The interpretation of dreams about snakes depends primarily on the associations of the dreamer and how snakes are used in the dream-story.
To one person, snakes are feared and loathed. Just the thought of a snake makes their skin crawl. To another person, snakes are symbols of temptation and evil. But to some people, snakes are associated with good health, virility, transformation, and the presence or blessing of God.
These associations form the basis of dream symbolism. The process can be as simple as whatever comes to mind first in relation to a snake. If I say “snake,” you say “____?”
How a snake is presented in your dream and how you react to it tells you what it symbolizes. Is the snake dangerous, or just chillin’? Do you run in terror at the sight of it, stare in fascination or even play with it? What role does the snake have in the dream-story, and what actions, if any, does it take? Where is the snake encountered and who, if anyone, is with you?
This is how you figure out the meaning of a snake in a dream. The snake is an enigmatic dream symbol that can’t be interpreted using pat definitions. Instead, dig into the story and analyze the dream. I’ll show you how.
Snake Symbolism: Venom
Let’s begin with a common use of snake symbolism. Snakes are known for being venomous, and as symbolism it can describe certain people and a variety of situations. For example, someone who poisons your thoughts or feelings, is a bad influence, or says things that hurt can be symbolized as a venomous snake. Everyday comparisons between people and venomous snakes are common, in fact, so for dreams it’s an easy connection to make.
Do you know someone who’s “mean as a snake?”
If that’s how the symbolism is used in a dream, you’ll see it in the dream-story. The snake will be a venomous variety. It will bite and inject venom, or you will fear being bitten. If the snake is not venomous, does not strike out, does not bite and inject venom, or does not provoke fear, it’s probably not related to the symbolism of venom.
The symbolism of a snake as something venomous doesn’t end with how it can describe certain people. Situations and thought processes can be venomous, too. “Venomous” and “poisonous” are used to describe situations that slowly kill you, that are chronically stressful and bring out the worst in people. It can be a situation described as “survival of the fittest,” where people are set against each other in a brutal competition for supremacy. Or it can relate to something that works into you and poisons you, such as an ideology or belief system. It can be a group dynamic that’s harmful.
“Venomous” can describe thought processes and the way you talk to yourself. Thoughts like “I’m good for nothing” and “I can’t do anything right” are venom in the psyche. They poison you from within, as do feelings such as shame and self-loathing.
Venom can be used to describe anything that attacks the body and mind from within, such as certain substances: sodas, alcohol, drugs, heavily processed foods. Remember that the symbolism is based on your perceptions and how your body and mind react to the intake of something. Some people can eat Twinkies morning, noon, and night and are fine. For other people, it’s slow death. Some people can drink alcohol and it doesn’t bother them. Others can’t.
As you can see, just this one use of the symbolism has many variations. The other uses of the symbolism we’ll cover also have many variations and they can’t all be covered. Remember that. The goal here is to show you ways that dreams can use associations with snakes to create symbolism so that you can decode the symbolism.
Snake Symbolism: Fear
Dreams make comparisons based on your personal associations, and fear is a common association with snakes. They can symbolize anything that you fear: people, places, situations, or just the idea of something such as speaking in public or health problems. If you fear it, a dangerous snake can symbolize it. The idea can be stretched from here to the moon. For example, fear of getting in trouble, failing a test, or losing something you love can be symbolized as fear of a snake.
But if you don’t fear snakes, they’re not likely to be used in your dreams to symbolize fear. Or if the snake is not a potentially harmful variety, you have nothing to fear. Of course, some people fear any snake so again, it depends on you and how you react to snakes in general and specifically to the snakes in your dreams. If you dream about overcoming fear of a snake, it’s a strong indicator of overcoming fear of snakes or some other sort of fear.
Snake Symbolism: Constriction
Situations in life described as constricting are comparable to the killing method of Boa Constrictors, Pythons and Anacondas. Dreaming of a snake that constricts might describe a constricting situation. For example, relationships and their demands, obligations and responsibilities can feel constricting. Situations in the work world can feel like a noose around the neck as the demands of the job sap the life out of you. People can become “ensnared” in all sorts of ways.
