Snakes have long had a huge and deeply symbolic meaning in mythology and dreams. Many ancient civilizations recognized long ago that snakes had a power and atmosphere about them that made for great metaphorical representation. Even today, our cultural perception of snakes is filled with a symbolic and religious undertones. In some societies this could be informed by Biblical stories, while in others it might be shaped by a history of associating snakes with powerful positions. Here are some of the abstract meanings behind snakes in mythology, dreams, and storytelling.
Snakes have taken on a number of symbolic meanings all throughout human history. We’ll go over a few of them here alongside a brief explanation of where these associations come from.
One such meaning comes from the phenomenon of snakes regularly shedding their skin. This gives snakes an association with transformation and rebirth. Sometimes, they are even associated with immortality. This is how the shape of the ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail, eventually become a symbol for eternity.
Additionally, there are sexual connotations with snakes on account of their phallic shape. Snakes have been associated with lust and sexual passion.
Snakes have also traditionally been seen as guardians because of their defensive nature. In the east, many are seen as guardians of the sacred. Some snakes tend to hold their ground in the face of danger, such as cobras and rattlesnakes. In Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, statues of Nagas (a mythical snake) surround the temples.
Due to their close physical relationship with the ground, snakes also have a strong connection with natural elements in many cultures and can be seen as an omen for future weather and natural disasters. In that sense, snakes have become symbols of wisdom.
Finally, snakes bear a strong association with death and the afterlife in most cultures around the world, because some snakes are rather venomous. The venom of snakes have been used throughout history to both poison and heal, or even expand one’s consciousness. Alongside their closeness with nature, this has given snakes sometimes a divine association.
Snakes often have many symbolic meanings and messages depending on the content of what your dreams may be. In general, they can represent guidance from the divine, and will often appear during moments of deep change. They can often assist as messengers when moving from one period of your life to another, due to their connection with rebirth. If your feelings in your dream are particularly negative, a snake may symbolize someone that you find hard to trust. Because of their association with sex, lust and temptation, it can also symbolize a kind of forbidden sexuality or fear of sexuality.
Depending on the specific culture being referenced, snakes can have profoundly varying symbolic meanings.
Due to their appearance in Biblical tales, snakes have often had an overwhelmingly negative connotation in Western and Christian societies. In Genesis, the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempts Eve and Adam to eat the Forbidden Fruit, which leads to humanity falling from grace. As a result, snakes have been portrayed in many Judeo-Christian cultures as embodying manipulation, trickery, deceit, and malevolence/evil itself. This has created a strong connection in these cultures for snakes as the servants of Satan and the overwhelming forces of sin, making snakes among the most detested and reviled of animals in these particular societies.
In Ancient Chinese mythology, snakes bear a connection to the creation of humanity due to the goddess Nuwa and the god Fuxi. They were gods that had the bodies of snakes, but the heads of humans.
In West African mythology, there are tales of snake deities, such as Ayida-Weddo, protecting the creation of the world by coiling their bodies around or below the planet and keeping it stable, so that it does not fall in to the sea.
In Ancient Egypt, snakes were associated with royalty while also bearing the connection to destruction and death. Cobras were worshipped, as it was tied to Ra, the sun god - as well as many others. The goddess Wadjet was a cobra headed woman, who became an emblem of protection on the crown of the pharaoh.
Native American folklore often portrays serpents as a powerful influence on changes in the weather, especially when it comes to storms and rain. The rattlesnake was thought to be able to control winds and storms by the Hopi people.
The Mayans and the Aztecs worshipped serpent gods such as Kukulkan and Quetzalcoatl - both of whom were feathered serpents that presided over the wind, knowledge and the arts. Mesoamerican cultures also had vision snakes, an animal helper that could help Mayan kings see into the underworld.