Created By: Oreochan on May 20, 2012 Last Edited By: MacronNotes on August 11, 2013
Troped

Serpent Of Immortality

Snakes symbolise immortality, regeneration and rebirth.

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Trope
Snakes are often associated with immortality, rejuvenation, rebirth and youth.

One reason is that in the days before humans had time to study the life-cycles of animals it was believed that when a snake shed its skin it actually got younger and could potentially live forever. When a snake sheds its skin it appears to be ill and when it finishes shedding its skin, it looks rejuvenated and reincarnated. This could be why snakes are on the caduceus, which represents medicine. Snake venom may also be used to restore, heal, or grant immortality, in fiction and even real life.

Another reason why snakes are thought to represent immortality is because of the Ouroboros, a snake symbol that forms a circle by eating its own tail. Circles and spirals were used as symbols for eternal life. Sometimes, the snake will have two knots to resemble the infinity symbol.

See also Resurrective Immortality, Born-Again Immortality and Ouroboros.

Indexes: Symbolism, Older Than Dirt, Rebirth and Reincarnation Tropes, Immortality, Reptile and Amphibian Tropes


Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime And Manga]]
  • Naruto's original prime villain, Orochimaru, had a decided serpentine motif (he's named after a mythical character who is in turn named after a hydra-like monster), with matching snakelike face, and the ability to summon a giant snake. He got these attributes in his search for a technique to bestow immortality. The degree of similarity with Voldemort is staggering, and both are examples of this trope meeting Reptiles Are Abhorrent.
    • Also, Kabuto who absorbs Orochimaru's powers, looks even more serpentine and does a technique that resurrects and controls dead shinobi to fight for him as undead zombies. So there you go.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Folklore and Mythology]]
  • Asclepius, the Greek God of Healing, is symbolised by two serpents coiled round a staff: this image is still today used as a sign of regeneration, healing and medicine and is at least two thousand years old. The Asclepius staff is the cap badge of the British Army's medical corps. The symbol may be older still: refer to the example from Numbers, concerning Moses' staff with the serpent coiled round it, that conferred immunity from snakebite and by extention deliverance from evil and death - Satan in his Garden of Eden serpent form.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
  • Older Than Dirt: This appears in The Epic of Gilgamesh, where the magical plant which grants eternal life and youth is stolen by a snake, making it immortal. Gilgamesh didn't get a chance to eat the plant and had to go home mortal.
  • The Bible:
    • In Numbers 21, the children of Israel were dying from being bitten by fiery serpents. Moses made a brass serpent and put it on a pole, and whoever looked at it didn't die from snakebite.
    • John 3:13: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." So the serpent symbolizes Christ, crucified and resurrected.
  • Harry Potter:
  • In The Neverending Story (both the book and movies,) this is the visual motif behind AURYN, the amulet representing the power of the immortal Childlike Empress.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Dragon is a person who is reincarnated once an Age to deal with the Dark One. The motif of immortality is clearly in use, especially as the Dragon emblem looks decidedly snakelike, and the series makes varied use of the Ouroboros symbol for the Wheel of Time itself.
  • Invoked in-universe in The Sleeping Beauty. When Godmother Lily is undoing the "look like she's dead" spell on Rosa, one component of the ritual is a snake ring on Rosa's hand to symbolize rebirth.
  • In My Ragnarok (a Spin-Off of the Labyrinths of Echo series), Jormungandr the World Serpent arrives to grant immortality to Max and his army. Too bad Max kills its instead.
  • Queen Salmissra from Belgariad also invokes this trope. The patron god of Nyissa is a snake god who favored a mortal priestess a long time ago, but neglected to prolong her life. After her death, each reigning queen is chosen based on how closely they resemble Salmissra and kept artificially young through drugs, and replaced when they grow too old for this to work. In effect, this means that it appears to uninformed outsiders Nyissa, favored by the serpent god Issa, has its monarch blessed with immortality and eternal youth. Unfortunately, the realization that she is not immortal drives one Salmissra into rather immoral actions, provoking the transformation into a snake.
  • The Worm of the World's End in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant probably counts. It's apparently a gigantic serpent that forms the foundation of the world itself, and if it ever wakes up it'll be the end. Lucky there's no chance of that ever hap... oh, shit...
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Game]]
  • In Shadowrun shamen who have Snake as their totem gain +2 dice when casting healing spells.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
  • Pokémon has Shed Skin, an ability that can cure status ailments that are inflicted to it. This ability is the main ability of Seviper.
  • Monks that specialize in healing their allies in World of Warcraft have a heavy serpent motif -- they fight in a specialized Serpent Stance, lay down Serpent Statues that duplicate healing, etc.
  • In BlazBlue Hazama, who is always associated with snakes turns out to be very old.
  • Dark Souls: The description of the Coventous Gold Serpent Ring: "The serpent is an imperfect dragon and symbol of the Undead.".
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]] [[/folder]]


Community Feedback Replies: 50
  • May 21, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    In the Harry Potter series Voldemort has a pet snake

    Also I think a Dr Who episode mentioned a time lord who had an ouroboros tattoo... though I guess that would be mentioned on the ouroboros page that I didn't know we had.
  • May 21, 2012
    ringsofrexor
    In the fahrenheit videogame also appears this.
  • May 21, 2012
    Desertopa
    This appears in The Epic Of Gilgamesh, where the plant which grants eternal life and youth is stolen by a snake, making this one Older Than Dirt.

