Snake Symbolism: The Ultimate Guide
As a repeating motif, what do snakes symbolize? What does it mean if snakes visit you in your dreams? What is the significance of being born under a snake totem in native American zodiac? Are snakes related to spirituality? If yes, what is the spiritual meaning of snakes?
I am Hannah Bennet, a snake symbolism theologist in fields of history, cultures and even dreams. I am also a correspondent writer for the snake store research group. If you, like myself, have had a lifelong curiosity about snakes and their mysterious presence in all the cultures that have ever existed in the world, then this article is just for you. Today, I want to share an abstract of decades of my research to answer all your questions about the spiritual meaning of the snakes and their cultural links to different geographical locations and to our subconscious realm.
This article explores the following subjects;
- The general symbolism of snakes and their hidden meanings
- Psychoanalysis symbolism of snakes according to Freud and Jung
- A look at the recurrent theme of entwining serpents
- Snakes as a Totem Animal
- Finding out the meaning of snakes in different cultures and religions
- Snake Dream interpretation based on subconscious symbolism
- Snake symbols in modern era, such as medicine, commerce and jewelry
We live in a symbolic universe where everything has a deeper and concealed meaning. Read on to learn about one of the most archetypal and significant emblems of our ancient world, the spiritual symbolism of snakes.
1- The Snake and its Spiritual Symbolism
There are several spiritual connotations given to snakes, among which are;
- Rebirth or renewal
While snakes shed their skin, or in other words, renew themselves, several cultures have associated snakes with symbols of new life, new beginnings, change and rebirth. In essence, the very cycle of life itself.
Ouroboros, the tail biting snake, carries the symbolism of the painful cycle of death and new beginnings. It is connected to the eternity of creation itself in micro and macro aspects; life of living creatures, and life of planets and stars. The immortality of life and its inevitability has been manifested in the form of a tail biting dragon or snake in Norse mythology, ancient Egypt, South American cultures and even the Chinese Yin and Yang.
Ouroboros coils around the earth to represent the primordial life energy that brought all the lives into existence. It also represents the umbilical cord or masculine phallus, in contrast with earth’s femininity.
In effect, snakes are the linkage between the opposition and rivaling forces; good and bad, moon and sun, day and night, etc. In an effort to understand balance, this meandering creature stands as the physical embodiment of duality in a single creature.
2- Symbolism of the Snake in Psychoanalysis
In psychoanalysis study of symbols, snakes are offered a rather positive stance. The snake animal emblem appears in life when significant changes are afoot and the visitor must let go of the past hard feeling in order to welcome the new. If the snake is shedding its skin, it is announcing to spiritual rebirth by discarding the old beliefs and outdated perceptions.
It is said that a snake aspires to spiritual growth and looks over the journey onto a higher spiritual plane. You can expect the snake typology when you have led astray from the true path or you are going too fast and the snake urges to build a stable foundation first.
Based on the studies of Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychoanalysis, the snake represents masculinity and male sexual drive. He believed that snakes in dreams and vision are genuinely a phallic symbol.
Carl Jung, a student of Freud who later became one of the best psychoanalysts ever existed, also believed that snakes are a sign of opposition and contrasting forces.
3- The Symbol of the Intertwined Serpents
The entwining serpents are a recurrent theme across distinctive cultures, such as the rod of Sumerian god Ningizzida, or the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius. Some interpretations of this powerful union are;
- The link between the primordial forces
- Duality of the same existence
- Spiritual communication
- The union with divine masculine and feminine
- The reunite of what was once separated
- Medicine and the medical sciences
Some believe that the ancient societies had a higher knowledge than what we imagine today, and that the entwining serpents resemble the helix of DNA molecules.
The enwrapping snakes also symbolize the connection between the mind and body, hence the appropriate application of knowledge, otherwise recognized as wisdom. By comprehending the allegory of the double coiled serpents in each culture, we can learn much about their beliefs and understanding of life.
4- The Snake as a Totem Animal
Only a few animal totems represent duality and transformation, and snakes belong to this group. Are you born under the snake animal totem? Or has this symbol slithering on your way in different forms? Find out about the snake totem characteristics below.
a) Meaning of the Snake Totem
The snake spirit animal totem symbolizes duality and the opposition between good and evil. There is no middle line in the character of those born under this powerful totem.
These natives have conquered the opposition; they tend to master both realms of good and evil simultaneously. Such qualities have made these natives dynamic beings, with an ability to adapt to almost any circumstance. They may also take decisions and actions solely based on their impulses. For instance, an unplanned trip may be quite inconvenient but also could be lots of fun. They are also perceived as cunning and having an ability to change the odds in their favor.
