Shake the Snake Awake

Story SnakeThere is a snake in the garden or, to be more specific, a Story Snake with two heads, one at either end of its body, both of them moving at lightning speed in opposite directions. This two-in-one creature, representing everything and its opposite in dynamic tension, is both a ‘he’ and a ‘she’, and that dual aspect is forever shifting and changing face. Such rapid oscillation between one pole of reality and the other shakes us up.

So it is that many regard the snake (especially the swirling, spinning two-headed Story Snake) as a fearful figure embodying ambiguity, shape-shifting and deception. It challenges the well-enshrined image we have of ourselves as solid, upright, intelligent human beings travelling the safe and sane fast-track of digital development and salvation. We prefer to ignore, imprison or banish snakes from the ideal garden world we imagine. Such is our loss. Reality is diminished when whatever we dislike and don’t understand is disowned and dumped out of sight.

Just as Crow flies over the world viewing life from above, so Snake sees it from his cave below, coiled within the entrails of an ambiguous, multifarious worldview. Nothing can be straightened out and made plain in Snake’s intestinal labyrinth without risking the loss of nourishment essential to human enterprise and culture.

The Garden Path Story Snake helps us accept uncertainty, honoring change and diversity, starting with our own ambivalence about who we are and why we are here. What is the point of all this suffering, violence and destruction? The Story Snake volunteers an answer – a host of paradoxical and impossible answers, in fact – opening us to complexity and transforming us in positive ways.

For our second focus group this week we feature the idea of dealing with duplicity in a complex and competitive world. The toy under scrutiny is our two-headed Story Snake. Because of the low turnout at the Crow Session yesterday we did not expect the twelve students who came today, again most of them from Eastern University’s Fine Arts Faculty and again, an entertaining and lively group. They are Sakitha,  Vathani, Sathiya, Kuganija, Vawitha, Sivapriyan, Karthikesan, Jeyakala, Kiruththika, Biyoora, Nikethana, Janista.  Our translator, Madame Rajes Kandiah brought her teaching assistant, Jerome Hutson, and one of her Tamil language students, a Japanese NGO worker named Jun, to make an even complement of fourteen players.


After ritual preliminaries under the mango tree in front to Monkey’s Tale Centre we enter the ritual ground in the backyard where we meet a wandering snake charmer (pambati) who introduces us to a two-headed snake, which becomes the spinning axis of our story wheel. A roulette game ensues where couples randomly paired, team up to create a tale based in fact but embroidered with fiction. The snake spins and when it stops its green head points at one participant, its gold head at another across the ritual circle. Following the lead of the green snake the first teller introduces a true story and the second, prompted by the gold snake, embroiders a fiction around this tale.

Kula gives us an example to start the game off. When he was a young man studying art in India he went Tharasuram temple in Tanjor to examine the ancient glyphs found there. Unexpectedly, early in the afternoon, he heard the temple doors creak shut leaving him locked inside. He sat quietly in the gloom awaiting the priest’s to return. Time wore on. He began to fear the priest would never come back but finally he reappeared at dusk to light the evening votive lamps. The priest was startled to discover an what appeared to be and new idol he had never seen before. Kula introduced himself. The priest laughed and apologized. Kula said he learned lot about himself sitting in the dark with gods peering through him. He then embroidered a fictional element into the tale. While the priest was gone he explored the temple freely, entering its most secret, sacred and forbidden chambers. In one such room he found a stone lingam covered with tattered silks. He removed the silks and discovered runes there he could not decipher. He copied a host of inscriptions into his notebook learning later that only adepts in deep trance or dream states could ever hope to realize their incommunicable meaning.

6.1 Sample Stories from Story Snake Sessions

Hit and Run

Fact: Hudson
Hutson is riding his motorcycle home on a nearly deserted road late in the afternoon when he sees a boy on a bicycle struck down by a lorry which speeds on without stopping. Hudson stops to see if he can help the boy but it is too late. The boy is dead. When the police arrive Hudson is arrested and charged with careless driving.

Fiction: Poho
Things are not looking good for Hudson when the defence attorney at his trial presents a surprise witness. A farmer who had been working in his paddy field witnessed the whole thing and presents evidence proving Hudson’s innocence.

Dosai Dream Boy

Fact: Karthik
As a young boy in the up country estates Karthik was mad about dosai, Tamil pancakes. His mother made all kinds of bread but Karthik loved dosai above all. He loved its circular shape, its light texture, it’s sweet smell and above all the taste when combined with curry and coconut sambal. He never stopped asking his mom to make crisp plain dosai for every meal.

Fiction: Janista
At school Karthik dreamed of dosai all the time. Whenever the teacher taught basic geometric shapes he could only remembered circles, not triangles, squares or rectangles, which held no interest for him. The other kids gave him the nickname ‘Sandosai’, meaning ‘Joyful’. When he grew up Karthik and became a dosai chef. He’s made thousands of dosai in his time. Now he can’t stand the sight of them.

You Cookie Me Cookie 

Fact: Biyoora
When she was at school in India she lived on a campus where there were many monkeys. One light she came home and found a big monkey on her bed eating biscuits. He looked up at her without surprise and kindly offered her a biscuit from the bag. She ran from the room and summoned the house matron to witness this outrage.

Fiction: Jeyakala
When the monkey offered her a cookie she accepted it and then offered him a banana. The monkey remembered her and returned often at the end of the day for a collation of tea and biscuits. Jeyakala knew one day soon she would leave the monkey and go back home to Sri Lanka. She didn’t know how to tell him but she didn’t have to. Somehow he knew. The day before she left she found him dead on her bed with a love note tucked between his fingers. “I cannot live without you, my darling, so I bid you farewell.”

 6.2 The Role of Story in Creative Community Development (Part II)

Focus Group No. 2 – MONKEY’S TALE CENTRE Batticaloa
Tuesday, July 21 – 9 AM through 12:30 PM

Facilitators: E. Kularaj, K. Devakanthan,
Translator: Rajes Kandiah
Guest: Paul Hogan

Participants: 14 students from Eastern University Fine Arts Department / 2 guest participants

Story Snake (Out-of-the-Box Curriculum Toy #5)

  • 16 participants gather in from of MTC for Kurumpeti Circle at 9 AM
  • Welcome and Introduction – Master E. Kularaj
  • Silence for 5 minutes
  • Role of the Snake in the Garden Path Community Development – Poho
  • Participants proceed outside to back ritual area for labyrinth walk
  • There they meet the pambati (snake charmer) and his 2-headed snake
  • Kula then explains how the stories are evoked through example
  • One by one they tell 8 true stories and 8 fictions based on the true story
  • Tea break
  • Storylines are reviewed by group and written down
  • Brief verbal evaluation
  • Farewell – Kula
  • Adjournment



“Now we know how to collaborate to make a good story. The Story Snake offers a good technique. There should be some kind of message to our stories like, “Don’t fall in love with any old monkey.” Jeyakala

“When we meet children in refugee camps we can use the Story Snake to create stories with them because nobody tells the truth in those places. So the children learn how to find and keep truth in their own hearts… or they don’t.” Sivapriyan

“The process of the Story Snake was more intimate and personal than the Story Crow, but both succeed in opening an alternative space for creative collaboration.” Nikethana

“The rituals before the session, the kurumpeti circle and the labyrinth walk, bring a helpful calm in which to begin creating something original together.” Karthik

Colombo, Sri Lanka
July 27, 2015





Written by Paul Hogan