Yesterday, marks a change in my life as the first snake (Betelgeuse) I cared for went into sudden decline and passed away after about 11 years of life. It sounds absurd to say that pets shouldn’t die as long as one cares about them. That they should have a long, uncompromised existence, full of aspen formed tunnels, a bowl always full of fresh water, a nifty fiberglass-resin rock-shaped hiding place and all the pre-killed mice to eat until their heart’s content, but this just isn’t the case. Pets die and as a result, parts of us die with them.
When death happens, we can only hope to heal, cherish the memories, and carry on without them. As pets, snakes, like most reptiles, have an alien mindset and in the case of Betelgeuse, who was a kingsnake, everything was food. Kingsnakes eat pretty much anything alive or dead that they can swallow, including other snakes, and even venomous snakes of whom they are blessedly impervious to. They’re not like dogs or cats. They don’t show affection, but they do get use to you and your scent. They hide when they want, eat when they can, and soak in their bowl when they are about to shed or the day seems to be a little too warm for them. They don’t understand or necessarily learn, and as a result may bite you if they think you’re food. So, you can’t scold them, or correct their behavior. They’re going to do what they do, even if it kills them.
One day, last year in July 2011, Betelgeuse began trying to eat himself which was a surprising reality for me to see the ouroboros alive and in my own home! I thought I knew enough about his species, but when I came into the room that day and saw all 6 feet of him knotted up into a tight ball I was flabbergasted, “What has he done?!” I thought. I was worried that he had killed himself, but I soon learned that this wasn’t the case as I managed to coax him out of his situation. That day would start a trend of similar incidents, which would occur at random even when he had just eaten a few days before. I can only conclude that something in him changed.
It sounds funny for a magickal practitioner to argue or contemplate the reality of change. Change will happen regardless of the form it takes. As willful people, we can only hope to alter the result of that change in our favor. However, regardless of what I could have done different in regards to Betelgeuse’s new activities, none of my actions would have stopped him from attacking himself. I would be a fool to not acknowledge the deep sense of helplessness that his actions instilled in me. All I could do was take note and make sure he wasn’t causing any harm to himself, keep him fed, water in his bowl, and his tank clean. Unfortunately simple tank husbandry would prove ineffective in the long run.
I never realized that some snakes actually try to eat themselves and that the image of the ouroboros has a basis in reality. Interestingly, the ouroboros, as a symbol, is not that uncommon as it has been used across the centuries by the Gnostics, Hermetists, Alchemists, Theopsophists, as well as the Greeks and Egyptians and other schools of thought for its symbolism of rejuvenation, transformation, continuousness, and it’s general cyclical appearance. When we think of the ourboros as a symbol, we have to acknowledge the dual potential for change it reveals to us and the ways in which that change can manifest in our lives. We also have to recognize the role that we play in the developement of that change. Change is an ever-present factor. Change is constant and regardless of our feelings, we are always forced to participate in it.
The power and meaning of a symbol is always rooted in our personal history. Our experiences color our preference for symbols and the interpretive language we apply to the symbols we use in our life. In the past, the ouroboros always appeared mystical and alluring to me. However, when I think about the image now, I’m more inclined to say that it harkens towards futility, stagnation, disorder, confusion, insanity, and chaos of which ultimately results in self-destruction or in Betelgeuse’s case, death.
It’s tough to determine whether or not enough was done to prevent his death or to prolong his life. Unlike other animals, snakes don’t have many “tells” to indicate that something is wrong other than being unresponsive or unwilling to eat of which Betelgeuse did both of just a few days before. He “happily” and quickly ate two mice (pre-killed of course) so finding him in such a state only days later was confusing and upsetting.
In life Betelgeuse was very entertaining, active, and even made me laugh and smile at times with the goofy things he did. He constantly burrowed throughout his tank and to see him curiously observe me with aspen shavings on his head was always amusing. He was a handsome California Kingsnake and had very nice markings with two little perfect white dots on his head, fake eye markings, and near perfect black and white banding all down his body. He was a charmer and he will certainly be missed, but most of all he was a King among snakes!