People with snake totems in their birth sign enjoy spending time with their family and are protective of them. In a social setting, everyone loves to spend time with them for their good humor and fun attitude.
Getting rid of guilt easily is one of their natural tendencies. While this could be a positive attribute, it may lead them to indulgence in unorthodox practices such as the darker side of occult knowledge, witchcraft and shamanism. For the same reason, they are born to make masterful healers by their capacity to make dualities meet and create a natural balance of energies.
b) The Different Snake Totems
Snake totems are classified under two groups, based on the snakes’ hunting methods; constrictors and venomous types.
Constrictor Snake Totem:
Those born under constrictor type snake totems are portrayed as authoritative and often intimidating. Although, they possess a gentle character and a soft heart at their core. They are go-getters and often win over any situation by taking the right steps towards their ambitions. These natives are focused with a deep bond with their own instincts and other worlds.
Occasionally, they tend to bring more than what they can handle to their plates. However, their inborn intuition helps them to find a way out while achieving their targets. Constrictor Snake Totem natives often possess an over protective nature when it comes to their loved ones. This is to an extent that people close to these natives sometimes feel overwhelmed and suffocated in their love coils.
Venomous Snake Totem:
Natives of Venomous Snake Totems are charismatic without trying. They are great communicators and make sure to give a warning before they strike. They are fast movers and embrace transformation several times throughout their lives. When things get difficult, they have a tendency to become protective about their position. Although, they have a good judgment of a tight situation and when it is time to give up the ground.
As for their instinctive acceptance of transformation, the natives of this totem heal fast from the past traumas. To assist this process, they give themselves time to detox from external energy that has polluted their minds.
People with the snake totem zodiac sign are born with great intuition, which pushes them to find harmony in their plans and journey of pursuing knowledge. They are natural healers of themselves and other people. The above information is drawn from native American zodiac. Continue reading to know the snake symbolism in other cultures as well.
5- Symbolism of the Snake in the Civilizations
Depending on the timeline, historical influences and cultural assumptions, snake symbolism runs into a great metamorphosis across global civilizations. Although they all seem to agree on a single point; snakes symbolize knowledge and wisdom. Let’s take a closer glimpse at the role of snakes in various cultural typology.
a) Symbolism of the Snake in the Bible
There are several mentions of snakes in the bible. In Genesis chapter 3, the serpent of the Garden of Eden is introduced by its name, Nahash; a Hebrew name that was also mentioned in the book of Samuel as a king. Nahash seduces Eve to pluck the fruit of the tree of knowledge and also convinces Adam to take part in devouring the forbidden fruit.
Other repeated mentions of serpents are in Exodus chapters 4 and 7, when by God’s miracle Moses’ staff turns into a serpent as a divine display of power. Later, an incredulous Pharaoh was overwhelmed by the same miracle. On other occasions, there are accounts of Moses’ bronze snake that he hung on his staff to heal snakebites and the ten befallen plagues of the Hebrews.
While slightly different in backgrounds and stories involved, snakes in all these passages are connected with supernatural knowledge, and linked to the divine realm.
While the modern interpretations of the bible correlate the snakes with evil powers and Satan, there is no direct passage that refers to Satan being a snake or even owning one. This understanding perhaps rises from the characteristic of the biblical snake as a tempter. As the most fundamental role of the snake in the bible is the ignition of the Original Sin and establishment of the line between the Free Will and falling into wretchedness and deploring one's doing.
b) Symbolism of the Serpent in Egypt
In ancient Egypt, snakes occupied an important position and were honored as descendants of a benevolent goddess. The serpentine goddess was named as Uraeus, in the form of a sacred cobra that was closely associated with the Egyptian deity Wadjet- the goddess of childbirth and protector of the noble blood. Uraeus was represented as an upright and hooded cobra that sat above the legitimate king’s diadem, symbolizing authority, divine protection, and divine wisdom.
The entire Lower Egypt and the Nile Delta were the place of her spiritual reign. All over her land and on the fertile banks of the Nile, people offered sacrifices and worshiped this serpentine goddess for several years.
Besides the kings and queens, snakes were a repeating theme in ancient egyptian jewelry. For instance, ornaments such as this Antique Cobra Bracelet were worn to receive spiritual favors and protection from the snake goddess.
c) Native American Snake Symbolism
Native American communities in California have considered snakes as sacred creatures for thousands of years, while it plays an important role in their mythology.
