Sunday, December 21, 2014

The power of the snake god

The statuary pieces recovered from Ubaid, in Mesopotamia, are among the oldest known. And, surely, among the strangest. It is nearly impossible for us to understand what led these ancient Mesopotamians to represent snake headed women, with such prominent keloid scars on their shoulders. The only thing we can say is that they are part of the human fascination for snakes - creatures which have been the object of cult from the earliest times of human history. 

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling is the modern writer who best caught the human fascination with snakes. He did so in the story "Kaa Hunting", part of the "Jungle Book". It is a fabulous story, rich in symbols and allegories; not the least interesting one is the characterization of the "Bandar-Log", monkeys of the forest, a very transparent characterization of human beings. Here, Kipling describes how the great Python, Kaa, hunts the Bandar-log who have kidnapped Mowgli. It is a story that carries a feeling of the remote ages of our early ancestors who felt the fascination of the creatures of the forest and of the snake, the most alien and terrifying of them.

The moon was sinking behind the hills and the lines of trembling monkeys huddled together on the walls and battlements looked like ragged shaky fringes of things. Baloo went down to the tank for a drink and Bagheera began to put his fur in order, as Kaa glided out into the center of the terrace and brought his jaws together with a ringing snap that drew all the monkeys’ eyes upon him.

“The moon sets,” he said. “Is there yet light enough to see?”

From the walls came a moan like the wind in the tree-tops– “We see, O Kaa.”

“Good. Begins now the dance–the Dance of the Hunger of Kaa. Sit still and watch.”

He turned twice or thrice in a big circle, weaving his head from right to left. Then he began making loops and figures of eight with his body, and soft, oozy triangles that melted into squares and five-sided figures, and coiled mounds, never resting, never hurrying, and never stopping his low humming song. It grew darker and darker, till at last the dragging, shifting coils disappeared, but they could hear the rustle of the scales.

Baloo and Bagheera stood still as stone, growling in their throats, their neck hair bristling, and Mowgli watched and wondered.

“Bandar-log,” said the voice of Kaa at last, “can ye stir foot or hand without my order? Speak!”

“Without thy order we cannot stir foot or hand, O Kaa!”

“Good! Come all one pace nearer to me.”

The lines of the monkeys swayed forward helplessly, and Baloo and Bagheera took one stiff step forward with them.

“Nearer!” hissed Kaa, and they all moved again.

Mowgli laid his hands on Baloo and Bagheera to get them away, and the two great beasts started as though they had been waked from a dream.

“Keep thy hand on my shoulder,” Bagheera whispered. “Keep it there, or I must go back–must go back to Kaa. Aah!”

“It is only old Kaa making circles on the dust,” said Mowgli. “Let us go.” And the three slipped off through a gap in the walls to the jungle.

Whoof!” said Baloo, when he stood under the still trees again. “Never more will I make an ally of Kaa,” and he shook himself all over.

“He knows more than we,” said Bagheera, trembling. “In a little time, had I stayed, I should have walked down his throat.”

“Many will walk by that road before the moon rises again," said Baloo. “He will have good hunting–after his own fashion.”

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