The serpent is one of the most prominent symbols in the world. This crawling, slithering creature has inspired hatred and worship throughout human existence.
Many have written on how the snake represents evil and cunning, but that it is also capable of wisdom and healing powers.
It is a life form that apparently represents the opposite of man’s ideals. It is not lofty, reaching for the heavens, or aspirational. It crawls on the ground, but somehow represents great spiritual heights.
It was the snake, of course, that fooled Eve into eating the fruit of knowledge – but in doing so, opened her eyes to the world. The caduceus is the symbol of healing, the staff that has upon it two snakes entwined, striving for the apex.
Quetzalcoatl was the feathered-serpent deity of the aztecs, who demanded great sacrifice. And Coatlicue was the double-headed serpent mother who represented Earth, most notably her evil side: an insatiable monster that consumed everything that lived. When Europeans uncovered her statue (below) in 1790, they regarded her as a terrifying, hideous, deformed monster. Mexican Indians worshipped her, however, and set candles before the statue. Coatlicue was subsequently buried to prevent this happening, but was dug up and reburied again and again as scholars made casts of her.
The Native Americans respected but mistrusted the serpent, and they, suspicious of its lies, told stories of its deceit, and likened those they did not trust to it; namely the white man, and thus we have our modern day metaphor: to have a forked tongue.
Nagini, the serpent from the Harry Potter books, attributes its name to the ancient Indian serpent deity Nagantaka, the symbol of evil, and regeneration.
The snake has mystified and continues to do so. Those who keep pet snakes are regularly flayed for their choice in exotic pets. It is quite easy to draw criticism for keeping an animal that 1/3 of adult humans claim to fear – so, protect your snakes, friends, for humanity has had a turbulent relationship with them!
Interested in keeping a snake? See our students’ guide to snake care.