The Twins Cycle — An Overview

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Twins Cycle is a set of myths assembled into a single epic centered upon the figures of the Twins. So far three versions of the Twins Cycle have been uncovered, the first of which is the published version by Sam Blowsnake. The second version is that of his older brother Jasper. The third was collected in 1938 by Amelia Susman from Sam Blowsnake. This third version is so different from Sam Blowsnake's first version, that it seems certain that he had collected it from another member of the tribe.

The Twins Cycle, Version 1

The Sam Blowsnake Version

§1. The Birth of the Twins. An old man had his son and daughter-in-law living with him. One day he killed his daughter-in-law and cut open her womb where he found twin boys. One of these he hid in a stump, and the other he left behind in the lodge before he fled. The father found the boy in the lodge, whom he called "Flesh." One day the feral boy met up with Flesh, but after playing all day, ran away with his older brother's arrow. The father laid plans to catch him, and they finally succeeded. The father made the boys wear headdresses of inflated turkey bladders, so that when Ghost, the feral boy, tried to escape, he could not submerge into the lake under which he had formerly lived. Ghost became resigned to living with Flesh and his father.

§2. The Twins Disobey Their Father. The father of the Twins forbids them, in their wanderings over the earth, to visit a particular hill. They do so anyway, and end up at war with a hoard of snakes, which they kill and then eat. They themselves are killed several times, but each time they awaken one another back to life. Once again their father tells the Twins not to go to a certain lake, but Ghost persuades his brother to go anyway. They have a great battle with leeches, during which they die and resurrect themselves over and over again. They eat the leeches. Once more they go off where their father has forbidden them to go, and encounter Thunderbird chicks, whom they kill. They have a battle with the Thunderbirds and resurrect themselves many times during its course. They eat the Thunderbirds that they have killed.

§3. The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee. The father of the Twins begins to fear his sons and makes numerous attempts to flee, but each time is frustrated by the extraordinary powers of his sons. The Twins send their father to another village to marry one of the daughters of a chief. There he meets Turtle who helps him court one of the women, but in the process Turtle makes a fool out of himself.

§4. The Twins Get into Hot Water. The Twins find their grandfather and have a meal with him for old times' sake. The Twins visit Herešgúnina and alter his book of life. When they visit Earthmaker, he tells them to stay away from Herešgúnina. Nevertheless, they make a return visit. Herešgúnina tries to kill them by shutting them inside an iron sweat bath lodge, but they have so much fun inside that they accidentally knock down one of the iron walls. This sets the lodge aflame and Herešgúnina barely escapes alive.

§5. The Twins Visit Their Father's Village. When the Twins visit their father's village, they discover that he has not been able to find any game. They go hunting with him and slaughter an entire herd of buffalo. The people want to make the Twins chiefs of their village, but the boys would rather resume their adventures.

§6. The Twins Join Redhorn's Warparty. The Twins fall in which Redhorn's warparty, where they are made scouts. They follow Storms as He Walks and find two Red Waterspirits. The next day they are among those chosen to attack these Waterspirits, which they alone succeed in accomplishing. During the fighting, Turtle was killed, but Ghost brings him back to life. Redhorn expresses his gratitude by offering the Twins a place with him, but they decide to resume their travels.

§7. Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins. The Twins find a "beaver" lodge and attack its occupant. It turns out to be a Waterspirit. Earthmaker sends Rušewe to chase to the Twins to him. When they arrive at his door, he tells them they have become dangerous to his creation, and offers them a place to settle down. They are to be found there to this day.

The Twins Cycle, Version 2

Jasper Blowsnake's Version

§1. The Birth of the Twins. [First page of this MS is missing.] An old man induces his daughter-in-law to set a kettle boiling and to strip naked and lie in the center of the lodge. He then kills her and cuts her open with a knife. He takes out two babies, putting one in the corner, and the other in the hollow of a tree. He ate the woman. The father was left to raise the son he found in his lodge, Flesh. One day while he was out hunting, another boy came to play with Flesh, but stole his arrows. Flesh and his father plan to capture this boy, but fail repeatedly. Finally, they caught him, and the father placed inflated bladders on the boys' heads, and when the other boy jumped into the water, he would always bob back up.

