Snakes Are Not Evil
Updated: Apr 18, 2022
Since I have been working with Silas Wekesa Muchenje on offering snake awareness training to the Mwiyenga community, one of the thoughts most often expressed by the training participants is that snakes are evil. For example, one woman said "I used to see snakes as devils or something evil, but now I have changed by perception of snakes". One of the male participants said, "I believed from our African folklore that if you own a snake, you are a witch. You use them to cast evil spirits and bewitch the members of society. This is a myth that I have lived with for a long time. I only changed that cliché after last week’s training on venomous and non-venomous snakes."
In Kenya, there are two sources for the idea that snakes are evil: (1) African folklore and (2) the Bible. In African folklore, snakes are often associated with the supernatural or witchcraft: "bewitching". Traditional healers are often sought after snakebite, because the envenomation is thought to require spiritual healing. However, in some African cultures, snakes are venerated as royalty or gods, or are associated with fertility. Some African cultures view snakes as the incarnation of dead relatives.
In the book of Genesis at the beginning of the Bible, there is a story about how the "serpent" tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, and then Eve gave the fruit to Adam. The serpent was actually the devil, Satan, who took the form of a snake in the story. As a result of Adam and Eve's sin, God cursed humans and the rest of creation and made the snake an enemy of humankind.
The truth is that snakes are not evil. Are snakes sometimes used in witchcraft? Yes. But the snake in itself is not evil - it is being used for evil by the person performing witchcraft. Snakes are mentioned throughout the Bible, and yes, sometimes they are used to represent bad behavior. For example, Jesus said, "You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of." In this case, Jesus was not saying that vipers are evil, but was using the venomous bite of a viper as a metaphor for speaking harmful words that hurt others. Snakes are also used in the Bible to represent good behavior. For example, Jesus taught that we should be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But the most important example is from Genesis 1, where God said that everything he created is good, and that includes snakes. It is important also to remember from Psalm 145 that God is loving and compassionate towards all he has made, including snakes, and we should do the same.
What about venomous snakes? Don't they have evil intentions when they bite you? Isn't the poison they carry a sign that they are evil? Just like you and I, a venomous snake uses the venom to defend itself, and also to enable the snake to catch its food. In a similar way, humans use spears, bows and arrows, and guns as tools for defense and hunting. When a snake bites a person, it is because the snake feels threatened. Snakes would rather move away from you than bite you. But when they have to, they bite and can inject their venom as a way to deter you from threatening them again - generally by causing you great pain (at least for some snakes like vipers).
The truth is that snakes serve an important purpose in nature, and killing them indiscriminately because we think they are evil does more harm than good. Snakes are predators that control the size of pest populations, such as mice and rats. They can be so important in some ecosystems that their removal would have serious effects on the food chain. Venomous snakes are also beneficial to humans - their venom contains chemicals that are used to make modern medicines, such as those used for controlling heart conditions and diabetes.