Native American Legends
Muggahmaht'adem, the dance of old age (version 2)
A Passamaquoddy Legend
It was in the autumn, the time when Indians go up the rivers to
their hunting-grounds, that two young men left home. They ascended
the stream; they came to a branch, where they parted: one going
alone, another with his married brother.. This latter, with the
brother, had left in the village a female friend, a witch, who had
forbidden him to go hunting, but he had not obeyed her.
And she had cause to keep him at home, for, when he was afar in
the woods, and alone, he met one day with a very beautiful girl,
who fascinated him, and gave herself to him. And when he said that
he did not know how to conceal her from his friends she told him
that she was a fairy, and could make herself as small as a newly
born squirrel, and that all he need do was to wrap her up in a handkerchief
and carry her in his pocket. When alone, he could take her out,
enjoy her company, and then reduce and fold her up and put her away
He did so, but from that hour, while he carried the fairy near
his heart, he began to be wicked and strange. This was not caused
by her, but by the girl at home. He was entirely changed; he grew
devilish; he refused to eat, and never spoke. His sister-in-law
began to fear him. When she offered him food he cried out, "Unless
I can devour one of your children I will have nothing!"
When his brother returned and heard all this, he, too, offered
him meat, but met with a refusal and the reply, "Give me one
of your little children." To which he answered, "The child is so
small that it will not satisfy you. Let me go and get a larger one."
Then he ran to the village and informed his friends of what had
come over the brother. And as they knew that he was about to become
a kewahqu' (chenoo) they resolved to kill him.
But there was a young man there, a friend of the sufferer, who
said that he could save him. So all who were assembled bade him
And when night came he went apart, and began to sing his m'téoulin,
or magic song. When it ended there was a loud sound as of some heavy
body falling and striking the earth, which fairly shook. The next
morning he called all his friends and the married brother, and showed
them a human corpse. "Now leave me," he said. "Go to my friend
and tell him that I have food for him." The Indians did so, and
in horror left the two cannibals to devour their disgusting meal.
When the insane youth was satisfied, his friend asked, "Have you
had enough?" He replied that he had. Then the magician said, "You
are bewitched by the girl who forbade you to go hunting; she knew
you would find a maid better than she is. Now come with me."
They went to a small lake; they sat down by its side; the sorcerer
began his magic song. And as he sang the waters opened; from the
disturbed waves rose a huge Weewillmekq', a creature like an alligator,
with horns. And, as the terrible being came ashore, the magician
said, "Go and scrape somewhat from his horn and bring it here!"
The young man had become fearless; he went and did as he was bid:
he scraped the horn, and brought the scraping.
"Now, my friend," said the magician, "let us try this on a tree."
There was a large green beech growing by them. It was simply touched
with the fragment from the horn when another color spread all over
the bark as rapidly as the eye could follow it: in an instant it
was dead, and in a few minutes more it fell to the ground, utterly
rotten, as if it were a century old.
"Now," said the sorcerer, "we will experiment with this on the
witch who wishes to destroy you." So as it was night they went to
the village. A dance was being held, and the beautiful tall witch
having paused to rest, the two men approached her. The young man
placed his hand on her head; he held in it a scraping of the horn
of the weewillmekq'. As he did so she grew older in an instant,
she became very old; a pale color rippled all over her; she fell,
looking a hundred years, dead on the floor, shriveled, dried, and
dropped to powder.
"She will not trouble you any more," said the sorcerer. "Her dance
This is the same story as the preceding, but I give it to show
how differently a tale may be told by neighbors. In one it is the
spretæ injuria formæ, the wrath of rejected love, which
inspires the witch to revenge; in the other it is jealousy. In one
she inflicts madness; in the other she turns him into a cannibal
demon, as Loki, when only half bad, was made utterly so by getting
the "thought-stone" or heart of a witch. This legend was sent to
me by Louis Mitchell. It is written not by him, but by some other
Passamaquoddy, in Indian-English.
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