From Maine and Nova Scotia to the Rocky Mountains, Indians told stories about the Great Serpent. More than a century ago the serpent was considered to be “a genuine spirit of evil.” Some version of the story of the Great Flood of long ago, as recounted here, is told around the world.
Nanabozho (Nuna-bozo, accented on bozo) was the hero of many stories told by the Chippewa Indians. At one time they lived on the shores of Lake Superior, in what are now the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin and the province of Ontario.
One day when Nanabozho returned to his lodge after a long journey, he missed his young cousin who lived with him. He called the cousin’s name but heard no answer. Looking around on the sand for tracks, Nanabozho was startled by the trail of the Great Serpent. He then knew that his cousin had been seized by his enemy.
Nanabozho picked up his bow and arrows and followed the track of the serpent. He passed the great river, climbed mountains, and crossed over valleys until he came to the shores of a deep and gloomy lake. It is now called Manitou Lake, Spirit Lake, and also the Lake of Devils. The trail of the Great Serpent led to the edge of the water.
Nanabozho could see, at the bottom of the lake, the house of the Great Serpent. It was filled with evil spirits, who were his servants and his companions. Their forms were monstrous and terrible. Most of them, like their master, resembled spirits. In the centre of this horrible group was the Great Serpent himself, coiling his terrifying length around the cousin of Nanabozho.
The head of the Serpent was red as blood. His fierce eyes glowed like fire. His entire body was armed with hard and glistening scales of every color and shade.
Looking down on these twisting spirits of evil, Nanabozho made up his mind that he would get revenge on them for the death of his cousin.
He said to the clouds, “Disappear!”
And the clouds went out of sight.
“Winds, be still at once!” And the winds became still.
When the air over the lake of evil spirits had become stagnant, Nanabozho said to the sun, “Shine over the lake with all the fierceness you can. Make the water boil.”
In these ways, thought Nanabozho, he would force the Great Serpent to seek the cool shade of the trees growing on the shores of the lake. There he would seize the enemy and get revenge.
After giving his orders, Nanabozho took his bow and arrows and placed himself near the spot where he thought the serpents would come to enjoy the shade. Then he changed himself into the broken stump of a withered tree.
The winds became still, the air stagnant, and the sun shot hot rays from a cloudless sky. In time, the water of the lake became troubled, and bubbles rose to the surface. The rays of the sun had penetrated to the home of the serpents. As the water bubbled and foamed, a serpent lifted his head above the centre of the lake and gazed around the shores. Soon another serpent came to the surface. Both listened for the footsteps of Nanabozho, but they heard him nowhere.
“Nanabozho is sleeping,” they said to one another.
And then they plunged beneath the waters, which seemed to hiss as they closed over the evil spirits.
Not long after, the lake became more troubled. Its water boiled from its very depths, and the hot waves dashed wildly against the rocks on its banks. Soon the Great Serpent came slowly to the surface of the water and moved toward the shore. His blood-red crest glowed. The reflection from his scales was blinding–as blinding as the glitter of a sleet-covered forest beneath the winter sun. He was followed by all the evil spirits. So great was their number that they soon covered the shores of the lake.
When they saw the broken stump of the withered tree, they suspected that it might be one of the disguises of Nanabozho. They knew his cunning. One of the serpents approached the stump, wound his tail around it, and tried to drag it down into the lake. Nanabozho could hardly keep from crying aloud, for the tail of the monster prickled his sides. But he stood firm and was silent.
The evil spirits moved on. The Great Serpent glided into the forest and wound his many coils around the trees. His companions also found shade–all but one. One remained near the shore to listen for the footsteps of Nanabozho.
From the stump, Nanabozho watched until all the serpents were asleep and the guard was intently looking in another direction. Then he silently drew an arrow from his quiver, placed it in his bow, and aimed it at the heart of the Great Serpent. It reached its mark. With a howl that shook the mountains and startled the wild beasts in their caves, the monster awoke. Followed by its terrified companions, which also were howling with rage and terror, the Great Serpent plunged into the water.
At the bottom of the lake there still lay the body of Nanabozho’s cousin. In their fury the serpents tore it into a thousand pieces. His shredded lungs rose to the surface and covered the lake with whiteness.
The Great Serpent soon knew that he would die from his wound, but he and his companions were determined to destroy Nanabozho. They caused the water of the lake to swell upward and to pound against the shore with the sound of many thunders. Madly the flood rolled over the land, over the tracks of Nanabozho, carrying with it rocks and trees. High on the crest of the highest wave floated the wounded Great Serpent. His eyes glared around him, and his hot breath mingled with the hot breath of his many companions.
