So, are you looking for inspiration for your new tattoo? Well, if you’re having a little trouble with a final choice, we really understand. Unless you have something particular and specific in mind, it can be hard to boil down your decision to just one design when there are so many interesting and appealing ideas.
But, since you are reading this article, we will assume that you are also thinking of going for a snake design. And, to that, we say; bold choice. However, before calling your tattoo artist for an appointment, we think it’s best to really know what you’re getting tattooed.
That is why we have decided to collect all the information about snake tattoo meaning and symbolism in one place. This article is your go-to guide to snake tattoos, so if you’re interested, keep scrolling. In the following paragraphs, we’ll talk about what snake tattoos really mean, so without further ado, let’s get started!
Meaning of snake tattoo
General symbolism and assumptions
Let’s be honest; nobody ever thinks that snakes symbolize something good and positive. Since the beginning of time, snakes symbolized bad luck, death or generally something sinister. Do you remember the story of Adam and Eve, and them who ended up being expelled from paradise?
Well guess what? A snake is apparently responsible for this. So even the first story of the first two humans revolves around a snake. In this context, the snake symbolizes the devil, so you can understand why such an interpretation of a snake has remained for thousands of years.
Plus, the fact that they’re dangerous and generally poisonous doesn’t really help with the snake’s overall PR. As fascinating as they were, people admired them from afar but considered them their worst enemy. And why wouldn’t they? Hundreds of years ago we had no effective antidote to snake venom. People were getting bitten and dying; it happens even nowadays.
However, snakes are widely misunderstood. The majority of snakes are completely harmless to humans, while a small number are poisonous and pose real danger. Often these poisonous snakes live deep in the desert and far from humans. And even when they bite, it’s simply for self-defense and for their own protection. Snakes don’t like human contact, so they avoid and hide in the dark.
So the mixture of religious history and the real danger snakes were believed to be for many centuries made the snake the poster child for an omen of all things evil and sinister.
Actual Snake Tattoo Symbolism
Now that we have the general symbolism and the assumption out of the way, let’s talk about snake tattoo symbolism and meaning. As you may know, some things are always interpreted differently depending on the culture, part of the world, historical background and much more. Every culture has a unique outlook and perception, even when it comes to snakes.
- In African cultures, snakes are considered a symbol of wisdom. People regard snakes as protectors and guardians of sacred places and temples. Historically, snakes were considered powerful protectors of gods and goddesses, as they did in ancient Egypt.
- In Greek mythology, snakes were considered symbols of health and medicine. This is why the universal symbol of health organizations around the world represents a snake. It is the most common symbol and logo of healthcare institutions, universities, pharmaceutical branches and much more.
- In Buddhism and Hinduism, the serpent or Naga represents a deity, rebirth, death and mortality. It is usually linked to the symbolism of transformation and rebirth, thanks to the ability of snakes to shed old skin and have brand new skin.
- In Native American culture, snakes are considered symbols of life and rebirth. However, the symbolism of snakes differs from tribe to tribe. So we have the Pueblo tribe and their view of snakes and symbols of fertility, and the Ojibwa culture where the snake is seen as a symbol of healing, rebirth and transformation. The Hopi people, for example, perform an annual Snake Dance to celebrate the union of Snake Girl and Snake Youth, and to renew nature’s fertility.
As you can see, depending on the culture, a snake can have an array of different symbols representing something positive or negative. Generally, the symbolism revolves around rebirth, renewal, and transformation due to the snake’s ability to shed its own skin, heal it, and make it look brand new. The other meaning and interpretation of the serpent includes;
- Snakes often symbolize the cycle of life. In some cultures, such as the African Dahomeyan culture or Norse mythology, snakes are often depicted as biting their own tails or being coiled around themselves.
- Due to the snake’s ability to shed and heal its own skin, appearing new each time, snakes often also symbolize immortality.
- Because snakes are also considered symbols of fertility and prosperity, they are also often linked to representations of Mother Earth or are seen as humans’ direct connection to Mother Earth.
