It’s early evening, already well past dark in Alaska, only a few nights before the winter solstice. I huddle beneath the down comforter on my bed. Although the bedroom door is closed, a thin beam of golden light slips inward from the hallway. I hear my husband and daughter laugh as they arrange holiday decorations in the living room.
A pinched nerve in my lower back causes intermittent bursts of pain to surge up my spine. The discomfort is so intense that my stomach aches from bracing against the waves of nausea. Though the cycle is sporadic, it has been going on for hours and I’m exhausted.
In between spasms, I seek refuge in a dreamy state of consciousness. For several minutes at a time all is calm and quiet, and in one particularly lucid moment I ask my body to reveal the core source of this physical discord. What do I need to know? I plead. What can I do?
I am not truly expecting an answer, and yet it comes — lightning fast — in the form of a gigantic snake. So huge is the serpent that for a moment all I can see is its face, the rest of its body eclipsed by the immensity of its head.
Its pupils are vertical slits, dark doorways surrounded by flecks of gold. Its body — I can see more of it now— is thick and glossy, the same ruddy orange color as its head and neck. A row of slim, downward-pointing triangles runs along the sides of its long body, each triangle ending in a sharp diamond tip.
The snake regards me steadily, intently. Its features are strong and angular, its presence imposing. My heart beats faster.
Part of me knows I should be wary, but a deep concern for the snake suddenly wells up and words tumble out: How can I help you?
The snake tells me, not with words, but with shared thoughts, that it has lost its tail. I understand this means not that it has misplaced its tail or can’t find its tail, but rather, that its tail has been severed — disconnected from its body.
And now I am in a different place, an older time, observing an old woman, a healer perhaps, inside a forest cabin. She sits on a straight-backed chair in the glow of a hearth fire, with a dark, medium-sized snake draped upon her lap. Using a silver needle and thick black thread, she stitches a series of Xs to connect the snake’s body to its tail.
Seated near the woman, a bit behind her, I do the same with a snake of my own. Both of us are relaxed, yet focused. Up and down our fingers rise and plunge in harmonious rhythm as we make neat black Xs all around the serpent’s middle.
We are putting Snake back together again.
Maybe I awoke a little then, for the scene fades and I’m back in my bed. The snake has become smaller, its orange hue transformed to a beautiful silvery, gray-blue. It is a small, sweet snake that curls inside my pelvis, nestling against my spine. Kundalini comes to mind — the latent energy force that lies coiled at the base of the backbone, sometimes imaged in Eastern traditions as a sleeping serpent.
Is that who you are? I ask, and the snake replies that it is many things and yes, kundalini too.
Softly rattling its tail (in that strange way of dreams, the snake both has a rattle and doesn’t have one), the snake assures me that all is well, and for a moment I feel such a tender, gentle peace. The snake’s energy reminds me of a sleeping baby, and I hear myself laugh softly at how perfect it is that the sound of a rattle fits both with a baby and a snake.
Waves of knowing flow through me then. Snake is sharing thought and energy, memory and experience. There is no order about it. One thing does not so much follow another; rather, a flood of sharing permeates my being.
The sharing is strong and fluid, constantly moving. I feel immersed in a rush of energetic knowing, buoyantly carried forward by the great flowing river that is Snake. At times my consciousness alights upon small details, my awareness pausing on stepping stones in the stream. In such moments, thoughts swirl like tiny eddies. Understandings arise in no particular order, with no particular start or finish. For example,
When a baby is born its skull has a soft spot because it is still connected and open to Spirit, as represented by the energies of Sky. And sometimes we see images of babies just born, held upside down, their tiny feet to the sky, their heads to the earth, because they are literally turned upside down by being born. And there is something important about energy moving between the soles of the feet and the soul — no mistake that those words sound alike — and ‘sole’ in the sense of the individual as well. All those concepts related: soul, sole of foot, sole of individual, in the axis mundi of our being.
