by Gillian Holloway, Ph.D.
Snakes are common symbols in dreams, amazingly so, since most of us have very little exposure to them in waking life. Opinions vary about the meaning of snakes, but there is little doubt about their importance. I've been able to work with a great number of snake dreams, and have found they fall into roughly four categories. Rather than adopt an abstract theory about snake symbols, see if one of the descriptions below coincides with the type of dream you've had. The odds are high that the symbolism common to that scenario may shed light on your dream as well.
Snakes as Trouble
The most common type of snake dream involves exposure to one frightening snake, or to a group of snakes in a room, a field or a pit. Many dream of having to navigate over a snake pit, or of being paralyzed with fear when faced with a snake. Typically these snakes represent troubles or one specific problem that is both intimidating and awkward to deal with. Most people can pinpoint a current predicament that is tricky, worrisome and laden with complications that make it tough to straighten out. If this fits for you, then proceed with caution, and realize you'll have to do a lot to bolster your confidence right now. Make a list of all the things you've done right, and try to think positively instead of dwelling on the "what ifs?"
Snakes as Symbols of Initiation
In many dreams a single snake will come to bite you, and you may in fact be bitten after a brief struggle. To your amazement though, you will not die, and may find that the situation is not as bad as you thought. This type of dream can come when you have been fighting for your life with some problem, relationship or challenge. Such a snake-ordeal is an important signal that you are going through a kind of initiation; a psychological and spiritual trial that has the potential to change your life for the better if you deal with it bravely and with a clear heart. You may have to give up something you thought you couldn't, or take a stand for your principles or faith. This type of dream is responsible for the widely held belief that "snakes represent transformation." In my opinion, these dreams state the potential for growth and transformation inherent within a current difficulty. But to harvest this promise, you must walk through your fears and be willing to let go of the old in order to gain the rewards of the future.
Snakes Associated with Death and Afterlife
People who are dying or who have lost a loved one often dream of snakes, at or near the time of death. For whatever reason, these dreams seem involved with the psychic awareness of the transition from this life to the next. You should not be frightened that a dream of snakes means someone is about to die. Under normal circumstances this is not the case. However if your family is touched by loss, or you are near someone during this transition, you may be comforted to know that some deep awareness of the afterlife seems to arouse dreams of snakes at these times.
Snakes as Phallic Symbols
When snakes serve as phallic symbols there tends to be contact with the body in the dream, that is the snake crawls on you, or tries to penetrate some body part, or surrounds you to squeeze you. Sometimes such snakes will bite and then immediately wither and die, replicating the male orgasm and quiescence. In most cases, we have only to consciously consider this possibility to recognize whether it fits your circumstances. I don't believe that all snake contact need be interpreted as sexual in nature. If this does seem to fit your circumstances, then it's likely the dream is highlighting a mixed situation. Becoming consciously aware of both the positives and negatives in your current situation will help you to deal with your options more effectively and confidently.
If you have correctly interpreted the snake in your dream, it should make sense when considered against the context of the dream, the setting and the way you felt. Consider whether you're dealing with a sticky problem, the potential for something positive to emerge from current trials, an image of the afterlife, or a sexual symbol. It is also possible that your snake has a very unique meaning. Use these descriptions as a place to start from to uncover the interpretation that is right for you.