Yesterday began the Year of the Snake in the Chinese zodiac. Don’t get the wrong idea – I don’t believe one bit in astrology, horoscopes or any other kind of hocus-pocus for that matter. But I am interested in animals, including human ones and all their multifarious manifestations of culture and myth. This can even encompass things I usually find annoying. Like astrology.

According to the Chinese language and cultural website HanBan.com, those born during the Year of the Snake are thoughtful, wise, rational, logical, active, insightful, stylish, intuitive and quiet. On the negative side, they can also be conceited and stingy.

People born in the Year of the Snake also have a sure touch in money matters but are also inclined to be greedy and somewhat egoistical. Determined and ambitious characters of Snakes take their failures hard. They are usually very attractive on the outside and inwardly, that, taking into consideration their frivolity, can lead to some family problems.

–HanBan.com

King Cobra, India, pic: Russ Bowling (Flickr CC)

So what’s all this got to do with actual snakes? A snake can’t really be stylish, but they’re all pretty quiet except maybe sometimes rattlesnakes. Sure, they’re instinctive – all animals are, though I’d never attribute adjectives like stingy or insightful to a snake. Then again, I’ve never tried to borrow money off a boa constrictor or asked a king cobra to interpret the symbolism of a Tennessee Williams play.

OK, OK, it’s metaphorical. I get that. Perhaps snakes have been observed exhibiting behaviors that bring these characteristics in humans to mind. They are lone, opportunistic hunters, they’re certainly stealthy and I guess they look pretty cool.

I recently participated in a project, inspired by Chinese astrology, which attempts to combine real animal psychology and behavior with human characteristics. But instead of 12 animals, there are over 100 in the project. Included in our animal list were several kinds of snakes. It was at times a challenge for my partner (a psychologist) and I to attribute qualities such as ambition, charm or creativity to a snake. For example, cobras avoid confrontation – true in nature and easily applicable to astrology. Kingsnakes, on the other hand, are colorfully patterned and eat other snakes, even venomous rattlesnakes. They make good politicians. See?

A recent article in National Geographic compares the Chinese zodiac’s description of those born in the Year of the Snake to characteristics present in a variety of snake species. For example: 

Horoscope: The snake is known to be the master seducer of the Chinese zodiac.

In Nature: Female garter snakes (Thamnophis) have all the luck with the gentlemen.

How very droll. Read the entire piece in National Geographic for more.

Garter snake mating ball, pic: Chris Friesen, courtesy of Oregon State University