Our dreams recover what the world forgets…The dream animal shows us that the imagination has jaws and paws, that it can wake us in the night with panic and terror or move us to tears…and see their living forms so that we respond to them with the gift of intelligence. ~~James Hillman
Your night times dreams are a gift. Why? Because dreams generally point to our blind spot. They never tell us what we already know. The trouble with interpreting your own dreams is that you can’t see your own back.
This blog is meant to help you understand your dreams so they are relatable to every area of your waking life. And since animals commonly play a main character in our dreams, we are going to examine how they come to us as our HELPERS. They crave intimacy and offer us insight to our higher and lower selves. They call us back to the earth and to our own bodies. If you follow your dream, humbly, that is where your real life begins. And this is especially true for the most misunderstood dream animal: the snake.
Jung stated, “The commonest dream symbol of transcendence is the snake.”
However, in our culture, snake is portrayed as a slippery, slimy, poisonous creature that goes back 2000+ years to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. When we refer to someone as a “snake” we’re implying they are cold, calculating, and untrustworthy.
But in some ancient cultures the serpent is seen as the most universal and auspicious archetype, one that symbolizes rebirth and transformation. Snakes shedding their skin represents the power of birth, death and rebirth, and such transformation occurs when the snake’s eyes begin to cloud over. As a natural shapeshifter, snakes are honored for being able to both journey below the earth’s surface (a.k.a. underworld) and bathe in the sunlight of the upper world.
Snakes Appearing in Your Dreams
Snakes are often seen as a sexual object in dream time. And if snake randomly appears in your dreams, pay attention to flirtations and sexual energy occurring between you and another. Snake sometimes means a misalignment in psyche so it may show up to warn you that the path you’re heading down with another may be dangerous.
But if snake makes continuous appearances in your dream, pay attention. This is particularly true if you are doing inner work and old trauma is beginning to surface.
For example, when I began my doctoral program in depth psychology and somatic studies and began delving into the unconscious, all kinds of snakes began starring in my dreams, from black snakes with long red tongues to green diamond back rattlers. Somatic, or body-memories surfaced from experiences I had while growing up. One night while sleeping in my dorm I dreamt of a snake that sunk its fangs into the top of my left hand. As I waited for its venom to kill me, I noticed that a warm, fuzzy feeling began to pulse through my body. In Shamanic traditions venom is not seen as poison but as “medicine.” Being bitten by a snake symbolizes the initiation into transformation.
How Do You Work with Snake Dreams?
A good way to delve into snake dreams is to use the art of Association. Association is a Jungian, straight forward approach to dream work and can be done in very little time. For example, when I first listed my associations of snake, I wrote: slither, slippery, sneaky, constricting, squeezing, poisonous, temptation, flirting, sexual play, seduction, manipulation, power, control, fear, father’s belt, physical punishment, men, unsafe.
The next round my associations went deeper and I noted: frightened, wound, intimacy, distance, guarded, protective, healing, trauma. The key is to keep going back to the original dream image and writing down your associations without pausing. Once you begin thinking about it, you’ve shifted from psyche to intellect and will lose the deeper meaning. Also, you might become inspired by associations that arise and begin associating those images, but don’t go there, doing so will cause you to lose sight of the original dream image. Start with one dream image and stick with it until an “aha” moment happens or you feel an inner click. Some associations will have an emotional charge to them and that’s where you want to focus.
The body remembers everything you have ever experienced and carries the burden of stress, disease, and trauma. Dream images, like my myriad snakes, live in the blood cells, skin, muscles, and organs of the body. By working with the images, the snakes became my personal daimon to the point that even the “poison” that flooded my body after one snake decided to sink his fangs into my left hand became a form of “medicine.”
After the initial shock wore off, I was able to tap into the venom and receive the strength that I needed to confront the past and transform some painful experiences. This ancient, reptilian image led me to a deeper understanding about my reactions, behaviors, fears, and desire for love, and in alchemical terms, was akin to turning base metal into radiant gold. Using dream images to transform old wounds leads us to individuation, wholeness, self-love, and greater aliveness. You may be wondering, what happened to the snake dreams? Well, two weeks before finishing my final doctoral course and writing my last term paper, snake exited the realm of my dreams and hasn’t made an appearance since.
The last snake dream I had revealed both the inner and transformation that took place over a period of three years. Internally, I felt less fear, more self-compassion, and self-love. Externally, I experienced more faith and trust in people and my terror of snakes disappeared.
I’m outdoors in a large open space and several feet in front of me is a long, green snake with black stripes. The snake has been living underneath some dense foliage, thick ivy. It has been living under there for a long time but now it’s out in the sunlight. I see it has black narrow eyes and then I notice two more round black “eyes” above the regular eyes, sitting on either side of its head. Looking more closely, I can see that they react to the light, like sensors and then it gives a very loud rattle.
Next, I see something move around the top of the snake’s head and a baby snake with tiny legs unhooks itself and crawls down its face. The baby scoots away and then a very bizarre thing happens: The snake completely transforms itself by pulling its skin forward until it covers its eyes and face. It now looks like a beautiful, large, green succulent that curves downward. I am fascinated and realize I no longer need to fear snakes.
This dream is filled with a wealth of images: Large open space, green snake with black stripes, thick ivy, eyes that are sensors, the sound of the rattle, the lizard-like baby snake with legs, transformation from snake into a large succulent. Here is an example of my positive associations:
- Open space: Nature = place I go for reflecting, healing, feeling open-minded, getting grounded, peaceful, favorite place to be
- Green snake: Rattlesnake, poisonous/medicine, green is a “healing” color, primitive, reptilian, shapeshifter, kundalini energy, sheds its skin
- Thick ivy: I love ivy, dense cover, easy to maintain, grows in my yard, resilient, protective
- Eyes that are sensors: Insight, sensitive to light, awareness, vision
- Rattle: Primal, rhythm, Native American, instrument, warning, ancient, felt it in my body
- Baby snake with legs: Birth, new beginnings, circle of life, lizard-like
- Transformation into succulent: Change, healing, shapeshifter, awakening, verdant, alive, magical
Remember, your night-time dreams are a gift. Especially those you resist for they offer the greatest growth and opportunity for transformation.