We are tribal to the core, this is how we evolved, this is how our ancestors lived, this is how their/our chimp ancestors organized their communities. Each and every group of tribal peoples of the past had few crucial missions to ensure survival: protect the tribe from invaders make it thrive, preserve their way of life and respect the land that feeds you.

We’re wired so that we can comfortably live within communities of about 250. Everything beyond that we start to lose track because our brain size limits the amount of (meaningful) relationships we can keep track of. So through history our tribal ancestors were in warrior mode most of the time because there was an ongoing fight for resources and territory. Most of the tribes saw themselves as “the people” meaning they were the chosen ones and everyone else was subpar to this “people” mark – wrong in some way by their differentness and therefore considered “the other”. It’s evolutionary to see yourself as belonging to a group and to see those that are different as the others. In a global world it is not really a natural to accept everyone biologically because “the other” brings dangers with it – things that are foreign and you could be contaminated by things you have no immunity to, things you don’t know about their culture that could get you killed, shunned or excommunicated if you try to fit in and things you just straight out don’t like, can’t accept or process or are disgusted by just due to lack of exposure. Eating grasshoppers might not be your idea of a delicacy and it could literally make you gag with disgust to think about it but it is just an accident of birth topology that you don’t see grasshoppers as an ultimate available source of protein.

We humans possess the brain circuits that are rigged to notice and avoid this “other”, to see it as a threat. The same circuit is activated when we see a threat such as a predator, edge of the cliff, someone approaching in the darkness, an insect… or a snake. This fear is not irrational. Our tribal ancestors had a good reason to fear snakes because this fear kept them alive in a world much more brutal, challenging and laced with scarcity and danger that our world today. We lived in nature and the snakes were here before us, they are the ultimate fear embodied. they are different, they have no limbs that mimic our form, they are sneaky, they can hide, jump and bite and then leave you to die while the poison does its thing. Snakes are the unknown at it is not strange that the conspiracy theorists choose to focus their fear of the unknown into the “reptilian race”. There is not only fight or flight response in our default software. There is also a freeze response. A medusa has a head of snakes and turns you to stone when you meet her gaze – that is completely right, the oldest story in the book of mankind – fear paralyzes, the fear of the devouring aspect of Mother Nature is a thing that petrifies us. As well as giving life she gives something much darker and more ominous for which we use the snake as a symbol.

The world has changed for humans, but the old circuit is still alive and reacts to every threat from reality (even if it not life threatening) as if it had seen a snake. To handle it you need to practice exposure therapy, willingly desensitize yourself to the situations that trigger this response if they are not life threatening and you need to become dangerous as well. This is the best antidote to all of the dark things in this world. Become dangerous enough so you can defend yourself and your “tribe” (mentally, emotionally, physically, educationally). Become a controlled monster, able to kill a snake if it gets to close, but choosing not to when it is not necessary. This is what Jung’s integrating the shadow means – realizing you have some of this snake in you and incorporating it in your personality in such a way that it can be used if needed but that it is not destroying you below the surface while you ignore it because the “civilized” society incentivized it out of you through upbringing. Meeting “a snake” is dangerous – the snake within just as the snake without – but the only way out is through.