It was over 50 years ago when I saw my first snake tattoo. My father proudly showed off his snake and dagger tattoo design he just had inked on his upper arm. I liked it too as he had incorporated my name in the design. He told me then he chose this design to represent strength and protection. If he were alive today, maybe he say something different, but I'm sure, in that tangled web of tattoos he eventually ended up with, this was still one of his favourites.
What is it that still draws people to this design? There are many answers to this and I will name just a couple. For example, the snake's popularity may have something to do with the rich history of myths and legends. One such myth is that of the ancient Greek myth of Medusa, the beautiful snake haired woman, who had the power to turn men into stone with a single glance, and I'm sure we know of a few women who still have that power today.
Snakes and serpents have a long mythological history associated with good and evil, life and death, beginnings and endings. When a snake sheds its skin it is seen as a symbol of rebirth, change, and healing.
Another tale of re-birth is that of the Ancient Greeks who had Ouroboros, a snake curled into a circle biting its own tail. The idea being that the continuing eating and re-growing of the tail is a symbol of the eternal cycle of ruin and re-birth.
The shedding of skin by the snake has also been associated with re-birth or new beginnings. The ancient Greeks believed snakes were sacred to the god of medicine Asclepius who had a staff with serpents wrapped around it, which you can still see today as a symbol in modern medicine.
What about the story of Hydra, a 9 headed serpent defeated by Hercules. The story goes Hercules had a difficult time killing the Hydra because when he cut one head off two heads would grow back. He eventually solved the problem by burning the stumps to stop another head growing, and the Hydra lived no more.
In some mythologies snakes are seen as the keepers of wisdom and sacred secrets. But the snake has also been show as a symbol of evil, death, or deceit. In Christianity, the serpent tricks Adam and Eve into disobeying God. Perhaps due to the deadly venom many snakes possess, myths involving snakes have often portrayed them as evil.
In Australia, India, and Africa, where snake myths are related to rainbows, and rainbows are often associated with rain and fertility. I like the story of Da, a mythological African serpent who kept the oceans and sky in place and we could catch a quick look at Da when a rainbow appeared.
Another reason for the snake's popularity as a tattoo design is that you can be incorporated with any other design, such as, hearts and daggers, or skulls and dragons. The beauty of the snake tattoo design is it doesn't look out-of-place with any other tattoo design.