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by David Lilley
The snake is one of the most powerful symbols in the homeopathic materia medica, and none more so than Lachesis, the dreaded bushmaster, a pit-viper of the Amazon basin. The longest and largest viper in the world, growing to over three metres in length, Lachesis is a magnificent creature, with a massive body as thick as a man’s thigh, a short tail and a wicked-looking, triangular head, which broadens towards the back. Highly poisonous, it possesses fangs three centimetres in length and hypodermic scimitars capable of stabbing deeply into its victim’s tissues.
Lachesis is a denizen of the tropical and equatorial rainforests of northern South America and Central America. There it lives on the forest floor, its handsome reddish-brown skin, marked along the back with black-brown rhomboidal spots, providing the perfect, disruptive colouring necessary to camouflage it as it lies amongst the fallen leaves waiting for its prey. Contrary to popular belief, the bushmaster is not usually aggressive, but it is extremely dangerous because, relying on its superb camouflage, it is loath to move and reveal itself, and is therefore relatively easy to stand on – often with fatal results.
Lachesis belongs to the Crotalidae, a snake family that includes the pit-vipers, rattlesnakes, lanceheads, moccasins and copperheads, which are the vipers of the New World, the Americas. Like other vipers the venom of the bushmaster is a potent cocktail of virulent enzymes, which are primarily destructive to the blood (haemotoxic) and the soft tissues (proteolytic and cytolitic), thus causing haemorrhage and necrosis. By contrast the venom of Naja, the cobra, which belongs to the family Elapidae, is primarily poisonous to the nervous system (neurotoxic) and the heart (cardiotoxic). These differences in venom action assist the homeopath in his choice of snake remedy.
Lachesis may be viewed with the eye of a shaman to better penetrate the snake’s hidden genius. She provides the matriarchal image of all snakes, for not only is she the largest representative of the most evolved snake family, she is also the only pit-viper that is oviparous, producing eggs, all others are ovoviviparous, giving birth to live young. Hence she is the forerunner, the source and essence of all things serpentine and venomous, and the jungle is her shrine. This is significant. She comes from the bosom of Gaia (Mother Earth), from the reproductive centre of the planet, its metabolic heart, the equatorial rainforests of the Amazon basin. Here speciation is at its most prodigious; it is Gaia’s hothouse for the generation of diverse life forms – a teeming paradise – a Garden of Eden. Deep within its steamy density lurks the awesome bushmaster, her venom charged with the creative and destructive passion of the planet. She is the serpent of our genesis!
In the Judeo-Christian creation myth the snake is portrayed as the evil tempter and seducer, the very personification of deception and intrigue, premeditating and perpetrating the downfall of mankind. Aptly it is coiled round the Tree of Knowledge, or of Intellect, and induces Adam, via Eve, to partake of the fruit and lose his innocence – the innocence of instinctive, animal existence that keeps the urges and impulses within the bounds of natural restraint and in harmony with life’s laws. This is symbolic of mankind attaining that level of intellectual and emotional capacity which permits “freedom of choice” and custodianship of the conscience, a release, unfolding and responsibility which were bound to bring conceit and conflict.
There is no cult more universal or ambivalent than that of the serpent. In ancient cultures the snake was above all a magical and religious image of the creator divinity itself, or a symbol of the primeval life force, the primitive animal will, which it is our destiny to wrestle and ultimately subdue. As such it embodies all man’s potentialities, the divine and the mortal, the sacred and the profane, and the contention between the two. The snake has always been perceived as a dualistic force, a source of strength when mastered, but potentially dangerous and often emblematic of chaos and corruption when yielded to. Snakes have been seen as gods, ancestors and sacred protectors or as demons and monsters – as sources of inspiration and prophecy or of evil and temptation. In its simplest form the duality of the snake is easy to understand because few creatures have been regarded with more awe and fear than the snake. It either engenders reverence or revulsion, admiration or horror, but, whether the response to the snake be positive or negative, it rarely fails to provoke fascination – a fascination that may even amount to obsession.
