Snake Tattoos: What Do They Really Mean?

Snakes are notorious creatures that are often believed to be omens of bad luck or death.

However, snakes appear throughout various histories and popular culture and have less sinister connotations throughout various societies. In fact, snakes are revered in many cultures for their wisdom.

These slithery creatures are used as symbols and often represent a deeper meaning, which is why they have grown in popularity in recent years as a subject for tattoos.

tattoo snake meaning red in the back

Read also: 60 Most Popular Tattoo Meanings (With Pictures) 

Snake Tattoo Meaning: What Does the Snake Tattoo Symbolize?

Snakes have been used in various contexts throughout history. They appear in many poems, plays, stories, songs, and more because of their symbolism and the meanings that tie with a deeper message.

Snakes can represent several different ideas such as power and rebirth. Various cultures differ on its meaning, but snakes are commonly seen as sacred creatures that play a role in life.

snake tattoo with skull arm

Snake Meanings Throughout History

  • In Native American and African cultures, snakes are tied with rain and lightning. In West Africa, snakes are used as a symbol of wisdom, and are seen as guardians of sacred temples.
  • In Buddhism, the meditating Buddha is protected by a divine serpentine being.
  • In Greek mythology, the Greek god Asclepius is tied with the snake. The rod of Asclepius is a staff wrapped with a snake and is a symbol of health and medicine. This is used by healthcare organizations all over the world. Various health departments, universities, and army medical corps have incorporated this image into their logos.

A characteristic of snakes is that they shed, allowing it to heal and appear new. This lends itself to becoming a symbol of rebirth and transformation.

The idea of a snake shedding its old layer of skin resonates with many people who are looking to represent the concept of turning over a new leaf and rebirth.

fine line snake tattoo on belly with flower

- Snakes as a symbol of immortality

Snakes are also tied with the idea of immortality.

  • One of the most popular symbols from Norse mythology would be of a snake biting its own tail.
  • This symbol also appears in African Dahomeyen culture. This is a sign of the cycle of life, as the serpent is depicted wrapping itself around the Earth.
  • In Egyptian mythology, the snake appears as a snake-god named Mehen who coils around the sun god Ra.

- Snakes and fertility

Snakes are also viewed as a symbol of fertility because they are seen crawling on the ground, thus representing the earth and life itself. They are viewed as agents of fertility and prosperity.

The Hopi people of North America performed a snake dance to renew the fertility of nature. Some cultures view snakes as the umbilical cord that ties humans to Mother Earth. Snakes are also depicted as familiars for deities like Mother Earth.

Where Do You Put a Snake Tattoo?

Snake tattoo on shoulder

Snake designs are generally long and coiled, which is why they are a great tattoo to wrap around a limb.

For example, many people choose to tattoo a snake around their calf. The placement is unique and follows the flow of the body. The same concept can be applied to wrists, arms, ankles, or event chest pieces.

Snakes are intricate creatures, and their composition allows for creativity when it comes to their placement.

If you are looking for a smaller and more subtle snake tattoo, the forearm, ribs, or even behind the ear are interesting places to feature a smaller, more delicate snake tattoo.

What Does a Japanese Snake Tattoo Symbolize?

As evidenced above, snakes represent a wide variety of concepts and beliefs throughout various cultures.

Hebi means snake in Japanese. In Japan, snake tattoos are a symbol of protection against illness or bad luck. This stems from the olden belief that if you encounter a white snake, you will be met with good luck, while dead snakes serve as bad omens.

japanese new school snake tattoo on arm

 

This belief has lasted until today, particularly in rural Japan. Snakes are seen as allies that will kill rats inhabiting a farm, which can be detrimental to crops. Snakes are also revered in religion, where straw snakes are made to protect the entrance of shrines.

Goddess Benzaiten is one of the Seven Lucky Gods in Japanese religion and white snakes are one of her avatars. Benzaiten is a water goddess, and she encompasses wealth, wisdom, and femininity.

In ancient Japan, the ability of a hebi to shed its skin became a symbol of rebirth and renewal. This symbolism has carried on today, where modern conceptions of snakes hold the same meaning.

 

- The snake in the Japanese zodiac

The snake also appears in the Japanese zodiac system. Like the Chinese zodiac system, the Japanese system features twelve different animals that represent the start of each year.

Those who are born in the year of the hebi are believed to be mysterious and intuitive, while also possessing good luck with money.

What Does a Snake and Dagger Tattoo Mean?

A snake and dagger tattoo represents war and is a symbol for battle. A dagger is a smaller weapon that is often underestimated because of its size. However, a dagger is an elegant weapon that can be just as deadly.

snake dagger old school tattoo on hand 

For many people, this resonates within their lives because it represents the constant cycle of overcoming challenges. Some feel like the dagger represents their personal conception of overcoming the challenges that comes their way.

The snake is a powerful image on its own, but when combined with a dagger, allows for another dimension of sentimentality and meaning. 

Summary

Aesthetically, snakes allow for a dynamic tattoo design because they are versatile and unique creatures that can be manipulated in different ways in terms of placement.

Snakes appear in various cultures all over the world and are seen as sacred creatures, which makes them a particularly special option for your next tattoo.

Our mission is to inspire and educate the tattoo community. We have combined our many years of experience in the industry and our love for tattoos to create useful and enlightening content. Join us in this exciting journey in the beautiful art of tattooing.
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