Shakti Power: Dreaming with Snakes in Totnes

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October 30th 2008
Published: November 5th 2008
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After a week of celebration, dance and catharsis in Dorset, I am ready for a somewhat more serene time and make my way across the picturesque Devon countryside to the market town of Totnes. Totnes, so I am told, is something of a spiritual hotbed, not unlike Glastonbury, and I look forward to exploring the place.

My friend Khanga collects me at the train station. I have not actually seen Khanga for about five years, and in fact, I’ve probably only met her once or twice in my life, but this doesn’t matter. On a human level, we may be virtual strangers, yet on the spiritual plane, we could not know each other better. Like myself, Khanga is a Priestess, trained in the same lineage as I. It’s hard to describe it adequately, but there’s something about the way we Priestesses communicate, especially those of us who have shared training years together. It’s almost as though we don’t need to converse with words. In the training, we’ve seen each other’s souls, journeyed together through the heights of bliss and the depths of despair, seen each other exposed and stripped naked in the deepest meaning of the word. We experienced events and initiations that have bound as together closer and more tightly than we thought possible. We know and understand each other on a very deep level, in that threshold between the worlds, as movers between the veils. To call this a friendship would be poorly inadequate, so my preferred term is sister (or brother), because these connections run deeper even than blood relations. They’re karmic, instinctual, beautiful - and also something of a necessity in our line of work. It’s such a gift to arrive somewhere, look into another Priestess’ eyes, and know exactly where she’s at. There is no need for small talk, niceties and explanations, we tend to cut it straight to the heart of the matter. It’s like this with Khanga, and I’m grateful for it, especially after the authenticity of experience at Osho Leela.

Khanga is a tantrika; a shamanic healer in the Amazonian rainforest tradition, and most importantly maybe, a snake Priestess. Since I’ve seen her last, she has acquired nine snakes, ranging from the tiniest little corn snakes to some of the biggest snakes in the world: two massive anacondas (non-venomous boas found in tropical South America) who live in a large tank in her bedroom. All of Khanga's snakes carry the names of God/desses and Saints, and she is in the process of developing snake dances and snake healing sessions with her little darlings. To me, Khanga is shakti incarnate, holding such enormous sexual life power that it radiates out of her every pore. She is a courageous woman who has spent many years working with her shadow, and would, to my mind, be best suited working in the Temple of Venus, unfolding her powers completely in a sacred setting.

As we speak, Khanga takes some of the snakes out of their cages and places one of them around my neck. ‘When you’re holding them, you’re holding the Divine Mother’ she says with a smile. The snake feels cold, smooth, and extremely sensual as she glides over my naked skin. She winds herself in and out of my hair and down my back. I am in awe: there is something raw, archetypal, primal about these creatures. They radiate sheer power. Snakes have been revered in many cultures as the Goddess; they are synonymous with sexual (in particular feminine) power, fertility and pure shakti life energy. In Indian yoga, this life force is viewed as a coiled serpent that lies dormant at the base of the spine until it is awakened through e.g. spiritual practice. Yet, many people fear snakes and the reptile has been made out to be evil, dangerous and, in the Bible, a representation of seduction and vitiation. It’s not hard to see that, on a symbolic level, snake phobia can express an unconscious fear and disapproval of wild, ‘uncontrollable’ female sexuality.

Khanga gets ready to feed one of the anacondas with dead rats whilst we listen to cheerful South American Catholic hymns (these hymns part of Khanga's shamanic tradition, I am informed. Maybe they remind the snakes of home?). With some difficulty and great care, Khanga lifts the female anaconda from her terrarium. It’s a dangerous undertaking as, in theory, the snakes have enough strength to strangle a human being. They also have a scary-looking set of teeth which would make one of their bites uncomfortable, to say the least. According to Khanga , they are quite peaceful creatures, though, and like to be left alone. When the anaconda emerges from its home, it’s awesome: the outstretched black and white snake is thicker than a human arm and about two meters long. I gingerly stretch out my hand and stroke its thick body. It’s smooth, soft and slightly moist. In its feeding box, she snaps at and attacks the dead rats Khanga brings her.

