January 25, 2012 Day of Serpents in Lithuania

(Mid-Winter Festival)

This day, called Kirmeline, marks the symbolic awakening of snakes. People put out food and milk for the snakes, and if these things are consumed, a good year is foretold.

It reminds me of Groundhog Day, when people wait for an oversized rodent to come out and either see its shadow (foretelling six more weeks of winter), or not (because, counter-intuitively, a cloudy day means that winter weather will soon end).

When is a snake a serpent?

When we talk about real snakes such as rosy boas or diamondback rattlesnakes, we usually use the word snake. Serpents, on the other hand, are usually symbols or mythological creatures.

Just what do serpents symbolize? Sometimes they are symbols of evil, such as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Sometimes they symbolize the creative life force. Because snakes shed their skin through molting, serpents can be symbols of rebirth or transformation, even healing. The Ancient Greek God of Medicine, Asclepius, has a rod entwined with serpents. Sometimes serpents are cast as guardians; statues of hooded nagas served as guardians of temples in Angkor, Cambodia, and sometimes the Buddha is pictured sitting beneath the hooded serpent king Mucalinda, who shields the Buddha as he meditates.

Sometimes serpents are considered dragons, and other times they live in the sea, as sea monsters such as the Loch Ness Monster.

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