A Snake Song Origin Myth

by Jasper Blowsnake


Jasper Blowsnake

Hočąk-English Interlinear Text


This is a story about how a particular song came to be a part of the Medicine Rite. This story is told during the Medicine Rite by the spirit-impersonator of the North Island Weight. The song itself is never given.


There is what is called a "Snake Song" which I possess. In the course of time it had been handed down to me and they said that I could use it if I wished. Beneath the fork of a tree where there was a crow's nest, there a yellow snake blessed grandfather with that one that I possess, blessing him with a great portion of Light and Life. Then he blessed him with plants. He was blessed with beneficent herbs to make men well, and those that could cause a person to become weak, those also, so that the man would be honored.

In the beginning he lived with them (the plants). They truly blessed him. Even now when the plants I have are being used, they are manifestly efficacious.1


Commentary. "yellow snake" — Hočąk, wakązi. This is the conventional term for a kind of rattlesnake (waką, "snake"; zi, "yellow"). However, we cannot disambiguate it from an expression that denotes a snake that happens to be yellow but is not a rattler.

"beneficent herbs" — the Hočąk word for both herbs, xąwį, has the primary sense of "grass." It is interesting to note that the same is true of Old Norse gras.

"could cause a person to become weak" — this means that the plant could also be put to evil purposes in the pursuit of witchcraft.

"he lived with them"The Road of Life and Death has, "Now, in the beginning, people associated with these plants just as if they possessed life like ourselves."

"they truly blessed him" — this is missing in the translation given in The Road of Life and Death. Instead we find, "They were worshipped and honored. Not today do we do so." This is clearly not supported by the text, however true it might be.


Links: Snakes, Kaǧi.


Stories: mentioning snakes: The First Snakes, The Woman who Married a Snake, Blessing of the Yellow Snake Chief, Snake Clan Origins, The Omahas who turned into Snakes, The Serpents of Trempealeau, Rattlesnake Ledge, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Two Boys, Wears White Feather on His Head, Creation of the World (vv. 2, 3, 4), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Waruǧápara, The Green Man, Holy One and His Brother, The Man who was Blessed by the Sun, The Warbundle of the Eight Generations, Turtle and the Merchant, The Lost Blanket, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth; mentioning kaǧi (crows & ravens): Kaǧiga and Lone Man, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 2, 3), The Hočąk Arrival Myth, The Spider's Eyes, The Old Man and the Giants, Turtle's Warparty, The Shaggy Man, Trickster's Tail, The Healing Blessing, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Ocean Duck, A Snake Song Origin Myth; pertaining to the Medicine Rite: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Maize Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hog's Adventures, Great Walker's Warpath, see also Other Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite.

Stories from Jasper Blowsnake's account of the Medicine Rite (The Road of Life and Death) in notebook order: The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 1), Keramaniš’aka's Blessing, The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Historical Origins of the Medicine Rite, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge of the Medicine Rite, Lifting Up the Bear Heads, East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Creation of Man (v. 8), Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4), East Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), Testing the Slave, South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 1), The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Animal Spirit Aids of the Medicine Rite, The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (v. 2), East Shakes the Messenger, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (v. 4), The Messengers of Hare (v. 2), North Shakes His Gourd, Grandmother's Gifts, South Seizes the Messenger, Four Steps of the Cougar, The Messengers of Hare (v. 1), The Island Weight Songs, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, Great Walker's Medicine (v. 2), Great Walker and the Ojibwe Witches, The Diving Contest, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Plant Blessing of Earth, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 3), The Tap the Head Medicine, The Claw Shooter, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 4), Peace of Mind Regained, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 5), A Wife for Knowledge, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth (v. 2), The Descent of the Drum (v. 2), South Enters the Medicine Lodge (v. 1), Death Enters the World.


Themes: a spirit blesses a man with knowledge of sacred songs: Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), Holy Song, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, The Island Weight Songs, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Song to Earthmaker, The Completion Song Origin, The Origins of the Nightspirit Starting Songs, The Sweetened Drink Song, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman; someone is blessed with a medicine: A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Fourth Universe, Great Walker's Medicine, Bow Meets Disease Giver, The Seven Maidens, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Tap the Head Medicine, The Seer, The Healing Blessing, A Weed's Blessing, Young Man Gambles Often, The Origins of the Sore Eye Dance, The Elk's Skull, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, A Peyote Vision, The Sweetened Drink Song.


Notes

1 The original interlinear is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago III, #1: 97. A highly legible handwritten MS is found in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago II, #1: 120-121. The corrected text is a typescript in Jasper Blowsnake, Jasper Blowsnake's Account of the Medicine Rite, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago II, #5: 127. For a loose English translation, see Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 132.