Four species of snake observed in the wild in the Blessed Isles plus one species of lizard that is, for folkloric purposes, included in the snake article.
The Adder (Vipera berus) is the only native venomous snake. Its range is basically the entire island of Britain. They are generally grey or brown with a darker diamond or zigzag pattern along their backs. A black form does exist.
The Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) is the largest snake in the Isles. Again, the range is confined to the largest island, Britain. They are generally dark green, brown, grey or black with a yellow collar or ring around their necks. They have a particular love of fresh water and often live near streams.
The Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) is generally only seen in southern England. It tends to be brownish-red or grey with an indistinct pattern of spots arranged in two rows down its length.
The Aesculapian Snake (Zamenis longissimus) is an escapee from captivity. There are two known populations – one in the vicinity of the Welsh Mountain Zoo and one in Regent’s Park. The Regent’s Park population are likely to be from the Zoo there and the most likely time of escape was during World War II while the Welsh population dates back to the 1980s.
The Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis) is a lizard that has evolved to fill a similar niche to snakes. It generally moves more slowly and there are physical differences but, as indicated by the “worm” name, they have been assumed to be a form of snake for most of their history. They are also confined to the island of Britain.
While no snake species have been observed in the Otherworld, the species have had a strong impact on folklore and mythology within the islands. The current academic consensus is that most of these stories originate through Continental influences and the layers tend to be considered in the following order:
- Association with water spirits
Many water spirits on the Continent, and around the world, take the form of a snake or half-snake (see: Melusine). The European and Blessed Isles traditions have most likely become attached and reinforced by the behaviour of the grass snake. However, Blessed Isles snakes-as-water-spirits are very rarely anything other than a dumb snake without further influence.
- Association with healing powers
The association between snakes and healing is long-standing around the world. The particular versions that have influenced the British Isles are likely to have come through Roman influence (the Rod of Asclepius) and then Christian influence (the biblical Bronze Serpent).
- Association with evil
This is in part a biblical association due to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Based on the preserved writings, the early church (c. 1st Century) in the Blessed Isles, which became the eventually eclipsed Celtic Church (c. 4th Century), tended to not to focus on this part of snake “nature”. This is despite the (impossible) story of St Patrick driving out the snakes from Ireland for disrupting his fast. The main cause of snakes being associated with evil seems to come from their Germanic association with the roots of the world tree that arrived in the Blessed Isles with the English (c. 6th Century, see: The Seven Worlds). Snakes and wyrms in Northern Germanic traditions are generally bad and thus strong negative connotations about snakes became widespread.
- Disassociation with the Otherworld
The Roman / Catholic Church (arriving in the 8th Century) was more focused on separating the English from the Otherworld and often adapted existing traditions to suit their own purpose. It had already been observed that snakes (and slow worms) seemed to avoid Waypoints and boundaries and so the snakes became a positive influence again. However, negative connotations remained attached to the venomous Adder, which eventually became hunted across Britain.