There once was ra little child whose mother gave her every afternoon a small bowl of milk and bread, and the child seated herself in the yard with it. When she began to eat however, a snake came creeping out of a crevice in the wall, dipped its little head in the dish, and ate with her.
The child had pleasure in this, and when she was sitting there with her little dish and the snake did not come at once, she quietly cried,
"Snake, snake, come swiftly
Hither come, thou tiny thing,
Thou shalt have thy crumbs of bread,
Thou shalt refresh thyself with milk.”
Then the snake came in haste, and enjoyed its food. Moreover it showed gratitude, for it brought the child all kinds of pretty things from its hidden treasures, bright stones, pearls, and golden playthings. The snake, however, only drank the milk, and left the bread-crumbs alone.
Then one day the child took its little spoon and struck the snake gently on its head with it, and said
"Eat the bread-crumbs as well, little thing."
The mother, who was standing in the kitchen, heard the child talking to some one, and when she saw that she was striking a snake with her spoon, ran out with a log of wood, and killed the good little creature.
From that time forth, a change came over the child. As long as the snake had eaten with her, she had grown tall and strong, but now she lost her pretty rosy cheeks and wasted away. It was not long before the funeral bird began to cry in the night, and the redbreast to collect little branches and leaves for a funeral garland, and soon afterwards the child lay on her bier.
For as long as humans have been telling stories, snakes have secured a prime spot in many of them.
Most of us know the legend of Saint Patrick driving the serpents from Ireland, which was actually the extermination of the Celtic religion.
Or the myth of Medusa, the Gorgon who went from a women’s protection symbol to an outcast who turns men to stone.
And of course the snake in the story of Adam and Eve, who seduced the latter with the promise of taboo things…..like freedom and bodily autonomy.
When we tell stories about Snakes, they essentially get split into two main categories in mythology and legend. These are good and evil, and then those are further broken down into subcategories of: mortality & immortality, health & healing, creation, the underworld, protection, love2 and so on.
Of course, these categories can also overlap. Duality exists in snakes just as it does in human character.
So what is it about Snakes that has held human fascination for thousands of years? What qualities and evolutionary traits determined these categories to begin with?
Snakes are a fascinating animal belonging to the Reptilia group of species, and their scientific name is Serpentes.
The word “snake” is from the Proto-Indo-European rootword *sneg-, which means “to crawl, or a creeping thing.” The word “serpent” is from the Proto-Indo-European rootword *serp-, meaning “to crawl, or to creep.”
There are only five places on earth which have none of these otherwordly creatures: Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand.
All snakes are carnivores and eat prey that are up to 3x the size of their head. They have the ability to unhinge their jaw and swallow their meals whole. It’s all very lovely.
Roughly 700 types of snakes are venemous, with 200 of those capable of seriously injuring a human.
Over time, snakes have evolved to move without legs, and are disturbingly fast on land. The seventy or so species which inhabit water, move just as quickly.
And if that isn’t enough to make you aprehensive about snakes, 5 species can actually fly…..well they can take off and glide on air currents….but I digress.
Between all those qualities and adding in the fact that they do not blink, they have forked tongues, and can shed their skin as they grow, it’s no wonder humans have given them a place of honour but also a position of danger in stories.
When planning out this episode, I decided I didn’t want to do the usual (and at this point cliche) Adam and Eve tale.
I wanted something inspiring, so the story I chose is The White Snake.
I like this one because it has the struggle between good and evil, issues of immortality, and of course, love.
Before I begin, I wanted to mention that I am going to do my best to pronounce all the names properly, but I likely won’t get it right, so I apologize.
Also, there are many different versions of this myth, and the rest are definitely worth looking into.
Many, many years ago in China, lived a gifted young herbalist named Xu Xian.
Xu Xian had recently opened up a medicine shop, which he planned to run with his beautiful wife Bai Su Zhen.
Together they wanted nothing more than to share his talent for healing with the world, but things weren’t going exactly to plan.
For starters, Xu Xian purchased his supplies from his former teacher and employer, who wasn’t thrilled with the idea of the promising young healer taking his clients, so he sold him rotten herbs in order to ruin his business before it even had a chance to begin.
To make matters worse, a plague had broken out in the city where they lived, and Xu Xian had nothing to help the customers who were flocking to the store for aid and protection.
Bai Su Zhen saw the pressure her caring husband was under and rushed in to help him. She invented a remedy for the plague that utilized the rotten herbs. Her formula was so effective, that many people wondered if it was magical, though they didn’t care how it worked, they were just happy to be alive and healthy.
