Tag Archives: snakes

Eglė, Queen of Serpents

Main Text

GD: “Eglė, this girl, is bathing and a little snake comes up to her and she’s like ‘Oh no! The snake saw me naked, Ahh!’ And the snake speaks to her and goes ‘Hey girl, in order to make this right you have to come back and you have to get married to, like, me or one of my brothers. And she goes ‘Ahh, okay, oops. Stuff happens I guess.’ So the snake goes back to snake land and Eglė goes back to her family and she talks, and she’s like ‘This is the situation, this is what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna go be married off to the snake king.’ And a few days pass and hundreds and hundreds of snakes come to her house, come to her village and her family gives them first, like, a chicken and the snakes are like ‘Yeah, we got her!’ But it’s actually a chicken and then they do the same thing with a goat, and a sheep until they end up giving the actual daughter away. So Eglė goes with the snakes and goes to Snake Island and meets the snake king, but the thing is, is that he is actually just like a handsome, regular dude. They fall in love, and just have a good time and kinda chill on the island. They have four kids all whose names translate into names of trees.”

Interviewer: “Do you remember what their names are?”

GD: “Ahhh, I know their English translations. It’s, there’s Oak, Aspen, Birch and…could not tell you the fourth. But Eglė, I also should have said this in the beginning, Eglė translates to tree in English. So they are on snake island just having a good time, having the kids, and she doesn’t really talk about her life at home. She doesn’t talk about it because she grew up poor, she grew up in the village and now she’s just having a good time ruling all of the snakes. Until one of her sons asks, and her son and her decide to go back just to, you know, check in with the family, see how everyone is doing. But the king doesn’t let them in fear that she will not return. Eventually he does agree after some, you know, back and forth and gives her a special, like, call to do whenever if she needs to contact him or if there is an emergency that she needs to, like, contact him right away apparently this sound would transcend sound barrier. Um, but she goes and they’re there and the family does not want to give them back. Eglė wants to go, the son wants to go, but they, they will not go back. So, what happens is she does the call. She calls out for family, all of her family comes and with them, like her her kids come, and with them the hordes and hordes of snakes. This being said, snake king husband is still on the island. So there’s just a big battle between her family and snakes and in order to protect herself, and to protect her children, she turns them all into trees. The End.”

Background

GD is a 19 year old Lithuanian-American second year student at USC studying Theatre and Classics. Her mother was born in Lithuania and moved to a Lithuanian community in New Jersey, where GD attended Lithuanian school and church. She first heard this story from her immigrant mother. GD describes the moral of this story as one about blood family versus chosen family. Your family is whoever you choose to spend your time with and represent yourself with, and sometimes that’s snakes. GD describes this story as being somewhat controversial in it’s message among traditional Lithuanian storytellers. What stuck with GD was that Eglė as a woman had the power and responsibility to protect her children and her family and was justified in doing whatever she had to in order to reach that goal.

Context

GD says Eglė, Queen of Serpents was a bed time story that would be told to her as a child, but it was different in that it ended with a sort of triumph for the main character. Many Lithuanian bedtime stories, in GD’s words, ended with the cruel end of the main character in order to teach children about the dangers of the world.

Interviewer Analysis

This story is very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast and other stories in which young women come face to face with horrible monsters only to learn that they are either secretly beautiful men or were beautiful men cursed to be monsters. These tales have a nice moral in that it teaches people not to be prejudiced and to instead get to know someone yourself before passing judgement on them. This story has the added moral of being able to choose your family and so I think is a great story to read to children.

This tale is classified, in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, as tale type ATU 425M, “The Snake as Bridegroom” and can be found in Jonas Balys analysis of Lithuanian folktales (published in 1936).

Spiders Crawling Up Your Spine

Text Transcribed from Informant

“Spiders crawling up your spine, spiders crawling down your spine, snakes slithering up your spine, snakes slithering down your spine, scorpions slithering up your spine, scorpions slithering down your spine – gotcha!” (person then pinches partner after reciting rhyme)

Context

Just like the “giving one the shivers” game, my informant learned of this custom/game in his elementary school years. Generally a student will say the text above outloud, while using their fingers to act out the actions being described in the text. When asked for his interpretation, my informant replied that this motion and speech based game, and other games like it, are called “giving one the shivers,” even though this specific one he knew simply as “spiders crawling up your spine.” He often played this game as a child, either reciting the words to other students and pretending to have nefarious creatures crawl up their backs, or having the game recited to him and motions done upon him.

