Spring is the season of new life, and as the ground warms, one of the first denizens of the animal kingdom we begin to notice emerging is the serpent. While a lot of people are afraid of snakes, it’s important to remember that in many cultures, serpent mythology is strongly tied to the cycle of life, death and rebirth.
In Scotland, Highlanders had a tradition of pounding the ground with a stick until the serpent emerged. The snake’s behavior gave them a good idea of how much frost was left in the season. Folklorist Alexander Carmichael points out in the Carmina Gadelica that there’s actually a poem in honor of the serpent emerging from its burrow to predict spring-like weather on “the brown day of Bride”.
The serpent will come from the hole
on the brown day of Bride (Brighid)
though there may be three feet of snow
on the surface of the ground.
In some forms of American folk magic and hoodoo, the snake can be used as an instrument of harm. In Hoodoo and Voodoo, Jim Haskins relays the custom of using the serpent’s blood to introduce snakes into the human body.
According to this hoodoo traditions, one must “extract the blood from a snake by puncturing an artery; feed the liquid blood to the victim in food or drink, and snakes will grow inside him.”
A South Carolina rootworker who asked to be identified only as Jasper says his father and grandfather, both rootworkers, kept snakes on hand to use in magic. He says, “If you wanted someone to get sick and die, you used a snake that you tied a piece of their hair around. Then you kill the snake, and bury it in the person’s yard, and the person gets sicker and sicker each day. Because of the hair, the person is tied to the snake.”
Ohio is the home of the best-known serpent effigy mound in North America. Although no one is certain why the Serpent Mound was created, it’s possible that it was in homage to the great serpent of legend. The Serpent Mound is about 1300 feet in length, and at the serpent’s head, it appears to be swallowing an egg. The serpent’s head aligns to the sunset on the day of the summer solstice. The coils and the tail may also point to sunrise on the days of the winter solstice and the equinoxes.