The Greedy Woman

by Pat Smith Medina

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

One day a woman was kneeling at the bank of a stream filling water bladders when she heard a mysterious voice that seemed to speak to her from the waters:

Woman, woman,
Do you seek true love?

"Yes," she replied, "Is it in your power to bless me with true love?" She heard no song returned but the murmuring of the brook. Nevertheless, in time she married a great warrior of the Thunderbird Clan. Everyone envied her, and said she would bare him many great sons. She was indeed blessed with many children, but they were all girls. One day when she was on the bank of the stream again the mysterious voice sang again,

Woman, woman,
I can give you a son from your husband.

The woman spoke in words of despair: "You are but the murmur of the stream." Then the spirit that moved hidden in the waters answered her, "If you send your daughters to visit me every day, I shall bless you with a son and your husband's undying love." Dissatisfied with having only daughters, she sent them to the brook every day, just as the unseen spirit had bidden her. Just the same, she never bore her husband a son, and he ended up marrying her sister so that she might give him someone to follow in his footsteps. Worse yet, her daughters grew up under her guidance to be unrighteous, and everyone blamed her for their failings. The spirit in the waters was Ugly Fish, and although he was now a fish, he had once been a man. For her greed in wanting more than the great blessing of daughters, she was deprived even of the blessings that she had once had.1

Links: Fish Spirits.

Stories: about greedy women: Black as Sin; featuring (spirit) fish as characters: The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds, The Were-Fish, Wolves and Humans, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The Great Fish, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The King Bird, Fish Clan Origins, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, Otter Comes to the Medicine Rite, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads; about man-fish: The Were-fish, River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, The King Bird, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Spirit of Maple Bluff; mentioning the Thunderbird Clan: Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Hocąk Clans Origin Myth, Origin of the Hocąk Chief, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Pigeon Clan Origins, The Creation Council, Waruǧábᵉra, Waterspirit Clan Origin Myth, Wolf Clan Origin Myth (v. 5), The Thunderbird.

Themes: talking fish: River Child and the Waterspirit of Devil's Lake, Redhorn's Father, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean; false promises of blessings from a spirit: The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, The Nightspirits Bless Jobenągiwįxka, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Diving Contest; a creature sings a song from the water that promises a blessing in exchange for a favor: The King Bird; creatures turn into fish: Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Were-fish, The King Bird, Hare Visits the Bodiless Heads, The Man who went to the Upper and Lower Worlds; a person petitions spirits for a greedy end: Little Fox and the Ghost, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Star Husband; a person is not satisfied with the abundance she has, but wants more (for the sake of variety): The Foolish Hunter, White Wolf; persons seeking blessings are not satisfied with what the spirits have given them: Little Fox and the Ghost, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega, The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna; greed spoils the blessing given by a spirit: The Foolish Hunter, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp; violating the terms of a blessing does harm: The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Necessity for Death, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, White Wolf, The Dog that became a Panther, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Disease Giver Blesses Jobenągiwįxka, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark (meadow lark), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle; a greedy person who wants far more than his share is punished by being left with nothing: The Markings on the Moon, The Brown Squirrel, Trickster and the Honey; someone is deceived by a spirit: The Girl who Refused a Blessing from the Wood Spirits, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Seven Maidens, Big Thunder Teaches Cap’ósgaga the Warpath, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Lost Blanket.

Songs. Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 2), Bladder, Song about the Older Brother (v. 3), Buffalo Dance Songs, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Returning, Clan Songs, Bear Clan, Song for Starting Out, Clan Song, Bear Clan, Song of the Youngest, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, Clan Songs, Buffalo Clan, The Four Songs of Hojanoka, Clan Songs—Deer Clan, Clan Songs—Wolf Clan, Clan Songs—Wonáǧire Wąkšik Clan, The Crawfish's Song, Duck Song, Farewell Songs, The Four Services Songs, Grandfather Sparrow's Rain Songs, Grizzly Bear Songs, Hare's Song to Grasshopper, Hare's Song to the Wągepanįgera, Hare's Song to Wildcat, Hawk's Song, Heroka Songs, Holy Song, Holy Song II, Little Fox's Death Song, Little Fox's Death Song (for the Warpath), Little Fox's Tail Song, Love Song I (female), Love Song II (female), Love Song III (female), The Mouse Song, Nightspirit Songs, The Quail's Song, Redman's Song, Slow Song of the Heroka, Soldier Dance Songs, Song for Calling the Buffalo, Song from the Water, Song from the Water (King Bird), The Song of Bluehorn's Sister, Hocąk Text — The Song of Sun Caught in a Net, The Song of the Boy Transformed into a Robin, Song of the Frog to Hare, Song of the Thunder Nestlings, The Song of Trickster's Baby, Song to Earthmaker, The Song to the Elephant, The Sun's Song to Hare, Three Warrior Songs, Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 1), Turtle's Call for a Warparty (v. 2), Turtle's Four Death Dance Songs, Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 1), Twins, Ghost's Song (v. 2), Twins, Ghost's Song (The Two Brothers), Twins, the Songs of Ghost and Flesh, Twins, Song of the Father-in-Law, Victory Song, Wailing Song, Warrior Song about Mącosepka, What a Turtle Sang in His Sleep, Wolf-Teasing Song of the Deer Spirits. Songs in the McKern collection: Waking Songs (27, 55, 56, 57, 58) War Song: The Black Grizzly (312), War Song: Dream Song (312), War Song: White Cloud (313), James’ Horse (313), Little Priest Songs (309), Little Priest's Song (316), Chipmunk Game Song (73), Patriotic Songs from World War I (105, 106, 175), Grave Site Song: "Coming Down the Path" (45), Songs of the Stick Ceremony (53).


1 Pat Smith Medina, "The Selfish Woman," in David Lee Smith, Folklore of the Winnebago Tribe (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997) 88-89.