(i) The Kiss of the Serpent

The moor is deserted at this late hour. Having neglected to bring mobile phones, there is no way of calling for assistance. A mile-and-a-half slog brings us back to the car, after which a trip to the hospital confirms my suspicions: fractured distal fibula. My injured left foot is placed in a cast.

The injury marks a shift in my research, if not my life. Prior to the experience on the moor, I have been studying the Tree of Life in a very ordered, systematic fashion, having set myself the task of learning a path a day: a solitary and fairly cerebral pursuit. The injury, occurring while I was enthusing to Paul about these head-in-the-sky ideas, causes me to take stock. Is there anything to learn from it? The most obvious interpretation is that I need to pay more attention to the ground beneath my feet so, putting aside my self-imposed study regime, I immerse myself in a wholly supportive environment, falling back into the arms of the Goddess.

I stay with Paul and Ali and their wonderful family for an extra week.

Having for most of my adult life led a doggedly independent existence, the process of relinquishing control and surrendering to the support of those around me brings with it a new perspective. In the week that I spend recuperating in Ilkley, I learn a great deal about help and companionship. The period coincides with Ali’s parents moving in next door, a hubbub of activity as everybody chips in to help. Through the experience I am brought to a renewed appreciation of the power of community, of people working together for a common purpose. When I finally get the train back to Bristol – on crutches and with my left leg still in a cast – it is with a deeper and richer connection to humanity.

The process continues with my Bristol friends rallying round to help and the following day I return to my research, picking up where I left off. Next on my list of paths is the Twenty-fifth.

I am already aware that the Hebrew letter for this path is Samech – meaning crutch – a coincidence that hasn’t passed me by.

Things are about to get much stranger. Sitting in my lounge, left foot propped up on a cushion and crutches resting at my side, it is with a sense of wonder that I read the pathworking. It tells of a traveller who takes a journey into the wilderness, receives an injury to the left foot, needs a crutch for support, and through the experience comes to learn about help and companionship.

That the story so closely mirrors my own experience brings with it a swell of emotion, a sense of vibrant connection that I carry to this day.

In the pathworking, the injury comes from a snakebite. Following a solitary journey across a desert and a descent into a cave, the traveller receives the bite, which brings with it wisdom.

The pain shoots through you like an arrow, but with it comes a knowledge that bursts inside like a fire.
Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, The Shining Paths

After the injury the snake twists around the traveller’s staff, becoming the crutch used for support.

The snake twines itself about the staff and becomes rigid as if turned to stone. You rise painfully, using the staff as a crutch…

The traveller is healed by Asclepius, father of healing and medicine, whose symbol of a snake entwined around a staff is often seen as a forerunner to the Caduceus.

The traveller continues onwards into the desert, burdened by a feeling of loneliness. A shift comes with the realization that help is always there.

The heel throbs again, and a need swells within you, a need so great that nothing can stand in its way, you need help, love, companionship and you ask for that help with an innermost certainty that it will come.

The desert becomes a green landscape and the traveller’s companions appear around him. He is no longer alone.