Among the Anishinaabe indigenous people, the common belief was that snake venom could cure any health alignment and hence snakes have been upholding a symbol of healing. Other aboriginal tribes in North America connected snakes to symbols of fertility because of its phallic shape.
d) Celtic Symbolism of the Snake
Vipers are one of the few cold-blooded species that can endure the extreme cold temperatures. For this characteristic, the ancient Celts believed that vipers attended to the passing of time. These species live beneath the earth’s surface by creating holes to detain from the cold and predators. This behavioral characteristic was the root of other Celtic interpretations of vipers, as the Human Fertilization, the balance between masculinity and femininity, and creation. In Celtic mythology, other snakes maintained various other divine roles, such as the guardianship of the underworld, or the Celtic hell.
Celtic warriors wore torque bracelets shaped as an Ouroboros or double-headed serpent such as this Celtic Bracelet. These jewelry pieces were worn to gain protection from the black serpent of the underworld, in case they were killed on the battlefield. The bracelet would ensure the blessings of the divine serpent who devoured only sinners, and served the warrior’s ascendant to Valhalla.
e) Pre-Columbian Symbolism of the Snake
As one of the most ancient and complex cultures, Mayan communities regarded serpents as magical creatures related to transformational metaphors. While snakes swallow their food whole, they represented the metamorphosis of matter for the Mayan speculators. Snake’s mouth symbolized the gates of a cosmic vortex, an opening from the material realm to the mystical worlds.
On other occasions, snakes in Mayan culture are regarded as a mental transformation symbol, as represented in the locks of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon and jaguar. The hanging snake in her hair indicated the overall transformation of the mind, soul, and body.
The ideology behind these mythical symbolisms is simplified: one must enter the snake’s mouth and face the unknown to be embraced by the total transformation as a final result.
f) Meaning of the Snake in Buddhism
In Buddhism, snakes are given connotations of mystic essence and darkness. They represent the undiscovered parts of the soul, or the subconscious mind. It also symbolizes thought and feelings generated by the subconscious.
Besides the dark aspects, snakes are given higher roles in Buddhist mythology. Nagas are a race of mythological snakes that do not slither but move upright. They are divine creatures, the pillars of time on the axis of the universe, and beholders of knowledge. Kundalini, the coiled snake at the base of the human spine, is also from the race of Nagas.
Another example of the Naga snake is the five-headed snake, who is the carriage of one of the triune gods of Hindu religion, the god Vishnu. This giant snake is known to be the protector of the truth, and floats on the cosmic ocean, while sheltering Vishnu and his consort on its coils and under its five heads.
The modern perception of snake symbolism is incorporated with geo historic cultures around the globe. Today, we can comprehend the meaning behind snake symbols only after knowing its roots. While most religions explain their symbolism with stories, snakes within each culture may seem different on the surface. But going beneath the surface of these myths, we understand the close similarity in the symbolic meanings given to serpents, mostly related to knowledge and their correlation to divine realms.
6- Symbolism of the Snake in Dreams
The symbolism snakes in real life and historic viewpoints is not irrelevant to the dream world. In our visions, interpretation of snake symbols rises from the definitions that we have accepted as true in our subconscious and cultural understandings. Let’s get to know more about the symbolization of serpentine visions;
a) Omens in Snake Dreams
Snake dreams are interpreted by incorporating colors, docile or aggressive nature of the dream snake, actions involved and the overall sensation that was left behind even after awakening. There is a whole glossary of snake dream interpretations and foreshadowing omens that range from good to evil circumstances.
However, a snake visiting you in the dream always carries an important message, and often represents a warning of bad habits or people that may get you in trouble. Most dream interpreters believe that a snake’s appearance in a dream is an invitation to get rid of the old skin and your outer image and review your emotions in order to ascend into a higher spiritual state of being. By any means, the snake animal symbols want the dreamer to know changes are afoot and for a better outcome.
Snakes may also represent fear and anxiety about sex and difficult feelings that the dreamers may have about their sexual drive. If in a dream there is fear of snakes, it may represent the real life intimidation of sex or committing to a relationship.
