The serpent, or snake, is one of the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. The snake is associated with both negative and positive, or duality, even in Christianity. This is shown in the Bible in the story of Adam and Eve. The word is derived from Latin serpens, a crawling animal or snake. Snakes have been associated with some of the oldest rituals known to humankind and represent dual expression of good and evil.
In some cultures snakes were fertility symbols, for example the Hopi people of North America performed an annual snake dance to celebrate the union of Snake Youth (a Sky spirit) and Snake Girl (an Underworld spirit) and to renew fertility of Nature. During the dance, live snakes were handled and at the end of the dance the snakes were released into the fields to guarantee good crops. In other cultures snakes symbolized the umbilical cord, joining all humans to Mother Earth. The Great Goddess often had snakes as her familiars – sometimes twining around her sacred staff, as in ancient Crete – and they were worshiped as guardians of her mysteries of birth and regeneration.
In Thracian mythology the snake have a significant place. The snake was the symbol of the king in the Thracian religious beliefs. It also stands for a strong protector of the home and the cult places. It is connected with the Thracian cult of Dionysus, where this connection was spread by the penetration of the Orphic mysteries throughout the whole ancient world.
Symbolic values frequently assigned to serpents
Fertility and rebirth
In religion, mythology, and literature, 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.
In the Abrahamic religions, the serpent represents sexual desire. According to the Rabbinical tradition, in the Garden of Eden, the serpent represents sexual passion. In Hinduism, Kundalini is a coiled serpent, the residual power of pure desire.
As a Native American Indian symbol (depending on the nation/tribe) the snake can be a masculine symbol, associated with the phallus of lightning which is considered a medicine staff of tremendous assertive power. Other tribes lean in the direction of feminine attribution for the snake and pair it with mothering (creation), and lunar (moon) symbolism.
Whether raising itself in masculine authority, or encircling the Earth in a motherly fashion the snake symbol of the Native American’s was highly regarded; utilized in ritual to invoke an element of pointed focus and weighty influence.
In Eastern Indian myth the Sanskrit word for snake is naga and these are associated with the element of water. Picking up water’s symbolism of emotion, love and motion, nagas in this light are considered a feminine aspect and embody nurturing, benevolent, wise qualities.
A Cambodian statue, dated between 1150 and 1175 CE, depicts the meditating Buddha being shielded by the naga Mucalinda.
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 rattlesnakes or 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 Gadsden flag of the American Revolution depicts a rattlesnake coiled up and poised to strike. Below the image of the snake is the legend, “Don’t tread on me.” The snake symbolized the dangerousness of colonists willing to fight for their rights and homeland. The motif is repeated in the First Navy Jack of the US Navy.
Poison and medicine
Serpents are connected with poison and medicine. The snake’s venom is associated with the chemicals of plants and fungi that have the power to either heal, poison or provide expanded consciousness (and even the elixir of life and immortality) through divine intoxication. Because of its herbal knowledge and entheogenic association the snake was often considered one of the wisest animals, being (close to the) divine. Its divine aspect combined with its habitat in the earth between the roots of plants made it an animal with chthonic properties connected to the afterlife and immortality. Asclepius, the God of medicine and healing, carried a staff with one serpent wrapped around it, which has become the symbol of modern medicine.
Vengefulness and vindictiveness
Serpents are connected with vengefulness and vindictiveness. This connection depends in part on the experience that venomous snakes often deliver deadly defensive bites without giving prior notice or warning to their unwitting victims. Although a snake is defending itself from the encroachment of its victim into the snake’s immediate vicinity, the unannounced and deadly strike may seem unduly vengeful when measured against the unwitting victim’s perceived lack of blameworthiness.
via: http://www.whats-your-sign.com ; Wikipedia.org