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The name basilisk comes from the Greek basileus, which means king. The basilisk was the King of the snakes and the most poisonous creature on earth. His appearance has always been a matter of dispute since there is no way to see a basilisk and survive. Looking at it, according to legend, brings death.

The basilisk was depicted in a few illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages but appeared much more often as an ornamental detail in church architecture, adorning capitals and medallions. The best representation of the basilisk is found in the decorative field of heraldry where the basilisk had the head and legs of a cock, a snake-like tail, and a body like a bird’s. It seems that the wings could be depicted as either being covered with feathers or scales.



The antique Romans called him "regulus" or little king, not only because of his crown, but because he terrorized all other creatures with his deadly look and poison. His color was yellow, sometimes with a kind of blackish hue. Plinius mentioned a white spot on his head, which could be misinterpreted as a diadem or a crown. Others speak of three spikes on his forehead.

Regarding his dangerousness rural legends distinguishes three main types. All three had a deadly breath, which could even make rocks crumble.

  • The golden basilisk poisoned everything by his mere look.
  • The evil-eye basilisk terrorized and killed every creature by his third eye on the top of a golden head.
  • The sanguineness basilisk sting made the flesh fall off the bones of his victim



The basilisk serpent

It is a native of the province of Cyrenaica, not more than 12 inches long, and adorned with a bright white marking on the head like a sort of diadem.

It routs all snakes with its hiss, and does not move its body forward in manifold coils like the other snakes but advancing with its middle raised high. It kills bushes not only by its touch but also by its breath, scorches up grass and bursts rocks.

Its effect on other animals is disastrous: it is believed that once one was killed with a spear by a man on horseback and the infection rising through the spear rising not only the rider but also the horse.



Most authors agree, that Africa was his homeland. The basilisk is always found in a desert. This is not because he enjoys living there, but because its breath and sight are so destructive that it turns any landscape in a sand desert.

The special characteristics of the Basilisk have led many to believe that the monster has arisen from nothing more than the tales of the Egyptian cobra, whose characteristics have, from oral transmission, been exaggerated. This cobra has a white marking on its head, powerful venom that he spits without the need to bite, and the ability to move with its head held upright. The mongoose, rather like a weasel, can kill cobras.



It is almost always an icon of fear. In alchemical writings the basilisk played many roles. Sometimes it would fall into the realm of the fabulous salamander where it would be used to symbolize the destructive fire that preceded the transmutation of metals. In other works, the elixir, or Philosopher’s Stone, a potent and mysterious catalyst that was said to turn whatever it touched to gold, cure all ills, and confer eternal life was called the basilisk or cockatrice.

During the Renaissance, Christianity rediscovered the creature in the context of the Old Testament and used it sparsely as an emblem of the devil and sin.

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