When I wrote this, I did so to get it out of my head. To write, for me, is to reify and process, and I very much felt the need to do this. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have been encountering the dead since I was a child, and that it is something that I have often struggled with over the years. In many ways, last year marked a watershed of sorts for me in that I formally committed to working with the dead. I began a lot of deep ancestor work within my own lineages, and found my life and practices changing quite dramatically.
The experience that I write about here, I believe to have been one of the initiations of that work. That it took place in dream is still strange to me despite my deeply held beliefs on the importance of dream and its scope for interaction with the dead and Other. However, I find myself very much changed by the experience, and am finding myself doing things now that I could not do before. There will probably be quite a few blogs about my work with the battlefield dead. It is the work of my heart, and I have only just begun.
An Account of Dream Initiation
I enter the room nervously. I had been told nothing of what was to come except for that I would undergo an initiation of sorts. The room is hazy with incense – a pungent scent I struggle to identify – and candles flow as a wave over every available surface. A young man I think I recognize leads me to the center of the room, and the priest begins her invocations. On the floor, I notice a large black sheet.
For a moment I panic, and hope that I do not misspeak. I pray to my gods that any errors be forgiven, and mentally prepare myself for any invocations that I must also give.
But there are none.
There is only the black sheet on the floor, and the young man beckoning me to lie down upon its surface.
I soon notice that half the sheet is gathered at the bottom, and when I lie down, it is pulled up to cover me; it covers all parts of me.
“You need to journey now. You need to let it take you where you must go.”
And I am confused, for I am already in dream. But I school myself quickly, and begin my usual processes for entering trance.
For what seems like the longest time, nothing happens. But then, I realize I’m moving; a gentle rocking motion carries me forth. Soon I regain my eyes and notice a roughly woven cloth upon my face. I can see through the holes to the sky above, this is not the cloth from the ritual room floor. Above me, trees curve over the path to form an archway, and I try to move but cannot. I am bound but not by ropes, conveyed forth by unseen hands.
The thought soon comes to me that I’m dead, and travel a corpse path, and for the longest time I abide in this knowledge. What am I to learn here? How long will this go on for? What about the room and the ritual?
The Inevitable Path
I have so many questions, and little patience. I work to exit trance, and find myself rolling out from under the sheet in the ritual room. The priest is now gone and only the candles and the young man remain. I stagger around without sense and understand that unless I finish what was begun, that I would not return whole. So I reenter the now-red-sheet and hunker down once more, returning to the endless plod of the corpse-road.
At some point I decide that I’m thinking too hard, that I’m too agitated for one
who is already dead, and so I let go, and that’s when I find myself within the mound.
I sit up to find myself surrounded by the dead; dead of many different ages, some appearing bigger, and others appearing smaller. The shroud loosens and I sit with corpse-pale arms and hear their words.
They have much to tell me about how they wish to be worshipped, and the kinds of things they wish me to do. They also gift me something too. I can feel it within me, intangible and indescribable. Like something returned, it feels familiar and right. Then they release me from the mound, the door opening to bright sunlight.
As the sun touches my skin, it lives again. I live again. I step out into light that’s far too bright for my eyes, and into the path of the one I know as Gwyn. We walk back together along the corpse way, and he talks to me of owls and pathways down. The road does not seem so long on the way back, but it was never really about time or distance in the first place. I know that now.
I return to my dream once more, to the ritual room where the young man waits. He’d been waiting the whole time, he says. I’d been gone longer than was normal, and he wanted to make sure I was alright. Three and a half hours was quite a while, and it was kind of his job. I stand up and this time I’m clear. There’s no staggering and I feel whole. I leave the room and find myself at a party for a while, watching people as they perform for the dead they have lost. Their songs are their offerings, their dances are prayers, and it makes their hearts shine.
The heart is the key to this kind of work.
Eventually it’s time to go. My husband and child await, and I’m suddenly aware that I have new clothes that I must pick up. They’re green, and were also once lost but now returned. I put them on and wake up with a scream.
A Rough Awakening
My body hurts now, my trance had been deep. My shoulder is dislocated, and it takes me three days to fully put it back in. I should probably feel angry or upset about that but I don’t.
