(note:) a larger account of the snake legend(s) can be found here!
The ancient Cherokee believed that the snake was a supernatural being. Some snakes were once human and turned into snake form but all had an intimate connection with the rain and thunder gods and the plant and animal "tribes". The most feared and respected, of the snake "tribe", was the rattlesnake.
The rattlesnake was named (utsa'natii) which can be translated as, "he has a bell", referring to the rattles. Most Cherokee went out of their way to avoid killing a rattlesnake and if one had to be killed, even by accident, the action had to be atoned for by asking pardon of the snakes ghost, through the mediation of a priest, according to a set formula. Otherwise the dead snakes relatives would send one of their number to bite the offender or a member of his family so that they would die.
The rattles, teeth, flesh, and oil were prized for occult or medical uses. Certain priests, (shamans, medicine men) who knew the necessary rituals for pardon, killed the snakes for this purpose. This also provided a lucrative business for the less than ethical, (both Indian and white). The oil was prized for its healing properties and was said to relieve the pain of rheumatism and sore joints among the Whites as well as the Indians.
The shamans and priests lost favor among the Indians after a couple of smallpox outbreaks in the 1700s that almost killed off the tribe reducing it to one point to a number of less than 9000 from estimates of a population that I have seen as high as 50000. I have heard there were reprisals taken against surviving shamans. As far as I know, (and I freely admit that my knowledge is far less than complete), nothing substantive remains of the original religion(s) and rites although there is still a herbal tradition practiced in the eastern and western bands.
unscrupulous traveling salesmen would wonder from town to town selling their, "genuine Indian snake oil cure", and who had any idea what it really was or what was in it!
On a more humorous note:
Pea bug, what Warren "thought" his wife called a wood louse (e.g. pill bug, sow bug, rolly-polly bug), what she actually called it, was pee bug.
I realized my mistake when ol' Shortfuse .357, (i.e. my wife Jackie), said her grandmother made pee bug tea and made the kids drink it if they peed in the bed. Her grandmother, (half Apache), apparently learned the recipe from her Apache mother, (by accounts, a little, dark, scrawny woman with a hot temper and skin like tree bark, only refered to as "granny").
I asked my wife if it worked and she said, "Well... I didn't pee in the bed, but I didn't go to sleep either. I'd rather stay awake all night than drink pee bug tea!"
Interestingly enough, wood ice do not urinate; instead of excreting urine, woodlice excrete their nitrogenous waste in the form of ammonia gas. Sounds homeopathic to me but how would Indians know that "pee bugs", don't pee?
Update: I found this interesting letter from Richard L. Allen:
Psuedo Shamans Cherokee Statement
By Richard L. Allen, EdD Research &
Policy Analyst Cherokee Nation
Copyright © 2001 RLAllen
All Rights Reserved
The Cherokee Nation is overwhelmed with those charlatans who fraudulently claim to be shaman, spiritual leaders or descendents of a Cherokee princess. Such individuals make such claims without ever having lived within the Cherokee communities. They claim to be descended from some nebulous and mysterious ancestor who was from "a reservation in North Carolina" (there is only one) or "a reservation in Oklahoma" (there are none). The ancestor is never just a plain ordinary everyday Cherokee citizen but a "Cherokee Princess," a "Cherokee Shaman," or a "Cherokee Pipe carrier" none of which actually exist or ever have. Those who claim to be "shaman" do not reside within the known boundaries of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
Cherokee medicine people and spiritual leaders are known to the Cherokee people and do not practice medicine for a fee nor sell "shamanic" lessons to anyone. They do not advertise their services through any form of media and certainly not over the internet. Traditional Cherokee healers and spiritual leaders provide their services to the Cherokee people. A Cherokee medicine person or spiritual leader is fluent in the Cherokee language and would conduct any medical or spiritual practices by using the Cherokee language. Therefore, our medicine people are those who were born of a Cherokee mother and a Cherokee father and would have been reared within a Cherokee community speaking the Cherokee language. Our traditional Cherokee healers and spiritual leaders are humble people and would not present themselves as such nor "hang out a shingle" so to speak. Cherokee medicine people are acknowledged and recognized by members of the Cherokee community as effective healers and leaders. It is the recognition of the Cherokee people that validates these persons as medicine people and healers not self-proclaimation. We may provide them small gifts, a token amount of money or foodstuffs in payment for their services. They do not charge for their services nor would they withhold their services when asked and they certainly would not prescibe payment by credit card. Cherokee medicine people may provide services to recognized members of other tribes or may provide services to non-Indians who would seek them out for treatment, but certainly would not mix their spirituality or medicine with that of other nations. Cherokee medicine and spiritual practices do not include tarot cards, palmistry, psychic readings or sweatlodge ceremonies.
One may assume that anyone claiming to be a Cherokee "shaman, spiritual healer, or pipe- carrier," is equivalent to a modern day medicine show and snake-oil vendor. You have my permission to print this response as is.
Richard L. Allen. EdD
Research & Policy Analyst
P.O. Box 948
Tahlequah, Oklahoma 74465