The Creeks and Their Dances (7)
By Ghost Dancer
Snake Clan is well known as a warrior clan and spiritual clan. Their role is one of strength and power and this is reflected in each of the distinct types of dances they conduct and oversee. The varied Snake Dances serve very different purposes so we will discuss each of them. Unlike some other cultures which feared and abhorred snakes, they were not looked at as being cursed or evil by the Southeastern tribes. Quite the opposite. Our stories and imagery are filled with tie snakes, winged serpents, rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Snakes were treated with respect and honor.
This first Snake Dance is a couple’s dance and courtship dance. If you have ever seen snakes do a courtship ritual, you will understand the parallel sensual dance that happens deep in the night, by the light of the fire, when the old ones and children are fast asleep. With upper bodies painted to resemble the different snakes and only the lower torso covered, the couples move in rhythm with the drum, mimicking the snake spirit. This type of snake dance is rare in modern times, but was common in the old days.
The second Snake Dance seeks knowledge from the snakes who are rulers of the underworld, the unseen. It is performed by those seeking to learn the mystical secrets of the earth and walking in between worlds through spirit travel. In the old days, many poisonous plants and even venoms were used to seek higher knowledge. Living in a world filled with poisonous plants, insects, and snakes it was imperative for the people to protect themselves and their babies from harm. Healers knew the art of diluting venoms and poisons and administering them in tiny doses to build immunity, so the dancers were afforded this protection.
In the dance, live snakes are tied to the arms of the dancer with braided grass and the dancer holds them in each hand. The snakes are poisonous, but they are being handled with love and respect. Dancing in rhythm with the drum, the dancer seeks to bind together and become one with the snakes in this dance of life and death. If the dancer is bitten, it will only hasten the desired feeling of leaving the physical body, letting the spirit free to travel. The dance continues until the dancers are all laying down. The snakes will be respectfully and gently taken away and released while the spirit of the dancer travels to wherever it needs to go to finds the answers sought in the ceremony.
The third Snake Dance Ceremony is of utmost importance to the entire community and is danced by members of the Snake Clan. The dance gives respect and honor to all the snakes for the gifts and protections they provide for all life as hunters, warriors, healers, trackers, and teachers.
The Snake Clan members dress in their finest regalia and wear head dresses fashioned to look like the snake they represent: the winged serpent, tie-snake, rattlesnake, water moccasin, black snake, green snake, coral snake, and all the other snakes. Moving in a single line to the rhythm of rattles, they are led by the winged serpent and then the rattlesnake, the dancers make their way through the whole town, between each home and building, around the ball field and the community garden fields. Along the way, the people toss tobacco, cedar, and tidbits of berries as gifts and offerings to the snake. Everyone understands that the Snake People protect all sacred places and the Snake Dance ceremony symbolizes the people’s gratitude to the snake for protecting them from diseases and those that try to sneak an attack in any form or way.
Ghost Dancer July 2017 ©