I have tried my best to pack symbolism and deeper meaning into my new novel, The Neah Virus. One of the most potent of these symbols is the image of the double-headed serpent shown on the cover. This strange, powerful, and mystical creature is not just something I made up. While I was researching this novel over a period of a decade and more, the two-headed beast kept popping up here and there, and I actually began to feel it represented some sort of communication coming to me from “the other side.”
I am not much given to metaphysical meditations, but of all the creatures I have encountered in literature and culture, this one really speaks to me. In the local Northwest native cultures, it is widespread and still has some currency in social and religious practices. Although it is often seen as a warrior spirit, it also has strong associations with medicine and healing, the connection being invincibility–the unconquerability of a warrior or the immunity of a patient.
When I came across this creature at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay where a small wooden carving of it was recovered from an archeological dig at a 500-year-old buried village near Ozette, I decided great supernatural power was on the move in this spirit beast.
Beyond the local scene here in Washington, twin serpents have been found throughout the world, and deep in time. They appear as medical helpers, often with the dual power to heal or to kill. The most recognizable in western tradition is the ancient Greek symbol of the caduceus, the winged staff carried by the god Mercury with twin serpents entwined around it. This use has been disputed as an incorrect interpretation of Mercury’s powers, but is common nonetheless.
Furthermore, old Mercury probably stole his caduceus from an even older tradition, the Mesopotamian god Ningishzida, worshipped by the Sumerians in the 21st century BC. Associated with the underworld and usually depicted entwined by two serpents, Ningishzida had the power to prolong life.
In writing The Neah Virus, I tried to weave this symbolic creature deeply into the plot, where it underlies many of the twists and turns, just like a serpent’s twisting and turning body. It appears in the opening scene, in which an ancient coffin is uncovered. The four sides of the box are emblazoned with two-headed serpents. But are they there to ward away evil spirits from the dead? Or are they there to entrap the soul of an evil spirit within the coffin for eternity? And what happens if this snake-entwined seal is breached?
You might want to read The Neah Virus to find out.