The Horned Serpent

Originally Published in 1915

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On a certain day long, long ago there was a great trembling of the earth and all the people said, “The old witch is troubling the Horned Serpent under the ground, and in moving about he causes the earth to tremble.” So they begged their cacique to have the old witch burnt in the market place. When the cacique’s messengers went to the old witch’s cave to get her she said, “Yes, dear people, I will go with you, but first I must bid my boatmen good-bye,” and going to the picture of a boat she had outlined with ashes on the floor of the cave, she stepped into it and was rowed away. The messengers heard the splash of the oars in the water. Then all was quiet. The cacique was very angry when the messengers told him how the old witch had embarked and disappeared before their very eyes, but as the earth trembled no more his anger cooled and he said, “Perhaps she may drown on her voyage and be thus killed by water instead of by fire.” Before long, however, the earth began to tremble again and it trembled so violently that the birds, beasts and serpents forsook their mountain homes and went to the towns. Rivers left their beds and overflowed the plains, and the great Horned Serpent belched up smoke, flame and ashes through a big hole he made in the side of a mountain. Again the people sought the cacique and this time they cried, “Oh, great cacique, our master! The mighty spirit of the Thirteen Hills to which we pray is powerless to save our milpas unless you burn the old witch.” So the cacique again sent his messengers in search of the old witch and when they had found her, she said, “Yes, dear people, even now I go with you. Do but allow me to find my ball of maguey thread.” When she had found it she went peaceably with them to the great square where a crowd of people had collected to see her burned alive. When the death sentence was proclaimed she said, “It is true, oh great cacique! than whom there is none greater, that I can quiet the Horned Serpent of his restlessness, for it comes from a maggot in his fang, but I must go to the clouds for the remedy that will kill this xul-hé, this mouth worm, by casting out its sweetness and filling it with fear.”The cacique, feeling that what the old witch said was true, gave her leave to go to the sky, so she drove a three-pronged stick into the ground, tied the loose end of the maguey thread to it, threw the ball into the air and climbed up the slender rope and never came down.

Cite This Article

"The Horned Serpent." The Museum Journal VI, no. 3 (September, 1915): 124-124. Accessed February 21, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/420/


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