In this blog post, we will talk about a very important subject, that as tourists we must be aware of: The enchantment of the snakes. Can snakes be hypnotized? Let’s find out.
Can snakes be hypnotized?
Snakes cannot be hypnotized, and we’ll explain in a simple but great detail why this is the truth.
Tourists visiting countries such as Morocco and India gawk at how snake charmers cause a menacing cobra to emerge from inside a wicker basket that seems to dance hypnotized to the rhythm of a reed flute.
The exotic scene is nothing more than a simple montage, since the snakes are totally deaf, to the extent that they lack eardrums, hence the popular saying: If the mole saw and the viper heard, would not there be anyone to go out into the field?
There are numerous scientific tests that demonstrate the deafness of snakes, although it is also true that they can pick up low-frequency vibrations in the ground. Thus, the cobras do not leave the basket enchanted by the melody, but rather follow the movements made by the enchanter with the flute attentively, since they consider it a threat. Finally, the fact that they appear to us to be hypnotized is due to the snakes’ eyes lacking movement.
Being a snake charmer is not easy, it is a trade that you begin to learn from childhood and that is usually passed from generation to generation in the same family.
Its origins date back to ancient Egypt, but later they became more common in India. However, today it is a trade-in decline since in 1972 the country introduced a law that prohibits the trafficking of snakes and includes charmers.
However, the tradition is still alive and, not so publicly anymore, we can see these men sitting before a snake that hides in a wicker container and comes out to move while the enchantress plays an instrument known as Pungi.
What technique does the snake charmer use?
Snake charmers work with trained animals. They generally use cobras, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world and have several at their disposal, but the bravest ones dare with some species of larger pythons and vipers. To avoid the risk of a venomous bite, many extract venom from cobras and their fangs.
Although the snake is believed to dance when listening to music, people do not know that these animals are not capable of hearing. The charmers use the vibrations produced by the sound of the pungi and that the snakes feel through their heads. During their training, they are taught to try to hunt an object similar to the Pungi, much harder.
Being inside a basket or box, completely devoid of light, when leaving they are blinded by the light and confuse the pungi with another snake, so the movements are rather defensive or hunting, while they carefully follow the supposed predator or prey.
The snake charmer knows exactly how far to stand; a cobra is only capable of extending to a third of its length at one time, being that the measure to use.
You know, if you see a show like this, the snake is not enchanted or hypnotized, just confused and mainly hungry, as part of the training is not to feed them, so they die soon and the snake charmer starts working with a new reptile.
Snakes and tourism
In India, snake charm has been illegal since 1970 but is still performed in certain rural communities, while in Morocco and Tunisia it is still quite common to see snake charmers.
In Morocco, they are known as the aissauas, a religious order with more than 500 years of history that captured snakes believing in their healing properties and displayed them publicly in traditional markets and souks.
However, nowadays this activity is increasingly focused on obtaining benefits from tourists, so it is increasingly common to see charming people around tourist centres, usually asking for money in exchange for photos. This exploitation has caused a decrease in the population of certain species. In 2014, there were at least 86 aissauas in Morocco alone, 70 of them permanently in Marrakech.
Among the most used species are cobras and snorting, horned or Maghreb vipers; all of them very poisonous species. Horseshoe snakes, bastard snakes, false cobras, schokar snakes and viperines are also used. These animals are captured from their habitat or bought directly from hunters.
The snakes, captured from their natural habitat, live in small wooden boxes of about 15 x 40 x 60 cm. Inside, the overcrowding of different species is common, which sometimes causes predation, cannibalism or poisoning.
Not all snakes receive the same attention: the more expensive species (cobras and puffing snakes) are offered some care, while the less valuable ones are given little attention or food, and end up dying of dehydration and starvation within a few months.
Snakes barely manage to live for a few months in these conditions and when they die their skin is removed and their meat is used to feed other snakes.
The mystery of the enchantment
The apparent hypnotic state of snakes in these activities is actually due to pain, dehydration, and the state of starvation they are in. The vision of the flute is that of a possible predator, so the snakes stand up defensively and to continue fighting for their survival.
