The Meaning Behind the Animals of Hogwarts Houses: The Slytherin Snake

Because Harry Potter fans have come to learn that nothing J.K. Rowling writes is by chance, I embarked on this journey to look at the animal emblems of all four Hogwarts Houses. I wanted to find out how previously recorded legends, myths, and other symbolic systems mentioned these animals and how the nature of the animals in traditional symbolism reflected the House values in Rowling’s work. Gryffindor is an obvious connection between the symbol of a lion and bravery. I had to do a little more research when it came to the Ravenclaw eagle and the Hufflepuff badger, but there were interesting findings regarding those two animals and how they connected to their respective Houses. For today’s post I’ll be concentrating on Slytherin House and its snake emblem.

The snake or serpent has long been identified with cunning. A great example of the snake’s association with deceit is the story of Adam and Eve. The snake convinces Eve to give into temptation and pick the fruit from the tree that God gave specific instructions for Adam and Eve to never touch or eat from. In this story, not only does the snake use craftiness to convince others to do something, but it also can be seen as an instigator of ambition, which is one of the main traits of Slytherin House. The snake in the story of Adam and Eve tells Eve that the forbidden tree will give her knowledge of good and evil, the kind of knowledge that God himself possesses. Because of this prospect of knowing more, Eve picked fruit from the forbidden tree, therefore gravitating to the ambition of gaining more than she already had. The Celts used to refer to the wise leaders in their communities as Adders, which is of course a type of snake. This traditional term echoes Slytherin’s  relationship with cleverness (a close cousin of knowledge) and ambition.

Snakes are often associated with immortality and rebirth. The connection between water and serpents illustrates this symbolism, as water in itself is thought to represent rebirth and purification. Snakes also shed their skin, another trait associated with rebirth. Slytherins are said to be achievement oriented. Immortality is a sort of achievement. If one becomes immortal through fame or a legacy left behind, that is an achievement for sure.

Snakes and serpents have been associated with both good and evil throughout myths and legends over the years. Sometimes they are portrayed as a healing power, while other times they represent death or sin. This division in moral leanings of snakes is similar to how Slytherin House is comprised of wizards with both good intents and evil leanings. Slytherin is arguably one of the most diverse and interesting Houses at Hogwarts. While it gets a bad reputation for turning out evil witches and wizards, Slytherin also has been home to some incredibly brave and versatile characters within the Harry Potter series.