Stories

The Snake Dance

‘Tiny baby snakes are very cute. He showed me how to care for them. Any animal with a mouth can bite. My boyfriend got bit a lot. He hated it. I did not get bit. Somehow, the snakes knew not to bite me. I would open their cages every day to clean not thinking they would bite me.  All the five years that I worked with the snakes, I did not get even one bite.’

‘My favorite snake was very long, skinny and calm. He lived in cage number 30. He was primarily black with lovely, bright yellow patterns on him. He wrapped himself around my arms. He was a jungle jaguar python, a type of carpet python bred in a certain way. This snake and I looked at each other in the eyes. I put him around my neck and walked about doing my chores for the other 299 snakes. He would not slither away. He was so content being wrapped around my neck. Every now and then I would kiss him on his head, and he would make an eye contact as if he knew that I was in love with him. He would wrap himself around my neck a bit tighter, as if to give me a hug. The tighter he wrapped himself, the happier I felt …almost an erotic feeling. Actually, being with this python, I realized that I do get highly erotic feelings if someone holds me tight around my neck, almost choking me, and making me out of breath. I feel very high, very sexual when this happens.’

 

‘I also liked rainbow boas. They are very enthusiastic feeders and they grab their food very quickly.  Snakes can be very slow and graceful, very fast and dangerous. I love the way they move, the way their body feels and looks…slithery, shining, smooth, fluid, powerful, sneaky and purposeful. I love the feeling of my favorite python moving all over me. When I worked with the snakes, I felt in total control of myself, my movements, my actions, even what and how I felt and thought. I felt deeply connected to myself. Working with them was a meditation practice, not a job. ’

‘Snakes are so cool. They have that secret danger. I have some charity for the snakes, whereas some others would chop their heads off first. When my workers catch a snake I ask them to relocate the snakes to the deep jungle – which is not far from here. They are not allowed to kill snakes, even poisonous ones. They can catch them and release them in the wild. Nature made snakes for a reason, who are we to kill them?’

‘Well, the breeding facility reeked of snakes, blood and dead animals that were chopped up and given as feed.  Pay was low. But I liked my job. I even liked the snaky smell. When a snake slid through my hands, it felt so good. If I ever have to have a pet, I will only have a jungle jaguar python. I also like lizards and turtles, but snakes are my favorite….I love snakes…..’

In this entire monolog, Luisa had not made a single eye contact to see if I was there, if I was listening, if I was still walking with her, if I was interested…once she got going with her snake story, nothing else mattered to her. But this exotic story had reeled me in. I had heard every word. Her snake story was almost like the fluid and strong wrap of her favorite python, and as I got deeper and deeper into the story, I felt the snake wrap getting a grip on me. There was no way out. I was charmed.

Walking on the hilly terrain takes much longer. The distances are deceptive. Every hill has an up-side and a down-side. Luisa walked up-hill very fast and almost ran down the down-hill. I, the gringo, walked up-hill huffing and puffing, and went downhill with a certain palpable trepidation expecting a snake to be springing at me from every hole on the ground. All the while I was straining my ears to hear every word of her snake story. Well, several ups and downs later, we were in an enclosure similar to one I had seen for the Bonsai plants. This enclosure was filled with over forty species of bamboo that are common to Costa Rica, grown in a miniature form – not exactly Bonsai, but miniature enough so that they can be placed indoors in five gallon pots.

By now, I was totally enchanted with Luisa’s snake story and completely drenched in sweat, my tee-shirt clinging to me like a second skin. The hardship of walking this far braving the harsh mid-day sun, and the swarms of bugs, to look at the miniature bamboo, had an effect on my decision making process. I decided that Mrs. Gomez would rather like the Bonsai fruit trees that were closer to the entrance of this sprawling nursery. I indicated that I was ready to walk back, pay my bills and move on.

‘We will go back by the short cut’ Luisa said and took a different route. We went through small patches of thickly grown jungle that led to a sunny meadow. This was equivalent to the ‘full sun’ and taking advantage of this, Luisa grew vegetables here. ‘Our vegetables and our nursery are 100% organic. We make our own compost. Now mind you, compost piles attract rodents. And the rodents attract snakes. My workers have caught many snakes around the compost piles’ Luisa informed me and continued as we entered a patch of bamboo that grew over fifty feet tall, ‘Watch out for the pile of bamboo leaves underfoot. It is a favorite place for snakes to hide. I have run into fer-de-lance here. You can’t see them, because they blend in so well. This snake hunts by ambush, lying camouflaged within the leaf litter on the ground. Someone gets too close for the snake’s comfort without realizing it’s there and then the snake strikes. You get bit by a Fer-de-lanse, you are in serious trouble. It is one of the most deadly poisonous snakes. Every drop of its poison hurts the blood vessels and capillaries causing such severe swelling that the skin has to be cut to release pressure. Very ugly.’

