“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”–Gautama Buddha
When I was a little girl, just barely 7 or 8 at the oldest, I met a snake at the local wildlife center during a field trip. I had seen snakes before, and had been told they were dangerous. In fact, many a serpent met its end at the mercy of my grandfather’s garden hoe. My grandmother often spoke of snakes in terms of the biblical snake in the Garden.
“Never trust a snake,” she would say in her thick, French accent, “they are all bad, even if they don’t poison you, they will squeeze you dead! Always stay away from the snakes.”
So at that moment, as the handler came up to me and offered for me to pet the snake, I gazed at it with a little fear, and a whole lot of wonder. That moment may have every well been my first act of rebellion. I remember thinking, just before my fingers shakily reached for the snake’s coils, that it must be so smiley, and oh, how my grandmother would be so upset!
And the surprise that it was not so was even more delightful. Fingertips touched smooth, cool scales, instead of slime. So soft, almost like velvet, with the exception of the slight ridges of each scale. And even more, it did not poison me, or squeeze me dead. Right then, in that moment, I knew that one day, I’d have a snake of my own.
And very soon, that knowing moment will come true. But before then, a snake came to me in a dream …
I was in an unfamiliar house when I stepped into the dream. Some of my coworkers were there, as well as some of my students and graduates from years previous. They were all milling about the house as if they were my guests, all dressed cocktail attire. I myself was wearing a white sheath dress. The house was filled with beautiful houseplants in every room making the interior feel more like jungle than house.
Dr. Holt, one of my coworkers, asked me if I had my snake yet, and if she could hold it. I gave her a quizzical look.
“No, I don’t have it yet. I’m holding out for a white python after Christmas.” I looked around as more guests came up to us.
Brad, one of my former students then asked “Well if you don’t have a snake yet, then who does that one belong to?”
“What? There’s no snake…” I said, voice trailing off as a bird cage appeared to my right. It was filled with plants and sticks, and as I looked, something moved, slowly and deliberately, through the foliage.
I walked up to it and peered through the wiring, and sure enough, there was a light blue snake in the cage. White and tan diamonds ran the length of its spine. By the patterning, it seemed as if it could be venomous, but I wasn’t worried at all.
“Oh no! This enclosure isn’t safe!” I looked around at all of my guests, bewildered. “Which one of you did this?”
I reached in, grabbed the snake behind the head, and, very carefully, picked it up. It was so long, but thin, more like a kingsnake over a ball python. Keeping my grip on its head, I draped the rest of her around my shoulders. Many of my guests murmured with worry.
“Well, I wanted a white python, and a baby. This one is blue, and so big! But if it needs a home, I’ll keep it, for now at least. I think it’s a girl.”
“But it’s biting you.” Brad said, voice calm despite the statement.
I looked down to see that the snake had wriggled free of my grip behind her head, and was striking at my left wrist. Though she bit me, over and over again, I felt no pain, and the snake left no marks.
“Ah, she’s just mad. She’ll calm down.” I walked around the house with this snake still striking at me, talking to my guests as if it were the most normal thing in the world. I was not afraid. If anything, I was determined to make the snake calm.
After a time, I sat down on the couch with the snake and pet her as she hissed at me. My guests gathered around us, eyeing the snake warily.
“Her name is Minerva.” I sighed, as if a heavy realization had come over me in taming the snake. “Even if she’s not the one I wanted, she’s the one I have, and I love her anyway.”
At my words, a sudden calm washed over the snake. Her striking and hissing stopped, and she began to wind her long body around my shoulders and torso, resting her head on my chest just above my heart. She was not constricting me, rather she hung loosely from my body as I pet her head.
Just then, I heard a knock on the door. I looked up, and The Wolf walked into the room, all in black.
“What are you doing, darling? We’ve got to go or we’ll be late for dinner. Don’t you remember? Bring the snake, though, looks dynamite with your dress.” He winked at me and grabbed my hand, pulling me up and out of the house.
The dream went into completely different territory from there. The part with the snake, however, stuck out to me. It seemed symbolic, though of what, I am unsure. I have mulled over a few different ideas over the last couple of days.
Traditionally, snakes in dreams are seen as an enemy force. And maybe I have an enemy out there somewhere. Sometimes it feels that way, an uncanny feeling that there is this strange, feminine presence out there wishing me ill, for reasons I do not understand. And yet, snakes have always been a personal positive for me, so I do not feel this is necessarily it.
My mind instead moves to my own personal journey. How I have had to come to accept where I am, instead of where I pictured myself being at this point. How I have had to learn to love myself, even when there were times where I was more alone and feeling more unworthy of love than ever in my life. I have fought hard to tame that snake, and kept my wounds hidden on the inside as best I could. And some days, I am still fighting, though the serpent? She is beginning to calm. And maybe one day, too, after she is serene, I’ll hear a knock on the door.
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