When we lived in Las Vegas, I woke one morning and decided that I would begin Jungian analysis. It was a thought that came from nowhere. It was the kind of wanting that one usually has in the form of “I think I’ll have a bagel for breakfast.” It was that casual and without any antecedent. No one I knew was in Jungian analysis. Sure I had read Memories, Dreams and Reflections but that was long before this thought came to mind. Once I made the decision and before I ate the bagel, I got out of bed and went to the phonebook and I looked up “Jungian analyst” and there was a number there. That may not sound odd to you, but it is very odd indeed. It is Alice in Wonderland chatting with a white Rabbit odd. Want me to prove it to you? Go to your phone book and you do the same thing. I’ll wait here while you do….
You back? What did you find? Nothing. I knew it. Jungians do not advertise in the yellow pages–plumbers do; Jungians don’t. There is part of me that thinks I dreamt the whole thing. The whole thing was so crazy-surreal. This Jungian analyst lived in another state and she flew in once a week to see her Vegas patients. Her office was in a bad 1960′s office complex. Her office was decorated in Victoriana and every surface was covered with lace doilies. There were even doilies on the arms of chairs. She dressed in a style that was equally antiquated. Clothes like hers are no longer made. Everything looked like vintage 1940′s—even her hair was from another time. She wore it up in a kind of combination bun/chignon/modified rats nest. And there was something about all of this old and antiquated stuff that surrounded her that was made even more odd by it’s context. Remember we were in Vegas. The Vegas where there are slot machines in the grocery store.
To get to Fronzy’s(not her real name. It was a one syllable name that I modified to sound more fun by adding a ‘y’) office I had to drive across the strip to the North side of town( the dingy side of town). I would pass tourists, and tour buses and billboards announcing Wayne Newton, Dolly Parton and Carrot Top and then I would drive by UNLV and park next to the Soup Plantation. It was all very surreal. Dali might have painted such a canvas: “Time traveling Jungian on the Vegas Strip” in oils and acrylics.
During my first session with Fronzy she explained that dreams were a big part of Jungian work. She asked if I had had any. I had. I had dreamt the night before about a snake. It was under my sheets. I was terrified. I woke up screaming. Fronzy asked me to tell her about my first memory of a snake. I told her a modified version of this:
Once upon a time there was a little Belette. She was an adorable little three year old (yes, I am saying that I was cute—but I am saying that because it was true. This is memoir, not a fairytale). Belette went out into the garden to play. Her mother was distracted and busy doing something other than watching what exactly what it was that Belette was playing with. That is until she noticed that Belette was playing with a big snake. Then came excited screams and demands that the little girl immediately leave the snake alone and come to Mommy, “NOW!!!!!!!!”. So I did. And then my mother called the fire department, the police department and the Marines. Okay, maybe not the marines. It turns out that it was not the horrible Rattlesnake that my mother had reported to the 911 Operator. It was a King-snake. The Firemen explained to my mother that this was a good snake and that it would keep the bad snakes away. My mother didn’t care. She was terrified of the snake and wanted it out of her garden, “NOW!!!!”.
I don’t remember any other run ins that I had with snakes that would make me fear them. Just that one day in the garden turned my non-poison playmate into a life long enemy. Actually, at first I was just afraid of them but as I got older I was terrified. I couldn’t look at a magazine without having someone take a look to make sure their were no pictures of them. I couldn’t go into a pet store unless someone went in first to make sure that they weren’t selling any snakes. I had to ask people at the movie theaters if a film was snake-free or not. When He-weasel and I moved to Las Vegas I called the Chamber of Commerce to ask them how many people died of snake bites a year in sin city. The woman who answered the phone had the nerve to laugh at my question and warn me that the casinos were a much bigger threat than snakes.
I have had many snake dreams in my life, hundreds I would guess. As a child I didn’t have the Jungian tool kit to deal with them. I would just wake up screaming and terrified that there was actually one under my bed. I was so afraid that If someone would talk about a snake I would immediately worry that one might enter my dream life. Very often they would.
Fronzy, who sounded an awful lot like Charles Winchester on M.A.S.H., asked me in her hoity-toity way what snakes meant to me. I thought I just had.”Pretend” she instructed, “that I have come from another planet and I have never heard of this creature you speak of.” I thought to myself that her instruction didn’t take a big leap as she did seem as if she came from some old timey plane—a planet that hadn’t yet discovered modern technology like answering machines, synthetic fibers or even the wheel.
“Okay, they are animals without legs. They are unpredictable. That’s what I don’t like about them. You never know which way they are going. They terrify me. If I saw one I would die. They are my greatest fear.”
Fronzy said back in her superior tone: “Snakes are symbolic of a fear that you inherited from your mother. They are symbols of your greatest fears. They are not actually your greatest fears.”
In my work with Fronzy we never worked directly on my fears of snakes. She didn’t ever take my fear literally. She looked at my fears symbolically. Just three months later He-weasel and I went to a pet shop and there were snakes in a cage right at the entry and I found myself uncharacteristically fascinated by them. I found them strangely beautiful. I stood in front of the cage and stared at them. Six months after that He-weasel and I were hiking in Big Sur and I were hiking and I saw four little snakes curled up in a nest. I pointed them out to He-weasel in VERY calm tones. He didn’t believe me. He knew of my terror first hand, on our first hike ever there had been a baby King snake on our trail. When I saw it I climbed him like a tree. So there was no way I could have seen four snakes and not be screaming. But it was true. I had seen snakes and I wasn’t screaming and I wasn’t climbing him.
I had a dream the next night. I was in my kitchen and there were lots of little snakes. Dozens of them. I was picking them up with my hands and putting them in small plastic Ziploc bags. I didn’t need Fronzy to tell me what the dream meant. My fears were now smaller. They could be handled. And they were contained.
The illustration of the Dream Snake is by Editor. Thank you, Editor!!! That is one adorable snake.