I share how I came to be both a snake owner and rat owner in this podcast, and some of the experiences of Life that came, including with Death.
The story starts off when I met a man at the time who owned two snakes. As with most people, I was making a beeline for the door when he told me that there were snakes in his apartment. I soon got over myself (slowly), and came to handle them as he had been doing. I would take the snakes out, and they would “hang out” around my neck. I would go about doing various things, like cooking, reading, cleaning, etc. Then I would let the snakes roam about, although they often just wanted to hide under the sofa! I knew they couldn’t see, but I never got into how they would sense things through vibration. This was in the day before meditation, when I was still “learning the ropes” of psychology.
The hardest part for me was during feeding time. My boyfriend then would could home with rats, and already you could hear them squealing as soon as he came in. It seemed so cruel, but as he said, it was the way of the world, that animals were food for other animals. I forced myself to watch sometimes, but the savagery of Life remained. I watched as the snake would bite the rat, the bite that did not kill, only allowed the teeth to grab onto the body so that the snake could then use its body to crush the bones. It was actually an almost instantaneous death, and the rat felt only the bite before its body was crushed. The bones were broken so that the snake was better able to swallow the rat, as snakes eat their prey whole.
The weirdest thing was that the female snake, her name was Aphrodite, would usually eat the rats by the bum first. This isn’t the standard way of eating, much easier to eat by the head first; a similar analogy is that when giving birth, it is easier for the head to go through first. But not so with Aphro! In the snake, as in the rat world, the females “rule the roost,” and she had this wildness that showed itself most certainly in this act. It was as if she was saying, “I can and I will!” and she most certainly did.
One cold winter night, it all started, the journey into moving from being a snake owner to a rat owner. It had happened in the past, that when the snakes went into hibernation, they refused to eat. They would be given rats, and sometimes, usually Aphro, would get annoyed with a rat making such fuss in her abode, that she would lash out of her box, and settle the matter lickety-split. Once the deed was done, nature would decree that she as a snake would have to continue the ritual of eating the rat, and not merely killing the rat to quell the noise. The male, Ben, would refuse to eat, would not even bother to get out of the box that was his bed, so often there was a rat that would be taken back to the pet store.
On this occasion, they both refused to eat. The rat had gotten its tail injured somehow, and was bleeding life out its tail. There was blood and rat droppings all over the terrarium, and the snakes were huddled up inside their box. It was rather hilarious, as this rat understood that it was not going to die, it was not his time. It pranced around on top of the box, and even inside the box, seemingly goading the snakes to eat. Blood got over their bodies and the rat was jumping all about, but they persisted in their hibernation, and slumbering ensued.
I finally took the rat out, and so began the journey from snake to rat. The relationship ended, and rat (now named Teamein, as in tee me in, a play on words indeed) and I made our home elsewhere. When Teamein passed on, it so happened that a boy at the pet shop had just donated two male rats that he was no longer allowed to keep. He was distraught, as he loved the rats, but his parents refused to honor his request for them to be in their home any longer. I felt the same compassion as I had for my previous injured rat, and cage and two male rats came to stay with me.
From the 1, came to 2, and then 3, and then 6. I ended up getting a third rat, a female, as at the time I was also working as a part-time cleaning lady. The family had now acquired a dog, and the children were no longer interested in playing with the rats. It was rather disheartening, really, as the two rats would spend the day in their box that was filled with pee. I would come each week to clean, and play with them just a tiny bit, as I had many tasks to do, but it was clear that they felt neglected. When one died, the family was going to take the one-year-old rat back to the pet store. Rats only live to 2 years on average, which is about 66 in terms of human years. I tried to explain that this rat would probably wind up as snake food, but the family didn’t seem to mind a bit.
And so, my compassionate heart found a female in the house with two male rats. I tried to keep them at a distance, yet despite having separate cages, biology took over during a secret meeting, and soon there were 6 rats in the house, now with the addition of two girls and a boy. From the 6, well, you get the idea, and at one point I had 15 rats! There were more girls than boys, and they were housed in a huge ferret cage. There weren’t so many boys, yet they had a large rat cage that I made from two smaller rat cages.
