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The mother of Serpents

A Passamaquoddy Legend

There was once a couple well advanced in years. They were powerful and rich in the Indian fashion, but they were unhappy because they had no children.

This was near the river St. John's, on the shore of a small lake.

After the woman had gone in vain to all the medicine men and m'téoulin, she heard of an old doctress, or witch, who lived not very far off. And though hope was almost dead, the witch was consulted.

She gave the wife some herbs, and bade her steep them in a pot out-of-doors, and then let them boil. When the vessel should dance over the flame, the propitious moment would be at hand.

Everything succeeded according to the witch's prediction. A few days after she appeared in the town. The mother, who was a very proud woman, had in advance hung up an Indian cradle with very fine ornaments. The old woman was very dirty, poor, and squalid. The proud woman was furious at the visit, which mortified her in every way. She drove the witch away with bitter words, bidding her begone with her rags. The old woman went away muttering, "That woman, too proud, too ugly proud, I'll see."

What she saw was bad for the mother. She took some more herbs from her box and threw them in the fire, crying with a loud voice, "At-o-sis! At-o-sis!" and imitated the motions of a snake.

When the proud woman was confined, she gave birth to two large serpents. They had each a white ring round the neck and red stripes down the sides. As soon as they were born they went rapidly to the lake, and disappeared in its water. They have been seen there, now and then, ever since.

She who gave birth to them was a Mohawk, and she is called the Mother of Serpents.

Another Passamaquoddy tale gives the following account of the origin of the Serpent-race.

Once there was an Indian sorcerer came to a wigwam where there was a man who had a very handsome daughter.

The magician wished to win the girl; the father made up his mind that he should not have her.

The magician told them that he was very wealthy, and had a great lodge filled with furs and wampum. It was of no use.

Then he told the father that if he would go and cast his lines in a certain place he would catch as many of the finest fish as he wanted. The old man went, but took his daughter with him.

When they returned, loaded with fish, the magician, smiling said to the girl with great mystery, "When you have cooked these fish, always throw away the tail, and begin by eating the head first."

He knew very well that her curiosity and perversity would make her disobey him. She waited with impatience till the man had left, when she hurried to cook and eat the fish. Thereby she became a mother, and the magician had his revenge.

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