Gaia:Then and Now -- Reputable Snakes

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Gaia:Then and Now -- Reputable Snakes

Reputable Snakes

I very much enjoyed Jules Cashford’s stunning videos and the poetic and seamless way in which she shared so much mythology and history.

The discussions between Tom Singer and Jules, which were clearly conversations between great friends were a delight.

So were the questions from the audience. One in particular struck me as playful and profound: “How come so many snakes?”

This led to a reference by Jules to a “perfectly reputable goddess” who got turned into a snake, and a humorous observation by Tom that he hoped she was turned into a reputable snake.

The image of a reputable snake stayed with me. At first as a comical idea, like some snooty dinner guest at Toad Hall in The Wind and the Willows.

And then a truly reputable snake arrived — in the form of a short poem by DH Lawrence I hadn’t thought of in years.

This beautiful poem seems to perfectly capture the disconnection of our modern rationalist Now, in which snakes are anything but reputable, and our deeply groundedThen, when snakes were deified rather than demonized.

It think this poem, particulary the second to last stanza, also embodies the healing and devotional intention of this seminar.

So does the wonderful Goddess in Jules’ office, who holds the Snake of Life in one hand and the Snake of Death in other, with so much celebration and love.

Here’s to restoring the reputations of all Gaia’s children — gods, goddesses, and snakes alike.

And here is Snake, by D.H. Lawrence:



A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough
before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over
the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused
a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels
of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold
are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink
at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders,
and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing
himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed
in an undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

the last time the snake spoke

Dear David Wilson,
I often ponder the fact that the last time the snake actually speaks in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is in Genesis, causing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. We then turn away from the wisdom of other creatures and, with hubris, find only human intelligence worth valuing. Thank you for posting this poem. The snake speaks through the poet!

Thank you

Dear Deb O'Grady,

This is a great point. It is certainly hard for a snake, and any other non-human creature, to be viewed as reputable when one's power of speech is denied, and when ones words and wisdom ( or knowledge, in Genesis) are not recorded, or maybe even stricken from the record.

I love the idea that Snake, and all creatures, can speak through us if we are willing and honored enough to listen.

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