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- The Algonquin Legends of New England - 40/54 -
characteristic traits, we have even a single anecdote or attribute in common, the identification is very far advanced. When not one, but many, of these coincidences occur, we are in all probability at the truth. Thus we find in the mythology of the Wabanaki, as in the Edda, the chief evil being indulging in mere wanton, comic mischief, to an extent not to be found in the devil of any other race whatever. Here, in a mythical tale, the same mischief maker steals a snake-girl's hair, and is compelled to replace it. In the Edda, the corresponding mischief maker steals the hair of a goddess, and is also forced to make restitution. Yet this is only one of many such resemblances in these tales. It will be observed that in both cases the hair of the loser is made to grow again. But while the incident has in the Edda a meaning, as appears from its context, it has none in the Indian tale. All that we can conclude from this is that the Wabanaki tale is subsequent to the Norse, or taken from it. The incidents of tales are often remembered when the plot is lost. It is certainly very remarkable that, wherever the mischief maker occurs in these Indian tales, he in every narrative does something in common with his Norse prototype.
_Of the Woman who loved a Serpent who lived in a Lake_.
Of old times. There was a very beautiful woman. She turned the heads of all the men. She married, and her husband died very soon after, but she immediately took another. Within a single year she had five husbands, and these were the cleverest and handsomest and bravest in the tribe. And then she married again.
This, the sixth, was such a silent man that he passed for a fool. But he was wiser than people thought. He came to believe, by thinking it over, that this woman had some strange secret. He resolved to find it out. So he watched her all the time. He kept his eye on her by night and by day.
It was summer, and she proposed to go into the woods to pick berries, and to camp there. By and by, when they were in the forest, she suggested that he should go on to the spot where they intended to remain and build a wigwam. He said that he would do so. But he went a little way into the woods and watched her.
As soon as she believed that he was gone, she rose and walked rapidly onwards. He followed her, unseen. She went on, till, in a deep, wild place among the rocks, she came to a pond. She sat down and sang a song. A great foam, or froth, rose to the surface of the water. Then in the foam appeared the tail of a serpent. The creature was of immense size. The woman, who had laid aside all her garments, embraced the serpent, which twined around her, enveloping all her limbs and body in his folds. The husband watched it all. He now understood that, the venom of the serpent having entered the woman, she had saved her life by transferring it to others, who died.
He went on to the camping ground and built a wigwam. He made up two beds; he built a fire. His wife came. She was earnest that there should be only a single bed. He sternly bade her lie by herself. She was afraid of him. She laid down, and went to sleep. He arose three times during the night to replenish the fire. Every time he called her, and there was no answer. In the morning he shook her. She was dead. She had died by the poison of the serpent. They sunk her in the pond where the snake lived.
[Illustration: THE WOMAN AND THE SERPENT]
I do not omit this ghastly and repulsive legend for the following reasons: One might hastily conclude, from its resemblance to the old legend of the origin of the Merovingian family, that this idea of the woman with the horrible water spirit for a lover was of Canadian French origin. But a story like it in the main detail is told by the Indians of Guiana, and that of the Faithless Wife, given in Rink's Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo (p. 143), is almost the same. But in the latter the husband revenges himself by stuffing the woman full of poisonous vermin. Rink says that he had five different versions of this tale, and that one was from Labrador, a country often traveled by the Micmacs, and even by the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies; I myself knowing one of the latter who has been there. I conjecture that this tale sets forth the aboriginal idea of the origin of a certain disease supposed to have come from America. It is popularly believed among the vulgar that this disease can be transferred to another person, thereby removing it from the first. Of this the Rev. Thistleton Dyer, in his Folk Lore of Shakespeare, says, "According to an old but erroneous belief, infection communicated to another left the infecter free; in allusion to which Timon of Athens (Act IV. 3) says,--
"'I will not kiss thee; then the rot returns To thy own lips again.'"
Bonifacius, Historia Ludicra, has collected all the instances known to classical antiquity of women who had serpent lovers. The kings of the early races of Central America laid great stress on the fact that they were descendants of serpents. One could fill a volume with all the Arab, Hindoo, and other Oriental tales belonging to the beloved of "ophitic monsters."
I am indebted for this very curious and ancient tale to Governor Tomah Josephs, of Peter Dana's Point, Maine.
_The Mother of Serpents._
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'teoulin_, 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." [Footnote: The story was narrated in Indian-English.]
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.
_Origin of the Black Snakes._
Far away, very far in the north, there dwelt by the border of a great lake a man and his wife. They had no children, and the woman was very beautiful and passionate.
The lake was frozen over during the greater part of the year. One day when the woman cut away the ice, she saw in the water a bright pair of large eyes looking steadily at her. They charmed her so that she could not move. Then she distinguished a handsome face; it was that of a fine slender young man. He came out of the water. His eyes seemed brighter and more fascinating than ever; he glittered from head to foot; on his breast was a large shining silvery plate.
The woman learned that this was At-o-sis, the Serpent, but she returned his embraces and held conversation with him, and was so charmed with her lover that she not only met him more than once every day, but even went forth to see him in the night.
Her husband, noticing these frequent absences asked her why she went forth so frequently. She replied, "To get the fresh air."
The weather grew warmer; the ice left the lake; grass and leaves were growing. Then the woman waited till her husband slept, and stole out from the man whom she kissed no more, to the lover whom she fondled and kissed more than ever.
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