HONG KONG – In Western lore, there is no creature more reviled than the snake. After all, this scaled, slimy, slithering reptile is responsible not only for frightening rattles and poisonous bites. For those who follow the Judeo-Christian tradition, the wily serpent is also accountable for no less than the Fall of Man.
Not so in Chinese culture. So, when the Year of the Snake commences on February 10, there will be a week-long celebration across China featuring fireworks, parades, lion dances, offerings to the gods and a gluttonous array of food, including – you guessed it – snake.
In Chinese mythology, as in the West, the snake represents the ability to strike quickly and decisively but often without the associated negative connotations. It is also a symbol of intelligence, wisdom and self-discipline. Popular deities can even take the form of snakes, especially gods who dwell in rivers.
Even the dragon – the most revered animal in the Chinese zodiac, whose lunar year is now coming to an end – is sometimes depicted as distinctly snake-like; the famous flying dragon Teng (“soaring snake”) in Chinese mythology is an eminent example.
Stories of Teng are, of course, worlds apart from the Biblical account of the Satanic viper that preys upon Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In that story, the smooth-talking snake convinces Eve to persuade Adam that eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge, which for reasons not entirely clear to world’s first couple God has resolutely forbidden, would be a new and exciting thing to do.
And it is – until, that is, the snake is revealed as the Devil in disguise, and an angry God takes eternal life away from the shocked pair and condemns them and all of their progeny to an ephemeral earthly slog of sin – not exactly a result to celebrate for the next year with feasting and fireworks.
So forget about Adam and Eve and all other baneful Western associations with snakes – the “snake in the grass” who pretends to be your friend while keeping his or her sinister intentions hidden until it is time to pounce, the “snake-oil” salesman who peddles useless cures to the sick and dying and even “Snakes and Ladders”, the popular board game in which hanging adders can do you in.
For the next year, the snake is a symbol of promise and hope – as, ultimately, are all 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Indeed, that’s the whole point of Lunar New Year celebrations. A new year brings new challenges and opportunities – for prosperity, for friendship, for romance and for everything else – and for geomancers like yours truly who are eager to prognosticate based on the ancient Chinese art of feng shui.
First, however, some caution. Yes, the Year of the Snake brings prospects of good fortune, but no feng shui master in Hong Kong or anywhere else will promise you that it’s all going to come up roses in 2013.
While the venerable snake will be the star of the fortune-telling show for the next year, there is much more to the Chinese zodiac than the 12 animals that rotate through it. Five basic elements – metal, wood, water, fire and earth – are also part of this annual rotation, creating a 60-year cycle and a dizzying range of possible outcomes based on the combinations.
Source: Ewing, Kent (February 9, 2013). Snakes, ladders, deities and presidents. Asia Times.