Give the unconscious the bucket of complex ingredients you’ve gathered and it will bake you a dream-cake. No assembly required; recipe not necessary. Playfully poke your unconscious and call him Pillsbury.
I stumbled across this phenomenon sometime in June of 2001, after I had moved back in with my parents again. Through the internet I had come across an informative site on Neopaganism, which I had been curious about at the time. From there I followed a link to a site on Shamanism, where I read up on simple rituals that I could comfortably visualize myself enacting. Ultimately this led me to reading up on the concept of power animals, which I had only previously heard of through watching The Maxx on MTV at the time. As I read, I began wondering what my own power animal would be, and then began mentally noting and checking the descriptions of all the animals that had played a recurring, if not symbolic role in my life: the bunny, the duck, the turtle. Was it any of these, I wondered? I never came to any sort of conclusion, of course, but the following night one seemed to be delivered to me in a dream that was so intense it awoke me. From my dream diary:
“It is dark. I am walking or running when I felt something touch me on my side. I stopped and looked at some person to my right and a little behind me, perplexed by the look on his face. He was also trying to figure out what it was, or so it seemed. When I turned to look at it and saw it, we both instantly knew what it was: a snake was wrapping itself around me. I saw it first when it was on my side near my arm, but it slowly slithered underneath my cloths and started wrapping itself around my body. Its tail almost strangled me as it was around my neck, but it didn’t. I began to freak out quite a bit when I found that it was crawling down my pant leg. I tried to stay calm, because the last thing I wanted was this thing to bite me, and perhaps poison me. I tried to guide it down my pant leg by applying a slight pressure with both my fingers on either side of where it was, hoping that it would take the chance to go down and out my pant leg rather than back up. A few times while doing this it moved its head upward with strength. I held my breath, because I thought perhaps it was pulling back in order to stick its teeth in my skin, but it never did. I shook myself awake out of fear. I could almost feel where it had been around my body, and it crept me out. It was 4:30 PM and apparently I’d slept through both alarms.”
Though I cannot be sure that the snake was not of the power animals I had read about the previous night, even if it was I cannot help but attach significance to the presence of such an intense dream involving a snake directly afterward. Allegedly, experiments have shown that conscious thought overrides unconscious thought as well as unconscious conclusions. When one is stuffed with all the relevant data, contemplates it all that one can and then goes to sleep or successfully deflects their conscious attention to another task, one incubates this data in the unconscious, which subjects it to parallel processing and delivers it through a dream, an intuitive hunch, or similar means. The means by which the whole snake dream occurred would more specifically be considered an unintentional act of “dream incubation.”
Accepting, for the sake of argument, that this was an unconscious answer to a conscious question, what does the snake or serpent as a power animal indicate, what does it mean to and allegedly for me?
In the sense of associations derived strictly from personal experience, I can only consciously find reference to two incidents, one from childhood and the other some time after the dream. When my sisters and I were young, we would always listen to this one song that described a man being slowly squeezed and then eaten by a huge boa constrictor, and it was a favorite of ours. This has pretty clear connections with the dream circumstance, I think its safe to say. The only other experience connected with snakes that I can consciously recollect occurred, as I said, sometime after I had the dream. It was when I was still living with my parents and had to go to the side of the house to smoke a cigarette. As I was sitting there on a chair smoking my morning cigarette and drinking my first cup of coffee, I turned to find a snake sitting perfectly still and staring at me. I stared back and we seemed to have locked eyes for an eternity, sharing some infinite moment until we both just naturally broke our mutual gaze. He calmly slithered away and I resumed my sips and drags.