§2. The Twins Disobey Their Father. The Twins' father tells them not to go to a certain stand of timber, but the elder Twins persuades his brother that they should go anyway. There they have a great fight with a Wood Spirit which they mistake for a squirrel. Their father is horrified and makes them give it a proper burial. The Twins next visit a forbidden hill where they fight snakes whom they mistake for fish. Both Twins are killed but manage to revive each other. Their father once again makes them bury the snakes in the wilderness. The Twins then visit a forbidden lake where they encounter giant leeches, whom they think are mere strips of jerky. In the fighting they revive each other as they are killed. When their father finds that they have brought home leeches to eat, he has them dump them in the wilderness. They go off to a forbidden cliff where they bully Thunderbird chicks. They have a great fight with the Thunderbirds in which they are killed several times, but bring each other back to life to carry on the fight. They bring back to their father what they call "pigeons" and plenty of feathers for arrows, but their father is appalled, and makes them bury the remains in purified ground.

§3. The Twins Get into Hot Water. The Twins visit their grandfather, who places them in a kettle of boiling water. When he checks to see if they are dead, he discovers that they are playing enthusiastically inside. They dump the kettle over on him, scalding him to death. They return and report this to their father, telling him that they have done well because they have killed an evil spirit.

§4. The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee. The Twins' father begins to fear his own sons. One day he attempted to run away, but his sons knew what he intended, so they sketched a path for him in the ashes that would force him to run in a circle. At night he laid down with his head on a log, but in the morning the Twins woke him up at their own woodpile. The second day that he ran away, he woke up in front of the lodge door. The third day he ran all night, but when he went to sleep, he soon woke up in the doorway. The fourth time he ran at night, and went to bed in the wilderness only to find upon awakening that he was in his own bed. The boys confess that they manipulated his journey, but told him that it would be alright if he took up residence in another village. He did so, and there he married the princess.

§5. The Twins Visit Their Father's Village. The Twins went to visit their father in the new village in which he took up residence. One day they went out and herded a four-cornered herd of buffalo to the outskirts of the village and killed them all. The next time they went out, they killed a four-cornered herd of elk. The third time they slew a large number of bears. After that, they announced that they would travel the world and not return.

§6. The Lost Blanket. The blanket used by the Twins turned up missing. They searched the whole earth and all the spirit realms but could not find it. Finally, they went to Earthmaker himself. He told them to look into a looking glass that he possessed, and there they could see everything on earth. It was only then that they spotted it. They then went to Herešgúniga's lodge. He put them in an iron house and heated it red hot, but it had no effect on them. The Twins burst out of it and set Herešgúniga's lodge on fire. He escaped carrying only his great book.

§7. Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins. Then Twins travel down the Mississippi until they reach the dwelling place of a Waterspirit, whom they kill and eat. They commemorate the events in a rock painting. Earthmaker thought they had overdone it, so he sent Rušewe, a Turkey Spirit, to chase them. The Twins became afraid and ran back to their lodge, where they have lived ever since.

The Susman Twins Cycle, Version 3

collected by Sam Blowsnake

§1. The Birth of the Twins. The daughter of the chief begins seeing a man that her parents don't like. They eventually got married, and because they were disliked by her parents, they moved far away. In time the woman became pregnant. She gave birth to twin boys, but died in child birth. Since he couldn't care for both of them, he put one of them at the foot of a fallen tree. He raised the other until he could shoot a bow, then he told him to remain at home while he went hunting. One day as the boy was shooting his arrow, another little boy took one and claimed it as his own. The two boys began to play together, but when the father returned home, the stranger would run off, saying, "Forget it," as he left. The father became suspicious and settled on a plan to capture this boy. He gave his son a bladder headdress which he blew up like a balloon. When the other boy next came by, he remarked on how attractive the headdress was. The first boy then offered the stranger one of his own, and tied it securely to his head. When the father came home, the stranger ran off and jumped into the water, but he kept bobbing up. The father was thus able to capture him. He explained who they were, and afterwards all three of them lived together in harmony.

