Snake Symbolism and Meaning

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Snakes have long captured the human imagination and appeared as symbols in myths, legends, and folklore around the world. Their sinuous movements, venomous bites, patterned skins, ability to shed their skin, and connections to the earth have imbued them with rich symbolic meanings across different cultures.

Introduction

Snakes have been seen as both positive and negative symbols throughout history. They have been associated with fertilitywisdomtransformationimmortalityhealing, and protection, but also with temptationvenomfear, and the underworld. Their diverse symbolic meanings make them truly captivating creatures.

This article explores snake symbolism, including key symbolic meanings related to:

  • Fertility
  • Rebirth & Transformation
  • Healing
  • Guardianship
  • Danger & Temptation

It also touches on snake meanings in myth, culture, religion, and dreams. Read on to learn more about how the snake has earned its place as one of the most multi-faceted symbols in human history!

Snake Symbolism & Meanings

Snake Symbolism & Meanings

Fertility

The snake has long been associated with fertility and procreation.

  • Ancient Egyptian depictions show snakes guarding and encircling eggs, representing the potential for new life.
  • Ancient Minoans worshipped snake goddesses associated with fertility, such as the Minoan Snake Goddess statue showing bare-breasted women handling snakes.
  • In Ancient Greek mythology, Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, dreamed that a thunderbolt made her pregnant in the form of a snake.

The snake’s connection to the earth and cycles of nature reinforce its ties to fertility in many cultures. Additionally, the snake shedding its skin represents a new phase of life.

Rebirth & Transformation

Closely related to fertility, the snake also symbolizes rebirthregenerationtransformation, and the cyclical nature of life in many cultures.

  • In Ancient Egypt, snakes represented the cyclical journey of the sun as it transformed into a snake and traveled through the underworld at night to be reborn at dawn.
  • In Greek mythology, Medusa, with snake hair, could turn people to stone, representing solidity and eventual rebirth.
  • In Hinduism and Buddhism, the ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, represents the infinite cycle of death and rebirth.

By shedding its skin, the snake embodies the power to renew and transform oneself.

Healing

The snake has served as a popular symbol of medicine and healing for thousands of years.

  • In Greek mythology, the god of medicine Asclepius wielded a staff with a snake coiled around it, which serves as an emblem of the medical profession to this day.
  • In the Bible, when the Israelites set up camp in the desert, God sent fiery serpents to bite the people after they complained. But then God told Moses to put a snake on a pole so that anyone bitten who looked upon it would live.
  • Ancient societies equated snake venom with both disease and immunity, leading to the incorporation of venom into medicines and potions for protection.

Through the ages, the snake has been thought to have remedial properties and remains associated with modern medicine.

Guardianship

Many cultures characterize the snake as a guardian figure.

  • In Hindu tradition, snakes guard the underworld, while the serpent god Nāga swims in the primordial waters and guards treasures, rivers, and other spiritually significant sites.
  • Ancient Egyptian uraeus figurines depict cobras guarding the pharaohs, images found on royal crowns, scepters, and artifacts.
  • In the Bible’s Garden of Eden, a serpent guarded the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
  • The ancient Greek god Asclepius wielded his healing staff encircled by a guardian snake.

These examples illustrate why the snake has been revered as a noble guardian across cultures.

Danger & Temptation

However, the snake has also earned negative connotations representing dangereviltemptation, and the unknown.

  • In the Bible, the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, leading to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise.
  • Medusa, with snake hair, could turn people to stone with her gaze, representing the danger of succumbing to temptation.
  • Snakes have also served as symbols of envy and vengeance, as reflected in their venomous bites.
  • In Ancient Persia, the destructive dragon Aži Dahāka was heavily associated with snakes and represented evil and chaos.

So while they can represent positive transformation, snakes also reflect humans’ fear of poison, darkness, and seduction. Their dual nature makes them powerfully ambiguous symbols.

