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Native American Rattlesnake Mythology

Rattlesnakes tend to be viewed negatively in Native American cultures, frequently associated with violence and revenge. In some tribes rattlesnakes were viewed as both powerful and dangerous, and were associated with witchcraft. In other tribes they enforce taboos, and children are warned not to break rules or customs because rattlesnakes may bite them. In legends, rattlesnakes sometimes appear as divine punishment to wreak vengeance on sinful people or their families, or as agents of an angry witch. In the mythology of some southwestern tribes, Rattlesnake was the first creature to bring death into the world by means of its poison, although usually the snake was described as either defending itself from attacks or avenging itself for past abuse.

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Rattlesnakes are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Rattlesnake Clans include the Chippewa (whose Rattlesnake Clan and its totem are called Zhiishiigwe or Midewewe,) the Zuni (whose Rattlesnake Clan name is Chitola-kwe,) and other Pueblo tribes of New Mexico.

Native American Rattlesnake Gods and Spirits

Situlili (Hopi/Zuni)

Native American Legends About Rattlesnakes

*How Glooskap Changed Saucy Indians into Rattlesnakes:
    Passamaquoddy legend about rude men being turned into rattlesnakes.
How the Rattlesnake Learned to Bite:
    Pima Rattlesnake story about the origin of death.
*The Snake Husband:
    Peoria legend about a careless woman who was led astray by a rattlesnake.

Recommended Books of Rattlesnake Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Soft Child:
    Children's book illustrating a Southwest Indian legend about how the rattlesnake got its fangs.
Baby Rattlesnake:
    Charming picture book about an Indian rattlesnake learning a lesson, told by a Chickasaw storyteller.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meaning of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on snakes.
Rattlesnakes:
    Book by a Western folklorist about rattlesnake legends and stories, including some Native American tales.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of American Indian tales about rattlesnakes and other animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.



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