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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
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Anime And Manga
- Naruto's original prime villain, Orochimaru, had a decidedly 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 giant snakes. His "true form" is even a massive serpent made up of smaller snakes. 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.
Folklore and Mythology
- In Mesopotamian Mythology, the immortality potion that Gilgamesh sought to cheat death with was drank by a snake, giving it the ability to shed its skin.
- 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.
- 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.
- However, the Book of Genesis contains a subversion - the serpent tricked Eve into eating a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In response, God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden to prevent them from also eating the fruits of the Tree of Life.
- 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 Salmissranote into rather immoral actions under the promise of immortality, until Polgara transforms her into an immortal snake.
- The Worm of the World's End in 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 (probable reference to Jormungandr). Lucky there's no chance of that ever hap... oh, shit...
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who - The Master's ashes inexplicably turn into a CGI snake during the Eighth Doctor TV movie. It sabotages the TARDIS, escapes onto Earth and possesses a human.
- In Shadowrun shamen who have Snake as their totem gain +2 dice when casting healing spells.
- Pokémon has the "Shed Skin" ability that has a chance of healing Standard Status Effects each turn, possessed by the snake-like Pokemon Ekans, Dratini and Seviper (among others).
- 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.".