If you are afraid of a hissing rattlesnake shaking his tail like a manic tambourine player and coiled to strike, you are experiencing justifiable, life-preserving fear.
BUT If you are so afraid of all snakes that you will not walk into any wooded area, if you won’t go anywhere near the reptile exhibit at the zoo, if you can’t stand seeing one on TV, if you get extremely anxious just thinking about a snake, you definitely have OPHIDIOPHOBIA, extreme fear of snakes. (and you are not reading this blog post!)
Let’s face it, snakes are creepy: they have those lidless, soulless eyes and that horrible darting forked tongue; they don’t have legs and they slither on the ground, for God’s sake! Snakes are the ancient enemy of humankind and there is an adaptive reason to be very wary of them – they have killed our ancestors and they could kill us. More than any other animal, snakes have been chosen throughout history to represent EVIL.
In the BIBLE, It was the Serpent, that ancient reptillian embodiment of Satan, who persuaded Eve to give the apple to Adam.
“And the LORD GOD said unto the Serpent: “because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above every beast of the field; upon thy belly thou shalt go and dust thy shall eat all the days of your life” – GENESIS 3:8
In GREEK MYTHOLOGY, Medusa is a monster with a horrible female face, surrounded by hissing, writhing SNAKES instead of hair. If you looked at her, you would turn to stone. ( Even her severed head would turn the unwary observer into stone).
In the modern day mythology of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, snakes remain powerful symbols of evil: Voldemort, the snake-faced Dark Lord, has a giant pet snake, Nagini. He speaks to the creature in the creepy snake-speech, Parseltongue. Of course, the Black Wizard and his Death Eaters belong to House Slytherin.
Clearly, snakes have a bad rap. Its very much like we have a species-level, cross-cultural SNAKE PHOBIA. BUT what is the real danger from snakes? Is this DEMONIZATION of these slythering reptiles justified?
GLOBAL SNAKE DEATHS / YEAR
In 2013, the Center for Disease Control estimated there are about 7,000 to 8,000 venomous snake bites in the US every year, but only an average of five deaths. In America, snake phobia seems unjustified. However, in some other areas the deaths from “envenoming” are much higher: ASIA – 15,000 deaths / year and SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA – 3,500 deaths / year.
Like most phobias, OPHIDIOPHOBIA, is based on some real element of danger that has been over-generalized and expanded until it causes needless and debilitating anxiety. Looked at logically, in the U.S. you shouldn’t be that afraid of snakes, because the odds of getting hit by lightning are greater than dying from a poisonous snake. Rattlesnakes, however, are to be avoided. If you live in India and stumble upon a black necked spitting cobra a much higher level of fear is justified.
Phobias are not easy to control. Probably the most widely used method to reduce phobias is systematic desensitization which involves slowly climbing an “anxiety hierarchy”, using relaxation techniques at each step until you actually encounter the phobic objects. EXAMPLE: (1) Thought of a snake – calm down. (2) Picture of a snake – calm down. (3) Snake 20 ft. away in cage – calm down. (4) Snake 2 ft. away in cage – remain calm.
In the case of SNAKES, it will probably be impossible to ever completely unwind the deep fear of our ancient enemy. It is always advisable to strive for a realistic assessment of danger and save your fear for when it is really needed.