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The Algonquin Legends of New England, by Charles G. Leland, [1884], at

p. 273

Of the Woman who loved a Serpent who lived in a Lake.


Of old times. There was a very beautiful woman. She turned the heads of all the men. She married, and her husband died very soon after, but she immediately took another. Within a single year she had five husbands, and these were the cleverest and handsomest and bravest in the tribe. And then she married again.

This, the sixth, was such a silent man that he passed for a fool. But he was wiser than people thought. He came to believe, by thinking it over, that this woman had some strange secret. He resolved to find it out. So he watched her all the time. He kept his eye on her by night and by day.

It was summer, and she proposed to go into the woods to pick berries, and to camp there. By and by, when they were in the forest, she suggested that he should go on to the spot where they intended to remain and build a wigwam. He said that he would do so. But he went a little way into the woods and watched her.

As soon as she believed that he was gone, she rose and walked rapidly onwards. He followed her, unseen. She went on, till, in a deep, wild place among the rocks, she came to a pond. She sat down and sang a song. A great foam, or froth, rose to the surface of the water. Then in the foam appeared the tail of a serpent. The creature was of immense size.

p. 274

[paragraph continues] The woman, who had laid aside all her garments, embraced the serpent, which twined around her, enveloping all her limbs and body in his folds. The husband watched it all. He now understood that, the venom of the serpent having entered the woman, she had saved her life by transferring it to others, who died.

He went on to the camping ground and built a wigwam. He made up two beds; he built a fire. His wife came. She was earnest that there should be only a single bed. He sternly bade her lie by herself. She was afraid of him. She lay down, and went to sleep. He arose three times during the night to replenish the fire. Every time he called her, and there was no answer. In the morning he shook her. She was dead. She had died by the poison of the serpent. They sunk her in the pond where the snake lived.


I do not omit this ghastly and repulsive legend for the following reasons: One might hastily conclude, from its resemblance to the old legend of the origin of the Merovingian family, that this idea of the woman with the horrible water spirit for a lover was of Canadian French origin. But a story like it in the main detail is told by the Indians of Guiana, and that of the Faithless Wife, given in Rink's Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo (p. 143), is almost the same. But in the latter the husband revenges himself by stuffing the woman full of poisonous vermin. Rink says that he had five different versions of this tale, and that one was from Labrador, a country often traveled




p. 275

by the Micmacs, and even by the Penobscots and Passamaquoddies; I myself knowing one of the latter who has been there. I conjecture that this tale sets forth the aboriginal idea of the origin of a certain disease supposed to have come from America. It is popularly believed among the vulgar that this disease can be transferred to another person, thereby removing it from the first. Of this the Rev. Thistleton Dyer, in his Folk Lore of Shakespeare, says, "According to an old but erroneous belief, infection communicated to another left the infecter free; in allusion to which Timon of Athens (Act IV. 3) says,--

"'I will not kiss thee; then the rot returns
To thy own lips again.'"

Bonifacius, Historia Ludicra, has collected all the instances known to classical antiquity of women who had serpent lovers. The kings of the early races of Central America laid great stress on the fact that they were descendants of serpents. One could fill a volume with all the Arab, Hindoo, and other Oriental tales belonging to the beloved of "ophitic monsters."

I am indebted for this very curious and ancient tale to Governor Tomah Josephs, of Peter Dana's Point, Maine.

Next: The Mother of Serpents