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Serpent of Immortality

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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 is part of why a snake is on the rod of Asclepius, which represents medicine (as well as the caduceus, which it is often confused with). 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.


Examples:

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    Anime & 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.
    • He likens himself as surpassing the serpent into a dragon.

    Arts 
  • Nefertiti Bust: The yellow vertical line on Nefertiti's crown used to end in a uraeus, the upstanding cobra signifying the divinity of the pharaoh. Unsurprisingly for such a frail component, it's broken off sometime between 1345 BC and the present.
  • The Sin: Inverted as the devil serpent's temptation is what causes Adam and Even to be cast from an immortal life of prosperity.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): It's confirmed that Ghidorah was born billions of years ago, and it can never permanently die so long as a viable piece of its DNA remains for it to regenerate practically From a Single Cell. As for Ghidorah's Artificial Hybrid "offspring", Monster X; it has a serpentine quality to it, and it's indicated in Chapter 14 that it'll live at least for thousands of years, possibly even forever, if not killed.

    Film 
  • Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid: The main characters are seeking a flower, the Blood Orchid, which contains chemicals that can prolong life when eaten. However, the anacondas in the area have been feeding on animals that fed on the flower, and as reptiles don't stop growing, the jungle is now packed with very large, very old snakes that have gathered for the mating season.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • The Shalis in The Licanius Trilogy are serpent-like beings that can always be revived after death — if they aren't revived in about a day's time, though, they will go completely insane.
  • Queen Salmissra from The 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 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 (probable reference to Jormungandr). Luckily there's no chance of that ever hap... oh, shit...
  • It's revealed in the third book of The Zodiac Series that Ophiuchus was supposed to be immortal. His Talisman granted him a form of Resurrective Immortality, the intent being for him to remain among the humans even after the other Guardians were long gone. However, the Talisman only works when he has it on him. Unfortunately for him, he did not have it on him when he ended up executed for treason, as one of the other Guardians had stolen it.
  • While not explicitly immortal, Kaa the python and the White Cobra are by far the oldest living creatures of The Jungle Book. The latter is so old, he predates the jungle and has outlived his own poison.

    Live-Action TV 

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • 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.
  • Egyptian Mythology: Apep, the evil snake demon-god, has Resurrective Immortality, earning him the title of "Serpent of Rebirth".
  • In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the herb of eternal life that Gilgamesh sought to cheat death with was stolen and eaten by a snake, giving it the ability to shed its skin, thus rejuvenating itself and becoming immortal.
  • In Hindu Mythology, much like with Gilgamesh, Garuda, king of the birds, was sent to retrieve an elixir of immortality but lost it in an accident. Snakes took the opportunity to lap up the spilled drops, gaining their skin-shedding rejuvenation, but cut their tongues on the grass, gaining their forked tongues.
  • Níðhöggr, the dragon/snake monster chewing on the roots of Yggdrasil in Norse Mythology, is one of the few beings that will survive Ragnarök.

    Podcasts 
  • In Trials & Trebuchets, Neska has been able to survive since before the fall of the ancient Sheoran empire thanks to her being an Ascendant priestess of Meaphidae allowing her to grow both humanoid and giant snake bodies in urns as back-ups to inhabit if her current body dies, and is even able to inhabit multiple bodies at once.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Shadowrun, shamen who have Snake as their totem gain +2 dice when casting healing spells.

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon has the "Shed Skin" ability that has a chance of healing 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.
  • BlazBlue: Hazama (or more specifically Yuuki Terumi), who is always associated with snakes, turns out to be very old. As in, nearly as old as the universe itself as the original will of the Susanooh Unit that protects the Master Unit Amaterasu.
  • Dark Souls: Serpents are closely tied to the idea of immortality, and Dark Souls lore states that serpents are "incomplete dragons", the Everlasting Dragons having been the only truly immortal beings in the verse. They are also symbols of greed, so the general symbolism of a snake in Dark Souls is something that covets immortality, but cannot quite attain it. The Primordial Serpents are also extremely old, supposedly having existed prior to the Age of Fire, if their name is any indication. The Japanese dialogue in the third game suggests, however, that at least one of the Primordial Serpents, Kaathe, is dead by that time, meaning they are not truly immortal either.
  • Elden Ring: Invoked by Rykard, who is a serpentine abomination, and after you beat him, mocks you for thinking he's gone for good. Still doesn't seem to have done him much good, as his head is completely unresponsive, and Tanith tries to eat it to become a Willing Channeler.
    Rykard (upon defeat): No one will hold me captive. A serpent never dies. Ha ha ha...

    Webcomics 


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