Sacred serpents or reason to recoil?

Sacred serpents or reason to recoil?

In the Bible, it is the wily serpent that gets Adam and Eve thrown out of Paradise. The Judeo-Christian world is not the only one that sees snakes in an negative light.

And when they are not being vilified in stories, they are hunted for their supposed aphrodisiac properties.

For instance, the Japanese believe that habushu, wine made from a snake known as the habu, can impart energy and mitigate male sexual dysfunction. Its effectiveness remains unproven.

In Singapore, there are more than 70 species of snakes, of which only seven are venomous, said Mr Sankar Ananthanarayanan, co-founder of the Herpetological Society of Singapore which studies reptiles and amphibians.

They are the king cobra, spitting cobra, banded coral snake, blue coral snake, banded krait, Wagler's pit viper and mangrove pit viper.

"But none of these snakes want anything to do with humans, and just want to be left alone," said Mr Sankar.

"Many people have misconceptions about snakes, that they are all venomous man-eaters. Honestly, it's far from the truth."

In other parts of the world, however, snakes have a better reputation.

In India, for instance, snakes are worshipped as gods, and have their own special temples.

The universal symbol of medicine, the snake-coiled Rod of Asclepius, is also considered a sign of therapeutic renewal.

The ancient Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals - believing that their venom had healing properties, and that their skin-shedding symbolised rebirth and renewal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Sacred serpents or reason to recoil?'. Print Edition | Subscribe