Initiation in the Underworld of the Snakes

Copyright 1998 Max Dashu

           The southern Slavs told of dragons or serpent queens who granted second sight to humans who lived in their underground world for seven or nine years. This initiatory passage conferred on them power to achieve wealth and to gain knowledge of the dead.

I was able to find a Russian version of this story that gives more details. In Starodubsk ("Old Oak") a girl was searching for mushrooms in a forest. She fell into a pit where serpents lived. There they licked a luminous stone which satisfied their hunger. The girl did the same and remained underground with them until spring came. Then the snakes made a ladder of themselves and the girl emerged from the Earth.

The queen of the serpents gave her the power of understanding the language of plants and their medical powers. She warned her she must never reveal the name of Chornobyl, the mugwort, or she would lose her knowledge. Predictably she was startled into pronouncing this name, with the promised results.

Chërnobyl (pronounced Chornobuhl) means the “Black One,” a name very close to Chornobog, the "black god" referred to by christian sources on the older Slavic religion. Chornobyl is also the Russian name for mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), an herb related to American desert sage and Chinese or moxa. [Eleanor Rhode, A Garden of Herbs, 106-8]

>> More about Mugwort

[Excerpted from unpublished MS by Max Dashu, Secret History of the Witches]


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