Symbolism of Snake and Skull in Mexican Mythology

Written by avenefica on January 30th, 2008




I got a fascinating request for information on the symbolism of snake and skull in Mexican mythology/culture to which I respond:

At its simplest, the symbolism of snake and skull in Mexican mythology is a timeless message of impermanence.

More specifically, the symbolic meaning of skull and rattlesnake imagery deals with the human saga of conquering death only to discover the only option is to surrender to life. 

In Mexico, the skull is a representation of impermanence, transition, and freedom.  It signifies the liberation of worldly burdens.  The annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations of Mexico in which the skull is a prominent feature, is an extension of this liberation theme.  This is a time when veil separating the dead from the living is at its thinnest.  A time in which life and death meet, and loved ones are reunited.   

Here the skull represents the faint shadows our physical remnant leaves behind upon our death.  Beyond those gaping dark sockets is the life beyond what our eyes have seen. 

Mexican tradition honors the cycle of life and death – their symbols such as the skull are testimonies to their profound insight into such complex concepts.

The symbolism of the snake or rattlesnake is another extension of the unique Mexican perspective on life, death and the transition between the two.

Mexican mythology indicates the snake is a symbol of veneration, worship and honor.  Often a symbol of great power, resurrection and rebirth, the snake continues to be a powerful emblem of renewal and transition. 

Further, the snake is recognized as a symbol of humanity as a whole.  Interestingly, the Mexican perspective provides hope for mankind to aspire to great heights as it correlates the shedding of the serpent’s skin to man’s ability to change his own circumstances and overcome adversity.

To summarize the symbolic meaning of the snake and skull in the Mexican mythological realms indicate:

  • Duality between mans identification with conflict between life and death
  • The impermanence (illusion) associated with this conflict
  • Man’s ability to recognize this message of impermanence
  • Man’s ability to utilize the power available to him to over come this conflict
  • Ultimate ascension & surpassing of conflict & illusion altogether.

I also have an entry on the skull as a good luck symbol here.  You may also be interested in the snake totem symbolism, or snake symbolism in dreams.

You may also be interested in my page on Halloween Symbols and their Meanings here.

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3 Comments so far ↓

  1. TheOtherIvy says:

    Great information. The tradition of making sugar skulls is also fascinating.

  2. Hi there I had a dream last night was wondering if u could interpret it for me. In this dream there was a very large kind of yellow/golden serpent and it was I felt v. evil and it was going to consume me; however i destroyed it with a bolt of fire, burning it’s head off and i felt i had conquered it; however just to make sure at the end of my dream i let loose my own serpent into the dream of the same size and colour etc and i felt that this creature was “good” and would protect me and do my bidding; then the dream ended; when i woke up i felt i had defeated something bad and evil; i practice prayer and read the Bible but before I went to sleep i had been chanting “Allah” to myself; what does all this mean and thanks for ur help; Graham

  3. Mary Novak says:

    I have had my first dreams of skulls after a 13 year intense healing and shamanic initiations… only time will reveal the collective level of its meaning, but i thank you for sharing your wisdom. Maria Katerina Petchuwa Frankuzka Czarnik Novak, 13 Star Nation Black Jaguar Nations of the Primordial Grandmothers