Snakes as a Healing Symbol in Dreams
When the snake shows up in dreams, it almost always evokes a strong response. I have lead dream circles for 15 years and it is a common symbol presented early in each dream group. Since encounter with snakes in waking life are often frightening, they are usually the subject of nightmares in the dream world. While nightmares are frightening, I have found that, once the dream is “unpacked”, the message of a nightmare is usually positive and helpful to the dreamer. Let’s explore what the snake may be trying to tell us.
In Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung writes, “perhaps the commonest dream symbol of transcendence is the snake, as represented by the therapeutic symbol of the Roman god of medicine Aeseulapius, which has survived to modern times as a sign of the medical profession. This was originally a nonpoisonous tree snake; as we see it, coiled around the staff of the healing god, it seems to embody a kind of mediation between earth and heaven.” Think about the caduseus as the symbol of the medical profession.
Another characteristic of the snake is its ability to shed its skin as it grows. It actually renews itself. The snake will actually shed it’s skin 4-8 times a year. So, if we combine this knowledge with Jung’s idea of the snake being “a kind of mediation between earth and heaven”, we might see snakes in our dreams in times of spiritual renewal.
In The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983 ), Barbara Walker points out that practically every culture has a snake in its mythology, and most often it is seen as a symbol of wisdom, healing, initiation, and secret knowledge, or it is associated with eternal life and ongoing renewal. Snake is the archetypal symbol of the Great Mother Goddess, incarnate in one of her most universal forms. This symbol of the Divine Feminine may show up as a symbol of healing from patriarchal religion, particularly, but not exclusively in the dreams of women.
The coiled snake may be indicative of the Kundalini Shakti energy. Kundalini is the is the sanskrit word for “coiled up” and is symbolic of the cosmic feminine energy that fuels spiritual awakening. In Kundalini Yoga, the snake is curled at the base of the spine and it moves up through all the chakras as one awakens spiritually. Play with the idea of the coiled snake being an indicator of moving into higher consciousness.
As you can see, the snake can be a sign of great healing, especially in the spiritual realm. In my own dreams, snakes come to let me know that I am opening to a new level of spiritual healing and awareness.
I remember one dream in which I was driving to a retreat center in the NC mountains. I had my son’s pet Burmese Python in her aquarium on the front seat next to me. As we made the journey, she began to grow and by the time we reached our destination, she filled the car.
As I processed this dream, there were several insights that the snake gave to me. First, was my connection to the Divine Feminine. I was being encouraged by the dream to embrace the Divine Feminine more completely in my spiritual life. This opened a many new avenues for healing the wounds I had felt from patriarchal religion.
The retreat center was the place where I attended dream leader training. I remember sharing this dream with one of my teachers. He saw the growing snake as my growth as a teacher of dreams and encouraged me to accept my role as a dream work professional. Up until this point, I had considered myself a facilitator of dream groups, but certainly not a teacher. This dream helped me to move forward in my career.
In this article, we have just scratched the surface of the image of snakes in dreams. The snake is ancient and archetypal. I encourage you to not fear the snake when she comes into your dreams. Explore the possibility that the snake may showing you that you are healing in some area of your life. She can be the symbol of your transformation!
Dreams as a Source of Healing During the Grief Process
As a chaplain and Interfaith minister, I am often asked to facilitate bereavement support groups. The time following the loss of someone special is like being on a roller coaster of intense emotions. I have found that dreams can be a profound source of healing for the grieving person.
At the beginning of each group, I request that the participants record their dreams during the eight weeks we are meeting. Some group members are resistant to the practice, but by the third or forth week, everyone has had a significant dream.
These dreams tend to fall into two categories. Some will have a dream visit from their friend/ relative who has died. Others will have dreams that serve as a marker of where they are in the process.
In the case of the dream visit, the loved one often comes to reassure the grieving person that he/she is ok. The dreamer is usually grateful for the visit, but sometimes feels overwhelmed with emotion. I am often asked if that was really a visit from the person or was it just a symbolic message of the psyche. I think it is both.
While I have no scientific proof that someone who has died can communicate through the dream, it is my belief that this is possible. While dreaming, our defenses are down. If a loved one is trying to make contact, the dream state would be the path of least resistance.
In one of my groups, a woman who lost her husband dreamed of him sitting beside her and touching her face. The touch reassured her that they could remain connected spiritually. For her, in her belief system, the visit was real.
This dream is also helpful on a symbolic level. The dreamer’s inner masculine has shown up in the form of her husband to care for her. In Jungian dreamwork, all of the characters in the dream are parts of our own psyche.
In the dream, her inner masculine is compassionate and caring. The dreamer has connected to the compassionate, caring elements of her personality to gently bring her through the grieving process into the next phase of her life.
The second type of grieving dream is illustrated by the following example:
“ I am in my kitchen with my interior decorator. He says I need to add plants to my decor. In the kitchen, the cabinets don’t reach the ceiling. He points to the top of the cabinets, stating, “You need a plant here” and the plant appeared. He did this several times and each time a plant would appear. By the time the dream was over, my kitchen was filled with beautiful, green, plants.”
The dreamer is a single woman who had recently lost her mother. She and her mother were very close. She was having some feelings of regret, thinking that surely she could have done more. In reality, she did a marvelous job of caring for her mother. She often said, “I have lost my best friend,”
This dream came in the last few weeks of the group. It came to tell her that she is doing well in her grieving process. The projections from the group were varied, but these are the projections that resonated with the dreamer. The dream is set in the kitchen, a place of nourishment. Her interior decorator was a spirit guide showing her how to bring color back into her life. She said, “Green is the color of the heart chakra and every time I saw a new plant, my heart opened up more!”
When her mother died, she was not sure she would ever be able to open herself to another person. The dreamer was able to say after working with the dream that she was certain that her broken heart was healing.
In dreamwork circles, the accepted wisdom is that the dream comes to tell us things we didn’t know about ourselves. This was true for both of these women. In the first dream, the dreamer was really missing the steadying presence of her husband. The dream she had was reassuring her that her own internal masculine would be with her always.
The second dreamer was assured that she would indeed be able to live from an open heart again.
These are two examples of the assistance we can receive from our dreams during times of grief. Grief is an inevitable part of life. Isn’t it nice to know that we have an inner dream teacher to help us through the rough times?