Snake Spirit Animal: What is the Symbolic Meaning of Serpent?

Seems like a lot of people these days are transitioning, purging, and/or going through some kind of awakening process. So it’s no wonder the Snake spirit animal has been coming up big time, not just for me personally, but for the collective what’s-happening-on-the-planet-right-now as well.
 
A lot of people don’t like snakes. They can be scary. They are cold blooded, which creeps some people out (although I met a woman once who loves snakes and insisted they feel “warm and velvety.”)  On the trail, snakes have a habit of suddenly shooting like lightening from under your feet when you least expect it, which can be rather disconcerting. They devour their prey whole, sometimes squeezing them to death first (ugh.) And not only can they bite, but many species are venomous—some even deadly.
snake spirit animal ouroboros

First, the Dark Side of Snake Symbolism

So it’s no wonder that the Snake spirit animal comes with a highly developed shadow side. The dark side of Snake meaning includes such things as:
 
  • “Cold-blooded” (calculatingly heartless) behavior
  • Treachery & deceit (“Snake in the grass”)
  • “Devouring mother” archetype
  • Greed
  • Poison, or toxic energy
  • “Venomous” mindset (deep hatred, vindictiveness, revenge, etc.)
And so on. I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time rehashing the negative spirit meaning of Snake or Serpent because I think we’re all pretty familiar with it.  But, that doesn’t mean we should take it lightly.
 
In other words, a word of warning: don’t underestimate the dark side of serpent energy. As an expression of the shadow side of the feminine, it can be exceedingly devious and quite malevolent, especially in its efforts to undermine the divine masculine. (I’ll write about that topic some time.)
 
For now, just keep in mind that this is a power animal that demands both respect and vigilance. In its darker aspects, serpent energy is expert at worming its way into your energy field and striking when you least expect it. In this, it is an excellent teacher because it reminds us of the importance of staying alert and aware to what is going on within and around us.
 
However, my intention with this article was to focus more on the positive meanings of Snake as a power animal, because these are not only many, but very powerful. So if Snake is coming forward for you, don’t be alarmed. Instead, respectfully embrace it for its healing potential.

Serpent: The Ultimate Spirit Animal for Healers

caduceus snake meaning healing
Snakes are actually an ancient symbol of healing. You are probably familiar with the caduceus, the winged staff encircled by two snakes that has come to symbolize the medical profession. This symbol dates back to ancient Greece and is also associated with Archangel Raphael, the archangel of healing.
 
(Just as a quick aside, if you feel you’ve experienced a psychic snake bite of any sort, call on Raphael to help you bring in the positive aspects of snake energy to help in the healing. You may also want to look for antivenom of some kind – something that calls in lots of love energy. For example, gardenia essential oil used as aromatherapy.)
 
Then there is the biblical story in which God instructs Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a staff that healed those who looked upon it. Interesting that we don’t hear much about that these days.
 
But why should the snake, of all creatures, appear as a healing symbol? For that, we  need to dig a little deeper and look to an even more ancient understanding of serpent symbolism (or alternatively, simply take a look at any living snake and intuit it.)

Joy Healing Heart watercolor
Snake Spirit Animal and Life Force or Kundalini

Take a good look at a snake. What other vertebrate has no legs, no wings, no feet, no fins? The thing is basically a head, a spine, and a digestive tract. Nothing extra. Nothing extraneous.  This is animal at its most basic.
 
But holy cow – watch it zip across the ground like a living bolt of lightning!
 
Stripped down and powerfully focused, Serpent is an embodiment of the power of the life force itself. It represents  kundalini energy, the prana or chi that yogis say sits coiled at the base of the spine, and can travel or even explode upwards at the time of spiritual awakening.
 
(So yes, if you’ve begun or are deep in the throes of an awakening process, Snake spirit animal can be a powerful guide for you!)
 
And here’s another thing: take a look at the caduceus – remind you of anything? If you ever took biology in high school, you can probably see the resemblance to the double helix of DNA strands. Yes, the building blocks of Life itself. I’m telling you, the power animal symbolism of Snake is PRIMAL, associated with fertility, creativity, and life’s vitality.
 
That idea of Snake as life force also comes forward in the symbol of the Ouroboros, or the snake swallowing its own tail. This symbol is first recorded in ancient Egypt (although I suspect it may be even older) and represents the cycles of renewal, the Circle of Life, and eternity.

The Serpent, Resurrection, and Masculine Power

But as if that wasn’t enough, there is another trait of the Snake that really serves to underscore this whole idea of renewal and immortality.
 
