Snakes have a very prominent role in the mythology systems of many different cultures and societies, past and present, throughout the world. In some mythological systems, snakes are regarded as symbols of fertility, and in others they're viewed as deceivers. Snakes in mythology appear both in ancient and modern literature, with interpretations following cultural lines, making it important to research a culture's mythological system before attempting to analyze its literary works. Snakes in mythology are interesting largely because of the many different roles they play. Many different mythological systems see them as powerful, good, and representative of life and connection to the Earth, while others, most notably Judeo-Christian culture, view snakes as representatives of the devil.
Snakes in mythology are often representative of life, fertility, and a strong connection to the Earth. Some cultures, for instance, believed that snakes served as guardians and messengers from the underworld because they lived in the ground. Some African and Australian creation stories involve a great serpent as a creator figure or at least as a powerful water God. Greek and Egyptian myths also include stories of a snake existing before the Earth and having an important role in the Earth's creation. Snakes in mythology are also sometimes used to represent immortality or wisdom and are often closely related to water.
Judeo-Christian culture has a very different view of the roles of snakes in mythology. One of the best known Biblical stories involves the devil taking the form of a snake and tricking Eve into partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden by God. For cultures primarily influenced by Judeo-Christian traditions, then, snakes in mythology are commonly representative of deception and evil. St. Patrick, for instance, was said in Irish religious legend to have banished all of the snakes from Ireland after they assaulted him repeatedly while he was fasting.
Snakes in mythology have provided a great many associations that modern writers continue to use. It is important to understand the culture to which writers belong and for which they are writing before attempting a symbolic interpretation of snakes in literature. Snakes in Western literature are often representative of evil and deception because of the strong Judeo-Christian influence on Western culture. Other writers, however, still use snakes to symbolize fertility, life, immortality, wisdom, and a variety of other traits that have nothing to do with deception or evil.