§2. The Twins Disobey Their Father. The father of the Twins warns the boys about going to a nearby mountain, but Little Ghosts persuades Flesh that they should go. There they encounter giant horned snakes, but have no idea what they are. They fight them hard, and when one Twin is killed, the other revives him by shaking him. When they present their father with the meat, he is horrified to discover that they have killed serpents. He explains that serpents are holy, and tells them they cannot be eaten. Then he warns them about another mountain nearby. They go there anyway. After climbing a high, steep cliff, they find four nestlings at its summit. These birds tell them their grandiose names, which makes the Twins angry. They kill each of the nestlings in turn, but make the last one call for his parents. They have a fierce battle with the birds, whom the Twins believe to be pigeons. They take some of the slain birds and eat them, bringing home others for their father. When their father sees what they have cooked up for him, he is horrified, and tells them that they have killed Thunderbirds, who are holy.

§3. The Father of the Twins Attempts to Flee. The father of the Twins begins to fear his own sons and resolves to run away. Little Ghost realizes what his father is up to, so he makes a mark that leads to a nearby tree. The next morning his father wakes up at the foot of this tree, and mystified by how he got there, he makes up a story to tell his sons. This process happens again, so the Twins tell him that he may go off to another village to live while they travel the whole of the earth. So the next day their father departs for the new village.

§4. The Twins Get into Hot Water. The Twins decide to go to a place nearby where they saw some boys playing. They play Kick Each Other with the boys, who come to fear them. They go home with the boys and play Kick Each Other inside their lodge. Their grandfather scolds them and they bring the Twins for him to touch. He promptly kills both of them and pulls out their innards. They were hung over the fire to be smoked, but despite this, the Twins came down from the fire and play Kick Each Other with the boys. During the course of the rough housing, they tipped over the kettle of boiling water and scalded the old man to death. They killed his grandsons, and threw all of them into the fire. Once they had been burned, they metamorphosed into alligators.

§5. The Twins Kill a Waterspirit. The Twins reach the Mississippi River and track what they call a "beaver." By a coordinated effort, they flush their prey out into the open and kill it. It turns out to be a Waterspirit. They paint the incident on the side of a rock cliff. A full description is given of the painting and the appearance of the Waterspirit.

§6. The Twins Visit Their Father. When the Twins visit their father, they find that he has become the chief of the village where he resides. After a great feast in their honor, the Twins go off to live inside a hill.

Links: The Twins, Gottschall, Bluehorn, Redhorn, Sons of Redhorn, Hare, Turtle, Trickster, Waterspirits, Storms as He Walks, Bladder, Rušewe, Herešgúnina, Earthmaker.

Stories: mentioning the Twins: The Man with Two Heads, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Two Boys, The Two Brothers, The Lost Blanket; cycles of other great soteriological spirits: Hare Cycle, Redhorn Cycle, Trickster Cycle; about two brothers: The Two Children, The Twin Sisters, The Captive Boys, The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, The Lost Blanket, The Man with Two Heads, Bluehorn's Nephews, Snowshoe Strings, Sunset Point, The Old Man and the Giants, The Brown Squirrel, Esau was an Indian; involving tree stumps: The Two Brothers, The Two Boys, The Creation of the World (v. 15), The Pointing Man, The Were-fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name.

Philip Longtail tells two shortened versions of the whole Twins Cycle in The Two Brothers.

Themes: traveling over the whole earth: Deer Clan Origin Myth, The Pointing Man, Trickster and the Dancers, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Death Enters the World, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Twins Disobey Their Father, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Two Boys, The Lost Blanket, The Two Brothers, Bluehorn's Nephews; the youngest offspring is superior: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Young Man Gambles Often, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Two Boys, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Children of the Sun, The Creation of the World (v. 12), The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, How the Thunders Met the Nights, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Sun and the Big Eater, The Story of the Medicine Rite, Buffalo Clan Origin Myth, Bear Clan Origin Myth (vv. 4, 7), Snake Clan Origins, South Enters the Medicine Lodge, Snake Clan Origins, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth; two brothers revive each other in succession: White Wolf.