The Shape of a Snake

What is the shape of a snake? I picture it something like a sine wave; I picture it coming up out of a hole in the ground and then going back down.

Traditionally, snake is sometimes seen as a psychopomp–a guide for souls traveling between different realms–a quality that is often assigned to animals with habits like that.

Snake is different than a lot of the shapes that I think about because, of course, it’s alive. It’s four-dimensional in the time sense (like all living things and maybe all objects in general, but few evoke the intersection of geometry and movement as much as a snake does).

Snake’s movement is also multi-dimensional. It undulates forward-ish, and simultaneously, at times, is sheds its skin. Snake is engaged in a process that is directional and also, maybe equally, evolutionary. The snake that arrives home at night is clearly not the same one that left in the morning; it is literally the shape of a process.

On a mystical level, snake has another important power. This is maybe the time to mention that my younger child is absolutely obsessed with snakes. We also share an interest in Greek mythology and were recently reading the story of Eurydice, who carelessly stepped on a poisonous snake while fleeing a suitor. This should not be a big deal, my child insists that you know, because stepping on a poisonous snake isn’t going to hurt anybody besides the snake.

Unfortunately for Eurydice, the snake was actually venomous, and fortunately for the snake, that’s a whole different situation. A big part of snake magic is the idea of pharmakon, the p̶o̶i̶s̶o̶n̶ venom that’s also a medicine, the way the shape of evolution gets inside of you.


Holiday Gifts, 2021

Back in the fall I finally located a perfect statue of Hekate, so when I was hired for an unexpected Halloween tarot gig I used the money to order it from Russia. According to the tracking information, Hekate was stuck in Germany for over a month. Over the last three days, while I did not receive any further updates on that situation, I did receive a number of other fairly bizarre early holiday gifts from the universe:

First, there was a vision of the shape of a snake (I was trying to read, but I couldn’t concentrate). In the past, I’ve been aware of the moment when snakes shed their skin as discrete, I guess, and I appreciate that I, too, have had occasion to transform dramatically. This time, though, I was struck by the inescapable nature and interiority of snake itself, of personal evolution as an ongoing, all-consuming lifestyle/process.

I succeeded at reading a bit after that. I was starting Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Ensouling Language, which, as I mentioned to James, is possibly my new favorite book. To be honest, I didn’t realize it was possible for a book about writing like this one (which acknowledges that writing is literally magical and still explains some very concrete ideas about how to do it) to exist. The introduction contains the line, “to become a writer, you must shed your skin.” As usual, this kind of thing makes me think about time; in my experience shedding skin requires a lot of that.

When I interrupted myself again to compulsively check my email, I received a third somewhat unexpected thing. It was a message from a long-ago college professor — likely the one, as they say, “most familiar with your academic ability and potential.” I had at this point been grinding for six months on a moon-shot application for a funded philosophy grad program, having admitted belatedly that I actually do care about academics (probably too much). My professor told me that he was retired and would not be writing me a letter of recommendation. He also, oddly and correctly, guessed the specific nature of my late-blooming academic interest and sent me a nice quote by Maximus of Tyre:

“God Himself, the father and fashioner of all that is, older than the Sun or the Sky, greater than time and eternity and all the flow of being, is unnameable by any lawgiver, unutterable by any voice, not to be seen by any eye. But we, being unable to apprehend His essence, use the help of sounds and names and pictures, of beaten gold and ivory and silver, of plants and rivers, mountain-peaks and torrents, yearning for the knowledge of Him, and in our weakness naming all that is beautiful in this world after His nature.”

This was, however, fairly devastating news for me and my project, as I have no real, workable backup plan. The next day was kind of a blur but did not involve any notable gifts unless you count the fact that, due to CFS, strong emotion of any kind tends to leave me feeling hungover or a bit like I’ve got the flu, in any case embroiled in another kind of exhausting process that often takes up a lot of my time and energy.

The morning after that I felt a little better and, before starting work, I tried some writing exercises from the book. I wrote a short poem that isn’t particularly good but is notable in that I’ve never before sat down cold with the intention to start writing and ended up with a poem. It contains the line, “I wonder about radiance,” which is true.

I received two more notable messages that day, too: 1) My editor, who is often difficult to get in touch with, is ready to move forward on laying out my book, suggesting the eventual resolution of that particular process. By spring, perhaps? And, 2) Another old professor — one of my favorites and also my best remaining hope of getting any letters — is dying of cancer. Sad, and that’s also, on the level of my application, pretty much that.

Just before the end of the third day, I finally got this somewhat unexpected package.