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Snake Symbolism in History and a Witches Everyday Life

The Snake. Whether a tiny ribbon snake found in a backyard garden or a rattler stumbled upon during a weekend hike, these amazing creatures elicit a powerful response from us. Most people I’ve spoken to respond in fear, while others are repulsed by their slithery bodies and ‘dead’ eyes. Personally, I have been fascinated by snakes my entire life and have had the good fortune to have shared my home with several different species as pets. I currently house a beautiful girl I named Sasha. She is a Bull Snake and although mostly sweet, she can be a bit irritable at times, and I’ve learned to give her the respect she deserves! I provide her with optimal food and living conditions and, in turn, she provides me with shed-skin that I use in my practice.

The question came up recently about my thoughts on snakes and I realized I had more to say than would fit comfortably in a short conversation so I decided to create a blog post. Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. The ouroboros is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life.

Globally, Serpents are represented as potent guardians of temples and other sacred spaces. This connection may be grounded in the observation that when threatened, some snakes (such as rattlesnake and cobras) frequently hold and defend their ground, first resorting to threatening display and then fighting, rather than retreat. Thus, they are natural guardians of treasures or sacred sites which cannot easily be moved out of harm's way.

The serpent, when forming a ring with its tail in its mouth, is a clear and widespread symbol of the "All-in-All", the totality of existence, infinity and the cyclic nature of the cosmos. The most well known version of this is the Aegypto-Greek Ourobouros. It is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way, as some ancient texts refer to a Serpent of Light residing in the heavens. The Ancient Egyptians associated it with Wadjet, one of their oldest deities as well as another aspect, Hathor. In Norse Mythology, the World Serpent (or Midgard serpent) known as Jörmungandr encircled the world in the ocean's abyss biting its own tail.

My mother is an Indigenous person and has her own thoughts on snakes. Traditionally, the Snake symbol has different meanings in many Native American tribes. In the Pueblo tribe snakes are symbolic of fertility, in the Ojibwa culture the snake symbolizes healing and due to its ability to shed its skin. Other traditions associate the snake with re-birth. Most tribes symbolize the snake as a benign creature but many ancient cultures believe that the snake represents the Underworld and is strongly associated with serpent, which is basically just a large snake, although usually depicted as a monster. In Lakota Sioux and Blackfoot mythology, Unhcegila is a snake or serpent-like monster that was responsible for many unexplained disappearances and deaths. She could swallow a human in one piece or squash him with her weight. Uncegila was a massive reptile that moved quickly underground and even faster on the land. The touch of Unhcegila slime made flesh rot away and caused the ground she moved over to become infertile.

Snake symbolism can even be found in modern medicine today in the Caduceus. The story of this medical symbol started way back in 1400 BC and has undergone many changes over the years, however remains today as rod and snakes. If you observe closely there are two symbols that are used to represent medicine. One is the Caduceus, and the other is the Rod of Asclepius. Caduceus is a symbol with a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes depicted with wings while the Rod of Asclepius displays a single snake. Have you ever wondered why a snake, which to some is seen as a symbol of destruction used ironically as a symbol of healing? Well, the answer lies deeply sown in history when Moses, around 1400 BC, used the bronze serpent erected on the pole to cure the people who were bitten by snakes. Snake is also used because the shedding of the skin indicated longevity and immortality. The snake's ability to change from a lethargic stage to one of rapid activity symbolized the power to convalesce from an illness. Charas and Martyn (1673) subjected the viper to innumerable experimental investigations and concluded they were valuable remedies for itch, erysipelas, measles, smallpox, leprosy and were a valuable adjunct to the production of a beautiful skin. Hence, the snake has been a powerful symbol of healing itself.

The snake seen in the symbol is an Aesculapian snake which belongs to the family Colubridae. Its zoological name Elaphe longissima. Smooth, glossy, and slender, the snake has a uniformly brown back with a streak of darker color behind the eyes. The snake's belly is yellowish or whitish and has ridged scales that catch easily on rough surfaces (like that of a pole or staff).

Additionally, Snakes play a profound role in witchcraft as familiars, companions, teachers and transmitters of magic, guardians of knowledge, and even as a witches them selves. The snake is central to witchcraft, spirituality, and magic. It is symbolic of birth, life, immortality, fertility, sexuality, health, magic, and wisdom. Snakes are believed to carry Earth’s secrets as well as her generative powers within them. No animal is as identified with Magic or Great Mother Goddesses as the snake. In ancient Greece it was believed that contact with a snake would provide the gifts of prophecy. The Egyptians associated the snake with protection and secret knowledge. The Egyptian hieroglyph for what would be understood today as “Goddess” is expressed by the image of a cobra. Once holy and sacred, snake spirits and deities would eventually become demonized and considered evil just like real snakes. They now become transformed into images of temptation and evil: Lilith, a Semitic Snake Spirit later emerges as a baby-killing vampire spirit, the Queen of Demons. Due to its link with the feminine the snake becomes the adversary of Satan and the one who tempts eve in the garden of eden. I use snake imagery in meditation and Spellwork regarding renewal, divination and earth magic. Wear snake jewelry whenever you want to change someone’s opinion of you, or perhaps break the cycle in a daily routine. You can also use snake skin in bags for protection and spells that may require more long term work.

If you’ve had the good fortune to run across a snake in your day-to-day, count yourself as blessed! These misunderstood creatures are highly magical and the symbolism they carry speaks volumes. Have you seen Snake recently? Please share your story in the comments, as we’d love to hear about it!

Blessings!

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