A few weeks ago I read an article on Asian Correspondent that seemed too B-Movie horrible to believe. Some foolish person had put live king cobras in plastic bags and brought them on a Vietnamese train, where the sight of the twenty or so killers caused a mass panic among the passengers (unsurprisingly enough–I’d panic too). Sadly, the concept had already been made into a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson, or at least something close enough that no one would want to see a movie called Snakes On A Train after the monstrosity called Snakes On A Plane.
Today in Speech Class, though, my students showed an alarming interest in the subject of snakes. One of them had gone home last weekend and seen a six-foot long cobra lying in the street. He then sought to kill it with a stick (a stick!), but the stick broke. He then, not deterred, tried to smash its head with a rock. The snake, shockingly, decided to run away (!) rather than attacking him. Why would someone put themselves in mortal peril to attack a cobra? He wanted to sell it to some crazy Thais who would eat the snake *shakes head*. How crazy is that?
I must say that while I am not afraid of snakes, I have little desire to be anywhere around them unless I am heavily armed. I have no love for either the animals or spirits aligned with the great serpent. I have been at war with the serpent as long as I have drawn breath, so I feel no fondness for his minions. I have also never, as a result of my obedience to biblical dietary commands, ever had an interest in eating snake. The people here in Thailand eat like the wild folks in the Everglades. Eating deadly snakes is as weird as the Thai habit of eating squid-flavored potato chips (sadly, I see that flavor vastly more commonly than the plain flavored chips that I prefer).
The Thai interest in deadly snakes has religious roots as well. It was said of the Buddha that he had a deadly naga (a poisonous sea serpent) as his enemy until something happened and the naga became his protector. If we connect nagas with demons, we have the answer to that change of behavior. Originally the demonic realm was hostile to Buddha, thinking him a genuine prophet of God. Once they realized that he was not, then the same demons that attacked his work served to protect it. For that reason the nagas are worshiped here, because they have always longed the worship of men that they are forbidden to receive as mere servants and emissaries. The worship and support of snakes has always been a sign of working with the devil, whether in religion or in literature. Small wonder that it should be so.