Monday, February 21, 2011

Goddesses in the Dirt - The Snakes of Kefalonia

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at at time.....


Issue #4: Snakes of Kefalonia

Some years ago, I read about a mysterious ceremony that took place on a Greek island at the height of summer. August 15th marks the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, and it is usually observed with a celebration involving lots of wine and roast lamb - particularly welcome after a two week meat fast. But the celebration on this Ionian island included something a little out of the ordinary, beyond the typical music and dancing late into the night. 

This celebration involved snakes. 

What do snakes and the Virgin Mary have in common, you might ask?

Most people erroneously associate snakes with evil and the downfall of humanity, as in the story of Adam and Eve, or think of it as a phallic symbol. But snakes are inherently a symbol of the female. They are of the earth - Gaia, another female archetype - and are also connected to the concept of Kundalini Shakti energy; a feminine force that resides, coiled, at the base of the spine, waiting to ignite a spiritual awakening. 

Snakes were a part of the ancient temples of Asklepios, the god of healing, where the afflicted came to spend the night and await healing through a dream. Today the snake is part of the symbol of modern medicine, entwined around the caduceus. This image has apparent roots in Mesopotamia, representing lovers of the goddess Ishtar.
The oracles of Delphi were referred to as pythias, which is derived from the original Python, who guarded the entrance to the cave of the oracle and was slain by the god Apollo. The serpent archetype has been associated with women since Minoan times, as in this statuette of the snake goddess.
For some reason, snakes and the Virgin Mary converge at this church in the tiny mountain village of Markopoulo. Decades ago, locals noticed that hundreds of tiny snakes emerged from the earth around August 15th, the date sacred to the Virgin in the Orthodox calendar. People coming to witness this strange event noticed a connection between handling them and  healing from illness. Soon pilgrims from far away began flocking to the little church for the mid-August date, and today it is a full blown event. 

Three years ago I visited the island with my daughter to research the ceremony. We drove up a winding mountain road in the dark to arrive in time for the evening service. Tiny white lights were strung across the plaza outside the church giving the village a festive feeling. 
Throngs of parishoners waited patiently to be let in, buying oversized white candles to dedicate in the sacristy. 

 The church was guarded by these policewoman. This was typically Greek, as a male companion said to me, "they always put the pretty ones out in front." The Divine Feminine at work in a creative way.

Inside, the Bishop handled the tiny snakes while conducting the service.

Parishoners filed solemnly past this portrait of the Virgin and Child with snakes, which had been decorated with flowers. 

Outside the church, huge crowds gathered around the snake handlers, hoping to touch the creatures themselves,


or place them on their childrens' heads to ask for healing.

Local legend states that the snakes have appeared annually except in 1953, the year a catastrophic earthquake struck the Ionian island chain, leveling entire villages and killing thousands (the earthquake is immortalized in the novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis de Berniers, which takes place on Kefalonia.)

I used to be afraid of snakes, but when I learned of their connection to the Mother Goddess, I have developed a respect for this creature. A few months ago, I found a garden snake in our basement. I gently moved her to a hollowed out tree stump in the backyard where I had previously seen snakes. When I laid her down, she moved part way into the hollow, then stopped to turn her head toward me and flicked her forked tongue before disappearing into the earth. I'd like to think this little emissary of the Divine Feminine was acknowledging her appreciation. 


Photos of snake goddess and caduceus courtesy of Google images

21 comments:

  1. This story was very surprising, I didn't know this!

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  2. Thanks to you I learned something about snakes that I didn't know. I'll especially see them now as a symbol of healing. This is wonderful! The pictures are gorgeous. I love all things Greek, also!!
    Ann Best, Author @ Long Journey Home

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  3. I guess it is fortunate that the variety of snake involved here is not venomous...

    A beautiful tradition, and now I'm wondering if there is any basis to the claims of healing after handling the snakes, or is it more a placebo sort of phenomenon ?

    Thanks for this mini-documentary...

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    1. Those are European Cat Snakes, which are definitely venomous

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  4. Unfortunately I do not like snakes at all. Which is strange because I am fine with lizards and skinks. Maybe it's their lack of legs... Whatever it is I cannot get over a certain feeling of revulsion when I see them. Thankfully it's not very often.

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  5. Intriguing... Your photos are wonderful and I love the one of the Bishop and the one of the beautiful young girl. How great that you were able to be there with your daughter.

    So, I guess finding a 12 foot python in our garage was a good thing? (smile)

    Bises,
    Genie

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  6. How fascinating! I've never been afraid of snakes, and usually allow them to continue on their merry way when I encounter them. (The only exception was a copperhead that made its way into a student's dorm room when I was a Resident Assistant. That guy had to go.)

