I have been thinking recently about how important it is for my family to have knowledge and understanding of Slovenian folklore and mythology. And so I’m beginning with a few stories I found at www.thezaurus.com concerning ‘Bela Kača’ – The White Serpent.
The White Serpent
The white serpent is the mother and queen of all serpents. She is white only when very old. On her head, which is shaped like a cat’s, she carries a crown. In the crown is set a precious stone that glows in the dark, so that four tailors can sew in its light. Anyone who can get the diamond from her crown will live happily for the rest of his life. Many have tried, but it is almost impossible to get near the white serpent. She is dangerous, commands all other snakes and always lives in a large snake nest, which she hardly ever leaves.
There was once a snake hunter, who collected viper fat. In a beech grove among the rocks he found a great snake nest and set about catching the vipers. He saw a great many snakes in this nest, more than he had ever seen before, so he asked a friend to come along and help. When they came to the place, he found a young hazelnut tree and broke off a switch, then marked a circle with the switch. Then he stepped into the circle and took a whistle from his pocket. His friend, who was afraid of the white serpent, ran away and climbed a beech tree, nine trees distant from the circle.
The snake hunter began to blow the whistle. Immediately snakes of all kinds and colours came slithering from all directions and put their heads in the circle. Suddenly the white serpent appeared and struck the ground with her tail. Like lightening all snakes hurled themselves at the hunter, biting him many times over, so that he died.
If his friend had not climbed the ninth beech tree, he would surely have died also.
(recorded by Josip Jurčič)
The White Serpent and the Children
A poor woman lived on a farm with her small children. Everyday she left them at home while she went to work on the fields. Before she left, she poured them a large bowl of milk, so they wouldn’t be hungry. They always ate everything and mother praised them for being good. Then one day the children said: “We are not eating by ourselves, a beautiful little bird comes and eats with us.”
The mother wondered about this tale of the little white bird. Perhaps it was a cat coming to eat with the children, she thought. Then she decided to see for herself. As was her custom, she put a bowl of milk into the hallway and then waited hidden in the broom cupboard.
Soon a white serpent came sliding from under the table and onto the lap of the youngest child. The mother froze with fear, and watched helplessly as the children gently stroked it. When the serpent had eaten her fill, she shook the crown from her head, and vanished into the hole under the table. The mother jumped out of her hiding place and took the children away to safety. She did not forget to pick up the crown and put it away into the chest where the flax yarn was kept.
When the winter came the grandfather began winding the yarn. No matter how long he wound the yarn, there was still more yarn in the chest. The woman wondered: ”What could this be? Perhaps it is the power of the crown? So they put the crown into the wheat store. They took out measure after measure of wheat, there was still more wheat left. So they put the little crown among all the other produce, and in a short time the farm became the wealthiest in the village.
The family, that had treated the white serpent with kindness, kept the crown as long as they lived in the house.
(recorded by J. Novak)
Seven years with the White Serpent
Once long ago, a little boy often walked in the forest to gather firewood. One day he passed a deep cave, slipped and fell in. In the cave there were many serpents, the first among them the serpent queen – a white serpent with a glittering diamond on her head. The boy was afraid of serpents, but they did not harm him and he soon got used to them. However, he was very hungry, for there was nothing to eat. Then he saw serpents licking a stone. He did the same and found he was no longer hungry. In this way the boy lived with the serpents in the cave for seven years. When the seventh year passed the serpent queen said to him:
“Little boy, you would like to go home, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I would like to go home”, answered the boy,” but I don’t know how”.
“That won’t be a problem”, said the serpent, “but don’t betray us or you will be sorry!”
The boy swore that he would not betray her, sat on her tail and the serpent queen threw him out of the cave.
The boy went home happily. His people were astonished, since they thought he was long since dead. They tried every way they could to make him tell where he had been. The boy resisted for a long time, but they did not leave him in peace, until he told them, that he had been in the cave with the serpent queen. Then they would not leave him alone, until he gave in and led them to the cave.
When they reached the place, he climbed the tenth beech tree from the cave and whistled loudly. He whistled once – nothing, he whistled a second time – again nothing, he whistled a third time – and from the cave arose the serpent queen, the white serpent with a diamond on her head.
Sadly she spoke:
“Little boy, little boy, why did you swear that you would not betray me”?
Then she released the full force of her power. Nine beech trees lay uprooted by that mighty breath. It was fortunate that she did not succeed in bringing down the tenth beech tree. So the boy escaped the force of her wrath.
(recorded by Janko Barle)