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 Indian tribe.
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 Hopi nation.
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