Snakes, Dreams, and Jung’s Red Book

Snakes, Dreams, and Jung's Red Book by Kelly BulkeleyPeople have reported dreams of serpents and snakes throughout history in cultures all over the world.  In terms of Jungian psychology, snake dreams have a powerful archetypal quality.  They give people an extremely memorable and uncanny experience of the “otherness” of the collective unconscious. Jung has a few things to say about the symbolism of serpents and snakes at various points in The Red Book:

“The serpent is an adversary and a symbol of enmity, but also a wise bridge that connects right and left through longing, much needed by our life.” (247)

“Why did I behave as if that serpent were my soul?  Only, it seems, because my soul was a serpent….Serpents are wise, and I wanted my serpent soul to communicate her wisdom to me.” (318)  (This comment comes after a long dialogue in active imagination with a great iridescent snake coiled atop a red rock.)

“I have united with the serpent of the beyond.  I have accepted everything beyond into myself.” (322)

“If I had not become like the serpent, the devil, the quintessence of everything serpentlike, would have held this bit of power over me.  This would have given the devil a grip and he would have forced me to make a pact with him just as he also cunningly deceived Faust.  But I forestalled him by uniting myself with the serpent, just as a man unites with a woman.” (322)

“The daimon of sexuality approaches our soul as a serpent.” (353)

These passages make it clear that Jung regarded snakes both negatively and positively, both as “chthonic devils” (318) and as indispensable guides for the soul.

From a Jungian perspective, snake dreams offer people the dangerous possibility of connecting with the wisdom of the collective unconscious and drawing strength from its archetypal energies.

Snakes, Dreams, and Jung's Red Book by Kelly Bulkeley

If you’re interested in learning more about snake dreams in history, scroll down the list to see this post. (titled “What Do Dreams of Snakes Mean?”)

If you’d like ideas about how to interpret snake dreams, see this post.

For more information about actual snakes, take a look at the website of the East Bay Vivarium.

20 Replies to “Snakes, Dreams, and Jung’s Red Book”

  1. Had an interesting snake dream not too long ago…

    was in a room full of serpents, coiled, and hissing, one of them starts to lunge in my direction. i start to back up as it approaches, backing my way through numerous doors and rooms as the serpent approaches ever closer, fangs displayed. Terrified, I keep telling it to back off but to no avail. Then as it gets really close and is about to spring at me i unveil a knife and hack it to pieces. I then take a few of the pieces and make a sandwiich out of the snake flesh and munch away.

    wonder what Jung would make of this dream?

    1. Hey there, Bhaskar! Jung would undoubtedly encourage you to paint an image of this snake. As I first read your dream it almost seemed like you were leading the snake INTO the house; even though it sounds like the intention was to escape the snake, your actions draw it inside. Then the surprise appearance of the knife and the calm ingestion of the snake’s flesh makes it seem like the whole thing was a trap.
      We know what Freud would think of all this. Jung might amplify the image of the knife, with its symbolic connections to analytic reasoning, and suggest the dream portrays a battle between conscious and unconscious forces–with a surprisingly happy ending!

  2. I’ve had soo many serpent dreams. the first one went like this….I was on a mountain that was floating in the sky with my boyfriend. for some reason this mountain had sand on it. from a distance you can see these flying ships coming towards us and all of a sudden…a serpent leaps from the sand and starts circling me.

    another one i can remember was of me in my home…my father who’s been away for some time arrives which is surprising….and we turn around to see that my fish bowl has a serpent and a fish in it. both are red and are bigger than usual.

  3. I dreamed of a red snake with piercing, deep-yellow eyes last night. I wasn’t scared in my dream but even in that state the meaning was a mystery to me….it certainly is now that I’m awake.

    The snake materialized after a vision where I was introduced to a hermetic order which had understanding of everything that was happening in the world and understood that the human race and planet Earth were in store for some dramatic changes still in the years to come. The order seemed to be of the OTO legacy and was currently led by a female master who initiated and educated me into the order in the twinkle of the eye. I literally looked at myself in the mirror in the dream and my eyes twinkled. That was a suprise for sure.

