What are the various superstitious beliefs related to snakes?

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acorn13 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In regards to legends, folk lore, and superstitious beliefs, snakes seem to be a common element. Beliefs about snakes branch across a variety of cultures around the globe. Below are some common (and not so common) beliefs about snakes from a few different cultures and locations. 

1. St. Patrick banished all of the snakes from Ireland:
Ireland has no snakes and a popular myth states that this is because when St. Patrick was converting the Irish to Christianity, he banished all of the snakes from the island. New research shows that Ireland likely never had any snakes due to its geographic isolation from mainland Europe. 

2. Snakes hypnotize their prey:
This belief probably came about when people observed how prey such as mice become frozen with fear when confronted by a predator. Or - because the snake moves so slowly before striking - it may be that some animals don't see the snake until it is too late. However, snakes do not have the hypnotic power they do in Disney's The Jungle Book. 

3. Snakes travel in pairs (and if one is killed, its mate will come and seek revenge). 
This one is a little harder to pinpoint how it came about because snakes are largely solitary creatures. It may be that people observed how male snakes follow females about during mating season. Or in a small habitat area with prime conditions, a few snakes may stay in this area. 

4. The snake is the devil in disguise.
This likely came about with the rise of Christianity in Egypt where the Egyptians and their gods had a strong affinity for snakes. As the slave-masters of many Christians, the Egyptians were likely demonized by linking the snake to the Christian devil. Similarly, when Christians met other religious cultures that would have worshiped or spiritualized snakes (such as the Norse), they would have connected the snake to the devil to encourage conversion to Christianity. 

Other beliefs that are less known or explored include:

5. If you pick up a snake's skin in early spring, you're picking up trouble.

6. If you kill a snake and tie it around the victim's foot, their snake bite will be cured.

7. A snake will not die until after sundown.

8. Snakes get their milk from cows or goats.

9. For every year it's alive, a rattlesnake adds another rattle. 

10. The hoop snake travels by biting its tail and rolling around in a hoop. 

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