We dream of snakes surprisingly often. This is even more surprising when you think that most of us don’t normally come into everyday contact with snakes. The snake has a rich symbolic history. It was associated with the Goddess and healing before it became a symbol of evil in Christianity. Because most of us dream of a snake at one time or another in our lives, I want to explore its meaning through a dream I had a few years ago.
I’m on a crowded bus with a young man sitting in front of me. He hears voices further down, next to the exit door, and realizes this is a guy he knows. He turns around and yells at the guy (who appears to be older) to get his attention, but the bus is so crowded that the other guy doesn’t hear. He continues to yell, and I’m rather annoyed by his behavior and he knows it.
He has a snake, and he stands up and makes threatening gestures with it, as if he’s going to let it attack me. I, though, close my eyes and tell him I’m not afraid. I can feel the snake close to my face, but I’m confident it won’t attack me.
Snakes in Dreams
Various dreamworkers over the years have suggested that animals in dreams represent our impulses or our “animal nature.” They tell us that this is often a part of us that we don’t approve of and is under-developed because it hasn’t been tamed by the rules of society.
I’m not the sort that likes doom-and-gloom interpretations for dreams or dream symbols. Acknowledging the darkness within us isn’t the same as judging who and what we are. While I do believe that animals in dreams can represent parts of our nature that haven’t come under the control of social norms, I don’t see this as entirely negative. There’s precious energy there, and the animal that appears in your dream is trying to help you release that energy. The rest of the dream can show you how to do that in constructive, rather than destructive, ways.
Snakes or serpents are a common symbol to appear in symbols dictionaries. The one I use is the Dictionary of Symbols published by Penguin. The entry on the serpent covers a whopping 14-1/2 pages of small type. Three main themes emerge in regard to the snake/serpent as a symbol:
A serpent can represent the primordial life force, i.e., the Creative Force, that which created the gods or the demiurge, so to speak. It represents that idea of unlimited potential. The way a snake moves suggests this. Because it has no legs, it seems to emerge in a subtle way from out of its environment, the spark of life that emerges from undifferentiated creative power.
It also represents the wild, unpredictable essence of nature, which is where the whole aspect of the serpent representing evil comes from. Spirit (represented by God, Jesus, etc.) must triumph over nature in order to prevent chaos. However, creation must go through darkness and chaos before being able to emerge in the light of Spirit and order, so the wildness of the serpent is no less a part of the cosmic order of things.
The serpent also represents regeneration, so this is a cyclical, never-ending process. The snake sheds its skin periodically and grows a new one. The skin here can represent the persona, the face we show to the world. As we grow, we learn more about our true nature. We shed false aspects of ourselves and radiate a new “skin” that’s more authentic than the one we shed.
Finally, the snake or serpent represents healing power. According to the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols,
The serpent is not the healer, but the healing…. The spirit is the healer who has first to try the healing upon himself in order to learn how to use it to the benefit of society at large.
This is healing on a high level because it doesn’t only heal you but it also becomes a healing energy that you can pass on to others. In my case, for instance, the healing from my abusive past that I’ve gone through comes out when I share those lessons in my writing.
Snakes are one of those classic symbols that signify you’re having a spiritual/archetypal/big dream. That means you’re working on something that’s going to have an impact on multiple areas of your life. Such dreams deserve a little extra effort.
Use a symbols dictionary (I provide an annotated list in the guide of some good ones, including a couple online) to check out other symbols in a snake dream from nature, myth, history, or scripture. Take the time to piece together a deeper meaning to discover what the dream is telling you about your spiritual growth.
In interpreting my dream above, I want to focus on three symbols: the young man, the older man, and the snake. A young person can represent a part of you that hasn’t matured along with the rest of you. For instance, a family rule could have stuck with you so that even when circumstances demand that you break it, you can’t and your life suffers.
The older man represents this same energy in a transformed, matured form. The younger man is trying desperately to get the older man’s attention. In other words, he wants the older man to acknowledge him and communicate with him. This is the wish to transform the immature part of me into a mature part of me.
My reaction, though, is annoyance. I reject this desire, which mirrors the way the older man isn’t getting the message from the younger man. This shows that this more mature part of me exists, but it’s ineffective as long as it rejects this immature part of me.
The catalyst for this transformation is the snake. It belongs to the younger man, so we can see the theme of under-development that other dreamworkers have talked about in relation to animals. He threatens me with it, wanting me to believe it will hurt me.
The dream is encouraging in that I’m not afraid of the snake. I know it won’t hurt me. I close my eyes, which in this dream represents contemplation or going within the darkness of the mind to gain an understanding of what’s really going on. I trust in the transformation that’s going on within.
At the time I had this dream, I was doing some work on my beliefs about assertiveness and aggression (represented by the men in the dream). Like a lot of women, I was taught that women shouldn’t be assertive. Women should depend on men who are allowed to be assertive. And yet, if I was to fulfill my full potential (one meaning of the snake), I needed to develop my assertiveness (in, of course, a non-destructive way). That’s the significance of the younger man trying to get the older man’s attention.
The lessons I was taught about assertiveness were also making me deny part of my true nature (another meaning of the snake). I’m an Aries, and we’re assertive by nature. We’re not good at sitting still and watching life pass us by! Yet my natural assertiveness was severely curbed by parents who felt threatened by a daughter who made her own decisions, took the initiative, and followed a wildly different path from the one that made them feel comfortable. In order to give the world what I had to give, I had to reclaim my assertive nature.
The snake or serpent in a dream isn’t something to be feared. It’s a positive sign of deep, sometimes drastic transformation. It can show you the potential you’re trying to bring out in your life, the truth of your nature that you may have suppressed, the process of renewal that you’re going through, and/or the healing process you’re experiencing. Welcome it as a wise and powerful guide to personal and spiritual growth.