So, you’re looking for some inspiration for your new tattoo? Well, if you’re having a bit of a struggle with a final choice, we truly understand you. Unless you have something particular and specific in mind, it can be hard to boil down your decision to only one design when there are so many interesting and appealing ideas out there.
But, since you’re reading this article, we’ll assume you’re also thinking about going for a snake design. And, to that, we say; bold choice. However, before you call your tattoo artist for an appointment, we think it is best to really know what you’re getting tattooed.
That is why we’ve decided to gather all the information about snake tattoo meaning and symbolism in one place. This article is your go-to guide for snake tattoos, so if you’re interested, then keep on scrolling. In the following paragraphs we’ll talk about what snake tattoos really mean, so without further ado, let’s get started!
Snake Tattoo Meaning
General Symbolism and Assumptions
Let’s be honest; no one ever thinks snakes symbolize something good and positive. From the beginning of times, snakes symbolized bad luck, death, or generally something sinister. Remember the story of Adam and Eve, and them ending up getting thrown out of paradise?
Well, guess what? A snake is apparently responsible for that. 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 see why such an interpretation of a snake stuck around for thousands of years.
Also, the fact that they’re dangerous and generally toxic doesn’t really help with the whole snake PR. Fascinating as they are, people admired them from a distance but thought of them as their worst enemy. And why wouldn’t they? Hundreds of years ago, we didn’t have an effective antidote for snake venom. People would get bitten, and they would die; that happens even nowadays.
However, snakes are largely misunderstood. The majority of snakes are completely harmless to people, while a small number is venomous and present real danger. Often, those venomous snakes live deep in the wilderness and far from humans. And even when they do bite, it’s simply for self-defense and their own protection. Snakes don’t like human contact, so they shy away and hide in the darkness.
So, the mixture of the religious story as well as the real-life danger snakes were believed to be for many many centuries resulted in the snake being the poster child for an omen of all things bad and sinister.
Actual Snake Tattoo Symbolism
Now that we have the general symbolism and assumption out of our way, let’s talk about the actual snake tattoo symbolism and meaning. As you may know, certain things are always differently interpreted depending on the culture, part of the world, historical context, and so much more. Every culture has a unique outlook and perception, even when it comes to snakes For example;
- In African cultures, snakes are seen as a symbol of wisdom. People consider snakes to be protectors and guardians of sacred places and temples. Historically, snakes were seen as powerful protectors of gods and goddesses, as they did in ancient Egypt.
- In Greek mythology, snakes were seen as symbols of health wealth and medicine. That is why the universal symbol of healthcare organizations around the world depicts a snake. This is the most common symbol and logo of healthcare facilities, universities, pharmaceutical branches, and so much more.
- In Buddhism and Hinduism, snake or Naga represents a deity, rebirth, death, and mortality. It is generally tied with the symbolism of being transformed and reborn, thanks to the snakes’ ability to shed the old skin and have brand new skin.
- In the Native American culture, snakes are seen as symbols of life and rebirth. However, the symbolism of snakes differs from one tribe to the other. That is how 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 annual snake dance to celebrate the union of Snake Girl and Snake Youth, and to renew the fertility of Nature.
As you can see, depending on the culture, a snake can have an array of different symbolism either representing something positive or negative. Generally, the symbolism revolves around rebirth, renewal, and transformation because of the snake’s ability to shed its own skin, heal it and have it appear brand new. Other snake meaning and interpretation includes;
- Snakes often symbolize the cycle of life. In some cultures, like the African Dahomeyen culture, or Norse mythology, snakes are often depicted as biting their own tails or being wrapped around themselves.
- Because of the snake’s ability to shed and heal its own skin, appearing new every time, snakes often symbolize immortality as well.
- Because snakes are also seen as symbols of fertility and prosperity, they are also often tied to depictions of Mother Earth or are seen as the humans’ direct connection to Mother Earth.
Specific Snake Tattoo Meaning Origin
Greek Mythology – The Seer Teiresias
Tiresias, in Greek mythology, is a blind Theban seer. He is known for being involved in many mythological tragedies and was even mentioned by ancient authors like Euripides, Ovid, Sophocles, and Pindar. Tiresias was also known for having lived parts of his life as a man and as a woman.
It is believed that he turned into a woman as a result of having struck and wounded mating snakes. Tiresias has to wait for seven-year to return to the site of his transformation so that the spell could be reversed. At the site, he saw the same snakes coupling, and he was returned to living as a man again.
Egyptian Snake Goddess
The Egyptian goddess Wadjet was depicted as an Egyptian cobra. Sometimes, the goddess was depicted as a snake with a head of a woman, or as a woman with a head of a snake. Either way, here present in the Egyptian mythology and culture is especially important.
She was believed to have nursed the infant Horus as well as to have protected Ra by coiling upon his head. Snakes, especially cobras, enjoyed a divine status in ancient Egypt. They were often seen as a symbol of sovereignty, authority, wisdom, and leadership.
Because of that, cobras were often placed onto crowns and masks of the pharaohs, mounted onto shrines and palaces, etc. Tutankhamun’s mask, for example, is topped by the royal insignia of a cobra, or the goddes Wadjet as well.
The Snake of Eden
The snake of Eden is the most notorious snake known to human beings, according to many religious interpretations. As we mentioned in the introductory part of this article, the snake is responsible for seducing Eve, and then Adam, which resulted in them eating the forbidden apple and having been expelled from the Garden of Eden.
This is the best-known interpretation of the story, as taken from the Book of Genesis. Many religions share a similar interpretation, where the snake is seen as the embodiment of the devil, the 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 good luck, good fortune, and one of the best human allies. This especially applies if one sees a white snake, or any snake in general since they’re known for being sacred and useful (snakes kill rats and mice, which generally destroy people’s crops, which leads to poverty).
When it comes to specific snake symbolism in Japan, it generally revolves around rebirth, renewal, and transformation. The snake’s regenerative cycle also contributes to its depiction as having an enteral life, according to ancient Japanese interpretation.
In Japanese Buddhism, snakes are seen as symbols of wealth, music, poetry, wisdom, femininity, as well as water (lakes, seas, rivers). This is because of the goddess Benzaiten known for her so-called lucky snakes. She had complete control over water, and many people would pray to her to prevent or end natural disasters caused by floods and droughts.
One of the best-known ancient symbols of a snake is the one depicting a snake biting its own tail, also known as the ouroboros. Generally, this is seen as a symbolism of cycles of life, eternal circle, the cycle of life and death, reincarnation, continual renewal, transformation, and so much more. Of course, depending on the culture of reference, the interpretation of this symbol changes. But, one thing stays the same; the ouroboros eats its own tail, forever, until the end of ties.
The ouroboros symbolism originates from ancient Egypt, where it also had the same symbolism. The cyclical nature of life, whether our own lives or even simple changes like the weather, was always part of human fascination. This snake symbol embodies the cyclical nature of everything perfectly and can be applied to everything; from the change of the seasons to the overall cyclical nature of the universe and existing.
Hopefully, this has been an informative and fun insight into the world of snake symbolism, To end our journey we’ve decided to include a few of the most famous quotes about snakes. These quotes seem to be the perfect ending to this little adventure, so here they are;
„Every great story seems to begin with a snake.“ – Nicolas Cage
„He that has been bitten by a snake is afraid of a rope.“ – Edward Albee
„Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.“ – Chanakya
„Snakes, after all, have a great sense of decorum and order.”
― Silvia Moreno-Garcia