Once captured and to avoid bites, snakes’ fangs are usually cut off and their mouths tied with small plastic ropes that only allow them to stick out their tongues. It is common to see specimens with their mouths deformed by the mutilation of their fangs (especially in poisonous species) that is carried out from time to time since they regenerate their teeth.
Their venom glands are also removed with inappropriate methods and unsanitary techniques. Snakes are barely able to eat and are in a state of starvation. These living conditions cause the majority to die of starvation or infections resulting from mutilation.
It is essential that as a responsible traveller you never pay for the photo or the “show” of a snake charmer. As long as tourism continues to finance these activities, the more difficult it will be to properly regulate these traditions in their country of origin.
Can snakes hypnotize us?
One of the most famous scenes in the movie ‘The Jungle Book’ (made by the Disney factory in 1967), is the moment in which the snake Kaa desperately tries to hypnotize Mowgli while singing a melodic song (in the book, written by Rudyard Kipling, this scene does not appear because Mowgli is the only animal that Kaa cannot hypnotize).
But can snakes hypnotize us?
The fact of seeing a snake hypnotizing its prey is something that has become very common in movies and literature, but it is a myth, since, contrary to what is believed, this reptile cannot hypnotize their prey and, in truth, most cannot even see them well.
The reason for that “special” gaze that seems to be controlling the will of the animal in front of it is a much more natural one: snakes lack eyelids like those of other animals. Although more than lacking, what they have are transparent eyelids, which do not close (blink) and, therefore, always keep their eyes open.
That is also the explanation why snakes seem to be always awake and never sleep, but they do, although they sleep with their eyes open.
The other factor that has helped in the belief of the myth of hypnosis by snakes is their way of hunting and cornering their prey. The snakes are not in a hurry and take the hunting ritual with all the calm in the world. When they detect something to hunt, they remain immobile in front of it for a long time, until they see that the prey lowers its guard and/or gets lost and they rush over it.
In this article, we discussed the mysteries behind the enchantment of snakes and whether snakes can be hypnotized.
Truth is, this is a myth and a cruel practice. Tourists visiting countries such as Morocco and India gawk at how snake charmers cause a menacing cobra to emerge from inside a wicker basket that seems to dance hypnotized to the rhythm of a reed flute.
The exotic scene is nothing more than a simple montage, since the snakes are deaf, to the extent that they lack eardrums. As tourists, we should not pay or engage with the snake charmers, thus hoping that this practice will disappear forever.
If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know.
FAQ on Can snakes be hypnotized?
How do snakes get hypnotized?
Snakes do not get hypnotized. They are deaf and most species don’t even see that well. Thus, the snakes do not leave the basket enchanted by the melody, but rather follow the movements made by the enchanter with the flute attentively, since they consider it a threat.
Can a snake hypnotize a person?
No, snakes cannot hypnotize a person or other animals. This is a myth and the simple explanation is that snakes lack eyelids so they seem “to stare”.
Are snake charmers cruel?
Yes, snake charmers are very cruel with each snake that passes through their hands. Not all snakes receive the same attention: the more expensive species (cobras and puffing snakes) are offered some care, while the less valuable ones are given little attention or food, and end up dying of dehydration and starvation within a few months.
Why do snake charmers not get bitten?
Snake charmers do not get bitten because they previously removed the snake’s fangs. Once captured and to avoid bites, snakes’ fangs are usually cut off and their mouths tied with small plastic ropes that only allow them to stick out their tongues. It is common to see specimens with their mouths deformed by the mutilation of their fangs.
Why do snakes stare at you?
Snakes seem to stare at you because they do not have eyelids. Although more than lacking, what they have are transparent eyelids, which do not close (blink) and, therefore, always keep their eyes open.
Onegreenplanet.org – Behind the Scenes Brutality: Snake Charming
npr.org – In India, Snake Charmers Are Losing Their Sway
Journalofzoology.blogspot.com –Why do snakes stare?