Queen of Serpents
Egle, (pronounced - AG-lay) Queen of Serpents, is one of the most sacred and beloved myths belonging to the Baltic peoples. It should be read on many levels, with close attention paid to its symbolism and numerology. Re-told for countless generations, some renditions will have slight variations.
In another time, long ago, lived an old man and his wife. They had twelve sons and three daughters, the youngest of whom was named, Egle.
One summer evening, the three sisters went bathing in a lake, and after swimming and playing they climbed out onto the shore to dress. The youngest looked and gasped in surprise to find a large serpent curled up in the sleeve of her robe.
Quickly, the eldest sister grabbed a staff and prepared to chase the snake away, but the serpent suddenly turned to Egle and spoke in a human voice:
"Give me your word that you will be my wife and I will go willingly."
Egle cried, "Indeed, how can I marry a serpent? Please leave us and go in peace."
But, the Serpent refused to budge unless Egle would pledge herself to him. And the young girl, not thinking that such a promise could ever be fulfilled, agreed to be the Serpent King's bride.
Three days later, Egle looked out her window to see an amazing sight. Thousands of snakes surrounded her home. They filled the yard with their writhing, twisting forms and some even entered the house to speak with her parents.
At first, the old man and woman could not believe the creatures' request and refused to surrender their daughter. But, against the vast multitude they were helpless, and so, with many tears and much heartache, they watched as Egle was taken from her home.
She was led by her escorts to the seashore, and there, awaiting her, much to her delight, was a handsome, smiling bridegroom -- the Serpent King in human form.
Together they crossed the sea to an island where they descended into his kingdom. The Serpent King's halls were beautiful beyond imagining. Egle became enamoured with her bridegroom and their wedding celebrations lasted three weeks.
In the Serpent's palace, all was provided and Egle never toiled. She soon forgot her old home and lived happily with her new husband, enjoying the wonders of his magical kingdom.
Twelve years passed and Egle now had three sons and a daughter. One day, Egle's eldest son asked,
"Mother, where are your parents? Why do we never visit them?"
Suddenly Egle remembered her parents, brothers and sisters and her heart was filled with longing.
She went to her husband and told him how she wished to visit her family. The Serpent was disturbed to hear her request, but since he loved his wife so dearly, he could not refuse her. He granted her permission to leave, but only if she agreed to complete three tasks.
He showed Egle a spinning wheel and a ball of silk and told her that she could depart once she had spun all the thread from the silken ball.
Egle spun day and night, but the ball of silk never grew any smaller. Finally, she went to the wise woman and asked for her aid. The wise old crone instructed Egle to throw the ball into a fire or else the thread would never end.
Egle did as she was told and as the ball of thread burned, out jumped a toad which had been producing the silk thread all along.
Thus she finished her spinning, and once again approached her husband.
This time, the Serpent gave her shoes of iron and told her that she could leave once the shoes had been worn out. Egle put on the iron clogs and walked for many days and nights in an effort to wear out the shoes but, to no avail.
So, again she went to the old crone for advice. The wise woman told her to take the shoes to the blacksmith, who would weaken them with his great hammer and anvil.
This was done and within a few days, Egle wore out the shoes of iron.
Then a third time, she went to her husband. The Serpent King told her that she must bake a cake for her relatives, for how could she visit them with empty hands? Egle agreed.
But, the Serpent had secretly ordered that all the cooking vessels be smashed and destroyed in order to make this task impossible. Egle couldn't even carry water from the well. hence, she sought help from the crone.
The old woman showed her how to repair the pots with clay and complete this final task And so it was that Egle finally brought her baking to the Serpent King and asked his permission to leave.
Much saddened, the Serpent took Egle to the shore with their children and turning to them said. "After nine days you will return alone and call out over the waves to me,--
"Zilvine, Zilvineli! If you live, foam of milk, and if not, foam of blood."
So telling them, he bid Egle and the children farewell, warning them not to reveal to anyone, how he was to be called.
Upon arriving at her parents' home, Egle was greeted with much rejoicing and merriment. All were curious to know how she had lived with the Serpent and Egle had much to tell of what she had seen and learned in the enchanted kingdom.
The days passed quickly and happily and her time for leaving was soon approaching. Everyone wanted Egle to stay, and her brothers wondered how to make it possible for her to remain with them.
The men decided that they must discover the Serpent's name and how he could be called. So they took Egle's eldest son to a grove and threatened him to divulge the Serpent's secret. But the boy would not utter a word and so they let him go. They took the second and third son, but likewise, learned nothing from them.
Finally, they took the youngest, Egle's daughter. At first, she also refused to speak, but upon seeing the scourge, she told all.
The brothers took up their scythes, went down to the sea, called the Serpent and struck him down.
Then they returned and did not say a word to Egle about what they had done.
On the ninth evening, Egle bade farewell to her family and went to the sea to call her Serpent husband:
"Zilvine, Zilvineli, If you live, foam of milk, and if not, foam of blood."
The sea surged and from the depths the waves cast forth blood and Egle knew that her husband was no more.
As the waves crashed, she heard his voice:
"Your brothers murdered me with their scythes and our beloved daughter betrayed me."
Her heart broken, Egle turned to her children and spoke.
"My brave sons, because of your courage and fortitude, you shall stand as the strongest of trees for all the day. But, you, my daughter, shall tremble at the slightest breeze and the rains shall ever wash your mouth.
I, your Mother, shall remain on this earth as the Evergreen Fir."
So it was spoken, and so it came to pass. Egle's sons--Azuolas, Uosis and Berzas are the strongest of our trees--Oak, Ash and Birch. But the Poplar, Drebule, still trembles at the slightest breeze...