In Hindu dream textbooks, snakes are the stimulant of the energy portals of our bodies or known as Chakras. A snake represents the untapped potential of a person or the coiled energy at the bottom of the spine that is called the Kundalini. They believe that Kundalini is the source of all creativity and emotions. Based on these comparisons, Hindu interpretations of snake dreams are related to emotions and hidden desires. It may be a summoning to pay attention to your inner world and see the material existence through your own spirituality. They propose that letting go of material life and focusing on inner spiritual growth is the only possible way to release oneself from the past.
b) Meaning Snake Dream
Snakes leave a different emotional mark in our dream state each time. Some are pleasant, while others are fearful. In any case, they all carry a meaning that must be deciphered in order to uncover its hidden message. While most snake dreams do not reveal the snake species, other details are used to understand and decode the meaning;
- Dream of snake without head or eyes: An omen of the unseen danger that is lurking around the dreamer’s life.
- Dream of a tail eating snake: It is a promise of a better outcome after a dark period, like the life after death, or hope after failure.
- Snake bite dream: Fears and worries about a current issue in the dreamer’s waking life
- Snake skin dream: Symbolizes protection from health alignments.
- Intertwined snakes: As a symbol of duality, it represents the dreamer’s unsettled mind, confusion or inner turmoil.
- Dream of a coiled snake: It foreshadows an imminent or existing opportunity that could benefit you.
- Ascending or flying snake: It is a positive sign to dream of a snake, particularly a white snake, ascending towards the sky. In essence, it is a sign of spiritual enlightenment.
- Wounded or dead snake dream: This vision foretells a warning sign and calls for the dreamer to change the odds for the better before it is too late.
In case of identifying the snake in your dream, there are other hidden messages involved, which you can decipher;
- Viper Dream: A warning sign of a hypocrite and untrustable character in the dreamer’s inner circle- whether friends, colleagues, or family members.
- Anaconda Dream: It is a sign to embrace yourself and let things happen. Sometimes life is bigger than us to try to control it.
- Boa Dream: A warning sign about those who you love and protect may suffer from your over protective nature.
- Cobra Dream: This dream portends opportunities that may expire fast if you don’t react in time.
- Dream of Python: It symbolizes the dreamer’s authoritative nature, which must be used with the right strategy in order to overcome enemies and situations.
- Dream of Rattlesnake: The interpretation of rattlesnake is that the dreamer must pay attention to the warnings of others and respect their personal boundaries.
Snakes are among the most quintessential dreams, with different meanings behind their appearance. They may represent anything from the low and dirty intentions of the dreamer or the people in the close circles, to healing and even spiritual growth. Interpretation of these dreams is largely based on the scenarios in which the vision takes place. If you are interested to know about snakes in dreams, we have a complete article on Snake Dreams here.
7- The Symbol of the Snake in Medicine
Snakes are a recurrent motif in ancient myths that remain vivid until the present day. There is a close relation between Symbol of the Snake and healing across several cultures. In western countries, snakes are largely accepted as an emblem of Medicine and represented by the Snakes of Medical Caduceus. The entwining serpents rise symmetrically around the Rod of Asclepius, the god of healing who was also a son of Apollo in Greek Mythology. In modern medical societies, his name is yet advocated in the Hippocratic Oath, which all the Western physicians must take before starting their independent practice.
Although both involve the same snake, the medical Staff of Asclepius differs from the Cup of Hygeia. This bowl or cup suggests the Pharmaceutical Caduceus, portrayed as a wine cup with an entwined serpent around it. The bowl signifies the medicine while the snake represents healing.
There is a third snake symbol in Greek mythology that resembles the two previous mentions. The Caduceus of the Greek god of merchants, Hermes, is also illustrated as a winged rod with two interlinked snakes. The Caduceus of Hermes is an emblem of economy, and also a symbol of medicine in the United States.
8- What does the Snake Symbolize Today?
Since the archaic times until today, snakes have been an ornamental motif, whether for protection or their boundless beauty. Archetype too has played a prominent part in creation of these designs, combined with the sinuous shape of snakes themselves that can be a playful element of style itself.
As a comprehensive guide to snake symbolism, you have gained the expert eye on the spiritual meaning behind snake symbols in various cultures and even from the psychoanalysis point of view. You now know the resemblances of the connotations given to serpents, from South American cultures to European countries. You can interpret the characteristics of a person born under the snake animal totem, or your family and friend’s dreams of snakes- and being one of the most common dreams worldwide, you are not going to miss the opportunity.
The next time you see the snake symbol in an art museum, or find a mythological snake on TV or in a book, you can understand the deep meaning behind the artist’s reference. In any case, you can now enjoy a deep perception about snakes and their symbolism.
Snakes have inspired jewelry that were worn by the ancient populations across various geographic locations and timelines to symbolize protection, wisdom, love and healing. Whether for their mesmerizing aesthetics or a belief in symbols, snake jewelries are still on trend in 2021.
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