Before I go further, just let me clarify that ‘herps’ are reptiles and amphibians (as in herpetologist), NOT unpleasant, sexually-transmitted diseases.
It’s late in the dry season here.
With no rain for six months, the ground is parched and bare, the trees are leafless, and the wildlife, bony and gaunt.
Temperatures rise into the 40s C (104 F), sapping the last moisture from everything, living and dead.
But the rains may come any day.
Almost palpable, spoken silently by plant and animal alike, is the question: can I survive until it comes?
Watching this saga, day after day, as the rainclouds build up and then drift away again, I’ve come to appreciate why humans - in every culture and on every continent - turn to superstition and ritual in a bid to influence Nature.
With so many of the ancient rain-making rituals focussing on reptiles and amphibians, hosting House of Herps seemed a great opportunity to enlist a bit of help in my very non-scientific endeavour to bring-on the rain.
So grab your umbrella and come join our rain-making festivities.
Get ready to rock!
For millennia, people have been boogying for rain.
|Bronze frog drum (2nd century AD). The little lumps are frogs.|
Photo by IAMCP30 (Flickr).
|Photo by Christopher Chan.|
|Photo by Marion Doss.|
But if you can't snare yourself a dragon, don't worry, a snake will do. To conjure rain, the Zuni and Hopi tribes, of south western USA, hold a live venomous snake in their mouths as they bop. The snakes, released at the end of the performance, act as emissaries, carrying the peoples' prayers to the Gods. The ill-starred Hopi rattlesnake (Crotalus viridus nuntius) is even named after its occasional participation in this shindig.
So today, join Cindy at Dipper Ranch, who - in this grand festive tradition - takes her serpent emissary to a party. How do her neighbours react when their small guest shows its stripes (well, spots actually)? Will they dance?? Find out here.
If you’re having trouble carrying your rattlesnake in your mouth, help is on hand. Join Elizabeth, at Yips and Howls, as she dabbles in the art of rattlesnake transportation and demonstrates a practical alternative. Please bring your own aluminium pail.
But before you get too complacent, thinking that we’ve got rain-production in the bag, pay a visit to Explore Missouri. There’s a problem, you see: the susurration of rattlesnakes is disappearing. Why are our divine messengers growing mute? Shelley explains here.
There's nothing like a bit of bribery to get things done.
And it's a time honoured tradition when it comes to rain-making.
To break a drought, the Nguni Zulu of southern Africa bribe a large python (hugely potent in watery affairs) by slaughtering a pure black goat and laying out its skin; the python slithers in after dark to lick up the fat. Meanwhile, in Sudan, the Lafofa people (whose shaman transforms into a red snake) spill milk on a hilltop for rain-begetting serpents, and, in Nigeria, the Bubbure people dress in sackcloth and ashes and offer munchies to the Rulers of Deep Pools: the crocodile, python and water monitor.
So join me here, at Mainly Mongoose, as I strive to give the gift of freedom to one of these sacred monitors. Unfortunately, it proves a little difficult (toilets and Water Gods just don't mix).
|The Aztec god Xolotl was allied to death,|
fire & lightening. Photo by Pablo Necochea.
|The ground agama (Agama aculeata) defies its |
name by sitting about in trees. Photo by Johann du Preez.
But perhaps the most innovative ritual is performed by JSK at Anybody Seen my Focus. She enlists the help of a charming anole to enact the miraculous transformation that the bush undergoes after rain. Don't miss it.
It takes time, it takes resources, it takes commitment; but deifying a herp has its payoffs.
Can millions of ancient Egyptians be wrong? (rhetorical question).
The Egyptian crocodile god, Sobeka, was as dangerous and unpredictable as his carnate representatives paddling in the Nile. He engendered fear and awe in his followers, who built him huge temples that housed dozens of bejewelled crocodiles, lazing by their pools. The beasts' remains were even mummified and entombed, with all the care given to family members.
Why go to all this trouble?
Because Sobeka controlled the waters of the Nile. It was He that brought the seasonal inundation, essential to the nation's crops and fisheries.
|Sobeka's temple at Kom Ombo. Photo by Colin Goh.|
So join Olivia, at Beasts in a Populous City, as she makes a pilgrimage through the hallowed halls of the Reptile House. Share her sense of reverence, and discover why the world's reptiles and amphibians deserve our veneration and awe.
And I'll be watching the sky!
THIS MONTH'S CONTRIBUTORS:
Anybody Seen My Focus
Beasts in a Populous City
Beetles in the Bush
Yips and Howls