Tag Archives: snakes

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.”


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.


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.

Indian Tale – The Greedy Monkeys

Main Piece

Informant: “There’s a story of two greedy monkeys who find a piece of roti, basically an Indian tortilla, in the forest and they are fighting over who is going to break it in half because they each think the other will give himself the bigger piece. A snake comes by and hears them fighting and devises a plan. He offers to break it for them. He does and offers them the two halves, but each monkey thinks one piece is bigger, because the snake made one purposely bigger, so the snake takes a bite out of the bigger one, now making the other half bigger and offers it back up to them. Same situation keeps happening until the roti is finished and the snake just slithers away and the monkeys are left with nothing. Basically it’s a story about how if you’re greedy you’ll end up with nothing.”


My informant is a practicing lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is of Indian descent, and her knowledge of Indian folklore comes from her father. 


Informant: “I can’t remember how old I was when I heard this but I was a kid. Usually stories like this are told to kids to teach them a lesson and teach them not to be greedy.”

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this story before, but I did know that greed is a widely recognized sin in Indian cultures. According to Hindupedia (cited below), greed causes fights amongst family members, a loss of wealth, and a loss of close friends. In Indian cultures, greed is also the driving force behind most crimes, whether it is theft or cheating. In an Indian story titled “How a Greedy Miser became a great Saint,” a young man refuses to spend money on finding cures for his father’s sickness, which results in his father’s death. By the end of the story, the young man acknowledges his greed and becomes charitable.

It is interesting to note that the two characters that suffered in the hands of the snake are monkeys. Monkeys are a very important part of Indian culture. Monkeys are said to be the living avatars of the god of power, Hanuman, who was half-man and half-monkey. The snake is vilified as he is deceiving a respected deity. 


Hindupedia. “Ideals and Values/Lobha (Greed) The Third Inner Enemy.” Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia, www.hindupedia.com/en/Ideals_and_Values/Lobha_(Greed)_The_Third_Inner_Enemy#We_do_wrong_things. Accessed 24 Apr. 2021.

Don’t look for problems – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“No le busquen chichis a las culebras”


Don’t look for boobs in the snakes


Don’t look for problems where there are none



Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 71-year-old female. When I asked her if she knew of any common sayings of phrases of wisdom she giggled a little and responded, “No le busquen chichis a las culebras.” I asked where she recalled this saying from, and she claims to have heard it at a rural town where her family owned a countryside home, El Rancho Platanar. The town is called Plan de Barrancas in Jalisco, Mexico.   She says the proverb stook with her because of the humorous language employed. Her family was accustomed to driving up from the city they lived in, Guadalajara, to the house and spent weeklong holidays there when she was a young girl. When they were staying at the house she would visit the local town with her siblings and that is where she first heard the saying. My informant does not recall the context the proverb was used in, but she explained to me the meaning of the proverb. My informant belives the proverb is used to deter people from looking for problems when they don’t have problems.  The informant claims the phase means this because snakes do not have boobs, so if you look for the boobs in a snake not only will you not find any but you will anger the snake which is a problem. 

The phrase utilizes colloquial and crude language which I believe is the reason my informant has remembered it since such a young age. As a young girl, from a wealthy family, she was not exposed to this type of language making it exciting and new. The phrase employes the use of animals, in particular, a snake. This gives the audience a clue as to where it came from, the countryside, but also the connotations associated with snakes. Snakes have a reputation for being evil, bad, and sneaky. An example of this is the role the snake plays in the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible( the snake is the bad influence that convinced Eve to pick the apple). The snake in this proverb is representative of a problem. I believe the reference to boobs in the proverb is in association to the dangers of messing with a woman, for there is a bias, especially in Mexico, that angry women are fiercer than men. One would not want to mess with a snake, but if it is a female snake, then one would certainly not want to mess with it. The proverb is warning its audience not to look for problems where there are one because snakes do not have boobs, and angering a female snake by searching for its boobs is not only pointless but also dangerous.


Rattle Snakes and Trombone Players

What is being performed?
DA: There are a lot of musician jokes. Since that has been my career for the past 35 years, I
have heard a lot. Trombone players are usually at the butt of them too.
AA: Why trombone players?
DA: No one ever needs a trombone player so they’re seen as irrelevant.
AA: Oh, wow, well give me a trombone player joke.
DA: Okay. What’s the difference between a rattle snake in the desert and a trombone player?
AA: I don’t know.
DA: The rattle snake was on his way to a gig.

Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
AA: Why do you like this piece?
DA: I’ve been hearing it for a long time now and it’s kind of just this insider between musicians
everywhere. It’s a way for us to laugh at how hard and stressful it is to actually get a gig and
say, “well at least we’re not trombone players.”
AA: Where did you learn this from?
DA: I can’t remember but it’s pretty old. I definitely heard it on tour a long time ago.
Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
Delward Atkins tells this joke to his musician friends and most notably remembers telling it while
on tour. He doesn’t share this joke with many people outside the community or with many
trombone players. The trombone players he has told, however, have seemed to laugh.

I really like this joke but I also understand that I would not be able to understand it if it was not
explained to me first that trombone players have an especially hard time finding work. I see this
as a unifying thing for the musician community, but for me it’s just a good laugh.


Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. For a while, E.M. lived in Kentucky and this is a story that she heard there.


Main Piece:

E.M.: So when I was living in Kentucky, I… one of my friends… when we were young children… one of my friends said that um said that she knew that one of my neighbors did snake uh would do snake rituals in church and that she heard that from her parents. So she was kind of scared of this lady, um, and when I asked my parents about it, um, I I found out that that lady was a Pentecostal, and that basically in her church they believed that snakes couldn’t hurt them or that that the venom of the snakes couldn’t hurt them, if they believed in God. Um so they would use the snakes during sermons, even, they would handle them quite dangerously, and that even people would get sick or get hurt I guess, but it was an important part of their religion because they said that in the Bible, it says that if you’re a true Christian, snakes can’t hurt you and they belong to you to use them as you see fit.


Q: Did you ever see this practice live?


E.M.: I didn’t ever see it in person. It’s not something commonly done, but it belonged to this particular church that was a very old church, and they had been doing it for a really long time. I heard it from the other kids, and it kinda became a rumor or a scary story we would tell each other that turned out to be true. We were scared of it because it was very different from our own religious practices, like this would never happen in our own churches or anything like that.


Q: Where did you live in Kentucky?


E.M.: I lived in Louisville Kentucky, but this lady was from… I, I believe she was from Appalachia and she had moved there and there were rumors about her, showing there was this big divide between city life and country life in Kentucky.


Performance Context: In Pentecostal churches in some areas of Kentucky.


My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people interpret the Bible in different ways though they all read the same words. In particular, it is intriguing how people make folklore and folkloric practices out of religion. However, the folklore is an extension of the religion and not a true part of the religion itself. Many subtleties in the Bible are interpreted by different sects of Christianity to mean certain things, however, they are never explicitly told to perform these practices (such as snakehandling).

For more information, please see Chapter 3 (Religious Folklore) of Elliott Oring’s book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, in which snakehandling is mentioned.