Snake meaning and symbolism, as well as serpent mythology, can be found in cultural stories from around the world. While snakes are not native in places such as Greenland, Ireland, Hawaii, and New Zealand, they can be found on every continent on Earth except Antarctica.
If the snake spirit animal resonates with you, I encourage you to learn more about these unusual creatures. There are countless stories and legends about them, which can bring you powerful insights that guide you on your soul’s journey.
Below are some meanings and symbols applied to snakes and serpents in both ancient and modern times, and you will find more details on each below. To go directly to a specific section in this post, simply click the jump links in the table of contents.
Table of Contents
Snake Symbolism and Meanings
Renewal and Eternity
Snake Spirit Animal
In many cultures around the world, the snake is seen as having spiritual powers. Many people are intrigued with these creatures and even consider them to be one their power animals. According to Native American traditions, you don’t necessarily choose your spirit animals. Instead, they select you. A spirit animal might come to you in a vision quest or a dream or in another powerful experience that affects the course or your life.
If a snake makes him or herself known to you, whether by slithering across your path in real life or through art, the media, or elsewhere – pay attention. There are no coincidences. Your spirit animal serves as a guide, bringing you messages from the Universe to help guide you during your human experience on Earth.
How do you know if the snake is your spirit animal?
If you are wondering whether the snake is one of your spirit animals, consider the questions below. And as you read this post, you’ll learn more about snake and serpent folklore, so it may become even more clear to you.
If you already feel that the snake is one of your power animals, you may learn some new things in this post that further guide you in your life. There is always more we can learn from these ancient beings. And if you’re curious about other animals who might be your spirit guides, you can take a spirit animal test in UniGuide’s post about spirit animals.
Questions to consider:
- Were you especially interested in snakes when you were a child?
- Has a snake made himself or herself known to you, whether by slithering directly in front of you or surprising you suddenly?
- Has a snake riveted your attention in the media, art, or another way?
- Do you feel a connection to snakes, and do you experience a feeling of wonder when you see them or hear about them?
- Has a snake or snakes entered your dreams?
- Are there stories, books, or movies that involved snakes that had a strong impression on you and stayed with you?
- Have your friends, family, or others described you as charming?
- Do you have a special interest in medicine, holistic health, or other healing disciplines?
- Do you feel the need to continually reinvent yourself?
If you answered yes to a number of these questions, you may very well be a snake person!
Only you can truly know if the snake is one of your spirit animals. You may have been intrigued with snakes your whole life, or perhaps you never thought much about them until one suddenly entered your life and captured your attention. Either way, if the snake spirit has made an impact on you, by all means explore what these unusual beings can to teach you!
Snake Symbolism and Meanings
Here are some snake meanings and symbols that are common in cultures around the world:
Two symbols that are familiar to many of us are the staffs of Asclepius and Hermes. These two symbols are used throughout medicine, such as on doctors’ degree certificates, insurance company logos, and elsewhere. The staff of Asclepius is a rod with one snake wrapped around it, and the staff of Hermes is a winged rod with two snakes. Both Asclepius and Hermes were gods that were associated with healing. You can read more details about this in the section on snakes and serpents in Greek mythology below.
Besides ancient Greece, other cultures, including the Celts, Nordic, and Hebrew cultures, associated snakes with healing and medicine. Some historians surmise that in ancient medicine, healers had a sense of the immune system. They possibly saw that some exposure to a bug or illness would cause the body to react, fight it off, and then become stronger. Because so many snakes are venomous, it’s possibly that ancient healers believed that exposure to snake venom could make a person stronger, if it didn’t kill them first. Another possibility is that our ancient ancestors saw snakes shedding their skin, as if they were being reborn. Thus, they symbolized a way for the body to renew itself.
Mediate for Healing
If you are experiencing health challenges or someone you love is, the snake spirit can be a good reminder to seek out alternative therapies. Studies show that those who are proactive about managing a health challenge fair better than those who choose to live in denial and don’t taking meaningful action to deal with it. The snake spirit reminds you that with proper care, your body has a miraculous power to heal.
