Across the world of fiction and world literature you can find the snake. It has probably more symbolic references than almost any other creature, from representing an insidious threat (the "snake in the grass"), to the idea of fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they have becomes symbols of rebirth and transformation, even immortality. They're associated with the underworld and the abode of the dead because they spend so much time in pits or hiding under rocks – or in the UK under corrugated iron laid down for that purpose.
Two of the most known. symbols ares the ouroboros and the caduceus.
In ancient myth, a snake devouring its own tail, known as Ouroboros, was a symbol of eternity. The snake’s ability to slough or shed its own skin
|The Rod of Aclepious|
The caduceus, the staff of the messenger Hermes in classical Greek myth has two intertwined serpents. This staff was carried by Hermes (or his Roman counterpart, Mercury): the messenger of the gods. The two staffs are often confused, but the herald’s staff borne by Hermes/Mercury had two serpents, rather than one, with their heads facing each other. This has been wrongly used as a medical symbol for a little over one hundred years. It has often been mistaken for the Rod of Asclepius, a visually similar symbol belonging to the god of healing and medicine.
The caduceus only has one winding snake. while the Asclepius has two.
In stories the world over, as well as in modern literature, the snake often raises its head.
In Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, we meet Crawley the satanic snake hilariously transformed into a burned-out rock star tasked with ushering in the apocalypse. Except Crawly—or Crowley, as he rechristens himself—isn't so keen on putting an end to his favorite earthly delights just yet.
One of my favourite poems, D. H. Lawrence's ‘Snake’, was written while he was living on the island of Sicily, in the beautiful resort, Taormina, on the east side of the island:
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, if you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off...
Lawrence stages a masculine battle, two males facing off against one another. He ruminates on killing the snake so that he will be safe, while accepting its power and individuality. This creates an inner drama.You can read the entire poem here
One of the most famous snakes in fiction has to be Kaa, the Indian python from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In he 1967 Disney film Kaa is a villain, while in Kipling’s original book he defeats the Bandar-log monkeys and frees Mowgli, so showing that ambiguous symbolism, being both saviour and danger.
American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) wrote with passion about the snake;
A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him – did you not
His notice sudden is –
The Grass divides as with a Comb –
A spotted shaft is seen –
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on –
I use snake symbology strongly in my second Shaman Mystery, On the Gallows. Sabbie first encounters an anaconda in a journey she takes for one client. But she meets this spiritual snake in an ice house, a long way from its home:
'Time and place can change. Home may change.'
I frowned. I didn’t want to forget a single word of what Anaconda was saying; I was sure it had meanings only Drea would understand.
'Do homes change for the better?' I asked.
'Duty and purpose can change.'
'What is your duty and purpose?'
'First; do no harm. Next; protect your kin. Last; keep your secret.'
'What is your secret?'
Anaconda didn’t like this. He clearly felt I’d been presumptive to ask. For the first time I saw malevolence flicker in the small eyes. I heard the girl give a trembling sigh, as if even her breath shivered with cold. I tried to dodge past Anaconda, but he intercepted my move and I collided with him. His scales felt dry on my bare arms. My feet slid from under me and I fell on the ice, hard as concrete but much colder. It burned through my dress.
His tongue flicked. His head lunged at me. The razor-sharp points of his tongue plunged into my belly. I heard my throat scream in the world of my therapy room. My hands covered my stomach. There was no blood. This was a spirit wound from a serpent without a poisonous bite. Anacondas, I remembered, crushed their prey. I tried to slide away from him, wriggling like a snake does, struggling to gain a grip, but I was shivering so much my hands and feet refused to co-operate. I could hardly feel my body now. The bite wasn’t poisonous, but it had sent me spiralling into hypothermia.
|The Mara, as it manifested itself in Kinda|