The Lachesis personality
Rooted since antiquity in paradox and polarity, duality is the very essence of the snake, of Lachesis and of the subject who requires this wonderful remedy. As with so many of us, they are in contention with themselves – the lower self opposes the higher, the animal nature vies with the human, deceit confronts sincerity, egotism struggles against selflessness, arrogance competes with diffidence and perversity challenges morality. Conscience and desire strive for dominance. The entire sphere of spiritual conflict is the battlefield of Lachesis. The conflict is often heroic. The venom from which the remedy is prepared is immensely powerful and destructive and those who require it are proportionately of an intense and passionate nature. The Lachesis individual is ever in danger of being possessed by passions and feelings. They are aware of the struggle within them, their labile emotions and thoughts and their unpredictability. At times they feel at the mercy of their emotions, torn between the promptings of their heart and their head, between their thoughts and feelings and between desire and guilt. If they are unable to indulge their passions or sublimate their emotions through creative release, they will have to repress them and the price is emotional or physical ill-health.
The snake in movement is a miracle to behold. Without legs to propel it the creature flows effortlessly along, like a shining rivulet - sinuous and silent. The entire energy of the snake is manifested in fluidity and flow. In the course of evolution the snake withdrew its limbs to attain flow. Its venom contains enzymes, which dissolve and digest the tissues of its prey, causing what was firm and solid to break down into a fluid form, which can flow. Flow is intrinsic to the snake and this is equally true of the Lachesis person. In any condition where suppression of flow or function predominates, be it emotional, intellectual or physiological, Lachesis may be indicated. A typical example is the cessation of the menstrual flow at the menopause, a time of life frequently calling for the use of Lachesis. Likewise the appearance of the menstrual flow in a Lachesis person will signal the relief of premenstrual symptoms and brings a feeling of well-being.
Thus even without the extra insight of homeopathic, proving trials, we can learn a great deal about the human archetype which corresponds to this remedy from a study of the mythology, the external appearance and the natural history of the snake. A treasure of therapeutic indications is revealed and through the clear image of a powerful metaphor the remedy is fixed in our memories.
The bushmaster is a master of camouflage. It is a “sit and wait” predator, using its cryptic colouring to deceive and ambush its prey. In a similar manner the Lachesis individual can practice cunning and deceit to waylay the innocent and naïve. They don a deceptive mask to conceal their unscrupulous intentions – they are not what they seem. They hatch plots and schemes to catch the unwary, but also to revenge themselves against those they consider enemies.
They are creatures of the night; it is then that they become alert and watchful for their prey. They have cat’s eyes, the pupils are a vertical slit and the retina contains mainly rods giving them excellent night ision. Lachesis is a night owl, needing little sleep, doing their best and most creative work at night, even into the early hours of the morning – reading, writing, studying or enjoying stimulating conversation, particularly about philosophy and religion. The mind is extraordinarily active and clear in the evening. Some become unduly vivacious and talkative at night, but then have difficulty finding sleep, spending hours at the mercy of their overactive minds. Like many night-time people, Lachesis individuals are not their best in the morning. They often wake into an aggravation of their complaints, into a headache, an attack of asthma or a bout of depression. They may come to fear sleep; such is the state of suffering which greets them on waking.
Although a snake of massive proportions, the speed with which it can strike defies description. It is an explosive blur of movement ending in a death-dealing blow delivered with deadly accuracy. As it strikes, its mouth gapes wide, permitting the awesome, hinged fangs to swing down so that the snake can strike and stab at the same time, gaining maximum penetration. Lachesis, the human, can respond to an emergency with speed and initiative, making instantaneous decisions and acting upon them with confidence and alacrity. They possess a volatile capacity to react and retaliate. They do not prevaricate or mince their words; they can speak daggers to those who confront them. The theme of quickness is present throughout the mental, emotional and physical pictures. They are quick and even hurried in everything they do. The Lachesis mind is quick-witted, nimble, alert and highly perceptive. They can comprehend new concepts, even those outside their field of experience, with remarkable facility. They speak rapidly. Often the Lachesis mind can be too fast for others to keep up with and sometimes the flow of thoughts demanding expression is too fast for their tongues to cope with. On a physical level they share with the snake an admirable athleticism, poise, balance and co-ordination.