If anything, I just thole. It’s a small matter next to the monumental change that took place within. I cannot yet name what was given that night in the mound. Yet weeks later, when I step out onto one of the battlefields of Manassas and walk towards the Dead with my equally touched companions, I feel it as keenly as I feel my limbs.
The Dead surround me here too, but this time, it’s myself and my companions who guide the way along the corpse path for now.
Within the past two days, I’ve had two friends tell me of sleep disturbances that had a certain quality of otherness about them. One person had the experience while we were camping in the Black Hills of Maryland, and the other in her own home. In the case of the first person, she’d felt physically touched by whatever it was through the wall of her tent – a touch that she felt was a very deliberate poke which had been kind of ‘introduced’ in her dream before it happened. In the case of the second person, it was more of a classic ‘Old Hag’ experience that they had had to fight off.
To Me Came A Dream
In both cases, each individual felt very strongly as though what had happened wasn’t just a simple nightmare, and that some kind of interaction with the Other had taken place. It’s very easy for modern people to discredit dream and what happens in the altered states of consciousness between sleeping and awake.
However, as I have discussed previously in this blog, this attitude towards dream seems to have been the result of a concerted effort by Christian authorities to dismantle the power of dream among their flocks in order to censor dream, for to censor dream is to censor one form of access to the Otherworld. In Germanic tradition, dreams were thought of as coming from outside the sleeper – a concept that is reflected linguistically in both Old Norse and Old English in phrases such as dreymdi mik draumr (“a dream came to me”) and mec gemætte (“to me came a dream”) (Pollington 490). The ON term draumstolinn suggests that the ability to dream was one that could be stolen, and in The Saga of the Jómsborg Vikings a man is refused marriage if he does not dream (LeCouteux 28).
However, the sleeper was not entirely passive, and as we shall see, could sometimes also enact their own visitations in dream.
So dream was important. It wasn’t just some whimsical and harmless thing to the Pagan/Heathen mind, but a way in which the sleeper could interact with both the Otherworld, and other sleepers. And it was consideration of my friends’ dreams that got me thinking about the bad side of dream: maran, night-walkers, and elves.
”Wið eallum f?ondes costungum”
When it comes to discussing maran, night-walkers, and elves, it can be hard to give solid definitions. Mare (from which we derive the word “nightmare”) could refer to either a human woman – usually but not always intentionally a witch – that attacked sleepers, or a supernatural being that did the same (Jolley 86, Hall 125). The term night-walkers seems self-explanatory, though Hall still expresses uncertainty as to what they could have been in more precise terms (Hall 124). And the problems of defining what an elf was considered to be (not to mention their relationship to magic and witches) are perennial.
What we can say with some certainty though, is that certain effects were considered to be common to these beings, and that they were connected/overlapped in terms of function. In some charms, we may see this uncertainty as to who/what was doing what to the patient, reflected in the more general terms f?ondes costunga (“tribulations of the enemy”), and/or Ælfs?den (“elf-seiðr” – a form of magic) used.
On the symptoms of attack and forms of treatment however, the OE magico-medical sources are remarkably consistent on the matter of nightmares, and it is upon these consistencies that I shall now focus.
Symptoms of Attack
For those of you who have experienced the terror of “sleep paralysis” (or as it’s sometimes called, “Old Hag”), this is all going to sound very familiar. While the explanation for this sleep disturbance has changed in modern times (no elves or night-goers need apply!), modern descriptions of this experience would have been familiar to our ancestors. In some accounts, such as that of the Swedish king Vanlandi of the Ynglinga saga, the victim was even “trod on” or “pressed down on” until dead. It is worth mentioning here that the attacking force was the witch/mara Drifa (Hall 125, 135). Interestingly, while the Ynglinga saga was composed post-conversion, a segment of the 9th century Ynglingatal referencing the death of king Vanlandi as a result of the witch (referred to in the Ynglingatal segment as mara) attests to the potential Heathen origins of this concept.
