Transcript of Disc I, Chapter V: Serpents
© 2013 Max Dashu

Serpents Title:
Ohio cut mica dissolves to Norse amulet

Temple Mountain, Utah
Snakes signify so many meanings, beings, and energetic states: primordial vitality, deep earth powers, water beings, rivers and rain and wells, ancestors, our galaxy, the Rainbow Serpent.

Coyote Buttes, Arizona
Serpent power also encompasses birth, transformation, healing, death, rebirth, the great cycles of Nature and the deep pulse of life in our bodies.

Head of Sinbad Canyon, Utah
Sometimes the snakes seem to represent entry into a spiritual dimension, a pure flow of power and wisdom.

Buckhorn Wash, Utah
They are associated with seers, healers, medicine people across vast distances and timespans.

Entranced women and men dance around a double-headed serpent at Enkeldoorn, South Africa. Some fal to the ground in trance.

Cao, Peru
The Lady of Cao, a powerful Peruvian priestess of the 4th century, had tattoos of snakes and spiders along her arms.

Belen, Argentina
Double-headed snakes are found all over the world, here on a bronze from northwestern Argentina.

In Colima, Mexico, a woman is enveloped by a double-headed serpent, as if she is passing through a portal of transformative power.

Henan, central China
A Chinese bronze shows huge snakes coiled underground, beneath a ceremony of the Wu.

Foroughi Seal
Another kind of doubled serpent is seen in seals from eastern Iran, flanking a goddess in rituals with snake-handling women and spirit birds

Enthroned with rampant serpents, she is approached by a procession of women with snakes in their hands, as musicians play drum and lyre. [These seals are sometimes called the Marhashi seals after a Mesopotamian name for eastern Iran.]

Rosen Seal, eastern Iran
In another seal, women shamanize around an altar, above which a horned female figure wields serpents in both hands. At upper left, the goddess is enshrined with a snake, above enraptured dancers.

Luristani bronze pin
More than a thousand years later, a snake-grasping woman is depicted in Luristan, on the far side of Iran.

In many gold and ceramic plaques of Canaan and Syria, the goddess Ashtart brandishes snakes, possibly reflecting women’s ceremonial practices.

Snake Goddess, Knossos
Women danced with snakes in the ecstatic ceremonies of Crete. Goddess or priestess? how much sense does that distinction make, when the entranced woman calls the Divine into her own body, to prophesy, to guide, and to heal?

Snake Goddess 2
These are imponderables, but the surviving images powerfully model the profound states of consciousness that humans can attain.

Entranced Eyes
The eyes of women in deep ecstasy gaze into the center of Being, witnessing the ultimate reality

Mycenaean mural
Mycenean also danced with serpents, replicating the Cretan prominence of priestesses on the Greek mainland.

Golden seal
Cretan dancers appear to descend root-like passages to the Underworld, where snake-headed women adore a griffin on an altar.

Cretan dancers, clay
For at least a thousand years Cretan women are shown celebrating these snake-dancing ceremonies.

Snake-crowned Goddess
their goddesses crowned with serpents too, snakes coiled around their arms, and offerings placed before them on ceramic “snake tubes” in the shrines

Athens snakewomen pot
As late as 650 bce, we see a serpent-women vessel in Athens,

Snaky Athena
whose namesake goddess was robed in snakes in this period.

The Greeks name Medusa as a priestess of Athena–originally Neith. This North African woman of power became Othered and demonized in legend. [The Greek story has Poseidon rape her in Athena's temple, but the goddess does not punish his desecration, instead driving out Medusa.]

Artemision of Corcyra, Corfu
and yet the Gorgon persisted as a protective goddess, and as a healer. “Two drops of the Gorgon’s blood—one is poison, the other heals disease.”

Etruscan Medea
Another demonized priestess was the legendary Medea of Colchis, who enchanted a great serpent in her forest sanctuary. Greeks spread the fame of her powers all the way to Sicily, and Etruria, where this vase was painted.