    In The Neverending Story (both the book and movies,) this is the visual motif behind AURYN, the amulet representing the power of the immortal Childlike Empress.
  • May 24, 2012
    Cider
    The Epic Of Gilgamesh isn't the snake representing immortality. Its just a snake that got to what Gilgamesh wanted first, but he ends up finding a different form of immortality.
  • May 24, 2012
    thewriter
    To elaborate on the Harry Potter example:
  • May 24, 2012
    LordGro
    ^^The episode from "Gilgamesh" is a Just So Story about how snakes became immortal. I'd say it's Immortal Snake justified.
  • May 24, 2012
    Generality
    Anime
    • Naruto's original prime villain, Orochimaru, had a decided serpentine motif (he's named after a mythical character who is in turn named after a hydra-like monster), with matching snakelike face, and the ability to summon a giant snake. He got these attributes in his search for a technique to bestow immortality. The degree of similarity with Voldemort is staggering, and both are examples of this trope meeting Reptiles Are Abhorrent.

    Religion
    • In some parts of The Bible, the Seraphim, highest class of angels, are associated with snakes.
  • August 9, 2012
    beamerpook
    Literature - in the Belgariad, a queen named Salmissra of a culture who worshipped snakes was turned into a giant immortal snake.
  • August 9, 2012
    MrRuano
    Pokemon has Shed Skin, an ability that can cure status ailments that are inflicted to it. This ability is the main ability of Seviper.
  • August 9, 2012
    Generality
    • In The Wheel Of Time, the Dragon is a person who is reincarnated once an Age to deal with the Dark One. The motif of immortality is clearly in use, especially as the Dragon emblem looks decidedly snakelike, and the series makes varied use of the Ouroboros symbol.
  • August 9, 2012
    NoirGrimoir
    Also with Naruto, Kabuto who absorbs Orochimaru's powers, looks even more serpentine and does a technique that resurrects and controls dead shinobi to fight for him as undead zombies. So there you go.
  • August 15, 2012
    ccoa
    Immortality, Resurrective Immortality, Born Again Immortality, Motif, and possibly The Ageless or Long Lived seem like relevant tropes here.
  • August 22, 2012
    Koveras
  • August 23, 2012
    Mauri
    Certain Folk Tales involving the snakes shedding show this. However the only recompilation I recall that has them is Memory of fire in one of the retells the myths.
  • August 25, 2012
    LeeM
    Literature: The Worm of the World's End in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant probably counts. It's apparently a gigantic serpent that forms the foundation of the world itself, and if it ever wakes up it'll be the end. Lucky there's no chance of that ever hap... oh, shit...
  • August 28, 2012
    Medinoc
    In the Belgariad, the immortality-seeking Queen Salmissra is turned into an immortal snake by sorceress Polgara.
  • August 28, 2012
    KarjamP
    This trope needs a better name (When I think of "Immortal Snake", I think of a snake that's immortal).
  • August 30, 2012
    Rognik
    I think The Longest Journey used this as a backdraft when a new chapter started. I know the snake eating its own tail was present, and slowly got smaller the further the game got in. I don't know if it symbolized immortality or cycles or anything of that sort, but the snake was there.

