It’s going to be hot out there. No-option-but-naked kind of hot. Snake weather.
The bees will be gathering water from the banks of the Eel. The water ouzel will be dancing her grey-winged hop up and down the river. The bears wont come near. There are too many of us.
Tomorrow I’m going backpacking with thirteen dear friends. A reunion in the California wilderness. Ten years ago, we piled our bright eyes and burgeoning adulthood into a few likely-to-fail vehicles and set out on a four and a half month journey into the wilderness. I wouldn’t exactly call is a backpacking trip; it was less hike-through and more wilderness emersion. Alumni and friends of the Sierra Institute program, we went to learn about ourselves from the wilds and each other.
Three weeks fishing in the Marble Mountains, two weeks tucked under dripping canyon alcoves on the Dirty Devil river, three weeks following the creek lines through the frosty Whites, five days with grandmothers and ceremony in the Sonoran desert, twelve days vision fasting on the Kaibab Plateau with the School of Lost Boarders, a week along the sea battered edges of the Sinkyone. We sat in council, we ate wild watercress and wood sorrel, someone got lost for three days, people shared backcountry romance, people got sick, people got fed up and left, we disagreed, we laughed, we read stories aloud, wrote songs, met bears, wiggled into backcountry skin, made amends with our nature-starved souls, and broke ourselves against modern society.
We’re going back now. Thirteen busy adults with busy lives, affording ourselves four days to pay homage to four months of life altering earth-speak. For me this means snakes. Rattlesnakes. I find it a terrible irony that my favorite place in the wilderness is also one of the most snakey out there. To further the cosmic joke, I was born for wild places, yet life offered me a highly traumatic early childhood experience with death and a rattlesnake. Fast forward through twenty years of snake nightmares and debilitating phobia, and you find me dawning a heavy pack, hyperventilating in an Arizona parking lot, and hoofing it into the snake-rich springtime desert. I would not be defeated by phobia. I would stalk the wild feminine and surely and she stalks me.
Now, I am versed in venom. A woman of the bee, stung time and again. Since that journey, when I came face to face with my nightmare pursuer, I have negotiated a new relationship with bite and sting. I am not less afraid, but I less crippled. I am more whole. It has something to do with learning the language of dreams. With learning to read the story differently. Why does the serpent bite me, pursue me, threaten my sleep? Could it be the old magic, the earth magic, seeking a way in?
The Bees became my bridge to the Snake. In their hidden way, they revealed the old stories about the sacred serpent. She who moves through the earth. She who is pure creative power. Pure sexual life force. The embodiment of the divine feminine. In ancient Greece, the Oracle of Delphi, she who famously uttered prophecy, was known by two names: the Delphic Bee and the Pythia. She was a Melissae, a bee priestess, but she was also of the serpent, the earth-dragon. Pythia is a Greek name derived from Pytho, the old name for Delphi and our root for the snake species, Python. Pytho or Delphi was the center of Gaian mother culture; the navel of the world. This center point was represented by a stone, the omphalos, an egg-shaped carving guarded by Python and used in the uttering of prophecy.
As Patriarchy made it’s way into Greek culture, the Pythoness became a monster. Apollo, the sun god, slew the serpent and Pytho became the Temple of Apollo. The divine feminine force was overthrown, shamed, violated and erased. So, we have another story of how we split ourselves from the natural world. How we took the wholeness of human expression and divided it, driving the stake down through our own sense of who and what we are. Divorcing man from nature. Woman from man. Sexuality from the sacred. The female form, she who knows the language of the serpentine flow, is exiled from the holy. Exiled to the point that today, in American politics around health care, simply being a woman is considered a pre-existing condition.
It is no wonder that I have been stalked through my dreams by the snake. From a shamanic view, to be bit by an animals in dreams, often signifies taking on the animal's specific powers or medicine. It is an invitation, never mind how terrifying. When we dig in to the storied myth-lines of our dreams, when we look at them as more than simply the psychological detritus of our day, we find breadcrumbs towards a fuller expression of self. We find that the antidote is venom, and the poison is our own disconnect between self and nature.
I talk to my bees. I ask them to teach me. I dream with them. I dream of them. They show me through sting, nectar, pollen and hum how to be a more embodied woman. Let's call it earth magic. Tomorrow I will set out on the trail, and have my conversation with the snakes: “You’re beautiful. I love you. I love the way you move. I will not harm you. I am afraid of you. If you choose to show yourself to me, let it be gentle. I love you.” Who knows if it does any good, but it places me firmly in my body, and I begin to weave my way back into Wilderness Self. Perhaps our wild feminine needs to be approached as such, aware of the long exile and the fear that comes from not knowing how to be around a force of nature that is so powerful. Even when that force is expressed through our very form.
You’re beautiful. I love you. I love the way you move. I will not harm you. So mote it be.