Native American Legends
The origin of the Hopi Snake Clan
A Hopi Legend
Long ago, on the enormous far rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona,
lived the ancestors of the Snake Clan, who belonged to the Hopi
Chief of the Hopis had a very wise son, who liked to sit and meditate
on the edge of the canyon rim. He tried many times to imagine where
the powerful river far below finally ended.
Experienced ancient men of their nation did not know the answer
for Wise Son. Their council leaders had different ideas among themselves.
One thought the river took a secret course through enormous underground
passages. Another thought it entered the middle of the world and
there it nurtured large and dangerous reptiles.
Impatient, Wise Son said to his father, the Chief, "Is it
not time for me to seek my quest? I wish to go down the great river
and find the place where it ends."
Proud of his son's desire for accomplishment, the Chief gladly
granted him permission to follow his quest. Wise Son, overjoyed
with his coming venture, planned specifically for every need. His
family and tribal friends helped him to design and to build a waterproof
boat that could be closed entirely, like a cocoon.
He constructed a long pushing-pole to help him navigate the waters.
The maker of medicine tied prayer sticks at the top of the pole,
with special blessings for a safe journey.
Finally, the day arrived for Wise Son to launch his special canoe.
The Chief and his warriors arrived with supplies of food, good wishes,
and more prayer sticks.
Week after week, Wise Son drifted with the river. He was happy.
He learned to keep his boat in the main current, though it carried
him through several turbulent side routes, including rapids and
tunnel-like caves. He victoriously came though these experiences
with joy in his heart.
On and on Wise Son traveled, winding his way out of steep canyons
and through flat meadowlands. He caught fresh fish for his main
food supply. One day, Wise Son noticed a change in the taste of
the water. It was salty and he knew that he should not drink it.
Then to his surprise, he suddenly floated into a great body of water
that extended as far as he could see. He had discovered the place
where the mighty river ended, in the ocean where the sun sleeps!
He saw an island and guided his boat to its shore. There was a
house nearby. Upon investigation, he found only a very small entrance
door. He knocked and asked, "Please, will you let me come in
and see you?"
Spider Woman, who possessed supernatural power, lived there and
answered, "Please make the hole large enough and enter."
This, Wise Son did and sat down inside. He presented to Spider Woman
one of his prayer sticks and told her of his adventure to find the
place where the river ended.
"When I return to my nation, I wish to take with me a gift
that might be helpful to my people," he said. "There is
a neighboring house where there are many beautiful ornament-like
beads and rocks. These might be gifts that you can take to your
people," she replied. "But I must caution you to be careful
of the vicious animals on the path. I will give you some of my magic
lotion to protect you." Together they started for the treasure
house. To guide him, Spider Woman sat upon Wise Son's ear, where
she could whisper to him.
Immediately, Wise Son sprinkled some magic lotion on the marshy
path. A colorful bridge appeared instantly, guiding them across
the marsh to the treasure house. First, they encountered an enormous
lionlike animal showing its fangs. Wise Son tossed him a prayer
stick and sprinkled magic lotion, which calmed the creature.
Second, they met a bear-like animal; third, a mad catlike creature;
fourth, a ferocious wolf-like beast; fifth, a huge angry-looking
snake with rattles on its tail. Wise Son quieted all of them with
Spider Woman's magic lotion. The treasure house had steps leading
to the roof, and from there steps took them down into a large room.
Men squatted around the inside walls. The warriors wore handsome,
bright-colored beads hanging about their necks. They had painted
their faces tribal fashion.
Wise Son squatted by the fire. All remained quiet for some time.
The men gazed at Wise Son constantly. Finally, their Chief arose
and lighted his pipe. After smoking four times, he passed the pipe
to the stranger. Wise Son smoked the magic number of times that
seemed to please the Chief and the others. They then greeted him
in a friendly manner, as if he were one of their own.
In return for their warm welcome, Wise Son gave to each man a prayer
stick tipped with special feathers made by ancient Hopi nations
men. "Now it is time to put on our snake costumes," announced
the Chief. Wise Son observed that skins of enormous serpents were
suspended from the ceiling, around all four walls. He was asked
to face about, so that he would not see how the warriors got into
their snakeskin costumes.
When Wise Son was asked to turn back, he saw snakes of many sizes
and colors, hissing and writhing over the dirt floor. Spider Woman
remained on Wise Son's ear. "Be strong," she whispered
to him. "The snakes will not hurt you, only frighten you. Do
whatever I tell you." The Chief of the Snake People had made
his daughter become a yellow-snake-with-rattles. Wise Son did not
know this, and he was asked to choose the Chief's daughter. If he
could choose correctly, the Snake People would show him their ceremonial
dance. They also would give him many beads and gem-rocks to take
to his nation.
Wise Son tried very hard to guess which snake was the Chief's daughter.
Spider Woman whispered in his ear, "Choose the yellow one with
rattles." Wise Son did, and yellow-snake-with-rattles suddenly
became the loveliest and fairest of maidens. He knew immediately
that he could easily fall in love with her. That evening the Chief
and his warriors gave to Wise Son all the secrets of the Snake Ceremony.
They taught him the words of praise and thanksgiving, which they
sang for him. They showed him the ceremonial steps, which they danced
for him. They showed him how they put on their snake costumes. Finally,
they showed him their altar.
After Wise Son learned all that he should know, he and Spider Woman
re-crossed the bridge and returned to her house. He presented her
with another prayer stick, as he thanked her for her help. In return,
she gave him a beautiful bead of turquoise from her north room.
She gave him a white shell from her east room. From her south room,
she gave him a red bead, and from her west room a larger turquoise.
She then gave him a bag of special beads for his nation, but she
warned him not to open it on the way home.
Next morning, Wise Son went back to the house of the Snake People
to say farewell. Their Chief welcomed him and declared, "You
have gained our friendship and my beautiful daughter. Take her for
your wife. We wish you happiness and a pleasant journey back to
your nation." The nation gave them many presents of good clothing
and much food to send the happy couple on their way to Hopi land.
They took the overland route following the great river. Each day
Wise Son found the treasure bag heavier and heavier. He and his
wife could hardly carry it between them. One day out of extreme
curiosity, they opened the bag and looked inside. Regardless of
Spider Woman's caution, the two rolled out the beads and made strands
for each to wear around their necks. By the following morning, all
of the gift beads had vanished. Only remaining were the gems from
the four rooms in Spider Woman's house.
Many moons later, the young couple reached Hopi land on the far
rim of the Grand Canyon. Wise Son was delighted to be home again
after his great adventure. The entire Hopi nation rejoiced over
his safe return and welcomed his new young wife to their nation.
Wise Son told where the great river ended. He told them about the
Snake Clan, and that he and his wife brought them a special ceremony
from the Snake People, living where the sun sleeps. Wise Son and
his wife taught the Hopis all the songs and dances of the Snake
Ceremony. This was the beginning of the Snake Clan of the Hopi nation.
Today, visitors are welcomed by the Hopis when their Snake Clan
performs at its annual Snake Ceremony. This is their traditional
praise and thanksgiving offering for the blessings of rain to the
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