Interpreting the Meaning of Rattlesnakes and Other Snakes in a Dream
Snakes as Dream Symbols
Snakes are highly charged and evocative creatures. When they slither into dreams, they are an indication that the dream is of high importance, likely offering a great opportunity for potential growth. Since snakes have so many possible interpretations—wisdom, sex, transformation, and fear—they are perfect examples of how symbols found within a dream can have a large diversity of meanings and interpretations.
All interpretations of symbolism in dreams ultimately rest upon the dreamer's own personal associations and mythologies; dream interpretation articles and encyclopedias provide only general information about the symbol's general meaning. However, generalities are difficult to apply to snakes—they are revered and reviled by various cultures and individuals, contributing to their complexity as symbolic creatures within dreams.
Provided here are some ideas to help the dreamer find a starting point, positive or negative, about the possible meaning of a snake they recently encountered in their sleep.
In this article, we will cover:
- Things you should consider before interpreting a dream.
- The snake as a symbol of transformation.
- What it means when a rattlesnake appears in a dream.
- What it means when a snake bites you in a dream.
- How snakes appear as symbols of sexuality or wisdom.
- Snakes as symbols of healing.
- How to decipher emotions in a snake dream.
Quick View of Snake Dream Interpretations
Type of Snake Dream
Ouroboros (snake eating its own tail)
Transformation, regeneration, cycle of life.
Snake shedding its skin
Transformation, period of growth, time of change.
Warning, sign of danger/malignancy, sign of strength to face fears.
Something unexpected will likely occur, warning sign, invitation to heal.
The dream is a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious."— Carl Jung in "The Collected Works." (Vol. 8, para 505)
Things to Consider When Interpreting a Dream Symbol
Any time you try to analyze a symbol that shows up in one of your dreams, there are a few things you should take note of:
What are your feelings/interpretations of that symbol in your waking life? A symbol can have a diversity of meanings, depending on the person who dreams it up. It only makes sense that our waking life opinions/feelings toward a symbol will inform how our psyche portrays them in our dreams. For example, if you have positive associations with snakes in real life, then it's possible that when they show up in your dream they signify something good. On the flip side, if you are afraid of snakes, they are likely representative of something you fear or are uncomfortable with in your waking life.
How were you feeling in the dream when you encountered the symbol? When we dream, we are directly experiencing our psyche. The feelings that these symbols stir up are important—make sure you take note of them when you try to determine their possible meaning for you, personally.
Do you experience recurring thoughts or emotions related to the symbol throughout your daily life?
Sometimes, the thoughts that occur over and over in our daily life make their way into our dreams. When they do, they are often acting as a prompt from our psyche to analyze their deeper meaning and how they impact us in our daily life. Has encountering the symbol in your dream occurred while simultaneously hearing thoughts you hear often? Some examples are: "I'm not enough." "I'm afraid." "I wish I was prettier, richer, etc." "I am weak, stupid, ugly." If these repetitive thoughts arise in a dream, the symbols connected to them could be helpful in understanding what you subconsciously know you need in your waking life in order to address these recurring thoughts.
What role are you playing in the dream?
In our dreams, we can play any number of characters, ranging from the hero, to the antagonist, to the narrator, and beyond. The role you are playing in relationship to the symbol you are trying to interpret could potentially shed some light on why that symbol has emerged in your dream, and what it means for you in waking life.
The Ouroboros and Snakes Shedding Skins
What does it mean when I dream about a snake eating its own tail?
The ouroboros is a famous alchemical symbol in which a snake is portrayed swallowing or eating its own tail. C.G. Jung saw the ouroboros as a mandala, or an archetypal template for the law of endless return. In Jung's mind, the ouroboros revealed that life is to be encountered as a dynamic state of change, regeneration, and endless transformation, rather than as a linear and finite game in which we rush from birth's kickoff to death's goalpost.
It can therefore be interpreted that when an ouroboros arises in a dream, it may indicate a time of change and transformation for the dreamer.
The ouroboros makes an appearance in the annals of science as Friedrich Kekule, an organic chemist, credited his discovery of the structure of the benzene molecule to an ouroboros he encountered in a dream.
What does it mean when a snake sheds its skin in my dream?
