The Threshold, the Elixir, and the Rainbow Serpent

Helio Borges
8 min readJun 27, 2020
The Elixir. The Rainbow Serpent coaster.

“I am the Rainbow Serpent, the mother of all life, tell your people that as my skin reflects the colors of the rainbow, so does the skin of the totem of man. No man is different from the other by the color of their skin, all of them are part of the rainbow of life.”

The Rainbow Serpent

I am in a hammock at a beautiful beach in Venezuela reading The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta. It is the story of a woman from Nigeria who has to experience bringing up her children under the tension between tribal traditions and the ways of being in a city like Lagos, Nigeria, during the war affecting that country. The gentle breeze from the ocean produces a soothing sound while rocking the palm trees. At a certain moment, I feel my eyes out of focus, staring at the blurring words without reading anything.

Suddenly, I am in the middle of the desert under a scorching sun at noon, in an unknown country. I am wearing sandals, shorts, a T-shirt and a baseball cap. I look around and see nothing but sand and rocks. I began walking to nowhere in particular when I see something moving on the horizon. I pick up the pace and as I am getting near it, I see a kangaroo staring at me curiously. I stopped walking and just stood there thinking “so, I am in Australia. How did I get here?

I started walking again, and my right sandal tripped on something, making me fall to the ground. Fortunately, I suffered only a few bruises. I looked at the flat rock that made me fall, I picked it up, took the dirt out, and discovered beautiful figures carved on it. They resembled two snakes surrounded by fish. Upon looking at it, I could feel a strange sensation that I could not clearly identify. It was as if the rock was whispering something to me. Was it a sort of mirage effect of the midday sun over my head? I could swear that I heard a voice saying to me “go to the sea”.

I don’t know for how long I had been wandering in the sizzling hot sun, but I was there, tired of walking to nowhere, convinced that I was suffering some sort of madness caused by the heat, holding this talisman-like stone tightly, as if my life depended on it, with my skin sunburned and hurting, when I saw it. It is a mirage, I thought. It was a mirage of water. I did not want to go there and watch it go away as I got nearer it, as mirages do, but I walked towards it because I had no choice, my life depended on it. I almost did not want to get closer to it because I was afraid that it was going to disappear before my very eyes. But it did not. I could not believe that it was the sea and it was not moving away. It was a beach located in a bay with no waves.

I reached the shore and began walking into the sea. The contact of the cool water with my hot and damaged skin produced a deep combination of pain and pleasure, but I kept on walking anyway. Only my face remained above the water, and I stopped walking, or I thought I had. But I didn’t, because my face kept going underwater. I didn’t know what was happening. I felt that I was going to drown and I panicked. I commanded my feet to stop, but they did not obey me anymore, somehow they had a will of their own. I inhaled air hurriedly and deeply before my head got into the water. I tried to force my way up, but the rock on my right arm weighted more and more, keeping me underwater, and I could not release it from my hand.

Underneath, the water was so clear that I could see everything around me. It was beautiful. For a while, I was captivated by the scenery, and I lost the sense of time. I saw a dark grey serpent swimming towards me. The snake swam around my left arm and curled around it. When the snake touched my skin, the pain halted. Then, it began pulling my arm making me walk deeper into the sea. We reached a beautiful coral reef full of marine life, and then I saw her. A huge colorful serpent was coiled at the bottom of the sea. Her skin shone with all the colors of the rainbow. The grey serpent took me in front of her. Somehow I was not afraid. She stared directly into my eyes and I felt profound peace. I also felt the need to kneel before her and to deposit the flat rock on the sand as an offering. So I did. Immediately a thought came to my mind. Upon having it, I knew that it wasn't a thought of mine, but someone else's.

“I am the Rainbow Serpent, the mother of all life, tell your people that as my skin reflects the colors of the rainbow, so does the skin of the totem of man. No man is different from the other by the color of their skin, all of them are part of the rainbow of life.”

