Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Monday, June 03, 2019

Snakes and Serpents and Sea Monsters

This is my last day in Scotland. It's a wet and windy and chill-you-right-to-your-bones kind day.

I was supposed to have been a real tourist today and had planned to take a coach up to the Highlands to Loch (Lake) Ness and Inverness, but the weather made that trip very unappealing, so I cancelled.

Instead, I slept in a bit and had a leisurely breakfast. Then, I spent the day riding the bus to Glasgow and taking the train to Edinburgh and back.

I love talking to the locals on the bus and the train and in shops and restaurants.

It was a thoroughly delightful day - well, except for the rain and the cold and the wind. I have fallen in love with this country and its people. And, oh, I love the stories they have to tell.

So, when I told people that I had originally planned to head to Loch Ness, the conversation naturally came 'round to snakes. I personally am not fond of the creatures. I suspect that has a great deal to do with my first introduction to them coming as it did from the Bible Story of Eden where the snake is represented as the symbol of evil and temptation and "poison".

I am absolutely fascinated to learn that Celtic spirituality holds a very different understanding about these slithering creatures.

I learned that snakes are symbols not of evil but of transformation.

The Ancient Celts, connected as they were to creatures and creation, would watch the snake struggle to shed its skin and come through the struggle a renewed creature.

For that reason, when Christians like St. Columba came to Scotland talking about baptism and being "born again," the Celts understood the concept perfectly from their observation of snakes in nature.

One will often see Celtic knots at the base of a cross and if one looks closely, the knot is made up of several snakes.  The Triquetra representing the Trinity is often made up of snakes.

St. Columba's cross has snakes at the base. There's a story about him and sea serpents, which are understood to be very large snakes who live in lochs (or lakes) like Loch Ness.

The story goes that, in the 6th Century, St. Columba and a companion were staying with the Picts when he saw some folks burying a man by the River Ness.  They told him that the man had been swimming in the river when a 'water beast' came and dragged him underwater. They tried to rescue him by boat but when they finally got to him, he was already dead.

St. Columba sent his companion into the water to confront the beast.  The beast approached him, but Columba made the sign of the cross and said to the Sea Monster: "Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once."

The creature stopped as if it had been "pulled back with ropes" and fled, and Columba's men and the Picts gave thanks for what they perceived as a miracle.

Some of the locals say that this is proof that the Loch Ness Monster lives. One of the women I spoke with on the train said that her father and brothers had been swimming in Loch Ness and saw a huge fish that was "the size of a monster".

An alleged picture of Nessie, swimming in the Loch
The boys were all excited, she said, but on closer inspection, her father proclaimed it to be a very large cat fish.

Another woman told me that the sea-serpent is a very important animal to Celtic spirituality.

Ancient Celtic mythology holds that the Sun and the Moon were hatched from two crimson sea-serpent eggs hidden in a willow tree.

This led the Celts to give the sea-serpent multiple meanings ranging from transformation to various contradictory meanings, such as life and death, danger and assistance, illusion and reality. They are not at all surprised to know that the snake plays such a central role in the Creation story.

"But, just use the imagination that God gave ye when you was born, lass," said one woman, "Just go back and read that story in the Bible about the Garden. Now, instead of seeing the snake as evil, look on the snake as a creature that invites transformation and new life. Ah, see? Gives a whole new meaning to the story, don't it? "

"That's the power of the snake or the serpent," she said, "they remind us that life is constantly changing and what we think is negative or harmful is simply an illusion."

Then, she added, "And, now ya understand why that snake talked to the woman first, doncha? It's cause that snake knew the woman would understand shedding the lining of your womb once a month to make way for new life."

I confess I had never even considered the possibility. I can't wait to read that part of the story again.

I had lunch in a wonderful Greek restaurant where my waitress, a middle-aged Greek woman with a heavy Greek accent - told me all about the Celtic Animal Zodiac Chart.

Yes, children. There is a Celtic Animal Zodiac Chart.

How did I get to live this long and not know about this? How did I get to live this long and not know so much about so many things?

Anyway, I learned that I my Celtic Animal Sign is - wait for it - a serpent. Yes, way.

She told me all about it and I wrote stuff down, but on the train ride back I googled it (of course) and this is what I learned (my birthday is April 21st):
Sea-Serpent (April 15 – May 12)
The Celtic animal zodiac sign of Sea-serpent is a symbol of growth and regeneration. It unites people together and offers great healing to those who need it, even if it's just an ear to listen. The Sea-serpent is quite attractive and knows how to use its powers of seduction. It is a fierce guardian of those it cares about, and isn't afraid to strike when threatened.
Not too far off, I suppose. Fascinating, really.

There were other stories and myths I was told by various people in shops and on the train which I started to write down but, honestly? I finally just put my pen down and listened.

I did write down some names which I'm sure I've spelled incorrectly. I will spend some time in the local library looking up the myths and enjoying this part of my visit to Scotland all over again.

I'm sad to leave Scotland - I don't know that I will return - but I must say that I'll be happy to get home to warm weather and sun. This is a bit too much like Oregon or Washington State for me.

It's beautiful. It's lovely. I love visiting that part of the country. I couldn't live in a rainy climate. That's for a body and a psyche and a spirit much more sturdy than mine.

Ah, but I love the people. I love their stories and their love of the telling of their stories. I love their ironic sense of humor. I love their pragmatic spirit.

I'm so grateful to have learned so much more of the heart of authentic Celtic Spirituality. It is so much more than Celtic crosses and haunting, mournful songs.

In the very middle of the middle of Celtic Spirituality is the interwoven spirits of justice and joy, which is what is in the very middle of the middle of the heart of The Creator.

Thank you, Scotland, for being such a generous host.

Like the snake and serpent, I have shed some of what I no longer need and have emerged lighter and freer to take on only what is essential for the rest of my journey.

I leave Scotland embracing the pilgrim's motto from the writings of St. Augustine with renewed ferver:

Sing Alleluia and keep on walking!

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