The concept of serpents as spirit beings of immense power is an extremely widespread and very ancient one. Three serpents are etched into this 24,000 year old mammoth bone plaque from an Upper Palaeolithic site at Mal’ta in Siberia. Asian, European, and Native American traditions all equate earthquakes and volcanic activity with underworld serpents, while winged serpents are linked with celestial phenomena from thunderstorms to eclipses. Serpents are creatures of great power and, therefore, of great danger. In many traditions, it is only those marked out to be spirit workers who should attempt to approach serpents, let alone have one as a spirit animal. Others risk severe illness or death should they encounter one.
Serpents, of course, are important to us Druids. In British folk tradition, we are sometimes referred to as Nadredd, ‘Serpents.’ One of the most famous depictions of a spirit being from the European Iron Age is the ‘Druid/shaman/god’ on the Gundestrup cauldron (shown here in the version from the British Druid Order’s Druid Tarot deck). In his left hand, he holds a ram-horned serpent by the throat, indicating that the antlered figure has control over the serpent. It is this control that marks him out as either a powerful spirit such as a god, or as a powerful spirit worker, i.e. a Druid.
One of the things that we have largely lost from Druidry over centuries of oppression and ignorance is the star lore of our ancestors. However, as joint inheritors of Indo-European traditions, we feel justified in looking to Vedic Astrology to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge. Vedic Astrology is a sidereal system, i.e. based on the actual position of the stars, as opposed to classical western astrology, which is based on the positions of the stars about 4,000 years ago. Here’s some Vedic astrology relating to tomorrow’s eclipse:
The Eclipse of March 20th 2015
The first Solar eclipse of 2015 happens with the New Moon in Pisces, joined by Mars and Ketu. Ketu is the tail of the celestial serpent, Rahu its head. Astrologically, they are the south and north nodes of the Moon. Eclipses occur when the serpent swallows the sun. This eclipse / New Moon will clarify and challenge our beliefs and spirituality, both Pisces themes. When Sun and Moon come together near the Node an eclipse results, producing a momentary disconnection and darkening our power source, the Sun. This literally leaves us feeling in the dark, and we may tempted to pursue the shadow side, or quick fix spiritual solutions, escaping into drug abuse or New Age fantasies. Be careful of such lazy, cynical options during the next 30 days. This eclipse happens in Uttara Bhadra Nakshatra, ruled by the God Ahi Bhudnya, the celestial serpent. This divine cosmic force is associated with clearing the last bits of dirt that are blocking the soul’s liberation.
A 16th century Irish text often called ‘The Cauldron of Poesy‘ speaks of:
“…two chief divisions of joy that turn [the cauldron of motion, located at the solar plexus] into the cauldron of wisdom [located in the head]: divine joy and human joy, [one of which is] joy at the onset of imbas[divinely gifted inspiration] by grinding away at the nuts of the nine hazels of fair fruitfulness that grow by the Well of Segais in the land of the Sidhe [Faery Folk, pronounced shee]. They hurtle upstream in a ram’s-head bore along the river Boyne, swifter than a three-year-old racehorse, at midsummer every seventh year.”
Here we see the ram-horned serpent power of our Gundestrup figure represented as a ‘ram’s-head bore’ that surges along the sacred river Boyne, bringing with it the surge of divinely-inspired joy that awakens the cauldron of wisdom, the seat of spiritual enlightenment, located in the head. Our picture shows a horned serpent depicted in cave art from Utah, USA.
The god, Ahi Budhnya, mentioned in the Rig Veda, is the snake of the deep world or underworld. Some suggest he is the serpent of the atmospheric ocean. Ahi Budhnya is symbolically represented as a water snake or reptile that may have harmed people, although he is invoked to gain blessings and not to be harmful. Vishnu Purana mentions that he was the son of Vishwakarma, the divine architect. In the Mahabharata, Ahi Budhnya is one of eleven Rudras and is also one of the eleven Maruts. By the Mahabharat period the deity is related to Rudra or Shiva. In the Rig Veda, his name is only mentioned in the hymns dedicated to Viswedevas.
In the British Druid Order’s courses, we work with serpent energy in various ways, from encountering it in the earth as we make pilgrimages across the land to invoking it for healing. In our ovate course, there is a meditation that we developed for a previous eclipse. The essence of it is a chant, perhaps accompanied by the beat of a drum. Here it is in Welsh and English:
Wyf sarff, wyf serch, wyf Gwydion/Arianrhod
‘I am serpent, I am love, I am Gwydion/Arianrhod.’
The first four words are part of a poem called ‘The Fold of the Bards,’ attributed to the archetypal bard, Taliesin. To this we have added invocations to the deities Gwydion and Arianrhod.
Gwydion is the British equivalent of the classical gods Hermes or Mercury. Mercury is the planetary power associated with the Moon’s North Node, characterised in Vedic tradition as Rahu, the Head of the Serpent. The ram’s-head reference is supported in Vedic astrology where the Serpent’s Head rules the sign of Capricorn, the Ram. I believe that Gwydion is the British manifestation of the unnamed serpent-taming deity portrayed on the Gundestrup cauldron. Some have identified this figure with the Hindu deity, Shiva.
