Serpents symbolize fear and death, but can also tell us to trust our intuition.
Serpents have a long history of veneration throughout the world. It really depends on the culture revering them. Regardless of their global worship, many connotations share similar meanings.
Symbolism of Serpents as Spirit Animals
Serpents can mean much more than death and fear. These can translate into our personal lives in a very tactile and honest way. You don’t have to have a pet snake or even touch one, you can draw the energy and wisdom from an image.
Studying the physiology, habitat and mating patterns will help derive the meaning of a serpent. It doesn’t matter if you love or feel abhorrence toward them, if a serpent has entered your life, it’s energy will carry some kind weight.
1. Trust Your Inner Self
Far too often we listen to what others tell us rather than relying on what we know to be true within our hearts and minds. Snakes don’t hear but rather feel vibrations and textures.
Don’t believe everything you hear. Learn to rely on gut feelings and listen to your intuition. Developing these faculties will help remove confusion and chaos from your life. The symbolism of the serpent can help with this.
2. DNA Patterning
When you observe the strands of DNA sequences, you’ll notice a similarity of it’s shape to that of snakes. These “double helix” patterns come from DNA research advancements by Watson Crick in 1953.
The interweaving snake-like strands represent the building blocks of life. These determine all the programming for any given life form.
It’s why some people have blue eyes or why your skin color is lighter than your friend’s. It’s what dictates the difference between a flower and a bird.
3. Life, Death and Rebirth
Many cultures from around the world perceive the serpent to be a symbol of life and renewal rather than a portent of doom and gloom. Death from this perspective is not the end, but only a change in existence that will shift into a rebirth or some kind of resurrection.
The idea of rebirth corresponds to the molting process of snakes. Once a month, snakes slough their skin. This can be a reminder to us on an allegorical level. We should shed away the old and worn on a consistent basis. Snakes remind us to rid ourselves of what no longer serves our lives so we can continue life renewed.
The circular and curved shapes snakes contort with their bodies are indicative of eternity and continuity. Which further makes these two concepts integral to the idea of rebirth.
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4. Sensuality and Sexuality
Aside from the Genesis story found in the Bible and Torah, the serpent associates with sensuality and sexuality. In this context, they are not considered so taboo.
Belly dance, also known as Raqs Sharqi or “Oriental Dance,” is an ancient and sensual (not sexual) dance known for being snake-like. The Middle East and Mediterranean have treasured this dance for centuries, hailing from Ancient Babylonia, Sumeria and Egypt. There are actually moves with names like “Snake Arms.”
And yet, in other parts of the world, they are a harbinger of the act of sex itself. This has been so from the ancient days of Greece and Egypt all the way into the modern age.
The modern world is full of snake references in regards to sex. You can hear it in songs like “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot and “Tube Snake Boogie” by ZZ Top. Movies carry insinuations too like “Night of the Cobra Woman” (1972) and “Alexander” (2004).
Worldwide Honoring of the Snake
Different parts of the world have and continue to view the serpent as symbol of personal power, allowing for a mastery and protection throughout life. Some places don’t even know where their worship of them began or for exactly how long.
Age-Old Global Worship
All over the ancient world, fear and exaltation for snakes occurred at the same time. It was not something “good” or “bad.” All creatures are a part of the delicate and precious cycles of earth and life. Therefore, an animal’s nature means to be what it is.
Snakes, particularly venomous ones, in ancient Greece ; Rome had the capacity to both heal and harm.
Many gods and devotions of and to snakes safeguard against evil to always stay in favor with spirits or daemons. The Greeks believed the universe began as a snake wrapped around an egg. Asclepius, the God of the healing arts, used the blood of Medusa’s snake-ridden head to cure many ailments and diseases.
Rome had a huge cult devoted to the snake god, “Glykon.” Women often adorned themselves with snake jewelry for protection and fertility amulets.
Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympia, was famous for being part of a snake cult. There’s also a story about Aristotle’s warning to Alexander against the “Maidens of Fate” from India.
They were women designed as love-making “gift” assassins, presented to enemy kings. From a young age onward, they ingested small amounts of snake venom daily making them poisonous for any man to touch.
The Steppes of India
Snakes were and continue to be a source of spiritual reverence throughout the subcontinent of India. They represent primal energy, life, death, cycles of time, eternity, timelessness, creation, preservation and destruction.
Estimates about the worship of snakes in India go as far back as 3000 BCE. The evidence for this lies in their yearly celebration of Naga Panchami in August, where snakes are the guests of honor. Many deities in their pantheon either are snakes or incorporate snakes into their associations and depictions.
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Classic Serpents from Ancient Egypt & Babylon
Like India, ancient Egypt held snakes in high regard, giving them divine status among their gods. This is because of the powers inherent within their being. Pharaohs beheld them in their scepters and headdresses, women wore them as jewelry and you can find them in vast cave and tomb carvings.
The same is true all across the ancient Middle and Near East during the times of Babylon and Sumer. The myths involving gods like Basmu, Enlil, Ishtar/Inanna and Ereshkigal either completely surround the snake or incorporate one.
Related: What is the Spiritual Meaning of Stars?
Serpent Symbolism in Africa
Other countries in Africa also venerate the serpent. Snakes have a range of associations. They can have healing and destructive qualities or used in coming-of-age ceremonies.
Many Yoruban tribes in West Africa worship the snake as a god, like Damballah. This god traveled alongside colonial slave trade and currently worshipped to this day in Voodoo and Santeria.
The molting of a snake symbolizes change and transformation through all the phases in one’s life. In some parts of Africa, snakes are integral to ceremonies for girls when first entering womanhood. Some tribes perceive the snake in conjunction with boys becoming men.
Serpent Symbolism in the Americas
Northern and Southern Native Americans honor, worship and venerate serpents. Many tribes see it as a symbol of wisdom and renewal or they view it as a warning or caution.
The Hopi, Navajo and Sioux tribes have a vast and rich tapestry of tales around snakes. In fact the name “Sioux” translates to “serpent.”
But even the tribes within North America are diverse and varied about their interpretation and acceptance of snakes. Some tales tell us of the eternal wisdom snakes offer and others tell us they swallow humans whole.
The tribes of the Northwest have pious inclinations toward animal totems to guide one’s life. If a snake shows up it means “medicine” and you should head its symbolism.
Your love or disdain for snakes denotes something for you on a personal level. If you see snakes are a positive and powerful force, the more positive attributes are going to speak to you. If you are deathly afraid or harbor some kind of phobia toward them, you should pay special attention.
Understanding the nature of snakes and evaluating your feelings about them may help solve problems in your life. It can settle inexplicable situations or make sense of strange, recurring patterns.
The Mayas and Aztecs kept snakes inherent in their depictions and symbolism. Such things are present at Tenochtitlan in Mexico and among the Mapuche tribes in Chile. Anacondas, common to Central and South America, have always had adoration by tribes like the Inca.
Serpent Symbolism in Asia
Asia doesn’t go without it’s snake symbolism either. Many Buddhists hold the serpent in high regard. There are various legends from China and Japan about snakes guarding vast wealth and treasures, including sacred women.
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The serpent symbolizes power and everlasting resilience worldwide. Learning to harness this power will not only help you conquer the problems life throws at you but will also give you the wisdom necessary to understand your own inner nature.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.