Snake is a reptile, and like most reptiles it sheds its skin periodically as it grows. This makes it a powerful symbol of renewal, regeneration, and even resurrection – enough so that Jesus even compared himself to Moses’ brazen snake.
 
Many other spiritual traditions also refer to the snake in this capacity. Take Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, for instance, who wears a cobra around his neck.
 

Shiva is actually highly regarded by devout hindus as a benevolent being. How is that? Because his is not vicious wanton destruction. Like the shedding of a serpent’s skin, the destruction he brings serves the purpose of clearing away that which is not of service to life, so that new growth can occur.  it’s destroying, cutting away what no longer serves you, so you can more clearly see your purpose and start anew with a higher focus – in fact, he works very similarly to Archangel Michael. And can you see where the resurrection theme shows up here?

lord shiva and snake spirit animal
Photo credit: Bishnu Sarangi

Another very masculine archetype that invokes the snake and resurrection is the Green Man of Celtic lore. Green Man carries the power of new life, and is connected with the cycle of the year – continually being born, dying, and rising again to new life.  And yes, he is associated with the ouroboros.

Snake as a Symbol of Feminine Power and Wisdom

For all its masculine qualities (phallic shape and focused energy), the snake has huge connection with feminine energy as well. (In fact, this probably is at the core of why snake spirit animal energy is so powerful: it strongly embodies both masculine and feminine in one, making it a symbol of unity and integration.)

Yes, there are plenty of stories and archetypes that point out Snake’s manipulative or destructive dark side as pertains to the feminine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, for one (and yes, there are many ways to interpret this myth, but let’s save that political morass for another day.) There’s also Medusa and the Gorgons; and so on. Kali, too, the Hindu goddess of destruction, is often depicted wearing a necklace or girdle of snakes. 

But there are also TONS of snake goddesses who have been revered over the ages (and in fact, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that many of the horrific snake goddess archetypes we are familiar with are actually the remnants of ancient feminine snake deities, subverted and distorted through the lens of patriarchy. But again, let’s not get political here.) 

In its positive aspect, the feminine side of Snake represents fertility; nurturing. encircling, and wholeness (ouroboros); and receptivity. 

Let’s take a little closer look at that receptivity angle, because I believe that touches on one of Snake’s greatest lessons. 

ancient snake goddesses from Crete

Snake Lesson: Receiving the Light With Humility 

If you enjoy hiking, you have probably observed snakes sunning themselves on rocks on cool afternoons. (Unfortunately they especially enjoy doing this on blacktop, which is why snake roadkill is such a common sight in spring and fall.) They do this because they’re cold-blooded and get their energy from external sources of heat.  Exposed rock is ideal because not only do they receive the sun’s rays directly from above, but they can also soak up the radiant heat from rocks that have been absorbing heat from the sun. The snake’s legless body gives it optimal exposure to this life-giving energy from both above and below. 
 
Just like the snake, our little human egos don’t have the ability to create their own spiritual “heat” or “light.” The ego’s attempts to go it alone always eventually wind down into darkness, destruction, and death – often in very cold-hearted, cold-blooded ways. Snake shows us how to hold ourselves to divine Light to energize and animate our spiritual essence (you can actually imagine yourself as a snake, and feel the warming rays of light soaking into your entire being from above.) 
 
Snake also tells us about the importance of humility. Belly to belly with Gaia, Snake stays grounded in its essence, and in return is sheltered and warmed by the earth. (Unless, of course, it ends up on a highway – which is another lesson: to always be discerning about the spiritual guidance you receive.) 😉 
 
One last little tidbit: as a Snake prepares to shed its skin, the clear covering over its eyes begins to cloud. Snake reminds us that in the midst of change it can be hard to see clearly, but holding ourselves to the Light brings power to move forward.
snakeskin

Snake Spirit Animal Meaning in a Nutshell: 

Let’s recap some of the positive spiritual meanings of Snake:
 
  • Healing
  • Integration
  • Awakening
  • Life Force/Kundalini
  • Creative power
  • Masculine/Feminine balance
  • Feminine wisdom
  • Release
  • Resurrection
  • Receptivity
  • Circle of Life
  • Eternity (as ouroboros)
  • Immortality
  • Protection
  • Humility
  • Respect (“Don’t tread on me”)
Rattlesnake and sun spirit animal art
Even if you’re experiencing the shadow side of snake totem, realize that it’s only coming forward to bring your attention to what needs to be healed. Once you’re aware of it, you can work with the positive aspects of this power animal to help to transmute fear and suffering into wisdom.
 
As long as this post is, it is actually a brief encapsulation of Snake meaning. If this is resonating with you and you would like to explore Snake wisdom in even more depth, please check out my video on the Spirit Meaning of Snake.

Author: Christie

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