Now I was wondering if there was one square inch of this nursery that was free of snakes. It was clear to me that Luisa was quite in love with these creatures but as enchanted as I was with her snake story, I was by no means eager to make friendship with snakes and begin to like them or love them. In fact I was quite put off by the creepy crawly creatures and spineless worms. They simply gave me shivers up and down my spine. Luisa stepped into a trail that passed through a slightly overgrown, grassy lawn, where she stopped and petted a few horses, ‘They are the best lawn-mowers, ever’ she said, ‘You have to be extra careful while walking on tall grasses. Heard the saying green snake in the green grass? It is true. I have seen green pit vipers here. And don’t think the shrubs and trees are free of them. They can be found wrapped around tree branches and lying coiled and hiding on the large leaves, sunning themselves. Be careful here. It is dangerous – but you see, the pythons I worked with are harmless. All they want to do is find a prey, strangle it real tight till it dies, swallow it whole and then lie down somewhere and be quiet till it is digested. They don’t kill us with their poison. I just love them and I love how they can wrap themselves around just about anything.’

We were at Luisa’s office by now. And I am not kidding – the office could have easily passed for a world-class snake art gallery. Not only were there color posters and pictures of every imaginable species of snakes on the walls, doors, notice boards, and under the desk blotters, as we walked in, I noticed that even her screen saver had a snake photo. I was not surprised at all to find that the snake peeking out of her computer and looking me in the eyes was none other than her longtime friend, the jungle jaguar python with his brilliant black and deep yellow pattern, his head resting over a tight ball that he had coiled himself into. ‘You like him? He is my sweetheart. I have never forgotten his tight grip on my neck and how that grip made me feel.’ Luisa said as she caught me taking a peek at her screen-saver. ‘He is cute, indeed’ I said as I handed her my credit card, ‘Do you mind sharing this picture with me? I would love to take a serious look at him in case one day I want to get a python for a pet. Send me his name, and price too. Would you also recommend the breeder, your ex-boyfriend, so that I could buy from him?’

Morelia spilota

‘Really? Really?? Would you buy a python? Here, just now I will email you all details. We are still friends. I think he still loves me. He has not said it but he always calls me and says he will never find another person who would love and care for his three hundred snakes the way I did. You can call him and say I told you about him. He is very nice. I would still be with him and with my darling snakes if his former wife had not  showed up at his door all destitute and looking to move back in.’ Luisa spoke in a high pitch happy tone and with few clicks of her mouse she was done sending me the details. ‘I can tell you all about how to care for him when you get him’ she said, and springing right off her seat, she ran over to me, gave me another whole-body hug, wrapped her arms around me and whispered in a bit of a tearful, choky tone, ‘I am so happy you will get a pet snake.’ I was happy that she did not have her warm café mug in her hand.

Little did Luisa know how the minds of homeopaths worked and what aroused their curiosities.   Little did I know about what I was yet to learn – that the words we speak in our day to day life, while playing our role in our daily drama, are just as powerful an indicator of the inner leanings and workings of our vital force as the words and gestures expressed during an official consultation. Rather, they are more powerful, even though they look and sound like simple life-stories we tell each other to kill time, unmindful of the listener – and not caring if they hear us, or enjoy our story or are on the verge of death due to sheer boredom of having to listen to our story. In fact, the official consultation is limiting in many ways simply because it is official and not spontaneous. The stories we tell each other are spontaneous indicators of the vital signs of our vital force. We just have to stay sharp when we listen and pick up hints. What we would do with these hints, and the intelligence we gather by just listening to a story, is hard to predict.

‘Let us pick your plants’ Luisa said as she handed me a credit card receipt for my purchase, ‘Mrs. Gomez is going to be so happy. Can you imagine getting a gift of something that you always wanted to get? I am sure you will feel like that when you receive your python in the mail.’

Well, about a couple of hours ago, the only snakes I cared to know about were those that have been turned into homeopathic remedies. I had never met those snakes in person, nor do I ever want to, because seeing their picture on the internet was creepy enough for me. And, never ever in all my life, till I met Luisa and heard her snake stories,  did I ever knew someone could actually love snakes enough to want to have them as pets and kiss them on the head, as Luisa had done. Receiving a pet python in the mail for myself – really? Right now, after hearing the snake story in such details, I got jumpy if a leaf rustled in the breeze, and I looked around nervously to see if Mr. and Mrs. Snake and their half a dozen babies were going by for their meals or just slithering about in the rain forest grounds – which was their natural habitat after all, and where we were the rude intruders, as Luisa had pointed out.

