The image of the snake is striking, and many people are attracted to it. Perhaps the first thing that many people think of is the snake in the Garden of Eden. This was the snake that tempted Eve to pick an apple. It was Satan in the guise of a snake that caused our fall from God’s garden and into sin.
If that’s all there was to the snake in terms of meaning and symbolism, it would be pretty powerful already. Thankfully, there is a lot more to the snake than that, and this makes it an ideal tattoo for lots of people.
The image of the snake is powerful and it has made its way into arts, literature, and religion. Despite the misgivings of those people who only ever seem to associate the snake with evil, the snake has had a wide variety of meanings across many human cultures across time and space. Here are some of the most common meanings of the snake.
Danger and Risk
Though most snakes around the world are not especially poisonous, despite Australia holding the record for some of the most deadly, the snake is often associated with poison. Whether poisonous or not, all snakes are also predators. In fact, they are right near the top of their own little food chain and regularly look to turn a small mammal or other animal into a tasty snack.
The Power of Rebirth
The snake needs to shed its skin so that it can grow and survive. The famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said of the snake: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions – they cease to be minds.”
In this context, the snake represents change, healing, and rebirth. Just as the snake sheds its skin, we must also change and transform our bodies and minds.
Ancient Power and Strength
The snake has changed very little over the millennia. Along with sharks and crocodiles, this makes the snake one of the oldest animals on the planet from an evolutionary perspective. In this sense, they are strong and powerful. They have ties to our ancient prehistoric past and the dinosaurs.
Original Sin and Temptation
It needs to be said: The snake is also symbolic of original sin and temptation in the Christian spiritual tradition. Eve was tempted into taking the apple by the snake, and so here we are: cast out into the dark wilderness and living with that original sin.
Whatever one might think of the snake from a Christian perspective, in many cultures it is also representative of fertility. The shape of the snake is sleek and phallic. It is imbued with a life force that symbolizes reproduction and fertility.
The Eternal Symbol
The snake is ancient. It has origins in prehistory. Indeed, it has been on this planet for much longer than humans have. In this sense, there is something mysterious and eternal about these animals. The way that they wait patiently for a meal in the wild makes them seem almost sentient.
For so many human cultures, the snake is and has been a vital part of belief systems. For the ancient Egyptians, the snake symbolized the unending and eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The symbol of Ouroboros – the snake eating its own tail in a circular design – represents eternity. Here, the ancient snake is eating its own tail forevermore.
This relates to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth that was such a vital part of ancient Egyptian belief systems. As the snake sheds, it transforms just as the seasons do, and just as everything must inevitably do.
For the ancient Egyptians, the snake also had further meanings and symbolism. All Pharaohs wore something called The Uraeus. This head ornamentation was depicted as a cobra with a body and tail that encircled the head of the Pharaoh, and symbolized their power over the land as well as their protection. This royal cobra-headed head ornament was actually an aspect of a goddess called Wadjet.
For the Native Americans, the rattlesnake was important and sacred. Here, the snake was linked to the weather in the form of rain and lightning. Many African cultures also had a belief that the snake was responsible for rain and storms.
Knowledge and Wisdom
If you’ve ever been to a hospital or other clinical setting, you might recognize the symbol of Asclepius. This is a rod called the Caduceus, with two snakes intertwined around it.
In this context, the snake represents healing, rebirth, and knowledge. In ancient Greece, Asclepius was the son of Coronis and Apollo, and represented the medical and healing arts. One fun fact is that Asclepius had a daughter called Hygieia. If that sounds familiar, it’s because his daughter is where we get the word “hygiene” from.
Should You Get a Snake Tattoo?
The good news is that the snake is neither masculine nor feminine. This means that both men and women should feel comfortable having one tattooed on their body.
Though the snake definitely has ties to specific cultures, it has universal applications. In this sense, one can seek to have a snake tattoo done and not worry about offending a specific culture.
What kind of snake tattoo you have done is mostly down to what you want to convey. Do you find the risk and predatory aspects of the snake appealing? Do you find profound meaning in the snake as a symbol of the eternal lifecycle and rebirth? Or are you involved in the medical field and like the snake as a symbol of healing, medicine, and knowledge?
Whatever the case, here are some snake tattoo options to think about:
The Japanese Snake
The Japanese commonly believe that the snake brings good luck. With this in mind, how about having a Japanese Pit Viper tattooed on your arm? They are unique looking creatures and the Japanese snake is a good way to explore a snake tattoo without getting too deep and profound.
The snake makes for a great tattoo piece because it can easily wrap around a limb, such as an arm. You can even go micro and have it wrap around a single finger.
If you relate to the idea of Ouroboros, or the symbolism of the eternal lifecycle of life, death, and rebirth, then having a snake eating its own tail and wrapping around a limb or a finger can be visually arresting.
The Snake and the Skull
It’s common to add other motifs alongside the snake, such as flowers. This can give the tattoo extra flavor or add a splash of color.
Adding a skull along with the snake not only looks striking, but has a dark edge to it. This is ideal if you like the idea of the snake as symbolic of risk, danger, or predation. This may also relate to the idea of the snake as being a symbol of life and death.
The snake has been and continues to be an important symbol all over the world. Whether you have a spiritual connection to it or relate to the concept of life, death, and rebirth, the snake makes for a striking tattoo anywhere on the body.