Snakes are also symbols of primal energy, also referred to as kundalini, which is an ancient Sanskrit word. Kundalini is a healing form of divine spiritual energy that is sourced at the base of the spine. It’s thought to be dormant until it’s awakened through spiritual practices, such as tantra, kundalini yoga, and hatha yoga.
The symbol for kundalini energy is a coiled snake that is waiting to unwind. Awaking kundalini energy in your body can put you on the path to enlightenment.
While in Indian traditions, kundalini is considered a powerful form of feminine energy, snakes are also associated with primal male energy as well. This primal energy center in both men and women is associated with the red, or root, chakra.
Toning Your Root Chakra
As I wrote about in my post about the dragonfly spirit animal, doing toning work for your root chakra combined with meditation can be a healing way of fortifying the areas of your life that need primal energy to thrive. These include your personal security, whether it be physical, financial, or emotional, as well as other areas of your life that thrive when you infuse them with strength and intensity. If the snake spirit enters your life, it may be a sign that you need to double down on fortifying these areas of your life to build more security for yourself.
Snakes and serpents are also symbols of protection. While snakes are considered to be scary animals to many, they are, in fact, not aggressive by nature. That is, unless you corner them or surprise them. Thus, snakes are very powerful totems for those who need to strengthen their own boundaries. These can be physical boundaries, as well as professional, emotional, and even spiritual boundaries.
You don’t have to broadcast to the world that you are in protection mode. But if someone intrudes on your boundaries, you’ll be ready to strike and protect yourself. You’ll also be able to quietly gauge the people who naturally respect your space and those who don’t.
Snakes are almost always in direct contact with the ground and some species even live in holes in the ground. Because of this, they are symbols of the Earth in Native American and other cultures.
There used to be a long-held myth that snakes can’t hear. But scientists have since discovered that snakes actually do have an inner ear, which is connected to their jawbone. Thus, the snake hears through vibrations in the ground and even the air. As a result, snakes are in-tune with the Earth in subtle ways where other creatures are oblivious. The snake is, literally, a grounded creature.
As a snake person, you are in tune with the subtle music of the Earth, sensing things in the world and knowing things that others may not. Being sensitive and yet also being a grounded person is a gift. You understand what is happening in the word behind the scenes – and you can handle it. However, it’s important to take extra effort to protect yourself by finding the right habitats where you can securely thrive. This means surrounding yourself with people who respect your boundaries and appreciate your unique gifts.
Scientists believe that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards tens of millions of years ago. It appears that, over time, moving around without legs became the more efficient way to go. Snakes are also known to strike their prey even before the prey is aware of their presence. Thus, snakes are symbols of stealthy efficiency.
While a rattlesnake may warn you of his presence with a rattle of his tail, that is a lucky scenario, because in general, snakes are silent. We’ve all heard of a sneaky person being described as being “a snake in the grass.”
But it’s important to realize that discretion and secrecy are not always negatives. We all have the right to keep secrets, providing they don’t others by being kept.
The snake spirit reminds you that you have the right to keep things under wraps, whether it’s in business or a creative context or in matters of the heart. The snake spirit is subtle and not a braggart. Maintaining discretion until the precise moment that you’re ready to strike can have a powerful impact.
We all know the story of what happened with Eve and that apple. In the Book of Genesis, any number of animals could have been used to tempt Eve, but the slithery snake seemed the best one to get the job done.
It’s no surprise that snakes are symbols of temptation and charm. Ancient snake charmers put on a display, moving with the music as they played their pungis with the cobra seeming to mirror their moves in a mesmerizing fashion. Behind the scenes, however, the charmers did horrible things to the snakes, like sewing their mouths shut or removing their fangs and venom glands, so they could safely put on their show. In spite of what may have been happening behind the scenes, impressions of snakes as being hypnotically charming has endured.
It’s true that snakes move like no other animals. The snake spirit reminds you that you have unique qualities that set you apart. You can put people under your spell in ways that others cannot. With this type of charisma comes responsibility. Using your sinewy slinkiness to charm others into doing good is far better than using it to poison your enemies.