And in our first example of karma in this story, Xu Xian's former boss, who had sold him the rotten herbs, ended up having to buy some of them back in order to treat his patients.
From there, the medicine shop continued to flourish, that is until one day, when they were visited by a monk named Fahai.
Fahai warned Xu Xian that a demon was living in his house, and it was his wife Bai Su Zhen.
He said that she was actually an immortal snake who took the form of a human woman.
Xu Xian couldn’t believe what he was hearing. His kind and thoughtful wife couldn’t possibly be a demon snake.
The monk continued to insist that he was right, and gave the man a special type of wine and told him to feed it to Bai Su Zhen on the fifth day of the fifth month to reveal her true form, because her powers would be at their weakest. He said that if she wasn’t a demon, there was no harm in trying.
Xu Xian took the wine to be polite, and sent the monk on his way. He had no real intention in following through with task, but as the day drew closer, he began to wonder what would happen.
On the morning of the fifth, Xu Xian gave his trusting wife the wine to drink. As soon as it touched her tongue, she began to feel sick and rushed herself to bed to sleep it off.
A little while later, after he had prepared some medicine for her, he went to check on how she was doing. He felt terrible that he had been the reason for her discomfort.
As he entered the room, instead of seeing his wife, he saw a large white snake curled up asleep on their bed.
The shock of seeing her this way killed Xu Xian instantly, and as his body fell to floor Bai Su Zhen awoke. When she saw her dead husband, she realized what must have happened.
Bai Su Zhen was in fact an immortal snake, the monk had been right. She had a bounty of magical powers at her disposal, but Unfortunately the one she needed to ressurect her husband, was the one she didn’t have.
Suddenly the beautiful snake woman remembered hearing about an herb that grew at the peak of the Mountains, that would be able to bring Xu Xian back to her.
The herb was guarded by the Old Man of the South Pole, and Bai Su Zhen knew it would be a difficult task to gather some, but she was determined to save the love of her life.
When she began her journey, the clouds heard her plea and carried her to the peak of the mountain, and to a special gate where only immortal beings could pass.
Just beyond the threshold was the magical herb, and It was of course, guarded by two of the man’s dsicpiles.
Bai Su Zhen disguised herself as a monk, so when they asked what business she had on the mountain, she told them that she was there to invite the Old Man to a gathering of the gods.
Then, when they went to go inform the man of the inivation, and had their backs turned, Bai Su Zhen grabbed a piece of the plant and put it under her tongue and took off running. The magic of the herb changed Bai Su Zhen into her snake form.
When the two guards realized they had been tricked by the disguised monk, they chased after her. As they were running, they transformed into their true forms as well. One which was a crane, caught the snake in his beak and held her still until the old man arrived.
When he had caught up with the three creatures, the old man asked Bai Su Zhen why she had risked everything to steal from him, because she was already immortal. She had no need for an herb with that sort of power.
Through tears, the beautiful white snake explained what had happened, and that she needed the plant to bring her love back to life. She said it didn’t matter if he rejected her for knowing what she really was, as long as he was alive she would be happy.
The old man was so touched, that he allowed Bai Su Zhen to go back down to the city in order to bring Xu Xian back to life.
When she arrived back home, she placed the herb inside the mouth of her dead husband, and the colour began to come back to his skin. He opened his eyes and saw Bai Su Zhen looking at him.
To her surprise, Xu Xian was no longer afraid of her, he was just happy to back together, and vowed never to be apart from her again, whether she was a snake demon or not.
The happy couple went on with their lives, until one day, Xu Xian received an invitation from the monk Fahai to celebrate the nearby temple that had just opened.
Bai Su Zhen had a bad feeling about the whole thing, and warned him not to attend, but Xu Xian as a devout buddhist and felt it was his duty to make an appeafrance. Bai Su Zhen was pregnant, and worried that they would get separated from eachother again, but she ultimately let him go to the celebration.
When Xu Xian arrived at the temple, Fahai approached him and told him that he would be required to stay because he had consorted with a demon, and trapped him there.
When he hadn’t returned in a few hours, Bai Su Zhen became very worried, and travelled to the temple to find her husband.
It was there she was cronfronted by Fahai - he attacked her by throwing his prayer mat towards her, which burst into flames.
Because she was so exhausted from her pregnancy, she did what any immortal snake would do, she summoned animal soldiers to fight on her behalf, the ones she chose were crabs and shrimp, who brought with them waves that extinguished the flames.
