Saturday, September 3, 2011

Serpents and Women

Minoan Snake Goddess
What are your first thoughts when you think of a snake? "Gross". "Slithery", maybe. How about, "scary", Ooh I know, "poisonous" or better yet..."creepy?". Chances are the word "feminine" doesn't cross your mind. However, throughout time, snakes are thought to have been the familiars of women. In the bible, Eve was temped in the Garden of Eden by a snake to eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge. In ancient Egypt, Cleopatra committed suicide by allowing an Asp to bite her. Ancient civilizations and cultures around the globe, in one way or another, have their own feelings about this. Telling different legends and myths about these serpentine creatures, and not just that they were snakes but that they were women as well. They are as much feared as they are revered and respected.

I find this fascinating because I love snakes. Maybe it's because growing up, there were no snakes in Hawaii. I only ever saw them on TV and once in Las Vegas. I find them mysterious, beautiful and quite frankly, frightening. You cannot deny the lure they have. Whether they're at the zoo, in a cage, slithering along the highway or draped on someone's shoulders, people stop and look. The same could be said about women. If there's a beautiful woman around, people will stop and look.

Now I do not claim to know everything. I've tried my best to be as accurate as possible with names, cultures, events etc... As they say in Hula, "A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi." or "Not all knowledge is found in one school/source." I'm sure there are many variations and other stories or legends as well. My intention is not to offend anyone either. If you have any stories, please share them in the comments below!

So what are these similarities?

We women are complex creatures. A vast and deep ocean of thoughts, emotions, character, charms and mystery. As Oscar Wilde so wisely said, "Women are meant to be loved, not understood." We are creators and the bearers of life.

Aboriginal "Rainbow Snake"
Snakes were often thought of as creators as well and were a common feature in creation myths. Many people of Africa and Australia had myths of a Rainbow Snake, which was either Mother Earth, giving birth to all animals or a Water-God whose witherings created rivers, creeks and oceans. Greek cosmological myth speaks of Ophion, the snake who incubated the primordial egg from which all things were born. In Egyptian myth, the state of existence before creation was symbolized as Amduat, a many coiled serpent from which Ra, the sun god and all creation rose. In Chinese mythology, Nüwa, a snake with the head of a woman, created the first humans, one by one with clay but this took too much time and strength. To conserve energy, she dipped a rope in clay and flicked it so blobs of clay landed everywhere, each blob became an individual human. The first humans she created became high-class, the second ones became low-class.
The Gorgon, Medusa

However, where we are the creators we are also the destroyers. The Gorgons, in Greek mythology, were beautiful snake women. The most famous and recognized was Medusa. Cursed after angering the Goddess Athena, her gaze could turn any man to stone. In Judeo-Christian belief, Eve was tempted by the snake in the Garden of Eden to eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge, therefore responsible for the fall of man. Was Eve tempted or just willing to listen to a creature we are thought to be so connected to? Maybe we'll discuss that one some other time....

We are tempting and dangerous. I think few would disagree, except maybe my male gay friends, that there is nothing as tempting or beautiful as a woman. There is no question that we have a certain sensual aura and power around us. A women's sensual appeal has inspired the poets for centuries. George Washington once said, "When once the woman has tempted us and we have tasted the forbidden fruit, there is no such thing as checking our appetites, whatever the consequence might be." Forbidden fruit, the serpent and Eve...maybe we are one in the same.
Beautiful & Dangerous

We understand that our sensuality is like a force of fire. Depending on it's use, can either warm our beds and relationships, light up a dark room or burn our house down. We have a constant ebb and flow of sensual energy that flows through our heavenly curves and radiates outward. Some women may not know it, or have not "tapped" into it yet, but believe me it's there.

Knowledge & Power
Lord Shiva & Quetzalcoatl
 Recurrent themes seem to suggest that serpents represented great knowledge and a divine sexual power. In ancient Rome, young women took gifts of barley cake to the sacred serpent to assure their own reproductive powers and the fertility of the earth. In Hindu belief, Lord Shiva, the auspicious one, wears snakes as a garland around his neck. Symbolizing wisdom and eternity. Quetzalcoātl, the feathered serpent, was worshiped by the Aztecs, Toltecs and other Mesoamerica tribes. He was the creator and destroyer of various world periods. He was also the god of wind, water and fertility. The existence of his worship can be seen throughout Central and parts of South America, where serpent motifs are frequent. Many native tribes of North America also worshiped the snake. Navajo, Hopi, Natchez, Zuni are just a few who have a long history with snakes.

A Nagini Princess
We are maidens. Young and fair. In Indian myth, Nāga and Nāgini were human-snake hybrids, specifically the King Cobra, who lived in jewel-encrusted underground or underwater paradises and who had been perpetually at war with Garuda, the sun god. They have continued to inspire legends and stories throughout thousands of years, but it is the women of this race, who have captured the imagination the most. These serpent princesses were said to be strikingly beautiful and able to turn at will, into a cobra or half-snake/half-human form. A precious gem was said to be embedded in their skull which gave them magical powers.

