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Snake Tattoo History, Designs, and Meanings

Richard Hale is a tattoo enthusiast who studies and researches tattoo symbolism, meanings, and history.

Snake Tattoos

Over time and all over the world, the snake has played vivid parts in the imaginations of mankind, and as a symbol, the snake is as potent as poison. As with all animal symbols, the snake tattoo represents all of the traits and attributes of the snake: sinuous, secretive, sleek, sneaky, and seductive. Snakes represent many powerful things psychologically and symbolically, and as a life symbol or animal spirit, they are powerfully evocative. As Nietzsche said, "The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be minds."

In this article, we will review many designs of snake tattoos. We will also discuss snakes in history and the various cultural meanings of snakes. Use this information to help you in your next tattoo adventure.

Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.

— Gautama Buddha

Snakes in Science, Religion, History, and Folklore

Snakes have historically enjoyed a vast array of symbolic meanings that are both positive and negative in nature. Snakes hold symbolic value in a number of ancient cultures and often play parts in ancient stories, legends, mythology, and religious texts. Throughout history, the snake has been portrayed to be a symbol of evil but it has also been viewed in a positive, virtuous, and good light as well. Evil or good, the snake is universally powerful.

Snakes are some of the most misunderstood animals in the world. Although some are dangerous, the majority are harmless to humans. They usually shy away from human contact. When humans are struck by a snake, it is always in self-defense. A snake is intelligent and knows that patience will pay off when it hunts. They live in darkness and come out to hunt before dusk. The majority of snake bites occur right before dark.

However, there are a variety of snakes that can cause death to humans in one lethal strike. Some, such as the cobra or rattlesnake, can cause death within minutes. These dangerous snakes can be found from Africa to America. As a result, the snake has been a longtime symbol of danger.

Snakes are able to shed their skins. This act can be seen to represent rebirth, transformation, and change. As a tattoo, the snake can similarly represent a brand new start in life.

One of the most famous stories of of a snake comes from the Bible. When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in the Garden of Eden and told them that they could have anything from the garden except the forbidden fruit. A snake, referred to as the "serpent," came along and tempted Eve with the fruit. She eventually ate it, and sins began as a result. Because of this, the snake can represent temptation, sin, and evil.

The ouroboros (the ancient symbol of a snake biting its own tail) represents the eternal circle, reincarnation, the unending cycle of life and death, and continual renewal. The ouroboros eats its own tail, forever. This symbol originated in Egypt and represents the circle of life and the cycles of the universe. It symbolizes the changing seasons of life and the cyclical nature of the universe.

Historically and across cultures, serpents represent fertility and creative life force. Since they shed their skins, they are apt symbols of transformation, rebirth, healing, and immortality.

In ancient mythologies, the snake is often a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, fertility, knowledge, and patience. Snakes are considered sacred in a number of different cultures, including the Native Americans and Africans. Native American Indians linked the rattlesnake to rain and lighting. It was believed that snakes played a role in creating the planets. The snake has both masculine and feminine qualities. As a tattoo, it can be worn by both men and women.

Snakes are sometimes perceived as evil, but they are also perceived as medicine. If you look at an ambulance, there's the two snakes on the side of the ambulance. The caduceus, or the staff of Hermes, there's the two snakes going up it, which means that the venom can also be healing.

— Nicolas Cage

The Snake in Chinese Astrology

The Chinese zodiac has 12 signs that change yearly. If you were born in 1905, 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, or 2013, your sign is the snake.

The Chinese do not associate the snake with danger and evil. Instead, they focus on the fact that snake has a secretive lifestyle. They associate this sign with grace, wisdom, organization, wisdom, wit, mystery, and divination.

Snake Tattoo Meanings and Interpretations

When it comes to the meanings behind the snake tattoo, there are many, both positive and negative.

  • Evil
  • Devil
  • Hell
  • Protection
  • Medicine
  • Change
  • Cycles of Life
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Darkness
  • Power
  • Authority
  • Intelligence
  • Temptation
  • Death
  • Rebirth
  • Awareness
  • Patience
  • Balance
  • Healing
  • Grace
  • Organization

Any of these meanings can be associated to snake tattoos. However, in the end, your tattoo represents what you want it to.

It is always best to do your own research when it comes to choosing a tattoo symbol. It is very important to understand what your tattoo represents to you and to others.

Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.

