But those stories instilled in me a lifelong respect and love for snakes.
I lived in the Midwest for the first 51 years of my life, and wasn’t privy to many face-to-face snake encounters. As a child, there were garter snakes that sometimes crossed paths with me as I played; and the occasional eastern diamondback rattler or copperhead we’d encounter when camping in the Smokies, and which my father kept at a distance by steering us off the trail or out of the campsite until the snake moved on.
I was never afraid of these snakes. They didn’t make me shriek, scream, or quiver with fear. Rather, I felt some deep emotional connectedness to them, a connectedness that, as a child who had her first conversation with the Earth Mother at the age of three, felt perfectly normal. Then again, I felt this connectedness with all of nature. Despite my father being a Christian minister, he raised me to feel this connectedness, to be a part of nature, not separate from it.
But as children must do, I grew up. And in doing so, I lost my connection to the Earth. In my twenties, I got busy working in the busy Chicago office of a Fortune 500 company, raising kids, trying to live the suburban American dream.
It didn’t work for me very well. I was not happy, although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. Divorce and remarriage, then graduate school in place of work seemed like the solution. It wasn’t. I was not only unhappy, I was seriously depressed. It took a bolt from the blue to shake me out of the miasma and reconnect me with the Earth. Literally. On July 11, 1989, I took a direct hit in the neck from a bolt of lightning. I’m not going to go into great detail here, as that is a story in itself. Let’s just say, I never was one to understand subtleties. I guess the Great Mother had to take drastic steps to get me to pay attention.
Over the course of the 20+ years since my mind-meld with a thunderstorm, animals took over my dream life. I didn’t dream very often, mind you. The severe electrical trauma affected the part of my brain that governs sleep patterns; I rarely slipped into the REM sleep necessary for dreaming. But when I did, I was always greeted by one or another of Mother Earth’s animal children, usually, Bear. In time, I learned to summon forth these spirit messengers through meditation. With Bear’s help, aided occasionally by Dragonfly and Coyote, I learned to function happily again despite living with constant, chronic pain.
It wasn’t until I moved to California and met and married Scott that Snake became such a big part of my life. And once She made her presence known to me, she hasn’t been out of my sights for long.
Four summers ago, I had one of my recurring dreams, not only as I slept, but also when I meditated. In this dream, I was hiking, and I crossed paths with a rattlesnake. I was very calm, as was the snake. Somehow, I knew I was supposed to be bitten by this snake. The snake coiled and struck. It did not hurt. At this point, I would either awaken or come out of my meditative trance.
Psychologist Carl Jung had a lot to say about snakes in our deams. He wrote, “What Nature wants us to do is to move with a snake-like motion. … The snake is the symbol of the great wisdom of Nature, for the too direct way is not the best way; the crooked way, the detour, is the shorter way.”
Jung’s words made sense to me. I had spent the better part of that summer working with youth, teaching them to love and respect Nature and how to write about it. But the program fell apart due to lack of cooperation from the agency that engaged me to start the program to begin with. The dream about being bitten by Snake may have been my mind’s way of telling me I needed to take a different path.
Snake is also a symbol of awakening kundalini, a reservoir of creative energy originating at the base of the spine. The image of a coiled snake suggests a spring and conveys a sense of untapped energy. In Hindu tradition, kundalini awakening and moving up through the body leads to enlightenment. In Shamanic tradition, this awakening leads to wisdom, and is something that isn’t experienced until midlife or beyond. (Hence, we don’t often marvel at the wisdom of youth.)
It wasn’t lost on me that I was sitting squarely in midlife when my recurring snake dream began. And like happens to many women when they hit midlife, I had a sort of “Now what?” mentality. I was suffering a severe case of blocked creativity. I was having difficulty writing. My third novel was stalled; my main source of editing income had dried up as a result of the bad economy. I had all sorts of artistic inspiration in my mind, but lacked the wherewithal to follow through with my ideas.
The appearance of Snake in my dreams, I realized, was not meant to be taken as literal foreshadowing of being bitten by a snake. It was meant to be interpreted as the end of my blocked creativity, the awakening of my kundalini energy. It was time to focus on something new. I began writing short stories instead of struggling through the novel I perceived as doomed. And you know what? Making that subtle change from short stories to novels, taking a different path, as Snake teaches, worked. After a few months, I returned to the novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, and finished it. And yes, Snake plays a big role in its story.
This past summer, Snake again appeared to me in a big way. Again, I was facing tremendous hardship and trials in my life. Scott’s blood pressure was too high for comfort despite faithfully taking medication, and our beloved kitty Beetlejuice developed uncontrollable diabetes and died.
Then, I discovered my publisher had seriously breached our contracts in multiple ways, and had paid me only a tiny fraction of the royalties due me. To say I was devastated seems to trivialize what I was feeling.
This discovery led me to the lowest point I can remember ever experiencing. But Snake was there for me, at my lowest point.
One afternoon, my cats Po and Little Lucy Bit started acting all wonky, like they do when a lizard or bird appears on the hill outside our living room window (we live on a steep hill; you can literally reach your hand outside our living room window and touch the steeply sloped earth). When Scott and I went to investigate, we found an absolutely stunning, four-foot-long gopher snake curled up on the hill, staring back at the cats.
Slowly, she stretched out her tight coils and slipped off the retaining wall and down into our garden. I sat on the ground, face-to-face with her, and with her permission, took a few pictures. She then slipped off under our neighbor’s fence and back up into the ivy on the hill.
I went over and over in my mind the lessons Snake medicine teaches. Change, first and foremost—change; transformation. Yes, things were changing for me. They had reached about as low an ebb as they could reach. Did the appearance of Snake mean things were finally going to take a turn for the better? What was this magical transformation Snake foretold?
Snake sheds its skin as it grows. At least outwardly, it becomes an entirely new snake. Perhaps Her appearance in my life now was a sign it was time for me to shed my writer-skin and don a new one. It was time for me to take a different creative path.
I demanded and received my book rights back, for which I am grateful, but that also meant for the first time in in many years my books are no longer in print. I thought about suing the publisher for back royalties, but I know for a fact they have no money. The vast majority of their authors left when I did; the company is pretty much destroyed.
When Snake sheds her skin, it often is left in tatters. Snake never looks back. She proceeds forward in her new skin, leaving the old to blow away in the wind.
Now, I, too, have shed my skin—my author’s skin. That part of my life is over. Snake has shown me the importance of moving forward. I will not look back. Nowadays, most of my creative energy is going into crocheting hats and afghans and glovelettes for gifts, doing my clay sculptures of bears and goddess figures, and into creating visual art from items found in nature. My Scott just bought me a mountain dulcimer, and instrument I have long wished to learn how to play. I find great contentment in sliding my finger up and down the strings. Come to think of it, it’s a rather snake-like motion.
To me, seeing a snake is a gift. Snake reminds me that, as Jung said, the direct route is not always the best route, that the winding path is often most desirable. She tells me I am a creative person and can shed my creative skin as often as I like, because sometimes a fresh start is all we need to turn a dull and dead project into a work of art.
At Scott’s urging, I had a rattlesnake tattooed on my arm to remind me of this. After I was tattooed–after I was bitten by a tattoo needle to form the image of a rattlesnake, rather than being bitten by the actual snake–my recurring dream/vision of being bitten stopped.
Snake is my constant companion, a part of my psychological makeup, as well as my neighbor on this hill I call home. We are both children of Nature. She inspired my writing; she inspires my artwork and music. Why wouldn’t I love her?