A snake need not show up as an ouroboros in a dream for it to represent a time of great change for the dreamer. Dreams of snakes shedding their skin are akin to the ouroboros symbol and can mean that the dreamer is sloughing off the trappings of an old life in favor of a new skin more appropriate to the dreamer's growth.
Perhaps the commonest dream symbol of transcendence is the snake...— Carl Jung in "Man and His Symbols"
What Does It Mean When You Dream About a Rattlesnake?
A very general interpretation of a rattlesnake showing up in your dream is that it is there as a warning that there may be something hostile or malignant in your waking life. What the rattlesnake is doing in your dream offers even more insight into what its presence in your dream could mean.
Dream About a Rattlesnake Biting You
If a rattlesnake bites you in a dream, it is likely your psyche trying to alert you to something amiss in your waking life. Are you ignoring an escalating situation that is headed in the wrong direction? Are you stifling an emotion that is going to crop up at an inconvenient time? A rattlesnake biting you in your dream means it's time to start looking at these issues openly and honestly, no matter how uncomfortable it is.
Dream About Someone Else Being Bitten by a Rattlesnake
If you encounter a rattlesnake biting someone other than yourself in your dream, it's possible you are concerned about a friend or loved one in your life. The bite could symbolize a subconscious "knowing" that you need to reach out to someone in your life who is struggling in order to offer help and compassion.
Dream About a Rattlesnake Chasing You
If a rattlesnake is aggressively slithering after you in a dream, it likely means you are running away from something that you know is amiss in your life. The snake is a warning that you are actively evading—is there something you know is off in your life, but that you are not ready to turn around and face?
Dream About Killing a Rattlesnake
If you dream about killing a rattlesnake, it could mean that you are ready and willing to confront whatever is threatening you or causing fear or problems in your life. When a rattlesnake simply appears in a dream, it is usually just there as a warning sign. However, when we actively kill one in a dream, it indicates that our psyche is telling us we are ready to face our fears—that we are capable of facing our internal obstacles so that we can emerge on the other side victorious and much stronger.
Types of Snakes and Their Possible Meanings
Type of Snake
Stress, pressure, creativity, stifled sexuality.
Warning of impending conflict/struggle.
Highly sexual, possible danger, determination.
Fertility, rebirth, cycle of life.
What Does It Mean If You Dream of a Snake Biting You?
Dreaming you have been bitten by a snake can symbolize that "snake in the grass," meaning those dangerous situations lying in wait, or those things dreamers never see coming—a bite when least expected.
In waking life, these surprises can be anything from friends who betray, to lovers who leave, or to work or familial difficulties that appear unexpectedly. Essentially, the snake bite shows up in a dream when your psyche is attempting to process a recent upheaval, or when you have a subconscious intuition of things to come, which manifests as the snake coming to warn you.
Powerful, Sexual, Dangerous Symbols
Snakes as Symbols of Sexuality
The snake is often considered a sexual symbol because of some of its physical traits, namely its long, narrow body shape and the flicking of its tongue.
When analyzing a dream with a snake, it is important to look beyond the serpentine physicality. It's essential that the dreamer take a look at the snake's actions within the dream to see what kind of sexual information it may be conveying. For example, if a snake attempts to enter or overtake the dreamer's body in a dream, it can represent a relationship that is solely rooted in sex. Additionally, dreams of being suffocated by snakes can portend a smothering, obsessive, and potentially dangerous stalker situation.
A snake dream can take on a different twist if the dreamer is not sexually active. If they find the snake dream tantalizing, it may be serving as a form of wish fulfillment, representing a desire for intimate contact with another person.
The daimon of sexuality approaches our soul as a serpent.”— Carl Jung in "The Red Book"
Snakes as Symbols of Healing
We've discussed how dream symbols often come with multiple interpretations. While the dream snake is often regarded with fear or trepidation, it can also be interpreted as a symbol of growth and healing. Throughout history, the snake has often been found beside leaders or healers, aiding them as they brought comfort and solace to their people. For example, it tells in the Bible that Moses helped heal people who had been bitten by snakes by making a bronze snake for them to look upon. Once they gazed at the bronze snake on his staff, they were healed. Similarly, the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, is often portrayed with his own rod with a single snake twisted around it. It is for this reason that the snake is found in the very common symbol of the caduceus—two serpents wound around a staff. You've likely seen this symbol in relation to healthcare of places where medicine is practiced.
