The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
Snake, Serpentine or Spiral Dances
There are two types of snake dances:
Dancing with snakes
Dancing the spiral or serpentine dance
There is no animal more associated with magic, witchcraft, and women’s power than snakes. Although men dance with snakes, too, snake dances are largely women’s dances.
Because he invented and forged tools devoted to agriculture, circumcision, and warfare, traditionally considered “men’s business,” Ogun, the West African deity of iron, is often considered a “man’s deity.” However, once upon a time, another aspect of Ogun’s devotions, now largely abandoned, involved snake charming and dancing. Women were his chief devotees in this aspect of his cult.
Snakes are beautiful, flexible, and often goodnatured: they’re willing to be handled and may participate in the dance. Women from all over Earth have danced with snakes as part of magical and spiritual rites. Some belly dancers and other traditional dancers still dance with snakes; this is not an abandoned, forgotten tradition.
Historically significant snake dancers include:
The Maenads, who allegedly danced with snakes, engaged in snake charming and wore snakes in their hair as crowns. (Deities like Brigid, Hecate, Lilith, and Persephone are depicted with similar hair-dos. Snake-haired Medusa may also be understood to embody this concept.)
The Italian deity Angitia was the niece of the sorceress-spirit Circe. She learned her aunt’s magical secrets including fire-walking and snake charming and brought them to the Roman region. (See DIVINE WITCH:Angitia.)
Marie Laveau, the self-proclaimed Pope of Voodoo, famously danced with her snake, the Grand Zombi, during Midsummer’s Eve rituals on the Bayou St John. Her snake’s name often confuses because it sounds identical to the zombis, the living dead, of Haitian lore. However, in this case, Zombi is a variant of what is now most commonly spelled Simbi in English. Simbi is a powerful water-snake deity of Congolese origin.
Mami Waters, currently an extremely popular West and Central African deity, is most often depicted in the guise of a snake charmer. Mami Waters was originally a water-snake spirit, similar to a mermaid. Once a minor, regional spirit, during the later twentieth century she emerged as among the most popular deities of a newly urbanized sub-Saharan Africa. An old German theatrical poster promoting a snake charmer somehow became identified with Mami Waters; it is now her most popular devotional icon.
There is also a different type of snake dance, which may or may not incorporate living snakes. This dance is also known as a serpentine—or line—dance. A company of dancers—the more numerous the more effective—forms a sinuous, twisting line that mimics the motion of a snake. This type of dance is also commonly called a spiral dance.
The serpentine dance is an affirmation of life and the potential for resurrection. The original danse macabre in its primitive form reproduced the movements of the serpentine line dance although no apparent conscious associations with snakes exist. In this context the danse macabre may be understood as either affirming life in the face of death or of succumbing to the despair of the Black Death.
Neolithic statuettes and other surviving stone and pottery crafts are often embellished with spirals; these spirals curve around bodies, most typically around those anatomical parts most associated with sex and procreation. These spirals are understood as representing serpentine power: they protect, preserve, enhance, and increase generative, creative power.
The twisting line of serpentine dancers essentially recreates a giant, magical snake that spirals around sacred sites, trees, mountains, and homes (or anything else); the dancers reproduce the motif of the spiraling snake; they, too, generate magical energy and blessings.