My Analysis

While I never played this specific game myself, I remember partaking in similar games to this as a child. I think the game” is to provide the game’s participant an ASMR-like sensation. I think this folk game also speaks to the near universality of ASMR sensations, as well as adolescent inclinations to trying and recreate a head tingling sensation that doesn’t quite have a term for it.

The Curse Cast on Salt Creek Elementary

Context: Z is a 21 year old Filipino American man. Growing up with a close community of Filipino friends and family. Z went to an elementary school within California. This story was collected over a Discord audio call.

Z: “So near the back of my school, a lot of people would go through there for quick entry to school. There was this bridge nearby and underneath it went this pretty deep valley, and what every kid in that elementary school always noticed all the time, whether they were walking there or driving there, you could always see down into the valley and what you could see was this worn out mattress down at the bottom. Every time. So what we thought every single time was that there was this homeless man, but what we thought was he was actually down there casting some sort of dangerous spell or something like that beneath the school. Cause we found out, and I think it was just a funny coincidence, but you’d find around our school an abundance of holes in the grass area, and we thought that these holes are usually from snakes. We always thought you had to be careful because there were a lot of snakes there because of the old man, like he had something to do with it. It was our little story but we really always believed he was casting some spells.” 

Intv: “And what elementary school was this located at?”

Z: “This was at Salt Creek Elementary, and like every kid at the school knew about it.” 

Intv: “Do you think there was any sort of cultural significance to it being a curse? Thinking back on my time in elementary school in a very western upbringing, I don’t think I was particularly aware of curses as much as I was ghosts or spirits.”

Z: “I think, because among my friends a lot of them at the time were Filipino, so what kind of relation there would be culturally, I definitely think it could be related to this monster my mom always told us about in the dark. She would call it the mumu, or that’s what we called it as kids, I think that’s kinda the relation there, as we never saw him in the morning. So we thought maybe he was only there at night when it’s dark. Cause in the day every time we’d pass the mattress we’d never see anyone, and at the time as kids we just ended up putting it all together.”

Intv: “Can I ask you a little more about the mumu?” 

Z: “Yeah, I think it literally translates to monster in Tagalog, I think it’s like your equivalent to a boogeyman. You know? The whole, like, ‘look out or the mumu is gonna getcha!’ thing. At least that’s how I saw it.”

Analysis: After looking up a translation I can confirm that mumu translates to either ghost or boogeyman. This story speaks heavily on how our folk and specifically our more sinister folklore tends to reside in the dark. Across cultures, as growing up as a child in America I was aware of the mumu, just of a different name. It makes one wonder where the mumu or boogeyman originated or how it transcends cultures. A shadowy figure who targets children is seen often in folklore across the world. 

The Dangers of Playing the Flute at Night

“밤에 피리를 불거나 휘파람을 불면 뱀이 나온다”

Context: I was in band during high school, and I would sometimes practice until the late hours. Whenever I played the flute at night, my mom would say this proverb.

Romanization:

bahm-eh piri-reur boor-guh-nah h-we-param ir boor-myun bem-ee na-own-da

Transliteration:

At night, to play the flute or to blow a whistle a snake will come out

Translation:

A snake will come out if you play the flute or whistle at night.

This is a proverb that my mom has heard growing up, and it is one that I have heard many times from her. She grew up in a more rural area of South Korea, so there were many snakes near her home. Controlling or taming snakes with a flute is quite common in many other areas of the world, which is where this proverb most likely originated. Where it seems to diverge is in the inclusion of whistling, which is surprising. The phrase seems to warn that even such a commonplace, harmless act can lead to something much more dangerous or deadly down the line.

Though this is a proverb warning against playing at night for fear of summoning a snake, she most likely said it to me to save the neighbors from the shrill notes of my flute at night.