    I've just recently begun to study Kundalini energy, and find the metaphor of the coiled snake quite helpful.

    Those pictures are extremely beautiful, especially of the young girl with the snake curling around her ear like a tendril.

    Thank you for another incredible lesson, Amanda!

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  7. Interesting symbols! That picture of the child with a snake on her head is quite telling. She is not afraid at all.

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  8. Panda-when you saw the snake in the basement-how were you able to tell it was a garden snake-did Mia see the snake and if so-how did she react? I'm glad you felt comfortable returning the snake to a suitable home-I wish I had your confidence and I 'm glad it acknowledged your compassion. Let me know how the SLO trip went-Famous

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  9. A peculiar form of devotion, well and sensitively documented, Amanda.

    Thank you.

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  10. I have been in this village some years ago, but not during August. As you say the legend...

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  11. Amanda..Gorgeous and Fabulous post..i love love all the symbolism connected wiht snake energy and the Goddess and Kundalini etc..fantastic tribute! I have had wonderful experiences with them as guides/totems and symbolically for me..they seem to appear when it is time for me to transform..i find them so creative and powerful and mystical!I also loved all the symbolsm of Pythia so much..I had named my beautiful horse Delphi.!
    Again...great post..love all the symbolism. thanks for an adventure filled post full of magic beauty and spirit, fabulous photos too! Shine on!

    Victoria

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  12. Maybe she just stuck out her tongue to you? No no, this was surely quite an encounter, and lovely of you to care. Snakes are fascinating creatures, I once saw them in a South African snake farm where their poison was taken from them, to make serum. Really beautiful and proud they look. I wouldn`t mind them as neighbours at all, if they would also leave me alone.
    And Captain Corelli, yes, I saw the movie!
    If only the people in Christchurch had been warned by snakes in time! If we would watch nature more, we could surely learn a lot!

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  13. ola -- thanks!

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    ann - so glad you enjoyed this strange tale!

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    owen -- good question - i don't know if handling the snakes afforded a sense of healing via placebo effect, but it certainly would be something worth looking into!

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    loree - you are not alone -- many people feel that way about snakes ;-(

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  14. genie --- a 12 foot python?? yikes!! i guess you could say by the size that it represented a large presence of the Divine Feminine!!

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    jo -- ok, yet another story about the scary kind of snake -- yes, wouldn't want to handle that one for sure!

    i've heard many refer to the kundalini energy as having properties of a snake, it does make sense when you think about it, doesn't it?

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    rosaria -- none of the kids i saw around the snakes were scared, in fact, they seemed to enjoy all the attention they received!

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    famous - it was a small green snake, and although i didn't know for a fact i felt sure it wasn't harmful. mia never saw it!! if she had i don't know what she would have done, but i felt it best to keep them apart ;-)

    love you sister♡

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  15. thank you miss sadie. it was a peculiar form of devotion indeed~

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    philip -- so you've been to kefalonia? what a gorgeous island, and so huge it would take weeks to explore it all!

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    victoria -- i love what you said about snakes appearing when it is time for you to transform -- what a cool image! snakes shed their skins so that makes sense you see them as a personal totem - thanks for sharing this!

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    geli -- maybe she was sticking out her tongue at me - i'll never really know!

    yes, if only the residents of new zealand had been warned -- i remember stories about how the animals acted strangely before the tsunami in se asia -- there is so much we don't know and could maybe learn through observing animals and nature.

    xx

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  16. amanda, when i started reading this, i thought yuk snakes. but you made a possible convert of me. i will remember this history and cutural lesson and think differently. i can't say why i am so squeamish around snakes? because they move so fast?

    you take me places i so appreciate.


    kj

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  17. I only knew the Biblical role of snakes! It was fun learning a different side. I still don't like them, though. We live out in the mountains and I've seen too many snakes. *shudder*

    Such amazing photos!

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  18. Very, very interesting, this. Reading about the snake embodying the Female Principle and seeing the snake as a healing agent. Thanks for this enlightening and informative post, Amanda.

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  19. I'll flick out my tongue (hopefully not forked) quickly in a sign of appreciation for this intriguing post. It's really a delight an privilege for you to take us along on these research trips.

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  20. There are not connections between pagan goddes and Virgin Mary, most Holy Theotokos (Mother of God), but there is miracle made by most holy Theotokos.
    Many years ago, pirates have attacked this monastery. Nuns, who lived there, have started to pray God and Holy Virgin to protect them. Our (and their) pure Mother sent snakes. The pirates were scared and they have gone out. The monastery was saved.
    After that, every year snakes come in this monastery on the Feast of Most Holy Transfiguration of Our God Jesus Christ (6th August), and they stay until the feast of ascension of Theotokos (18th August)

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