Snake is associated with this because of its coil (kundalini again) and because its energy flows up and down our spine. The human spine is bathed in fluids (craniosacral, cerebrospinal) that keep us limber and adaptable. Spirit of Snake travels upon this fluid, using it to move its energy through us, encouraging us to move as well.
There is much about Snake moving — and if we are very observant we will find clues in the mystery of how snakes can move so quickly without limbs. That mystery is not only about moving on earth, but also about moving between worlds — Sky and Earth, Earth and Water, Land and Underground — all spaces where Snake finds a home.
And much of this is also about how Snake is an agent of healing. For a moment I see the staff of an ancient healer with a serpent intertwined, and then two snakes, curling around each other upon a central axis. This, too, speaks to our core and the powerful life-energies moving up and down our spine, influencing our consciousness, nudging us to awakening.
Remember, says Snake, and I understand how a baby has an opening in its skull but as humans age and accommodate to the world, the opening shuts and we become closed off. And so kundalini energy must often be forceful in adults, as it must travel fast and hard to break through what we have closed.
The insights (of which there were many) present in an ever-shifting variety of ways — now fanciful, now numinous; now practical, now profound. I comprehend it all in a way that I know cannot so easily be grasped in the waking world. In time, says Snake, and I understand — it will all unfold in time.
With a sigh, I curl my body under the comforter just as Snake curls around my spine. And together we dream.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ :-<
I awoke the next morning with renewed energy. Gone was the back pain and nausea. In its place, excitement overflowed. An important event had occurred. Something large and powerful in the deep psyche had glided up to consciousness in order to be seen and heard and known.
As a longtime student of dreams, I am both aware and in awe of the helpful wisdom, guidance, and insights our dreams may share with us — if we take time to notice and explore. From decades of recording, interpreting, and working with my dreams, I knew this was no ordinary dream. Rather, it was a Big Dream — a dream that carried not only personal significance but a collective, universal message as well.
What does it mean when an immense snake shows up in your dream, telling you it has lost its tail? Without a tail, a snake cannot move forward, for it is disconnected, separated from the wholeness of its being. Do we humans not find ourselves in a similar situation?
Dreams speak to us on many levels, making use of symbol and metaphor, creative puns and allusions. Through the dream, I sensed an awakening of ancient memories. And I knew: not only was Snake telling me it had lost its tail, but also its tale — the larger story of who it really is.
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Though I never had an inappropriate fear of snakes, I was not particularly drawn to them either. Beginning the morning after the dream, however, I felt a keen urgency to learn all I could. I was a woman on a mission, searching the Internet, ordering books, reading articles, watching videos, beholding the many images of Snake that have influenced our world in so many remarkable ways. How had I never noticed this before?!
Over 3000 species strong, snakes are found in nearly every habitat on Earth — jungle, desert, mountain, sea. With an exceptional ability to adapt and specialize, they have diversified in some incredibly creative ways. Gliding from trees, swimming through oceans, burrowing underground — all with eyes that never close. No wonder Snake was once honored as the wisest of creatures!
Follow its mythic presence throughout human history and you will find Snake everywhere, in almost all cultures and sacred traditions. In ancient times, Snake was not only closely linked to gods and goddesses, but revered as a form of the divine itself. It was Snake that protected the Buddha as he meditated beneath the Bodhi tree, Snake that helped to churn the cosmic waters in Hindu mythology, and Snake that guided ancient shamans to journey through other worlds.
Earth mother, elemental creator, elegant and enigmatic representative of the primordial energy of life, Snake was once esteemed advisor to royalty, powerful ally to medicine men and women, and deep source of wisdom to those who sought its counsel. An abundance of legends link Snake to fertility, creation, death, rebirth and transformation.
Later associated with medicine, Snake came to symbolize regeneration, renewal, and the secrets of immortality. Fast and agile, flexible and resilient, Snake energy oversees death of the old and ushers in birth of the new. Traveling the serpentine coil of DNA, Snake is an agent of cellular healing that brings swift change.