Rather disturbingly, there was also potentially considered to be a sexual or lustful element to these nocturnal attacks too. As Hall points out, mære was glossed with incuba in the 7th century (Hall 125). This connection is repeated in the 13th century South English Legendary which not only juxtaposes maren with eluene (or “elves”), but describes these attacks in sexual terms (Hall 140-142). This sexual aspect is also alluded to by Karen Jolly in Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context” (Jolly 149).
Other symptoms of attack by maran, night-walkers, or elves that can potentially be discerned from the sources are those of fever and delusion (Hall 121-125). Though it bears pointing out here that fevers often come with delusion, it is also worth noting that there is an entire category of elf-related illnesses in the OE magico-medical texts (Hall 96-108). In any case, whether (more specifically in this case) the elves are considered to cause the sickness or the more delusional symptoms associated with fever, Hall seems to imply that the sick are potentially more of a target by virtue of being sick:
Ælfs?den is also associated with nihtgengan and with the riding of the sick by maran.” (Hall 130)
Lastly, before finishing this current section, I would like to point out the parallels between the ON and OE lore regarding maran/night-walkers, and that of the Hmong being, the Dab Tsog.
In the late 70s to mid 80s, Hmong refugees became something of a curiosity to US medical professionals and researchers for one reason and one reason only: their men were dying in their sleep. There was no explanation that could be found, and the term SUNDS (or Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome) was coined by the FCDC.
However, the cause of death was no mystery to the Hmong themselves – it was the Dab Tsog who brought the chest crushing death of the Tsog Tsaum. Incredibly there are survivors of SUNDS, who when interviewed, related horrifying dream-experiences in which they were attacked by a kind of creature that tried to kill them by sitting on their chests and forcing the air out. These survivors also experienced paralysis and remembered being able to clearly hear the sounds of their houses around them.
The Hmong are not the only people to report these kind of beings either, the Dab Tsog mirrors cases attributed to the Filipino Batibat.
Alaric Hall – Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity Karen Jolly – Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context Claude LeCouteux – Witches, Werewolves, and Fairies: Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages Stephen Pollington – Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant-Lore and Healing
We live in a time of walls. We always have of course, but there are periods of history in which those walls become more restrictive and in which newer walls are far too easily built. In an attempt to disprove the existence of these walls, the skeptic would point to the promise of the Constitution. “See, it’s all right here. There’s nothing to worry about.” Except there is, because often the most effective walls are those that aren’t enshrined by law but in culture instead.
That is a war that the less conservative among us have been failing at badly. Let’s face it, most non-conservatives outside of minority groups didn’t even realize there was a war until relatively recently, even though more socially conservative groups have been fighting it for years.
The election was the dawning of a new era, because not only was it the beginning of what is looking to be a drastic change in direction for the United States, but because a good many people finally woke up to the war and saw the strength of the opposition.
Walls That Protect, Walls That Imprison
So we now find ourselves in a time of walls, but more accurately, in a time of walls that are beginning to encroach on the meagre areas we’d previously kept while believing ourselves to be free – ironic when one considers that our president-elect included a promise to build a wall in his election campaign promises.
But this post isn’t about those physical walls that are built, immigration law, or the election. There are plenty of places that are discussing all of the above ad nauseum and only adding more noise to the cacophonous furor that is social media. Besides, what would be the point of that on a magic blog?
This post is about walls from a magical perspective, the kinds of walls, their origins, and what we can do to tear them down in our own lives and practices.
Most walls are erected against the unknown dangers that lurk beyond the safety of the hearth. Since the beginning of human history, mankind has created enclosures around his dwellings in order to delineate ‘inner’ as opposed to ‘outer’, and more importantly ‘safe’ from ‘potentially unsafe’. From this view, not all walls are bad. However, a wall can just as easily be employed for constraint as for protection, and that is the kind of wall I’m writing about here.
How A Foundation Was Built
In the beginning, after some clarting about, the Bible tells us that the Jewish god created a man by the name of ‘Adam’, and a woman by the name of ‘Eve’. The Alphabet of Ben Sira places Eve as Adam’s second wife, a kind of replacement for Lilith who, made of dirt as Adam was, refused to obey and become subservient to him. After all, why should she if they were made of the same materia magica? Lilith then left and refused all attempts to compel her to return to a life of drudgery with Adam.
