Friday Photo Feature: AmyB
On the day of my first sitting for my tattoo, I was meditative. This was an important day, reminiscent to me of when I went through the LDS temple for the first time; I had no idea what the experience would really be like, but I knew that I would emerge a changed woman.
My tattoo is large and bold. After being a conformist, agreeable, silent-in-so-many-ways girl for most of my life, I felt compelled to do something daring. This marking was a sort of initiatory rite into my new, stronger sense of self.
I chose a snake for several reasons. I was partly inspired by a book entitled “The Alphabet versus the Goddess” by Leonard Shlain, who writes:
Western culture has long reviled the snake, associating it with evil and temptation. But at the dawn of civilization the snake was a positive symbol of feminine energy. Egyptians perceived the snake as a beneficent, vital creature intimately associated with female sexuality, and by extension, with life.
Snakes also resembled three other important life-affirming images: the meander of rivers, the roots of trees and plants, and the umbilical cord of mammals. There can be no structure that better symbolizes the idea of a mother/nurturer than an umbilical cord. Its form resembles two snakes entwined about each other. Rising out from a placenta’s sinuous blood vessels, the umbilical cord might easily inspire the notion that snakes were vital to life. And, because a snake regularly sheds its skin to begin anew, it can easily be imagined as an immortal creature that does not die, and is thus a potent symbol of rebirth. Finally, the snake is associated with wisdom. Its eye is the opening to mystic insight and foresight. So connected in the Egyptian psyche were beneficent serpents and goddesses that the hieroglyph for goddess was the same as the one for serpent.
I love the life-affirming, powerful feminine symbolism behind the snake. But there’s more to the story. In many ancient cultures, the snake was a goddess symbol. When the Judeo-Christian religions took shape, the divine feminine was pushed into hiding; one of her powerful symbols denigrated. Shlain writes:
After woman has been created, [the Bible] tells the story of the forbidden fruit, which further diminishes women’s place in society. Yahweh instructs the first couple to make themselves at home in His Garden of Eden and to enjoy its delights– with one exception: they are not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge “lest they die.” Enter the Serpent, cast as a villain, but actually the only character in this morality play who speaks the truth. The Serpent tells Eve that partaking of the Tree of Knowledge’s fruit will not cause her death; instead the Serpent says, “In the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good from evil.” Intrigued by the prospect of such a wondrous gift, Eve “took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
The omniscient Yahweh pretends not to know what has transpired. When He confronts the first man with his breach of discipline, Adam blames the first woman. She confesses, but claims that the Serpent had beguiled her. Faced with the three culprits, Yahweh first curses the Serpent, pronouncing, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman.” In every earlier culture, the snake was one of the Goddess’s most potent power symbols: Yahweh’s first disciplinary act was to sever this ancient connection.
My experience in the Mormon church, and as part of the larger Judeo-Christian culture, has left me feeling a deep longing for connection to the feminine aspect of divinity. I have begun to find it in many ways, and choosing this tattoo as a symbol of my own inner goddess and my connection to divine feminine energy has been an important and exciting part of that.
“But I can’t believe you would put something permanent on your body like that!” you say. Paradoxically, this tattoo also serves as a reminder to me of the impermanence of life. It is not as permanent as most artwork. When I die, it will die and decompose with me. I am not permanently on this earth, which reminds me to live each moment to the fullest and be the best I can in the here and now.
I have transformed in so many ways in the past few years. I have claimed my spiritual authority and reclaimed the Goddess as part of my spiritual path. I have become more confident in myself. I trust my intuition. My heart and mind are more open. The low grade depression and guilt I carried for years have lifted. I have shed my skin and wizened up. I have a long way to go still, but now I have a symbolic companion to remind me of how far I have come and that continued renewal and rebirth is possible.
If you would like to participate in a future Friday Photo Feature, please contact Jana at phddillyATyahooDAWTcom.