The Man with Two Heads

narrated by Philip Longtail (Sįcserecka), Buffalo Clan
translation from the interlinear text of Rev. James Owen Dorsey

Reproduced with the permission of the
National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

Philip Longtail

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

(1) "There a man who lived with his sister always sat. This man was in the habit of eating only every now and then. He occasionally tried to know something. Once his sister had a husband, it is said. Once the man stopped his efforts to know something and ate food. When he finished eating food, he came to know that a man would come to contend with him. So he knew that he would come to contend with him. That man had large knives on both sides of his arms. Always he bound them up to conceal them, always it is said. Other people did not know of it because he always did it.

(2) Once a man did come and he said that he came to contend with him. The man said that he would like that. The other man told the man when he would come, and the man came the next morning. The man said to the other man that he would cut off his head. The other man said, "All right!" The man said he came to contend with him. He said that first he would try to cut off his head with a knife. He said that they would do it at a log in this very place. The man in the lodge said that he would go under it first. (3) The other one confronted him with a knife. When the other became a serpent, he entered into the log. The other man stood there waiting a long time. He had said that he would try to come out very rapidly. Soon when the man under the log was coming out, the other man hit him in the neck and cut his head off. After he took the head, he put the head behind him. After he had done so, he went home.

That other man who did not have a head, nevertheless always remained a person. When his sister gave him his food, she always poured it down his throat. (4) The sister of the man had had two boys. When they were bigger they loved this man, their mother's brother. They always took care of him every day. The boys too had large knives on their arms. They remembered their mother's brother, and in time they grew large.

One day one of them asked, "What happened to my uncle's head?" Their mother told him about what had happened when they took his head, and the boys said, "We will try to go find his head for him." (5) And so ever since that time they began to hunt for him where he had lived. When they found where he lived, they told their uncle that they would try to get the head for him. Their uncle said to them, "That man is very sharp," he said. Then the uncle told them about where he always drank water. That's all he knew, he said. The man with two heads did whatever he pleased. He always flew, always, it is said. (6) The boys said that at the agreed upon time they would go, they said. They said to their mother that she would go out of doors with her elder brother, they said. When they had come back and when they would yell, then she would get ready, they said to her.

In the morning the boys started out and when a little while later they arrived, they unbound their own arms. When they did so, they departed. Soon they came upon the place where the man was when he always drank water. And both of them became serpents, and one climbed on a tree there. Where the man came to drink, there this one also laid under the leaves. (7) The two lay there in readiness. When the sun stood very straight, the man had come to the top of the hill. Soon there he came, and not much later he drank water. However, he sensed that something was not right. The young men lay there quietly. When at last the man knelt down with his arms bent resting on the ground at the water, he got ready to drink. The boy in the tree jumped back down. When he returned to the ground, he stood and cut the man's neck off with a knife, and when the one under the leaves took the head, the two came running back. (8) Soon when they had come back, they called out to that one. When their mother heard their yells, she took her elder brother and stood him up outside. And soon when they had come back the head part they threw at him and so suddenly the neck became good for him. And that man had the two faces.1

This is the end."

Commentary. "a man" — this man, as we learn from the parallel stories, is Red Star (Evening Star) also known as "Bluehorn" (Hecoga).

"eating only every now and then" — this is a modest way of suggesting that he fasted rigorously.

"occasionally tried to know" — this is an understated way of suggesting that he used the credit accumulated form fasting to acquire great powers from the spirits. In this case he is trying to acquire foreknowledge.

"his sister had a husband" — Longtail uses this phrase to pass over the episode in which the sun impregnates her with the Twins. In the old days, if two people had had sexual relations, they were considered to be married.

"a man would come to contend with him" — this "man" is Morning Star, as other parallel episodes make clear.

"in this very place" — this suggests that the log was located inside the lodge. This is quite possible, as Radin refers to a taboo concerning the Wolf Clan: "A person was not allowed to tell a Wolf clansman that he looked like a wolf nor allowed to sit on a log in a Wolf clan lodge."2 The lodge in the astronomy codes of this story and its variants stands for the world. Its floor is the earth, and its ceiling is the celestial vault. In the Wazija stars generally set in the tree line, as if into wood, so the log probably represents the trees collectively.

