Ancient word of the day: Adder

Snakes, serpents, vipers, adders – they all convey ancient power of life over death, of emerging in ones full power to take back what belongs to them, of transformation and return. A potent ancestral spirit and augur from the Land of the Dead.


The Adder Vipera berus is the only venomous snake in Britain.

Valiant, ephipanic and terrifying, snakes flare up and out of the earth, or from under leaf litter, or the dark waters of rivers, out of the darkness of the psyche.

But never met this Fellow

Attended or alone

Without a tighter breathing

And zero at the bone.

~A Narrow Fellow in the Grass, Emily Dickinson

The snake is a form for countless deities including Zeus, Apollo, Persephone, Hades, Isis, Kali, Shiva.

The underworld realm of the dead that snakes mythically inhabit is also the fecund ground from which new life emerges, a place of healing, initiation and relevation.

Photo by Julia Thorne

Copper alloy bracelet in form of a snake. Egypt, Roman period | Manchester Museum | 9.2 x 5.7 cm. Photo by Julia Thorne


In the Tantric traditions of India, the feminine cosmic energy of Kundalini lies asleep in the coiled serpent at the base of the spine. Awakened through yogic meditation, the serpent Shakti rises through the subtle body, the two nerve currents at each side of the spinal cord, opens up the chakras to unite the crown chakra with the goddess Shiva in ecstacy and transcendence.

~ The book of symbols, reflections on archetypal images pp. 196


The Oxford English Dictionary records that ‘adder’ arose as a contraction/re-allocation of the ‘n’: ‘naeddr became ‘an adder’.

Welsh: Niedr

Old Irish: Nathir

West Saxon: Næddre

Mercian: Nedre

Northumbrian: Nedra

Proto-Germanic: Naethro

German: Natter

PIE root: Nētr

Latin: Natrix

Adder is also closely related to the ancient word Augury, which I have written about here.

Ancient word of the day: Adder

They seem to inhabit this dozy, dreamy world and represent the unspent potential of humans. At least this is how the ancients saw them.


Asclepius was a divine healer of ancient Greece. The serpent represented the demon or ‘genius’ of the physician, entwined around his staff. A patient came to Asclepius for incubation in a dreamy and serene state where curative potentialities could be reached in the form of a dream. The snake here becomes a hidden force, dark and cold but at the same time, warm and radiant that stirs beneath the surface of the waking world, and accomplishes the miracle of a cure.

~ The book of symbols, reflections on archetypal images pp. 196

The mother of eternity, a life established for eternity

The mummy of an adult female, aged around 20. Wrapped in linen and fitted with a linen-and-plaster mummy mask. The front of the mask is gilded and shows the deceased woman with a Roman hairstyle, which dates the mask to the mid-1st century AD. She wears a veil covering the back of her head, and a contemporary-style dress with two black stripes (clavi) down the front. Her elaborate jewellery includes disc-shaped earrings; a necklace and armlets inlaid with green glass or stones; and snake bracelets on both wrists. The back of the mask is painted with a protective winged vulture. On either side of the vulture’s head are two columns of hieroglyphs, reading ‘the mother of eternity (?)’ and ‘life established for eternity’. Roman period | Hawara | Manchester Museum | 166 cm. Photo by Julia Thorne

The rainbow serpent

A powerful creator god for many indigenous tribes all over Australia, she embodies the divine life-giving force of water and a destructive malevolent force when angered.

Read more

Book Review: The Book of Symbols by the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS)

EtymOnline: Adder

Rainbow Serpent

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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