Snake or Serpent

Snake or Serpent

Pentecost 126

We discussed in our study and conversations about Norse mythology the characters that made their way from ancient legends to modern day movies and comic books.  The subject of countless Chinese plays, novels, operas, movies, and yes, even computer games, the myth of the Bai She Zhuan is just as popular.

The Bai She Zhuan or the White Snake Woman is really the story of two spirits – the spirits of a white snake and a green snake.  Bai She Zhuan, the white snake, and Xiaoqing, the green snake both were practitioners of Taoist magic.  The desperately sought immortality and gained enough power to transform themselves into beautiful women.  Bai She Zhuan fell in love but her husband only knew her as a woman and when told of her true identity by a Buddhist monk, he gives her a poison and she reverts back to a snake.  The husband Xu Xian falls down dead but is revived, only to find himself locked inside a temple.  A great flood appears and Bai She Zhuan tries to rescue the imprisoned Xu Xian.  With the help of Xiaoqing, Xu Xian is rescued and until she gives birth to their son, the two lovers are reunited.  Upon giving birth, the Buddhist monk captures Bai She Zhuan and lock s her away.  Many years later, Xiaoqing helps her escape.  The story has various endings but the moral is always the same.  The white snake woman achieved immortality but was forever separated from her husband and beloved son.

One might say that snakes have always gotten the wrong end of the character representation in mythologies.  In the Abrahamic tradition of Adam and Eve, it is a snake that is held responsible for their exile from the Garden of Eden.  The snake has a different meaning in Chinese culture.  Closely aligned with the dragon which is the symbol of China, the snake represents intelligence, happiness, and prosperity.  Literally the word snake means winding or meander.  In China the snake has many nicknames such as “the black dragon”, “dragon in heaven” or “celestial being”.  The Year of the Dragon is followed in the Chinese calendar by the Year of the Snake.

Some of the oldest culture in China dates back to the Xia people who lived in the northern regions of China from 2000 to 1500 BCE.  It is believed that the very first dragon was actually a large snake.  With imagination and hyperbole, the story about a very big snake became the legend of a dragon, a symbol which even todays represents the Chinese people and plays a prominent role in many of their celebrations.

We all are taught many things but we also become caught by society and its trends.  While it may seem odd that the story of a snake could become the eternal dragon, we also fall prey to the very same things.  The children’s game where someone whispers in a neighbor’s ear who in turns whispers in another ear, etc. illustrates how things can easily become twisted.  Seldom is the word the last person heard the word actually first whispered.

Another way to think of how we absorb what we hear is through osmosis.  It is a basic science experiment.  You place two beakers of liquid side by side and place a tube or flexible straw from one to another.  Elevate one beaker and the water is will start to move from the higher beaker to the lower one.  Another similar example is to add an antacid seltzer tablet to the water.  When the antacid seltzer tablet is dropped into the water, it begins to fizz and then some interesting action starts to occur.

Someone tells a story and it will slowly be retold.  When a great many people tell the story, it is like the seltzer tablet and much belief in the story occurs.  It no longer is about fact but the movement of the story.  Perhaps that is why so many of these mythologies are still around.  They are told and retold and their action continues.

What gives those stories validity is how we believe them and what we do with those beliefs created.  An ancient Chinese proverb states:  “I hear; I forget.  I see; I remember.  I do; I understand.”  Dr. Edward de Bono believes research shows that “Eighty-three percent of what we learn in through seeing and doing.”  We cannot simply say we believe something.  We must live it.  Peace is a noble belief but unless we are actively doing things to make it a reality for all people, the belief has not meaning and just meanders about the clouds.

We often think of the word “serpent” as a synonym for “snake.  In truth, the two words have different meanings.  A serpent is a schemer or liar, someone who twists the truth for the purpose of defrauding.  The Chinese snake or dragon became a protector and a mighty power.  We, too, can each make a difference and become a force for peace and justice.  We simply must live it.

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