"the other" — this is confusing. The one that is meant is Red Star, the brother in this story.

"a serpent" — for the relevance of serpents, see below, where the Twins also turn into serpents when hiding in ambush.

"he entered into the log" (nąxáeja hokewéšgúni) — the suffix -eja, which is also freestanding, has a very general meaning pertaining to situation, and is best rendered as "at." The phrase should be understood as "he entered at the log," since shortly prior it was said that "he will go under the log" (nąxága kųhą́eja hokéwekjąné). To interpret -eja as "into" would mean that the log is hollow, and that he went in one side and out the other; but in fact it is made clear that Evening Star went under the log. In another story about Evening Star, where he is called "Brave," he does crawl into a hollow log to escape the onslaught of enemies who are clearly understood to be Thunderbirds.

"waiting a long time" & "to come out very rapidly" — these two phrases are built out of the same word. According to Dorsey, hapéxjį, means "waiting a long time." The word hape means "to wait" and -xjį is usually a kind of emphatic suffix. However, it does not always function that way. For instance, hi can mean "to go arriving," but in a temporal sense, hi-xjį means, "to be somewhat advanced in years" (see 1), not "to be exceedingly advanced in years"; and (1), "almost reaching" (1), rather than something like, "reaching the time exactly." So hape + -xjį might mean, "waiting somewhat," which is to say, "waiting awhile (briefly)." What supports this understanding is the use of a similar word shortly thereafter: (h)apexjįnįk, which is the same word with the suffix nįk added, where nįk means, "small (space), short (time)." Dorsey says that this word means, "very rapidly." It should have the meaning, "waiting-somewhat-shortly," or more idiomatically, "waiting rather briefly." the suffix -xjį is very much like the British, "Rather!," which when used by itself means, "Emphatically so," but when used as an adjective means "somewhat" (as in, "It's rather cold outside"). Under Dorsey's translation, we are given to understand that the challenger was told that the brother would come out very soon, but in fact he made the challenger wait a long time. Under the alternative interpretation, it was said that it would be a short wait, and the challenger waited awhile, where it is understood to have been only a moderate amount of time. It is this latter interpretation that better meets the understanding of this story and its parallels in their astronomical codes. Knowing from these parallels that the opponent of the brother is Morning Star, we know that when he takes the head and runs home with it, he is reëmerging into the sky after being in the same lodge (conjunction) as Evening Star. Evening Star comes down from the sky into the woods (log) and into the earth (under the log). Morning Star is absent from the sky from superior conjunction through the time of Evening Star's ascent into the sky and finally for the period of inferior conjunction. This is 50 + 263 + 8 = 321 days. That is a long wait — but it is not a wait spent in the lodge contending with Evening Star. The period from when Evening Star touches ground to the time when Morning Star reascends into the sky is a mere 8 days, a very rapid turn around from Evening Star to Morning Star.

"he put the head behind him" — from this and what is said subsequently, this is a Janus-like configuration. Thus it is said that he is a man with two faces.

"sharp" — the Hocąk is pahí, which means, "(to be) sharp, pointed." However, in this context it seems to refer to his perceptual acuity, just as "sharp" does in English. In other variants of this story, the other man looks just like the brother, including having arms that are inlaid with knives. Using pahí therefore seems to be a pun.

"he always flew" — after inferior conjunction, Morning Star flies across the sky and is no longer with either earth or sun.

"he always drank water" — in other variants of this tale, the two contenders are exactly alike in every respect. The Twins probably represent the evening and morning aspects of Mercury, and the corresponding aspects of Venus are expressed in the attributes and actions of the uncle and his mirror image opponent. When they set in the waters, they may be thought of as pausing to drink.

"that other man who did not have a head, nevertheless always remained a person" — to a modern Western mind used to the Aristotelean notion that the faculties of intellect and emotion lie in the brain, it might seem that the uncle was no longer himself, but in the pre-scientific view, where the mind was seated principally in the heart, the brain had had some other role in a person's identity. The uncle's emotions and thoughts resided in his heart, the head having other functions; therefore, if a man acquired another head, it is his heart that would govern nearly everything that it did.

