The Great Serpent Story

The head of the Serpent was red as blood. His fierce eyes glowed like fire

There are many stories of the Great Serpent. Stories that come from a variety of Native American tribes and sometimes, a variety within a tribe as well. There are also many, various pictorials. I will scatter some throughout this article.

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Misiginebig –(Mishi-Ginebig) is one known name for the Great Serpent who was considered a spirit of evil. Some say he was a horned, underwater serpent and a sworn enemy of the Thunder Bird. Other stories even add wings to the description.

Here is one version about Nanabozho and the great serpent. It is said to be from the Chippewa. Nanabozho was a hero of many stories told by the Chippewa.

At one time the Chippewa lived on the shores of Lake Superior, in what are now the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the province of Ontario.

The Story goes…

One day when Nanabozho returned to his lodge after a long journey, he could not find his young cousin who lived with him. He called the cousin’s name but heard no answer. Looking around on the sand for tracks, Nanabozho was startled by the trail of the Great Serpent. He then knew that his cousin had been seized by his enemy.

Nanabozho picked up his bow and arrows and followed the trail left by the serpent. He eventually came to a deep and gloomy lake that is now known as Manitou Lake, Spirit Lake, and also the Lake of Devils. The trail of the Great Serpent led to the edge of the water.

Nanabozho could see, at the bottom of the lake, the house of the Great Serpent. It was filled with evil spirits that were the servants of the serpent. Their forms were monstrous and terrible. In the center of this horrible group was the Great Serpent himself, coiling his terrifying length around Nanabozho’s dead cousin.

The head of the Serpent was red as blood. His fierce eyes glowed like fire. His entire body was armed with hard and glistening scales of every color and shade. Looking down on these twisting spirits of evil, Nanabozho made up his mind that he would get revenge on them for the death of his cousin.

He said to the clouds, “Disappear!”
And the clouds went out of sight.
He said to the winds, “be still at once!”
And the winds became still.

When the air over the lake of evil spirits had become stagnant, Nanabozho said to the sun, “Shine over the lake with all the fierceness you can. Make the water boil.”

Nanabozho would force the Great Serpent to seek the cool shade of the trees growing on the shores of the lake. There he would seize the enemy and get revenge.

Next, he took his bow and arrows and placed himself near the spot where he thought the serpents would come to enjoy the shade. Then he changed himself into the broken stump of a withered tree.

The winds became still, the air stagnant, and the sun shot hot rays from a cloudless sky. In time, the water of the lake became sizzling hot, and bubbles rose to the surface. The rays of the sun had reached into the depths, to the home of the serpent. As the water bubbled and foamed, a serpent lifted his head above the center of the lake and gazed around the shores. Soon another serpent came to the surface. Both listened for the footsteps of Nanabozho, but they heard him nowhere.

“Nanabozho is sleeping,” they said — as the hot waves dashed wildly against the rocks on the banks. Soon the Great Serpent came slowly to the surface of the water and moved toward the shore. His blood-red crest glowed. The reflection from his scales was blinding–as blinding as the glitter of a sleet-covered forest beneath the winter sun. He was followed by all the evil spirits. So great was their number that they soon covered the shores of the lake.

When they saw the broken stump of the withered tree, they suspected that it might be Nanabozho in disguise. They knew his cunning. One of the serpents approached the stump, wound his tail around it, and tried to drag it down into the lake. Nanabozho could hardly keep from crying out, for the tail of the monster prickled his sides. But he stood firm and was silent until the spirits moved on.

The Great Serpent glided into the forest and wound his many coils around the trees. His companions also found shade–all but one. One remained near the shore to listen for the footsteps of Nanabozho.

A pictorial of the Great Serpent

From the stump, Nanabozho watched until all the serpents were asleep and the guard was casting his eyes the opposite direction. Then — he silently drew an arrow from his quiver, placed it in his bow, and aimed it at the heart of the Great Serpent. It reached its mark and with a howl that shook the mountains and startled the wild beasts in their caves, the monster awoke. Followed by its terrified companions, which also were howling with rage and terror, the Great Serpent plunged into the water.

The Great Serpent knew that he would soon die from his wound, but he and his companions were determined to destroy Nanabozho. They caused the water of the lake to swell upward and to pound against the shore with the sound of many thunders. Madly the flood rolled over the land, carrying with it rocks and trees. High on the crest of the highest wave floated the wounded Great Serpent. His eyes glared around him.

Dancer depicting the Great Serpent

Nanabozho, fleeing before the angry waters, thought of the children. He ran through the villages, shouting, “Run to the mountaintops! The Great Serpent is angry and is flooding the earth! Run! Run!”

The people caught up their children and found safety on the mountains. Nanabozho continued his flight along the base of the western hills and then up a high mountain beyond Lake Superior, far to the north. There he found many men and animals that had escaped from the flood that was already covering the valleys and plains and even the highest hills. Still the waters continued to rise. Soon all the mountains were under the flood, except the high one on which stood Nanabozho.

It was there he gathered together timber and made a raft. Upon it the men and women and animals with him placed themselves. Almost immediately the mountaintop disappeared from their view, and they floated along on the face of the waters. For many days they floated. At long last, the flood began to subside. Soon the people on the raft saw the trees on the tops of the mountains. Then they saw the mountains and hills, then the plains and the valleys.

When the water disappeared from the land, the people who survived learned that the Great Serpent was dead and that his companions had returned to the bottom of the lake of spirits. There they remain to this day.

For fear of Nanabozho, they have never dared to come forth again.

I hope you enjoyed this creation story of the Great Serpent. For more Story Telling go HERE

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