Friday, April 17, 2009

The Hypnotic Gaze of Snakes

A few weeks ago, there was in the news an article about the discovery of a device to detect beams from the eyes. This article might have some connection to the use of such eyebeams to fascinate and paralyze a victim;

KeelyNet"Some animals are held in universal dread by others, and not the least terrible is the effect produced by the rattle-snake. Mr. Pennant says, that this snake will frequently lie at the bottom of a tree, on which a squirrel is seated.

He fixes his eyes on the animal, and from that moment it cannot escape; it begins a doleful outcry, which is so well known that a passer by, on hearing it, immediately knows that a snake is present.

The squirrel runs up the tree a little way, comes down again, then goes up and afterwards comes still lower. The snake continues at the bottom of the tree, with his eyes fixed on the squirrel, and his attention is so entirely taken up, that a person accidentlly approaching may make a considerable noise, without so much as the snake's turning about.

The squirrel comes lower, and at last leaps down to the snake, whose mouth is already distended for its reception.

Le Vaillant confirms this fascinating terror, by a scene he witnessed. He saw on the branch of a tree a species of shrike trembling as if in convulsions, and at the distance of nearly four feet, on another branch, a large species of snake, that was lying with outstretched neck and fiery eyes, gazing steadily at the poor animal.

The agony of the bird was so great that it was deprived of the power of moving away, and when one of the party killed the snake, it was found dead upon the spot-and that entirely from fear-for, on examination, it appeared not to have received the slightest wound.

The same traveller adds, that a short time afterwards he observed a small mouse in similar agonizing convulsions, about two yards from a snake, whose eyes were intently fixed upon it; and on frightening away the reptile, and taking up the mouse, it expired in his hand."

1 comment:

  1. The unblinking eye of a snake creates a hypnotic effect.

    It comes as no surprise, of course, that the snake is the reptile most commonly bestowed with mythic abilities. One that is fairly well known is the myth that snakes have hypnotic abilities. A snake’s capacity to hypnotize its prey has been portrayed in books and movies for many years, perhaps most memorably through Kaa, a python in Disney’s animated version of The Jungle Book (1967) that uses hypnosis to subdue his victims.

    There are two factors that likely contribute to the belief that snakes can hypnotize their prey, and neither has anything to do with a watch being swung back and forth. First is a snake’s lack of eyelids. The resulting unblinking stare gives snakes a bit of a hypnotic aura right off the bat. Second is the tendency of living prey animals to freeze up, possibly in fear, when in close proximity to a snake. Some may run, but not all. Animals that sense danger will often remain motionless, in the hope (assuming animals can hope) that the predator that is approaching or confronting them will not see them if they are not moving. To them, stillness equals invisibility. Combine these two factors -- an unblinking snake staring at an animal that is not moving – and the tableaux seems to illustrate hypnotism at work.

    Snakes don’t just hypnotize others; some believe they are prone to being hypnotized themselves, most famously by a snake charmer’s flute. During such exhibitions, a snake under the influence of the charmer’s melodious tones -- most often a cobra, which may have had its venom glands or fangs removed -- will sway back and forth. This gives the impression that the snake is hearing the music and is held in its sway. The truth, though, is the snake is simply following the back-and-forth motion of the snake charmer’s arms that are holding the flute. It’s wary should a grab be made at it.

    Then there’s the “hoop snake.” This is a snake that can glom onto its tail with its teeth, forming an upright circle, which it will do in order to roll after a quarry. Once it catches up, a stinger on the tail will proceed stinging. The origins of this myth appear to go way back, back much further than I really care to research at the moment. Suffice it to say, there are people who still think snakes can form hoops and roll after them. Speaking of pursuit, another myth is that snakes will chase people. If you know snakes like I know snakes, then you know that all a wild snake wants to do is get away from people, not chase them.