The White Serpent

Bela kačaThe white serpent / bela kača occupies a significant place in Slovenian mythology. Known mostly as the guardian of great hidden treasures,  it is a powerful magical being, that can be benevolent towards mankind, rewarding kindness and good deeds. It can be also deadly when crossed. In its encounters with mankind, there is one main requirement, to keep the promise of silence.

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 Jurčič)

Bela kača
Bela kača je mati in kraljica vseh drugih kač. Šele v visoki starosti postane bela. Glava ji je debela in podona mačji. Vrh glave pa nosi krono in v njej dragoceni kamen demant, ki se v temi tako sveti, da šivajo štirje krojači pri njem brez druge svečave. Kdor dobi tedaj demant iz njene krone, je srečen za vse življeneje, toliko je vreden. Zato so jo pa že od nekdaj zelo zalezovali. Ali ta kamen je težko dobiti, ker je bela kača silno huda in povwljnica vseh drugih kač, ne stanuje nikoli sama, ampak v večjih kačjih gnezdih, iz katerih pride malokdaj na dan.
Bil je kačji lovec, ki je gadom mast pobiral. Našel je v velikem skalovju med bukovjem veliko kačje gnezdo in je hotel tudi tukaj poloviti gade, da bi spo svojem opravilu dobil masti. Vzame s seboj tovariša, da bi mupomagal, ker se mu je dozdevalo, da bo kač več kakor drugod. Ko pride na skalovje, izbere primren kraj, odlomi leskovo šibico, ki je zrasla v enem letu , načrta s šibico ris, se ustopi v sredo, pripravi svoje orodje in vzame piščal v roke, da bi kače sklical. Tovariš pa se j bal bele kače in i ni upal pri risu ostati. Zleze torej na deveto bukev od risa, in ko je oni v risu jel na piščalko piskati, je videl, kako so lezle kače od vseh strani: rjave, pisane, grebenaste in druge proti risu. Vsaka je položila glavo v ris. Naenkrat pride bela kača, položi glavo v ris, udari z repom po tleh in v trenutku puhnejo vse kače na lovca v risu in ga opikajo, da je pri priči umrl. Ko bi njegov tovariš ne bil na deveti bukvi, bi se bila tudi njemu slaba godila.
(zapisal Josip Jurčič)

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)

Bela kača in otroci
Bila je kmetica in je imela majhne otroke. Hodila je v polje delat in puščala je otroke doma ter jim v skledo dajala mleka, da medtem niso bili lačni. Vselej so vse pojedli, zato jih je mati pohvalila, da so pridni. Otroci pa pravijo: Saj ne jemo sami, k nam hodi tudi lep ptiček jest.
Mati si misli, da prihaja kakšna mačka in je z otroki. Vendar se ji čudno zdi, ker otroci pripovedujejo o lepem belem ptičku. Prepričati se hoče, kaj je. Skrije se teda v hišo in postavi otrokom mleko v vežo kakor po navadi.
Kmalu se privije izpod mize bela kača z lepo krono na glavi in se zvije najmlajšemu v naročje. Mati je bila vsa trda od strahu. Otroci pa so božali in gladili lepega ptička. Ko se kača naje, strese lepo kronico z glave in se spet zgubi v luknjo. Brž ko je kača zginila, je mati skočila v vežo in speravila otroke na varno; seveda ni pozabila pobrati tudi krone. Dala jo je v skrinjo, kjer so imeli prejo. Ded je pozimi prejo vil. Vso zimo je vil, pa je ni mogel poviti. Žena si misli: Kaj neki more to biti? Morda ima krona tako moč?
Zato denejo krono proč in kmalu je bila preja povita. Nato denejo krono v žito, merili in merili so žito, pa ni nikdar pošlo. Tako so devali kronico tudi k drugim rečem in v kratkem času si je hiša tako opomogla, da je bila najpremožnejša v vasi.
Imeli so kronico tako dolgo, dokler je bil pri hiši tisti rod, ki je z belo kačo tako prijazno in lepo ravnal.
(zapisal 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)

Sedem let pri beli kači
Svoje dni je hodil majhen deček v gozd po drva. Nekega dne je šel mimo globoke jame, spolznilo mu je in je padel vanjo. V jami je bilo mnogo kač, a prva med njimi je bila kačja kraljica, bela kača z blestečim demantom na glavi. Deček se je bal kač, vendar mu niso nič hudega storile. Naglo se jih je privadil, le lačen je bil. Videl pa je, kako ližejo kače neki kamen, pa ga je začel tudi sam lizati in ni bil več lačen. Tako je preživel v luknji med kačami sedem dolgih let. Ko je sedmo leto minilo, mu je kačja kraljica rekla:
"Sinko, ti bi šel rad domov, ali ne?"
"Seveda, rad bi šel domov, ji je odgovoril deček, samo ne vem kako".
"Ne skrbi za to", mu je odvrnila kačja kraljica, "toda gorje ti, če nas izdaš!"
Deček je prisegel kačji kraljici, da je ne izda, potem ji je sedel na rep in ona ga je vrgla iz jame.
Deček je šel vesel proti domu. Vsi domači so se mu zelo čudili, ker s mislili, da je že davno mrtev. Na vse načine so ga domači prosili in silili, naj jim pove, kje je bil toliko časa.. Deček pa se je branil, dolgo časa se je branil, a ko oni le niso mirovali, jim je povedal, da je bil v jami pri kačji kraljici. Zdaj spet niso prej mirovali, dokler ni obljubil, da jim pokaže kačjo kraljico.
Šli so k jami. Deček je splezal na deseto bukev od jame in glasno zažvižgal. Zažvižgal je prvič – nič, zažvižgal je drugič – zopet nič, zažvižgal je tretjič – in iz jame se je prikazala kačja kraljica, bela kača z demantom na glavi. Žalostno je spregovorila:
"Sinko, sinko, zakaj si mi prisegel, da me ne izdaš?"
Potem se je obrnila in pihnila z veliko silo. Podrla je devet bukev, le desete ni mogla, na kateri je čepel deček. Sreča njegova, da je splezal na deseto bukev, kajti drugače bi bilo po njem.
(zapisal Janko Barle)

Bibliography:  Bolhar, Alojzij (ed.), Slovenske narodne pravljice, Mladinska Knjiga, 1976

Translated into English by Aleksandra Ceferin

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Aleksandra Ceferin
Aleksandra Ceferin

Aleksandra Ceferin (M.A., B.A., Dip.Ed.) has introduced Slovenian language as a school subject in Australian school system and founded the Slovenian Teachers’ Association of Victoria in 1976. She has extensive experience in language education: as teacher, lecturer, curriculum coordinator, course writer, language consultant and manager, VCE State Reviewer and Chief Examiner. Since 1998 she has been the President of ISSV and the manager and chief editor of its projects. Aleksandra visits Slovenian annually, establishing and maintaining contacts with Slovenia, and initiating exchanges and cooperation between organizations. In 2004 she was the recipient of the National Education Award of RS Slovenia.