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 dizzy.
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 of them.
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 as requested.
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 unhappy.
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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