Symbolism of Snake in Literature
Snake as symbolism is known to be one of the most important animals and is significant in literature, mythology, and art. While in Christianity snake represents the devil, in Indian mythology snake is considered one of the gods. Snakes, also known as serpents, have both negative as well as positive meanings, such as their connection to healing and medicine. Snakes are also associated with dragons, mythical creatures in Chinese mythology. The word snake comes from Old English ‘snaca’ and proto-Germanic ‘snakon’ and also the Old Norse language ‘snakr’. Snakes are also called ‘adder’, which is used for poisonous snakes in Britain. Also, vipers are snakes that are usually found in colder climatic regions, which is alternatively used for the word adder.
Snake as a symbol of transformation is also known as a rebirth, renewal, and eternal life. Snakes are known to shed their skin a few times a year. Hence the symbol of renewal or transformation is believed in every culture. According to the Chinese, snakes represent evil as well as transformation, as demons and even fairies can transform into serpents. In Druids’ mythology, a snake is a symbol of transformation as well as healing. Hence, they would always have a snake as an emblem in order to remember it as a spirit being. The snake is also a symbol of change or transformation in the Greek culture and Ojibwe, a North American tribe from the Canadian region. The Celtics also believe that snakes represent transformation due to their ability to shed skin.
Snakes as a symbol for the dream has various interpretation and are subjective to the emotions a person feels in that dream. In Hinduism, dreaming of snakes means the awakening of their primal energy or life force, which is known as Kundalini. Scientifically dreaming of snakes represents sexual desire. The Native American Elders believe that a snake in a dream is a warning of an enemy. Hence killing a snake in the dream represents victory over the enemy and also good luck. According to Japanese culture Ainu is a chief spirit of snakes who is pleased when a woman has an emotional or physical disease. Dreaming of being bitten by a snake or seeing it in the house also means a warning of a bad event.
In Egyptian mythology, the cobra snake is a symbol of wisdom as well as an all-knowing eye and is attributed to the goddess Renunutet or Wadjet. According to a modern esoteric feminist group, the snake in the garden of Eden represents wisdom as Eve became conscious and wise after eating the forbidden fruit. However, in the New Testament’s book of Mathew, Jesus encourages the followers to be wise as serpents. In Bostwanian culture, the snake represented wisdom and was used in rituals during ancient times. In Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, snakes are called Nag or Nagas and represent wisdom. They are also worshipped as deities in shrines and temples. Additionally, snakes symbolize wisdom in early Norse and Celtic traditions.
According to Greek mythology, Asclepius, the god of medicine, uses a staff, specifically known as the rod of Asclepius, that has two snakes or serpents entwined on the staff to symbolize healing. Also, in the Old Testament, God commands Moses to place a copper snake as a symbol of healing to help the Israelites heal from the plague of snakes. In Hinduism, the spirit of the kundalini, or dormant serpent spirit, represents healing. A few Native American tribes, such as Ojibwa, Pueblo, and Hopi, believe that snakes are the power ‘spirit’ and represent healing. The Pueblo tribe calls the snake spirit Avanyu.
Snakes are always associated with wealth and treasure. Thus, snakes as symbolism for treasure is similar in most traditions and cultures. The Japanese Imperial army used a snake, a symbol of Yamashita treasure, to warn the seekers to warn of the dangers that include poisonous gas. They are also connected with dragons. In Hinduism, snakes are believed to be the guardians of treasure, especially King Cobras. Snakes are also recognized as a protector of treasure in Celtic mythology. However, they consider the snake as a negative force, unlike in Eastern cultures, where a snake is worshipped or respected. In Taoist beliefs, snakes represent wealth as well as long life and are believed to have an underground kingdom filled with treasure.
In Cherokee folklore, the rattlesnake represents protection as they believe that a man transformed into it to protect them from the sun. Also, snakes are known to be fierce protectors of their territories. The Aboriginals in Australia consider the rainbow snakes as a symbol of protection as well as a life-giving force. The Japanese culture, as well as Buddhists, consider a snake as a guardian. The ancient Egyptians revered the snake as a protector. In mythology, the snake is coiled around the god Sun Ra as a circle to protect him, which is also shown in the ouroboros symbol as the snake biting its tail. The Snake clans in Native American tribes, such as the Hopi tribe, performed the ritual of the snake as they believed that snakes could protect them on their hunts.
Life or Primal Force or Energy
Most cultures consider snakes as a symbol of primal energy or life force. It also includes the spirit of the snake. In Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, the snake represents primal energy and is also called Kundalini. It is a dormant spirit resting at the base of a human spine. If a person dreams of a snake, it is believed that the primal energy of a person is awakened and leads them to success, manifestation, or even healing. Native Americans also consider the snake a symbol of primal force and are also connected to supremacy.
Examples of Snake as Symbolism in Literature
A Narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is –
The grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on –
Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I went and peered, and could descry
No cause for her distressful cry;
But yet for her dear lady’s sake
I stooped, methought, the dove to take,
When lo! I saw a bright green snake
Coiled around its wings and neck.
Green as the herbs on which it couched,
Close by the dove’s its head it crouched;
And with the dove it heaves and stirs,
Swelling its neck as she swelled hers!
I woke; it was the midnight hour,
The clock was echoing in the tower;
But though my slumber was gone by,
This dream it would not pass away—
It seems to live upon my eye!
In the above example, the poet describes a green snake which is a symbol of corruption and sin, as it devours the dove, which is a symbol of innocence. It has a similar symbolism as depicted in Christianity.
Snake by D. H. Lawrence
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough
He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over
the edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Snakeskin By Liz Beasley
Clouds thin into form: a hawk
pulling a tail of rings—beads
of an abacus, the mathematics
of light—a lengthening spine,
snakeskin no longer inhabited.
All day I’m giving a name
for what isn’t there. Yet somewhere
we’ve left our likeness, the hollow
shapes of us. Even though the snake
has slipped into the shade,
the shed skin, deceptively whole,
hidden in the sun-flecked grass,
remembers what it once held.
In the above poem, the poet uses the snake to symbolize deception, speed, and stealth as it escapes the hawk by hiding under the shadow while the hawk mistakes the shed skin for a snake.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
The crookedness of the serpent is still straight enough to slide through the snake hole.
In this example, the author uses the snake to symbolize wisdom as it can pass through even the smallest pit or corner.
Round and round they went with their snakes, snakily…
brave new world is one of the best sci-fi books from the 19th century. Here the author uses the snake in a negative light. It symbolizes deception. On a positive note, it can also represent wisdom.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia,
….since all snakes appreciate jewels, precious metals, and mirrors. Their vanity causes them to spend many minutes chasing their reflection in their surfaces, but one must not think poorly of snakes for this reason, since they are kind, thoughtful creatures.
In this example, the snake symbolizes wisdom, wealth, and treasure. The author also wishes that people must be as thoughtful and wise as snakes because, in spite of guarding treasure, they do not yearn for it.