Native American Legends
The Snake Myth
A Hopi Legend
At Tokóonavi, north of the Grand Canyon, lived people who
were then not yet Snake people. They lived close to the bank of
the river. The chief's son often pondered over the Grand Canyon
and wondered where all that water went to.
"That must certainly make it very full somewhere," he
thought to himself. So he spoke to his father about it. ''So that
is what you have been thinking about," the latter said. "Yes,"
his son answered, "I want to go and examine it."
The father gave his consent and told his son that he should make
a box for himself that would be large enough for him to get into,
and he should arrange it so that all openings in the box could be
closed. This the boy did, making also a long pole (according to
others a long báho), with which he could push the box in
case it became fast or tangled up anywhere.
When he was ready he took a lot of báhos and some food,
went into the box, and allowed himself to be pushed into the water,
on which he then floated along. Finally he came to the ocean, where
he drifted against an island. He found the house of Spider Woman
(Kóhk'ang Wuhti) here, who called him to come to her house.
He went over and found that he could not get through the opening
leading to her house. "How shall I get in?" he said; "the
opening is too small." She told him to enlarge it.
This he did and then entered. He told her a story and gave her
a báho, and said that he had come after beads, etc. She pointed
to another kiva away out in the water and said that there were some
beads and corals there. but that there were some wild animals guarding
the path to it. "If you had not informed me, how could you
have succeeded in getting there and how would you have gotten back?
But I shall go with you," she said, "because you have
given me a báho, for which I am very glad."
She then gave the young man some medicine and seated herself behind
his right ear. He spurted the medicine over the water and immediately
a road like a rainbow was formed from the dwelling of Spider Woman
to the other kiva. On this they went across the water. As they approached
the kiva to which they were going they first encountered a panther,
who growled fiercely. The young man gave him a green báho
and spurted some medicine upon him, which quieted him. A little
farther on they met a bear, whom they quieted in the same manner.
Still farther on they came upon a wildcat, to which they also handed
a báho, which quieted the animal. Hereupon they met a gray
wolf, and finally a very large rattle-snake (K'áhtoya), both
of which they appeased in the same manner as the others. They then
arrived at the kiva, where they found at the entrance a bow standard
(Aoát nátsi). They then descended the ladder and found
in the kiva many people who were dressed in blue kilts, had their
faces painted with specular iron (yaláhaii), and around their
necks they wore many beads.
The young man sat down near the fireplace, Spider Woman still being
seated on his ear, but no one spoke. The men looked at him, but
remained silent. Presently the chief got a large bag of tobacco
and a large pipe. He filled the latter and smoked four times. He
then handed the pipe to the young man and said: "Smoke and
swallow the smoke."
The swallowing of the smoke was a test: any one not being able
to do that was driven off. Spider Woman had informed the young man
about this test, so he was posted. When he commenced to smoke she
whispered to him: "Put me behind you." This he did in
an unobserved manner, so when he swallowed the smoke she immediately
drew the smoke from him and blew it away, and hence he did not get
The men who did not observe the trick were pleased and said to
him: ''All right, you are strong; you are certainly some one. Thank
you. Your heart is good: you are one of us; you are our child."
"Yes." he said, and handed them some red nakwákwosis
and a single green báho with red points, such as are still
made in Shupaúlavi in the Antelope society.
They then became very friendly, saving that the were very happy
over the báhos. On the walls of the kiva were hanging many
costumes made of snake skins. Soon the chief said to the people:
"Let us dress up now," and turning to the young man bid
him to turn away so that he would not see what was going on. He
did so, and when he looked back again the men had all dressed up
in the snake costumes and had turned into snakes, large and small,
bull- snakes, racers, and rattle-snakes, that were moving about
on the floor hissing, rattling, etc.
While he had turned away and the snake People had been dressing
themselves, Spider Woman had whispered to him that they were now
going to try him very hard, but that he should not be afraid to
touch the snakes; and she gave him many instructions.
Among those present in the kiva had also been some pretty maidens
who had also put on snake costumes and had turned into serpents.
