“All space is sacred space. Every inch of Mother Earth holds a specially energized connection to some living creature, and is therefore to be honored.” ~ Jamie Sans
The more widely recognized chthonic, or ‘earthbound’, and therefore evil symbol of the serpent has given snake a mixed reputation for centuries. The Greeks recognized this as the three Gorgon sisters; Medusa being one of them, Christianity and Islam as the serpent who tempted Eve, and the ‘evil’ of the snake translated itself as bad luck for the city of Thebes which was said to have its foundations built on a giant serpent.
In more enlightened circles, the snake is a symbol of medicine and health. The Bowl of Hygieia, Caduceus and Rod of Asclepius denote pharmacy and healing, whilst in India snakes have been worshiped as Gods with the cobra wrapping its way around the necks of Vishnu and Shiva, and women to this day still pouring milk on snake pits as a gesture of reverence. Nagraj is the King of the Snakes, and many believe the snake to also be a symbol of fertility.
Snake medicine people are meant to be very rare; they are able to shed their old skins and transmute any poisons, making them feared but also great witch doctors, able to digest life’s diversity of illnesses. If you see a snake it may be a sign that Ix Chel, ancient Maya Goddess of Midwifery and healing is trying to contact you. It is for this reason the snake is often associated with the divine feminine – as many main stream religions have used to deepen the misunderstanding and hatred of women – the snake tells a tale of the misunderstanding of the night; tempting the curious into acquiring knowledge as an inevitable step on the path to enlightenment. First we must endure the suffering of knowledge in order to grow.
The snake also symbolizes Samsara; the cycle of life, death, radiating luminosity and becoming. Wholeness is transient, and to be enjoyed as an impermanent part of the cycle… painful and difficult as the process of birth, but misunderstood by the ego as a threat. Snake people may have been bitten many times, or have lashed out themselves at others, but these painful experiences have been put in place to make them great healers and understand the mysterious qualities of the High Priestess and leads to great wisdom.
The snake stands for the element of fire; and it is through this feared and loved force that it continues its cycle of creation and destruction. Like the Hindu Goddess Kali, snake and fire show us that destruction is needed in order to create; and that both states are as equal as the other.
“This fire energy, when functioning on the material plane, creates passion, desire, procreation, and physical reality. On the emotional plane, it becomes ambition, creation, resolution and dreams. On the mental plane it becomes intellect, power, charisma and leadership…” ~ Jamie Sans.
And on the spiritual? A connection to the Divine and the great mysteries of the universe. Often seen as a heavy burden, snake energy and the power of fire is an eternal element of the Shaman; a sacred dance with the more enthralling and intimidating powers of this planet, the snake uses pain as a way to transform. A path to be trod by the individual, the snake is a rare and sought out doctor who has digested all the painful poisons within themselves in order to burn up the evils of negative thinking and doubt in the other that has led to disease in the body and inaction in the spirit.
The Bat is another misunderstood creature; half bird, half rodent that hangs upside down and is active at night, it has become the western symbol of Old Hallow’s Eve and witchcraft, but in the Mesoamercian traditions is the symbol of rebirth. Among some tribes, such as the Creek and Apache the bat is a trickster spirit and a shape shifter, who torments its victims, perhaps drinking their blood, and, like the snake, it is ultimately evil.
Bats are commonly associated with death and the fear of it – their love of caves and cemeteries link them to the underworld and omens of darkness. The Kaqchikel Maya believed him to be in league with the Devil, collecting the blood of various animals and babies to later feed to his master. In Eastern Nigeria and Oaxacan mythology the bat represents jealousy; desiring to be something it’s not in its nocturnal friend the bush rat and more elaborate cousin the bird. The ugliness of the bat is sometimes confused with its purpose as is its supposed confusion as a species.
However, in the Tongan the bat is more companionable; the physical manifestation of a separate soul, and in Catalonia it is admired to be a winged dragon, called upon to aid battle and the symbol of a respected soldier. In Aztec, Toltec and Tolucan rituals the bat is a most sacred creature and symbolizes the shamanistic death of the ego.
In hanging upside down he is like the hanged man in the tarot; contemplating sacrifice and seeing the world from a different perspective. The shamanistic death of the ego embraces Kali’s moment of destruction and, like the snake shedding her skin; the hanging bat sheds his stifling notions of self and identity to be reborn and freed to fly into the mysteries of the night.
Though the ancient initiations involved various forms of humiliation – much like the taunting the bat has previously endured and the snake’s transmutation of poisons – ending in a final burial in the earth to rid the young shaman of all traps of the ego, the final birth was as a pure spiritual being, free from the illusions of desire and aversion.
The bat’s cave can be seen as a symbol of one’s grave – the confrontation with the inevitability of death will set us free from it and our struggles with our own demise. Our Bat spirit guides encourage us to let go of old patterns and stagnant energy to release ourselves into the night and come face to face with our own mortality.
The death of the ego can only come about when we have released ourselves from all aspects of it; light and dark. The jealousy, ugliness and assumed evil of the snake and bat call upon our own desires to be liked and accepted. The Shaman and the visionary walk a solitary path; heckled by the crowd who imitates, it is confronting the ugliness within ourselves and loving it just the same. Decay is a necessary part of death and those who stand against the flow, though feared and hated, may be closer to being reborn on a higher plane.