— W C Fields

Comments

Vin on May 30, 2020:

How Can I Get To Know Abt The Meaning Of The Snake Is Directing ?

Sahar on January 20, 2020:

I have snake tattoo and all of my friends and family think it's evil to have a Snake tattoo...

I love snakes

derae on December 14, 2015:

I was bitten by a copperhead on the side of my right foot , but the crazy thing is that 2 years to the day i bit , my youngest son got bit on his right foot also , but his was on his big toe and mine was on the side of my right foot . ok this will be my first tat and i would like to know if anyone has any ideas on what kind we should get, yes my son said " u get one momma and will tooo ... Any suggestions on what we should get ... Derae from Alabama

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on July 15, 2013:

Vipersgirl, thanks for the comment. Ohhhh! Would love to see this! We all do! Nothing like having a great tattoo on show 24/7. If you ever get the time, I would love to see it. I've never seen one that portrays real-life size!

Vipersgirl on June 23, 2013:

I have a full-grown life-size black water moccasin with his head resting on the underside of my left wrist, just above the palm of my hand. His body coils up around my arm and over my shoulder. On my right arm I have a similar size constrictor, which has her head resting on top of my arm with her nose resting on the top of my wrist, just barely crossing over onto my hand. Her body also coils up around my arm and over my shoulder. Haven't quite figured out yet where they'll go from there... But, I'm certain it will come to me... Must admit that I do enjoy the attention they get when "we're out and about"... :) And yes, they do hold a very special meaning to me...

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on August 15, 2012:

Klingonkorra, thanks for dropping by. Glad you enjoyed it. The snake is misunderstood in many aspects. I must admit, I am not fawn of them either:)

Klingonkorra on August 12, 2012:

I have a cobra tattoo protecting my heart and I did it for protection. I love snakes an I think it sucks how misunderstood they are, but I´m also! :) thank you for this!

Richard Ricky Hale (author) from West Virginia on March 13, 2012:

Once again, thank you all for your support. I promise to get back to you all in due time.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on March 08, 2012:

They are misunderstood lyric, big time. Good history here and some awesome snake tats my friend.

lhchan on March 07, 2012:

Thanks for great info, let me know more about meaning of snake tattoos, like the pictures very much.

b. Malin on March 07, 2012:

Hi Lyric, you never cease to Amaze...These Snake Tattoos are Unbelievable! Such works of Art, and so Life Like...Wow. My younger son, when he lived at home, Love to collect snakes and we allowed it...and he taught me not to be afraid until the day he lost one in the HOUSE...No problem...we were Moving! Anyway... another Vote UP is coming your way!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 07, 2012:

I can't say that i like snakes, but the artistry is beautiful...Cheers

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on March 07, 2012:

Thanks for this great information, loved the pictures has well.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on March 07, 2012:

Another fascinating hub and about one of the most fascinating animals on the planet!

I often wonder if our negative view on snakes comes from being kind of brain-washed a bit when we read the 'Garden of Eden' story? I know we have instincts that protect us from snakes - or should do - but our fear and with some people hate goes a bit deeper perhaps. The difference across the planet is amazing in relation to these animals. I think it's some of the Buddhist temples where cobras in particular are allowed free reign as they are deemed sacred - now this is still in a country where snake bites are high and can be lethal, but still their opinion of these reptiles is positive. What a total different outlook to that in the West!

This was a wonderful hub, beautiful and awesome and the art work stunning! Voted up!

Eiddwen from Wales on March 07, 2012:

Great hub and I truly enjoyed and deciding

Have a great day.

Eddy.

Donna Cosmato from USA on March 07, 2012:

Kudos, Ricky! You are the only person I know of who could help me see snakes as art rather than awful and dangerous. I never knew that they were considered sacred in some cultures, but that is thought-provoking to find out. Voted up and shared.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 07, 2012:

I don't know where you find such colorful tattoos. Most of the snake tattoos I've seen have been one color only and not a spectacular as these. The second green one is my favorite. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on March 07, 2012:

Voted up and awesome! Love those slllithering, snnnakes...

WD Curry 111 from Space Coast on March 06, 2012:

Oh! I wish I had a picture of this local boy. He has a rattlesnake, coral snake, and a water moccasin. Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating tattoos. Good art is good art to me, but I am not the final authority.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 06, 2012:

Thelyricwriter you own this type of hubs.. saw a few on here but it pales compare to your up and awesome bro...:)