Today in our third Tuesday of elementary art camp, we read Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, an African fairytale about a prince who transforms himself into a snake to find a bride who is genuinely kind and good. We then painted “African water jugs” (custom-made by my stepdad, who is a great ceramicist!) with African snake imagery and designs.
For thousands of years in many cultures, the snake has symbolized rebirth, regeneration, and immortality due to its ability to shed its skin and be “reborn” anew. The ancient figure of the ouroboros, the circular image of the snake who is eating his own tail, appeared first in an Egyptian funerary text in the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen and has been echoed across cultures and countries ever since. It reminds us of the cyclical nature and unity of life.
The Christian tradition is aware of this mythology, elaborating on and clarifying it. We do see the snake used as sign of regeneration in Biblical accounts, when God told Moses to make an image of a snake coiled around a rod so that anyone who was bitten by a serpent could look upon it and be healed. However, we also see the self-reliant ouroboros who consumes itself for sustenance. He slithers out of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and tempts man to veer from his reliance on God and turn to himself, to eat of the tree and become like the ouroboros. But it is only through consuming Christ that we truly gain regeneration, rebirth and immortality.