On my way back, I wanted to stop by the sign that said, ‘Baby plants. Warm café. Talk English. For sale’ and change it to, ‘Baby plants. Warm café.  Snake stories. Talk English. For sale.’ Fortunately for Luisa, I did not have a can of spray paint with me.

True to Luisa’s prediction, Mrs. Gomez was extremely happy on receiving the gifts of Bonsai mango and lemon trees. She rattled off in Spanish and the only word that I understood from what she was saying was ‘gracias’. She had used this word over and over again and I started repeating it back to her. She took that as a hint and she stopped with her ‘Thank you’ speech.

That evening, I took a flash-light with me as I walked to Mrs. Gomez’s house for dinner. I read the materia medica on snakes. At bedtime that night, it was hard for me to simply lie down and fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I turned all the lights on, checked every nook and cranny of all the rooms, saw under the tables, under the bed, and in the kitchen cabinets and drawers to see if any snakes were hiding in the house. Saying that I had become paranoid was being very polite in describing me and my behavior. I could now understand how a person would feel when he said he checked and re-checked the house to see if there were any intruders. Well, I did not find any snakes. Maybe I will see some in my dream???

When I awoke in the middle of the night, it was in response to the very loud and strong breeze rattling my cottage. Unable to enter a state of deep sleep again, I tossed and turned – seeing images of snakes and wondering how and why Luisa knew so much about snakes. ‘Well, her country has over two hundred snake species. She loves snakes, so, she learns all about snakes. What is the big deal?’ ‘But do all Costa Ricans know and love snakes just because they happen to be citizens of a country with two hundred species of snakes?’ ‘No, you idiot! As a homeopath you should know that though we are all members of the same species, Homo sapiens, each one of us differs drastically from everyone else because of our strange, rare and peculiar features.’ ‘Is knowledge of and love for snakes Luisa’s strange, rare and peculiar feature?’ ‘How do I know, I was not taking her case. She was just chatting away without even bothering if I was listening or not.’ ‘But you were listening.’ ‘What was I supposed to do, insert a pair of earplugs and tune out her voice?’

As I began to doze off again, tired from this internal bantering, my sleepy mind recalled every detail of the full-body handshake and full body, wrap-around hugs that I had received today from Luisa, and the smell of the warm café dripping down my back. I woke up with the same imagery and a voice telling me, ‘DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.’

For reasons that were not clear to me, or to my rational, logical mind, I drafted an email to Luisa’s snake breeder ex-boyfriend, introduced myself, and requested him if he could please help. Then I deleted that draft. I decided to wait a couple of hours and then call him. That would be much better in case he had any questions coming up in his ophio-philic mind.

A while later, when I was sitting with my first patient of the day, I had to take a break in the middle of the session because I found my mind drifting to the conversation I just had with the snake breeder. I was going over every word that we had exchanged. I was wondering, ‘Will he? Won’t he?’ and also wondering if the line of action that I had chosen to take will lead to something. It was hard for me to focus on my patient and casetaking, though I was trying my best. I had trouble keeping my mind clear.

For the next few days, I took a little time off from my practice and helped the villagers in building a foot-bridge over the chunk of the road that had washed out. Without this bridge, people were just walking down the rubble and walking up the rubble with their happy, smiling faces. At the top of the washed off road, the town buses stopped to drop off and pick up passengers. Private vehicles gave free rides because simply everyone knew everyone else and in general, Costa Ricans were very helpful and friendly people going about as if their whole life was a series of festivities. This attitude was reflected in their national greeting, ‘Pura Vida’ meaning ‘Pure Life’. I often looked around to see if I could catch one grumpy sour-puss complaining about the slow pace in which the government relief efforts worked. I did not find any. ‘Road is washed out? We will build it back again, maniana, may be later. We can climb up and down the rubble, hitch a ride and move on.’ That was the general sentiment. The only people troubled by the rubble were the village women. They loved to wear very fancy looking six-inch high stilettos when visiting their family and friends and it was hard for them to walk on the rubble in their high heel shoes. Their cute and deadly shoes got muddy. They did not enjoy that. It was amazing how spotlessly clean they maintained their homes, clothes and shoes. They did not even give a full hand for a handshake fearing that your dirt might stick to them…except Luisa, who had given me the full-body handshake while spilling warm café over my back.

