Serpentina:The Snake Charmer Goddess
I met a woman who I came to know in rapid-fire time and knew I had to tell her story. This
project is about a woman, who had a limited pool of choices but made the best ones
she could. She wanted a different life but had no clue as to how to go about it. I liked her
and I wanted to honor her. I hope I have conveyed the goddess in her mythic dream, as well as
the human being. Her stage name was Serpentina in a sideshow called “Strange People”; she
had lived a hard carny life on the road. She wanted to go home to Iowa to her two young sons
who lived with her mama. She showed me a small snapshot of the boys standing in a cardboard
box and began to bawl. This was not a planned project I fell into it. She thought if she had a better
pitch card, which is a 4x6 sort of postcard with her image on it, that she could find a higher
paying carnival job and not only send more money home to her mama to care for the boys but
perhaps save enough to go home. She saw the Diana camera around my neck and asked me to
take her picture. I photographed her for three days and returned each day with prints. She
chose one, which I took to a print shop and had 500 pitch cards made. I returned later that day
as the carnival was tearing down to leave and gave her the cards. We didn’t exchange
addresses and I don’t know how her story turned out. The first day I met her I had entered the
Midway and heard a man and woman screaming, then saw her run from a trailer. As a
psychotherapist I was compelled to see if she needed help. She said she and her boyfriend had a
fight and broke up the night before and that she had shaved off her long hair, that she had just
shown him what she had done and he told her to go to hell. We talked until she had to get ready
for her first afternoon show. Her act was that of snake charmer, as old as time. It was a ritual, a
dance between the snake, symbol of fertility and creative life force, and Serpentina who charmed
him. The snake dance was her prayer to the spirits for escape into a mythic dream, where she was
a goddess. Ever so briefly she wasn’t herself, she was whom she dreamed.
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