Renewal and Eternity
Snakes shed their skin several times every year, and for this reason, they are symbols of transformation and renewal. In addition, snakes can create a continuous circle with their bodies, as well as a spiral, and they are often depicted in art this way. Hence, snakes are also symbols of eternity.
Furthermore, like turtles, snakes are one of those rare animals who are found on both land and in the water, including rivers, lakes, and the sea. Thus, snakes are representative of the ability for the mind to move from the conscious (land) to the subconscious (water) and back.
So, the snake spirit is an excellent symbol to represent an area of your life that you would like to better understand on a subconscious level and to renew. This may include your own mental or physical health, a relationship, a creative endeavor, or a business enterprise.
Spirals are a pattern that repeats throughout nature and the greater Universe. From sunflowers to hurricanes to galaxies, spirals are representative of an origin that expands outward from a single source and gains power.
Spirals follow the same pattern as the Fibonacci number sequence, which starts with 0 and 1 and then increases with the sum of the previous two numbers, such as 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, and so on.
Because snakes can coil in a spiral pattern, they are thought to be connected with this divine pattern of the Universe.
For this reason, snakes can be representative of a single idea or a movement that starts with a one person and expands outward, gaining strength and even changing society and cultures.
Snake and Serpent Symbolism in Ancient Cultures
There are over 3,000 species of snakes in the world, and they have existed on Earth for over 160 million years. Thus, snakes and serpents (which is more a literary term to describe large snake-like animals) are the subjects of many ancient stories, from Native American creation legends to Greek myths. Here are some snake symbols and meanings in some of these cultures.
Snakes and Serpents in Native American Cultures
Every Native American tribe has their own distinct set of traditions and beliefs, so snake symbolism and meanings vary from tribe to tribe. Here are some examples:
Snakes in Hopi Culture
For the Hopi, the snake is associated with Mother Earth. Underscoring the view that all living beings are intrinsically connected with the Earth, the Hopi see snakes as the umbilical cords that connect human beings to the Earth. The Hopi also have creation stories about winged serpents who once reigned over the Earth, which sounds eerily similar to dinosaurs.
Lakota Sioux and Blackfoot
In Lakota Sioux and Blackfoot legends, snakes were often viewed negatively. One story tells the tale of a great serpent with long fangs called Unhcegila. The giant serpent was often to blame when people disappeared or died. Unhcegila was believed to emit slime that would cause flesh to rot and the Earth to become infertile.
Among the Anishinabe tribes, which included the Ojibwe, Chippewa, Algonquin, Ottawa, Mississauga, Nipissing, and some Oji-Cree and Potawatomi tribes, snakes were viewed as both powerful and dangerous beings. Snakes were to be respected, and those who treated them in a disrespectful way would live to regret it. In fact, in Anishinabe cultures a person who was bitten by a snake was assumed to have broken a taboo or behaved in some other way that was unacceptable.
Pueblo and Ojibwa
Like the Hopi, the Pueblo and Ojibwa Peoples viewed snakes favorably. The Pueblo considered snakes to be healthy symbols of fertility. In fact, the Pueblo tell of a powerful spirit called Avanyu, who is depicted as a horned or plumed serpent. Avanyu is responsible for bringing lightning and thunderstorms and is the guardian of water. And, like the ancient Greeks, the Ojibwas saw snakes as healers and symbols of rebirth.
The Cherokee also both revered and feared snakes and associated them with great power. They believed that if a person dreamt of being beaten by a snake, they should be treated as if they had received a real snake bite because the snake in the dream was a ghost snake. It was important to never offend snakes, and this included not killing them and giving them plenty of space.
For the Cherokee, the rattlesnake was the chief of all snakes. According to one Cherokee legend, the rattlesnake was once a man who was transformed into the shape of a snake to save human beings from being destroyed by the sun. And the rattlesnake’s rattle was considered to an ornament from the thunder god, and thus should never be stolen from the snake.