I also knew walking on rubbles with high heel shoes was hard for these women because I had several cases of sprained ankles in my practice lately, and they were all women. I had a strange desire to go around at night with a silent chain saw and saw off the heels from all the high heel shoes. Just like cigarettes these deadly shoes must be banned from planet earth.

The footbridge was soon completed. For inauguration the village children made national flags out of red, blue and white plastic bags, sewed the flags onto bamboo poles and planted these flag poles all along the two railings of the foot bridge. Luisa donated several pots of flowering plants and they were hung from the flagpoles. I thought the local mayor or governor would be invited for the inauguration, but the rural Costa Ricans are not very political. They invited the local priest instead. He prayed briefly, nailed a cross on the entrance and exit points of the bridge, sprinkled some holy water and then joined his congregation in drinking some local beer. All the three hundred residents of Rio Piedra including the guest residents like myself had shown up for the inauguration and we saw the priest taking the very first walk across the footbridge. He must trust in Jesus completely – he had prayed and if the bridge broke and he fell off, Jesus would certainly save him. I did not know what the rest of us had in our fate as we walked across the newly built and inaugurated footbridge.

Well, this footbridge worked well for my practice. I was beginning to get patients from nearby villages. Most of them were somehow or the other related to some one or the other in Rio Piedra. One person wrote in the patient intake form, “Referred by: My step-brother’s wife’s aunt’s grand-daughter’s ex-husband” It took me a while to figure out the family-tree. Believe me, I would have treated him even if he simply wrote that he had taken a flying saucer service and just arrived on earth. But I had learned that in Costa Rica it was important to tell others how you were related to so and so and so. I also speculated that perhaps the word about my free treatment was spreading like wildfire or perhaps my treatments were so dramatically effective. Who knows why and how a practice gets busy. I was simply happy to be doing my bit of work and helping people from the neighboring villages.

Some of my remedies were running out. I was expecting a package from Helios any day now. Mrs. Gomez gave me the address of one of her relatives who lived in San Jose. Helios would mail the remedies to him. He would visit Rio Piedra, get a free treatment from me and give me the packet of remedies when they arrived. I did not mind this arrangement at all. Imagine how happy I felt one day when this gentleman arrived at Mrs. Gomez’s house, a large packet from Helios tucked in his hands, and as I unwrapped the packet, I found among scores and scores of remedies a few vials  labeled, “Jungle jaguar carpet python, Morelia spilota, 30c, 200c, 1M”. I wanted to swim across the pond and give the Helios boys and girls the same whole-body hug and handshake that I had received from Luisa. That strange hug had inspired me to contact the snake breeder and ask him to send a piece of molted skin from jungle jaguar python to Helios and request Helios to make some potencies for me. As usual, Helios had risen to the task with efficiency and urgency. I had the remedy in my hand. However, I had no idea how or for whom I will use this remedy.

Well, the news of my practice must have reached Luisa, because one morning I heard her chatting non-stop with Mrs. Gomez and as soon as I opened the office door for my first appointment, she walked right in. ‘I was telling Mrs. Gomez about the snake Giovanni caught yesterday. It was a five foot long Coral snake. Poisonous of course, but very pretty. Tomorrow Giovanni will release him in the jungle.’ ‘It is a poisonous snake, why not just kill him?’ I asked.

‘No. You don’t kill a snake. He is a good snake. We are proud of our snakes. Tourists come to see snakes here.’ she said, and I wondered if good snakes were sweet and cuddly like good dogs and wore a discreet smile that their owners could detect and reciprocate.

Over with the latest snake story, I asked Luisa how I could help her. ‘Well, I am bleeding, non-stop, since last two years….My period troubles started about fifteen years ago when I had broken up with my snake breeder boy-friend, my dog had died, my father had died, and I had just given up on the idea of living in the US. I moved back to Costa Rica. I was starting my baby plant business. I married a man here. He was very clingy. If he needed me, he would wrap himself around me so tight I could not even breathe, but once he was done, I would not see him for weeks. I left him within a year. In the past fifteen years, I have had a lot of bleeding with large clots, and it would last for weeks on end, stopping for less than a week and then starting again. I have been through the doctor route…they have done all kinds of tests. I can send you reports. They said that I was totally fine. Then why am I bleeding? For the past two years, it has been a daily affair, any time of the day, blood can come gushing out. I used to be quite embarrassed, but now everyone knows what is happening. They see me bleeding, I just don’t care. I clean myself up and move on.’

