Baby Loving Snakes August 2, 2015Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback
There are many stories about snakes getting into cradles or generally just hanging around children. Here are a few crude, and possibly in some cases factual instances from pre-war British newspapers.
The 18 months-old son of Mr and Mrs Howell of Mainchlochog, Pembrokeshire, walked into the house yesterday with a snake coiled round its neck. The child had picked it up in the garden and played with it, and the reptile eventually twisted itself round the little boy’s neck, and bit him in the temple [the child died]. Ed Ev News, 25 May 1920, 4
The wife of a shopkeeper at the Portuguese village of Ferbres was horrified to find a 53-inch long snake sleeping in the cradle beside her infant son, states a Lisbon message to-day. The reptile was quickly killed by neighbours. Glouc Echo 20 Jun 1941, 6.
One-year-old Frances Mary Tyler escaped unhurt after biting a black snake at Broadwater, New South Wales, Melbourne radio reported to-day. Her mother killed the snake with stick. Glouc Echo 29 May 1948, 3
A woman who went to look at her sleeping baby found an 18-inch snake coiled up on the pram. The snake—killed by a policeman—was one of five Italian grass snakes which escaped from their cage in a pet store in Croydon. The snakes are, harmless. [Dun Cour, 17 Jun 1952, 3]
Now snakes get everywhere, but what is the special concern here? Part of it is the likely hysteria that a parent would likely feel if their baby had a snake snuggled up to it. But part of it comes from the age old legend that snakes like babies because they like milk.
Willie [aged two, Shamrock (Pens)] has been supplied with a nursing bottle filled with coffee [wth?], well diluted with cream, and with this he has sat in the yard almost continuously, only alternating his programme for frequent visits to the kitchen to have his bottle refilled. All thought that these visits were due to his own thirst. I have, however, had reason to change my opinion, especially since little Willie has returned to his own home, for since his departure an exceedingly fat and healthy-looking black snake has made its appearance in the yard, and seems to be continually looking for something. I am certain my grandson and the black snake were playmates, and that when little Willie called me to see the reptile was enjoying the contents of the bottle and getting fat on it. [Dun Eve Post, 5 Oct 1900, 4]
A correspondent of the Nation this week tells a new snake story. A relative just arrived from South Africa told me the following story, for which she vouches. A friend of hers in Natal, recently, put her infant out of doors with the feeding-bottle properly adjusted in the cradle, and left it. On several successive mornings she found the bottle emptied with unusual speed, and therefore set herself to watch, unseen. The mystery was solved at once. Directly the infant began to suck the bottle a snake crept into the cradle and drew the milk from the corner of the child’s mouth fast as it was imbibed. The mother had nerve enough to make no movement, and the child took no harm; but the snake never got another chance at that bottle. Ab Jo 1 Aug 1911
And behind that legends the older one, that snakes search out the human breast.
A curious incident has occurred at Rome, says the Daily News. A shoemaker’s family of eight persons, including parents and children, the youngest of whom was a baby, live on a street in Trasteveni. One of the little girls, while playing about, saw under the bed a snake six feet long and very thick. She called for her mother, whose screams soon attracted the neighbours, and the snake, which tried to hide behind some boxes, was slowly killed by blows from sticks, now and then turning and trying to bite the women who attacked it. When all was over the shoemaker’s wife said that she had been surprised during several mornings to find that though her baby had slept soundly all night her milk was exhausted, and she was now convinced that the snake had been sucking and nursing itself while she slept. [Ab Ev Ex, 26 Aug 1892, 2]
Other snake human suckling: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com We’ve already done the animals...
29 Aug 2015: David Meadows kindly writes pointing to Nero in Suetonius (book 6)
Additum fabulae eosdem dracone e pulvino se proferente conterritos refugisse. Quae fabula exorta est deprensis in lecto eius circum cervicalia serpentis exuviis; quas tamen aureae armillae ex voluntate matris inclusas dextro brachio gestavit aliquamdiu ac taedio tandem maternae memoriae abiecit rursusque extremis suis rebus frustra requisiit.
An addition to this bit of gossip is, that the would‑be assassins were frightened away by a snake which darted out from under his pillow. The only foundation for this tale was, that there was found in his bed near the pillow the slough of a serpent; but nevertheless at his mother’s desire he had the skin enclosed in a golden bracelet, and wore it for a long time on his right arm. But when at last the memory of his mother grew hateful to him, he threw it away, and afterwards in the time of his extremity sought it again in vain.
30 Aug 2015: Filip writes ‘See a piece in Polish local weekly “Gwiazdka Cieszyńska“, February, 28th, 1857 p. 75. Here is my translation:
A frightening incident with a snake happened in Urbö near Dömsöd in
Hungary. A woman with a baby had to wean it as she had no milk. Soon
afterwards at night-time, she was woken up by a weight she felt on her
chest, but it just vanished the moment she reached for it. And it
seemed to her that something had been suckling her breasts. This
repeated for a few nights until she disclosed it to the rest of the
household, but they scoffed at her, regarding this thing a nightmare.
Her lover had, however, some suspicions and decided to watch over her.
And indeed, during the night he heard a cry: “Here is the same monster
again, it suckled my breast”. Before he jumped, the thing vanished
again. The same thing happened the next night. In the end, he decided
to light a candle and when the woman cried for help again, he caught
sight of a huge snake, slithering near her bed. On hearing his cry
people rushed — he hit the snake’s head with the fork and the suckled
milk oozed from the head.
Sounds like folklore to me but I didn’t find more information about this motif. (Why Hungary? Cieszyn was then part of Austria-Hungary. By the way, that’s the reason Polish press from the 19th century is a great source of weird news – you’ve got 3 empires covered!)