Myths & Legends



Sioux: Men Serpents

The story that follow is recounted by Lewis Spence in The Myths of North American Indians.

The hybrid man-serpent is a universal human archetype. The Nagas in India, such as Fuxi and Nüwa and Gong Gong in China, Cecrops the mythical first king of Athens, and others are examples of this archetype.
— Orly

Twenty warriors who had been on the war-path were returning homeward worn-out and hungry, and as they went they scattered in search of game to sustain them on their way.

Suddenly one of the braves, placing his ear to the ground, declared that he could hear a herd of buffaloes approaching.

The band was greatly cheered by this news, and the plans made by the chief to intercept the animals were quickly carried into effect.

Nearer and nearer came the supposed herd. The chief lay very still, ready to shoot when it came within range. Suddenly he saw, to his horror, that what approached them was a huge snake with a rattle as large as a man's head. Though almost paralysed with surprise and terror, he managed to shoot the monster and kill it. He called up his men, who were not a little afraid of the gigantic creature, even though it was dead, and for a long time they debated what they should do with the carcass. At length hunger conquered their scruples and made them decide to cook and eat it. To their surprise, they found the meat as savoury as that of a buffalo, which it much resembled. All partook of the fare, with the exception of one boy, who persisted in refusing it, though they pressed him to eat.

When the warriors had finished their meal they lay down beside the camp-fire and fell asleep. Later in the night the chief awoke and was horrified to find that his companions had turned to snakes, and that he himself was already half snake, half man. Hastily he gathered his transformed warriors, and they saw that the boy who had not eaten of the reptile had retained his own form. The lad, fearing that the serpents might attack him, began to weep, but the snake-warriors treated him very kindly, giving him their charms and all they possessed.

At their request he put them into a large robe and carried them to the summit of a high hill, where he set them down under the trees.

"You must return to our lodges," they told him, "and in the summer we will visit our kindred. See that our wives and children come out to greet us."

The boy carried the news to his village, and there was much weeping and lamentation when the friends of the warriors heard of their fate. But in the summer the snakes came and sat in a group outside the village, and all the people crowded round them, loudly venting their grief. The horses which had belonged to the snakes were brought out to them, as well as their moccasins, leggings, whips, and saddles.

"Do not be afraid of them," said the boy to the assembled people. "Do not flee from them, lest something happen to you also." So they let the snakes creep over them, and no harm befell. In the winter the snakes vanished altogether, and with them their horses and other possessions, and the people never saw them more.



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