Aug 21, 2012

The Storm, The Snakes and Dionysus

A storm has come upon the Valley.  The air has been thick all day.  By four o'clock the thunder started, echoing from far off.  Just after five the lightening began, and still it built and built until finally the rains burst forth.  The relief of the earth is palpable.  We've all sighed in ecstasy over the moisture.

Life in the southern end of the Valley is a strange mix of lush lakes and desert.  The settlers here used the lakes to keep their crops alive in the hot summer months when rainfall was (and still is) practically non-existent.  Crops quickly turned to orchards, which are now falling to acres of vine-land to feed the growing winery population.  One cannot help but think that Dionysus has had a hand in the re-commitment of the land.

The grape harvest is still a while off, but the wineries are doing a bustling business with the summer tourists and getting ready for the local fall wine festivals.  At the winery where my brother creates amazing things in oak barrels, they have been on rattlesnake watch for the last month after an employee was bit while out in the vines.  I have heard that the snakes climb the vines (and sometimes small trees) and wait for birds, but I can't say if that is factual.  All I know is, in the summer months, you look where you step and where your reach your hand.

I only have a passing interest in Dionysus and so have only heard the most loose connection between him and snakes. It is said that the wild women or maenads that followed him were often depicted carrying snakes or wearing snakes in their hair.  Another connection is made by the simple way that the grape vines grow, snake-like along whatever is holding them up.  The snake seems to be a fitting symbol for Dionysus.  The skin-shedding "rebirth" of a snake fits in with Dionysus' lore of being twice-born.  The snake is chthonic in several myths, which also works with the tale of Dionysus' journey to the underworld to fetch his mother.

Also of interest to me today, is the folk connection between snakes and storms.  In North American folklore, some believed that if you hung a rattlesnake (presumably dead) with its belly toward the sun, it would bring a storm.  In Indian folklore, Nagas were considered snakes or serpent-like beings often living in the ocean.  Varuna, the king of the Nagas, is the Vedic god of storms.  Slavic folklore has several stories about beings who influence the weather and appear in myriad shapes, of which a snake is almost always one.

Gary R. Varner states: "Snakes have also contributed to weather folklore around the world associated with rain. Nineteenth century folklorist Richard Inwards noted, “the chief characteristic of the serpents throughout the East in all ages seems to have been their power over the wind and rain, which they gave or withheld, according to their good or ill will towards man."

Whether tonight's storm has been caused by the unfortunate hanging of a snake, a pissed-off sea spirit, or the mad, whirling debauchery of Dionysus' maenads and their snake-accessories, I couldn't tell you.  All I know is that the garden and I are breathing a bit easier, and the wine in my glass, for some reason, tastes much sweeter.



Debra She Who Seeks said...

We're supposed to get rainstorms here too -- thank the Goddess, it will cool off the 30 degree heat! I'm tired of sweating.

jaz@octoberfarm said...

i wish dionysus would blow some of that weather this way. we are dry and hot hot hot and i am sooooo sick of this weather! north of us is wine country and i have heard that picker must watch for vine snakes. they don't have rattlers though!

Robin Larkspur said...

I love the images you placed in my heat-swizzled mind...the wind, the rain, the stormy night! I raise a glass of Dionysus' favorite beverage in your honor. The whole rattlesnake thing, though, not so much.

Linda Wildenstein said...

loved this post. So many new thoughts to store in my trivial pursuit mind.
Here in NM we are in our monsoon season, so we too have had the lovely "thunderboomer" storms and enjoyed the wonderful smell of the plants as they await the rain to come. I always thought it was the rain that had the aroma...but it is the plants opening up because of the correct humidity etc that creates that lovely smell.
Oma Linda

Jeanne said...

Beautiful photos! And interesting tidbits about Dionysus. And snakes. Interesting how an object or an animal can have similar meanings throughout the world....
The rain is a blessing this summer wherever it falls. So many locales have gone without.

Anonymous said...

Maybe those snakes in the women hair were actually locs -- and I'm sure the god of wine wasn't complaining a bit.
Nominated your site for a Sunshine Award.