A fierce guardian and protector
We are mothers. The moment a child is born, so is a mother is born. She never existed before, she was only a women. Mothers are held in the highest esteem. "God could not be everywhere, so he created mothers." is my favorite quote from a Jewish proverb.

A farmer in India, while tilling his field, manages to kill a nest of young serpents. The mother, on her return, sees the dead snakes and becomes furious. She bites the farmer, his wife and their children in their sleep, killing them all. The farmer's eldest daughter, already married and living out of town takes some time for the mother serpent to get to. When she finally arrives, she finds the daughter in the middle of worshiping an image of a snake, asking for forgiveness for mistakes made by her family. Seeing this, the mother snake feel sorry for what she did and left her in peace. The daughter's prayers were so powerful her family was brought back to life. This was the beginning of Nag Panchami, an annual Hindu festival in which snakes are venerated and worshiped by hundreds of people, seeking protection from their wrath. Snakes are bathed in milk and fields are forbidden to be plowed. There are also many other variations to the origins of Nag Panchami.

Nag Panchami in India
Unfortunately, many around the world do not have the same respect and love for mothers. By the same token, there are many mothers out there who do not understand what a big responsibility they have and, in my opinion, should not be mothers.

We are lovers. Ever the hopeless-romantics, we love hard and hurt deep. As some would say, "A whole women's life is a history of her affections." Stories of magical serpents and love span around the globe. After all, except for Antarctica, they are found on every continent. The Chinese tell the legend of, "Lady White Snake". A cautionary tale of love between a mortal man and a snake woman. There are many different endings and variations to the story but it's popularity has grown throughout the years. Movies, books, comics and even a Chinese opera have all told the tale. Personally, I would love to see the opera! Read more about her story here.

We are healers... and poisoners. While a woman, with all her compassion, affection, love, patience and kindness, can also be cunning, spiteful and vindictive. "Hell hath no fury, like a women scorned." -William Congreve. Another one of my favorites, hehe. Snakes were also thought to be sneaky, spiteful, even cunning. It's natural for most people to think of snakes as poisonous. Truth is only about 10 percent of snakes worldwide are actually poisonous. Their venom has the power to poison or heal, like a woman's.

"Cobra Wine, anyone?"
In Asian countries such as, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, drinking the blood and bile of a snake, particularly the cobra, is believed to increase sexual virility. The blood is usually mixed with some type of liquor. While not commonly thought of as food in most cultures, in some cultures the consumption of snake is acceptable or even considered a delicacy, prized for it's pharmaceutical effect of warming the heart. The liver is especially sought after. In some Asian countries, the use of snakes in alcohol is also acceptable. The snake or snakes is usually left to steep in a jar or container of alcohol. It is claimed to make the liquor stronger and therefore more expensive. One example is the Habu snake, used in some Okinawan liquor called Awamori, also known as "Habu sake".

Snake blood and bile
Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The drink was first recorded to have been consumed in China during the Western Zhou dynasty.

On the other side of the spectrum, to Westerners, snake consumption is not as accepted. Only thought as necessary to survival.

Unfortunately there aren't any stories or myths about snakes in Hawaiian culture as we do not have snakes on our islands. Although we do tell tales of Mo'o or lizards, who ironically, were mostly women. I will definitely write about those legends soon!

Throughout the history of mankind, snakes have been the familiars of women. Mysterious, beautiful and sensual. Maidens and mothers. Poisoners and healers. Clever and wise. Tempting and dangerous. Sneaky and terrifying. Familiar yet exotic. Whether it be the hypnotic way we move or the sensual outline of our curves. Our skin cool like water and  our fiery tongues. Or perhaps it's just the ability we have to terrify men. Whatever the case, snakes don't scare women, because they are women. (figuratively)
And now what you've been waiting for, cause I know you only came here to look at pictures.

The ladies...

My beautiful friend, Diana and Chuy

Angelina Jolie

Cindy Crawford

Modeling with a snake

Bollywood actress, Priyanka Chopra

The late singer, Aaliyah

Patricia Velasquez

Salma Hayek

Leonor Varela

Naomi Campbell

Adrian Curry

Christy Yow

Devon Aoki

Jessica Pace

Monica Bellucci

Penelope Cruz

Mary Louise Parker

Ana Barros

Monica Bellucci

Emma Quinlan

Rachel Weisz

Nastassja Kinski

Nastassja Kinki's Daughter, Sonja Kinski

Angelina Jolie

Elsa Pataky

I hope you enjoyed! Thanks for stopping by.

A hui hou (till next time)

*All photo's belong to their respected owners and were found through a public search engine. No copyright intended.

1 comment:

  1. In the Chinese Zodiac, this is now the Year of the Snake, What a lovely pictures and commentary about the role of women. Thanks Kanani from Singapore!