The Rattlesnake as a Symbol
"The snake and lightning or lightning arrow are considered by the native Southwesterner to be a single element as they are the same visual form. The snake does not symbolize "defiance" except possibly in New England, nor is its meaning "wisdom." Lightning is used by Anglo-Europeans indoctrinated in Greek mythology to denote swiftness, but among the Pueblo Indians snakes and lightning are equated with and symbolize rain, hence, fertility."
- Wingspread Collectors Guide to the Albuquerque Metro Area.
Rattlesnakes are unique to the Americas, and so are one of our natural symbols.
It is unfair to limit the rattlesnake, or any snake, to the popular interpretation of the Christian symbology of serpents as devils. The Eden myth rather sets forth two fertility symbols - the snake as phallus, the apple as ovary. The ascription of evil to the serpent is a judgment of the symbol rather than an objective view.
The Judeo-Christian tradition is not the only one where the serpent is used to represent fertility. Native Americans use the rattlesnake for just that symbolic purpose. The swiftly striking snake is associated with lightning, lightning with rain, and rain with germination of the earth mother. The lightning/snake is the divine phallus which pierces the earth's womb, creating life.
The rattlesnake's association with poisoning and death brings into play the idea of transformation. The rattlesnake can be seen as a guardian of the gateway to the world beyond, having the power to send humans across the barrier, and hopefully, the power to bring them back.
American upstarts throughout the early history of the United States found the rattlesnake a useful symbol. The rattlesnake is an underdog - creeping on the ground, but sly and crafty, equipped with a powerful weapon, and not afraid to stand up for itself, rattling loudly as if to say "don't tread on me!"
Examples of the Rattlesnake as Symbol