Written by Chloe Davey, Transforming Lives Trainee
Grass snakes are a common non-venomous snake that can be found living across England and Wales. Adults can grow up to a whopping 150 cm in length, that’s longer than any other native snake species in the UK! Despite their name, they are often found near water and are excellent swimmers. They can also be found in gardens with ponds or compost heaps. They will feed on amphibians, small mammals, fish and even birds. However, there is more to a grass snake than meets the eye! Today I will be sharing some interesting myths and beliefs surrounding this fascinating reptile.
In Baltic, Lithuanian and Latvian mythology, grass snakes are believed to be a household spirit. This sacred animal of the Sun Goddess, Saulė is thought to be a guardian of the home and a symbol of fertility. Grass snakes would be kept as pets and placed in a special area of the home, usually around the hearth or under a married couple’s bed. With them around great fortune would follow, such as a child, a good harvest or great wealth. However, killing a grass snake would bring the opposite. Common Latvian folk sayings include “who kills a grass snake, kills his happiness” and “when the Saulė sees a dead grass snake, she cries for 9 days”.
In modern day the belief of grass snakes being a blessing to the household remains strong. Grass snake motifs in Latvia represent a meaning of education and wisdom. Although they no longer live inside of people’s homes, it is tradition that people will leave out bowls of milk near a grass snake’s known residence. This comes from older beliefs that offering milk to a grass snake, sometimes by hand even, would help befriend the snake and earn its blessing.
It’s amazing to learn another culture’s views and beliefs on an animal we both love. Grass snakes are quite elusive, so I’d say you would be rather fortunate to spot them. If you would like to learn more about grass snakes, please check out our website for more information.