Sunday, October 23, 2016

Snakes from "Indian Hero Tales"

(As well as a little from Peet and Snow Owl)

American Book Company, 1916 - Abenaki Indians - 203 pages

    “The prevalence of the serpent myth is another interesting point. This myth is unique, but wide-spread. There are variations to it. One is the story of the serpent who came up out of the water, and who married and left a numerous progeny. There are other serpent myths among the aborigines, which celebrate the exploits of the serpent god. The most interesting serpent myth is the one which has relation to the work of creation. All of these myths are so wide-spread, and are so different parts of the continent, that a proper inference is that the serpent cult was universal here... The serpent is often connected with some spring or lake or water course, as if the serpent was only a local divinity, but the repetition of the same myth shows that the serpent was a god, who had its home in the water, and who, at the same time, had to do with the creation... In some of the myths the thunder bird and the snake are friends, the lightning and thunder, which were personified, being always connected, but the Ojibwas consider the thunder to be a god in the shape of an eagle, which feeds upon the snakes. The home of the thunder bird is on the top of the mountain, but it sends the young eagle to different parts of the earth to search for food... The Passamuquodies, the thunderers, were human beings, who used bows and arrows and had wings which could be put off and on; the thunder is the sound of the wings; the lightning is the fire and smoke of their pipes. Another legend is that the thunder, Badawk, and Psawk-tankapic, the lightning, are brothers and sisters. The thunder crash is made by the child Badawk, to whom his grandfather had fastened wings. Another legend is that the giant thunder spirits dwell in Mount Katahdin; they had eyebrows of stone and cheeks like rocks. The wind-blower was a great bird, called Wochowsen; who lived in the north and sat upon the great rock at the end of the sky. The Crees hold that the thunder is caused by the screaming and flapping of the wings of a great eagle.* The Tetons hold that the thunderers, an ancient people, still dwell in the clouds. They have large, curved beaks and wings. They make lightning when they open their eyes. Their ancient foes were the giant rattle-snakes and the water monsters, Un-kche-gJii-la, whose bones are now found in the bluffs of Nebraska and Dakota.
Among the Moquis, as among other Indian tribes, the snake was the guardian of the springs, and like the frog, it has come to be an emblem of water, and sand pictures of it find an appropriate place in the rain or water ceremonials. The sinuous motion of the animal recalls the lightning which accompanies the rain and the zigzag line is used as a sign to designate both. 

Mr. Walter Fewkes says: "The idea of the serpent guarding a sacred spring is so widely spread in the mythology of primitive people that it may be looked upon as a fundamental principle."

Among the Moquis, to kill a snake is to destroy the guardian of some spring or source of water...”
The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, Volume 16, JANUARY-NOVEMBER, 1894, edited by Stephen Denison Peet.
A Cherokee Legend
There was a boy who used to go bird hunting every day, and all the birds he brought home he gave to his grandmother, who was very fond of him.

This made the rest of the family jealous, and they treated him in such fashion that at last one day he told his grandmother he would leave them all, but that she must not grieve for him. Next morning he refused to eat any breakfast, but went off hungry to the woods and was gone all day. In the evening he returned, bringing with him a pair of deer horns, and went directly to the hothouse (âsï), where his grandmother was waiting for him. He told the old woman he must be alone that night, so she got up and went into the house where the others were.

At early daybreak she came again to the hothouse and looked in, and there she saw an immense uktena that filled the âsï, with horns on its head, but still with
two human legs instead of a snake tail. It was all that was left of her boy. He spoke to her and told her to leave him, and she went away again from the door.

When the sun was well up, the uktena began slowly to crawl out, but it was full noon before it was all out of the âsï. It made a terrible hissing noise as it came out, and all the people ran from it. It crawled on through the settlement
, leaving a broad trail in the ground behind it, until it came to a deep bend in the river, where it plunged in and went under the water.

The grandmother grieved much for her boy, until the others of the family got angry and told her that as she thought so much of him she ought to go and stay with him. So she left them
and went along the trail made by the uktena to the river and walked directly into the water and disappeared.

Once after that a man fishing near the place saw her sitting on a large rock in the river, looking just as she had always looked, but as soon as she caught sight of him she jumped into the water and was gone.

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