She dances the serpentine dance, moving with the cosmic whirling motion of galaxies and cells. Her movement is winding inside DNA strands, lit by the symphony of photons, existence evolves to her rhythms. She is in the matter and the immaterial, watcher of codes and languages, turning the single into the plural with the blueprint of her serpentine ‘S’.
I discovered the phenomenon of the Holy Snakes of Mary in February 2015 shortly after my visit to the Museum of Cycladic Art’s exhibition entitled “Hygieia” on Health, Illness and Treatment from Homer to Galen”. One of the recurring figures in the exhibition is the serpent which was sacred to Asklepios, god of healing. The cult of Asklepios was sustained by many mythic tales featuring the appearance of wise and healing serpents which communicated with humans and culture. In these myths, the serpents appear as guides and helpers that mediate between mundane reality and the invisible realm with the intention to bring about healing. According to ancient lore, the location of a new sanctuary was guided by a snake. There was also a correlation between Asklepios and Apollo Pythios. Delphic theology stressed the rebirth and regeneration aspect of Apollo, which correlated with the theme of the snake’s cyclic renewal of skin. Perhaps, it was a reminder of the ancient goddess-centred worship of Gaia, the Great Mother, and her daughter, the serpentine creature Python.
Visitors to the church in the enchanting village of Markopoulo in the beautiful island of Kefalonia in Greece are greeted by an unusual depiction of The Virgin. It shows her with arms stretching sideways, holding bunches of snakes in the palms of her hands. It could be compelling to compare her with figurines of Minoan snake-goddesses on the basis of the ancient history of the region. However, the phenomenon known as The Snakes of the Virgin occurs within the context of Orthodox Christianity. According to the church booklet, the miraculous tale began in 1400. Where the church of Markopoulo stands today was a convent which was subject to pirates’ attacks. On each occasion the convent was looted and the nuns were brutalised. In 1705, the pirates’ third attack was not successful. As soon as their ship was noticed, the nuns began praying to The Virgin before her silver icon asking her to save them. When the pirates arrived to the church it was full of hissing snakes with white crosses on the top of their heads and on their tongues. The crosses on the snakes resembled the ones imprinted on the robes of the Orthodox Christian nuns. According to the tale, the nuns were transformed into snakes by The Virgin in order to protect them from the pirates, who were repelled by the frightening snakes. The pirates burnt the church but the silver icon survived and the church of Markopoulo was built on the spot in which the icon, guarded by the same type of snakes, was later discovered.
The tale was not forgotten but transformed into a living myth through the mysterious mediation of the snakes. Every year on the 6th of August, the Day of Transfiguration, snakes appear inside and outside the church. The snakes are unusually friendly, crawl on the visitors and lick them like cats. They disappear after the day of the Virgin on the 15th and as the locals say, no one knows where they come from and where they go. The feast of the Holy Snakes of Mary attracts large crowds and sometimes thousands of pilgrims attend it.
Last April, I visited the church of Markopoulo and the spring of holy water on the mountain above it, which is linked to the snakes’ trail. The locals with whom I spoke were very eager to tell me of the healing powers of the snakes and the good luck they bring to those who hold them or wrap them around their wrist like a bracelet. However, they stressed that miracles happen to the believers. Conceivably, the greatest miracle that this ceremony represents in a metaphoric and organic way is the restoration of the millennia-old broken link between humans and serpents through the grace of Mary, the divine feminine.
In August, I will lead a Masterclass at the Ionion Center for the Arts and Culture in conjunction with the ceremony of the Holy Snakes of Mary at Markopoulo. The Masterclass explores the shamanic and cybernetic systems of rituals that sustain transformation, and the impact of ritualistic art forms. Divided into groups, the participants engage with the island’s geographical body, serpent mythology and ceremony through daily ritual protocol and feedback. Immersion in 5 unique channels/holons of vision, sound, text, movement and intention/compassion culminates in the discovery of the group-mind’s creative DNA which is then embedded in a morphic field via networked rite.
Perhaps the recurrence of the rite that celebrates the communion between people and snakes derives from a regional morphic field. The Masterclass shall explore these ideas within the framework of collective creative engagement and consciousness research. It is an invitation to participate in the serpentine dance of evolution and emergence.