Also Read: 100+ Guide to Most Popular Tattoo Meanings: Creatures (Not Just Animals) Are Most Popular
Specific meaning of snake tattoo
Greek Mythology – The Seer Tiresias
Tiresias, in Greek mythology, is a blind Theban seer. He is known to be involved in many mythological tragedies and was even mentioned by ancient authors like Euripides, Ovid, Sophocles and Pindar. Tiresias was also known to have lived parts of his life as a man and as a woman.
It is believed that he transformed into a woman after hitting and hurting mating snakes. Tiresias must wait seven years to return to the site of his transformation so that the spell can be reversed. At the site, he saw the same snakes mating and he regained his life as a man.
Egyptian snake goddess
The Egyptian goddess Wadjet was depicted as an Egyptian cobra. Sometimes the goddess was depicted as a woman-headed serpent or as a serpent-headed woman. Anyway, here present in Egyptian mythology and culture is particularly important.
It is believed that she nursed the child Horus and protected Ra by wrapping herself on his head. Snakes, especially cobras, enjoyed divine status in ancient Egypt. They were often seen as a symbol of sovereignty, authority, wisdom and leadership.
For this reason, cobras were often placed on crowns and masks of pharaohs, mounted on shrines and palaces, etc. Tutankhamun’s mask, for example, is topped with the royal insignia of a cobra, or the goddess Wadjet as well.
The Serpent of Eden
The Serpent of Eden is the most notorious serpent known to human beings, according to many religious interpretations. As we mentioned in the introductory part of this article, the serpent is responsible for seducing Eve and then Adam, which led to them eating the forbidden apple and being expelled from the Garden of Eden.
This is the best-known interpretation of the story, taken from the Book of Genesis. Many religions share a similar interpretation, where the snake is seen as the embodiment of the devil, evil, and the power of evil over human reason.
Hebi, or the Japanese snake, is one of the most popular tattoo designs. In ancient Japan, the snake symbolized luck, good fortune and one of the best human allies. This applies especially if one sees a white snake, or any snake in general as they are known to be sacred and helpful (snakes kill rats and mice, which usually destroy people’s crops, which which leads to poverty).
When it comes to specific snake symbolism in Japan, it generally revolves around rebirth, renewal, and transformation. The snake’s regeneration cycle also contributes to its depiction as having enteral life, according to the ancient Japanese interpretation.
In Japanese Buddhism, snakes are considered symbols of wealth, music, poetry, wisdom, femininity, as well as water (lakes, seas, rivers). It is because of the goddess Benzaiten known for her so-called lucky snakes. She had complete control over water and many people prayed to her to prevent or end natural disasters caused by floods and droughts.
One of the best-known ancient symbols of a snake is that of a snake biting its tail, also known as ouroboros. Generally, it is seen as a symbolism of life cycles, eternal circle, cycle of life and death, reincarnation, continuous renewal, transformation and much more. Of course, depending on the reference culture, the interpretation of this symbol changes. But, one thing remains the same; the ouroboros bites its tail, forever, until the end of the ties.
The ouroboros symbolism originated in ancient Egypt, where it also had the same symbolism. The cyclical nature of life, whether it’s our own lives or even simple changes like the weather, has always been part of the human fascination. This serpent symbol perfectly embodies the cyclical nature of everything and can be applied to anything; from the changing of the seasons to the overall cyclical nature of the universe and existing.
Read Next: 40+ Amazing Ouroboros Tattoo Ideas For You (2022 Update)
I hope this has been an informative and entertaining insight into the world of snake symbolism. To end our journey, we decided to include some of the most famous quotes about snakes. These quotes seem like the perfect ending to this little adventure, so here they are;
“Every great story seems to begin with a snake.” -Nicolas Cage
“He who has been bitten by a snake is afraid of a rope.” -Edward Albee
“Even if a snake is not poisonous, it must pretend to be poisonous.” – Chanakya
“Snakes, after all, have a great sense of decorum and order.”
– Silvia Moreno Garcia
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