To circumvent this with woman 2.0, Eve was created from a piece of Adam so that she would have no claim to equality. It would be her lot in life to obey. This would form the foundations of one of the first walls. However, that was not the only foundation found in the myth of utopian Eden. Eve, or indeed every woman she represents, would play a far more damaging role in the mythological history of humankind.
The Garden of Eden is described as a paradise in which its inhabitants neither wanted for anything, nor knew the kind of trouble that disturbs the mind. It is the perfect place created by a loving father god for his children, but with one significant catch: eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was forbidden.
When you pare down this myth, when you remove the language of paradise and lack of want, what you are left with is an enclosure of sorts that is inhabited by people who are kept naked, ignorant, and obedient. From this perspective, the Fall of Man looks more like a jailbreak from an unethical science experiment than the disastrous curse upon humanity that it is often presented as.
Just ignorant and naked, with no right to one’s body or mind.
Since the Fall, women have been held to be the disobedient and destructive sex, our wombs and vaginas passageways to filth and depravity, and our only salvation to be found in obeying men. In other words, our salvation is to be found in becoming the property of and putting ourselves firmly under the control of men.
“In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. -Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women, chapter 1
This is the foundation of one of the walls in our society, and a wall that for all of our advances in women’s rights, remains one of the strongest to this day. If anything, this wall is being rebuilt in the places where it was torn down, fortified, and new construction sites opened up. We see this in everything from the rise of MRAs, the increased attacks on reproductive freedoms, to the renewed popularity of the insult ‘cuck’ (a word deriving from ‘cuckold’ meaning ‘husband of an adulteress’, in other words, a man who was not able to control his woman – his property – well enough to prevent her from disobeying). On more subtle levels, we may even see the maintenance of and reinforcement of this wall in the censure of opinionated women in communities that might otherwise extol their own perceived egalitarian nature.
This is not the only wall either, I’m sure we could all think of more walls in our lives. Walls that affect how we see and deal with people of color, walls that affect how people of color must move in the world in order to do so with less harassment, walls that mandate that only one kind of sexual relationship is valid, walls that enforce gender binaries that harm people who simply just don’t fit in those boxes…well, you get the idea.
And all the while, we’re told that without those walls there would be chaos, anarchy, the destruction of order. The people of color will want revenge will come and get you without that thin blue line. Men won’t be able to control women and will end up in some 70s B-movie scenario in which men are enclosed in the same walls women are now. The gays will gay up your kids and people will invent new genders. People will marry outside their own cultures, no one will be able to say “Merry Christmas”, and it will probably also rain. We need the wall, the katechon, that which holds back all of those things they’ve taught you to fear.
Look at the media today, how much of it is focused on emphasizing the things that must be held back? How much of it justifies all those barrier construction projects? We need to do better than we are at recognizing it all, at taking a deep breath and deciding what to listen to and what to ignore. How many of our friends are complicit in this on social media? How many have swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker? The first step for all of us is recognizing where the lines are drawn in our outer lives.
But this would not be a magic blog were I only to speak of the outer and political. Here is a place to discuss the inner too.
Or more specifically, once more the realm of dream.
The War on Dream
“Dream, I will argue, is made. The metaphor that first needs to be grasped is one that bears repeating, that of a war on dreaming. The decisive action here is the one embarked upon by John of Patmos, another exile bound to a far flung isle. His was a deliberate action which set out to not merely loose chimeras in the garden of the mind, but to bar the gates of dream itself. So this is where we decant our vitriol and dissolve the locks that John applied, which State and church imposed. This is by no means the end of the process, but the point at which we choose to begin.” – Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey
Dream is a special state of being, one we tend to think of as a place of infinite possibilities in which we may do or experience any number of things that we cannot during waking life. However, from the work of scholars like Lisa Bitel and Jacques LeGoff, we know that our inner dreamscapes are in all likelihood artificially limited. That there are walls there. These are not walls that we can necessarily see from within dream for ourselves – after all, how can we know about the walls if they were set there long before we ourselves even had a chance to dream? However, there is a paper trail that can be followed that shows how clerics attempted to control dreamers and restrict the dreams themselves.
