Across cultures and timelines, from Egypt to India to Native American and Celtic traditions, serpents have been associated with everything from sexual power to death/rebirth to the embodiment of the divine.
Speaking from my experience in the United States, a palatable flavor of fear is fundamental to our cultural view of snakes.
Up until recently, I thoroughly embodied this serpentine terror, involuntary clenching every muscle in my body upon my rare and highly unintentional encounters with snakes at, say, a carnival or snake-loving friend’s home. But despite my fear of them, over the past five years I have also developed a connection with the symbology of serpents.
It began when I traveled abroad to Peru and Bolivia and bore witness to mountainous lifestyles of Quechua and Aymara indigenous people in the Andean Mountains and their profound connection and commitment to the land they live upon.
Although from a vastly different background and upbringing than the individuals I befriended in the Andes, I felt my spirit open up to the possibility that life is more than I had been conditioned to believe. That maybe this Earth, too, is a sentient being.
As this process of tapping into my own spirituality got underway, snake imagery began to reveal itself to me in dreams, thoughts, memories, sounds, and sometimes actual encounters with the animals. This mystified me for a while and definitely freaked me out, so I went through some periods of shoving all the serpentine images and thoughts out of my mind, hoping they would disappear and I would never have to confront my fear of them.
And then, while perusing online this past year, I stumbled across a retreat called Serpent Moon held by a woman named Aya Kamanakai Iwasaki. This course would entail dancing with serpent medicine (meaning the snakes themselves) so as to tap into our own pleasure, sexual energy, and creativity, because—as Aya explained—our life force is our sexual energy is our creativity.
I felt this click happen in my brain. Ah, yes! Of course I, as someone who has struggled with crippling shame around both my sexuality and creative expression (especially through the voice), would also feel afraid of snakes.
In many traditions, there is a simultaneous reverence and fear of serpents, which is quite similar to the dominant cultural attitude toward female pleasure.
Serpents are powerful creatures; a female orgasm is a powerful infusion of energy.
We’ve been conditioned to feel unsafe embodying that well of power.
In my own life, this fear of pleasure/power and lack of guidance on how to say “Yes!” to what feels good has resulted in shame, guilt, disgust, avoidance, numbness, and anger (among other emotions) when it comes to being in my bliss—both sexually and across other realms of existence.
So, in pursuit of a safe space to connect with other women willing to examine their limiting beliefs around sexual pleasure alongside me, I chose to attend the Serpent Moon Retreat.
I arrived at Hestia Retreat Center just north of Mount Shasta in Northern California overheated, frustrated, ungrounded, and a bit nauseous. The transformation that occurred over the three days spent working with Aya is all but indescribable.
The first night, I held Jafar—a medium-sized back boa with green tiger splotches—around my neck. Still tense, but I was doing it.
In the morning, I crouched in the middle of a circle of 19 daring women, searching desperately for the forgotten part of me that remembers how to feel.
I deeply desired to share my dismembered parts with my sisters, but numbness settled upon my skin until Aya’s fiercely kind eyes locked with mine, saw me unabashedly in the stickiness of my humanity, and loved me unconditionally through it.
She loved me until I cracked open wide. Bit by bit, emotional goo dripped, then poured, then sprayed out of me.
Before that day, I had never felt safe enough to consciously let people witness me in my numbness, in my hiding, and in my emergence from that cave.
The next day, I danced with Jafar wrapped around my womb space.
As I leaned into the slinky, silly, sensual, and smooth snakey energy, I became more attuned to my own sexual energy, noticing how it spirals up from the base of my spine, warming my belly, heart, and chest, all the way through the top of my head.
The scariest part of connecting with the serpents and with my own sexual life force, for me, is letting go of control. Snakes have no concept of past or future; they live exclusively in the present moment. As I communed with them, I felt myself sink into a space of deep surrender to the now; my muscles and jaw unclenched; my spool of tightly bound thoughts unraveled; I located the part of me paralyzed by fear and quite literally shook my entire body through that terror into bliss.
I learned that it is safe to feel pleasure. My wildest dreams and wildest fears leapt up, danced their emotive dances, and made peace with one another. I learned emotional release tools that I want to share with everyone I know.
Most importantly, I was reminded of how deeply supported I am in my crazy, how utterly un-alone I am in my hurting, and how hope is a path of courage I choose to walk daily with all my siblings who are unafraid to feel.
With deep gratitude for the container created at this retreat, I am returning to my body with the intention of trusting my womb’s wisdom and treating my pleasure as sacred.