Are you afraid of snakes? If you are, you are not alone. Snakes are strange creatures—no arms, legs, or other appendages, just a scale-covered spine with a mouth at one end. Snakes slither along the ground in a mysterious and stealthy way. They are cold-blooded and the bite of some can be deadly.
It is interesting, then, that in dreams and literature snakes are often symbols of the psyche, or total personality. They represent the unfolding process of psychological growth that is the driving force behind your life. Just as a snake periodically sheds it skin, so we outgrow old ways of living so that we can be born anew. Probably, the unconscious uses snakes to symbolize the psyche because we tend to be afraid of our own psyche. It is mysterious, greater and more powerful than the ego and, like a snake, can be deadly depending upon your attitude towards it.
I knew a woman who suffered from a neurological disease. A couple of months before she died she dreamed that she was in a darkened room full of snakes. She didn’t like the snakes and began to beat them with a stick. The dream reflected the attitude she carried towards her psyche and the process of psychological growth that was trying to take place in her life. She violently rejected this life and her calling. Her illness and eventual death were hastened, if not created and driven, by her negativity towards her own psychological process. Her venomous attitude towards her psyche drew forth the venom in the psyche which killed her.
In his book, The Dreaming Mind, Robert Van de Castle, Ph.D., shares an instructive snake dream. A woman dreamed that her husband stepped into a stream next to a pier where they had both stood. She sees a giant snake approaching her husband beneath the water’s surface. She screams at her husband to get out of the water, but he is nonchalant and takes his time climbing the ladder onto the pier. The huge snake grabs his foot and pulls him back into the water. The snake then turns into an octopus which engulfs him. The woman’s husband died a few months later of cancer that was undiagnosed at the time of the dream. This and subsequent dreams revealed that her husband did not take the psyche seriously. Even as he was pulled under water by the snake, the dreamer recalled his face remained expressionless. Fear, terror, and an effort to fight free would have been appropriate, but this man passively submitted to the danger like an ignorant sheep. He did not believe or respect the power of the psyche, and so fell prey to its dark side.
As a psychologist, someone whose work it is to study the psyche, I encourage you to examine your own attitudes towards the unfolding psychological process that underlies your life. You are more than your ego, and how your ego relates to your deeper self—your psyche, soul, and God—is of utmost importance to your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Become aware of the autonomous and ever-evolving life force within and around you. Respect it. Honor it. And don’t beat your snakes.