Nadridd … Adder, Snake: The snake is the Wyzard of the Old Ones in Britain as in many other parts of this Earth. Nadridd, the Adder of the high moorland places, the hot stones of summer and the bee-laden, honey-laden, perfume-laden heather that gives us the honey for mead and heather ale to dream dreams in high summer. Dreams of … of what?
In my home country there is a place I used to go when I was a child, a deep valley hidden in the heather-covered hills called the Nadrid Water. There’s a cider mill where the Water – the stream – flows into the river Bray. It springs up under where the old hospital used to be in the nearby town of South Molton.
The pony knows her way, we’ve been here many times. Easy through the gate, into the field and down to the Water. Nadrid Water, Snake Water, Adder Water, a little stream that carries in her water all the memory of Life on Earth … as does all water. A wise stream, snake stream, adder stream. Rhiannon – that’s the pony’s name – is a Mousie from Exmoor, daughter of the oldest horse-line, her mealy muzzle snuffles the air, ears prick forward as she takes me straight down to the stream. It’s evening and not yet spring, primroses garner the banks along with the last of the snowdrops and the winter aconites, the primrose scent is heavenly.
Rhiannon insists we go up the stream to the little copse below Higher Blackpool. There she stops. I slip off her back, loose her bridle and put the rug over her back. There’s bracken and leaves, rough branches for me to build a bed and a shelter. Rhiannon nuzzles me, I settle the bag of oats and bran over her nose, she snorts with joy, gets dust in her nose and sneezes violently. I get on with shelter building.
The night is clear, crisp, the air shimmered as the dusk fell. The moon had already risen and was now climbing through the trees, entangling herself in the branches. Rhiannon’s head comes up, she knocks at me with the nosebag, I slipped it off her head. It is time for us both to settle. Rhiannon stands guard beside my bender in a horse-doze, ears sideways, eyes half-shut and one back foot cocked up, she can stand that way for hours, walking between the worlds.
I settle too, onto my branch and bracken bed-seat, the other rug around my shoulders and the penny-stove about to produce me a cup of tea. Lucky me! The early spring sunshine brought some early mint, some is now in the pot of filtered stream-water brewing, again the scent is delicious. Apple cake, homemade from our orchard apples, joins the tea. I settle.
Moonlight … gold and silver, both together, slithers through the tangling branches, lights the chuckling water of the stream. We sit together, waiting.
A glimmer of movement. Silver, like the stream. But not the stream. Silver and black slithering in the moonlight, out from under a new-made bracken-crook and some dry brown leaves. The slithering piece of moonlight comes towards me.
Black markings show. Like a double-helix, she carries the sign of life upon her back.
She slides across the ground to my boot.
Adder. Nadridd. Snake of my Land.
I sit perfectly still. What will she do? Will she come to me?
I remember nights out in the woods with my uncle. He was a farmer, a man with the land running through his bones and blood. All animals came to him. I’ve seen him call a wild hawk down to his fist, no sound only his mind-call. He taught me to call owls. We would sit in the woods all the night, quiet, still, watching the beasts come to watch us, play in front of us, feed, hunt, mate, live their lives and show us how they did. He had an adder-friend too.
Nadridd slithers closer, tests the scent of my boot with her tongue, climbs aboard.
She hisses gently to me, tongue searching again for my scent.
Since the Christians came there are bad stories about the Wise One. They say it is bad luck to come across Nadridd unless you kill her immediately. Tis said the one who kills the first snake seen in the spring is said to be assured of good luck against enemies in the coming season. Think on that … cut off your wisdom source, then we can control you! No! I will not kill her, I am of the old faith.
‘Fear me? Do you?’ she asks me.
Do I? Yes and no. She carries potential death just as she carries wisdom. I do not know which she will give me. I stir an still my inner clamouring, searching for the question to ask her. Like all the wise, she will not give me answers unless I ask. Then, she will answer exactly what I ask … I must make my question right! Can I do this? That, perhaps, is the greatest fear, to ask the right question.
The Christians have torn and mangled the rituals of the ash-plant too, like all they touch of the old ways. They say you cannot kill the adder before sunset – and here I am at sunset and moonrise with an adder at my feet – unless the poor beast is beaten with an ash stick or else rendered helpless by murmuring a special charm, the first two verses of their psalm 68. What foolish folk! Cut off from the reality of the Earth. They tell that you must draw a circle around the creature and then make the sign of the cross inside it. I will not!
Again, Nadridd chuckles inside my head. ‘Goooooood!’ she hisses softly. ‘You will live.’
That is somehow good to know.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see Rhiannon standing straight now, all in the world beside me. She does not guard, she knows far better, but she stands to watch and encourage me on this journey.