    On completing the initiation the master was no longer present….but there was the snake. Large, crimson red with gray tints to it’s scales and these intense yellow eyes. I thought at first that this was a negative omen, however, the snake seemed rather to calm me by not being aggressive at all…just looking. While the snake did not speak it did seem to communicate with me – indicating that it was my guide…executor of force…wise savant…protector.

    In the dream I then went on to encounter several enemies and forces…some invisible…some animal shapes…some human…some unknown. I seemed to be able to see my entire situation from all perspectives simultaneously. I could even see up through the ground like it was clear and I could see my feet hit the ground and the force they had on the terra.

    Untimately I wound up running up a mountain where I was greeted with a vision of an balding man, clothed in a white linen loin cloth, with a thin, long, white beard which seemed to wisp about as he moved and the gentle breeze rolled by. The man seemed to be very old but his physical form didn’t seem to be frail at all. He was sitting at a small table and was studying a lunar body…possibly the moon. He noticed me but did not speak that I recall. He made a few notes or drawings. The man appeared to have great knowledge and wisdom….I wondered if it might be a future me who finally learned a great deal from his plethora of mistakes.

    The rest of the details, which I’m not sure of the chronology include kaleidoscopic color images; a black robed human figure which seemed to morph into a flying creature which I could not tell if it was a bird, a bat or possibly a huge moth. This figure flew just over my head and seemed to disappear before I could turn to follow it’s path visually.

    I awoke intermittently and then finally went back to sleep peacably until the dogs and my baby girl got me up. Interestingly my little dog was snuggled right next to me and seemed to flinch when I had startling images in my dream. My little baby girl also entered my dream too….I envisioned that the dream, in part, was to help me protect her in the wake of coming dramatic earth changes. It seemed like the baby would ultimately be a wise and powerful being.

    Also of interest is that I was chilled in my dream and in bed…..even though I had on pj’s and was covered up with a sheet, a thick fleece blanket and down comforter…..very unusual since I’m usually exceedingly hot in the covers.

    Would love to hear any Jungian thoughts or analysis on this dream.

  4. I’ve been having re-accuring dreams about two huge black cobras since i was in the 6th grade.The first one ……was about these two huge cobras that were fighting at my house, while i stood there terrified.Sometimes i would dream about many snakes trying to attack me,but i’ve manage to escape them.What stands out in these dreams is the presence of two huge black cobras trying to harm me,but are unable to do so.
    Could you interpret these reaccuring dreams?

  5. Last night I dreampt that a large, fat bright green snake was trying to wrap around my shoulders, neck and head. It was using it’s tail to try and break my little finger. My partner and I were trying to find a ranger to help us get it off as I was scared it would bite me. I dont really know what to make of this, can you help?

  6. a man dreams of getting a pet snake, finds this tiny lifeless but beautiful snake in a pet shop and secretly brings home. He coaxes it into animation and then feels conflicted over whether he wants a snake or not. But once it begins moving around he gets attached. But the tiny snake slithers away and gets lost on a dark carpet. He loses the snake, becomes upset, tryis to find him, enlisting his young sons pretty babysitter in searching for the snake. He prepares to buy a bigger one if he cannot find the small snake.

  7. My husband and I were on the Costa Concordia and the the bizzare thing about this all is that on the early hours of Thursday 12 January 2012 I work up as I felt I couldn’t breath and had a nightmare whereby I dreamt that I was glazing an the ocean and saw something long circuling around the liner i looked closely and saw a huge snake as long as one side of the ship circuling the cruise liner and in my dream i was trying to see the face of the snake to determine if it was a serpant or water dragon and was constantly wondering why it was circuling the ship. However, this is what woke me up whereby i sustained an asthma attack. Well, my husband and I got off the liner the morning of Friday 13th. I thought i share this dream and story with you. Very bizzare!!! I think now it was a savior a warning to get off the ship as the ship had such a bad omen. What I mean from that is there was so many unhappy people. Every day there was a people pushing and shoving in lining up to embark the ship to go on a day tour, to attend dinner, to get a lift etc…disgrunted guests and angry guests. To date, i still would not sure what this meant and would like comments to explain to me why i dreamt this and why did this happen to me.