"serpents" — snakes are very appropriate here, since they make their living essentially by ambush. At least some serpents can traverse all three worlds, above the earth, on its surface, and below it. Not every snake is a climbing snake. The bull, or pine, snake which is associated with their uncle Red Star (Bluehorn) who is the Evening Star, is a climbing snake. Like the "stars" that they represent, these snakes do not ascend very high. The twin stars of Mercury or Venus come into conjunction with the sun and seem to descend to the surface or underworld. Another aspect of snakes is their periodical shedding of their skin whereby they are "reborn." The cycle of rebirth happens over and over again with both the inner planets as they reëmerge into the sky seemingly after they have died and been buried (or burned). Snakes, like stars generally, have no legs or feet, yet somehow propel themselves. Like stars, snakes are by nature cold. Like the inner planets, their path is sinuous (with their retrograde motion). Snakes also disappear for long periods as they hibernate. The (seemingly) prolonged conjunction of the matutine and vespertine stars of Mercury and Venus suggest an analogy to hibernation underground. Serpents also have twin tongues, reflecting the twin stars. Otherwise snakes, like the inner planets, are sun-loving and stay close to its warmth less they become sluggish. Serpents are denoted by the word waką, which also denotes sacred power, a quality vested in the Twins as well as the Morning and Evening Stars. See also the Commentary to "The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head."

"on a tree" & "laid under the leaves" — under the hypothesis that the Twins are the two twin "stars" of Mercury (the matutine and vespertine Mercuries), just as with Venus, when one of them is in the sky, the other is not. The one who is not in the sky is thought to be in conjunction, which can either be symbolized as being in the fire (with the sun) or on the earth (because he no longer rises). It is Ghost who would be associated with being in the tree. Ghost has beaver's teeth (see Gottschall), and beavers have a strong association with trees. Ghost's grandmother was a stump. Here he is in the branches of the tree. Trees can function as genealogical models, the structure of which is made clear by the meaning of rejų, at once denoting both roots and descendants. The word denoting branches in Hocąk, waíxa, also means "distant family relation" (Miner). It is from the branches that seeds form and fall to earth where they send out roots. The ancestors are the branches, and genealogical descent is literally from top to bottom, like Earthmaker's creation of the world. The ghost descends from the upper world of the Sun by mysterious means to join with the flesh. Flesh, as the star of Mercury thought to be in conjunction (it is not, of course, since it happens to be one and the same as the Mercury in the sky). It is in the earth ("under the leaves") whence it does not rise. This star of Mercury had formerly been in the sky, but had fallen to earth, a situation expressed by the image of lying under the leaves. So too with human flesh, which was originally created by Earthmaker from flesh taken near his heart. Flesh is like a dead leaf when not united with Ghost. When in the upper world he is not the generating seed, but a thing that will be the humus in which the seed will grow and in which the rejų are anchored. The ghost, associated with water and breath, both expressed by the word ni, which also means "life." As a leaf, flesh is 'ap, a near homonym with 'ąp, "animate, alive." So when ghost unites with flesh-as-leaves ('ap), it is ni + 'ąp, ni'ąp being the primary word for life. However, here Ghost is on the upper branches with the ancestors.

"where the man came to drink" — as Morning Star approaches what we term "superior conjunction," it gets lower and lower in the sky until it contacts the sun where it rises in the eastern Ocean Sea. It dives or "drinks" from the sea that encircles the earth (Te Ją). This is why the star of Mercury which is in conjunction is waiting right there, because the Morning Star now too is in the same place of conjunction.

"when the sun stood very straight" — we learn that the man with two heads always flew, and that he landed atop a hill, the physical counterpart of the zenith at which the sun is found at high noon, or as it is put in Hocąk, "when the sun stands very straight." This is a boundary time for the sun, caught midway between its ascent and descent. There too, it "pauses" between its two states of travel.

"jumped back down" — as the two brothers are both on the ground this represents true conjunction, which occurs 40 days out of the 116 days of the Mercury cycle.

"with a knife" — presumably the knives that grew from his arms.

"the head" — since nothing is said about recovering their uncle's head, it is clear that the two heads have fused so that Janus-like, the head has two faces. This seems to reflect the theory that the Morning and Evening Stars are themselves in conjunction. (See the Commentary to The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head).

"and that man had the two faces" (égi wą́kjané hišcára nųpíwi haníšgúni) — the other versions have Morning Star carrying the head of Evening Star with him as he travels, but not the other way around. This version might be a reflection of the modern Western view that Morning Star and Evening Star are one and the same (Venus), a single being with two "faces" (aspects — morning and evening). On the other hand it might be a very old view that Morning Star and Evening Star are in conjunction in both intervals between superior and inferior conjunction. This theory would not seem to take into account the increasing brightness of Evening Star as it approaches conjunction.

Comparative Material. For parallels to this story elsewhere, see the Comparative Material section to The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head.

Links: The Twins, Bluehorn (Evening Star), Gottschall, Rock Spirits.

Stories: mentioning the Twins: The Twins Cycle, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket; about two brothers: The Two Children, The Twin Sisters, The Captive Boys, The Twins Cycle, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Old Man and the Giants, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; with Bluehorn (Evening Star) as a character: Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Children of the Sun, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, Grandfather's Two Families, Sun and the Big Eater, The Green Man (?), Brave Man (?).

Other stories in the Longtail/Dorsey set: I. Watequka and His Brothers; II. The Captive Boys; III. The Man who Visited the Upper and Lower Worlds; IV. The Fatal House; V. The Two Brothers; VI. Iron Staff and His Companions; VII. Rich Man, Boy, and Horse.

This story is a shorter version of The Children of the Sun and The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head.

Themes: only when someone breaks his fast does he receive a blessing from the spirits: The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse; men whose bodies are (partly) covered with pieces of flint: Bluehorn's Nephews, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Red Man; someone takes shelter in a hollow log (in order to escape enemies): Brave Man, The Shaggy Man, Redhorn's Father, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Thunder Charm, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis; a man uses flint growing out of his arm to kill (or behead) someone: The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Hare Kills Sharp Elbow, The Children of the Sun; head hunting: White Fisher, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, A Man's Revenge, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Young Man Gambles Often, Morning Star and His Friend (v. 2), The Dipper, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Porcupine and His Brothers, Turtle's Warparty, Ocean Duck, The Markings on the Moon, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Thunderbird and White Horse, Brave Man, The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, Redhorn's Sons, Fighting Retreat, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, The Were-Grizzly, Winneconnee Origin Myth; a man continues to function without his head: The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1a), The Red Man, White Fisher, The Chief of the Heroka; a man goes about the heavens with a severed head in his possession: The Markings on the Moon, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun; somatic dualism: The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Disease Giver, The Chief of the Heroka, Bear Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, The Red Man, The Forked Man; multiple births: The Birth of the Twins, The Twin Sisters, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hocągara, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Two Brothers; a great spirit changes his form in order to deceive someone: The Skunk Origin Myth (Turtle), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster's Tail, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Elks Skull, Trickster Soils the Princess, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Seven Maidens; someone changes himself into a snake in order to hide from enemies: Worúxega, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun; two brothers transform themselves to conceal themselves from the view of the enemy from whom they would retrieve their relative's head: The Sons of Redhorn Find Their Father, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun; a nephew avenges the quasi-death of his uncle: Waruǧábᵉra, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews; a man reunites the still living head and body of his relative: The Red Man, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Chief of the Heroka; an heroic spirit recaptures a man's head or scalp and restores the victim's unity by throwing it exactly in its correct position on his body: Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun.


1 Phillip Longtail (Sįcserecka), Buffalo Clan, "The Man with Two Heads," text with interlinear translation by James Owen Dorsey, 4800 Dorsey Papers: Winnebago 3.3.2 (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, October and November, 1893) VIII.1-8.

2 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 190.