January 31, 2006


On Monday evenings I’ve been going to a meditation workshop facilitated by my friend Reiki Woman. Since Reiki Woman lives in a tiny apartment, we meet instead at the home of KidsDoctor, who has a big living room, a formal dining room, and then another big room that she calls a family room. The family room has big comfy furniture, dim lights, and a fireplace in the corner, and that is where we gather, a circle of twelve women plus KidsDoctor's teenage son.

We were talking about animals last night, and the role that animals play in native cultures. (Reiki Woman's partner is a native healer.) During the meditation, Reiki Woman asked us to picture a non-human animal. I was hoping that some kind of cool animal would leap into my head – a wolf, maybe, or an eagle, or perhaps a bear – but instead the first thing I pictured was a snake. Not a garter snake or a common water snake, but some kind of snake with a cool mottled pattern.

I have had dreams about snakes, nightmares often, my whole life. And of course, I see real life snakes on a fairly regular basis as well. The edges of the bookshelves in my office are littered with snakeskins I've picked up while canoeing in the marsh or hiking in the woods. I've never been particularly afraid of snakes in real life – there are no poisonous snakes where I live – but when I was a child, the snakes in my dreams used to terrify me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better about accepting the snakes that appear in my life. I come to admire the way that snakes shed their skin, wriggling right out of it; I value that ability to grow and change and transform.

When it was my turn to talk about my meditation experience, I talked about my snake dreams and the snake in my meditation. Everyone in the room listened intently, their faces turned toward mine in the candlelight. I looked around the beautiful room and the cluster of women who had pulled their chairs closer to hear my stories. "Snakes in dreams and meditation always seem so real to me," I said, "that when I wake up or open my eyes, I look around for snakes. I mean, right now, I would not be surprised to find a snake in this room."

Three of the women exchanged a surprised glance. Then KidsDoctor spoke up. "Actually, there is a snake in this room."

Her teenage son nodded, "Yeah, I am supposed to be taking care of it."

Back in the corner, hidden behind a big leather chair, in an aquarium tucked below a heat lamp, a constrictor was curled up below a curving piece of bark. As I knelt down on the floor to gaze through the glass, the snake uncurled in a graceful move, moved her head toward me, and flicked out her tongue.


Girl said...

Huh...does this mean you are in the house of Slytherin?

jo(e) said...

Sadly, I think that is where the sorting hat would put me.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I think you must have some psychic powers.

Friday Mom said...

So, what, did you smell it or something? Pretty weird!

You are way more gracious to those creatures than I am, although I do like the image of shedding skin as a kind of transformation.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

My father is a tall, strong man, very successful in his career, dominating personality. The only thing that scares him is snakes. Just like Indiana Jones.

I love the image of 12 women and one pre-teen in a room of firelight and candles. How comforting. You know how to live, jo(e)!

Mona Buonanotte said...

I have always been, and always be, afraid of snakes. Granted the fear is a low buzz now, but still, if I'm not expecting one, I will freak. Out.

I often wondered if this was Freudian. Know any good dream interpreters?

Rana said...

That is terribly cool. I like snakes, and I love the snake dreaming.

I've always suspected that my animal would be something small and lively, like a lizard or a bird.

listmaker said...

I admire your comfort with the creatures; I loathe them, although I'm less freaked out by them than I used to be. Maybe it's because I come from a place called Rattlesnake Hill.

Leslee said...


Breena Ronan said...

Actually, symbolically snakes are very powerful.

Anonymous said...

No fucking way would you be in Slytherin. No way.

Ravenclaw for you, because you are brilliant. Perhaps Griffindor for your bravery.

No Slytherin.

And I *love* it that the snake acknowledged you. I think she was saying "hi."


Teri said...

I like snakes - most of them anyway. I suspect if I lived someplace with poisonous snakes, I'd feel differently.

mindspin said...


Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

I am fascinated by snakes, but the fascination is totally a product of terror.

To get a sense of the fascination, go to this page which has pictures of a snake eating a Kangaroo (probably just a small wallaby). Now scroll down to the second to the last picture, and look into the snake's eyes.

The eyes give you the sense of something alive but completely alien. A life form driven by desires and shaped by ideas that we could not conceive or express. A genuine monster.

jo(e) said...

Rob: A genuine monster? Oh, that's harsh.

I do get that instinctive fear when I see a snake -- which sort of makes sense because surely some of my ancestors lived in places where there were poisonous snakes -- I think an instinct to freeze when we see a snake is a human adaptation that makes sense. I understand that sort of reaction completely.

I have several times watched a common water snake eat a small frog, and I have to say it's definitely a fascinating process.

What always surprises me, though, is people who genuinely dislike snakes. I mean ... why?

Is it the fear of things we don't understand?