If that very idea doesn’t make you angry, I don’t know that anything can be done for you.
It wasn’t enough to control the waking world, they had to try and find ways to control and restrict the dreaming world too. Dreams came to be labelled as ‘devilish illusion’, and true dreams the sole domain of an elite of saints and Christian kings. Oneiric diversity withered, and the dreams of the common man evaporated from record like the dream that flees upon waking. Nowadays, a medium through which one might have previously entered into the Otherworld of one’s cultural and physical landscape stands weakened by ridicule, pop-psychology, and petty dream dictionaries that tell you nothing.
But we need to be able to dream, and we need to be able to dream fully, because it is through dream that we have some of our most effective communications with the Other. Without that, we will never fully pull down the walls of Christian worldview in our minds, or have those better ideas for new ways of doing things that our world so desperately needs.
When I first started to perform the Stele of Jeu ritual from the Greek Magical Papyri (PGM), it was, like for many others who begin this work, initially for the purpose of attaining the knowledge and conversation of a ‘holy guardian angel’ (in my case, more a daimon in the Greek sense). However, the more I performed it, the more I noticed that it was far more important than that. The Stele of Jeu is a freeing ritual, a ritual of unbinding and empowerment. It’s a ritual that tears down walls.
“Holy Headless One, deliver me from all restraining daimons and misfortune”
In Chaos Protocols, Gordon White observes that “One thing I will say with every confidence is that your dreams will certainly get a lot more interesting” as a result of performing the ritual, and I’ve found this to absolutely be the case. My dreams are now far deeper and coherent. They feel far less random and more like I am dealing with other intelligences and indeed, another world.
Yet it does not seem to be an effect that lasts perpetually. There is a drop-off in dreaming quality if I do not perform the rite on a regular basis. My dreams become shallow once more, punctuated only by the rare shining gem of a dream that happens to break through the morass of whatever unseen effects are at work in dream. The wall is resurrected once more and must be torn down anew in order to continue.
A Hidden Front In Plain Sight
We are very mistaken if we think there isn’t some kind of metaphysical war aspect to all of this too. How many of you have ever heard of Christian ‘prayer warriors’? Have you ever read their prayers, or what should more accurately be called spells? Just because they are addressed to the Judeo-Christian god or Jesus does not mean that they aren’t spells; the Grimoires are full of spells with similar language. What of the pope’s decree that Catholics only now store the ashes of their dead in special church-approved places? The dead are mighty, and such a place might be viewed as a source of power for a church that historically hasn’t been exactly shy about using its own magic. And what of the power of meme? We don’t often think of meme as being a potentially magical thing, but when you think about the ways in which memes are similar to sigils in Chaos magic, then they take on another aspect.
“Does not matter, need not be.”
How many of us see a meme, invest emotion into it (usually anger or amusement), and then either scroll on or engage with the discussion around the meme before scrolling on? At least sigil magic is done with intent. See, it is really that nefarious.
There is much to be unwoven here, a lot of unnecessary things that need to be pared away, and walls to be torn down both in our outer and inner lives. Becoming aware of those walls, and how they are built is only the first step. The next step is working consciously to bring them down through deliberate action, but we can only do that if we first free ourselves, and most importantly our inner worlds. Lastly, we need to counter the magic that enslaves dream and mind, finding ways to appeal to the hearts and minds of others – the Berlin wall was not torn down by the hands of a few, but by many. If there is anything this past election should have taught us, it’s that haughty cold logic and the mere presentation of that which holds back all that is bad is not enough. We need symbols and messages that appeal to not only minds, but hearts and souls too.
There’s a war on, and it’s about time we fought back.
A long time ago in a land far away, a land of colour and mystery and things that went BUMP in the night, there lived a girl. Like many others, she had arrived with her backpack heavy with clothes and her mind heavy with dreams. She’d always wanted to travel in the east, ever since she’d read her first library book about China and learned how to write three simple phrases in Chinese.
“Big man” “Big man sits down” “Man too big”
Not that was any use really in Korea, but still.
She even found herself liking the look of the Korean script better than Chinese, its characters reminded her of the fish she used to go catch with her dad as a child; sitting on the banks of the canal and pulling up trout, gudgeon, and the odd tench.
