I think I've mentioned the Uktena, as it is known to the Cherokee, in earlier posts. It's a giant sort of snake, as big around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, and a crystal, like a crest, on its forehead. It has spots and is horribly dangerous even to think about. The blazing crystal is called Ulunsu'ti, "Transparent", and some word sleuths believe the name Uktena (pronounced Ookteen with a little cutoff gap after the n.) means "clear sighted". Transparent, of course, has more than one usage.
There are stories, cautionary stories, about people who managed to obtain the Transparent. It's too powerful and dangerous to keep in the house, so they were kept hidden in caves, and had to be fed, regularly, with, of course, blood. The owner would thereby acquire, by proxy, some of the powers of the Uktena, along with its testy and socially problematic personality. Transparent is said to be 4 to 6 inches long, with a blood red streak in the center. Eventually the owner would die, of course, and if they didn't pass Transparent, and its feeding schedule, on to someone else, the slighted crystal would grow enraged, like a pressure cooker left on high, until it exploded and shot out of the cave ever which way, flying through the sky like red hot crystalline fireballs, setting everything it came in contact with on fire and generally destroying things until the power dissipated.
This was not like the New Age crystals.
The image of the horned rattlesnake goes back a ways in the Americas. I saw a bunch of them carved on the pyramids in the Yucatan, like the small one right beside me in this pic from Chichen Itza. This is the temple of Kulkucan, aka The Giant Horned Rattlesnake. The hole is a cenote that they live on the other side of. To the right you can see a stone platform for throwing things, such as people, off of ~ or perhaps they jumped of their own accord. In any event, skeletons were found at the bottom.
Geologists claim that the cenotes mark the boundary of an impact crater made by a nine-mile wide meteorite, the one that killed off the dinosaurs. My Cherokee teacher, Mr. Calhoun, wondered if the Uktena was one that the meteorite didn't get.
About 900 years ago folks all over the Eastern US, and in some places across the Mississippi, were wearing shell gorgets engraved with the images of horned rattlesnakes. There's no proof, as far as archaeologists are concerned, that this has anything to do with Kukulcan, or any of the other giant horned rattlesnakes in central America, nor is there any proof that the gorget rattlesnakes are related to the Cherokee's Uktena, but come on. There's been a lot of speculation as to what, if anything, the gorgets signified. The rounds of shell were cut from conch shells, and engraved, with flint tools. I made one with a diamond tipped rotary tool and I can tell you that was hard work, burned up a bunch of tips, and took all day to make one sloppy approximation - so it took some skill and effort to make one.
Because they are spread all over the place, they would seem to indicate trade, or a widespread idea. The gorgets are found by graverobbers, or archaeologists, if you prefer, in graves of both sexes, and disparate ages. Perhaps they are talismans, or signify membership in a cult or club, or were just incredibly fashionable. They are beautiful.
The thing that amazes me about them is that they display such intriguing variations on a single well-established theme. No two are alike that I've seen, though some look as though they could have been made by the same artist, and all of them share certain traits in common. Some years ago I picked a dozen favorites and made drawings of the images. If you're like me, you can have some fun comparing them. There's probably no way to ever learn what they signified to their owners, but by admiring and comparing the designs, we can know something of how their imaginations worked when it came to horned rattlesnakes.