    1. That’s a remarkable dream. Can you say anything more about your time on the ship? Am I right that you felt, before your ominous dream, a negative tone in the interactions and moods of the passengers? Have you been on cruise ships before this one? Where did you disembark on the 13th, and what did you do when you heard what happened later that night?

  8. once in a while, i have these weird dreams. i would love to know if it means anything interesting, especially since the snake was so prominent in this dream.

    in this dream, i have two girls, twins. it’s at night. one of them was asking me about their grandmother, my dream mother-in-law (i think). i tell them vaguely (though i see it quite clearly) about her leaving my father-in-law at the alter and disappearing into the sea. (i remember nothing about my supposed husband.) i take the girl out of the yard that’s in front of the house from the last mess of dreaming and we are suddenly on the other embankment of a wide river. we watch as a glistening silver and blue water snake sweeps back and forth just on the surface of the water, almost glowing. that is the girl’s grandmother. she had chosen a life of an untamed unhuman instead of becoming a human wife and living on land.

    we are suddenly on the other side of the embankment again, having followed the snake in its liberated swimming and then another snake joins it and somehow the two communicate to me that my daughter has to choose between going with them or sending her twin sister instead. (at this point, i am feeling much less like a mother and i specifically remember thinking it was strange at how little fear or trepidation i felt in telling my dream daughter this.) she took some time thinking about it, staring fearfully at the snakes and the water and finally said they should take her sister (lauren, i think). she is a little relieved that the decision was made and it wasn’t her, but then the snake darts inside a house and comes back dragging the other sister, fangs into her hand and through the water. at that point i remember hearing ‘lauren’ screaming underwater.

    even after watching her emerge with the snake in some cove and and after some time, swimming with them, happy, i was very disturbed by this dream. and during the dream itself, very disturbed. anyone have any thoughts?

    1. That’s a very strange dream! It has a kind of fairy tale quality. Grandmothers often carry cultural wisdom and spiritual traditions that are neglected by patriarchal society, so if this were my dream I would wonder what kind of knowledge this grandmother is carrying with her in “unhuman,” non-land-based form. I like the phrase “liberated swimming”–it makes me wonder about your feelings about water? The final scary scene makes me think some kind of sacrifice is required to preserve the grandmother’s wisdom and keep it alive. Again, if it were my dream I’d ask myself, what has been sacrificed, or what needs to be sacrificed, in my life to stay true to the wisdom of the snake?

  9. Interesting blog post; thank you for the quotes and the insights into people’s dreams in the comments.
    I am a college writing teacher who, after getting my MA, just left a PhD program at Pacifica. Yesterday was the first day of classes of the new semester and I was troubled that I am no longer a student also.

    I found your blog because of a dream last night: I am in a beautiful forest with a deep gentle warm stream. I enter the water with friends and family, and then realize that there are snakes in the water which I suspect are dangerous. I am concerned for my companions and want to protect them. I try not to be afraid, but one swims up to me, and I feel its slippery body touch mine. We lock eyes then the snake darts in at me and I awake, terrified, sure that the snake has bit me in the neck.

    I have night terrors regularly but my dreams are usually peaceful so this dream was unusual.

  10. hope you can help with this one.. I was in a room with my husband and I looked down and saw a snake cant remember the color but It was dark maybe green about 6 or 7 foot. I screamed and my husband grabbed it and was able to throw it with out getting bit. then another came in and my husband did the same thing. then another came in and I grabbed it and it bit me. apparently it was not venomous it had regular teeth not fangs. my husband got it off me and through it. then I saw the hole in the ground that they were coming from and I plugged that hole when just below that hole another hole burst open and a snake shot out of it and I could see fire in the hole when 2 or 3 small devils emerged from the 2nd hole and moved about the room then I woke.. it probably does not sound like much but it was VERRY vivid and I cant stop thinking about it.