Good deeds will always be repaid: The Grateful Magpie

Main Piece:

“A man travels to the royal palace to receive employment but lives in the middle of nowhere and crosses a mountain to get to the examination building. As he goes through the mountain, he sees two snakes going up a tree trying to eat a bird’s nest. The man sees the bird in danger, a particular breed that is synonymous with good fortune in Korea, and pulls out his bow and arrow and kills one of the snakes. The other snake runs off and the man mends the bird’s leg and puts it back into its nest. A couple days pass and he’s still crossing the mountain. Night falls and the man needs to find shelter on the mountain or else he fears that he might die if he spends the night in the mountain.

The man passes by an old house, sees a light, and it seems to be inhabited. The man hopes to stay the night and pay any amount to make it so. He knocks on the door and is met with a slithery and pale woman who comes out asking what he wants. The man explains his situation and asks to stay the night as he does not wish to risk dying out in the wilderness. The woman in raspy voice agrees, and guides him to an empty room. The man unloads his baggage and prepares to sleep but hears a knock on the door. The woman brings him some food and he thanks her for the hospitality. The woman lays down the tray of food and the woman leaves, but the man swears he heard some “ssss” noises from her. He passes it off as exhaustion and the man eats what he was offered, falls asleep, but in the middle of the night he hears footsteps and wonders whats going on. The door flings open and he notices it’s the woman again, whispering “murderer murderer”, and the woman transforms into a huge snake. The man wakes up, the snake woman screams that he killed her husband and they were a couple days away from becoming dragons. The woman swears to kill the man, binds him, and prepares to eat him but a far off gong noise scares the snake. “If that bell rings two more times and the sun rises, I cannot eat you anymore as I will ascend”. “But I still seek vengeance for my husband”. The snake becomes distracted and the man runs away. The snake chases him, another gong sounds and the snake begins to transform as the snake grows larger. The gong rings a second time and becomes a dragon and wails as she cannot seek vengeance and pleads for forgiveness from her husband.

The man survives the night and is relieved for whoever rang the bell on the mountaintop, which must mean there was a temple nearby. He seeks the temple out to thank the monks for saving his life. He finds the temple abandoned and the man tries to find the person who could have helped him. By the temple’s bell gongs, the man finds the dead bodies of a number of birds. The magpies had bashed themselves toward the bell to ring it and save the man from the snake and he recognizes the mended leg of the bird he had saved earlier among them.”

Background:

My informant is my brother who had recently returned home after many years away from the family due to the Covid pandemic keeping him longer than he planned for at home. He is more culturally more attuned to Korean stories compared to me and his own enthusiasm towards mythology and history rubbed off on me early. Most of his stories were told to him by our mother before I was born. The Korean Magpie is a symbol of good fortune in Korea as well as the national bird and the snakes in this story are a mythical kind known as “imugi”. Imugi are creatures who normally make homes near the water and they are considered imperfect dragons who must meet a certain requirement to fully become dragons. This story has the snake woman be distraught over the fact she will be unable to seek vengeance once she fully transforms as dragons are inherently forces of good in wider Asian mythology and cannot seek action in vengeance. My brother likes these types of folklore as he is an avid fan of mythologies and belief systems all over the world despite having been active debater against organized religion as well as having it be a fond memory of his country and family’s history before Christianity began phasing things out on the traditional spectrum of Korean culture.

Context:

Before my brother returned to work, I asked him if he could share any stories he remembers from his childhood that our parents told him. He picked out a couple stories while tabling a few others, not confident in being able to retell it as our mother did many years ago.

My Thoughts:

A story that relays the message “Good deeds are always returned in kind” promoting benevolence between all peoples. My father told me a similar story to this when I asked him for something to use for this project but his involved a different animal. The toad was the animal that helps out a human and the malevolent creature in question was an enormous centipede, yet another creature whose body symbolized a false dragon like snakes. It speaks highly to the benevolent light the Asian folk circles sees dragons as if they cannot commit acts of vengeance once they become one. As both of my parents originate from the Southern but different parts of South Korea, their stories seem to differ from each other in slight ways. Even in the most unlikeliest of expectations that animals would knowingly repay humans, it is a good mantra to live by to help and any and all living creature trying to survive out in the harsh realities of life. Even if Buddhist beliefs were starting to phase out individual names away from these types of stories, their message still carries a contextually Korean or humanistic element favoring a helpless bird over that of snakes as Buddhism usually speak against killing any living creature.