Native American Legends
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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