Arianrhod is the sister and/or lover of Gwydion. In Hindu terms, we may identify her as the Shakti of Gwydion, that is the feminine manifestation of the power through which the god (and we as Druids) acts in the world. In the starry heavens, Caer Wydion, ‘Gwydion’s Castle,’ is the Milky Way, while Arianhod, whose name means ‘Silver Wheel,’ is represented by the constellation Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown, known to British tradition as Caer Arianrhod. As shown in the graphic (left), the Northern Crown is located just above the head of the constellation Serpens, the Serpent. Given that the Crown is an incomplete ring of seven stars, the conjunction of Crown and Serpent is very reminiscent of the torc and serpent held by our antlered Gundestrup god.
We suggest this chant as a means of connecting with the potentially harmful serpent energy manifested through the eclipse in a good, healing, helpful way, using it to unblock those blockages that are keeping us from attaining out true goals of the spirit, from turning our cauldron of motion into the cauldron of wisdom, the full manifestation of which produces:
“Divine joy [that] brings special grace to turn the cauldron of wisdom, so that there are sacred and secular prophets, commentators upon both holy and practical matters, speaking words of grace and performing miracles, whose pronouncements are precedents and judgements, becoming the pattern of all speech. Although the source of this joy is without, its cause comes from within.”
For the chant to be fully effective, it may need to be repeated for a considerable period. The seven years of tradition should not be considered too long given the potential benefits. Given the depth and power of this meditation, it is advisable to perform it within your sacred circle or within existing sacred space.
Sit cross-legged but comfortable, breathing steadily and easily. You may wish to replicate the cross-legged, orans posture of the figure on the Gundestrup cauldron. However, if you find sitting cross-legged uncomfortable, then find another, more comfortable posture. This meditation may be assisted by the steady beat of a drum or drums.
Begin by focusing energy into the base of the spine and lower groin, between the genitals and anus. Build a bright, hot fire there, drawing on the internal heat of the coiled serpent/dragon to heat the lunar liquid awen contained in the upright Cauldron of Devotion, which is also the Cauldron of Ceridwen.
When the heat is sufficient, feel the three hot droplets of inspiration burst upwards from the Cauldron of Devotion to ignite the flashing solar fire beneath the Cauldron of Motion, located at the solar plexus and lower central chest cavity. As we have seen, this Cauldron will normally, though not always, be on its side to begin with. As the heat builds here, the Cauldron of Motion will begin to turn upright. When there is a fiery ball of radiant solar heat churning away at the solar plexus, use it to drive the Cauldron of Motion up into the head, flipping it fully upright as it goes.
At the head, it becomes the Cauldron of Wisdom in which the contents of the lunar Cauldron of Devotion combine with those of the solar Cauldron of Motion. This merging of Sun and Moon represents the blending of all being into unity, that unity creating the brilliant white light of pure bliss, pure being and full spiritual awakening.
If you are having difficulty making the ascent through focusing on the cauldrons, focus instead on the image of the ram-headed serpent surging up the spine to fill the head with light, creating a circlet of stars around the crown of the head.
Chants to evoke the Serpent-power – Men chant as Gwydion, Women as Arianrhod (unless one’s guides or gender preferences/alignments suggest otherwise):
Chant: Wyf sarff, wyf serch, wyf Gwydion (or wyf Arianrhod)
Pronounced: ooiv sarf, ooiv serkh, ooiv Gwid-eon (ooiv Arry-ann-hrod)
Translation: I am serpent, I am love, I am Gwydion (I am Arianrhod)
Continue for as long as it takes.
Alternatively, you may choose to simply chant the name of the god or goddess, or use the Awen chant or another you create yourself.
In order to focus and ground the energy raised during this exercise, we conclude it with an Awen chant (i.e. chanting aaaah-ooooh-eeeeh-nnnn repeatedly, awen meaning ‘inspiration, or flowing spirit’ is the creative spirit in Druid tradition, symbolised by three rays of light – right), flowing the energy from the rite either into oneself for healing, change, creativity, etc., or directing it out to someone beyond the circle.
It is suggested that you further ground yourself by physically touching the earth and by eating something afterwards.
It is extremely difficult, probably impossible, to continue to exist in this world while maintaining the level of heightened awareness that fully awakening the serpent should bring. There are difficulties involved in opening ourselves to the universe. To maintain our ability to relate to consensus reality, we must consciously step back into the mundane world of washing up, car troubles, family concerns, etc. Our aim is to step back in such a way that we retain the ability to access the gifts of the upright Cauldron of Wisdom so that we may use them to help us, our families, friends and wider communities. This is the path that Buddhists call that of the bodhisattva, ‘enlightened being.’ This refers to one dedicated to the goal of attaining enlightenment and also to one who, having attained it, chooses to devote themselves to the goal of bringing all other beings to enlightenment. The word Druid may be interpreted as ‘very wise one,’ a meaning very close to that of bodhisattva.
And finally, the caveat emptor: If you’ve read the above carefully, you’ll know that serpent power is not to be trifled with. The meditation given above is designed to invoke the aid and protection of powerful deities. If you’re not ready for such encounters, leave well alone!
Blessings of the white serpent of healing,