The snake has been clouded with myth and legends for centuries. In Ancient Greek times the goddess Demeter (Roman – Ceres) held a snake in one hand and sheaths of grain in the other. This symbolized abundance of crop and wealth. In Greece, at the oracle of the Delphi, the High Priestess would receive the oracle with coiled pythons at her feet. The pythons represented wisdom, courage and ocular power. The shedding of snake skin was seen as regeneration and self power.
In the Yoga tradition, which is still practiced today in India and other parts of the world, the snake celebrates the Goddess, who is the coiled serpent known as Kundalini. When Kundalini awakes it is believed that the person becomes “realized”. In Christianity, the serpent has a tainted view of being evil and sly as he tempted Eve to eat the apple from the Garden of Eden, so that she could receive visions. The serpent is also used as part of the symbol of Permaculture. The story being shared by Indigenous Australians.
In the beginning the Earth was flat, a vast grey plain. As the Rainbow Serpent wound its way across the land, the movement of the body heaped up the mountains and dug troughs for rivers. With each thrust of the huge multi-colored body a new land form was created.
At last, tired with the effort of shaping the Earth, she crawled into a waterhole. The cool water washed over the vast body, cooling and soothing . Each time the animals visited the waterhole, they were careful not to disturb the Rainbow Serpent. For although they could not see her, they knew she was there. Then one day, after a huge rainstorm, they saw. Her coloured body was arching from the waterhole, over the tree tops, up through the clouds, across the plain to another waterhole. To this day Aborigines are careful not to disturb the Rainbow Serpent, as they see her, going across the sky from one waterhole to another.
From Gulpili’s Stories of the Dreamtime. Compiled by H. Rule and S. Goodman Collins , Sydney, 1979
Until the middle of the twentieth century, harmless green snakes often shared the house with the people of Lithuania. They occupied a place of honor, the sacred space of the house, and were fed milk in addition to their usual diet. Serpents symbolized the power of family life and therefore could not be killed. They believed that killing the snake would destroy everyone’s happiness.
Freeing yourself from the fear of snakes is as important to you as it is to them. One principle of Permaculture is to treat animals with compassion, as they supply us with many products and benefits, as well as bringing colour and curiosity to our lives. Animals are often living indicators of environmental health. They are more sensitive to change than humans, and react quickly to deteriorations in environmental quality. Finding a snake in the garden is a sign that the ecosystem is on its way to equilibrium.
The slithery facts
Snakes play an important role in the biodiversity of the fragile ecosystem. The removal of too many snakes from the ecosystem allows other insects and rodents to proliferate. Understanding snakes we can reduce the fear and dislike of snakes. The simple facts are:
• Snakes have not evolved to prey on humans. They feed on rodents, lizards, insects and birds. The occasional boa-constrictor may feed on slightly larger animals.
• Snakes can move fairly quickly but for only short bursts. They need to keep a grip on the ground making it quite laborious to move. Being cold blooded they are even slower in cold weather.
• Snakes have no ears, their hearing mechanisms only allow them to pick up low frequency vibrations such as footsteps.
• Snakes have two ways of killing it’s victim: crushing bones or injecting venom.
• Snakes have a well developed sense of smell. When their forked tongue licks the air, it is actually tasting the air. An organ inside the mouth computes the taste so that it understands what it is smelling. Most snakes are shy creatures and when humans are smelt, the snake retreats.
• Dozens of species of snakes are eaten by people all across the globe. Reports say that they taste a lot like chicken.
There are simple design techniques that can be implemented to help you keep snakes from living in your garden. Straw bales, tin sheeting, old newspaper piles, brick and wood piles are great nesting places for snakes. Keep these stacks away from your house. Maintain your lawn close to the ground near your house.
If snakes find your chickens appetizing, heavy gauge wire mesh with small holes will need to cover the nesting house. Rubber strips from old tires can be nailed to doors to cover any small gaps as snakes can slither past even small gaps. The chicken coop may be built off the ground to give better protection. If you feel snakes are visiting the chickens or your house, keep a freshly raked layer of dirt over the floor and check for snake tracks the next day. Discourage mice from the house and keep grains in closed containers. Mice inevitablyattract snakes.
Research shows that most people who have been bitten by a snake either tried to kill a snake or they have accidently stepped on it. In the rare event that someone is bitten by a snake, it is vital that the person stay calm and be taken directly to the hospital. For a peaceful coexistence, take the time to identify the local snakes in your area as this will give you correct information to whether the snakes are venomous or not. It is an interesting activity, and you will find the more information you have the less fear you will have. The more we understand snakes the less likely we will meet one!
Beware the Gorgon!
A popular ancient myth from Greece tells us about three sisters – the Gorgons. Medusa was one of the three sisters. She had hair of snakes and eyes that turned every human into stone. After much destruction, a brave warrior, Perseus fought Medusa. By watching her reflection in his shield he was able to cut off her head. From the blood sprang the beautiful winged horse, Pegasus. This is the ‘official’ story but of course there’s always another version 😉