The remarkably active, forked tongue of the serpent is a powerful symbol. It is constantly darted out of the mouth through a notch in the upper jaw. It acts as a sense organ picking up scent molecules from its environment. The snake tests life through taste. The Lachesis being has a taste for life – an instinctual hunger for life experience – a nature filled with desire, which has an intense urge to taste all that life has to offer. The agile, active tongue confirms the proverbial talkativeness of the remedy, which is also a manifestation of the remedy’s need to flow. For Lachesis, talkativeness is often a release or vent for repressed emotions or desires. Not only do they talk a lot, they also speak loudly and rapidly and are inclined to jump continuously from one subject to another. A highly functional aspect of this loquacity is their ability with words. They have rare linguistic skills, often multilingual, and they are highly articulate with a wonderful gift of oratory. The immense power of Lachesis reaches its highest expression in the public speaker. They have remarkable charisma and eloquence, speaking with passion and intensity, which is persuasive, seductive and if he wishes, inciting. They are often extremely gifted, creative and imaginative with the written or spoken word. True to the serpent’s ambiguity this skill can be used for good or evil. The forked tongue has always been a symbol for deceit, intrigue and treachery.
The large, staring, unblinking eyes are disturbing and compelling. All snakes lack eyelids, hence their fixed, penetrating gaze. The never-sleeping eye, ever watchful and alert, denotes a mistrustful, suspicious nature – a temperament jealous, possessive and paranoid – always expecting to be taken advantage of, to be done in, or to be harmed in some way. The love of Lachesis, whether for family, friends or experienced in a sexual relationship, is a constricting and possessive love, often tainted with jealousy. This jealousy can become obsessive and malignant. They can never relax, always watching their partner, always alert for signs of infidelity, always peering, prying and imagining. Often their jealousy remains unspoken, pent up and seething within, and will eventually affect their health bringing on headaches, high blood pressure, menstrual pains, excessive menstrual flow or asthma. Jealousy in Lachesis may turn love into hate and may lead to violence and tragedy, especially if alcohol is an added ingredient.
The eyes are also sharp and piercing, cold and calculating, hypnotic. Behind them lies a sharp, penetrating mind, which analyses everything, misses nothing and is not easily moved to sympathy or compassion. The same hardness and meanness of disposition is revealed in the unsmiling, thin-lipped mouth. Some can be as relentless, ruthless and cruel as the serpent they mirror. They are as cryptic and menacing as the snake lurking amongst the leaves ofthe forest floor. These less common members of the Lachesis family are not talkative at all. Here the waters are deep and silent and harbour a dark energy, coiled and primed, often discharged in sinister and nefarious ways in the jungle of human life. The venom glands of the snake are modified salivary glands, and thus "spit" is turned into "spite". The hiss of the viper is pregnant with S’s and so are the utterances of Lachesis. They are spiteful, sarcastic, sardonic, scathing, satirical, slanderous, sceptical, superstitious, sanctimonious, self-righteous, suspicious, secretive, sultry, sexual and seductive and we may justly add, cynical and psychic.
The snake has always been recognised as a sexual or phallic symbol, implying a strong sexuality and a powerful libido or sex drive. The sexual energy is the most fundamental energy of Lachesis and its power lies behind the intensity, the turbulent passion and the creative genius of the archetype. It must find expression sexually, creatively, religiously or spiritually. It may not be suppressed. In the young it is most likely to be experienced and expressed in its fundamental form – sexually. Both sexes may be sexually preoccupied and even troubled by persistent erotic thoughts and fantasies. The sexuality is always coiled and ready to strike. Many will say that if their sex life is good, life is good. It is part of the flow so essential to snake life; it relieves tension and stress. The female particularly brings to a relationship a passionate romanticism and ardour, which enriches it. She is conscious of her sexuality and its power and uses it. She moves with serpentine grace and is able to charge the simplest action with sexual energy.
This libido energy is also available for the highest purposes of our existence and can transcend into poetry, art, literature and music. The tendency to transcend and sublimate such energy into the arts by ardent, passionate and turbulent souls of this archetype is empowered by one of the best known characteristics of Lachesis – its left-sidedness. The internal anatomy of the snake has had to be radically modified in order to accommodate the internal organs in such a narrow elongated body. Throughout the unique adaptations to internal anatomy peculiar to snakes we see a sacrificial degeneration in the left-sided organs. Translated into human pathology this is presented as physical dysfunction of the left side of the body, but the mental stage upon which this dysfunction is enacted is the right cerebral hemisphere, which is the seat of our intuitive, artistic, imaginative and creative self. It is the stimulus of this dysfunction that can transform a gift into genius. Lachesis can soar like a phoenix!
David Lilley is a Fellow of the Faculty of Homeopathy. He trained at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital and developed his practice in South Africa over the last 35 years. He is internationally renowned as a teacher of the materia medica.