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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 654-670
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Feminizing the Serpent in Lilas Desquiron's
Les Chemins de Loco-Miroir
Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you're perfectly free.
The serpent represents a vital symbol in the pantheon of Vodun gods through its primary association with the male serpent-god Damballah. Endowed with a creative life-sustaining force, the serpent has been identified as a predominantly phallic signifier of cosmic fusion and sexual transcendence in its capacity as an 'earthly' manifestation of a divine presence. As the very re(incarnation) of the essence of life, the serpent personifies the power of Damballah, the almighty primordial force or, as Maya Deren states, "the original and inaccessible vigor that has somewhat remained inaccessible to whatever history, what ever immediacy might diminish it" (Deren 115). Damballah's primacy of representation does not however eclipse the fact that his 'essential' powers can only be realized and maintained through the complementary positioning of a divine female force, his consort Ayida-wèdo, who assumes the yin/yang balance of life. However, Ayida-wèdo is almost always presented as a 'satellite' force whose secondary influence makes her a mere projection of Damballah's omnipresence. On the other hand, she also fuses with him in a kaleidescopic rainbow-like configuration to embrace a certain totality of union. While Dahomean cosmology identifies the snake as an overwhelmingly masculine force, this study asserts that, contrary to popular belief, the snake represents a certain transgendered neutrality that invalidates the unilateral primacy of the male by conferring the feminine with an autonomous cosmic value. This value positions her as an equal component within a larger framework of reference.
In the ancient cultures of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Sumer, snake worship was originally associated with the cult of the mother goddess. As Mary Condren states: "The symbol of the serpent was the one most widely used to represent or adorn the Goddess of the ancient Near East or to depict, or mediate, the relationship between Goddesses and human culture" (Condren 8). Represented as mediators between the physical and spiritual realms of human existence, snakes provided the very 'backbone' [End Page 654] of human longevity and spiritually-motivated creative energy through the integrative yin-yang consciousness of the mother principle as the very nexus of life and transcendent wisdom. The serpent's 'natural' ability to promote the complementary existence of the divine and the mortal, the celestial and terrestrial, through a process of cyclical rejuvenation, ensured the effective elimination of binary oppositional forces that would undermine a more holistic conception of human development. As Condren confirms: "The Serpent religion, representing life and death, male and female, good and evil, provided an integrated representation of human life" (9). Based on the qualities of inclusion and creative expansiveness to embrace multidimensional, bisexual spheres of influence simultaneously, the snake cult guaranteed female empowerment through the celebration of a women-centered divine polytheism that provided women with a certain plurality of representation and expression in ancient civilization. Bachofen highlights the primacy of the universal consciousness promoted by the goddess cultures when he affirms that the mother principle becomes "the basis of the universal freedom and equality frequent among matriarchal peoples and of their aversion to restrictions of all sorts" (Bachofen 81). Bachofen's statement implies that the mother principle favors an on-going cycle of human maturation that resists immobility in confining paradigms, archaïc dualisms or binary systems of thought that predicate the institutionalized splitting of spirit and matter, body and soul, male and female. By providing women with a certain trans-sexuality of expression, the mother right influenced by the primacy of the serpent was, in fact, the right to free expression and self-affirmation that was later negated by the institutionalized logic of patriarchal culture. Whereas the mother culture revered women "since they held the divine principle of creativity within...