Aside from direct personal experience, there were some conscious knowns at the time of the dream. Amidst my paranoid reading in high school, I had read a good portion of the Earth Chronicles series by Zecharia Sitchen, who made some rather controversial claims derived from his interpretation of ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablets. This controversy only picked up when he was no longer one of the few to subject the tablets to interpretation and those among him did not agree with his allegation that the Sumerian gods were extraterrestrial colonizers from an as-of-yet undiscovered planet in our solar system. That said, his views on the symbol of the serpent echo the research of others and this was when I was first exposed to it. Regardless, what I gleaned from him and similar sources (such as William Bramley’s Gods of Eden, which I read around the same time) brought me to adopt particular conscious associations with the snake as a symbol for healing, wisdom, knowledge, secrecy, as well as death, rebirth and transformation.
These associations undoubtedly stuck so well in my mind because they only reinforced what I had no doubt unconsciously picked up from the culture. The medical professions always use the symbol of the caduceus, of the staff around which two serpents are coiled, making powerful associations between the snake and all the aforementioned qualities consciously noted through my reading.
There are also more literal associations that have since caught my eye. It is my tendency to stuff myself with data to the point of overload and then run away to chew, swallow, digest, throw my shit and grow through it like a strange little monkey. Choosing the snake as a metaphor here works perfectly: the snake squeezes then slowly swallows and digests its meal whole, rendered incapacitated in the interim. The snake builds on this theme in even greater perfection it another one its characteristics tendencies, at least in how I recall reading the details regarding a snake shedding its exoskeleton. Consider this dead skin representative of any number of things: ideas, emotions, beliefs, information, masques we don for the social realm. It slithers out of its dead skin with new skin hypersensitive to stimuli, much as I get hypersensitive in my periods of emotional or intellectual overload periods. In order to fully regenerate and once again find its strength, the serpent retreats, isolating itself in a dark, warm place until ready to emerge, interact, and bathe its cold blood in the social sun once again. Sounds fitting enough.
Given that the culture in which I’m embedded is a predominantly Christian one, however, there is no question my viewpoint was left tainted by the religion’s influence, no matter how ruthless my atheism. Perhaps uncovered but certainly amplified by Freudian analysis, the serpent’s association with sex given its phallic form is certainly a rampant one in the culture as well. Both these cultural forces serve to denounce the snake as evil and primal, tempting but venomous, alluring but lethal. The very cause of Man’s fall, they say. They dissuade empathy and understanding with the snake through generating fear. As a consequence, the associations with the snake as evil, dangerous and tempting were undoubtedly also influential here. The serpent or snake is the cosmic scapegoat among modern Christian minds.
This was not some form of doublethink for me, however, as my reading and contemplation offered a bridge, an understanding (I would argue) that the snake was denounced by our culture’s major religion for it offered individuality and personal freedom where our culture seems to feel that the shackles of conformity are of the greatest necessity. The serpent doesn’t have a leg to stand on, they say, and perhaps not, but despite that he manages to get along pretty well. Alongside my remaining conditioning, then, existed an intellectual understanding of the forces that shaped them. It seems rational to assume that any unconscious forces electing to use the serpent as a symbol would reflect that understanding, and in fact, it seemed to within the dream. As fearful and suspicious as I was of the snake, it neither strangled me to death or ever bit me to flood me with its venom.
I know at least at the end of the year of the serpent symbolism through Jung and my readings into alchemy, and I may have even known about the general concept of the kundalini through my readings into Tantra and the eastern religions. Aside from the snake’s behavior echoing in some way the Boa constrictor song from childhood, it also had allusions to kundalini, though in this case the snake was coiling around my body by entering the top of the body and slithering its way down. With the Hindu chakras in mind, perhaps this dream might be indicating that my power is found in being grounded or serving more basic needs. Quite a few flights down from where my attention was predominantly focused on the Maslow pyramid, to be sure.
Turns out it is also my birth totem and its qualities are synonymous with my astrological sun sign, Scorpio, nearly synonymous with the descriptions underlying my Chinese astrological sign, the Horse. Different languages, I suppose, but they all point to a joint meaning. In any case, it would appear that the snake is my unconsciously chosen metaphor for the basic qualities that define my personal power.
It’s a lot cooler than it could have been.