Serpent Archetype

Learn all about the serpent archetype, including definition, characteristics, examples and how it relates to the Lover archetype.

What is the Serpent Archetype?

In Western Judeo-Christian focused culture many associate the Serpent most closely with sin and evil due to the Biblical story of the snake in the Garden of Eden.

In this story the snake manipulates Eve and thus subsequently Adam into tasting the forbidden fruit, leading to the condemnation of humanity to an eternal struggle for survival in the world and women to pain in childbirth.

The serpent is portrayed in the Book of Genesis as a manipulative creature, a trickster who portrays the things which God has portrayed as good and alluring.

The serpent is able to speak, doing so with intelligence and subtle reasoning. For many this means that the archetypal Serpent is associated with these qualities of evil, manipulation, cunning and darkness.

Serpent Archetype Characteristics & Traits

  • However, for many other cultures the Serpent archetype is associated with healing, regeneration and mystical powers.
  • This link has seemingly been made due to the ability of the serpent to shed and regenerate its skin, leading the animal to become a symbol of youth, vitality, metamorphosis and eternal life.
  • A famous example of the archetype in this context is its presence in the Rod of Asclepius, also known as the Staff of Aesculapius or the asklepian.
  • In this symbol the serpent is entwined around a rod which is help by the God Asclepius, a Greek deity associated with healing and medicine.
  • Serpents were often used in healing rituals in Ancient Greek society.
  • As a result of this the serpent was included in the symbol, which represents medical services around the world and is known as the Star of Life.

Serpent Archetype Examples (+ Carl Jung)

Psychologist Carl Jung wrote extensively about the Serpent Archetype in his writings, notably regarding its significance when appearing in an individual’s dreams.

Jung believed that the serpent was a symbol of the unconscious. If an individual dreamed of a serpent Jung believed this was indicative that the person was going through a process of healing and resolving psychological issues or trauma from earlier in their life.

The serpent was, he believed, symbolic of an untapped part of the individual or an unused resource which they possessed and which they could make use of as part of their recovery. The serpent was also representative of their intuition, instincts and spirituality.

As a result of all these aspects, Jung believed that the serpent would appear in the dreams of an individual when they were experiencing times of transition and change.

Further Reading

Further reading on the serpent archetype includes:

  • White Bird, Black Serpent, Red Book: Exploring the Gnostic Roots of Jungian Psychology Through Dreamwork – by Stuart Douglas
  • The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized – by James H Charlesworth
  • The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals – by Barbara Hannah
  • Man and His Symbols – by Carl Jung
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