I can’t help thinking that there is something absurd about keeping snakes in glass containers and feeding them with frozen dead rats. There is a part of me that believes snakes are wild animals and should be free to spend their lives in their natural habitat, as they were designed to. Yet, when I think about it some more, the analogy between a captive animal’s life, including dogs and cats that eat other dead animals out of tin cans, and our human modern life isn’t hard to make. Isn’t there something equally absurd about human beings living in concrete, often very confined and overpriced, enclosures, eating neatly packaged joints of meat out of an ice box, with often no idea how exactly this food arrived there? The argument is that we, as human beings, have free will, and that everything is a choice. But is this really the case? How much free will is there about our having to eat, having shelter
Feeding Anaconda Yemanja...Feeding Anaconda Yemanja...Feeding Anaconda Yemanja...

... or is it the other way around?
and warmth, and living and working in certain ways imprinted by a given society? One could argue that these are still choices, that there are ways out of it (some yogis, for example, train themselves to do so much spiritual practice that they can, at some point, exist on prana, or vital energy, alone). For some, this is the whole objective of a spiritual life: freedom from duality, from materialism, from the pain and suffering connected with life on earth, from the perceived shackles of the continuous cycle of death and rebirth, so one can move into moksha, liberation. But, I digress. Khanga believes that, much as we human beings choose where and when to incarnate, snakes choose to incarnate into a life of captivity, to teach human beings of their lore and powers. She spends much time communicating with the reptiles, using animal communication skills, and, half-jokingly tells me that she is becoming more and more like a reptile herself.

I wonder if it’s not boring for the snakes to just lie there curled up all day long. Apparently, it’s not: they do much the same in the wild. In shamanism, it is believed that snakes spend a lot of their lives in dreamtime and visions. Somewhat synchronistically, I am befallen by leaden tiredness after handling and photographing the snakes. I am so tired and spaced out that I need to lie down (next to the anacondas!) for the rest of the afternoon. I curl up and sleep for about twelve hours, and have many vivid dreams, some of them containing archetypal imagery. Either the snakes are having an effect on me, or I am still recovering from Osho Leela!

As for Totnes, the town, I don’t get to see an awful lot of it, but what I see is nice. The small town, surrounded by countryside, consists of beautiful and colourful houses, a castle, mysterious cobbled lanes, an abundance of cafes and restaurants, quirky little shops, alternative therapists, bookshops, excellent health food shops and yoga studios. It’s indeed not unlike Glastonbury, but perhaps a little more grounded and less hippy-oriented. It feels vibrant and welcoming, and I vow to spend some more time here in the future. The town even has its own Holy Well, the Leechwell. The Leechwell is a set of three springs, known for its healing properties. Aptly to my visit, the troughs into which the outlets poured carry the names Toad, Long Crippler and Snake (long crippler being a local word for the slow worm).

Yes, the life of a traveller is strange at the best of times. It is particularly strange when you are travelling in your own country, in familiar territory, and discover that, when you look deeply enough, the exotic and unusual is everywhere, not just in far-flung lands.


I once in my deepest sleep
Saw a sight so beautiful
Something I couldn’t have
Ever conceived of
Hadn’t it been shown to me
By a picture-master so perfectly
An ancient mother
Whose every cell is love
Whose breath is compassion
Whose blood is vulnerability
Whose name is self-sacrifice
And whose heart beats with such tenderness
That I want to cry
My mother you feel the suffering of the world with your every cell
And for that, they call you
A Reptile!



5th November 2008

amazing photos!
5th November 2008

Typical Loner
I resonate so much with this piece that I feel somewhat displaced sitting here. ;) Then I have to remind myself of something Einstein said which I like: "Although I am a typical loner in my daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated." Happy reading, thanks for sharing.
7th November 2008

Ahh, I wondered when you'd get down to my part of the world! You need to experience Dartmoor, in all it's beauty. Let me know when you're next down here and we'll go visit a few stone rows . . . :)
10th November 2008

always amazing story
Tiziana, even in your own country, you succees in experiencing amazing things! Always a pleasure to read your story... so far away from my "normal" life but sometimes so close. Keep on enjoying! and I want to know more about the sex guru.. Lama Emilie

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