One of them had been particularly handsome. The chief had not turned
into a snake, and was sitting near the fireplace. He now turned
to the young man and said to him: "You go now and select and
take one of these snakes." The snakes seemed to be very angry
and the young man got frightened when they stared at him, but Spider
Woman whispered to him not to be a coward, nor to be afraid.
The prettiest maiden had turned into a large yellow rattle-snake
(Sik'á-tcua), and was especially angry. Spider Woman whispered
to the young man, that the one that acted so very angrily was the
pretty maiden and that he should try to take that one. He tried,
but the snake was very wild and fierce. "Be not afraid,"
Spider Woman whispered, and handed him some medicine. This he secretly
chewed and spurted a small quantity of it on the fierce snake, whereupon
it immediately became docile.
He at once grabbed it, held and stroked it four times upward, each
time spurting a little medicine on it, and thus freeing it from
its anger. The chief was astonished and said: "You are very
something, thanks. Now, look away again." He did so and when
he turned back he saw that all the snakes had assumed the forms
of men and women again, including the maiden that he had captured.
They now were all very good to him, and talked to him in the kindest
manner, because they now considered him as initiated and as one
He was now welcome, and the chief invited him to eat. The mána
whom the young man had taken got from another room in the kiva some
bread made of fresh corn-meal, some peaches, melons, etc., and set
this food before the young man. Spider Woman whispered to the young
-man to give her something to eat too, which he did secretly. She
enjoyed the food very much and was very happy.
Now the chief asked the man why he came, etc. "I hunt a lólomat
kátcit (good life) and was thinking about the water running
this way, and so this way it runs. I have come also to get Hopi
food from here. I also heard that there lives a woman here somewhere,
the Hurúing Wuhti, from whom I want beads." "What
have you for her?" they asked. "These báhos,"
he said. "All right, you will get there. But now you sleep
here." But Spider Woman wanted to get back. He told them that
he wanted to go out a little while.
Then he went and took Spider Woman home, and put her down. She
invited him to come and eat with her. She had a pövö'lpik'i
off which she lived and which never gave out, but he left her and
returned to the Snake kiva, where he was welcomed and called brother
and son-in-law (möö'nangwuu), although he had not yet
married, but only caught the mána. So he remained there.
That evening and night the chief told him all about the Snake cult,
altar, etc., etc., and instructed him how he must put this up, and
do that, when he would return. He did not sleep that night.
In the morning he again went out on the same excuse as the previous
evening, and went to Spider Woman, who went out. She made a rainbow
road into the ocean to a high bluff where Hurúing Wuhti lived,
and to which they ascended on a ladder. They went in and found an
old hag, but on all the walls many beads, shells, etc. The woman
said nothing. The young man gave her the báhos, then she,
said faintly, "Áskwali!" (Thanks!)
At sundown she went into a side chamber and returned a very pretty
maiden with fine buffalo and wildcat robes, of which she made a
bed, and after having fed him, invited him to sleep with her on
the bed. Then Spider Woman ,whispered he should comply with her
request, then he would win her favor and get the beads. So he did
In the morning he awoke and found by his side an old hag, snoring.
He was very unhappy, He stayed all day, the hag sitting bent up
all day. In the evening the change, etc., that occurred on the previous
day was repeated, but the hag after this remained a pretty maiden.
He remained four days and nights with Hurúing Wuhti, who
is the deity of the hard substances.
After four days he wanted to go home, so she went into a room on
the north side and got a turquoise bead; then from a room west the
same: from a room South a reddish bead (cátsni); from one
east, a hard white bead (hurúingwa), a shell. Then she gave
him a few of all kinds of beads and told him to go home now, but
charging him not to open the sack, because if he did they would
be gone, and if he did not they would increase. "You go to
the Snakes, who will give you clothes, food, etc."
He then returned to the Snake kiva. There he staved four days and
four nights, sleeping with his wife. When he was ready to go home
the chief said: "Take this mána with you. You have won
us. Take it all with you, take of our food. Practice the ceremonies
there that I told you about. This woman will bear you children and
then you will be many and they will hold this ceremony for you."