Suddenly, I was weightless and began ascending towards the surface. Then I remembered that I had to breathe. I could not hold my breath any longer and panicked. My last thought was that I was going to drown in a strange sea, alone, in the middle of nowhere, under such weird circumstances, and then, I passed out.

I took a desperate last breath expecting a rush of water to go into my lungs, choking me to death. Instead, I breathed so much air that I choked and began coughing and shaking and fell to the ground. In my desperation, I had fallen down from my hammock. I opened my eyes and remained there trying to stabilize my breathing, observing the night sky full of stars, and thinking about the crazy dream that I had just had.

Co-created by Ana Felix and Helio Borges.

Written by Helio Borges

GAIA’s Media and Storytelling Macro Hub

I saw a Gaia Journey mail where Stefan Day invited to the first meeting of the GAIA Journey’s Media and Storytelling Macro Hub. I am not much into media, but the storytelling part definitely caught my attention. My interest and acumen as a storyteller come from a generation of women who were natural storytellers — my mother, her mother, and her granny. I grew up on kitchens where those women entertained their children with stories of their families and friends, so it was only natural that I told those stories to my children too. Curiously enough, I did not know that I was a natural storyteller until recently, and that is the reason for my thirst to polish my skills and apply them in business and societal change contexts.

It was evident to me that I was at the right place when Stefan opened the meeting saying that the hub was a place to share our skills and experiences with the others. Immediately, he gave the word to Karen Martini from Brazil, who invited us to play games to build our storytelling muscles. I thought to myself, not only I am going to learn, but I am going to have fun too.

Showing the objects

Karen invited everyone to share on the screen, in less than a minute something that reminded nature to us. Everyone scrambled to find their object, and she showed a sea shell. I went to the garden and picked up some wildflowers. Next, she invited us to bring something that reminded us of someone we loved. I brought a picture of my mother. Next, we had to look for something that we disliked. I picked up an ashtray. The next object was to be something that inspired us. I picked up a coaster that a friend of the family brought to us as a gift from Australia. It had an aboriginal painting representing a “rainbow serpent”. The next one was something that reminded us of the pain that is alive in the world. I could not find anything on time. Afterward, she invited us to meet in small groups, select one of the five objects, and narrate a two-minute story of the object.

The Object that Became the Story

I picked up the coaster. Or should I say that it picked me up? Because it is one of those things that invite you to look for a story behind it. So, this was my story.

I was walking under a scorching sun on a dry plain of western Australia when my right foot kicked a flat small rock. I looked down and noticed a pattern on one side of the flat stone. I picked up, took the dirt out, and discovered these beautiful figures carved on it. They resembled two snakes surrounded by fish. Upon looking at it, I could feel a strange sensation that I could not clearly identify. It was as if the rock was whispering something to me. Was it a sort of mirage effect of the midday sun over my head? I don’t know, but since that day, strange things began happening to me.

My time was up, and it was fun sharing stories with the others in my small group.

We returned to the main room, where Stefan and Karen had a new surprise for us. Karen based the next exercise on “The Heroe’s Journey”, the storytelling structure ideated by Joseph Campbell. Specifically, she mentioned two of the journey’s stages through which every hero goes in every story. The first one was “The Threshold”, the transformation that occurs to any hero. The second one was “The Elixir”, which is the image, the object, the idea discovered by the hero, and with which he comes back. We were divided into groups of two people. The two people had to co-create a story in 10 minutes, and each one had to bring an object, which will be either the threshold or the elixir.

Co-creating the Story

I teamed up with Ana Felix, from Porto Alegre, Brazil. She explains to me her object, which is a book called The Joys of Motherhood and tells me its story. I presented her with my object, the flat rock that I found in the Australian desert, saying to her that I sensed that it had special powers.

The Threshold. The Joys of Motherhood.

She suggests to me that the desert rock should be the elixir, given its power. Consequently, the book is the threshold. She opens the book and signals with her finger saying, “here, in the middle of the book there is a light that when you look at it, you penetrate into another realm, that point is the threshold”, then she says. “You are in a hammock on the beach reading the book and at a certain point, you look at the threshold”… A story had been born.

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Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges