Basilisk - don't let it see you!

Myth and Legend

Basilisk - don't let it see you!

The basilisk was a mythical monster that looked remarkably like a humble chicken. But it was not wise to look too closely, as the basilisk was one of the most fearsome creatures of the Medieval imagination. Sometimes described as breathing fire, one glance from a basilisk was regarded as lethal.

The basilisk is usually described as deceptively small and looking like a cockerel with the tail of a serpent. Its name means "little king" and it is regarded as king of the snakes.

The legendary creature was incorporated in one of the Harry Potter stories as a giant serpent, also known as the King of Serpents, as a magical beast bred by Dark Wizards. Herpo the Foul was the first to breed a Basilisk; which he accomplished by hatching a chicken egg beneath a toad.

According to some legends, basilisks could be killed by hearing the crow of a rooster or gazing at itself in a mirror. The latter method of killing the beast is featured in a legend of a basilisk that terrorised Warsaw, which was finally killed by a man carrying a set of mirrors.

The mythical cockatrice is very similar.

The basilisk of mythology is not to be confused with a lizard of the same name (Basiliscus spp), which live in Central and Southern America, where they are often found near water, and have the unusual capability to run across water due to specialised scales on the bottoms of their feet, which allows them to be supported by the surface tension, leading to their nickname of the “Jesus Lizard”.

Image by Fiona Horan

Further reading

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