Laura is a writer who lives in the Bay Area. She is fascinated by how dreams reflect our inner selves as well as our culture.
How to Interpret Dreams With Snakes
Animals often appear in dreams, but few people realize that animals can have specific symbolism and may represent feelings we are trying to process or even repress in our waking lives.
Of course, all animals are known for their specific characteristics. The camel, for example, is heralded for its endurance, strength, and resilience. Snakes, on the other hand, have their own set of characteristics—and interestingly, the interpretation of those characteristics varies by culture. Whereas people all over the world agree on certain facts about snakes, different cultures perceive those facts through a different lens.
Snake Characteristics (All Cultures Agree)
- Snakes can move quickly and in surprising ways.
- Many species shed their skin, revealing a new layer of skin underneath.
- Some snake bites are poisonous.
Snake Symbolism (Varies by Culture)
- Stealth, a nimble nature, sneakiness, or the ability to surprise and hide.
- Transformation, rebirth, or change.
- Death, a poisonous nature, or evil.
So, what are possible meanings of a snake in a dream? As we've said, the meaning can vary, and there are many different ways to interpret dreams. Read on for some specific interpretations of snake imagery, and find more insights into the many things that snakes can symbolize.
In this article, we will discuss the following belief systems:
- Ancient Greek Mythology
- Clinical Psychology
- Freudian and Jungian Psychoanalysis
The Greek god of healing, Asclepius, carried a staff with a serpent coiled around it. This staff has evolved to become the symbol of medicine in modern times.
Snakes in Greek Mythology
According to Greek mythology, snakes represent a general warning to be careful or a specific warning that someone may be trying to control you. At the same time, the snake represents an aspect of the dreamer's inner wisdom and strength. In other words, the dreamer may face danger, but they have the strength to adapt and overcome.
According to one myth, Tiresias, a prophet of Apollo, came upon two mating snakes on a road. Feeling threatened, he struck both snakes with his stick. This angered the goddess Hera, who punished Tiresias by transforming him into a woman. Seven years later, Tiresias again encountered two mating snakes in the road. This time, he did not touch them—and in response, Hera transformed him back to a man. In this way, Tiresias is seen as an adaptable figure who moves between masculinity and femininity.
There is also a connection between snakes and healing. The Greek god Asclepius, son of Apollo, was the god of medicine and the healing arts. Asclepius was known for his staff with a serpent coiled tightly around it, and this image has evolved to be a modern-day symbol of medicine.
Bottom line: A warning to be careful—but also a message of hope. The dreamer will be able to adapt, heal, and transform.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'”
— Genesis 3:1
Snakes in Christianity
In the Book of Genesis, the snake is an agent of Satan. Perched in a tree in the idyllic Garden of Eden, the serpent represents the devil, tempting Eve with the apple of knowledge. Although it is Satan who is the actual tempter, he uses the serpent as his instrument—which some would say places a curse upon the animal itself. The lesson is that even the most nimble and subtle beasts in the world cannot resist evil. As a result, the snake has been blamed throughout Judeo-Christian history for the fall of Adam and Eve.
From this point forward in the bible, the snake is a poisonous character. The word "serpent" is used in the Book of Luke to describe a deadly, subtle, and malicious enemy. The snake is intelligent, but he uses his skills for evil. In dreams, this creature symbolizes deception by another person, or possibly even self-deception by the dreamer.
Bottom line: As an agent of Satan, the snake caused Adam and Eve to be expelled from the Garden of Eden. The snake symbolizes clever deceit and evil.
Seeing oneself as a half-snake half-human in a dream means being able to neutralize half of the enemy’s power.
— Ibn Seerin, "Dictionary of Dreams"
Snakes in Islam
According to Ibn Seerin, a Muslim dream interpreter, snakes often represent enemies. Killing them, therefore, symbolizes overcoming the enemy. However, there are many nuances to Muslim interpretations of snakes in dreams. Depending on the scenario, some meanings may be positive.
Let's examine some of these interpretations:
- Being swallowed by a snake: The dreamer will become powerful and important.
- Becoming a snake: The dreamer is not behaving like a good Muslim in their waking life.
- Seeing oneself as a half-snake half-human: This symbolizes the ability to neutralize half of an enemy’s power.
- Killing a snake: Particularly if the dreamer's hands are stained with the snake's blood, this represents overcoming one's enemy.
- Snake speaking friendly words: This represents benefiting from an enemy's actions.
- Snake speaking harsh words: This symbolizes suffering from tyranny or oppression.
- Garden covered with snakes: The dreamer's crops will do well and exceed their usual yield.
- Seeing small snakes: Representation of small children.
Bottom line: There are both negative and positive meanings, depending on the specific dream scenario. Generally, snakes are associated with enemies, but there are positive interpretations, too.
The naga are . . . potentially dangerous but often beneficial to humans. They live in an underground kingdom called Naga-loka, or Patala-loka, which is filled with resplendent palaces, beautifully ornamented with precious gems.
— Encyclopedia Brittanica
Snakes in Hinduism
The snake (or naga, in Sanskrit), has an important and nuanced role in Hindu tradition and mythology. In the ancient Hindu text known as Swapna Shastra, the snake is generally seen in a positive light. The text describes two dreams: one of a snake biting the dreamer, and the other of a person biting or eating a snake. The former is understood to portend the curing of an ailment or disease; the latter is interpreted as an omen of blessing with material wealth or children.
On the other hand, other elements of Hindu mythology understand the snake to have negative symbolism. According to Swami Shivand, a snake dream means you have sly and dangerous enemies who will injure your reputation or life.
To complicate matters further, sometimes snakes in dreams are neutral. Some say that if the dream simply involves a passing (non-threatening) snake, or a simple conversation about the creature, it is harmless.
Here are a few specific dream scenarios and their Hindu interpretations. As you will see, they reflect a mix of positive and negative meanings.
- A long and threatening snake: This symbolizes an enemy. It is a warning that the enemy intends to inflict harm.
- Many snakes in a pit: A premonition of bad luck.
- Killing a threatening snake: This represents the vanquishing of an adversary.
- Catching a snake: The dreamer will achieve a victory over an enemy.
- Being bitten by a snake: This is an omen of good luck.
- A snake falls on top of you: A warning of sickness and worries to come.
- A snake comes out of any part of your body (such as an ear or nose): A prediction of trouble in that part of the body.
- Seeing a snake climb a tree or cross your path: A sign of good luck.
- Seeing snakes in water: A purifying message. Water, according to Hinduism, is spiritually cleansing.
Bottom line: The snake plays a significant and nuanced role in Hindu tradition, and the interpretation of snake dreams reflects a wide range of possibilities, both positive and negative.
A phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.... Even thinking about facing the feared object or situation brings on severe anxiety symptoms.
— National Institute of Mental Health
Snakes in Clinical Psychology
Many people have a natural fear of snakes, but some people harbor an extreme fear that may be clinically diagnosed as ophidiophobia, or the abnormal or irrational fear of snakes.
Psychologists who interpret dreams often understand snakes to represent fear and anxiety. It may also represent a childhood trauma—one that is remembered or perhaps one that has been long-buried and repressed. As in real life, snakes can represent a threat, worry, or persistent problems. When snake imagery recurs in dreams, they usually carry an important message about an unresolved life issue.
Bottom line: Snakes are associated with fear and anxiety. Sometimes they can represent childhood trauma.
Snake dreams always indicate a discrepancy between the attitude of the conscious mind and instinct, the snake being a personification of the threatening aspect of that conflict.
— Carl Jung
Freudian and Jungian Psychoanalysis
In the late 19th century, Sigmund Freud established the branch of psychology known as psychoanalysis, which relies in large part on dream interpretation. Freud believed that snakes, when they appear in dreams, are associated with sexuality, the penis, how a man experiences his own manhood, or a woman's relationship with men or male energy. According to Freudian theory, the appearance of a snake in a dream is an opportunity for the dreamer to consider repressed sexual desires and inner conflicts about sexuality.
Freud's most famous and influential student, Carl Jung, had a slightly different take on dreams. He believed that when a person is dreaming, their mind has access to what he called the collective unconscious, a shared body of ancient, universal symbols and archetypes that appear in many different cultures and myths. He described snakes as symbolic of natural wisdom, and he observed that their movements—nimble and agile—represent taking the most direct possible path when facing a choice or problem. Snake dreams indicate some conflict between the dreamer's conscious mind and their instinctive natural wisdom.
Bottom line for Freud: The snake represents the penis and repressed sexual desire.
Bottom line for Jung: The snake symbolizes a conflict between the dreamer's conscious mind and their instincts.
Anyone who dreams partakes in Shamanism.... Dreamers are in a spiritual state where the awá or “integral being” can emerge, connecting them with a deeper reality.
— Stanley Krippener, American parapsychologist
Snakes in Parapsychology
Parapsychology is the study of paranormal and psychic activity. According to dream parapsychologists, snakes represent uncertainty and deceit. These creatures appear when the dreamer suspects that someone in their life is not trustworthy, that they are being secretly persecuted, unfairly judged, misunderstood, or excluded. The dreamer may feel they are being prevented from expressing their opinion. A snake might represent conflict with an overbearing or challenging person. Perhaps the dreamer is unable or unwilling to behave as another person wants them to.
Another parapsychological interpretation, however, draws a connection to the idea of a spirit guide. Spirit guides are not always human; some are animal. Snake spirit guides are said to offer messages of healing, endurance, and transformation.
Bottom line: The snake is a representation of uncertainty and deceit. Alternatively, in the spirit guide tradition, this creature is a message of healing and endurance.
The appearance of a snake in a dream can convey an important message to the dreamer. The specific meaning can vary, depending on the specific dream scenario as well as on the culture or belief system that the interpretation is based in. People all over the world and throughout history agree that snakes exhibit nimble movement that is sometimes surprising, that they shed their skins to reveal new skin underneath, and that some species have a poisonous bite. Refracted through the lens of various cultures and traditions, these characteristics give rise to positive ideas like transformation, rebirth, and adaptation, but they also lead to negative ideas like evil, death, deceit, and cunning.
Have snakes appeared in your dreams? Do you know what this imagery might mean for you, or what the snakes may be trying to tell you? Reading articles about dream symbolism is an important place to start. Keeping a dream journal may be another important step toward unlocking the secret knowledge of your dreams.
Dreams are stories told in a language of symbols. To understand that language, you must go to the heart of the image itself.
— Dr. Michael Lennox, psychologist and author of "The Complete Dictionary of Dreams"