The snake moved in today, Spring Equinox 2020, ten days past Coronavirus shutdown and the final definite end of my marriage.
My cat and I watched it creep up the wall and into the space between the new ceiling and the unfinished earth wall.
Mice had been running midnight errands in my walls for weeks, foraging bits of my sleep to make a hidden nest. I kept dreaming of snakes, waking interrupted by mice. Maybe snake grew jealous of the interruption of her nightly oneiric attention and decided to just eat the problem.
Two things about the snake:
- If I re-enter the dark mirror of online dating, I can now lure potential mates by declaring that a snake lives in my walls. I welcome meeting the kind of person who will risk sleeping in a bed where a snake, sleepily engorged on a generation of rodents, may travel over their slumbering body. It seems certain that this will apply a clarifying filter to my potential romantic connections.
- The snake went into the wall a foot away from where I had decided to put a lime plaster sculpture of an ascending snake. What does this mean? It means I will definitely create that sculpture.
I’ve been studying Lithuanian mythology, since I’m one quarter Lithuanian and because it was the last European country to be forcibly Christianized. No amnesia is ever perfect, and it seems like in some ways their forgetting was always half-feigned and fugitive.
They say the people of the Lithuanian countryside still speak a dialect so unchanged it would have been the spoken sound of ancient written Sanskrit.
From that culture, snakes:
A žaltys is a household spirit in the Lithuanian mythology. As sacred animal of the sun goddess Saulė, it is a guardian of the home and a symbol of fertility. People used to keep it as a pet by the stove or other special area of the house, believing that it would bring good harvest and wealth. Killing žaltys was said to bring great misfortunes upon the household. If žaltys was found in the field, people gave it milk attempting to befriend the creature and make it a sacred household pet.
There’s also the story of the lindwurm – a myth that has been running through my life out here ever since it first surfaced in a Dark Mountain reading, and then far closer when on a liminal night I was under a tent listening to mythteller Martin Shaw chant the long version of the tale to a band of men while my partner was back home literally wrestling a giant black snake out of the duck coop.
In the lindwurm, a royal child is born with a serpent twin, and the serpent is exiled. Like everything exiled, the serpent one day comes back bigger, older, angrier, deadlier; and, like everything exiled, it is the warm milk of compassion that allows him to shed his scales and become tender again.
A connection there: žaltys was given milk. And in the Lindwurm, it is a milk bath that is the last step of the serpent’s return home from a long exile. What a gift for an exile.
I have just had my life upended in a moment where everyone else is also having their life upended.
I felt a great alarm at all I was losing and I was forced to slow down in a moment where everyone else is going through the same. An odd fellowship, this.
Through the last many years, I knew there were parts of myself that I was casting away. So deeply did I want the marriage to work, that I was offering to throw my twin out the window for one more chance to craft a hearth out of teardrops and air. Stranger prayers have worked, after all.
That chance is no longer there. In the vacancy of partnership, the serpent – not fierce, not venomous, not very big – alive, electric, sensuous, strange – is back to devour my little mice and turn the page again.
Five years ago I had my only ever high-paying job and a soul-flying love. Tonight I dwell social quarantined at earth’s orbital pace alone in a hut temple of shifting dreams, grateful. I come from people often poor who believed in radical hospitality. In this regal shabbiness, this dusky cloak of pared and peeled blessings, what can I offer to any new traveler, snake or mouse, except a welcome?