Pretty White Snake

by Cathy Smith

Pretty White Snake

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“Pretty White Snake” was originally published in originally published in Anthropomorphic Dreams and in the author’s collection of short stories, Kateri’s Tales: Based on Haudenosaunee Folklore.

The woods were full of interesting trails created by men and beasts, but Pretty White Snake only cared about the dreampaths. He ran errands for the other luck charms, and they paid him with portions of their feedings. This kept him from starving, but he would never grow to be big and strong himself if he did not have his own witch to feed him.

He was drawn to the strongest unattached mind on the dreampaths, one that was wide open and receptive to medicine. He gravitated to a well-made cabin. Much to his surprise, the dreampath led to a young white man. He blinked in confusion. A white man, a witch? White people have a jealous God who forbids witchcraft. Then again, witchcraft is forbidden among the Haudenosaunee too, but that doesn’t stop them from using bad medicine.

Pretty White Snake gazed at the sleeping young man wistfully. This white man was pale of skin and hair, but tall and well-shaped. White men’s paleness always made them look unhealthy to Pretty White Snake, since their skin burned too easily from the sun. But this young man was a prime physical specimen, and Pretty White Snake could taste the ambition in his mind. In the old days, Pretty White Snake’s penchant for choosing pleasant-looking humans was thought to be strange and inappropriate by the other luck charms, but he found that his particular gifts worked best with attractive witches. He would be quite a prize if he were Haudenosaunee.

Pretty White Snake gazed at the young man for a long time, then finally shook his head. Tempting–but the Haudenosaunee will never stop seeing me as a bad omen if I take a white man as my witch. Pretty White Snake left the young man to his dreams and ambitions, and continued his search.

The dreampaths turned up something more appropriate, a Haudenosaunee man who wanted a luck charm. Pretty White Snake crawled into the man’s dream. The dreamer saw a pile of glitter at his feet. “Silver,” the dreamer said. The Haudenosaunee used to say that Pretty White Snake’s scales were like sunlight on fresh fallen snow, but now they compared him to this metal that white men had taught them to prize. The dreamer’s hands reached out to touch the treasure he had found, but retracted when the silver writhed.

“It’s a snake,” the dreamer said with a frown. Pretty White Snake opened his eyes beseechingly. The dreamer looked at him thoughtfully. “A pretty white snake with silver scales,” he said. The dreamer stood up and backed away. “Let the pretty white snake starve! The last time someone fed you, you and your appetite grew bigger and bigger until only an entire village could satisfy you.”

Pretty White Snake reared up to spit at the dreamer. Since he did not have sharp fangs and poison, he spat out words instead. “The hunter said he saw me starving on the side of the road and fed me out of pity, but he didn’t tell the Haudenosaunee that I was his luck charm, not his pet! He said he had to keep giving me bigger and bigger animals to satisfy my hunger, but he didn’t tell them that he was a poor hunter before he met me, and that the only reason he could bring down those larger animals was because he had my help! He didn’t tell his village that he kept expecting more and more from me, but wanted to give me less and less…”

The dreamer only heard the hisses of an angry viper, and Pretty White Snake slithered out of the dream when he realized that his words were futile.

Who would’ve thought disciplining a lazy witch would have this effect on my life? He had hoped the Haudenosaunee people’s memory of him would have faded, but the story about the Pretty White Snake’s greed will never be forgotten while they are still Haudenosaunee.

Pretty White Snake had not planned it, but he returned to that young white man who was still sleeping. Pretty White Snake watched him for some time. Perhaps a white man is the most suitable witch for the Pretty White Snake. He entered the young man’s dreams as a pile of silver at his feet. The young man started when he saw the silver writhe and open bright red eyes. For a moment, Pretty White Snake could smell the young man’s fear, but when the scent faded, he knew he would be fed soon.

Cathy Smith is a Mohawk writer who lives on a Status Reservation on the Canadian Side of the Border. She is proud of her people’s heritage and also has an interest in the myths and legends of other peoples and cultures and modern fantasy and science fiction which is often derived from past myths and often acts as myths for modern times.