Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of March 31st - April 6th,  2000

Ix Chel

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   While tracing the coils of the Dragon, we learned that the Emperor of China and Imperial Dragon were identified as one. In Egypt, the hooded cobra resided on Pharaoh's forehead. Early Babylonians left archaeological evidence of bronze serpents with a socket in the body, presumably to be affixed atop a pole or staff. Centuries later the Bible tells us,

Mayan Ruins

Xunantunich

   "Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard."

-Numbers 21:9.

   For the Greeks, Dragons wrapped pillars, lived in trees, or watched over sacred sites. This image of Dragon 'lording it over' us is a reflection of the flying serpent wrapping the pole of heaven, guarding its secrets. Early astronomical observation was undertaken not only for astrological reasons. The fruit from this tree was to yield time, the calendar, agricultural coordination of plantings and harvesting, as well as a belief in when to select medicinal herbs to treat the body. Asclepsius, the father of medicine, holds out his hand to a serpent. Myth records that a serpent whispered the secret enabling him to raise the dead, arousing the wrath of Hades. The caduceus bears witness to this memory of the fusion between astrology, astronomy and medicine.

Mayan Ruins

Mayan Ruins
in the jungle of Western Belize

   We have just returned from the jungle rain forests of Belize where we studied with Dr. Rosita Arvigo and two traditional Mayan healers. We met them at Ix Chel farm, a center named after the Mayan Goddess of the Moon.

   Even the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific are not wide enough to hold back this ancient tide, for although we are continents away from the cultures just described, the serpentine images we uncovered before thrive in Central America as well.

   Mayan hieroglyphs depict Ix Chel with a knotted serpent atop her head. Ix in Mayan means the feminine, whether Lady, goddess, or woman. Ix is also meant to convey something high, important, or honored. Chel means rainbow, or translucent light. Ix Chel is the Moon Goddess, Goddess of Medicine, and Queen of the Mayan gods.
Ix Chel, Goddess of Medicine

Ix Chel, Goddess of Medicine

As an Earth goddess, she was the giver and taker of life as well. The snake on her forehead is a symbol of medicine, and can be found throughout the world. Although someone selling snake oil has come to be thought of as a quack, traditional healers claim that snake fat, if properly prepared and used as an ointment is a great cure for rheumatic arthritis, lower back pain and even cancer. Ix Chel was depicted as maiden or crone, reigned over pregnancy, childbirth, babies, and tapestries. She is often seen holding a clay pot, from which either rain or the rainbow emerges. Her husband is Chac, the rain god; and he listens to her, and abides by her desires. If Ix Chel is happy, the right amount of rain falls. If not, then either floods or droughts occur.

   This image of the risen serpent is universal among the native and traditional peoples all over the world. Kundalini yoga remembers it in the raising of the serpent energy to the crown chakra. It is, in part, the intuitive ability to commune with spiritual forces in maters of health. But it is also part of a reflection between heaven and earth. If the equator is our belt, then the pole is our head, and there resides the serpent, whether in Central America, Egypt, or even India, the original source of many of the ancient Chinese traditions.

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Heightened Intuition

   The serpent coiled over the head is a reflection of wordly knowledge, in a literal sense. It shows balance between stars, Earth and her environment, and ourselves.
Pharaoh and Uraeus

Pharaoh and Uraeus
the Coiled Cobra

The Mayans depicted this in their Moon Goddess, while the Greeks claimed that Asclepius was the child of Apollo, the Sun. Either represents inner light and life, whether it be seen as connected to the Moon and her curative herbs, or through the Sun, as power and personal action. Each revolves through heaven, around an axis like a spinal column, guarded by a nocturnal serpent who lies ever vigilant, hiding in the clouds, commanding the heights of heaven.

   Above is Ix Chel, the serpent atop her head. Compare this to the Uraeus worn by Pharaoh at right. The Greek word Uriaos may have originated in the Egyptian world meaning 'she who rears up', an apt expression for Draco as she ascends in the spring skies. The Uraeus was represented as a rearing cobra with an inflated hood.

   While learning about the Mayan traditions, many clues that we had recently uncovered were confirmed. The feathered serpent, known to the Mayans as Quetzcoatl and to us as the flying dragon, is a composite of the Quetzal bird and a serpent. The four colors of the Quetzal, with its bright plumage, match the colors associatied with the four cardinal directions in Central America for the Maya.

The Green Snake and the New Don

The Green Snake

   Last year while visiting Ix Chel, I had managed to capture an unsuspecting scorpion, who was busily munching on a rather large cockroach. This was my first personal contact with this eighth sign of the zodiac, and I studied him closely. This year, I didn't see any scorpions, but one of the Mayan workers heard the birds acting up, and knew there must be a snake nearby. Sure enough, a long green snake, some five or six feet in length, was in the bushes, and Thomas quickly had him corraled.

   After being assurred by Thomas that the serpent was not venimous, I took hold of it and eagerly placed her on my head so Gail could take a picture.

   It was only later, when checking one of the local field guides on snakes that I looked up the Belizian Green Snake and learned that they were, in fact, venomous. When I asked Thomas about this, he reassured me by saying that he didn't like to concern the tourists, and that they were only 'mildly' venomous. 'If he bit you, you'd feel sick for a day. That's all.' he said.

Bawana Don

Bad Hair Day

   There is something about the serpent which is primordal. It strikes a cord deep inside all of us. I have seen kittens, barely six weeks old and never having known the out-of-doors, jump almost a foot backwards when a belt was slid in menancingly towards them. The fear is instinctual, the reaction automatic.

   In retrospect, it is only appropriate that this green serpent be venomous. It is fairly evident that most of the medical traditions which refer back to the serpent are relating to the poisionous variety. The Egyptian Uraeus 'spit fire'. Cerainly the Cobras of India are deadly. The serpent that stole the herb of immortality from Gilgamesh was probably venomous. The Mayans feel that the serpent atop the head of Ix Chel is poisonous. I can't think of any Greek myths which specifically identify the type of serpent Asclepius interacts with, but it is possible. In placing the green snake, now knotted around my arm and head, in my path, it is fitting that it was a venomous viper.

   It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that sting.

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