With these various links to healing throughout history, it is entirely possible for a snake to appear in a dream as a symbol of health and healing to come. Even if the snake takes action in the dream that could be perceived as negative (i.e. biting, chasing, constricting), it's possible that it could still be a sign of growth or restoration. Perhaps the snake is biting you to wake you up to your own self-destructive ways and encouraging you to heal yourself from the inside out. Or perhaps in the dream, the venom from the snake will be used in an antidote to heal you of an affliction and it represents a literal healing from a physical ailment in your waking life.
Snakes as Symbols of Wisdom and Intuition in Dreams
Snakes are elusive and mysterious, usually seen only in zoos, on television, or in chance encounters in the wild (often involving fearful circumstances). This elusive nature could play a large role in why snakes are viewed in such contrasting lights— while some people fear and revile snakes, others revere and admire them.
In some cultures, snakes are symbolic representations of wisdom and shrewdness. For example, Chinese astrologers believe those born under the sign of the snake to be embodiments of wisdom, sensuality, and diplomacy. The Mezoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent, travelled between heaven and earth realms—an achievement only possible by the most powerful of deities. Meanwhile, in Yoruban mythology, it is the serpent Oshunmare who creates the rainbow, a symbol of hope.
As creatures of intuitive knowledge, a snake emerging in a dream may be asking the dreamer to tune into his or her intuitive side.
Snakes in dreams, even if unpleasant, may be valuable warnings that the dreamer is ignoring intuitive information that surrounds them. That snake in the grass (whatever it may be in waking life) might not have been so unexpected had the dreamer heeded the warning signs coming from their intuition earlier.
One may also gain wisdom from a snake dream by paying attention to any striking or specific words. A dreamer should also pay close attention to any prominent symbols the serpent is attached to within the dream.
Snakes Around the World
Representation of the Snake
Protector. Shelters the Scripture and the Buddha.
Deceptive, tricky, cunning, sinful.
Infinity, desire, sexual energy.
Manifestation of humanity's impulsive nature.
Clever, sharp, malevolent, mysterious.
Emotions in Snake Dreams and What They Could Mean
If a snake dream evokes fear, it is best practice to honestly evaluate that fear. A dreamer should take time to ask themselves a few questions:
- Is the fear real?
- Is there a significant threat to the dreamer?
- Is the fear serving as an intuitive warning that there is something threatening them in either their personal or professional life?
It's possible that the snake can be indicative of a real threat in your waking life. At other times, a snake may trigger anxiety or discomfort, though not necessarily fear. When this is the case, here are some questions to consider:
- Is the fear simply irrational anxiety?
- Is the fear serving as an excuse to stay stuck in a life that the dreamer has outgrown?
- Is the dreamer sacrificing personal growth for the sake of safety, as represented by the lack of willingness to shed their old skin and slither into the unknown?
Since there is no denying that snakes can pose a danger to a person's life, it is completely reasonable to take them as warning symbols when they appear in dreams. This warning could refer to many things, but it is up to the dreamer to heed the signals coming from their professional or personal life.
If a dreamer finds themselves feeling curious about a snake in their dream, it's possible that the snake represents knowledge or intuition. In these cases, it may make sense to listen to what the snake may be trying to tell you.
When a snake attacks you in a dream, it could represent repressed anger that a person is feeling toward some situation in their waking life. It is important for the dreamer to then ask themselves whether there is something going on that is causing them to feel stuck or stifled, possibly resulting in frustration or exasperation.
Has a Snake Slithered Into Your Dream?
As you can see, dissecting the true meaning of a snake appearing in a dream is a difficult task and is going to be different for every dreamer. Ultimately, it comes down to a dreamer's personal interpretation of snakes and what is currently going on in their life. If a snake has recently appeared in one of your dreams, hopefully this guide will help you on your way to figuring out what this mysterious and powerful creature symbolizes for you.
- The Portable Jung by C. G. Jung.
- Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension: Select Essays, 1944-1968 by Joseph Campbell.
- The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987 by Joseph Campbell.
- Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy by C. G. Jung
- Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.12) by C. G. Jung
© 2011 Aisling Ireland