Snakes in the Head
Wiggle 'til it whispers, wiggle 'til it hums,
Wiggle 'til it answers, wiggle 'til it comes. - Bob Dylan
Please note: I remain unable to update the original site, and Blogger is now telling me that this page has the "characteristics of a spam blog," which may be the precursor to my getting locked out of here, too. This is looking like corporate incompetence on a Bushian scale, which is to say, as if.
And if we happen to go under here as well, please refer to the RI board, particularly this thread. Because we'll be somewhere.
And having typed that, I'm anxious to get this posted before I can't. So to get the conversation started in a half-assed fashion, I'm wondering about the imaginal meaning of a recurrent ayahuasca vision and voice.
First, from Jim DeKorne's Psychedelic Shamanism, via this thread on the RI forum:
Immediately I had the vision of a snake wrapping itself around my head. I saw my head open, as if my brain had been cut in half. It looked like the honeycombs of a beehive. Dozens of snakes appeared and began sliding into the tunnels of my brain. At first it felt wonderful, as if an immense power was entering me, but then I wasn't sure that I should let it in. I remembered Julio's warning that some spirits are good, others are evil. I was afraid I was dealing with an evil one. What if it wasn't the spirit of ayahuasca; or if it was, what if it was an awful, dark aspect of it?
I asked the voice what the snakes meant why they had to enter me -- but I didn't get an answer. Part of me thought it was a test. Another part knew that if the snakes disappeared into my brain, I would never get them out. The thought was horrifying.
Suddenly, I knew I had to get those snakes out of my brain. I began pulling them out by their tails. They were strong and hard to dislodge, but the more I fought them the more certain I became that the voice wasn't the real spirit of ayahuasca. It wouldn't have asked to enter me in such a disturbing way. I was fighting for my life. I feared that if I lost I would be enslaved forever.
The moment I got the last snake out, I began to doubt my decision ... I felt that I had failed a test and missed an extraordinary opportunity. I asked the voice why it seemed to be testing me. The voice answered that it had already given me so many gifts that I should have some faith and trust. The voice didn't sound angry or disappointed. It just said I shouldn't ask for so much without giving anything in return. Then it disappeared, and I knew my visions were over for that evening.
Now Peter Gorman, from his exceptional essay "When Ayahuasca Speaks - An Unexpected Venture into Healing":
...on perhaps the most extraordinary ayahuasca journey of all, a journey in which I was forced to confront my deepest fears and most hidden desires, I encountered a voice which asked me why I kept calling it. Thinking I was going crazy I answered that I had not called it, to which the voice said I certainly had, otherwise why was I drinking ayahuasca. Feeling silly that I was talking to myself, and simultaneously terrified that I was actually in conversation with a being that was way beyond my ken, I timidly told it that I was drinking ayahuasca to visit friends in New York, and to fly with birds. The voice responded that those were parlor tricks meant to entice me to return to ayahuasca; that the real reason I returned was to learn things and that the way to learn them was to allow ayahuasca to enter me. At that, my head seemed to split open, as my whole body and being had when Julio and his apprentice sang years ago ,and I watched in horror as a thousand snakes began to enter my brain. I knew that if I didn't get them out I'd be taken over by ayahuasca or whatever evil spirit that was, forever. So I fought with all my life to pull the snakes out and when I'd won the fight I was exhausted.
I didn't mention the experience to Julio for two years, during which I'd visited him but didn't drink. I simply couldn't face that voice again. When I did finally broach the topic he told me the voice was the voice of ayahuasca, that I could ask it for things, like songs to make me strong, or how to learn what plants were good for healing, or to answer questions that were otherwise unanswerable. He assured me that while it was a real spirit, as were many others I might encounter under the influence of ayahuasca, it was only a spirit and couldn't hurt me unless I let it. He also said I was a fool to have pulled the snakes out of my head, that it was a gift from ayahuasca to get snakes in one's head or belly because anyone who had them would always know who their enemies were, from thieves in the city to brujhos, black magic sorcerers, who would try to kill you with invisible arrows.
(Author Daniel Pinchbeck tells me that he, too, has had the snakes enter his head. Though interestingly, "not on ayahuasca - it happened to me one day at home, and had a strange visionary valence to it.")
Snakes and ayahuasca, we've seen, go together like the two halves of a double helix. Kira Salak concludes her recent account of her ayahuasca initiation by shining her flashlight into her vomit bucket: "No. I lean down closer. Steady the beam of light. I catch my breath as I examine the object: A small black snake seems to have materialized from my body."
I can well imagine how, to Western initiates into plant shamanism - even those who've already had the entheogenic elves break and enter their heads - the vision of snakes tunneling into their brains would be enough to make them suddenly doubt the wisdom of their path, and feverishly start yanking them out by their wriggling tails like a psychonautic Samuel L Jackson ("I've had it with these motherfucking snakes in my motherfucking brain!") That's the conditioned reflex determined by centuries of demonizing the figure of the snake, though it has long been regarded elsewhere as representative of humanity's potential power, typically coiled and dormant, known as the Kundalini.
But even in the scriptures of the West, it hasn't all been bad press for the snake. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
I hate the term sheeple, because it's almost always arrogantly applied to others. But in a world ruled by wolves, divided between prey and predator, let's get over ourselves: we are the sheep. In fact, if our souls are precious to us, we had better be. But that needn't mean we're what's for breakfast, if we can nurture a serpentine wisdom. And we won't become indistinguishable from our roaring adversary if, at the same time, we can also embrace our doveself.
I'm still skeptic enough to appreciate the caution from Emmanuel Swedenbourg that "when Spirits begin to speak with a man, he must beware that he believes nothing they say." But I've also come to suspect that against the principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in High Places we have great allies, which are all the same ally, which is Life. Test the spirits, but sometimes it may take a few snakes in the head to see we have friends in high places, too.