Sep 25, 2011

Shel Silverstein's Vision Serpent

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Today is Shel Silverstein's birthday and there doesn't seem to be any escape from Silverstein hagiography. That's probably due in part to a well timed pub date for this new collection of his work from HarperCollins. No lover of Shel Silverstein, I. I think I've made my views on the thoroughly offensive Giving Tree very clear. But this image really grabbed me when I was reading Andrew Sullivan earlier today.

I immediately thought that it was very evocative of Mayan hieroglyphs I've seen. Something about a squat, little person with a convoluted tangle of images rising in front of him put me in mind of a number of Mayan reliefs. I did a bit of digging and I think it was this image, specifically, that was jogged in my memory, because the parallels are really quite striking.

An umbrella in Silverstein's drawing is positioned where the emerging head is in the relief. Underneath that, his flag is in the same position as the extended hand in the Mayan apparition. The hat on the stick in the lower quarter of the tangled image is in the same position as one of the swirls and has a similar, small swirl directly under it. The hot dog in the bun is incredibly evocative of the bowl out of which the shaman's vision unfolds. And, of course, Silverstein's drawing includes a "vision serpent" perched at the very top.

There are more parallels between the images than can be easily described but spend a little time comparing the two and they emerge. Assuming Silverstein was not deliberately alluding to that relief, it's positively eerie.

Boa Constrictor
by Shel Silverstein

Oh, I'm being eaten
By a boa constrictor,
A boa constrictor,
A boa constrictor,
I'm being eaten by a boa constrictor,
And I don't like it one bit.
Well, what do you know?
It's nibblin' my toe.
Oh, gee,
It's up to my knee.
Oh my,
It's up to my thigh.
Oh, fiddle,
It's up to my middle.
Oh, heck,
It's up to my neck.
Oh, dread,
It's upmmmmmmmmmmffffffffff...

For more background on Mayan Shamanism and the meaning of images like the above, I highly recommend the excellent Shaman's Secret by Douglas Gillette.

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