However, before jumping to conclusions, a dream of a snake wrapped around the neck can describe a restricted airway while asleep, or if wrapped around another body part it might relate to poor blood circulation. If I had a dream like that I might ask my sleeping partner to check if I’m having trouble breathing or set a voice recorder by my bedside. I’d try to remember if I fell asleep on my arm or woke up with a limb asleep.
Dreams react to external and internal stimuli and turn it into symbolic imagery. If you have sleep apnea or another condition that restricts the airway during sleep, dreams are likely to visualize it somehow.
Snake Symbolism: Sneak Attack and Engulf
Snakes are known for attacking out of the blue. They can lie still and hidden for hours waiting for lunch to wander passed. This characteristic of snakes can describe people and situations, too. Some people lie in wait for an opportunity to attack. Situations can be fraught with potential for danger summed up in the image of a snake waiting to attack.
Picture how a snake eats. It engulfs. It opens its mouth and swallows whole. Imagine the possibilities for how that can be used as symbolism. A relationship can engulf. A job can be all-consuming. An addiction or desire can encompass a person’s life.
In the story of the Garden of Eden, a snake tempts Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It symbolizes humans’ separation from nature and natural instincts, and has evolved as a general symbol of temptation.
But Wait: Snakes Aren’t All Bad!
The possibilities covered so far are all negative, but snakes are marvelous works of evolution that have many positive associations that can be used as symbolism.
One time when giving a public lecture about dream symbolism and discussing snakes, I covered many of the “bad” associations. A woman in the back shot up her hand. “In my culture, snakes are positive,” she said, objecting to my portrayal of snakes. “My people view them in relation to spirit and Mother Nature, and dreaming about them is a good sign.”
She gave me the perfect opportunity to discuss the many good associations with snakes. They live in the ground and that closeness to the Earth creates a strong association with nature. Nature is associated with wisdom, fertility, and instincts. Snakes are used in rituals to bless crops for a good harvest and bless people with fertility and health. Cultural associations play a strong role in dream symbolism, especially with snakes because of the broad spectrum of perceptions and associations from culture to culture.
Snakes are used on the Rod of Asclepius, which is the basis of the Caduceus, a symbol associated with medicine. The good health associations stem from a snake’s ability to renew itself by shedding its skin. This idea has strong connections also with personal development and the psyche, because “shedding your skin” means letting go of the old to become something new.
A snake bite, especially a bite on the wrist or hand, is known to be associated with a call from inside a person to “shed their skin” and transform. Carl Jung wrote about it in his book, “Dreams.” The idea extends further to include the need to take action. The hand is used to take action, so a bite to the hand can act as a reminder or warning.
I encountered the association in the dreams of a friend had. In order to succeed she drove herself with feelings of anxiety and fear of failure. She had several dreams of being pursued by snakes, culminating with a dream about being bitten on the wrist. Oddly, she started encountering snakes, too, and she lived in an urban environment where snakes are rarely encountered. I felt that the dreams were telling her to find a new way of motivating herself, which would require a personal transformation. The wrist is the connector of the arm and the hand, and both of these body parts are symbols of taking action. In this sense, being bitten on the wrist is a call to action.
The snake is connected with nature, which goes through cycles, and with instincts which we all have for renewal and health. When ill, sometimes the best medicine is to listen closely and give your body what it needs. Snakes are highly sensitive to their environment and sense the slightest vibrations. That sensitivity can be used to create associations with sensitivity to the subtle signs and signals from your body.
Another very positive association exists between snakes and kundalini. Kundalini is an energy that rises out of the hips, travels up the spine, and emerges out of the forehead or crown of the head to connect with the “upper realm.” It’s visualized as two snakes intertwined and rising up the spine. A snake emerging from the head is a symbol of deep insight and enlightenment.
The long, cylindrical shape of snakes creates an association with the penis, so the snake is a phallic symbol. The association is easily stretched to include males in general. “All men are snakes,” a frustrated woman says. Taken further, snakes are associated with everything about men and masculinity, positive and negative.
As with all symbolism, look at the action to determine the meaning. If the snake is trying to crawl up your leg under your pants, it might be a phallic symbol. But if the snake is on a rock sunning itself, it might symbolize something “warming up,” as in “warming up to the idea.”
