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  • Writer's pictureMandira Antar

Tattoo symbols / The snake

Updated: Aug 6, 2023

Primal, ancient and mystic, the serpent is a symbol that is totally worth exploring as a tattoo design. The bibliography is far more interesting than anyone could imagine, and the correlations that the serpent generates in everyone are equally exciting! You can be immensely afraid of it or adore it, but in any case serpents in general and snakes specifically generate an awe within us.

Moreover ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) is one of most common phobias around!

For some cultures it means pure evil for others healing and progression in life, one way on another it is definitely a symbol that never leaves us unaffected.

Arm placement of a watercolor snake, red purple and black, inked by Mandira
Red/Purple Watercolor Snake Tattoo

The serpent evolved about 165 million years ago so it's been part of our collective unconscious for a long time!

Did you know?

Acconding to Journal of Experimental Biology snakes - although they lack an outer and middle ear structure can actualy "hear" and are very sensitive to vibrations, a quality that helps them communicate and detect predators and prey.


Snake Symbol Myths and Facts

The serpent is one of the basic archetypes. According to Carl G. Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, the serpent is a messenger and symbol of the unconscious. In Freudian terms though, the snake is a phallic symbol.

For Christianity and Jewish religions the biblical serpent was the reason for the exile from the Garden of Eden (Paradise) of Adam and Eve. In this sense it is a symbol of sin and sex.

For the Chinese it is an astrological sign, the sixth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac sign. The snake sign carries characteristics of wisdom, clarity and wittiness.

Apart from that, the snake in China is a symbol of sycophancy, so killing a snake in your house is always a good omen.

In Greek mythology the serpent / snake is met in many cases and forms.

  • Medusa (one of the three Gorgons) had hair made of snakes and everyone who looked her in the eye was forever petrified (turned into stone). But this unfortunate fate for Medusa was a result of a curse from Athena who either was jealous of her beatiful face and hair or punished her for an affair with God Poseidon!

  • Tiresias the famous blind seer (prophet) of the ancient greek world was transformed by Goddess Hera to a woman (!!) for seven years after he interrupted two snakes in intercourse in Mount Cyllene.

After the seven years, he met again two snakes mating and she (he) remembered, did not harm them this time and so the curse was reversed! This is the reason he is depicted many times along with the snake symbol.

  • Goddess Hera sent two snakes to kill Heracles (aka Hercules) in his crib, because he was the child of her infidel husbant Zeus and mortal Alcmene.

  • Caduceus is an emblem of God Hermes (or Hermes Trismegistus in Greek and Egyptian mythology). The Caduceus is a symbol that consists of two snakes coiled around a staff with two open wings on top of the rod. It's a symbol of unity, balance, peace and communication. The deity of Hermes has a nature of duality, being protective of both good and evil, a psychopomp (carrying messages from the dead). So the caduceus is a symbol about the reconciliation of the opposites in oneself (good and bad, life and death, male and female etc.).

  • The Rod of Asclepius is a universal symbol of medicine and the healthcare profession. It consists of a rod (staff) with a snake that curls around it 3,5 times. Asclepius was the son of God Appolo with a mortal. After his birth, Appolo entrusted him to Centaur Chiron for his education (in medicine and hunting). He was considered a great therapist and even had the power of healing and the ability to bring back to life!

Ouroboros MS Marciana gr. Z. 299

  • Ouroboros is a basic ancient symbol of Hermiticism, Alchemy and Gnosticism and is depicted as a snake forming a circle and biting it's own tail. As an archetype ouroboros symbolizes sex but as a symbol of evolution it is reffering to the process of self distruction in order to renew and recreate oneself. It is a symbol of the whole, that everything is part of a unity, it symbolizes the duality of existence. For the Alchemists this symbol unites the conscious with the uncoscious. In my opinion there is a correlation between the ouroboros and the Taoist yin yang symbol.

  • In Hinduism the Lord Shiva (aka Nageshwar which means "lord of the snakes" or Mahadeva) is depicted wearing a coiled cobra snake around his neck. This snake around his neck is a symbol of the ego, and the way he is carrying it is a representation of control over ones ego.


  • For the Irish, the reason there are no snakes on the island is because St Patrick vanished them all! Celts though believed that serpents are divine creatures that rise from the earth carrying divine knowledge, healing powers and wisdom.

  • In Japan snakes are percieved as good luck and protectors.

The Kundalini

In Hindu kundalini means the "coiled snake" which is used to represent our life force. The kundalini energy is supposed to be coiled in our base chakra (in the bottom of our spine) and is awakened through yoga or meditation practises. The awakened snake is then moving around our spine and up to the ajna (6th) chakra (the 3rd eye). This is a symbolism of an awakened spiritual being.

Interesting enough there are many mentions in bibliography about the movement of the kundalini and the caduceus symbolism, but this is not the subject of this article...

Mandira tattoo, Meaning of the symbol of snake, key words
Snake Symbolism Illustration by Mandira



Snake tattoo / placement

The snake is a tattoo choice that can be depicted in any form and style. In Japanese tattoo art, the snake is an element of good fortune and protection. Snakes are depicted in realistic forms, in onramental tattoos, in tribal style, in many occasions combined with a skull, with roses (in more old school versions), portayed in their biblical form rising up a tree. As a tattoo they sure cause contradicting reactions. Either you loath them, or you adore them... Never met anyone who is unaffected by them.

Placed in hands, due to their shape, they make an ideal part of a full arm design. Many who are familiar with the spitirual correlation of the snake, place it near the base of the spine, or rising up their back. If we find it to inspire our sensuality or sexuality, it is a wonderful choice for lower back or hips placement.

Black linear snake Mandira Tattoo
Snake mandala style in thighs tattoo design by Mandira

The snake is a strong initiation and therapy symbol, so for many the arm / hand placementent enhances the healing energy when someone practices holistic therapies. Around the neck it will give power over the ego and protection. Having a snake tattoo help many to feel fearless and strong! The snake will help you chase your goals and channel your energy with confidence!!

Choose a Goddess medusa tattoo to awaken your magical powers & feel protected. Some choose the head placement for mental health and wisdom.

Place the snake on your legs as a reminder that the earth supports us and that we respect her by absorbing life energy from her and letting go everything back to her! The leg snake tattoo will also awaken your survival insticts and speed!



Never forget that every tattoo and symbol takes it's meaning from the wearer !!

Check out my tattoo page and message me for a custom design that we co-create with love and enthusiasm! Like my facebook page to stay in touch! About Mandira Antar

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