Coiled around the Tree of Knowledge, connected with both male and female sexuality, Snake is also witness to the intimate shadows of our psyche. Indeed, how we see Snake offers not only a view into the world of Ophidia, but a reflection of ourselves. Where sexuality is balanced, Snake is honored. Where sexuality is denigrated or repressed, Snake is most often deemed evil.
Healer and harmer, creator and destroyer, tempter and liberator — with the exception of humans, no animal is more universally represented (nor paradoxically so) than Snake.
What is it about Snake that gives rise to such a strong dichotomy of viewpoints? And why do so many humans hold such a deep-seated fear, revulsion and even hatred of snakes?
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For several years, I became a serious student of Snake. I was inspired to research — to see again — and thus better understand the flood of energy that burst into consciousness from my dream. I wanted to know why and how Snake had lost its tale.
By tracking its presence through history, science, religion, medicine, alternative healing, shamanism, the collective psyche and its dreams, I would learn many amazing things from and about Snake. Eventually, I would live with two snakes as well.
This book is a dream-inspired look at Snake — from the secrets and surprises of its biology to the many varied ways that humans interact with this profoundly amazing and most mysterious of creatures. We will explore not only Snake’s physical presence on Earth but also its larger mythic story and the ways it continues to influence human consciousness today.
In order to understand Snake, it is helpful to become a bit snakelike — adaptable, curious, with eyes wide open. Whether traveling through remote jungles of the mythic past, burrowing into the subconscious, or exploring the dreamworld, an ability to discern pattern and engage insights from a variety of disciplines is useful.
Throughout my journey, I rarely knew where Snake’s path would lead. Following it was a twisty, curvy, one-thing-leading-to-another adventure. Yet time and again, I found something remarkable. From its role in the Garden of Eden and that first bite of forbidden knowledge to the power of kundalini rumbling up and down our spine, Spirit of Snake speaks to human awakening and spiritual evolution.
Like its sister totem Dragon, Snake guards a treasure both powerful and dangerous. Still and silent, Snake energy may remain dormant in our most secret spaces (wrapped around our spine), or manifest in frightful ways to keep us distant — until we are ready to awaken. Snake protects a knowledge best not accessed until we are emotionally, consciously, and spiritually mature.
I believe there is very good reason why Snake frightens so many. Snake’s story is much larger, more involved and interconnected to our own than most of us would ever imagine. To face Snake means facing a shadow part of ourselves that we have long denied. Is it no wonder that Snake engenders such strong reactions from humans?
Without its tail, Snake cannot move forward. Are we not in a similarly precarious position? It is no secret that we are in the midst of a profound paradigm shift on planet Earth. We live in a fragmented world of separation — good and bad, us and them, sacred and profane — embracing one part of ourselves while judging and denying the other, pushing away our shadow side, resisting its wisdom.
In many ways, we have lost our tale and sense of wholeness. We desire to find ourselves, to reconnect with nature, to become whole once again. But how?
Ordinary as a green grass snake yet extraordinary too, Snake may surprise us with its many guises. Mythic earth mother, master healer, companion to the Goddess, awakener of deepened consciousness, Snake appears in the collective dream when change is most desperately needed.
The questions are many. Why Snake? What did the ancients know that we have forgotten? How and why did Snake’s story become so misconstrued? What does it mean to put Snake back together again? By following its tale, what will we discover — not only about Snake, but also about ourselves?
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(Excerpted from Awakening the Ancient Power of Snake: Transformation, Healing, and Enlightenment, Inner Traditions International, February 2020)
Copyright 2020 Dawn Brunke. All Rights Reserved.
Dawn Baumann Brunke is a writer and animal communicator. She is the author of eight books about connecting with animals, nature, self and spirit. This article is excerpted from her latest book, Awakening the Ancient Power of Snake: Transformation, Healing, and Enlightenment, which will be published by Inner Traditions International in February 2020. For more information, see her website: www.animalvoices.net.