I used to work as managing editor of a magazine whose theme was spirituality. Despite its subject, it was news and research-based at its core. Readers liked this, but often we would get pitches from New Age writers who couldn't understand the importance of science, verification, and credentials. It was my job to gently explain that although I understood that people had powerful personal experiences, for us to publish a "fact" story, the writer and/or material had to have had some kind of vetting.
I cannot imagine a better writer than Dawn Baumann Brunke for material that might otherwise fall into the "woo-woo" category for many readers. She is not only a deep dreamer with apparently 20/20 vision for details that she remembers, but she is a skeptical analyst of all things and a researcher who understands that history matters—that everything, including dream images, has history that informs meaning. And it helps that she is also an elegant writer who knows how to tell a story.
Who better to write about one of the most potent and controversial animals—snake? Snake is worshipped and loathed. It is embedded in our stories and architecture and reflected in our DNA. There is even a named phobia (ophidiophobia) because fear of snakes is common among our species.
This generously illustrated book is so full—from history, art, myth, and science, to personal stories of owning and feeding snakes, to understanding why our feelings about the iconic snake (in body and in image) are indicative of the sharp divides in today's culture, how these divides came to be, and what we might do to accept the synthesis of opposites offered by one of the most ancient symbols of healing, protection, and oneness.
This is a book for anybody who practices yoga and wants to know more about the power at the base of their spine, or anyone who is simply curious about the inherent wisdom we all hide that may allow us the means to survive our present divide.
This is nonfiction that can serve as a source for writers who work in magical realism or myth, Jungian therapists, and anybody who is excited by metaphor and introspective contemplation.
Although I don't suffer from ophidiophobia, I once almost had a heart attack upon repotting a (fittingly) snake plant to give it as a gift, only to witness a long, wriggling animal on my New York City apartment floor—a garter snake-size earthworm who'd probably been transferred from the plant store's composter. After participating in (I'll explain that in a moment) and reading Dawn's book and becoming comfortably familiar with her snakes, Chloe and Carl, I can now imagine holding them. And although I don't want a snake in my apartment, by the end of the book, I felt not only respect but love for them. So perhaps this is a book for anyone who has serious fear that they want to get over.
Full disclosure: Dawn Baumann Brunke is my friend. Although she lives in Alaska and I live in New York City, with only one in-person visit and almost daily emails, we have become close friends, so I was virtually "with" her as she wrote this book, and we had many discussions about the topic. Some of the personal stories I shared with her are in this book. I had a lot of questions about the ethics of one animal (us) feeding another live animal (mice) to a snake, and on reading our discussion in the now-published book, I went through understanding, acceptance, and a deep sadness all over again. Snakes swallow whole animals, which seems almost impossible. But in her contemplation, Dawn sees a metaphor: by taking in something much larger than we are, we grow, we transform. Reading the printed words, even though I originally said some of them, was a profound and helpful experience. So, like Snake, I'm going to digest this whole large book over the course of many days.
For more information, see the book's page on Dawn's website. [Thanks to Inner Traditions Bear & Company for the advanced reading copy.]