Tag Archives: snakes

St. Patrick snakes legend


“The way I remember it is that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland and into the ocean while he was there converting people to Catholicism. This act supposedly convinced a lot of people to believe in God.”


E is nineteen years old and grew up in Southern California. She is Catholic and she originally heard this legend in her Catholic Elementary school. This story was widely believed to be fact amongst her peers until she was much older. She told this legend to me over the phone.


This is a particularly interesting legend because it centers around a well-known religious figure. Even those who did not grow up in or practice Catholicism, know of the figure St. Patrick, mostly due to St. Patrick’s Day. Therefore, many people in the United States have heard this legend before, religious or otherwise. This legend, although religious in origin would not be considered a myth because most older members of the religious community understand this to be story and not fact. It also centers around a very real historical figure (St. Patrick) in a real location (Ireland). Like my informant when she was a child, many do see this as potentially true, even into adulthood. It is also a legend that is somewhat guarded. My informant states: “even though I know that it is just a story, when people ask me if people really believe that, for some reason I always want to say, ‘yes because it’s true’ even though I know it is not.” This strong inclination to protect the legend likely stems from a protection of the religion. By discrediting a widely held legend, it makes practitioners of that religion feel guarded over other aspects of the religion as well.

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.”


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.


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)


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.


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


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


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.