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Snakes have existed on our planet far longer than humans and are an important part of the belief systems in many cultures. Its image is striking which is why many people are drawn to it as a tattoo design. In this article, we’re going to take a look at various snake tattoos, their symbolism and what they mean in different cultures.
What Do Snake Tattoos Mean?
Snake tattoos are attractive and highly symbolic, conveying meaningful messages about the wearer. Although this reptile is mostly associated with evil, it has many other meanings as well. Take a look at some of the most common and well-known meanings of the snake.
Rebirth and Healing
Snakes are known to shed their skin whenever it’s old, worn out or when they no longer fit into it. As the snake grows, it’s skin doesn’t grow with it so it needs to shed it in order to grow and survive. Because of this, it’s often viewed as a symbol of rebirth, change and healing. Just as the snake must shed its skin to allow for change, so must we transform and change our minds and bodies to allow for growth and improvement.
The snake is also a symbol used by professional healthcare associations in many parts of the globe. The Caduceus symbol as well as Staff of Asclepius’ are two symbols that represent medicine and can be seen on many logos and branding of health-related industries.
Sin and Temptation
When thinking of a snake, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the story of Adam and Eve. It was a snake that convinced and tempted Eve to go against the word of God and pick the apple in the garden of Eden. The snake is also a symbol of Satan or the Devil and is often viewed as an evil symbol.
Snakes are symbolic of this original sin and the temptation in Christian tradition. Because of the sinful act Eve committed, the human race was cast out into the wilderness and we continue to live with that sin. Sometimes, snakes symbolize evil and treachery. The viper is known for its treacherous nature and baby vipers usually signified children plotting against their own parents.
In many cultures around the world, snakes represent fertility, contrary to the Christian perspective. The appearance of the snake is phallic and sleek, containing a life force that’s symbolic of fertility and reproduction. Tattoos which depict two snakes coiled around each other typically represent sexuality whereas the snake in general signifies fertility.
The snake is a symbol of power, regardless of whether it’s good or evil, which is why it’s a popular tattoo among those who wish to show their strength and power. Some of the most common powerful snakes depicted in tattoos are black adders, vipers, cobras, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and boa constrictors.
In some cultures, the snake is seen as a symbol of wisdom and knowledge. Snakes are wise creatures with a high level of intelligence. Certain tests show that they have excellent learning abilities and are brilliant trackers. Some have the ability to recognize the boundaries of their territory in the wild. Some tattoo enthusiasts prefer to have a snake tattoo done to show their intelligence, wisdom or knowledge, but since snakes have so many meanings, it’s often difficult to identify exactly what the tattoo could mean. Due to this reason, some people have the meaning of the tattoo written somewhere near the image of a snake.
Although Australia is home to some of the deadliest snakes on the planet, not all snakes are poisonous enough to kill you. But they’re commonly associated with poison and danger. They’re also predators regardless of how poisonous or otherwise they may be. Snakes have their own food chain and they’re almost at the top of it, regularly hunting down small animals as tasty snacks. Therefore, snake tattoos can also mean that the bearer is someone who isn’t afraid of danger or of taking risks.
Types of Snakes in Tattoos
The type of snake you choose can have its own symbolism in the tattoo. Here are some of the most recognizable and common snakes chosen for tattoos:
- Rattlesnake: Rattlensakes are known rattlers, famous for the rattling sound they make by shaking their ‘rattles’. This creature is a symbol of fertility, power and potency. They’re also associated with aggression, violence and revenge.
- Cobra One of the most highly respected of all snakes, the cobra is known for its stunning hood and dignified stance when attacked. This snake is a symbol of wisdom, protection, strength and intuitiveness. It’s also seen as a symbol of royalty and power, especially the large King Cobra variety. In many Asian cultures, cobras are revered and considered to be sacred.