Snakes in Myth & Culture

Snakes in Myth & Culture

Beyond core symbolic meanings, snakes have held rich cultural significance:

  • Native American cultures tell of a horned snake causing solar eclipses by trying to swallow the sun.
  • Aboriginal Dreamtime myths feature the mythic Rainbow Serpent, who created the landscape before sinking back into the earth.
  • The Aztecs worshipped the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl who gave mankind maize.
  • In Hinduism, Lord Shiva wears snakes as jewelry, and the snake goddess Manasa guards fertility.
  • Chinese and Japanese mythology describes dragons as giant, winged snakes controlling water and weather.

These examples demonstrate the snake’s importance in legends around the world.

Snakes in Religion

Snakes in Religion

Snakes have factored prominently in various faiths:

  • Judaism and Christianity feature snakes positively and negatively, from the snake wrapped around Moses’ staff to the Garden of Eden serpent representing temptation.
  • Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism incorporate Nāga, the multi-headed serpent god representing fertility, protection, and rebirth.
  • Ancient Egyptian religion worshipped Wadjet, the cobra goddess of lower Egypt, along with Renenutet, goddess of harvest represented as a coiled snake.
  • The West African Vodun religion venerates the rainbow serpent Dan Ayido Wedo, who connects their realm with the mortal world.

These examples demonstrate the prevalence of snake deities and symbols across faiths.

Snakes in Dreams

Snakes in Religion

In dream interpretation, snakes tend to reflect the emotional state of the dreamer. Key meanings include:

  • snake shedding skin may indicate transformationrenewal, or moving beyond limitations.
  • Multiple snakes could represent having many options or feeling conflicted. This may signal indecision.
  • Being bitten by a snake could represent fears or concerns that feel threatening. It can indicate feeling attacked or betrayed.
  • Killing a snake may represent overcoming fears or exerting control over a difficult situation.

So snakes in dreams often symbolize the need for change, healing, or facing fears head-on before moving forward.

FAQ

How have snakes been symbolized in different cultures?

Snakes have been symbolized in various ways across cultures, representing fertility, rebirth, healing, guardianship, danger, and temptation. They have held rich cultural significance in Native American, Aboriginal, Aztec, Hindu, Chinese, and Japanese mythologies.

What is the symbolic meaning of snakes about fertility?

Snakes have long been associated with fertility and procreation. They symbolize the potential for new life, as depicted in ancient Egyptian art, and worshiped as snake goddesses by the Minoans. The snake’s connection to the earth and the cycles of nature reinforces its association with fertility.

What does the snake symbolize in terms of rebirth and transformation?

The snake symbolizes rebirth, regeneration, and transformation. In various mythologies and religions, snakes represent the cyclical journey of the sun, the infinite cycle of death and rebirth, and the shedding of the snake’s skin as a metaphor for renewal and personal transformation.

How have snakes been associated with healing throughout history? 

Snakes have served as a popular symbol of medicine and healing. In Greek mythology, the god of medicine wielded a staff with a snake coiled around it. The Bible also mentions a snake on a pole providing healing. Ancient societies equated snake venom with both disease and immunity, leading to its incorporation into medicines and potions.

What is the significance of snakes as guardians in different cultures?

 Snakes are often depicted as guardians in various cultures. In Hindu tradition, they guard the underworld and spiritually significant sites. Ancient Egyptian cobras guarded pharaohs, and the serpent god Nāga protected treasures. In mythology and religion, snakes symbolize protection and safeguarding against threats.

Conclusion

The snake’s diverse symbolic meanings have developed across human cultures thanks to its connections with fertility, transformation, danger, and the spirit world. Both worshipped and feared, the snake reflects humanity’s simultaneous reverence and anxiety around life, death, and rebirth.

The snake remains an iconic symbol today in medicine, spirituality, art, and culture. Its ancient symbolic meanings endure as humans both exalt snakes for their wisdom and vilify them for their venom. But no matter one’s perspective, the snake embodies the cyclical essence of nature: death begets life, destruction leads to creation, and every end morphs into a new beginning.

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