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Trusting Serpents

February 11, 2014 — 4 Comments

snake massageI try very hard not to be overly critical of foreign practices that initially strike me as rather odd. Instead, I attempt to understand what these activities mean in the culture where they are practiced.

Yet, for the life of me (as my mother would say), I can’t fathom why Indonesians want to have snakes give them “massages.” And, even though only a fraction of their people submit to this peculiar activity, there are apparently enough candidates for spas to offer the serpentine service.

I imagine that the snakes do indeed rub, flex and squeeze their clients, since pythons are “constrictors,” and it’s in their nature to want to circle—suffocate—crush—and devour their prey.

Ironically, this fact, compliments of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, follows in the wake of a recent news report about another man who thought he would be fine getting a shoulder massage from an apparently “undomesticated” python.

BALI, Indonesia (AP) — A python strangled a security guard near a luxury hotel on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali on Friday, and then escaped into nearby bushes following the deadly attack, police and a hotel employee who witnessed the incident said. The incident happened around 3 a.m. as the 15-foot-long python was slithering across a road near the Bali Hyatt hotel . . .

The victim, Ambar Arianto Mulyo, was a 59-year-old security guard at a nearby restaurant. He had offered to help capture the snake, which had apparently been spotted several times before near the hotel . . . Mulyo managed to secure the snake’s head and tail and put it on his shoulders, but the python wrapped itself around his body and strangled him . . .

People watching the incident were unable or unwilling to help and called the police, who came but failed to save the man. The python escaped into nearby bushes, and police were still searching for it.

The Associated Press story ends with the lame attempt to calm those who are inclined to suffer from ophidiophobia. “Deadly attacks on adult humans by pythons are rare, but have been documented before.”

Pardon me, but that’s not quite sufficient reassurance for even those of us without a snake phobia. I remember hearing from my wife about my young daughter’s class being introduced to a sizeable serpent some years ago during a fieldtrip. As everyone watched the handler manipulating its head and frontal coils, it was surreptitiously beginning to caress my little girl with its tail!*

If the Indonesian practice of python-massage crosses the Pacific, you won’t find me visiting the spa for a back rub. I understand they probably only employ well-fed, six-foot-long “baby” pythons, but I still choose to pass.

C.S. Lewis has a wonderful comment about trust. He says the true test of how deeply we believe something is the magnitude of the risk we are willing to take related to our trust in it.

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose that you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it? . . . Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief. (A Grief Observed).

I don’t care how many herpetologists or masseuses assure that pythons can safely massage my bared body . . . I’m learning from the example of that poor Balinese guard who fell for the python’s trick, thinking that he held the upper hand.

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* Yes, snakes actually do have tails. It’s only one of their slithering secrets.