Her first night in Korea was punctuated by a bad case of ‘Dehli Belly’, and waking up to what she thought were three bloodied women at the bottom of her bed, talking at her emphatically with words she didn’t understand. Unsure if she was hallucinating from the dehydration and sickness, she vaguely remembered that civil war and starvation were still within living memory for many in the country and went back to sleep.
The next day she felt better after drinking a little bottle of tonic a co-worker gave her. She didn’t even notice the weird tone her co-worker’s questions took.
“Is your apartment ok?”
“Are you sure?”
Not even when she told her that everything worked as it should and it was quite comfortable.
“Ahhh” *nod* ” But is your apartment…ok?”
These are the things you don’t necessarily pick up or think about until later on when things become apparent that maybe your apartment is a little weird.
It started with the noise of what sounded like a wet body trying to get out of a bathtub coming from the bathroom. From 11pm every night, she would hear and ignore that. At first she investigated it, stood there in the bathroom looking at the tub as the noises emanated from it. It wasn’t the neighbours – those impossible people who managed to be ever so quiet in spite of five kids and plastic walls.
A couple of weeks after that, the toilet exploded. She fixed it, moved on, and ignored the weird vibe in the apartment. She was being watched, and it wasn’t necessarily nice. Deciding to create a ‘safe room’, she worked protections on her bedroom – it’s at least good to get some sleep, right? So what if she could hear the wet body noises every night for two hours? She was good at ignoring things like that.
She met a boy, they hit it off, and thank goodness he was there the night her plastic bathroom ceiling set on fire. Even though the electrician ‘fixed it’ and declared it ‘safe’ with one layer of tape, it was still the end of the bathroom light.
Things moved on their own, from the empty candy tub that sailed ten feet across the room while she was on the phone with her mother, to the toaster oven door that would open and shut on its own. She made sure to always put the chairs under the table before going to bed because part of her was sure she would see figures sitting in them during a late night bathroom trip.
As she gained her feet in the new land, she gained ways of dealing with it. She set up a shrine to appease the spirits with coins. A spirit showed up one evening, “My men call me the General, General Yi”, and she felt a little safer. The next day at work while leafing through books, she found a picture of the man that had leaned over her the night before – General Yi Soon Shin, a native of the area where she was living, made Admiral posthumously. So the General found a place on her shrine too.
Periodically she’d bury the coin pile of offerings that built up and start again, and something resembling an easy peace was kept. When she forgot though, that’s when the scratches would start.
“OMG you have a ghost!”
That had been her boss’s response when she’d seen the scratches – along with her heavily bitten fingernails, nails her boss had gently chided her over before.
Then there were the dreams in Korea, dreams that blurred reality, dreams that bordered on trance and made her feel exhausted come daylight.
Once such dream scared the daylights out of her. It felt significant, a dream of life and death, of witchcraft, underworld beings, and women – goddesses undulating with snakes around their bodies, “watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”
It had been so unsettling, she’d awoke, relieved to see her then boyfriend sleeping beside her – until he spoke in his sleep.
“Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”
Where UPG (or Dream) and Research Meet
The thing about dreams and visions is that they don’t always make a whole lot of sense at the time, and it doesn’t mean anything. These things only gain meaning when you figure out their context. Until that point, it’s best to simply file them away for future reference, and keep the to the ‘personal’ aspect of ‘UPG’.
Sometimes they sit there until you forget them, or just put it down to a brain fart. Other times though, you find that context and the meaning hits you like a ten tonne truck.
Sometimes you find that context in a conversation or a place. Other times you find it in a book or indeed many books. No matter where you find it though, the effect is still the same.
It’s like a door unlocks and you’re plunged into potential and new avenues for exploration.
The Hittites used snakes in divinatory practices related to the ancestors, snakes and wells. Snakes and water – routes to the underworld, where a serpent called ‘MUŠ’
‘ sat upon wool being ever bound and unbound. Some IE cultures kept some of these pieces of worldview, some held only the barest echoes. Context found.
“Watch out for the snakes, it’s all about the snakes.”