Etruscan Mask
There’s nothing quite like this silver Etruscan mask with its cat-like face, cheeks adorned with flying geese, sacred knots, a lightning-bird--and its numinous, intensely shamanic scenes of women crouching to touch horned serpents.

Mask 2
Facing panels of hair (or are they lioness ears?) depict the snakes and delighted, naked women surrounded by whirling stars. What treasures have been hidden away from us, neglected.

Olympias Regina coin
Queen Olympias of Macedon led these snake mysteries, according to Plutarch: “She would drag out large tamed snakes for the band of celebrants, and the snakes would often crawl out of the ivy and the ritual winnowing baskets and curl around their wands and garlands, thus scaring off their husbands.” [Lives, 2, 9]

Stela of Roman priestess of Isis
In the Mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, priestesses kept snakes in baskets, like this Roman priestess of Isis.

Midé birchbark scripture
A snake-holding woman also figures in the sacred scripts of the Midewiwin, among the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and other Great Lakes peoples

Midé symbol
The snake can signify holy power, such as that of a medicine bag.

Snakey robes
Or of spirit helpers: Siberian shamans tied onto their robes many strands of leather “snakes,” their spirit helpers. [You can see their heads at top where they’re fastened.]

Utah snakey beings
In the canyons of Utah, similar cascades of snakes are painted onto sacred Beings. Many of these resemblances arise independently rather than being spread by cultural diffusion.

Maya Snake-wielder
A Maya woman grasps coiled serpents (and is embraced by a being with jaguar paws). She’s attended by a medicine woman in a spindle-and-serpent headdress, the insignia of the goddess Ix Chel.

Ilkley, Yorkshire
A snake-wielding woman -- goddess or shaman -- appears again at Ilkley in Yorkshire, carved into an altarstone dedicated to Verbeia, goddess of the Wharfe river.

Ilkley 2
Here’s another view of the same relief. Several ancient stones reflect these shamanic ceremonies of Celtic women.

Mavilly stela
At Mavilly, in eastern France, a Gaulish uidliua dances, her robes swaying, with a torch in one hand and two serpents grasped in the other.

A third Celtic altar at Cirencester, England, shows another snake-wielding being.

Smiss Stone, Gotland
The snake-woman is repeated in a Swedish veinin the Smiss Stone of Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea. Above her whirls a triskelion of dragons.

Coclé gold
In Panamá, the snakes are dragons, and emerge from the mouth of a golden woman wearing a spiral crown.

Snakepots, Ecuador
On an offering vessel from Ecuador, it’s two medicine women in ceremonial dress and face paint who brandish the snakes.

Gelede mask                      
This is a global sign, a ceremonial practice especially associated with women’s power. In a Gelede mask of the Yoruba, it is the ajé of the ancestral Mothers.

Ife vessel                      
The snake coils above the ancestral effigies in their shrine, on an ancient Nigerian pot from the sacred city of Ilé-Ifè.

In Benin Republic, a Fon priestess grasps one snake coiled around her arms and another around her waist. Peaked crowns like hers appear in South African and Australian rock art, as well as the Kemetic White Crown.

In Zimbabwe, the Shona remember how the python coiled around Harinda BaRozwe, conferring on her tremendous healing power, and the sacred Moonstone.

The Makewana
A long line of Chewa python oracles, the Makewana, prophesied in a a rain shrine at the sacred Pool of Malawi, for which the country is named.  These priestesses wore a spiral shell and wielded an ebony staff, as shown in this modern Chewa painting.

Makewana 2
Makewana means “Mother of Children,” all children. Their office was not hereditary; each woman was designated by spirit selection, by certain signs and manifestations.

Makewana 3
Among the Banda clans, high priestesses called Mwali called rain, prophesied, and presided over initiations. In the South, the Mang’anja too had shamanic rain shrine prophetesses.
[Mangadzi, another title, means “betrothed maiden,” because of her spirit marriage to the python god, whose bow was the rainbow.]



Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu




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