Nanabozho, fleeing before the angry waters, thought of his Indian children. He ran through their villages, shouting, “Run to the mountaintops! The Great Serpent is angry and is flooding the earth! Run! Run!”
The Indians caught up their children and found safety on the mountains. Nanabozho continued his flight along the base of the western hills and then up a high mountain beyond Lake Superior, far to the north. There he found many men and animals that had escaped from the flood that was already covering the valleys and plains and even the highest hills. Still the waters continued to rise. Soon all the mountains were under the flood, except the high one on which stood Nanabozho.
There he gathered together timber and made a raft. Upon it the men and women and animals with him placed themselves. Almost immediately the mountaintop disappeared from their view, and they floated along on the face of the waters. For many days they floated. At long last, the flood began to subside. Soon the people on the raft saw the trees on the tops of the mountains. Then they saw the mountains and hills, then the plains and the valleys.
When the water disappeared from the land, the people who survived learned that the Great Serpent was dead and that his companions had returned to the bottom of the lake of spirits. There they remain to this day. For fear of Nanabozho, they have never dared to come forth again.
Abzu – Babylonian king of the abyss of fresh water, husband of Tiamat
Adi Budhnya – Indian serpent god, the virtuality of fire
Agni – Indian serpent god, literally the ‘furious serpent’, the manifested divine fire
Aguna – Solomon Islands serpent mother goddess
Aido-Hwedo – African serpent god of Fon tribe, who assisted Mawu-Lisa (or Nana-Buluku) in creating the world; lives in ocean to balance the world and consumes iron, when it runs out of iron to eat, its writhings will cause the world to tilt
Aker – Egyptian Dragon representing the earth, who bound the coils of Apophis
Am-Mut – Egyptian serpent god, called the eater of souls
Amphisbaena – an African dragon with two heads, one on its tail
Amphitere – a plumed flying serpent, which knows all the secrets of the world except one
Ananda Lahari – a Naga, the eleven-headed wave of bliss upon which the gods are carried into eternity
Ananta – literally, ‘endless’, Buddhist Naga with 1000 heads, whose coils encircle the world axis; the cosmic ocean, also called Sesha; he spits out venomous fire at the end of each Kalpa (age) to help Shiva in destroying the creation
Ankh-neteru – Egyptian serpent god through whose body the Boat of Afu Ra is pulled by twelve amikhiu gods, entering the tail and exiting the mouth, which results in Afu Ra being transformed into Khepera, now towed into the sky by twelve goddesses
Anyiewo – African rainbow serpent of the Ewe tribe
Apep (Apepi) – Egyptian primordial serpent who lived in the celestial Nile (Milky Way)
Apophis – Greek form of Apep
Apsu – Babylonian serpent god of fresh water abyss
Atum – Egyptian creator of the Eldest gods, who will become a new serpent when the world returns to its original chaos
Azhi Dahaka – Persian great sky serpent, creator of planets
Basilisk – (Greek – king) Phoenician serpent god, whose glance caused death
Baxia – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China, a strong swimmer
Bixi – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China, an excellent pack animal
Bobbi-Bobbi – Australian rainbow serpent
Cecrops – Greek founder of civilization, half-human, half-serpent
Chalchiuhticue – Incan serpent mother goddess
Chiao – Chinese marsh serpent
Chien Lung – Chinese great dragon
Chih – Chinese serpent god of the north
Chiminigagua – Columbian creator serpent god of the Chibcha tribe, lives in lake of serpents
Chiwen – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China, a seer
Cien-Tang – Chinese serpent god in charge of all river serpent spirits, blood red with a 900 feet fiery mane
Cipactli – Mayan serpent god, ruler of crocodiles
Coatlicue – Aztec earth serpent goddess, mother of all living
Cockatrice – Hebrew Basilisk
Colchis – the Greek Dragon who guarded the Golden Fleece
Da – Another name for Danh
Daemon – Greek spirit guardians of every god and important human, took the form of a serpent
Damballa – Voodoo serpent god, his 7000 coils formed the earth and the heavens
Damkina – Babylonian serpent queen, mother of Marduk, wife of Ea
Danh – African serpent rainbow god of the Fon tribe, circles the world and orders the cosmos, both male and female; it has 3500 coils above the earth and 3500 coils beneath the earth; called Da in action and Mawu-Lisa in thought.
