|A Daisy Mae Yokum lookalike||A Moonbeam McSwine lookalike(without the dirt)|
|An Egyptian Cobra, Naja haie|
The Egyptian cobra, a very dangerous snake native to much of North Africa, is probably the "asp" of the Cleopatra legends. Although it's commonly suggested that the "asp" is a "small viper," there are quite a few reasons to accept this reptile as the historical asp rather than any local viper:
1. Repeatedly it's stated--in Shakespeare and elsewhere--that the asp brings a painless death. Death by cobra bite, which paralyzes the breathing muscles, is often amazingly painless, as survivors attest--there is even some component of the venom that seems to remove the fear of death. Death from the bite of any local viper--the common saw-scaled viper in particular--is usually from shock, is nightmarishly painful and very prolonged.
2. Much is made in Shakespeare about the location of the bite--"canst thou not see the child that sucks the mother to sleep?" Vipers, which can open their mouths almost 180o, can bite a person anywhere. Cobras have more rigid heads and shorter fangs, and they cannot open their mouths so widely. A cobra could, though, bite a woman's nipple with ease. Additionally, when cobras bite they hang on and chew the venom in, which vipers do not typically do; the appearance of such a bite, the snake chewing venom into the nipple, would indeed be suggestive of the snake nursing.
|Young Basque witch, anointing herself in the manner described by Pierre de Lancre, illustration in the Witchcraft museum in Bayonne, France.|
De Lancre was one of the worst (or best, depending on one's viewpoint, I suppose) of the Witch-hunters of the Seventeenth Century; taking over from Zumarraga (who'd gone to Mexico to torment the fallen Aztecs), he decimated the female population in Labourd, the Basque area of France. Since many of the young women he tortured and burned refused to deny their religion under such duress--while at the same time vigorously denying such mischief as storm-raising--it does seem possible that these were practitioners of some still-unidentified pagan faith. De Lancre, an accomplished lute player, was fond of having the witches dance for him, immediately after which he personally escorted them to the stake.
Many of our most vivid descriptions of the ceremonies of the witches--particularly the overtly erotic aspects--come from De Lancre. A good bit of the "information" he collected "confirmed" the "information" contained in the infamous Malleus Malficarium, written by Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer in the Fifteenth Century.