Native Americans have a clan system that is organized around family groups, which are based on the maternal line. Clans serve as a system of community organization and division of labor. Native American clans have animals that are associated with them, such as the bear, crow, fox, hummingbird, and others. A number of tribes have snake clans. These include the Chippewa, Creek, and Hopi.
Aztec and Mayan
In the Mesoamerican Maya and Aztec cultures, snakes were viewed with both fear and awe and were symbols of divinity, rebirth, and spiritual power. In fact, the fifth day of the week on their calendar was known as Snake Day.
A number of Aztec and Mayan deities were associated with snakes and had serpent-like qualities, including Quetzalcoatl, Coatlicue, Tlaloc, and Q’uq’umatz. Quetzalcoatl is depicted as a large feathered serpent – and was the god of the evening star who brought corn, books, and the calendar to humankind. In addition, snakes adorn the temples of Chichen Itza and Tenochtitlan.
Aboriginal Australian Culture
For the Aboriginal Australians, the snake was a very powerful being. The Aborigines have a creation story about a Rainbow Snake, which I wrote about in my spirit animal overview guide. The Rainbow Snake was a protector and a provider of life because he brought water to the people. So, for the Aborigines, the Rainbow Snake is associated with fertility, the abundance of plants and animals, and the availability of food.
In this video from Storyteller Media, Robert Bropho, who is an elder of the Noongar People, tells the story of the Rainbow Snake:
Snakes in Japan
in Japanese culture, snakes are associated with waterways, including rivers and the sea, as well as eternal youth because they shed and regrow their skin. Snakes are also seen as tenacious beings because they can fit into areas where human beings cannot go. As with other cultures, the Japanese view snakes as guardians and protectors. The Japanese also associates snakes with dragons, who were, in turn, associated with treasures and wealth.
One Japanese folktale tells the story of a snake woman who lives in a palace at the bottom of the sea. Interestingly, the Japanese have another story that is very similar but involves a giant turtle. In the story of the snake woman, it was believed that any man who ventured under the sea to meet her could win her and marry her. In turn, she would bestow great wealth on him when he returned to the real world. However, many men were understandably afraid to make such a voyage.
In Chinese culture, the snake was a creator deity. The goddess Nüwa was part human and part serpent and she was believed to have created the first humans out of clay.
Snakes are also symbols of wisdom and are closely associated with the almighty dragon.
The Chinese also celebrate the Year of the Snake every 12 years. Those born in the Year of the Snake are considered to be highly intuitive individuals who follow their own instincts as they set about to accomplish their goals.
Snake Meaning in India
In India, snakes are highly regarded and in some places they are worshipped as gods. And no snake is as revered as the cobra, who is often depicted wrapped around the necks of the gods Shiva and Vishnu.
As mentioned earlier, in India snakes are also associated with the awakening of divine kundalini energy. It’s believed that if you dream of a snake, it’s a sign that your kundalini has been awakened. In fact, in Hindu culture, snakes symbolize death and rebirth, and they are symbols of fertility.
In Buddhism, snakes symbolize protection. In one story, Buddha is meditating under the Bodhi Tree. He is so deep in meditation that he fails to notice the skies darkening and a storm coming. Unbeknownst to the Buddha, a giant cobra-like serpent named Mucalinda rises from the roots of the Bodhi Tree and shields Buddha from the storm with his massive flared head.
The ancient Egyptians also revered snakes, and notably the cobra, as is demonstrated on the crowns of the great pharaohs. The ancients Egyptians believed that a coiled serpent protected the creator, Sun Ra. It would emerge every day, after being reborn each night. Snakes also symbolized eternal life in Egyptian culture, as is shown in the ouroboros symbol, which depicts a serpent in a circle biting its tail.
Snakes were also believed to have healing properties. At the same time, they could serve another purpose, as in Cleopatra’s case, which was an efficient way to enter the afterlife.
Ancient cultures throughout the African continent believed that snakes were the incarnation of relatives who had passed, and thus it was taboo to kill them.
In the Dahomey Kingdom of the 18th and 19th centuries, which is now the location of southern Benin, serpents were worshipped. The Dahomey believed that a snake god named Danh encircled the world like a belt by biting his tail, which prevented the Earth from falling apart.
