Snakes elicit a variety of reactions from people, both good and bad. Often, these reactions are intense – people either love them or hate them. Snakes are often misunderstood, resulting in unwarranted fear from the people who encounter them. While snakes in general are a part of a healthy ecosystem, white snakes stand out as a highly regarded symbol across many cultures. As a spirit animal, the snake represents energy, transformations and life changes. If a white snake appears in your dreams, it is widely believed that this is a sign of excellent luck and good fortune. In general, snakes are often seen as a symbol of healing powers and renewal because of their ongoing ability to shed their skins. Whether in nature, spirit or imagery, the white snake represents a powerful cultural force.
Snake Symbolism in European and American Cultures
Likely some of the earliest images of snakes can be found in the Bible, where they represented evil or the devil. Images of snakes or serpents can be found in early chapters of Genesis and predominantly in Exodus. However, the connotation throughout is negative. Ancient Greeks considered snakes sacred to the god of medicine who carried a staff with two serpents wrapped around it, hence the modern day symbol of physicians. During the Middle Ages throughout Europe, several symbols of the snake appear with both negative and positive connotations. Snakes were seen as either demons or protectors, often part human and part serpent.
Early American images of the snake were used to illustrate a need for unity among the Colonies. Benjamin Franklin created one of the earliest political cartoons – an image of a severed snake captioned, “Join or Die.” Today, many in North America associate snakes with rainbows and rain, which ultimately brings forth fertility and growth.
Many Native American tribes utilize the image of a snake to represent a variety of cultural and religious beliefs. Some tribes associate the snake with fertility, while others use it to represent healing. As with other cultural representations, some Native Americans see the snake as an image of renewal or rebirth because of its ability to shed its skin.
Snake Symbolism in Japanese Culture
In the Japanese culture, the white snake often appears as the headdress of the goddess Benzaiten. As the goddess of fertility, wealth and good fortune, Benzaiten appears with a white snake as her messenger. Some believe that white snakes are messengers to the human world, shape-shifters that move easily between heaven and the underworld. Since it can shed its skin, the snake is believed to symbolically live for thousands of years. It is widely believed that when a human encounters a snake, especially a white one, it is an extremely lucky omen.
Snake Symbolism in Chinese Culture
China reveres the well-known legend of a man falling in love with a fair and noble woman who is also part snake. In Chinese folklore, magical snakes often go through a metamorphosis into a beautiful woman; often a femme fatale. The Chinese legend of the white snake is a tale that celebrates a transformation of love, symbolic of the snake’s representation of transformation and change.
While snakes in general have a cross-cultural symbolism of renewal and rebirth, there are negative connotations that coexist with this symbolism. In contrast, the white snake is consistently symbolic of purity, positive energy and new beginnings. The symbolism of the white snake is always positive. It combines the symbolism of renewal and purity to create a powerful symbol of what some believe represents new beginnings and positivity in its purest form.