The stupid stories say a living adder on the doorstep is a sure omen of death. Nadridd is on my doorstep here but my death is my own to choose. Dreaming of Nadridd, as this might well be called, is said to show my enemies are plotting against me. That makes me laugh too. Snake and me, we laugh together at the foolishness of unconnected folk.
Nadridd climbs my boot, on up my leg and to my hand, resting on my knee. I feel her feathery tongue as she gets my smell, teases out my fears, my hopes, my joys, out of the juice of my body. I no longer have those skills well, as once all creatures had even us. An idea forms in my mind.
‘May I ask you a first question that will help me in asking the big question later?’
‘Sssssssssss … yesssssssssss …’
There is a pause. She tests me all the time. It’s like walking on tussocks between quicksand. Thrilling and terrifying, all at one time.
‘Could my question be about how I may relearn the skills of kenning from the scents of the body?’
Chuckle! Hissssss! ‘Yesssss …’
She waits for me, waits for my slow thinking process to work. It’s easy to feel hurried now, watched by the snake. I must not. I must not hurry. Slowly, slowly, carefully, testing each step, that is the way to drink the wisdom. Hurry is the way to drink the poison.
I realise she has put that into my mind! ‘Thank you,’ I say.
‘Be welcome,’ she replies.
Old stories again crowd into my mind. How it is good to cure an adder bite by killing the snake and rubbing its body against the site of a wound or else by coating the bite with a paste of fried adder fat as Thomas Hardy tells in The Return of the Native. Another says to hold a live pigeon to the wound until it had absorbed all the poison, or else to slaughter a chicken or sheep and place the bitten part of the body against the still warm carcass (which turns black when the poison has been absorbed). Faugh! Death for death for death! How fearful are these people? How needful to be in control?
No … to gain wisdom you let go of control. To gain wisdom you allow the Elders into you, and you accept that your physical body may die. We are not usually brought up to do this!
On an impulse, I hold out my wrist to her fangs.
Quick as a flash, she sinks them into me. The poison runs. The fire spills through my veins.
Nadridd sits back, her head up, watching me.
In my head, I know that the ointment of rosemary and betony mixed with water, or drinking of goosegrass juice and wine will cure the poison. Ha! I have neither and … do I wish to be cured of my visions?
I remember. The lore is that you must leap over running water before the snake disappears.
I leap up, out across the little stream and fall. I am laughing. I have fallen in a patch of nettles and cow-pat!
Nadridd is with me still. Her tail wrapped closely round my wrist. Her face close to mine. The fire still thunders through my veins but I feel no pain, no fear. I feel reborn.
‘Crossing the Great Water,’ she hisses to me, on a chuckle.
I recall the Taoist lore of the Book of Changes.
‘Yessss …’ she tells me. ‘And are you not changed?’
I am. Some of the fears I carried are melted now into oblivion. I breathe in. I can smell her scent!
‘Yessssssssss …’ she tells me. ‘You have what you asked for. Now you must learn to use it.’
Wisdom. Reincarnation. Cunning. All these are Nadridd’s gifts. Taliesin said ‘I am a Wiseman, I am a serpent’.
Rhiannon waits for me on the other side of the stream. I go to step back to her but my foot slips into the water. Stumbling, I put my hand down to steady myself. What’s this?
In my hand now, where the rocks and pebbles and the water meet, is a something. It looks like blown glass. It is an adder-stone, gloine nathair, serpent glass.
‘My gift to you,’ Nadridd tells me.
I thank her.
Back with Rhiannon, in my shelter, the snake asks me for milk. I brought some, put it onto a dished pebble. Nadridd laps.
I curl down into my bracken and leaf bed. Rhiannon lies down at the door. Nadridd coils at my neck. We dream …
Death/rebirth is central to the whole perspective on life, and how you live it, how you allow life to change you. Death/rebirth is a gateway, a place where one is not “either/or” but must be “and/and”, as the glorious mathematician , George Bolle, put it in the 19th century.
The adder holds the Cailleach’s power and passes it, around Imbolc, to the Spring Maid. To see Nadridd on a shamanic journey is to tell you to prepare to shed something in favour of something greater and better.
Shedding is to stand at pivot point, the edge where light ends and darkness begins. You walk forward into the darkness – come to the nadir, the centre of darkness – realise this – walk forward towards the zenith of light. This is again the crux-point where the darkness beings again. You find yourself there, at the point you began, BUT on the next spiral up, having grown some, learned some, from your journey-cycle. This is Wisdom.
Where does one end and another begin? If you answer that riddle you’ll never begin!
The shaman repeats this cycle each Moontime, focusing on the vision held by the Elder Beast who carries that moon-energy.