Though the reason for this visit was uterine bleeding of fifteen-year duration, Luisa did not dwell in her complaint and describe her pathology in any great detail. She was anti-medication. ‘When nothing is wrong according to them, then what are they treating? Why are they poisoning me with their drugs?’ she asked and instead of telling me more about her presenting complaints, she regaled me with few more snake stories that she had missed telling me the first time we met. I let her carry on. There was really no way to stop her and ask a question. She had so much to say, any question would just break her flow of words and when that happened she gave me an intense glare that made me want to just shut up, and listen.

Thanks to the snake breeder boy-friend’s co-operation in collecting a sample and sending it over to Helios, and Helios’ efficiency, I knew just what I would give Luisa. I had no repertory to refer to and find out about the symptoms this remedy would address or produce in a prover. I did not even have enough rubrics to search the software and find a conventional and proven remedy. I pulled myself past the constraints of formal procedure and methodology. I decided to simply follow my heart and listen to my instincts. I gave Luisa one dry dose of Morelia spilota 1M in my clinic and a bottle with a few pellets dissolved in an ounce of water, for later. ‘Take a spoonful from this tomorrow and day after tomorrow at bedtime. Then stop. Come see me in two weeks from now and we will assess your response to the remedy.’

Luisa sat around till the remedy dissolved in her mouth. Then she continued to sit for some more time – may be fifteen minutes, looking at me now with soft and dreamy eyes, and asked me a few questions about homeopathy. Surprise!! Instead of Luisa, I was talking. When I had first met her, I could not get a word in – all I could do was listen, and she was hell-bent on talking non-stop whether I heard her or not. Now, Luisa was actually taking an interest in me as another human being who, perhaps, had a thing or two to say. But I am not into chatting up with my patients.

About the author

Vatsala Sperling

Vatsala Sperling

Dr. Vatsala Sperling MS, PhD, PDHom, CCH, RSHom(NA), was the Chief of Clinical Microbiology services at a children’s hospital in Chennai, India, where she conducted research with the World Health Organization and published extensively. On moving to the USA to start a family, Vatsala pursued an education in homeopathy at Misha Norland’s School of Homeopathy. An author of nine books (www.InnerTraditions.com) and many essays and articles on homeopathy, health and spirituality, Vatsala continues to study with several teachers. She practices classical homeopathy in Vermont, currently volunteers on the case review committee of the CHC and has served on the board of directors of NASH. Vatsala can be reached via her website, www.rochesterhomeopathy.com.

25 Comments

  • Beautiful story, Vatsala. We, the ticos, are very fortunate to have such kind of person and Homeopath visiting

    our contry (the Pura Vida country),and to help so many people in Rio Piedras.

    • Dear Roberto, Thank you for your kind words.
      I just wish to emphasize here that “SNAKE DANCE” is a work of fiction. As in most fiction, there is a microscopic kernel of truth in it and the rest is pure fantasy or my imagination.
      Glad you enjoyed the story.

  • Very well written, a great story!!! where fact, fable & fantasy seemed to rival each other to be the hero or heroine with each fork and turn of the narration. Even though at the very end Vatsala says there was some fictional basis, I want to believe that the whole episode was entirely true and autobiographical and who knows, it maybe is. Vatsala makes her characters come alive with homeopathic breath & meaning. Vatsala’s description of Louisa’s clingy, constricting husband blurs the line between harmless snake and deadly serpent. All, in all a great story that reveals the Similimmum by repertorizing the central character Louisa and her mesmerizing passion for snakes. I was enthralled reading to the very end though at times, it seemed as if the hiss of a snake with Louisa’s head would haunt me in future dreams. Great Job – Vatsala!!!

  • I really enjoyed reading the story. You really capture the feeling of what it’s like being a homeopathic doctor.

  • Thank you Vatsala! Your story has inspired me to remember to trust my inner voice; it is truly amazing how the remedies are revealed to us through our patients stories and that the remedies come just when they are needed.

  • Well written interesting story! I couldn’t wait to see which snake remedy was used. They also fascinate me …. Both snakes and the remedies!

  • Nice charming story like a snake charmer charmes the snake. I felt that you had been in costa rica for some time to catch nature’s beauty and peoples nature. Pure life living along with nature always beautiful and heart touching affair, which we lost due to urbainisation.

  • The most beautiful story I read in years, even among professional writers! Sophisticated in its metaphoric language, elaborate descriptions and subtle hints – I am grateful to you for putting this sketch of inner workings of life energies in writing..

  • Inspiring story, just like you and I so resonate with how you went ahead with remedy making and choice 🙂

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