Since ancient times the serpent has been an object of awe, inspiring worship in many religious sects and imbued with great supernatural powers. For example white snakes were said to be reincarnations of Shinto gods. In the Kojiki it is related that Susano-o, brother of the sun goddess, slew an eight-headed serpent from whose tail he withdrew the sword which came to be one of the Three Sacred Treasures composing the imperial regalia.
When Buddhism reached Japan from China in the sixth century, the Shinto religion already worshiped a snake deity called Orochi which became merged with the Buddhist guardian deity Ryo, a dragon-like serpent who controlled the clouds, rain and water. The images of the snake and the dragon are much intertwined. One story tells of the 17’th century poet Kyo´rai being begged to accompany a strange looking old man to a certain seashore. On their arrival, however, the traveler revealed himself as a giant white snake, over a thousand years old, who with the poet’s help had managed to achieve the final stage of his ascetic tasks and was forthwith transformed into a dragon. In many of the world’s cultures the snake inspires loathing and fear, probably due to its silent presence and ability to shed its skin. The shedding of skin must also have contributed to its reputation of being able to transform into human shape, such tales abounding in Japanese folklore. A person might also choose to come back into the world in the form of a serpent in order to exact revenge and impose justice, in which case his image is heroic rather than evil. The subject of a snake entwined around a skull appears quite frequently in art and may refer to this belief in souls reappearing as serpents. A snake in an old house should be left in peace as it is considered to be a guardian spirit. White snakes are considered auspicious as messengers of the gods. The truest form of the snake was the attendant and messenger of the goddess Benten. According to ancient legend, on the island of Enoshima there lived a serpent who was rapidly depopulating the countryside, until one day, following an earthquake, there arose an island in the middle of a lake. Upon this island was hidden the serpent’s lair. The goddess Benten descended upon the island and married the serpent, thus causing it to cease its wanton activities. In art she is frequently portrayed accompanied by a snake. In general, the snake has become emblematic of deceit, cunning, and most particularly jealousy.
Superstitions hold that human saliva is poisonous to snakes, as described in the tale of “Tawara Toda,” and also that iron offers particularly good protection against snake bite. There are still stores in China and even Japan today that sell snakes and snake extracts and medicines made from snakes, which are said to possess remarkable curative powers.
People born in the year of the snake are quiet, wise, and wealthy. Relying on their own judgement, they are determined and persist until their goals are attained. They are deep thinkers and financially lucky. Men born in the year of the snake are passionate and handsome, and women are beautiful.