Zalktis (The sign and grass snake)

The grass snake (Natrix natrix). Photo – Marek Szczepanek

Going by the old Latvian name “misiņausis” (lit. diminutive “brass-ears”) or the modern name “zalktis” the grass snake is the longest snake found in Latvia (1 – 1,5 m). It is characterised  by a grey or blue-ish black colour and yellow-orange “ears”. It is non-venomous. It loves to inhabit moist places, is adept at swimming and is very active during the daytime. The grass snake emerges from overwintering in April, when the sun has already warmed the earth. The time until April is spent deep underground or in the foundations of houses.

Our ancestors considered the grass snake a herald of blessings and guardians of the sun which hold access all wisdom. Being an intermediary between this world and the afterlife, the wise Zalktis also holds a special connection as a guardian to the fern flower (papardes zieds).

Zalktis sign

The Zalktis sign can be considered a part of the Māra’s sign group. The sign’s name comes from mythological ages past when, next to the goddess snake, there also probably existed a male counterpart – a deity associated with the Grass snake, Zalktis. As a sign of life and renewal, it symbolizes the pulsation of sexual energy, its cyclic state change between passivity and activity. Looking at its shape, the Zaltis sign can also be perceived as two intertwined spirals, similar to the DNA double helix and symbolizing hereditary code. Within this sign, time itself spirals and undergoes change in state, where the beginning of each new state can be found in the depths of the previous one. This is a demonstration of the chain of cause and consequence, to which the material and spiritual world interactions are bound to. Zalktis also has a mysterious bond with fire, thunder (Pērkons) and Laima (fate deity). A symbol of wisdom, a sharp mind, life energy and the attraction of new information. In traditional culture, the grass snake symbolizes good fortune, well-being and insight.

 

A few folk sayings regarding the grass snake –

  • If you kill a grass snake, – the sun shall cry for nine days;
  • He who harms grass snakes, drives good away from their house;
  • The snake says:,, People wonder at the snake shedding its skin, but if they themselves shed their skins, now that would be something to wonder at.”