For the Serer People, who hail from the area that now Senegal, serpents represented the pangool, who were ancestral spirits. According to Serer tradition, when a person dies, they must first reincarnate into a black snake and hide for a time in a tree. Afterwards, they can make their way to Jaaniiw, the place where all good souls go.
The Dogon People of Mali also revere snakes. They believe that a great serpent named Lebe guided the Dogon Mandé to the Bandiagara Escarpment, so they could escape persecution.
Serpents in Greek Myths
In one Greek myth, a great serpent named Ophion incubates an egg from which all of creation is born.
Snakes were also symbols of healing in ancient Greece, as noted earlier. Asclepius, who was the god of medicine, carried a rod with a snakes coiled around it, as did Hermes, who was the god of luck, fertility, and trade.
However, snakes and serpents got some mixed views in ancient Greece. They were also sources of terror. In the Greek myth about the Gorgons, who were horrific monsters, there was one sibling who was actually a beautiful mortal named Medusa. But when Medusa had a love affair with Poseidon, she earned the wrath of Athena, who punished her by turning her into a hideous monster with snakes for hair. Interestingly, one of the meanings for the name Medusa in ancient Greek was “guardian,” so in this myth snakes were still aptly in their protective role.
Snakes and Serpents in Celtic Mythology
For the ancient Celts, snakes and serpents were seen positively, as were other wild creatures, including crows and ravens, wolves, and foxes. The Celts viewed snakes as symbols of ancient wisdom and knowledge.
The Celts believed that snakes and serpents originated from under the Earth, and thus, they intimately knew the world’s secrets and had universal wisdom.
In addition, as in so many other cultures, to the Celts, snakes were symbols of healing and rebirth because they shed their skin and were completely renewed again.
Because of the ancient Celts’ views, when Christianity started to overtake their world, serpents became symbols of paganism.
Snakes in Norse Legends
Ancient Nordic stories tell the tale of a giant serpent named Jörmungandr who guards Midgard, or the Earth. Legend has it that the Norse god Loki had three children, the goddess Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the serpent Jörmungandr.
Under the sea, Jörmungandr grows so large, that he is soon able to surround the Earth and grab his own tail. Thus, the ouroboros symbol mentioned earlier is commonly seen in Nordic artifacts as it is in those of ancient Egypt.
Snakes and Serpents in the Bible
Snake meanings in ancient Judeo-Christian beliefs were mixed, however, they were mostly negative. In early Hebrew culture, snakes were symbols of fertility, healing, and divination. But that’s about the extent of positive symbolism for snakes.
In the Book of Exodus, Moses’ staff turns into a serpent. Biblical scholars surmise that because the snake was a symbol of the pharaohs’ sovereignty over ancient Egypt, God was showing Moses that he held an even higher sovereignty than that of the pharaohs.
Of course, the serpent in the story of the Garden of Eden was a deceptive trickster.
By the 5th century, snakes had still not redeemed their reputation in the Christian world. The story of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes (which, as noted earlier, were never there in the first place) was a symbol for Christianity driving out Paganism from the Emerald Isle.
The Qur’an also shares the story of Moses throwing down his staff and seeing it turn into a serpent. Yet, in other Islamic stories, snakes weren’t viewed negatively. According to some tales, if a snake is found your home, you must first try to persuade him to leave instead of outright killing him. The reason is that the snake might very well be a jinn, or genie, in disguise.
Resources and Organizations that Protect Snakes
Snakes are vital in their natural habitats, as they help to maintain their native ecosystems. One important job they perform is keeping pest population in balance. Snakes are still feared by humans, and hundreds of thousands of people are bitten by snakes every year. However, this fear causes people to kill all kinds of snakes, even those that are not dangerous. In addition to conflict with humans, snakes are threatened by habitat loss, disease, invasive species, and climate change.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, 12 percent of the world’s assessed snake species are listed as threatened and their populations are in decline. But it’s important to keep in mind that 62 percent of the world’s reptile species have still not been assessed, so their status is unknown.
If you care about snakes, please do what you can to protect them.