Degei – Fiji supreme serpent god, originally lived alone with the hawk Turukawa, which gave birht to humans who were raised by Degei
Denwen – Egyptian Dragon, a fiery serpent who’s fire would have destroyed the gods, but was stopped by the king
Dewi – Welsh giant red serpent spirit
Dhakhan – Australian rainbow serpent
Dionysos – Greek god wine, born in the form of a serpent
Draco – Greek heavenly divine serpent, a pet of Zeus
Dzyu – Tibetan serpent power of creation
Ea – Babylonian serpent king, father of Marduk, husband of Damkina
Fafnir – German serpent, the great worm with magickal powers
Fu-ts’ang Lung – Chinese Underworld serpent, guards earthly treasures
Fuku Riu – Japanese serpent of good fortune
Fuxi – half human half serpent father of mankind
Galeru – Australian rainbow serpent
Gargouille – French serpent that caused floods by vomiting water from its mouth
Giao Long – Vietnamese serpent gods, immortal and became dragons after 1000 years
Goorialla – Australian rainbow serpent
Gorgon – Greek Basilisk (e.g. – Medusa)
Gucumatz – Qiche Mayan serpent god who brought civilization
Haoxian – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Hedammu – serpent who was Ishtar’s divine servant
Herren-Suge – Basque serpent god with seven heads
Huitzilopotchili – form of Quetzalcoatl
Hunab Ku _ Mayan god of gods, a great sky serpent
Hydra – Greek nine-headed serpent, could regrow its heads
Iara – Brazilian serpent goddess, mother of the waters, also called mboicu (great serpent)
Illuyankas – Hittite serpent god
Indra – Indian serpent god, imported to Turkey, Iraq and Syria by the Hurrians; he defeated the world serpent to release the power of the seven streams
Jawzahr – an Islamic Dragon responsible for eclipses and comets
Jiaotu – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Jormungand – Norse divine serpent, son of loki, world serpent
Julungul – Australian rainbow serpent
Ka-Riu – Japanese fire serpent
Kahasusibware – Solomon Islands serpent god
Kakuru – Australian rainbow serpent
Kalseru – Australian rainbow serpent
Koevasi – Melanesian serpent goddess
Kouteign Kooru – African serpent god, literally ‘master of the waters’
Kua Shih – Chinese wingless serpent god
Kulkulcan – Mayan serpent god
Kundalini – the human Naga spirit normally asleep at the base of the spine
Kung Kung – Chinese serpent god with nine heads, god of wisdom
Labna – Mayan serpent god
Ladon – Greek guardian serpent of the Tree of Golden Apples in the Hesperides, taken from Sumerian or Akkadian sources
Langal – Australian rainbow serpent
Lebe – the serpent lord of the Dogan tribe, first of the living dead
Leviathan – Hebrew primeval sea serpent, symbol of chaos
Lindworms – German serpent spirits inhabiting bodies of water
Lotan – Canaanite seven-headed serpent
Lough Derg Monster – a giant water serpent confined to the bottom of Lough Derg by St. Patrick
Lu – Tibetan Naga
Luagal – Samoan serpent god of the sea
Lung – the basic Chinese dragon
Lung Wang – the four dragon kings of China: Ao Ch’in, Ao Jun, Ao Kuang, Ao Shun
Mae – New Hebrides serpent spirits
Magoraga – Buddhist serpent god
Makara – an Indina Dragon in the form of a crocodile
Marcupo – Philippine serpent god
Marduk – Babylonian serpent god who killed his grandmother Tiamat and established a new order of gods
Mawu-Lisa – another name for Danh
Mboi-Tu’I – Paraguyan divine serpent parrot of the Guarani tribe
Midgard Serpent – Norse serpent upon which the world tree rests, killed by Thor before it could grow so powerful it would rule the gods
Mixcoatl – Aztec serpent god of clouds, brought rain by having sex with goddess Coatlicue
Mo’o – Hawaiian serpent god
Moma – African serpent goddess in central Africa
Muchalinda – a many headed Indian Naga, guardian of the Tree of Enlightenment who wrapped itself seven times around the Buddha to protect him
Muit – Australian rainbow serpent
Mushussu – a Dragon created by Tiamat to oppose Marduk, who tamed it and made it a guardian
Naga (Nagini – fem) – Indian serpent lord, son of Kadru, daughter of Daksha, a title of spiritual power among humans; literally, Sanscrit for ‘serpent’; the Naga spirits bring rain and rules the Underworld; their language is called Naga-Krita; the Nagas are manifestations of Agni (fire), the fierce spirit as spirit guardians; divided into four classes: heavenly, divine, earthly or hidden
