August snake mouthappears to be snake month here in the Roaring Fork Valley. It is hard not to have a snake cross a walking path, or to view a dead snake, or occasionally a shed snakeskin. Along with the sudden snake appearances comes the fear of those once worshiped reptiles.

Western culture tends towards permeating ignorance and misconceptions about snakes. It results in general fear, disgust and even snake hatred. To this day most people are put off by snakes because of their looks. One can understand how these limbless, deaf, double-penised (males), forked tongue, cold-blooded creatures have generated dread in Western society. After all, this is chiefly a Judeo-Christian culture still suffering in sin because of those serpent in the Garden of Eden stories.

Myths, legends and symbology come from various Old World cultures. Some revered the snake as a renewer of life due to its skin shedding. Immortality was represented, and snake dreams of proving conception. This spirit of regeneration bore life and death power. Another strong snake symbol is rain. Honoring snakes via ceremonies or prayers was to create rain, so corn would grow. Snake phobia could be reduced if people were educated about some of these dieties and other snake symbols.

India is reputed to be the only country in the world to be inhabited by all known snake families. Australia and Africa to have the most deadly snakes. The cultural familiarity from our ancestors dependence of understanding snakes in order to survive is evident historically. Buddhists in India use cobras in religious stories. Ancient Egyptian pharaohs wore headdresses of the cobra. Chinese astrology has the year of the snake. The Aztecs believed in a chief god serpent, Quetzalcoatl ( a rain cloud hunter). The chief god of the Mayans is Kukulkan, a feathered serpent.

To transmute the fear, one must dispel the common misconceptions:
  • milk snakes don't suck cows for milk
  • female snakes don't swallow their young
  • snakes aren't slimy, they are very clean (covered with scales)
  • not all snakes have venom
  • snakes don't hypnotize (they can't blink with no eyelids).

Many people have the fear of getting bitten, which is a matter of education, to learn that death from snakebite is highly unlikely in the United States.

Attending a petting zoo that has snakes is a good way to reduce serpent fears. Youngsters have the advantage of learning while petting snakes in a safe environment. So do adults! For those who live in endemic snake areas they should get educated about possible snake bites. Study the adaption evolution of snakes. They have natural warning mechanisms like; bright colors, rattle, hissing, intimidating postures, and venom emission. Snakes would rather avoid men (their predators), and transmit helpful warnings. Just interacting with snakes when playing garter snakeor walking outside is a great learning opportunity to observe them naturally.

We have coexisted with snakes for a very long time. Hopefully our fear basis will evolve into a peaceful coexistence with snakes who have old fears and prejudices working against them. They are indeed a potent ally for our food protection from rodents. We need these significant predators to help balance the ecosystem with rodents and insects. Some medicinal cures from snakes have been used for many ages with Chinese culture. Western medicine is beginning to look at some medicinal use from snakes, too. It's time to transmute snake fear to a healthy respect.