Snakes are probably one of the most polarizing symbols in religion, spirituality and culture. The snake has about as many meanings as it has scales.
When interpreting snake symbolism it can be difficult to discern which interpretation fits for you. Is it a negative or positive sign? Does it represent a wider issue or a smaller interpersonal one?
The snake can be seen as either a positive or negative sign. One of rebirth and renewal, or one of deceit and deception.
In this article I want to explore the different meanings of snakes, why there are different interpretations and how to figure out what the snake represents for you.
I think there are two schools of thought when it comes to snakes: one literal and one metaphoric.
In Christianity for example, the snake has a deep symbolic meaning but is often seen as a literal omen or sign of malicious intent. We have transferred this biblical interpretation onto snakes in the world.
In Eastern traditions however, the snake isn’t necessarily seen as an omen. The snake is seen as a sign of renewal & rebirth, knowledge, even health.
I think the reason this difference exists is because symbolism tends to shift based on the needs of the time and culture. Some places and times call for more literal interpretations and symbols, others call for a more universal or metaphorical meaning.
Literalism can provide concrete answers, to simplify or organize things and literalism can also be used by those in power to make the flow of knowledge easier to control.
Symbolism can be used to obscure the whole truth and to make things easier to understand and bring duality/polarity together in the simplest way.
I think both sides can offer something.
The Biblical Meaning Of Snakes
As I child I was raised in a Christian home, went to Sunday school and was encouraged to read the Bible. The snake always carried a lot of meaning for me, and when I think back to those studies now the reptile still stands out to me.
There can be a lot of shame and fear approaching this topic because we aren’t meant to question what we read. However I think this is an important topic to discuss.
In Christianity the snake has become a symbol of deceit, self-importance and temptation. The snake was punished in a very literal way – made to crawl on its belly. This fear or contempt towards snakes has influenced culture.
Even outside of a religious context we hear untrustworthy people being referred to as ‘snakes’. Perhaps we are bringing this cultural contempt into our language, even if we aren’t conscious of it.
The story of Genesis doesn’t have to be taken in a literal way. One of the best interpretations I have read in relation to the story of Adam and Eve, is how the Garden of Eden represents childhood.
Our childhood environment should be a space of safety, peace and innocence; we have a certain level of ignorance.
As we grow older we learn more and venture out into the wider world, it is no longer up to our parental figures to protect us from the world. With maturity also comes responsibility, we see the good and the bad.
In this way you can interpret the snake as a symbol of knowledge, a lifting of ignorance. It can represent learning how to deal with knowledge, individuality, temptation and the ensuing shame and guilt.
Eastern Snake Symbolism
In Eastern traditions, specifically Hinduism, the snake is seen as a representation of kundalini energy.
Interestingly enough the kundalini snake energy represents divine feminine energy: Shakti. When this coiled energy rises up the spine through different practices we experience spiritual emancipation, freedom and enlightenment.
The reason this is interesting is because the snake in biblical contexts is often associated with Eve, the first woman. It is often said that Eve was first mislead by the snake and encourages Adam to follow her lead.
This represents the contempt towards the feminine alongside snakes. A fear of the feminine energy as one that can mislead, manipulate or destroy. Just as certain times and places require literalism, this suppression and fear of the feminine also serves certain nefarious purposes.
When the kundalini rises we experience a unity of our feminine and masculine energies – which we all possess. Usually we would refer to this in a purely energetic sense, because men can have feminine energy too. However this often transfers onto male and female sexes.
Kundalini awakening involves deep purification and balancing of our energy system. This feminine energy rises up and meets with the masculine energy (Shiva), uniting us with our soul/spirit.
Ouroboros Snake Meaning
The ouroboros is an ancient symbol that depicts a snake or serpent eating its own tail. Chances are you’ve probably seen this symbol represented in storybooks or fairy tale illustrations even if you aren’t aware of what it means.
It’s originates from Egyptian iconography as well as Ancient Greek mythology. This has become a symbol of rebirth, renewal and alchemy in Gnosticism and Hermeticism. It represents the continuous cycle of life.
Snakes are often seen as a symbol of renewal due to the fact that they regularly shed their skin. In spiritual practice we are called to discard our many skins (layers of ego), dying and being reborn in the metaphorical sense.
I interpret this symbol as a representation of the spiritual journey, where we often believe we have to be at one end of things or another – we view things in a binary fashion. There is slumber and awakening, there is high and low, there is dark and light.
Yet we often end up right in the middle of things; in between life and death, dark and light, consciousness and unconsciousness. In order to find balance, uniting contradiction and finding our center somewhere in-between things.
Meaning Of Snakes In Dreams
Snakes can have different meaning in dreams depending on what meanings you’ve internalized about snakes, your cultural or religious outlook on them and so on.
Even for those who weren’t raised within Christianity, snakes can still carry a negative meaning. We call people who betray or deceive us as ‘snakes’, even outside of a religious context.
In dreams snakes can represent someone in our lives who is untrustworthy and should be avoided. This could be a family member, acquaintance or someone who has authority over us. We draw upon this idea of snakes.
Snakes can also represent an inner-transformation. On the spiritual path the rising of the kundalini energy is seen as one of deep renewal, balance and integration of the masculine and feminine, snakes in dreams can represent this energy.
Meanings in dreams depend heavily on the context. If you witness a snake in a positive scenario, or are running away from a snake or even fighting with one. Often these meanings aren’t meant to represent someone outside of us, but relate to our own internal battles, based on the meaning we assign to snakes.
Take the example of running from or fighting a snake in a dream. This isn’t necessarily a sign that you are fighting with someone else, but that you are fighting with the aspect of yourself that is represented by the snake. You could be fighting your illusions, your shadows, your tendency to deceive.
What associations do you have with snakes? What do they mean to you and where does that meaning come from? What would you think if you saw a snake in real life?
What color is the snake? You might see a red, black, green or some other color of snake. What do these different colors mean to you, what word associations come to mind?
What size is the snake? Is the snake big or small? Is there more than one? How does this amplify or decrease the intensity of this interaction?
What is the snake doing? Is it running away or towards you? Is it friendly or hostile? Is it acting in an expected manner?
With your meanings on paper you can start to build your own interpretation – the more details you add the better.
I think it’s important to keep interpretations open, especially with symbols that contain so many multitudes and so much depth. When interpreting any symbol or sign I like to reference a general guide and allow my own intuition to uncover the specifics.
Decide if the literal or metaphoric meanings suit your situation best and work from there. Write the interpretation on a piece of paper and come back to it an hour, day or week later.
As symbols are so personal to us (they are filtered through our own consciousness) the meanings that apply to each individual are going to vary greatly.
What are your thoughts on the snake?