    Real Life example: there is an unknown goddess in the Grecian region, who was often seen with snakes.
  • October 11, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    ^Goddesses aren't Real Life examples - they go to a Mythology folder.
  • October 11, 2012
    Rotpar
    • Touhou has Kanako Yasaka, the sky goddess who adopted snake imagery. Behind her is a rope circle that represents reincarnation. The All There In The Manual / Expanded Universe book, Grimoire of Marisa shows her sigil as a snake coiled into the figure-eight infinity sign. Though her imagery is also partly a Take That, she stole her shrine from the mountain goddess who uses frog imagery and snakes eat frogs.
  • October 15, 2012
    Khantalas
    Queen Salmissra from Belgariad also invokes this trope. The patron god of Nyissa is a snake god who favored a mortal priestess a long time ago, but neglected to prolong her life. After her death, each reigning queen is chosen based on how closely they resemble Salmissra and kept artificially young through drugs, and replaced when they grow too old for this to work. In effect, this means that it appears to uninformed outsiders Nyissa, favored by the serpent god Issa, has its monarch blessed with immortality and eternal youth. Unfortunately, the realization that she is not immortal drives one Salmissra into rather immoral actions, provoking the transformation into a snake.
  • October 15, 2012
    McKathlin
    • In Numbers 21, the children of Israel were dying from being bitten by fiery serpents. Moses made a brass serpent and put it on a pole, and whoever looked at it didn't die from snakebite.
  • October 15, 2012
    McKathlin
    • John 3:13: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." So the serpent symbolizes Christ, crucified and resurrected.
  • October 16, 2012
    chicagomel
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer might count...it had the whole Ascension plot with the mayor, where he transformed into a giant snake demon. In the days before the endgame, he became invincible as well, which would last until his Ascension.
  • October 17, 2012
    Oreochan
    Since "Immortal Snake" can be taken literally, does anyone have any alternative titles?
  • October 19, 2012
    Khantalas
  • October 19, 2012
    Generality
    Serpent Of Immortality, or possibly, Of Eternity.
  • October 20, 2012
    Oreochan
    ^ I think either of those could work.
  • October 20, 2012
    XFllo
    Live Action TV
    • The X Files: It's a popular fan theory that Agent Scully might be immortal. It's implied especially in two episodes: "Clyde Bruskcman's Final Repose" and "Tithonus". (However, Word Of God said that the former had not been meant like that.) In "Never Again", Scully gets an ouroboros tattoo, even though it was established that she had a snake phobia.
  • October 23, 2012
    MattStriker
    Webcomics
  • October 28, 2012
    GKaiser
    • Monks that specialize in healing their allies in World Of Warcraft have a heavy serpent motif - they fight in a specialized Serpent Stance, lay down Serpent Statues that duplicate healing, etc.
  • October 30, 2012
    Arivne
    Tabletop RPG
    • Shadowrun. Shamen who have Snake as their totem gain +2 dice when casting healing spells.
  • October 30, 2012
    lu127
    We have something very similar--Ouroboros.
  • November 6, 2012
    sunember123
    Dark Souls: The description of the Coventous Gold Serpent Ring: "The serpent is an imperfect dragon and symbol of the Undead.".
  • November 26, 2012
    CarrieVS
    Mythology example: In Norse mythology, the world is encircled by Jormungand, a gigantic serpent with his tail in his mouth. When he lets go, the world will end.
  • December 4, 2012
    Oreochan
    ^ I think that is more of example of Ouroboros than this.

    Anyways, I plan on launching this during winter break, so is there anything that needs to be done with this draft? I know it's similar to Ouroboros but I think it's a supertrope since it's about snakes representing immortality in general.
  • February 24, 2013
    LordGro
    I'd see it simply as a different trope from Ouroboros, not a supertrope. The Ouroboros symbolizes *eternity*, as opposed to *immortality*. Also, the association of snakes with immortality goes back to their shedding of skin, not of them being able to form a circle.
  • March 25, 2013
    xanderiskander
    the link to the Ouroboros page in this article is broken because it's misspelled
  • March 25, 2013
    MacronNotes
    ^ Fixed
  • March 26, 2013
    MokonaZero
    In Blaz Blue Hazama, who is always associated with snakes turns out to be very old.
  • March 26, 2013
    Antigone3
    Invoked in-universe in The Sleeping Beauty. When Godmother Lily is undoing the "look like she's dead" spell on Rosa, one component of the ritual is a snake ring on Rosa's hand to symbolize rebirth.
  • June 8, 2013
    MissKitten
    This goes under the Symbolism index once launched.
  • June 8, 2013
    Jaqen
    I can't believe we don't have this one. But ifn we don't, kudos to you for spotting an Older Than Dirt trope that we don't have.
  • June 13, 2013
    morenohijazo
    I think this was already launched some time ago..
  • June 13, 2013
    LOAD
    ^I don't see it. If it was launched, it's not under this name.
  • June 14, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
    No, it was a trollaunch. It's been unlaunched again.
  • June 14, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Is there anything left to do before this can be launched for real? I think it's ready, aside from adding a few more examples (Pokemon/Seviper/Shed Skin, maybe Kabuto from Naruto)

    But I don't think the Touhou example counts.

    Also, maybe the descriptions should say less about Ourobouros (like, "see Ourobouros for a related trope") and more about snakes being associated with healing and resurrection.
  • June 18, 2013
    AgProv
    Aescypulous (check spelling)the God of Healing, is symbolised by two serpents coiled round a staff: this image is still today used as a sign of regeneration, healing and medicine and is at least two thousand years old. The Aescypolous staff is the cap badge of the British Army's medical corps. The symbol may be older still: refer to the example from Numbers, concerning Moses' staff with the serpent coiled round it, that conferred immunity from snakebite and by extention deliverance from evil and death - Satan in his Garden of Eden serpent form.
  • July 13, 2013
    morenohijazo
    Ready to launch, then?
  • July 13, 2013
    DAN004
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=blli9yhgkx6cty5ai07ihqrr&trope=SerpentOfImmortality