MM – Basilisk

Yeah… that whole new year, new leaf thing got off to a great start, didn’t it? XD Anyway… Welcome back to another Monstrous Monday! At least I’m getting to another post in the same month this time. 😉 Moving in the right direction! So, to the topic at hand. I kept trying to figure out which critter I wanted to focus on today and I’ve been staring at my Dungeons and Dragons poster, apparently looking for inspiration. It didn’t work as well as hoped but that’s not to say it wasn’t successful. If we consider the physical appearance of the basilisk that we see in Harry Potter, it’s fairly lizard like / draconic. You can reasonably draw a visual comparison between them as based on the structure of their heads, if nothing else.

However, my first exposure to basilisks, other than those you see in The Witcher games (maybe the show too but I’ve only seen season one so far), was actually in one of my favorite Playstation 1 RPGS: Valkyrie Profile. It’s been remade of late (Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth) and it does have two follow-up games, but the first is where I originally encountered my first truly memorable basilisk.

To be fair, I’d read about one before either of these occurrences in a fantasy book way back in the day, sometime in the 90s if that tells you anything, but if you look at the depictions here, the three creatures bear very little resemblance to each other. Obviously, creative liberty is a thing but it’s also true that there are different ideas of what a basilisk is and that can get in the way of a uniform description. And unfortunately, it can be even harder to get a base image of a basilisk because they are often times compared to and confused with the cockatrice. For example:

We can see this image is either a basilisk or a cockatrice… They’re not one and the same though they are similar in their abilities. But let’s get a bit more info about them before we get into that. What is a basilisk ‘supposed’ to look like? According to the New World Encyclopedia: “There are three descriptions of the mythical basilisk: a huge lizard, a giant snake, or a composite of a reptile and rooster, often with the head, plumage, and front legs of the rooster, and a reptilian tail, and sometimes scaly wings. (This last form is often the one described as a cockatrice.)” Coming from Greek origins, the term basilisk means “kinglet, a kind of serpent,” so perhaps the serpentine form is one that is more closely recognized by some as the ‘true form.’ I suppose my association comes more from the lizard appearance and the maybe-cockatrice one. XD

And in terms of abilities, they are quite terrifying. The deathly poisonous bite and the stone gaze as depicted in Harry Potter are pretty spot on. Other possible powers also include: a death-gaze not associated with petrification, the ability to breathe fire (not unlike a dragon), and the ability to fly, much like we can see in the Witcher picture above. How they are born is also a matter of interest since it is only possible under very unique circumstances: typically those constructed or manufactured by outside forces. They are said to “be hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent.” Fun stuff, right? haha

As for how to get rid of a basilisk, the HP books also pull from common lore with roosters – the crow of a rooster is said to be lethal to them. On the other hand, much like with Medusa / the gorgons and their stone gaze, mirrors are also said to be quite effective. If they look upon their reflection in the mirror, they are said to be killed instantly as well. A more fun fact, however, is that weasels are said to be their natural enemies since they’re somehow immune to its deadly gaze and can survive the venom if bitten. I have to wonder how the size disparity works there but it’s such a neat little tidbit!

From a literal perspective, there is some thought that basilisks are based on cobras since they bear a lot of similarities: the eyes on the hood that often ‘paralyze / mesmerize’ prey, the venom, the fact that the mongoose – a very distant relative of the weasel – is one of their natural predators and such, but there is no solid proof to that point.

And from a symbolic perspective, basilisks are just nasty beasties. They have no redeeming qualities in any lore or stories and are often used for the explicit purpose of showing that something or someone is evil. Not surprisingly, it’s also considered a symbol of death. On the other hand, in alchemy, it plays a more dualistic role, taking on the characteristic of fire which is a destructive force but one that can also be used to break something down so it can be transformed into something else.

Now, if you’re looking for basilisks in movie and entertainment, you’re not likely to find much. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the most well known one and there is a movie called Basilisk: The Serpent King (2016) – a SYFY movie so I’d suggest taking it with a grain of salt. There’s also apparently a Polish Legends: Operation Basilisk film from 2016 as well. You’re much more likely to run across them in books / literature than anything else. I’ve dabbled with them a bit in some of my own works but not a whole lot. Maybe one of these days. And if you’re a fan of RPGs as far as video games go, basilisks and creatures with the ability to petrify in combat are pretty common monsters. They crop up in Final Fantasy from time to time for sure!

If you’d like to read up on a bit more of the nuances from this particular topic though, feel free to check out the source I pulled most of the informative information from: New World Encyclopedia. And if you have any questions or comments you’d care to ask or add, by all means, feel free! In the meantime, thanks for dropping by and hopefully you’ll look forward to the next one where I will potentially get into the mystery of the cockatrice. Thank you!

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