Snakes are one of the most common animal symbols that people report in their dreams. People from vastly different cultures and spiritual traditions have recorded having dreams of snakes. There can be many different kinds of dreams about snakes: you could be fighting with a snake, tending it, talking to it, or even transform into a snake in your dream. Despite the diversity of dreams of snakes, a few core interpretations involving dreams about snakes survive from ancient cultures as different as the Maya and the Greeks. Visions and dreams of snakes and their meanings have been uncovered by archaeological excavations and handed down for generations in extant cultures all over the world.
In Mesoamerican cosmology, the snake represents cosmogenesis: the cycle of cosmic destruction and rebirth which ushers in successive ages of the world. To the ancient Maya, snake deities could act as a portal through which once could communicate with ancestors in the spirit world. there are Mayan frescoes at the site of Yaxchilan and other Mayan settlements which illustrate this idea: in these carvings, ancestor spirits rise from the mouths of snakes in response to a petitioner’s summoning ritual. In Hindu mythology, magical seven-headed snakes are the guardians of water sources such as springs and river mouths, and are thought to embody fertility and natural forces. Both Buddhist and Hindu art features depictions of nagas sheltering the seats of gods and enlightened masters such as the Buddha, suggesting that these snake beings also protect wisdom in South Asian cosmology. So a dream of snake entities would likely also have great spiritual significance in both societies.
Snakes were also symbols of healing the Greek physician Asclepius, who championed the use of healing rituals involving snakes. He might have observed that poisonous snakes possess the antidote to their own venom, which is perhaps why snakes have remained an influential symbol of healing to this day: the symbol which denotes the modern medical profession, called a caduceus, is an abstract image of two intertwined snakes.
Many indigenous people today also view snakes as symbols of wisdom, overcoming fear, healing and connection to the spirit world. For peoples of the upper Amazon, cosmic boa constrictors guard different parts of the universe such as the forest and the river, and can be called on as a spirit ally by curanderos (spiritual healers) during an ayahuasca ceremony to help them discover the cause of illness in a patient. After taking ayahuasca tea, curanderos have described having to overcome their fear and “let the snake in”: they must listen and act on what it tells them in order to perform their healing work. So, a dream with snakes may indicate a power that you need to let in in order to make changes and heal in your life.
If you have dreams of snakes, the messages they contain for you will depend on the action of the snake, how you interact with it, and your life context at the time you have the dream. For many cultures like those listed above, snakes seem to symbolize change and growth: snakes must shed their skins periodically, and are unable to hunt or defend themselves from predators until the change is complete. Examine how you felt towards the snake in your dream: fearful? Accepting? Curious? Was it chasing or attacking you, or perhaps it was a tame snake in a terrarium? Ask yourself if there is a major change approaching in your life, especially with some inherent risk attached, such as a career change or a move to a different part of the country. Your actions and feelings toward the snake in your dream could indicate how you feel about such an upcoming transition. Alternatively, you may have just gone through a big change (good, bad or neutral) and are still processing the information. Snakes swallow their meals in one big gulp, a powerful metaphor for the process of sorting out one’s thoughts after a life change.
Some researchers have suggested that a dream of snakes can symbolize our unconscious, primal selves. Predictably, Sigmund Freud theorized that the snake is a phallic symbol that represents how a person relates to his or her sexuality. Other models suggest that snakes might be appearing in your dreams if you are avoiding or having trouble coming to terms with an issue in your waking life. Let’s say a snake bites you in your dream: a dream snake bite may symbolize a problem or situation you must face up to, one that will “come back to bite you” if you keep ignoring it. It could even be something that seems “poisonous” to you in your current life, such as a serious illness; however, in facing this issue you may discover a new outlook and set of priorities in your life. Snakes are symbols of healing because they possess the antidote to their own venom; although dreams of snakes can be challenging and frightening, in seeking out their meaning you will have to confront whatever is troubling you in your waking life. By letting the snake in, you can find the cause of your unease, and the steps you can take to assuage and heal it. It is always important to consider a dream snake’s meaning, because these are truly powerful symbols that may teach you a great deal about your life!