Tuesday, June 03, 2008

In which meanings are revealed

A local Pagan posted to one of the lists, vibrating with excitement. As her story unfolded, we learned that she'd found a shed snakeskin on her porch, and another in her backyard. Later, she spied a small garden snake curled up in the shade under a bush.

"So, what does it mean?" she asked.

"It means you've got snakes," the rest of us replied.

"Well I know that," she said, pulling off the considerable stunt of rolling her eyes through e-mail without benefit of emoticon. "But what does it mean?"

There was a brief pause as we regrouped, trying to figure out clearer ways of phrasing the words "It means you've got snakes." This is one of those unfortunate contradictions in NeoPaganism. Earth Worshippers though we may be, most of us are inextricably tied to modern civilization, dependent upon its comfortable trappings and climate-controlled environments. As such, any brush with Nature in all Her (or His, depending on your tradition) glory becomes a Deeply Significant Experience.

In reality, the grand majority of these experiences are decidedly lowercase.

And incidentally, this is also one of the ways we differ from our ancient, co-opted Pagan ancestors, who, finding themselves in a similar situation, would probably say things like, "We've got snakes. And they're eating the children."

Aiming for friendly compromise, my friend L. shared some personal reflections, stating that she always looks for mundane explanations to any given synchronicity before applying supernatural significance, but optimistically suggesting that if some kind of magical working had been performed recently, the snakes and their ex-skins might represent some kind of portent. To which our vibrating Pagan asserted:

"I've already gone over the mundane aspects. I'm looking for a NON-mundane answer."

A-ha. The key words here are "looking for." As in, "I want this to mean something, regardless of whether it actually does."

Eventually, one of the more New Agier list members saved us by posting a fresh-out-of-her-ass essay on how snakes symbolize rebirth and necessary but painless change, and the querent went, "Thank you! That's EXACTLY what I was looking for!" And we moved on.

Okay, everyone but me moved on. I dwelt on the subject for awhile, because it bugs me when Pagans try to assign importance to every little thing that lands in their line of sight.

Being that open is not a good thing. If you can't differentiate, if you can't make a distinction between a standard-issue occurance and a bona fide relay from the Gods, then you're better off not paying attention.

Nature happens, whether we witness it or not. And we're a part of Nature, not its masters or its impartial commentators. Snakes shed their skins, and trees lose their leaves, and stray cats kill the birds you were admiring seconds before. Occasionally, these things occur in the right place at the right time in front of the right Witch, and when this happens the inherent implication is immediately and abundantly clear.

But if you have to ask; if you have to rely on someone else to transcribe the event and come up with a customized moral; if you need an outside source to legitimize how Pagan you are...

...then it didn't mean anything at all.


Apocrypha said...

I think two snakes in the yard mean that you are in danger of being bitten...and that you should make sure your health insurance is up-to-date.

That's my take.

Evn said...

Garden snakes don't bite.

They shank.

Yvonne said...

If the two snakes had been twining up a stick with a light at the top... maybe then I would get excited.

Evn said...

I want the snakes to rear up and burst into a rousing rendition of "We All Come from the Goddess."

Anonymous said...

"But if you have to ask; if you have to rely on someone else to transcribe the event and come up with a customized moral; if you need an outside source to legitimize how Pagan you are...

...then it didn't mean anything at all."

Couldn't have said it better my self.

Glad to see you back, I missed your posts.

Evn said...

Aw, thanks! I lost some momentum there for awhile, but I'm getting it back.

Grian/Lee said...

Perfect. Things may have some meaning from time to time but the meaning is usually unique to the individual. And sometimes the meaning is plain and simply mundane in nature. I guess the trick is to make the distinction between the two.

Evn said...

Grian, exactly.

And sometimes, the meaning of a particular experience is, "Wow, that was a really cool experience!"

You often don't have to go much further than that.