  11. I find all of these dreams interesting and know that I am coming into this blog pretty late in the game. First of all, I think that Jung would say that whatever the symbols in the dreams mean to you is what the symbols mean. Secondly, Jung would say that everything in your dream is some part of you. With that said, in general, I believe that Jung believed that snakes in a dream represent the unconscious wisdom that we all carry within ourselves. Or – the collective unconscious – which is also the wisdom collected through all of the experiences of all humans throughout time. I also believe that he would see the snake as a symbol of this wisdom coming up from the unconscious into the conscious, so that it can be used in a practical way in our lives. I believe it is an indication that something we have been struggling with inside of ourselves is about to be understood and integrated into the wholeness of our being. Integration – of course – is the goal of each individual. I believe that one of the goals of dream work is to help the process of individuation and integration to occur for each of us in the way in which we each need to experience that process. For much more information on Jung’s thoughts and beliefs about symbols, get his book “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious”. This is a phenomenal book! And make your own interpretations! This is just my interpretation of what I have read and learned about Jung and dreamwork.

  12. Hi Kelly,

    I had this dream last night and thru searching for its meaning, I came across your research here.
    I was in an old house (looking like my old grandma’s) and we were expecting guests. I noticed that the energy is overall low and felt that no one cares so I went out to the big yard and started hosing the yard, the ground, the walls and everywhere to bring up the freshness scent when you wash the outside. I also remember that there was a girl in the house, don’t recall any details but she was kind of a servant or sth, we constantly exchanged gazes and I knew I liked her. Part of the reason that I go out to hose the yard was to impress her, I guess. Anyways, once I was almost done, a dark brown snake popped up in front of me ( and I am very scared of snakes in general). I froze but it bit me twice on the wrist. My dad came to my rescue and caught the snake by its head but he was bitten as well. Now I could see a moving tail inside my wrist (my dad had the same thing) that was following my blood vessel. I was trying so hard to pull the thing out but was amazed at the size of it once it came out. It was long, moving and biting. Did the same thing for my dad and then last thing I remember, I was looking for zip locks to keep these so than hospital can review upon our arrival. This is the second time in 2-3 months that I dreamed of being bitten by a snake. Last time, it was a very black one. When I googled, I first came across the notion of confronting feelings that are ignored! Any light you can shed is much appreciated…

  13. I do not have dreams like other people do. My dreams are rare, but this one dream was confusing and I’m still trying to comprehend what it means. My dream: I was sitting in the car waiting on my husband, we had just finished working on a new porch, when I saw a big red cobra with human eyes. It did not hiss, wasn’t trying to bite me, it just stared at me. The neighbors kids ran to it and it left. Then later, I entered my house and left the door ajar, went to my bedroom and came back to see a bunch of small, fluffy puppies. I started to send them outside and one ran to the back bedroom. As I approached the bedroom, I saw what looked like a snake tail slithering under the bed and it turned to human feet. I left the room, but I wasn’t scared, the whole dream was unreal. I don’t believe too much in the significant of dreams because I am Catholic and I know that a snake or serpent represents the Devil. I pray a lot and go to church every Sunday and believe wholeheartedly that God is my protector so I do not fear. Call me stupid, but I believe in my faith. I have seen so many bad things turn into good things based on my belief. I am here to see what another person may think about this dream. I forgot about it, but last night I told my husband and asked some friends, but no one can give me answers. I think that if it meant something, God would let me know what it means. But I’m here to see what you think. Any idea???

  14. I just dreamt of a white snake wrapped around a white sheep and it had coiled itself around the sheep neck and body and it was bitting it spewing venom inside of the sheep. You could tell by looking at the sheep that it was paralyzed and the weird thing was that the sheep skin was turning translucent so you could see its organ inside the body so as the snake was injecting venom with a lot of force the sheep skin was turning see-through almost like a see-through plastic bag. The sheep was bloating up and it looked like it was about to explode from the pressure of the blowing-out and as it reached that peak point the sheep sneezed a lot of snot out and a woman happened to be standing in front of that sheep as the sheep was spewing snot or whatever yellowish substance from its nostrils with great pressure.

  15. ??? Im dreaming that i’m seducing my wife. A white-green motley snake that is either pregnant of just eaten something rectangular slithers into the room along the wall behind the bed entering from right to left. It slithers under the bed and derails the seduction as we then immediately act to evade the possibility of being hurt by the snake. Cant make love until the snake issue is resolved.

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