So they started. At Spider Woman's house he told his wife, ''You
stay here. I will go to the rear." So he went to Spider Woman's
house and she asked: ''Well, did you get the mána?"
"Yes," he said. "Well, you take everything along."
But she forbid him to touch his wife while they would be on the
way, as then his beads would disappear and also his wife.
So they started. The beads were as yet not heavy. During the night
they slept separately. In the morning they found that the beads
had increased, and they kept increasing as they went along the next
day. The next night they spent in the same way. They were anxious
to see whether the beads and shells had increased, but did not dare
to do so. The third night was again spent, and the contents of the
bag increased the same as the previous two nights.
The bag with the beads and shells now became very heavy and the
young man was very anxious to see them, but his wife forbade him
to open the sack. The fourth night was spent in the same manner,
and when they arose in the morning the sack was nearly full and
was very heavy. Spider Woman had also put some strings into the
bag with the beads, and the beads were strung onto these strings
a,; they kept increasing.
They now approached the home of the young man, and the latter was
very anxious to get home in order to see the contents, of the sack,
so they traveled on. When they had nearly one more day's travel
to make the sack had become full. During the last night the man
opened the sack, although his wife remonstrated most energetically.
He took out many of the finest beads and shells and spread them
on the floor before them, put them around his neck, and was very
happy. So they retired for the night. In the morning they found
that all the beads except those which Hurúing Wuhti had given
to the man had disappeared. Hence the Hopi have so few beads at
the present day. If that man had at that time brought home with
him all the beads which he had, they would have many. So when they
arrived at home they were very despondent.
At that time only the Divided or Separated Spring (Bátki)
clan and the Pö'na (a certain cactus) clan lived at that place,
but with the arrival of this young couple a new clan, the Snake
clan, had come to the village. Soon this new woman bore many children.
They were snakes who lived in the fields and in the sand. They grew
very rapidly and went about and played with the Hopi children, whom
they sometimes bit. This made the Hopi very angry and they said:
"This is not good," and drove them off, so they were very
The woman said to her husband: "You take our children back
to my home and there we shall go away from here alone." Then
the man's father made báhos, gave them to his son, who put
all the snakes with the báhos into his blanket and took them
back to his wife's home, and there told the Snake people why he
brought their children and the báhos. They said it was all
right. Hence the Snake priests, when carrying away the snakes from
the plaza after the snake dance, take with them and deposit with
the snakes some báhos, so that they should not themselves
return to the village.
When the Snake man returned to his village lit and his wife traveled
south- eastward, stopping at various places. All at once they saw
smoke in the distance, and when they went there they found a village
perched son the mesa. This was the village of Wálpi. They
at once went to the foot of the mesa on which Wálpi was situated
and announced their presence. So the village chief went down to
them from the mesa, and asked what they wanted.
They asked to be admitted to the village, promising that they would
assist the people in the ceremonies. The chief at first showed himself
unwilling to admit then), but finally gave his consent and took
them up to the village. From that time the woman bore human children
instead of little snakes. These children and their descendants became
the Snake clan, of whom only very few are now living.
Soon also the Bátki and Pö'na clan came to Wálpi
and found admittance to the village. At Wálpi the Snake people
made the first Snake típoni, Snake altar, etc., and had the
first Snake ceremony. From here the Snake cult spread to the other
villages, first to Shongópavi, then to Mishóngnovi,
and then to Oraíbi. At the first Snake ceremony the Snake
chief sent his nephew to the north, to the west, to the south, and
to the east to hunt snakes.
He brought some from each direction, The chief then hollowed out
a piece of báho, made of cottonwood root. Into this he put
the rattles of three of the snakes and the fourth snake entirely.
He then inserted into it a corn-ear, and tied to it different feathers
of the eagle, the oriole, blue-bird, parrot, magpie, Ásya,
and topóckwa, winding a buckskin String around these feathers.
When he had made this típoni, the first ceremony was celebrated,
and afterwards it took place regularly.
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