- The Black Mamba: This is one of the deadliest snakes in the world, native to Africa and famous for its lightning speed and agility. Although it looks harmless, this snake can become highly aggressive when it feels threatened. Many basketball fans choose the Black Mamba tattoo as a tribute to the late Kobe Bryant who was also nicknamed ‘the Black Mamba’.
- Viper: One of the most aggressive and treachorous snakes, vipers are often associated with negative traits such as aggression, a lack of loyalty, cunning, sin, lust and deadliness. Unlike the cobra, for example, vipers attack impulsively. They’re considered to be dangerous creatures, without logic or loyalty.
Best Snake Tattoo Placements
Snake tattoos are highly versatile and depending on the style and size chosen, can be placed on any area of your body.
If you’re opting for a large, dramatic snake tattoo, you can place it on your back, chest or arms. Some popular ways to depict a snake tattoo is by having the snake coiled all along your arms or legs, for a more dramatic effect.
Snake tattoos work well in sleeves, and can center stage or work together with other elements. If you want to get really adventurous, consider a snake tattoo on your shaved head.
If you’re looking for something simpler and more subtle, a small snake tattoo can be placed in any part of the body, including on fingers, ankles and behind the ear.
Types of Snake Tattoo Designs
Whether you’re going for a simple snake tattoo, or an elaborate one with other elements combined, there are numerous ways to get your style and message across. Snake tattoos are highly versatile and the sky is the limit with this one.
Simple Snake Tattoo
Snake tattoos are highly versatile and look stunning when paired with different art styles. However, having a simple snake tattoo can look just as striking. If you’re interested in minimalist styles, or if you prefer a quicker and easier tattoo that requires less ink, this would be a great choice for you.
The Snake and Skull Tattoo
This tattoo is ideal if you want your ink to stand out. It has various meanings and can be interpreted in different ways. While this design symbolizes poison or death to some, it also represents rebirth and the cycle of life. If the snake is depicted in the eye of the skull, it usually symbolizes knowledge.
Ouroboros (Snake Swallowing Itself Tattoo)
The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a snake eating itself, that’s said to have originated in Egypt. Some say it originated in Europe. This symbol goes back several thousands of years and is known to represent death, rebirth, infinity, unity and the circle of life. It’s a popular choice among those who wish to have a historical or spiritual snake tattoo. Easy to place almost anywhere, it’s an attractive tattoo that’s bound to grab attention.
Snake Eye Tattoo
The snake eye tattoo is a unique tattoo option that stands out due to it’s striking appearance. It looks strangely intimidating and attractive at the same time. This tattoo is quite popular as a gang symbol and usually represents charisma and anti-authoritarianism. Bearers of snake eye tattoos are typically thought of as people who like to bend and break rules.
The Snake Head Tattoo
The snake head tattoo is considered one of the coolest tattoo designs, preferred by men who are looking for something masculine and intimidating. This type of tattoo shows off the deadly, predatory side of the snake by drawing attention to its venom and fangs. Well done by experienced tattoo artists, snake head tattoos, are very lifelike.
Tribal Snake Tattoo
Tribal tattoos are often inspired by everything in the natural world such as animals and plants. These tattoos are done using solid lines and black ink to create complex patterns. The snake is an attractive option for traditional tribal tattoos since its elongated, curved shape is easy to recognize and suits various placements.
Snake and Rose Tattoo
Roses are traditionally associated with love and when combined with a snake in a tattoo, the meaning of the rose can be changed to overwhelming passion and romantic temptation. This design looks great when paired with a Gothic or art style.
Snake Wrapped Around a Rod
This design is a nod to the ancient Greek symbol known as Asclepius’ Rod, which is often mixed up with the Caduceus. Either way, it’s a symbol of healing, rejuvenation, rebirth and of medicine.
Snake Wrapped Around Sword
A snake wrapped around a sword combines the symbolism of both the snake and the sword, which can represent life, fertility and wisdom together with strength, protection, courage and fearlessness. When combined, the meaning can be to protect life, wordly struggles or a courageous stance. It can also be symbolic of the Caduceus symbol.
