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Saturday, September 5, 2020

The Symbols Of Snakes And Reptiles In Mythology And Religion

Reptiles and snakes in mythology and religion are either malevolent or benevolent entities. The most symbolized reptile would be the snake since it has was seen in many forms in both Western and Eastern cultures. These forms can either present or form a new mythological creature such as the Gorgon or abstract symbols such as the Caduceus. 

These cold-blooded creatures were venerated as mystical beings during ancient times because of their appearance, nature, and their association with gods, demigods, and other holy figures. Some reptiles even have poison, large sizes, and longer lives that challenged man as the apex predator. This led to their worship, writing tales about mythical reptiles, and creating other reptilian symbols.

Satan the Serpent,  Symbols and Meanings


Blamed for being the animal that Satan mimicked in the Garden of Eden that led to the Fall of Man, snakes have a bad reputation in Judeo-Christian religions. In other Mesopotamian religions and myths, the snake also represents their respective malevolent deities and demigods. For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an unnamed serpent got first in eating the Plant of Life and denying Gilgamesh of that source of immortality. This tale strangely mirrors the chapter from Genesis where a snake tempted Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.


Ananta, Naga, Symbols and Meanings
Image: Peter Bertero

Snakes in Eastern Religions, for example, are venerated as symbols of infinity and transcendence. For example, in the Hindu cosmology or religion, there is an entity named Ananta, in Sanskrit, its name means infinity, eternal, limitless. It is the cosmic serpent and companion of Vishnu the Creator God of Hinduism.


The Nagas where gigantic creatures with some humanoid appearances in Buddhism and even in other Eastern religions and faith systems. These creatures are stewards and mediators of both the heavens and the Earth. They can either represent benevolence or malevolence, depending on the country of origin. For example, in some ASEAN countries such as Thailand, they feared the Naga creatures, in other countries where Buddhism has its roots, the figure Muchalinda, a named Naga was credited for letting Buddha rest under his care while meditating.

Pharaoh, King tutankhamun,  Symbols and Meanings
Image: NPR

There is a lesser-known god in Egyptian mythology named Wadjet. She is represented as a figurehead in a pharaoh's crown and has an appearance of a cobra. She is also the spiritual protector of the Pharaoh and plays a huge role as a God of Lower Egypt.

Caduceus,  Symbols and Meanings
Image: DeviantArt

This symbol is seen in many Western medical facilities and even on the insignia of medical practitioners. This symbol is called Caduceus, the first usage of this symbol can be traced since the Age of Antiquity. The interlocking symbol of wings, staff, and 2 snakes is often associated with Hermes since we often see him carrying this symbol.

Basilik,  Symbols and Meanings
Image: Wander Lord

The basilisk is a beast in many forms in Western mythologies and Judeo Christian religions. Basilisk is a collective term for reptilian chimeras or creatures with characteristics and parts from many different animals. These creatures are said to have the ability to unleash a lethal stare on their enemies. These creatures have 2 popular forms in mythology and religion, one form is often called the cockatrice where it has the head of a rooster and reptilian body and the other one is simply a giant snake.

Medusa,  Symbols and Meanings
Image: Ancient Origins

Gorgons, like the basilisk, have a lethal stare but in this case, their stares are known to petrify men with evil hearts. These creatures take the forms of women, they can either walk at bipedal form or crawl/slither in a serpentine form. The medusa is one of the most commonly depicted serpentine or reptilian creatures in pop culture in this list.

Maya Serpent,  Symbols and Meanings
Image:  Museum Store Company


The Mayan civilization is the one most enigmatic civilization to ever emerge. Some Mayan relief statues and etchings depict the vision serpents or the spirit of life. Like the pharaohs who live far from the Mayans on the other side of the world, snakes also represent, protect, or induct new Mayan rules by appearing as vision serpents.

Cosmic Turtle,  Symbols and Meanings
Image: Stephen King Wiki

In Eastern philosophies and religions, turtles play a huge part in symbolizing strength and unity. Turtles play a part akin to the role of Atlas in Greek mythology before the Copernican system was proven in Eastern religions. A certain avatar of Vishnu named Akupara took the form of a tortoise and held the heavens under its back. Turtles were venerated in Eastern philosophies because of their long lifespan that can reach for hundreds of years.

Reptiles played a huge part in many religions and mythologies around the world. These reptiles aroused the imaginations of ancient cultures because of their scaly appearance, supposed power, and longevity. These creatures can either side with good or evil, bring luck or doom, and symbols of war and/or peace. The messages and influence of these symbols will continue to propagate in many facets of human society.

Copyright of IFY Books

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to mention Chinese dragon, which is some form of snakes as well.