Naga Bushana – Nagas representing the energy of death
Naga Kanya – a five or nine headed Naga, a counterpart of the god Vishnu
Nagual – Mexican serpent spirit guardian
Ndengel – another name for Degei
Neheb-Kau – Egyptian serpent with human arms and legs, a servant of Ra, the great serpent under world and upon which the world rests
Ningizzida – another name for Zu
Nidhogg – Norse serpent at base of world tree, devours bones of fallen humanity
Nu Kua – Chinese serpent goddess formed the first people
Oniont – Amerindian horned serpent, lived under water, healed the sick
Ophion – Greek Titan, literally ‘serpent’
Ophis – Gnostic power of the Spirit, lured into manifestation and trapped there, then sent a second time to release the trapped serpent-spirits (serpent in Garden of Eden, who taught man way of redemption)
Ouroboros – Viking great serpent who circles the world
Papophis – another name of Tiamat
Pulao – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Python – Greek father serpent of the world, lived at center of earth, slain by Apollo
Qiuniu – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Quetzalcoatl – Aztec serpent god, the feathered serpent
Rainbow Serpent – Australian aborigines’ mother and creator of all life on earth, from whose body the earth and heavens were created; shamans gain their power by being ritually consumed by the great Serpent and then reborn
Raja Naga – Malaysian serpent king of all sea serpents
Ratu-Mai-Mbula – Fiji serpent god who rules the dead
Ri-Riu – Japanese serpent that sees all
Riiti – Gilbert Islands serpent god who ruled the dead
Ruki – New Guinea serpent god of the sea
Satan – Hebrew distortion of Egyptian Set-hen
Seraph – Hebrew burning serpent of spirit, highest of God’s angels
Seraphim – plural of Seraph
Sesas – Javanese Nagas
Sesha (Shesha, Adi Shesha) – Indian king of the Nagas, with 1000 heads
Seth-heh – Egyptian eternal Seth who opposes the Boat of Ra on its journey
Shen-Lung – Chinese spiritual serpent, controls wind and rain
Simbu – Voodoo snake god of darkness
Sirae – three-headed blue serpents that steal your years, from a dream
Smaug – a crafty English dragon, lit: “a penetrating, inquiring and burrowing worm”
Suanmi – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Sucellos – Celtic underworld serpent
Susa-No-Wo – Japanese serpent god
Te Tuna – Gilbert Islands serpent god, whose head became the first coconut tree
Teth – a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, lit. ‘serpent’ = the lust for life which drives the Wheel of Birth and therefore gives rise to death
Tezcatlipoca – form of Quetzalcoatl
Tiamat – Babylonian serpent goddess of salt water abyss; also called Papophis, from whose body were created the sky and the earth
Ti-Ling – Chinese earth serpent, controls rivers
Tien-Lung – Chinese celestial serpent, protects the gods
Tlactoc – Mayan serpent god
Tu-Te-Wehiwehi – Maori serpent god
Typhon – Egyptian serpent lord
Typhon – Greek son of Gaea and Tartarus, father of Cerberus, Hydra, Chimera and Nemean Lion
Ungud – Australian rainbow serpent
Ungur – Australian rainbow serpent
Ulanji – Australian rainbow serpent
Uraeus – Egyptian serpent fire that crawls up the tree of life
Vaskul – Indian Naga god of Mt. Kailasha, home of Shiva
Viracocha – Incan serpent god
Vrita – Indian Dragon who caused a drought by holding water in its body, until slain by Indra, starting the monsoon
Wadjet – Egyptian serpent guardian sent by Osiris to protect Pharoah and control the Nile, also called Buto or Vazit Wonungur – Australian rainbow serpent
Worombi – Australian rainbow serpent
Wullunqua – Australian rainbow serpent
Wunekan – New Guinea serpent god
Xiuhcoatl – Mayan serpent god of fire
Xiuhtecuhtli – greatest god of the Aztecs, one of whose forms was a fire serpent
Yazi – one of the nine sons of the dragon in China
Ying Lung – Chinese serpent of justice
Youalcoatl – Mayan serpent storm god
Yowie – Australian dragon with six legs that lives in deep caves and comes out as dusk
Yurlunggur – Australian rainbow serpent, also the Didjeridu used to call the serpent
Zaltys – Baltic serpent god, lover of the Sun Goddess Saule
Zu – Sumerian serpent-god of the watery abyss from which life arises and to which it returns; also called Ningizzida