Snakes in Dreams: Examples for Analysis
Next is a dream that uses an association with snakes as meaning something dangerous or invasive (read the original post if you like):
There is a large snake in my garden hiding under the shed. I try to take pictures of it but keep failing. Eventually it begins to become aggressive toward me, so I retreat into my house via patio doors. Somehow the snake gets its tail stuck in the door. It manages to wriggle through the door and under the carpet. I get a kitchen knife and stab it several times through the carpet.
I joked with this dreamer that all he needed was Adam and Eve and an apple tree to complete the picture of a snake in a garden. Judging by the fact that the dreamer tries to take pictures of the snake–comparable to gathering evidence–my guess is he has encountered something in his life that is like the phrase “snake in the grass” and is trying to protect himself from it, or to gain concrete proof for himself that something isn’t quite right.
“Snake in the grass” describes a person who is untrustworthy, who hides their true nature until it is too late for their victims to get away. ‘Under a shed’ can mean the snake is related to something at or about work, since a shed is where work tools and supplies are kept. A garden is a way of describing something that is planted, tended or grown. For example, a garden might describe an idea that is planted like a seed and grows in the mind. It’s also a place for peace and contemplation, and if a snake is in your “inner garden” it means something has invaded your peace of mind.
The snake in the dream gets into his house, the dream’s way of saying that the situation is “close to home.” A house in a dream can be a way of describing the life you have built for yourself. Being outside of the house symbolizes outside of personal boundaries. This snake is trying to slither inside, meaning get passed the dreamer’s guard and hide “below the surface,” symbolized in the dream as under the carpet. However, he recognizes the danger and takes steps to eliminate it.
Keep in mind that this dream can just as easily describe some kind of influence on the dreamer, not necessarily a person or situation in his life. For example, maybe the dreamer’s attitude toward something is negative, or something in his thoughts or feelings is “poisonous.” It could symbolize a bad habit, like a vice. But because I don’t see any sign of what it could be, I think the dream is more likely to be talking about something threatening his boundaries, and is probably personal in nature.
Terms such as “trouser snake” use the comparison of a snake to a penis. It’s not the most common association, but snakes as phallic symbols do pop up in dreams, like the next dream (original post at reddit.com):
I was in my living room and a large snake was there, not aggressive but trying to get my attention. I decided it wanted out but was afraid to pick it up, so I had it follow me through the kitchen to the back door where it and four other large snakes exited my house. But one tiny snake refused to go because it was too cold outside. I let him stay. Relevant info: I am a girl and had been at a bar that night with about 40 guys I used to work with.
Picture the scene with this girl in a bar surrounded by 40 guys she knows. How many of them do you think hit on her? Do you see a comparison with the snake in her living room trying to get her attention, same as the guys the night before tried to get her attention? Male sexual interest doesn’t bother her–she’s not afraid of the snakes in her dream, which is a huge clue to the symbolism. But she doesn’t want them in her house, either, meaning she is not interested in a sexual relationship at that time, or none of the guys interest her enough to invite them home, so she leads them out of her “house.”
The way she leads the snakes out shows she is comfortable with sexual attention and adroit at handling it. If she savagely hacked at the snakes with a machete, I might wonder if she felt the same way about guys hitting on her. Leaving the small snake inside says to me that she wants some male energy in her personal life, just not a lot of it.
If you read the original post, you’ll see that I joked about how trouser snakes–penises–shrink back from the cold, too, like the little snake that didn’t want to go outside! The cold can also describe a feeling that the dreamer might be viewed as “frigid” if she handled male energy less tactfully, but I don’t think it applies to this dream.
The little snake can also describe males who don’t display machismo, or who might be overlooked because they don’t draw attention to themselves. I can’t say for sure that I’m correct; I use this dream to illustrate possible interpretations and show how the association process works.
As you can see, the interpretation of a dream about snakes has many possibilities. Whether a dream of snakes is symbolic of something venomous, constricting, untrustworthy, enlightening, blessing, or that needs to change depends on the dreamer. Associations are key. If it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit.
I encourage you to think broadly, but most importantly, think for yourself. Whatever a snake means to you in your dream is based on your personal experience, not mine. Only you know what it really means.
By the way, I send a bi-monthly newsletter chock full of interesting info about dreams. I’d love to add your name to the list.
Finally, read this post where I helped decode a dream about a tree made of snakes. It’s one of my all-time favorites.
To learn more about dream interpretation, check out Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams, the complete system of dreamwork for beginners and experts alike.