A Game For Snakes

July 16th is World Snake Day! To celebrate this serpentine day, I want to explore one of my favourite childhood games – Snakes and Ladders.

Snakes and Ladders is a board game which features squares numbered 1 to100. Played by two or more players, each player rolls a dice in turn and travels along the numbered squares. Some of the squares have the bottom of ladders which help you move up (to the top of the ladder), while other squares feature the heads of snakes which send you back down (to the tail of the snake). The snakes and ladders vary in length, so you can rise and fall vast or small amounts depending on where you land. The first player to reach the final square is the winner!

Snakes and Ladders is the English version of an ancient Indian game. There are a number of names and variations of the Indian game such as Gyan Chauper, Leela, Mokshapat and Moksha Patam. The games were originally used to impart moral and karmic lessons to children. The ladders represent a virtue which allows you to rise while the snakes represent a vice which causes you to fall. In the Indian version there are more snakes than ladders, probably because it’s easier to fall victim to vice than to be virtuous. 🙂

When the game came to England, a few changes were made. The number of snakes was reduced so there were equal numbers of snakes and ladders. The karmic lessons of the original were also replaced with moral lessons relevant to the Victorian era of the time. Eventually the moral lessons were left out or replaced by cartoon pictures that had no real link to virtues or vices.

The American version is called Chutes and Ladders. In a move that would make Saint Patrick proud, Chutes and Ladders has driven all the snakes off the board and replaced them with chutes. Interestingly, most of these versions still retain the moral lessons of the original games.

When I think of playing Snakes and Ladders as a child, I can’t remember any moral lessons being imparted. All I remember is my desperate desire to win and to avoid the snake boldly waiting at the top, ready to turn my impending victory into defeat! I actually loved the drawings of the snakes, with their cute tongues poking out, but I was annoyed that it was a punishment to land on them.

Snakes are one of the oldest, richest and most widespread mythological symbols. While they are seen as symbols of negativity in some cultures, they are more often associated with positive traits such as creativity, fertility, healing, rebirth, sexuality and wisdom. I’m glad Snakes and Ladders didn’t teach me to see snakes solely as a symbol of negativity.

Happy World Snake Day!

9 comments

  1. Fascinating! I never knew the ‘Snakes and ladders’ games had such interesting origins.

    Also, I smiled when this was the first thing to pop up in my feed, as snakes are a symbol that seem to follow me around- especially lately. Lots of snake synchronicity. I’m really drawn to the Ouroboros lately.

    Anyway, thanks for teaching me something new!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you liked it. 🙂

      I’m a snake in Chinese astrology so I’ve always had an affinity with them.

      The Ouroboros is a powerful symbol with so many meanings. Enjoy your serpentine journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How very interesting really enjoyed reading A Game for Snakes. I loved playing the game as a child too.
    I still don’t like snakes they are my most feared creature.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so interesting! As soon as I started reading, I wondered if Chutes and Ladders was the American equivalent, because I had never heard of Snakes and Ladders, It wouldn’t surprise me if American Puritanism had something to do with getting rid of the snakes… Fascinating about the Karmic lessons. It was never really one of the games I played as a kid. We were more into Monopoly, for some reason, haha!

    I have always liked snakes, though, and I think they get a bad rap. Snakes are a great symbol of rebirth, because of the shedding of skin. I have a snake ring that I like to wear whenever I am starting something new.

    Hope you are doing well, Vicky! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think Puritanism was a factor in ousting the snakes from the board! I’m a Chinese snake so I’ve always loved them. Plus snakes are linked to vampires. 🙂

      We played Monopoly too. My playing piece was always the dog. We also played a game called Wild Life which I loved. You travelled around the world collecting animals and there was a red panda! I didn’t care if I won or lost, all I wanted was the panda. 🙂

      I’m really good. Victoria has been battling some Delta cases but we seem to be on top of them. We go in and out of lockdown so it’s like a rollercoaster but I I don’t mind the wild ride! When we’re out we rush off and do things and when we’re locked-down again we just relax and do things around the house.

      How are you Christine? Hope all is good. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Puritanism, unfortunately, shaped much of American culture, and sometimes still does. Luckily, the Salem Witch Trials finally did away with it for good, as you know.

        I have always loved board games. Now, on holidays, we play a game called Settlers of Catan. It is very similar to Monopoly. Wild Life sounds like fun! No wonder why you came to love the pandas! 🙂

        I am doing well. We are out of lockdown, and we have been allowed to de-mask, if we are fully vaccinated. However, now cases of the Delta variant are becoming a problem, so the governor is probably going to give us mask regulations again. People are really sick of it all. The vaccines, however, are working, so that’s good!

        Glad you are doing well and staying healthy! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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