Last year, 2013 - the Year of the Water Snake, I was invited to hold Swan Blessing as part of a 3 day retreat called The Deepening for the women of The School of Shamanic Womancraft to open up the ancestral medicine of the Witch. To hold space with this beautiful group of sisters was an honour and to hold the work of unbinding the demonised Wise Woman - the Witch was very close to my heart. The Deepening was held on the property of the school's founder and midwife, Jane Hardwicke Collings, in the Southern Highlands of NSW. Jane's country was very different to my dark green and wet forest - hers was hot, golden and open land and I could feel I was already being challenged to become comfortable here.
Within minutes of arriving, I was greated warmly by Jane to her home and her land and then she mentioned casually 'oh yeah, there are snakes, just Red Belly Blacks so don't worry' ! Needless to say I was VERY worried about the poisonous snakes and conscious of their strong energy because it was everywhere! And why should I have been surprised when the School's totem is Snake? All I could think about was the presence of Red Belly Black Snake always being nearby as I walked back and forth to the Red Tent where we were holding our rituals and the cabin where I was sleeping.
On the first night I dreamt of snakes crawling all over my cabin and dropping down on my body from the ceiling. It was not a great night for sleep. I realised that I had to deal with this irrational fear. I didn't fear the snake itself, it was something deeper, without a name... On the second day, after holding personal Swan Blessings for a couple of the sisters in my cabin I stepped outside and was met by one of the women's partners. He had his baby in his arms and his eyes were huge. He told me that he had just seen two enormous Red Belly Black Snakes racing towards him in the grass but they had turned when they had seen him and headed down to the water. He told me he had always thought that in an emergency he could outrun a snake and now he realised that their speed and power was far greater than his. He had to just hold his baby and trust that they would not hurt him.
On the third day, my dear sister, Mikailah, who was helping me to hold the space for our ceremonies as firekeeper began collecting wood for our ceremony and walked into what she soon realised was a snake nest full of snakeskin sheddings from a large family of Red Belly Blacks. She asked me if I wanted to go back there with her. And I knew that I had to face this fear, I wanted to see something physical to link to the energetic presence of the snake that was everywhere. She took me to the nest and I slowly walked into the circle of many many skins. It was as if they all decided to shed together at once and the skins formed an almost perfect circle. Carefully I chose two skins and thanked the Snake thanked the Land. I placed them with us in our cabin and even the skin itself gave off the strongest energy of strength and presence. I don't think I've ever felt a snakeskin as powerful. But sleeping with the skin in our cabin created a sense of conscious communication or peacemaking on my half and that night I dreamt that a snake was guiding me from above as it moved from tree to tree and I followed it along a path. In the morning I felt, for the first time a sense of acceptance and reverence for a creature that I knew could be dangerous but only when it had to be. And that if I was calm and left it alone to go about it's own day and way, that we could live on this land harmoniously together. The gift Snake gave to me was awareness in my movement on the land and awareness of fears that I had carried that had somehow been given or taught to me. Beliefs that I had not consciously created from my own experience. I realised I had now shed the skin of an old and unacknowledged fear of the 'demon snake'.
Just as the witch has been demonised, so too has the snake. It was important for me to feel this ancient, trembling fear of the snake especially since I hadn't ever even known it was there inside me. But it was there, deep beneath the layers and it was huge. I see the medicine of the witch as a woman who is taught by the Earth, who learns from the Trees. She is a natural healer through her deep relationship with the Earth, it's plant medicine and it's cycles. The snake is a creature of the Earth, how could an animal be evil? A creature so powerful that it can transform the old and shed it's own skIn. A creature that can midwife it's own rebirth. Just as the women were releasing their own past life memories of being branded and hunted as Witch for simply being healers, midwives and free women they were holding space for me to midwife myself through the ancient fear of the serpent.
I have kept the skin of the Deepening Snake until this month to work with it's medicine. In the month of April I midwifed my familiar, Rory, through his journey with Death and then midwifed myself through the grief and loss that came afterwards. In this month I pierced another veil of illusion and remembered again that the only power is Love. And so with love I have begun birthing Snake Medicine dolls at this time of the Grand Cross and Eclipse. Here are the first snake spirit dolls, they have already found their keepers but I will continue working with these sacred skins as I learn more about Snake medicine.
Thank you to all of the beautiful sisters who journeyed with me at the Deepening. Thank you for opening your heart to the medicine of the Witch and thank you for helping me to open mine to the medicine of Snake. For all those who wish to learn more about shamanic practice, vision quest and women's mysteries I highly recommend the deeply transformative work of The School of Shamanic Womancraft.