In the ancient world, snakes represented fertility, creativity, rebirth, wisdom and, even, death. They were often closely connected to female goddesses, priestesses and powerful human females who were the embodiment of such powers. For example, there is the Minoan goddess/priestess holding the two snakes in her outstretched arms. She is closely linked with fertility and domesticity. Similar figurines, with similar associations and dating to approximately 1200 BCE, have also been founded in the land of what once was Canaan, where Israelites also lived. Medusa, in whose hair lived venomous snakes, turned men who looked at her to stone. Ovid’s account of the creation of Medusa credits the Greek goddess Athena with Medusa’s lively hair. Another Greek legend says Perseus, after killing Medusa, gave her head to Athena who incorporated it into her shield. Athena, the goddess of wisdom, is portrayed often with snakes wrapped around her as a belt and/or on the floor next to her. Continue reading “On Snakes by Ivy Helman”
A Serpentine Path: The Dance Is About To Begin by Carol P. Christ
Entering the archaeological site of Kato Zakros, which includes a Sacred Center and part of a town on a small hill above it, I felt too tired to continue with the others. As we passed a stone bench to the north and west of the open court, I lay down and closed my eyes. I don’t know if I actually slept, but when I opened my eyes, I was in a trance.
I could see the air vibrating, and as I looked up the hill, I could almost see women walking up and down the stepped paths. My eyes were fixed on the path where women I could not quite see with my eyes went about their daily tasks. After a while Cathleen joined me. “I don’t want to talk,” I said, “but if you sit quietly beside me, you will see women walking in the village. She sat down and said nothing, but smiled broadly and nodded when I asked her if she could see what I saw.
After a while, I moved and sat facing the Central Court. I could still see the vibrations of the air, and as I looked across the court, I felt a sense of anticipation. “The dance is about to begin,” I told Cathleen when she joined me a few minutes later. She nodded. It was an hour before sunset, and the ancient stones were bathed in the last light of day. Jana and Patricia were talking in the central shrine room, while the others leaned over the ancient cistern watching turtles and turtle babies dive into the water and emerge again. “The dance is about to begin,” I said again.
Cathleen exclaimed, “I see the path of the dance rising up in the court. It looks like the Processional Paths we saw at Knossos, Phaistos, and Malia. Do you see it?” Though I did not “see” it, I was moved to the court, where I could “feel” it. I raised my arms, bent at the elbows, and slowly wove my way back and forth across the court, following a snakelike path I could feel with my feet. As I neared the center of the court, I almost lost my footing. Turning to face Cathleen, I gazed at her solemnly, sending energy through my palms. Cathleen raised her arms in greeting. I turned again, continuing to trace the snakelike path, back and forth, across the court. When I reached the south end of the court, I turned again to greet Cathleen and Robin who was sitting next to her. “The path you followed was exactly the path I saw,” Cathleen cried out with astonishment. “You were meant to stop at the center.” “It was an ancient path,” I said solemnly.
Jana and Patricia, who must have been watching, entered from the northwest entrance to the court. Jana was leading, arms upraised, tracing another path, walking with the same slow rhythm in which I had been led. I turned and slowly walked towards Jana until I could sense the energy flowing between our palms, then we softly touched our upraised hands. Carol, Patricia, Cathleen, and Robin formed a circle around us, and stood, arms upraised one in each of the four directions. Sensing that we were meant to share the blessing with the others, Jana and I turned, walking slowly towards the women standing in the north and south, feeling the energy, then touching their palms. Back to the center, we turned to the east and the west, completing the ceremony. As we turned to face each other again, I whispered to Jana, “We were called to this dance. It was an initiation.”
. . .
[A few days later] thinking of the snakelike path I had traced on the ancient stones, my eyes fixed on the gold snake bracelet on my right arm. I reviewed the many meanings the symbol of the snake held in ancient cultures. Goddess temples were used for storing grain, the harvest returned to She who presided over it. Snakes were guardians of the temples, eating the mice and rats that came to take the grain. The coiled snake and the snake biting its tail are symbols of wholeness. Snakes shedding their skins are images of rebirth and regeneration. Snakes hibernate under the earth and are reborn. But there was more: the rhythm of the snake in movement. I picked up a pen and wrote: “a serpentine path.”
These words described our initiation in the dance at Zakros: the serpentine path is the path of life, a snakelike, meandering path, winding in and out, up and down, with no beginning and no end, into the darkness, into the light. There is no goal, only the journey.
A cycle was coming to completion in my life. Through hard work and amazing grace, I found my way back to the Goddess, to myself. The mystery that was revealed to me as my mother died was unfolding in my life. Love had never abandoned me and never would. The Goddess would be with me at every turn in the path, and in that knowledge. I could give up control and open myself to life.
This is an excerpt from A Serpentine Path, Carol P. Christ’s newly released, moving memoir of transformation. Order it now in paperback or on Kindle. Carol’s other new book written with Judith Plaskow is Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Carol also wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess.
Join Carol on a Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in 2017. Save $200.
Read two more the chapters in the book: Mysteries and Dionysian Rites.
Thanks to Judith Shaw for the cover art “Downward Serpent.”
If the paperback is unavailable on Amazon, you can order it from Barnes and Noble.
Be-pistemology by Marcia Mount Shoop
Epistemology—the study or theory of the nature and the ground of knowledge, particularly with respect to the limits and validity of knowledges and the sources of knowledge.
Being—the qualities and characteristics that constitute conscious existence; a living thing.
I look outside the open window of my temporary apartment and read and re-read the sign that beckons drivers to notice this unspectacular place. “Welcome Home” it says in black Times New Roman font on a plain white background. As if saying it so simply, makes it true.
It doesn’t feel much like home to me right now. And thankfully it doesn’t really need to. Soon I will move into a new house. Then I will take the next step in working to make a home in this new place where my family and I have moved. For my husband, kids, and me, the knowledge that the apartment is temporary helps us deal with the strangeness of it. We know it’s not for long. And knowing that helps us behave in certain ways and cultivate particular expectations. This mode of operations allows us to bide our time. We have done just enough settling in to feel ok here—unpacked a suitcase, stocked the refrigerator. But we won’t hang pictures; we won’t be too intentional about meeting the neighbors. Being cordial is enough. After all, this isn’t really home. My nine-year-old daughter has actually made a rule that no one is allowed to call this apartment “home.” Continue reading “Be-pistemology by Marcia Mount Shoop”