February 10, 2013 kicks off days of celebration for the Lunar New Year by Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Tibetan and other Asian communities around the world. The festivities have generated new mobile apps, business for fortunetellers, and official Lunar New Year greetings from President Obama. Wondering why you should care?
Acording to the Chinese zodiac, we’re entering the Year of the Snake. It will end on January 30, 2014. Before you let out a reflexive “Ewwwww,” know that for centuries before us, snakes represented feminine charisma, energy and divinity: the goddess. Viewed that way, welcome to an entire year celebrating…you.
Celtic and other ancient cultures linked the reptile’s shedding of skin and regeneration as symbols of rebirth. Noting a woman’s transformations through life stages of Maiden, Mother, and Crone, even a coiled snake came to represent the spiral of life.
Art and artifacts from Africa, India, Egypt, Greece and even Scandinavia show that snakes were involved in ancient myth and ritual. A website about the ‘sacred feminine’ describes artwork found with images of women holding snakes, wrapped in snakes, and with snakes for hair, snake spirals and designs carved on the bodies of female figures, and little icons of women with snake bodies.”
Ancient Chinese wore snake tattoos as a sign of worship, and some historians say the dragon, so prevalent in Chinese culture, is an outgrowth of old images of snakes. (In many parts of China, snakes are called “lesser dragons.)
Confession: I was anti-snake, too, until I attended a memorable women’s retreat several years ago at a peace-inducing hideaway near Oberlin, Ohio. After lunch, we were encouraged to wander alone through woods and pond. I decided to leave by the cabin’s front entrance, but just after I shut the door, before I could take a single step, a full-grown snake slithered from under the bush to my right in a straight line across my path to disappear under the bush on my right. Slightly horrified, I went back into the house and shared the story.
Much to my surprise, the women there congratulated me. They explained that the snake’s visit to me and me alone signified that I had been “honored by the Goddess.” I distinctly remember one woman mournfully saying, “I wish I’d had a snake cross my path.”
Seeing that their comments only confused me more, I was urged to read The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. Long before publication of her most popular book (and movie), The Secret Life of Bees, Ms. Kidd had written this powerful autobiographical piece with the subtitle: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine.
Ms. Kidd describes her journey from complicity as a “good daughter” of patriarchal Christianity to an exploration of more feminine divinity. Though I had already read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s feminine re-telling of the King Arthur tale, The Mists of Avalon, it was Dissident Daughter that introduced me to the snake as goddess symbolism. What I remember most was the idea that early Christians worked to destroy goddess-worship by making the goddess’ patron — the snake — into the visage of evil itself. And it worked.
For years since, I’ve kept a little rubber snake (above) prominent on my desk to remind me of the real snake’s travel across my path that day so long ago. The Year of the Snake has special meaning for me, and maybe it will for you, too.
After ignoring the Year of the Dragon in 2012, MAC Cosmetics is introducing a new line of Year of the Snake-inspired lipsticks, eye pencils and shadows. Why? Creative director James Gager said, “The snake sign is about reinventing yourself. [It’s] associated with what is smart, mysterious, alluring, sensuous, luxurious, stylish and fashionable.” Exactly.
Happy New Year, ladies! You are more powerful than you know.