Unfortunately for Bai Su Zhen, the water caused a lot of destruction and injured innocent villagers around the temple.
When the gods saw what she had done, she fell out of favour with them, which left her extremely vulnerable to attack by Fahai.
The bad monk used this opportunity to try and trap her inside a bowl, but was stopped by a bright light from within Bai Su Zhen’s stomach. Her unborn child was protecting her from harm!
This gave the distraught couple an opportunity to make it back to their home, and soon after they welcomed the birth of their son they called Shi Lin .
A few days after the arrival of their boy, Fahai appeared on Xu Xian’s doorstep. He claimed to come with a peace offering, a beautiful bowl that would bring good fortune and happiness to the new baby.
Though he was wary of the monk, you know, because he had hurt his wife and then kidnapped him at the temple, Xu Xian accepted the bowl….yea..I know…
When he went back inside his home, the bowl flew in the air and landed on Bai Su Zhen, trapping her inside.
Fahai, who hadn’t actually left, ran inside the house and took off with the bowl and buried it beneath the magical iron tree.
Xu Xian was understandably distraught and begged the monk to free his love, but was told that she would only be freed when the iron tree bloomed.
He was so racked with guilt of falling for the monks tricks over and over, that he thought the baby would be in better hands with his sister, so he ran away to live out his days in a monastery. Trying to repent.
Remember how baby Shi Lin had protected his mother from attack while she was still pregnant with him? Well he was able to do that because he was actually the god of wisdom reincarnated. He had chosen Xu Xian and Bai Su Zhen to be his parents because he admired their love.
Growing up without them was hard for the young man, but he went on with his life the best he could.
When he reached adulthood, Shi Lin reconnected with his father. He was about to take an important exam and wanted him there. He didn’t hold a grudge about what happened to his mother, he had nothing but love for his parents.
Shi Ling ended up scoring the highest anyone could on the test, which makes sense as he was the god of wisdom.
He was gifted a beautiful hat that was adorned with jewels in the shape of flowers, by the emperor himself for the achievement.
Xu Xian suggested they go to the iron tree and share the news with Bai Su Zhen, even if she wasn’t able to celebrate alongside them.
Shi Ling decided to gift the hat to his mother and placed it on the branches of the tree.
Suddenly, Bai Su Zhen sprung up from the earth, freed from her prison.
The flower shaped jewels on the hat, that rested on the branch, had meant the Iron Tree had bloomed…..
I hope you enjoyed the happy ending of the white snake, I know I did. I love being able to share different stories and facts with you here on the Memento Mori Oracle Podcast, which I why I need to talk to you about Patreon. Each episode takes around 16-24 hours per week to research, to write and record, and so on, which is a lot of work on top of running Black and the Moon. Everything from the research materials, to hiring voice actors, buying music rights and paying for editing costs money, which is where Patreon comes in. For a monthly donation of just $5.00 you can help sponsor the podcast, and with that you get bonus episodes and more access to me: win, win! Head to blackandthemoon.com to find out how you can help.
A major part of the Snake’s purpose, in symbolism anyway, is to teach us that just because we are afraid of something, it doesn’t give us the right to harm it. The story of the white snake is a prime example of ignorance and fear, being defeated by kindness and healing.
Though, the idea of snakes as a positive force for good and innocence won’t always ring true.
Like I mentioned in the start of this episode, our personal associations determine what experience we will have with serpent symbolism, and there isn’t anywhere these associations come to light more than in our dreams…
If you are like me, and snakes give you the creeps, your dreams will probably be more like nightmares. While I may be working on bringing more positive stories about them into my life, my subconscious has other ideas.
Being cornered, bitten or constricted by a snake in a dream represents the feeling of being attacked by enemies in your waking life. You may feel as though their power is otherwordly and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Dreams where you are laying or sitting and are surrounded by snakes, can mean you have mounting worries about situations in many different areas of your life all at once. The feeling of urgency can be overhwleming, and yet you are powerless to fight back.
Seeing a venomous snake hiding in the grass, represents a person in your life who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Usually this is a classic “frenemy” situation.
On the flip side, if you have an affinity for snakes, or maybe even have one as a pet, their presence can be reaasuring in a dream. This generally points beginning spiritual healing in your waking life….and….I think we could all use a little of that these days.
This has been the Memento Mori oracle podcast, see you next Sunday for the next episode where I will be discussing everything casket and coffins .
Special thanks to Emily who provided the voice for the child in our first story. For more info on Emily, and how you can hire her, or to grab show notes and the script, head to blackandthemoon.com