Sunday, May 29, 2011

Genesis of Snakes: a Novel.

Many years ago I joined a writing group. In the first meeting we did a guided freewrite in which we were to meet and have a discussion with our inner critic. A series of critics appeared, and over the next years I worked with them in analysis and in my writing.

But I also met a most unlikely but helpful figure, a giant Serpent, who instructed me to simply describe the markings on her body. As I observed the patterns and markings, I discovered they were stories, which I recorded over the next years. This was the genesis of my novel Snakes.

At first, these stories were the many snake stories I heard growing up in the small farm culture of the Midwest. Storytelling was an important part of rural life. Snake stories could usually be characterized as: human is surprised by snake, screams hysterically (very unusual for a midwesterner,) and then kills, or has killed, the snake. The snake seldom fared well in these stories! Writing down the stories brought new perspective, and I began to ask:

What are these stories really about?

Our writing group did a reading, and I read some of the stories. People approached me afterward, telling me their own snake stories, which I also recorded. Snake stories are compelling! In my analysis snakes visited me in dreams and in waking life. Meanwhile, the small farm culture that I was raised in was changing drastically. Farmers were taking out big loans to get more land in order to have more crop to sell to stay in business, then losing it all as grain prices fell in such abundance. The small, diversified farm was seen as unviable. Big corporations pushed genetically modified seed and the necessary chemicals to grow them. People got sick with autoimmune diseases. Farmland near cities was being sold to developers at inflated prices.

As I recorded these stories, while also witnessing the demise of the culture in which I had been raised, I wondered:

Do these snake stories have anything to do with the myth of our time, and what is happening to our relationship to the earth?

The Serpent has long been used to symbolize the Spirit of the Earth or the genius loci, the Spirit of Place, with which many of us have lost contact in our transience. How many of us have a sense of belonging to the land we live on? Of a kind of marriage with that land? Many of us are no longer in “energetic dialogue” with the earth.

The kundalini is also depicted as a serpent, consciousness rising as it moves up from the base of the spine through each of the chakras. A very important part of this process is feeling consciously connected to the earth. From prehistoric times rituals fostered a dialogue with the earth, often associated with the agricultural yearly cycle. It is said that the kundalini of the earth and that of humans mixed during these celebrations and rituals, strengthening all. We need land that we belong to, and perhaps land also benefits from our respectful dialogue with it.

The snake stories and then a study of serpent mythology wove themselves into the novel Snakes, one woman’s journey reconnecting her with the earth. They have also reawakened my lifelong interest in how we relate to the land, motivating my husband and me to seek out the conscious farming discipline of biodynamics. 
My father’s (Merle Damery) sense of Spirit of Place shines through in this painting he did many years ago of the farm onto which he was born and then farmed his entire life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pan's Flute

Photo Art by Alexandra Parks-Perry
I found the tonette (plastic flute) in the top of an old trunk in the storage locker. I was putting away journals after looking up snake dreams. My son Jesse was there, wanting a small clip for a book light that I also had stored in the top of the trunk, and the goats were nearby, waiting to take the walk up the mountain.

I remember raising the tonette to my lips and then hearing the most beautiful melody emerge— a Goat Song. The minute Natalie heard it she stopped browsing, walked closer, and stood, listening intently. The song was of the soul, melodic, a little sad, but strong. I had never heard it before, yet it was not unfamiliar. It was as if it had been growing in that tonette all those years and was just now emerging. I felt such relief to play it. Natalie, and now Boris, came closer. Neither could do anything but listen.

The song developed. I walked to the cemetery discovering which notes wanted to be played, and how. The goats followed, eating sweet peas, and listening, eating minor’s lettuce, and listening, eating tender shoots of new grass and listening to these enigmatic notes.

My husband Donald came home. I played the song for him. The goats listened. He said it must be in their collective memory, that song, that sound of the flute that shepherds played as they watched their flocks. We walked to the top of the ridge. I played the song on the mountain top in case Hornsby and Tarquin, our dear goats who had disappeared the year before, might hear. After I put the goats in their barn and loaded their feeder with alfalfa hay, I played the song again. Natalie stopped ravishing the hay to watch and listen, straw hanging from her head.

Then at 3:30 am I awoke to the sound of the tonette in the yard and the vicious barking of our dog Elsie. I sat up confused and alarmed. Was someone mocking The Goat Song? And who was playing the tonette? Donald was already up. He let Elsie outside. I listened through the open door.

The tonette was a coyote. She was quite near, perhaps by some sheep a neighbor had recently acquired. She howled over and over, her voice warbling.

Had I also been playing a Coyote Song? Or do shepherds play their flutes not so much to ward off boredom as predators? In so playing the tonette, had I alerted the coyotes to the presence of the goats while also warning them that the goats were under my protection, and this was Coyote’s answer?

There are no coincidences. I had not heard coyotes sing so near our home until that night. It is as if those notes vibrated the web of the wyrd, informing the world, and we were all energized.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

May 12 Reading, Point Reyes Station, California

Photo by Jan Beaulyn
On May 12 Patricia Damery will read from Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation and her just published novel, Snakes, as a part of Soul Food Series.

Both books address the impact of the end of an agrarian culture and the rise of the industrial and technological age on the human soul and the face of the earth, and the need to reconnect with earth and the chthonic through development of spiritual perspective and practice. Farming Soul tells Patricia’s personal story, part of a larger initiation, of the necessity of this in both her training to be a Jungian analyst and in the struggle to save a grape crop. 

The reading will take place at the Point Reyes Presbyterian Church on May 12 at 7 pm. The series is presented by Point Reyes Books, Elephant Mountain Sangha, Dharma Friends of West Marin, Point Reyes Presbyterian Church, Spirit Matters, and Yoga Toes and is free.

Patricia Damery is a Jungian analyst in private practice in Napa, CA, and with her husband, maintains a Biodynamic, organic ranch in the Napa Valley.