What Does It Mean To Dream of Snakes?

5 min read

Last Modified 19 October 2021 First Added 4 October 2021

By Liam Porter

The Dream:

Shadows are deep and objects are caught in the bright white of moonlight.

Somewhere you hear the whisper of scales as they pass over the ground. If you look closely, you can just about see them writhing together, a tangle of huge snakes as they work their way towards you. The yellow eyes and white fangs of each snake glint briefly before disappearing under the coils of another.

You are frozen. Unable to turn from the slithering mass, hissing in unison, drowning out all other sound with a deafening white noise.

The yellow eyes are clear now, the stripe of each black pupil focused steadily on you.

The mouths open wide and you know, with gut-clenching certainty, that you are about to be devoured.

The first snake darts forward, its jaws opened wide.

Still, it’s only a dream – right?

Variations of the dream:

Dreams of snakes vary as wildly as snakes themselves – some deal with constriction, others with venomous bites, many come from water, others from the shadows. Some are unseen threats until the last minute. As with many dreams that seem to be relics of our evolution, or evidence of some primordial Jungian unconscious, dreams of snakes can be deeply unsettling. And while these dreams are as old as time, many of the current variations are modified by our contemporary culture, which provides the frame of reference for the dream’s meaning.

Meaning(s) of the Dream:

The meaning of dreams is always situation-specific and relies as much upon the interpretation of the dreamer as any other interpretation. But it helps to know how such things have been interpreted throughout history. The snake, for example, plays many roles in dreams and not all of them are negative.

One of the first studies of dreams, the Oneirocritica by Artemidoros, lists several potential interpretations – from the women who dreamed of snakes before giving birth and birthed sons who were orators (because of the snake’s forked tongue), thieves (because a snake never moves in straight lines), priests (because snakes are sacred to the gods) and more.

The same is true of many texts on dream interpretation. Carl Jung, for example, believed that snakes were ‘chthonic devils’ (spirits of the underworld), but also that ‘[the] serpent is an adversary and a symbol of enmity, but also a wise bridge that connects right and left through longing, much needed by our life.’

In dreams, snakes can be primal, sexual creatures, but also oppressors. They can, in venomous snakes, represent death by stealth. They can, however, also mean rebirth through the shedding of one’s skin or relate to health and spiritual problems. And according to Freud, they may even represent the phallus. It is interesting, however, how such meanings share significance in some areas and diverge in others across religions.

Seeing your land filled with snakes can indicate there’s a plentiful harvest on the way, according to Islamic dream interpreter Ibn Sirin, while a similar dream for a member of the Jewish faith could be a sign that a person is surrounded by enemies. If a Hindu dreams of killing a snake, he can expect misfortune, while the reverse could be true for a member of the Abrahamic faiths.

All this is to say that dream interpretation is a culturally led practice, driven at least in part by the memes (in the anthropological sense) that pervade the individual’s upbringing. Nevertheless, some common interpretations include:

1. Change and renewal:

Dreams of snakes shedding skin obviously carry an interpretation of change across cultures, but there are several cultures which see the change in the body wrought by a venomous bite to mean the same.

2. Oppression and paralysis:

Dreams of constriction carry obvious overtones of oppression, but the same is true of dreams featuring snakes with multiple heads – which indicate that you’re struggling with multiple options and need to decide on your course of action.

3. Relationships:

In dreams that deal with being surrounded or chased by snakes, interpretations often infer an anxiety about the people in the dreamer’s life, suggesting that the mind is encouraging a close appraisal of relationships for fear of a hidden enemy.

4. Sex and sexuality:

In various cultures, the snake can be seen as either an embodiment of male or female sexual energy. Interpretations of snake dreams involving bedrooms, and those where the dreamer is consuming or being consumed by a snake, can indicate either intimidation by intimacy or a need for it.

Answering the Dream:

Recurring or particularly vivid dreams may not predict the future, but they can indicate a feeling of imbalance in the dreamer – an unexplored or purposefully ignored anxiety. As such, the best way to deal with dreams of snakes is to meditate on the questions that these dreams ask. Are you facing difficult decisions? Or perhaps you’re feeling trapped or lonely?

It’s easy to dismiss the weight of meaning that dreams can carry, but neurological studies have established that dream states produce brain activity similar to when a person is encoding waking memories. It’s theorised that dreams play an important role in the ability of humans to experience and overcome threats of all kinds without the need for real-world jeopardy. So, when your dreams speak to you in such vivid ways, it makes sense to pay attention.

Notable appearances in popular culture:

As with most archetypal dreams (dreams of things such as fire, drowning, the dark, snakes, etc.), the map will become the territory – so while the dream may not appear in many works of popular culture, the dream becomes that work leading to films such as Anaconda, scenes like the snake pit in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, a certain film starring Samuel L. Jackson, and the proliferation of snakes and snake imagery in films dealing with the demonic.

For more dream meanings, take a look at what being chased in your dream means, or what dreaming about the end of the world means. 

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