Two-Headed Snake Tattoo
Two-headed snake tattoos generally represent the internal battle between two opposing components of one’s personality: the peaceful side and aggressive side. They also symbolize being faced with two different paths in life and having to make difficult choices to get through. This is an attractive and unique tattoo that’s sure to grab everyone’s attention.
Symbolism of Snake Tattoos in Different Cultures
Snake tattoos have various representations in different cultures around the world. While snakes are considered sacred in some cultures, in others they have negative connotations.
Snake Tattoos in Chinese Culture
In China, the snake is considered a symbol of fortune and longevity. According to the ancient Chinese legends, the Snake is a sacred creature that has its own kingdom underground filled with treasures. Those who wish to gain great fortune pray and make offerings in the temple of the Snake. Many snake-themed relics have been found in southern and southwestern China. However, in some parts of China, snakes are symbolic of cunning, evil and sycophancy.
Killing a snake that lived in your home was considered a bad omen and releasing a captured snake is considered a good deed for which you would be rewarded. In the Fujian Province of China, having a snake tattoo was a form of worship.
Native American and African Cultures
In Africa, the snake is an animal commonly mentioned in several creation myths. It’s associated with various symbols of transmutation, protection and transformation. Snakes also symbolize spiritual and personal growth, fertility and birth.
The rattlesnake is strongly associated with rain and lightning in both African and Native American cultures. It was believed that snakes played a role in the creation of the planets and they are considered sacred. In many North American cultures, however, snakes were strongly associated with revenge and violence and someone wearing a snake tattoo was often regarded as an aggressive or violent person.
Snakes were commonly worshipped in Ancient Egypt, but the cobra was usually given the highest place of honor. Cobras were associated with Ra, the Egyptian sun god and many other deities such as Nehebkau, Meretseger and Wadjet.
The Egyptian Pharoahs often wore a stylized, upright cobra on their heads, known as the ‘uraeus’, a symbol of royalty, divine authority, sovereignty and deity. The uraeus is considered a sacred emblem associated with the gods, depicted on the headdress of most ancient Egyptian deities and rulers.
In Hindu culture, snakes (or nagas, as they are known) have an extremely high status. The Hindus view snakes as a symbol of mortality, rebirth and death since it sheds its skin and is symbolically reborn. Like in Egypt, cobras are highly revered in India and killing one is considered a great crime, equivalent to killing a human being.
Celebrities with Snake Tattoos
Snake tattoos are very popular among celebrities today, and since snakes have both feminine and masculine qualities they can be worn as a tattoo by both women and men. Here are some of our favorite celebrities’ and their snake tattoos.
- American Singer Julia Michaels has had about 31 tattoos over the past years, including one of a snake on her right bicep. The celebrity stated that she had the tattoo done as she’s a fan of Harry Potter and thinks of herself as a member of the House of Slytherin, which has a snake as its mascot.
- Cara Delevigne, the English model, singer and actress, recently unveiled a new intricate tattoo of a snake starting at the edge of her palm and extending to her middle finger. At the end of the tattoo is the word ‘feral’ meaning ‘wild’. According to Cara, the tattoo describes her personality and symbolizes reincarnation.
- Paris Jackson’s snake tattoo is a gorgeous, intricate design of a snake coiled around a dagger with a pair of wings at the top and a skull on the handle of the dagger. Paris says she got the idea for the tattoo from the over art for Motley Crue’s 1989 metal album ‘Dr. Feelgood’. The tattoo can be seen on Paris’ right bicep.
If you’re considering getting a snake tattoo, make sure you do your research first which will help you decide on the right tattoo symbol for you. Although snakes are closely linked to specific cultures, they do have universal applications. Therefore, you can wear your snake tattoo without having to worry about offending a particular culture.