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Serpent Cycle (Print)Serpent Cycle (Print)
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Serpent Cycle (Print)

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Serpent Cycle is a representation of the spiritual awakening of Stutsun – one the “First Ancestors” of the Cowichan People – but also an overarching symbol of human being’s ability to bravely face their fears and challenges throughout life. In Cowichan mythology, Syalutsa (the first human-like being who descended to earth from the spirit world) teaches Stutsun (the second being on earth) how to acquire spiritual insights through vision quests that involve fasting, cold water bathing, and isolation. During his journey, while bathing in Lake Cowichan, Stutsun encounters a Siin’lqi (pronounced “suh-in-ul-kee”) – a supernatural two-headed Serpent that processes immense spiritual powers. While this would be a terrifying encounter for any being, due to his spiritual practices, Stutsun faces the serpent without fear and it flies away without harming him. On a culturally specific level, this legend has, for thousands of years, taught young Salish people about the transformative powers of their spiritual traditions (many of which are still being practiced today). But on a more universal level, this legend communicates the value of developing the strength, courage and resilience that will allow one to bravely face the many painful and intimidating challenges that life inevitably presents. Contrary to the serpents found in many Western mythologies, Salish serpents are not a symbol of evil or malice. The Siin’lqi is a sacred being that represents the paradox of life challenges: they can either significantly harm a person – or, if faced in a noble fashion, they can become the catalyst for significant growth and allow one to become stronger and wiser. For this reason, the Siin’lqi is revered by Salish cultures and two-headed serpents are one of the most common images on traditional Salish art. Iconographically, the Siin’lqi takes many forms. Since it is a supernatural, spiritual being – it can take many appearances and this amorphous nature is reflected in the historical catalogue of Salish artifacts. At times, the Siin’lqi is depicted in a classical snake-like form – but with an additional head. But much of the time, it appears with a series of wolf-like limbs – ranging from only the two front paws, to multiple limbs running down the length of the body. Attached below are the two artifacts that inspired my version of the Siin’lqi (the first being a fragment of an old goat-horn rattle and the second being the disc of a spindle whorl). Both depict the serpent wrapping around a central anthropomorphic face. While the definite meaning of these pieces have been lost to time, they likely represent Ancestor Stutsun’s first encounter with the Siin’lqi in Lake Cowichan. So I used “Serpent Cycle” to both honor story of Stutsun and the Siin’lqi, and to symbolize the inevitable cycles that every human life takes: oscillating between easier and difficult phases. To emphasize the cyclic nature of life’s challenges, I changed the central face into an anthropomorphic Moon – which is a symbol of rhythms and cycles in Salish culture. For the colors, I chose a deep navy blue for the background to create a nighttime tone to component the moon. While the moon was white for naturalistic reasons, I also made the serpent white to indicate its spectral and supernatural nature. The pastel green and peach were chosen as accent colors simply because, aesthetically, I liked their effect on the blue and white.

Artwork Information

Location Canada
Region Northwest Coast
Artist Dylan Thomas
NWC Nation Coast Salish
Date Created 2019
Dimensions 26"X26"
Materials & Edition Limited edition serigraph (silkscreen) on archival paper

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