This article is possibly an event, activity, practice, even a ritual. Or maybe it is just a story, even though an ancient one. The mythology presented in the bones of this melody of words is based upon wild, pre-roman, telluric (sacred energy emanating from the earth itself) recollections from Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula in Southwestern Europe. Almost forgotten, these wild energies are recalled through the body, the bones, and the heart. Awakening this inner listening brings us back to the reverence of wild nature. These are embodied ancient languages, neglected resonances, but essential ones, for they speak of life itself, of its potent and sacred tenderness.
Living in radical presence through the lenses of these primal earth beings is a revolutionary act, for it is when life and death embrace each other in an honoring ceremonial dance, pulsating along the cosmos throbbing throughout all creation.
What is now portuguese territory was colonized four thousand years ago by the Romans (sadly, millennia later, we’ve made the same, invading, killing, and stealing other territories). But this region has been populated since paleolithic times; there are cave paintings and rock carvings all over the area. We mostly forgot the land-based culture that emanates from this place, even though there are fragments in oral traditions and rural folk tales.
From ancient Greek texts, this land was known to be the land of the dead, part of a sacred geography that connects different dimensions of reality. Some of the tribes who called this land home were the Ophids, or people of the Serpents. Geographically, this whole land ends in the Atlantic ocean, at the utmost west point of the continent, Finisterre — a place of ancient rock memories, death ceremonies, and whispering snakes — .
Some elders still remember the stories of the stones. Primeval tales of a wild time when the body of the earth was still heard, when people still understood the language of the rivers, rocks, and the land itself. These ancient stories speak of guardians of liminal spaces, keepers of the thresholds found in sacred living sites: caves, springs, boulders, or trees.
In portuguese folk tales, we have an ancient being called the “Mouras,” old chthonic forces of the land guarding potent and unique places. They come out in the solstices and equinoxes or at midnight. The Mouras are usually women who transmorph mostly into snakes but also large black dogs or ox.
Although these tales have been christianized and demonized, they still endure being present in oral lores. Local people always have a story for megalith ruins, cherishing the sacred being guarding the place. To understand these potent old telluric entities, we need to look through the christianized layer of the narrative and look them directly in the eyes from our bones and heart’s memory. We need to look beyond the lenses of our own modern culture.
These Snake-Woman are seen combing their hair or weaving, singing or lamenting, and they give you riddles, secrets, or gold enchantments.
Sometimes they seek the help of human midwives guiding them underground and back. In most stories, they present themselves as a maiden wishing to be freed of her fate, a lonely princess that will share her underground treasure if only you kiss her serpent head and turn around, not looking back. They get furious if you don’t fulfill your end of the deal, and their rage is utterly fearsome. Bringing the ambiguity of not knowing if you’ll be freed or lost forever, they induce panic and even death, embodying the paradox of innocent young beauty hiding an old wild creature.
Meeting one of these mythic beings puts you face to face with the awe and terror of uncertainty. They guard the passage of the impermanence of life and death, the access to other realms and dimensions — for they are the keepers of lost rites and ancient wisdom.
Their wisdom is imbued with old medial knowledge, as they are custodians of life’s deep transformations, both the seasonal and the tragic ones — the mysterious wardens of the underground realms, later demonized. They oversee the hiatus and the cracks, the underground openings that allow new or different ideas — an end or a possible change of direction. A hiatus being an interruption of what is, making room for what can be. A pondering, a willingness to listen. These ancient creatures attend these transitions, gaps, and passages, observing the thresholds. They weave destinies with mourning wisdom.
Their body is the land, its laws, and fluid patterns, transforming along with the cosmos. Their primeval wisdom is about renewal and transformation, the not knowing, for they represent the good and the bad: both the tender embrace and the severance of death. Creators and destroyers. Guardians of death and birth. These earth beings have the key to the deep underground dimension of the ancestors, their stories, and memories.
They keep whispering for those who listen.
Go to your favorite place in nature, touch a stone, a tree, the ground or a river and…
Feel the tensions
Breath expanding and contracting
A pulsating wild heart
Some distant lamenting
Welcome the calling
Embrace the rocking sounds
Echos of ancient songs
The body remembers being made of earth
Bones recall their primal memories
Blood pulses in old understanding
Deep soil howls
The body answers
The ground moves and shivers
it opens and yells
it swallows and crushes
Yield to the dark
The fierce encompassing darkness
Living soil breathing
ancient beings awaken
let it succumb
all the pains and fears
all the joys and tears
the earth-body remembers
surrender to the sacred earth’s embrace
let it nourish you once again
You are not alone
The nourishing black earth sustains
surrounded by the ancient community
the Ones that sustain life
Keeping the cycles
Throbbing in sacred rage
A passionate frenzy echoing the wilds
Welcome the calling
Echo the creation songs
Weave unique narratives, both old and new
sustained in the pluriverse of earth-bodies
Do you hear the whispers?
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[Disclaimer: all these words and weaved concepts are birthed through my lived, biased, and always limited perception of things, not supposing to bring any absolute truth.]
By Sofia Batalha
Mammal, author, woman-mother, question weaver and dismantling global-colonial-technological-capitalism one day at a time. Awkward prose-poet with no grammatical knowledge. Pilgrim through inner and outer landscapes, remembering ancient earth practices, in radical presence, active listening, ecopsychology, art, ecstasy, and writing. Author of seven books, editor of the free online magazine, Wind and Water, Re-member the Bones Podcast, and Beyond the Sea Conversations — all in Portuguese.
More information: sofiabatalha.com