I happened to catch a four-minute clip on today’s (4/17/14) episode of All Things Considered. It was one of those off-the-beaten-path stories that helps me appreciate NPR, regardless of its progressive leanings. (Actually – all things considered – I think the government-subsidized radio network has been doing a fairly good job of moving towards the middle over the last couple of years.) The spot was about a 1,348-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric, animal effigy mound built by the “Fort Ancient” people in Southern Ohio. Apparently, it’s the largest memorial of its kind in the world.
I couldn’t help but think this was just more evidence that being the biggest – if not always the best – is in the soil and air of our crazy, wonderful country.
But then the story took a metaphysical turn as the religious implications of the Serpent Mound and its creators was discussed. I quote from the story:
“They used sharpened sticks and clam-shell hoes and carried the dirt in baskets. Snakes were a symbol in Fort Ancient art: a great serpent ruled the underworld.”
H-m-m-m-m. A great serpent who ruled the underworld. I wonder who that might be in real life? Or in Carl Jung’s dreams?
We then meet Bradley T. Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society. We’re told this archeologist has been “visiting the serpent mound since he was a kid.”
Mr. Lepper: “My experiences here go well beyond my science. It always felt and it still feels like I’m coming to a church.”
A naturalist, Nancy Stranahan, agrees: “You’re quiet when you walk here…sensing the energy of a resting spirit.”
Waxing nostalgic for a pagan church that was imbued with the energy of a great serpent?
Cue the four-note opening from the Twilight Zone theme. I found myself flashing back to a doctor’s office from several years ago. Waiting for my name to be called, I had picked up a travel magazine lying around and read an article about the Aztec pyramids in Central Mexico. The travel writer (now there’s a job!) had interviewed a local tour guide who was formerly a Catholic priest. The guide lamented the influence of Western civilization and most specifically the Christian faith – the primary civilizing influence of that civilization. He also grew nostalgic, wishing that neither had visited these lands; that instead the indigenous Aztec culture had been allowed to continue and flourish.
And now I had arrived, fighting the impulse to imagine the guide’s wishes could be granted him: atop a pyramid, waiting for the knife to fall and his still beating heart to be ripped from his chest. For the airy intellectuals from Ohio to meet the resting serpent. And then watch him unhinge his jaws and eat.
“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not. Do you not fear me? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me?” Jeremiah 5:21
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