Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! Today’s letter is U…
Muscogee Creek traditions include a Horned Serpent and a Tie-Snake, estakwvnayv in the Muscogee Creek language. These are sometimes interpreted as being the same creature and sometimes different — similar, but the Horned Serpent is larger than the Tie-Snake. To the Muscogee people, the Horned Serpent is a type of underwater serpent covered with iridescent, crystalline scales and a single, large crystal in its forehead. Both the scales and crystals are prized for their powers of divination. The horns, called chitto gab-by, were used in medicine. Jackson Lewis, a Muscogee Creek informant to John R. Swanton, said, “This snake lives in the water has horns like the stag. It is not a bad snake. … It does not harm human beings but seems to have a magnetic power over game.” In stories, the Horned Serpent enjoyed eating sumac, Rhus glabra.
Alabama people call the Horned Serpent, tcinto såktco or “crawfish snake,” which they divide into four classifications based on its horns’ colors, which can be blue, red, white, or yellow.
Yuchi people made effigies of the Horned Serpent as recently as 1905. An effigy was fashioned from stuffed deerhide, painted blue, with the antlers painted yellow. The Yuchi Big Turtle Dance honors the Horned Serpent’s spirit, which was related to storms, thunder, lightning, disease, and rainbows.
Among Cherokee people, a Horned Serpent is called an uktena. Anthropologist James Mooney, describes the creature:
Those who know say the Uktena is a great snake, as large around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a bright blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glowing like sparks of fire. It has rings or spots of color along its whole length, and can not be wounded except by shooting in the seventh spot from the head, because under this spot are its heart and its life. The blazing diamond is called Ulun’suti—”Transparent”—and he who can win it may become the greatest wonder worker of the tribe. But it is worth a man’s life to attempt it, for whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape. As if this were not enough, the breath of the Uktena is so pestilential, that no living creature can survive should they inhale the tiniest bit of the foul air expelled by the Uktena. Even to see the Uktena asleep is death, not to the hunter himself, but to his family.
Tie-snakes on a Mississippian sandstone plate from the Moundville Archaeological Site
According to Sioux belief, the Unktehila (Ųȟcéǧila) are dangerous reptilian water monsters that lived in anicent times. They were of various shapes. In the end the Thunderbirds destroyed them, except for small species like snakes and lizards. This belief may have been inspired by finds of dinosaur fossils in Sioux tribal territory. The Thunderbird may have been inspired partly by finds of pterosaur skeletons.