Serpent Symbolism in Religion and Literature

Appearing in religious texts and ancient mythology, the serpent is one of the oldest and most frequently used symbol. In some cases, the serpent is seen in a positive light, but many times, there is a negative cloud cast over the creature , often seen as an opponent or obstacle. In this article, you will encounter some of the symbolism associated with the serpent as it is referred in religion, literature, and mythology.

As a Deceitful Character

In many circles, serpents are associated with deceit. This is seen in religions associated with Abraham, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. One of the most common examples of this is the symbolism displayed in the Genesis tale of the Garden of Eden. The serpent tricks Adam and Eve to eat fruit from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil , something that God specifically warned them not to do. As a result, Adam and Eve suffered consequences that would change the coarse of humankind.

A link between serpent symbolism and deceit is often seen in the forked tongues that the creatures possess. The forked tongue has two ends instead of the typical one , each pointing in a different direction. Humans use their speech as an significant tool of communication and the presence of one tip is often seen as a unity regarding truthful speech. The forked tongue is sometimes viewed as a break from speaking one truth.

As a Symbol of Revenge

In literary texts, serpents are sometimes noted for being vengeful or vindictive. It is not uncommon for a snake to deliver a venomous blow to a victim without giving any warnings.

As a Guardian

Temples and other sacred spaces have long used serpents as effective guardians. Snakes (especially cobras and rattlesnakes) will hold their ground and are not afraid to defend themselves when they feel threatened. This characteristic has been admired in humans, who find them ideal in protecting special places and valuable possessions, such as treasure. To enhance their potential as an ideal guardian, snakes are not easily removed and often feared by many. We see the serpent emerge on  stone sculptures and flags , seen in a coiled position or ready to strike.

As a Poison

The venom of a snake is sometimes associated with the chemicals found in various plants that have the ability to heal or inflict harm. Serpents have long been connected to poison and medicine. In some cultures, the snake was considered a vessel of wisdom and being close to this creature would make one just as wise. Because of this wisdom and connection to healing, the serpent is repeatedly linked to ‘elixirs of life’, immortality, and the afterlife.

In a Positive Light

It’s hard to get past a bad reputation. Many people recall the role of the serpent in history as being the tempter in the Book of Genesis of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. More often than not, the serpent is viewed as a negative reference, but in the case of Mucalinda , there are some exceptions. The king of snakes shielded the Buddha from the elements while he meditated.