The haietlik ("lightning serpent") is a lightning spirit and legendary creature in the mythology of the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) people of the Canadian Pacific Northwest Coast. According to legend, the haietlik was both an ally and a weapon of the thunderbirds, employed by them in the hunting of whales. They are described as huge serpents with heads as sharp as a knife and tongues that shoot lightning bolts. A blow from a haietlik would injure a whale enough that the hunting thunderbird could carry it away as prey. The haietlik was variously described as dwelling among the feathers of the thunderbirds to be unleashed with a flap of the wings, or inhabiting the inland coastal waters and lakes frequented by the Nuu-chah-nulth people.
Because thunderbirds were said to use the haietlik essentially as harpoons, the lightning serpent was commonly associated with whaling in Nuu-chah-nulth culture. Whalers who carried the skin of this mythological creature in their canoe were said to have luck in whaling. British sailors visiting the Pacific Northwest in 1791 reportedly saw representations of the haietlik painted on the sides of canoes. Images of the haietlik also appear in petroglyphs on the coast of British Columbia and as decorations on whaling harpoons.
The haietlik also served a ceremonial purpose in Nuu-chah-nulth rituals. One part of the ceremony for a marriage between a chief's daughter and the son of another tribe involved men of the groom's tribe arriving in a haietlik formation – their canoes formed up in a line, moving in a zig-zag pattern around the cove – before landing and distributing blankets as gifts to every member of the bride's tribe. Another marriage ceremony involved dancers in haietlik masks entering the house of the bride's family. The Nuu-chah-nulth wolf ritual – an initiation ceremony in which initiates were performatively kidnapped by men in wolf masks, taken into the woods, and taught important dances – also referenced the haietlik. One of the masks used in this ceremony simultaneously represented both a wolf and a lightning serpent, and one of the dances taught to the initiates was a thunder dance in which a haietlik-dancer enters a house through the roof.
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- Drucker 1951, p. 155.
- Rose (2000), p. 166.
- Drucker 1951, p. 83.
- Newcombe 1907, p. 7.
- Drucker 1951, p. 294.
- Sapir and Swadesh 1939, p. 137.
- Drucker 1955, p. 176.
- Sapir and Swadesh 1939, p. 131.
- Drucker, Philip (1951). The Northern and Central Nootkan Tribes. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology.
- Drucker, Philip (1955). Indians of the Northwest Coast. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
- Newcombe, Charles Frederick (1907). Petroglyphs in British Columbia. Reprint from Victoria Daily Times, September 7th, 1907.
- Rose, Carol (2000). Giants, Monsters & Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. p. 166. ISBN 0-393-32211-4.
- Sapir, Edward and Morris Swadesh (1939). Nootka texts: tales and ethnological narratives, with grammatical notes and lexical material. University of Pennsylvania.
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