I would let them roam the kitchen where their cages were kept. They would get into everything, much the same way as when I heard Sadhguru’s story of how he kept many snakes in his bedroom.
Of the snakes, actually, they were given to a snake owner who would go around teaching children about snake behavior. He said he had never come across more tamer snakes than these! He would often bring the tamer males to teach the children, but Aphro was so tame that she ended up being ones of the snakes that he would bring most often. The male, Ben, unfortunately had developed an abscess and passed on, but Aphro had mated with another male snake and had apparently left progeny.
I learned much from being around rats. They each had their own personality from when they were young. Because I had so many, I could observe different generations at one time. For example, to the young ones I had started feeding them kale, which became their preferred food, even over delicious nuts. But to the generation of rats just before them, they would take the kale, but only after everything else had been eaten first. I would laugh at how they would eat blueberries, as they were suddenly at a buffet: just one nibble of each, and then the rest was left for the compost!
I had 3 rats that lived for 3 years, that is, until the ripe old age of 99 in human time. I put them onto a vegan diet, especially as I had now transitioned into being vegan and was studying naturopathy. So, when their health started failing, I began tinkering with natural remedies. They weren’t fond of soy, although sugary soy milk was most welcomed, and I would “hide” their medicine into that milk or into nut-based treats. Indeed, it was something that I started doing for myself, adding bitter herbs to my soup or bitter grapeseed extract into my sweet treats, “medicine” which I barely tasted!
While I did give away some rats, some also died of natural causes. One of my rats, I’ll never forget, loved to jump off the kitchen island. He was wily and agile, and was able to climb up onto the top. He felt like a king, I know, being up there so high. Getting down wasn’t hard, but he liked to go all out, and jump it straight down from the island. That was alright when he was young and springy, but now he was older. With age, as with most humans, eyesight goes down, and yet he refused to be convinced of what his eyes were telling him. He jumped off the island as if he was still that spritely rat, and the hand of time had not touched him. When he landed, it was such a shock. Instead of feeling the usual rebound from the earth, it was as if the earth had come up to meet him, and his body was crushed from the impact. I could feel his incredulousness, that he really couldn’t believe what had happened. His body was now paralyzed from the head down, and I tended to his body for the next 3 days, washing away his urine, and feeding him whatever he could manage. He passed on after that third day.
Indeed, Time came for each one, and I was there for all of them when it did. For my female rat, Katara, she was a wild one as Aphro had been. I had barricaded the kitchen from the living room, and she would always scale the wooden barrier, jumping onto of it as if she was an Olympic hurdler. Then I would realize that she was missing, go and fetch her, but not before she had left her signature behind! Towels and clothes would have holes, wires would have chew marks, and little droppings left here and there to say madam had paid her respects!
She didn’t mind being handled, but not for long. But on this occasion, it was an exception. I held her in my lap, her body swaddled in towels and a blanket to keep her warm. When she left, unlike with the others, she didn’t leave her body head first, but crawled out of her body by the back, leaving bum first. I remember she felt it odd that she had crawled out this way. Her spirit paused, realized it was no longer in the body, then sprinted away. I laughed, how her death could be such a joy! This “bottom first” reminded me of the way Aphro would eat, and how wonderful that I had the opportunity to witness the same wild streak of defiance in both snake and rat!
While I had never let either Aphro or Ben come to sleep with me, I had let Asoka, my female rat, come to lay beside me on the bed before she passed on. She was a black rat with dumbo ears, and an exceedingly sweet personality. She would always give lots of kisses, licking my face with her papery tongue, her eyes wide and her whole face beaming. On this occasion, I put her down beside me on the bed. She was wrapped in towels and a blanket to keep warm, the same as with Katara. I looked at her lying there beside me, and her whole body was filled with the void, with the blackness of her being. She left her body the very next day. As sweetly as she came, she left.
After several years of cleaning the rat cages every single day, the day of the rats had come to an end. Now all rats were laid to rest, and the only snake-rat in the house was the one called Catherine, engaging in various types of meditations to sweep away the load of karma and personalities, and allowing the full flowering of kundalini rising, and beyond.