In both the Eastern and Western hemispheres of the globe, snakes and serpents are common themes in religion, artwork, and architecture. Long before many ancient societies began writing words, the snake was used to characterize fertility, wisdom, and knowledge, or life and death. A serpent coiled into a circle devouring its own tail was the ancient Egyptians’ way of portraying this renewing and eternal cycle. The negativity associated with poisonous snakes often means they are seen as inhabitants of the underworld.
Photo by “mytat_2s” on Flickr
The Greeks and many Eastern Indian cultures include serpents in their mythology and creationism stories. Native Americans claim underworld Snake People as part of their religious beliefs, based on the natural phenomenon of snakes shedding their skin and hibernating beneath the ground. Serpents are also a symbol of medicinal healing, as seen in the caduceus. The snake is one of the signs of the Chinese zodiac, as well.
For body art, there are many ways to incorporate a snake. Oriental and tribal art designs are quite popular but realistic snakes coiled around the body are also frequently seen. The type of snake you select should be based on what this symbol means to you. A rattlesnake is powerful and symbolizes fertility, an Oriental serpent is religious, and a snake with a skull represents death.
Photo by “Tattoo_Lover” on Flickr
Snake tattoos are not just for bikers or tough guys. Many women are seduced by the sensuality of the snake’s form and opt to have one slithering across their abdomen or down their back or leg. As a symbol of fertility, nothing beats the character Snake Pliskin in “Escape From New York” with his tattooed serpent disappearing beneath the waistband of his pants.
In either colored or black ink, the snake in body art is a powerful icon.