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The year of the Snake


Janet Leigh Foster uncoils some of the serpentine mysteries of the forthcoming year.

The Zodiac Snake is poised, about to be charmed out of its celestial basket by the first strike of the midnight gong as 2001 rings out across Japan. The traditional 108 tolls of the temple bells are due to sound sweeter than usual, accompanied by the melodic notes of the lute of Benten, Goddess of Love, Beauty and the Fine Arts. The only woman in the Seven Lucky Gods line-up, Benten’s attribute is the snake. Not only does it act as her humble servant, at times the Goddess herself has been known to assume its form. The seeds planted during last year’s Dragon reign will blossom under the serpent’s auspices as a year of exciting new art, fashion, and music unfolds. The Snake is also the Guardian of Money, and ripe investments will add the jingling of coins to the year’s cultural symphony.

Coming in at number six, the Snake brings us to the halfway point in the 12-year cycle of the Asian zodiac in which each year is named for an animal. Humans are thought to take on some of the characteristics of the animal that rules their birth year. Snake people are noted for being lovers of the arts, sensitive, sensual, and methodical.

In olden times zodiac animals were used instead of numbers to measure time in two-hour intervals. Snake o’clock was from 9-11am. This was the time when the morning market closed down and farmers headed home to stash their earnings under the floor in an earthenware pot that was kept warm by the resident house-snake.

Being born under the sign of the Guardian of Money, Snake People make excellent bankers. Not only do they have an affinity for tender, they exude the kind of charm that lures big depositors.

2001 is a Midoshi, Japanese for “Year of the Snake,” and it’s written with a special kanji that resembles a mouth with a tail. Although it could be mistaken for a pictogram, the character is actually a modification of the symbol for “self” that is a side-view of a loom.

As illustrated by its Chinese character, the Snake Year is about self-creation and generally putting the Self into motion. The coming year is ripe for taking up projects in the interests of self-development, so sign up for those language courses you’ve been thinking about taking, and while you’re at it, a tai chi class or gym membership wouldn’t hurt either.

Hissed off
In nature the snake is usually docile and quiet, minding its own business as it zigzags along the ground. One minute it’s peacefully slithering along, and then suddenly it springs up with a hiss and plants the kiss of death upon someone’s ankle. The Snake Year follows the characteristics of its namesake, and while on the whole it portends a happy year of positive forward motion, a few nasties might suddenly rise up, seemingly out of nowhere.

Iron, especially in the form of a sword, is a material that snakes find to be particularly disgusting. Those who are serpent-phobic are advised to keep a bit of it on hand as an efficient talisman against snakes and their fangs. For those who forget to bring their swords and do suffer a bite, mashed head of snake is said to be an effective poultice when applied to the wound.

While this might seem a most satisfying means of medication, please beware that it’s a risky course of action, lest the victim’s serpentine relatives witness the murder necessary for procuring the ointment. Snakes (especially of the human variety) are renowned for acts of vengeance, and they don’t mind eating their prey cold.

Where Benten, the Japanese Venus, strokes her lute, sensuality is sure to follow. The Snake Year is splendidly aspected for romance. For those in need of vigor, snake blood, or wine fermented with snake body parts, serves as a hearty tonic. Snake juice not only strengthens the love muscles, but generally tones the body. The increased flow of blood to the brain is also good for those self-development courses so popular in the Year of the Snake.

Enthusiastic lovers should, however, beware of paying a visit to Tokyo’s Inokashira Park. The park is Benten’s domain and couples who venture there for a romantic picnic could be inadvertently cursing their union by inciting her jealous impulses.

Since the actual creature sheds its skin, the tone of the Snake Year is one of creation and re-creation, a ripe atmosphere for the birth of new trends. The youthful aura of the new will be seasoned with a mellow undercurrent of ancient belief about the serpent. Snakes will be in vogue, and with images of it abounding, some folkloric notions are sure to be brought to the fore.

Inadvertently encountering a live snake, especially a red one, is a very good omen indeed. Dead snakes are evil, but to recoil upon seeing one is an instinct not necessarily unique to the esoteric realm. White snakes are considered to be sublime, as they are said to be the embodiment of gods.

According to the yore of old, to dream of a snake portends that one’s most fervent desires will come to fruition. With a steady focus on sound investments, self-development, re-creation and artistic expression, there’s no reason that the Year of the Snake should not be synonymous with that ancient snake-dream. Those in need of additional insurance are advised to crank up the volume on their CD players this New Year’s. Snakes, after all, do love to dance.
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