Wednesday January 2, 2013
Slithering into the Year of the Snake
Along The Watchtower
By M. Veera Pandiyan
The start of 2013 signifies renewed hope for a better tomorrow, providing a fresh phase of time to look at all things in perspective.
THE world was supposed to have ended a dozen days ago but here we are, two days into yet another spanking new year.
But those who had expected TEOTWAWKI (the acronym used by “survivalists” for “the end of the world as we know it”) at the end of the Mayan calendar haven’t quite given up.
On the contrary, with Doomsday Preppers rated as the top show on the National Geographic Channel, their numbers are growing after Dec 21.
According to Mother Jones magazine, the market for Americans anticipating major crises by hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorism, pandemics, price shocks, fuel shortages, civil unrest, martial law, nuclear disasters, and/or the Rapture is estimated to be US$500mil (RM1.529bil).
It noted that there were now even “prepper” sites offering rugged properties such as “defensible hillside locations” and exclusive dating sites for doomsday believers.
Unlike the boom over doom there, the start of 2013 here signifies renewed hope for a better tomorrow.
As always, it endows an unsullied phase of time to look at all things in perspective.
With the Year of the Snake beginning on Feb 10 in the Chinese calendar, it is also the season for soothsayers, mystics and feng shui experts to foretell what’s in store.
According to the divination based on the “Five Elements” – metal, water, wood, fire and earth – it is the Year of the Water Snake.
It will be understandably worrying for people with ophidiophobia, the abnormal dread of snakes, which happens to be one of the most widespread fears among humans.
Snakes, in whatever size or colours they come in, can be daunting. They flick their forked tongues, coil into springs and strike with lightning speed. Most species can inject venoms that paralyse the nerves.
The snake is dreadful in Christian credence. It is the vile creature that tempted Eve into defiance and disobedience in the Garden of Eden.
But the serpent doesn’t have such a bad rep in the East, especially during ancient times. In Egypt, Wadjet, the cobra goddess, was an important symbol of strength and power.
Pharaohs had her head on their crowns and the people believed that she would spit poison at those who disobeyed.
Snakes represent fertility, wisdom and knowledge among Indians, Thais, Cambodians, Indonesians and Vietnamese.
Their sharing of the Hindu legend of Samudra Manthan, roughly translated to mean the “churning of the ocean”, is an example.
The story explains itself in a massive sculpture at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport where statues of devas (godly beings) and the asuras (demons) work together to stir up the waters to produce amritha (the elixir of life).
With Vishnu taking the avatar of the turtle to support a mountain serving as a pivot, they push and pull the body of the serpent deity Shesha.
The by-product of the churning is a terrible poison, which Shiva – another god in the Hindu trinity which includes Brahma – drinks to neutralise its effects.
In the process, his throat turns into a shade of cobalt, earning him the name of Neelakantha, or blue throat.
To cut a long story short, the asuras end up getting the immortal nectar but Vishnu tricks them into taking it back for the good guys by taking on the form of a seductive female, leaving the demons immortal, or rather the majority of them, anyway.
What’s the moral of this “good versus evil” story? I don’t really know but it seems like one has to really shake things up and even cheat a bit to win, provided one is on the right side.
But to return from the digression, let’s look at what have the feng shui people have been prophesying.
The Year of the Water Snake is supposed to feature shrewd dealings in business, sex scandals involving top personalities, tricky political twists and turns, street unrests and such.
In other words, it’s going to be another rather unsurprising year with the same predictable stuff.
But you can safely bet that the 13th general election will definitely be held early this year.
And we can also be sure that snake oil – as in political promises – will be the most touted panacea before the polls.
It is a good time as any to examine the properties of cure-all potion, which, by the way, originate from Chinese water snakes.
It wasn’t known then, but the slithering bodies of water snakes have high eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), one of the two types of omega-3 fatty acids.
Used to treat arthritis and bursitis in traditional Chinese medicine, it was brought in by workers building the United States’ transcontinental railroad network in the 1800s.
Today, snake oil salesman is an euphemism for a morally bankrupt or unethical politician whose sole aim is to gain power.
But there are people who take offence to comparing snakes to politicians.
Writer and animal lover Todd Michael Cox, for example, has created the Snake Anti-Defamation League on Facebook to protect the reptiles’ reputation.
He wrote: “After finding myself correcting people when they use old snake clichés such as ‘he’s a real snake in the grass’, or ‘if it was a snake it would have bitten you’, I thought that it would be good to have an organisation designed to combat the bad reputation the noble snake has for some people.
“Obviously, the comparison is unfair to serpents, which are benign creatures that do not seek to needlessly harm other animals. Politicians are dangerous, not snakes.”
> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by comedian W.C. Fields: Always carry a flagon of whisky in case of snakebite and furthermore, always carry a small snake.