Snakes. Why Did It Have to be Snakes?

According to Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, in her book “Dreams and What They Mean to You”, a snake in your dream means, “An evil omen predicting danger through enemies, deceit, and general misfortune. If you kill the snakes, you will overcome all obstacles.” Fortunately, I have outgrown the idea of a dream dictionary, and the idea of two dimensional snake symbolisms. The snake has a rich and varied symbolic history, and I would venture to guess that if right now I asked five different people what they thought of when they heard the word “snake” I would quite possibly get five different responses.

Let’s start with evil. The poor serpent. By telling Eve about a certain tree in the Garden of Eden, the snake will always be associated with evil, or Satan. Thanks to that, any animal that beats up a snake seems to be associated with Christ. Both elephants and birds of prey that stomp or claw snakes to their doom are symbolic of Christ triumphing over the Devil, or evil. Yawnsville. Seriously, if this the only symbolism you can come up with for the snake, put down your worn out dream dictionary and read on.

How about sex? Snakes are symbolically sensual. In Renaissance and Baroque art the deadly sin of lust was frequently represented by snakes. They were often depicted feeding on the breasts or genitals of women. Those Renaissance guys had a weird relationship with women! In other purviews, snakes are related to the umbilical cord and penis. From sexuality, it is just a short hop to fertility. The snake is a creator. Earth mother deities are continually associated with snakes. The Cretan Earth Mother holds the snake of death in one hand and rebirth in the other. Aboriginal art depicts the snake, a Dreamtime ancestor, known for abundance, rainfall, fertility, and creating mankind.

Let’s not just be fertile, let’s heal! Snakes, despite some being poisonous, are continually linked to healing and health. There is some debate, or not depending on what you read, but the entwined snakes on Hermes’ staff caduceus and/or the symbol of a tree snake wrapped around a staff ala Asklepian are symbols of healing or the health professions. But to heck with health, how about immortality? The snake’s continuous shedding of skin makes it a perfect symbol of endless renewal. The image of a snake swallowing, or eating, its own tail, sometime called the Ouroboros, often depicts eternity.

It is safe to say that the snake is a primordial symbol. Since the dawn of time the snake has meant many things to many people. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Hindu, Christians, Europeans, and just about every other culture and religion that has ever been or will be on this planet has had an opinion of the snake. It is a wonderfully complex symbol and once you start learning about its history, it becomes easy to see why there have always been people that worship it. Let’s face it, when even the cartoon “The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy” have a cult devoted to worshipping snakes, you know you’ve made it to the big time.