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The Cockatrice

The Cockatrice

Freaky Friday

A couple of weeks ago, when I was reading the scriptures, I came upon a passage that said, “And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’s den.” And I wondered, what the heck is a cockatrice, and why is it so amazing that a weaned child (so, I’m guessing a toddler) could put his hand on its den?

According to Wikipedia “A cockatrice is a mythical beast, essentially a two-legged dragon or serpent-like creature with a rooster’s head. Described by Laurence Breiner as “an ornament in the drama and poetry of the Elizabethans”, it was featured prominently in English thought and myth for centuries.”

I’ve had roosters, they can be annoying, especially when you want to sleep in. But I can’t imagine how much more annoying this creature would be if it was the size of a dragon and, it has the reputed ability to kill people by either looking at them or touching them, or even breathing on them. (I’ve met people like that – I believe it’s called Cockatrice Breath.)

Anyway, good thing that the Cockatrice is just mythology, right?

Or is it?

According to Strangehistory.net, there have possibly been a couple of sightings of a cockatrice in Renwick, a small village in the English county of Cumbria. The first supposedly happened around 1610 and the information comes from Hutchinson’s “History of the County of Cumberland, vol. 1, 212, in 1794.” This is the excerpt:

“All the proprietors pay a prescription in lieu of tithes, except the owner of one estate, who has a total exemption, derived from a circumstance which happened about 200 years ago, almost too ridiculous to be rehearsed or credited. The ancient possessor is said to have slain a noxious cockatrice which the vulgar call a crack-a-christ at this day, as they rehearse the simple fable. There is some record [said to be dated 7th of James I], which the owner of the estate holds to testify his exemption, perhaps in a language or letter not to be understood by the villagers; and which he is too tenacious to suffer to be read by curious visitors.”

Strange History tells us that “The note… gives us the date 1610. As to the content…. Put in the simplest possible terms: unnamed family does not pay an ecclesiastical tax because they had been exempted thanks to their ancestor having killed a cockatrice.” 

However, that’s not the only example of cockatrice killing that is mentioned in a history book. The Cumbria County History website includes this information: “…in a 1794 history book has emerged the following legend: the inhabitants of Renwick were pulling down the village church – a large winged creature emerged from the ruin – they thought it was a cockatrice and fled in panic – John Tallentire took a rowan bough and killed it – for which he and his heirs were exempted from tithes.”

Kill a cockatrice and you don’t have to pay taxes forever – sounds like a good deal to me!

Let’s leave the, um, peaceful town of Renwick and travel to the mysterious Orient where the Korean version of the cockatrice is called “The Kye-ryong” which translated means chicken-dragon.  

This information is from The Monster Blog of Monsters website. Though it is sometimes called the “Korean Cockatrice” and its name means “chicken-dragon”, the Kye-ryong is a curious creature found in Korea. Thought to be a cousin to the European Cockatrice, the Kye-ryong has been used as a beast of burden in Korean folklore, though it is more popular as a creature to pull chariots, due to its size (around the size of a large pony) and its general docility.

Unlike the deadliness of the European Cockatrice, the Kye-ryong is a gentle creature, known for quick and darting movements, and is much larger than the European Cockatrice. It is also a measure more intelligent, and while it’s gaze can be petrifying this is usually only done if it is attacked, while the European Cockatrice will willfully use it’s gaze willy-nilly.

Kye-ryong are believed to have evolved, or been bred, while Cockatrices are a created species, hatching from a snake’s egg beneath a toad, and Kye-ryong are known to reproduce on their own, producing large eggs which they diligently incubate. These eggs tend to hatch after around a month or two, and the young within mature rapidly, and are ready to be trained within a year.

However, the only stories I could find about the Kye-ryong were based in folklore. We don’t want folklore, we want some real evidence of cockatrices. So, let’s turn to Karl Shuker blogspot and see what he has to say. 

“In modern times, there have been several eyewitness reports emanating from isolated regions of verdant vegetation amid the otherwise arid desert zones of Morocco and Tunisia that tell of very large snakes bearing a crest or long ‘hair’ on their head.”

“Crested mystery snakes are even more commonly reported in tropical Africa, where they have a wide variety of local names, of which the most familiar is the inkhomi (‘killer’), but in English parlance they are generally referred to as crowing crested cobras. They are said to sport a bright-red rooster-like coxcomb (but pointing forwards rather than back) and facial wattles too, and to crow just like a rooster as well – all of which is very reminiscent of …the cockatrice. In 1944, Dr J. Shircore from Malawi published a detailed description of what he believed to be the fleshy coxcomb and part of the neck from one of these snakes, but the current whereabouts of this potentially-valuable specimen is not known.”

“Remarkably, a very similar but somewhat shorter mystery snake, complete with coxcomb, wattles, and crowing ability, has been reported in modern times, and by native and Western observers alike, on the West Indian islands of Jamaica and Hispaniola. If such snakes as these on record from Africa and the Caribbean are genuine, they may well have assisted in inspiring the cockatrice legend.

They may no longer possess the lethal talents originally ascribed to them, but judging from reports such as those noted above, it may be somewhat premature to discount … the cockatrice as wholly imaginary after all.” 

So, the next time you stay in the country, with the cool summer air blowing the cotton curtains in a lazy dance, and you enjoy the symphony of the morning; birds chirping, cows mooing and, in the distance, a rooster crowing.  Just beware, that rooster could actually be a cockatrice out on his morning flight.

Happy Friday!

Like what you read?  Find more stories by Terri Reid here. 

Photo By: Dan Scott

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