This is a mythology post!

Tricksy Tricksters

Greetings, oh gentlest of readers, and welcome to yet another mythology post! Today we’ll be taking a look at the often misunderstood trickster gods of various cultures. Pull up a comfy chair, grab some popcorn and get ready to learn about the fine art of tricks from the old school masters. Allons-y!

A half-god half-giant, Loki is one of the more colorful deities in the Norse pantheon. He’s an extremely crafty shapeshifter and sometimes turns into salmon. When not being a salmon, Loki tends to be busy causing problems for the rest of the Æsir His children, Hel, Fenrir and Jormungandr, are not the most pleasant bunch and neither is Loki. After a number of exploits including his active participation in the death of the much-loved god Baldr, Loki ended up tied to a rock deep underground (sometimes in Hel depending on who’s telling the story) while a venomous snake slowly dripped venom onto his body. His wife, Sigyn, holds a bowl to catch the venom but every now and then she has to empty it. When the venom does hit Loki, this causes (understandably) violent convulsions which in turn cause earthquakes. Ta da! There are many stories about Loki using his craftiness for a variety of means, usually at the expense of the other Æsir. Whether it’s tricking Odin into using a shape-shifted giant as a stonemason to build a wall around Valhalla in Midgard or trying in vain to out-eat a giant who is really the personification of fire, Loki always emerges with a few scratches but otherwise no worse for wear. That is, until it’s time for Ragnarok. At this time Loki will roll up the final battle in a ship made of dead men’s fingernails and duke it out against the Æsir until he meets Heimdallr on the battlefield and the two essentially double-KO each other.

Coyote is a character present in the stories of nearly every Native American tribe. The epitome of the trickster, Coyote, like Prometheus and a number of other deities in other cultures, is credited with stealing fire from the gods to give to humans. There are numerous stories of Coyote’s exploits and his habit of getting out of some rather tight spots. He often teams up with Crow and/or Raven, another character known for his mischievous ways. Whip smart and often too smart for his own good, Coyote was both the creator of order out of chaos and the destroyer of order and often had ties to death but never in a negative Judeo-Christian sort of way. Coyote, like most tricksters, kept natural forces and other deities in check with his trickery and would chastise any deity that he felt had gotten too big for his or her divine britches.
Here’s a short Coyote story from the Nez Perce tribe:

A long, long time ago, people did not yet inhabit the earth. A monster walked upon the land, eating all the animals–except Coyote. Coyote was angry that his friends were gone. He climbed the tallest mountain and attached himself to the top. Coyote called upon the monster, challenging it to try to eat him. The monster sucked in the air, hoping to pull in Coyote with its powerful breath, but the ropes were too strong. The monster tried many other ways to blow Coyote off the mountain, but it was no use.
Realizing that Coyote was sly and clever, the monster thought of a new plan. It would befriend Coyote and invite him to stay in its home. Before the visit began, Coyote said that he wanted to visit his friends and asked if he could enter the monster’s stomach to see them. The monster allowed this, and Coyote cut out its heart and set fire to its insides. His friends were freed.
Then Coyote decided to make a new animal. He flung pieces of the monster in the four directions; wherever the pieces landed, a new tribe of Indians emerged. He ran out of body parts before he could create a new human animal on the site where the monster had lain. He used the monster’s blood, which was still on his hands, to create the Nez Percé, who would be strong and good.

The ‘Smoking Mirror‘ of Aztec mythology, Texcatlipoca was a god of many facets. He was associated with a wide range of things including (but not limited to) the night sky, night winds, hurricanes, the North, the earth, obsidian (hence ‘Smoking Mirror’), enmity, discord, rulership, divination, temptation, jaguars, sorcery, beauty, war and strife. There are several stories documenting the shenanigans that Tezcatlipoca would get up to with, and often against, Quetzalcoatl. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia!

In one of the Aztec accounts of creation, Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca joined forces to create the world. Before their act there was only the sea and the crocodilian earthmonster called Cipactli. To attract her, Tezcatlipoca used his foot as bait, and Cipactli ate it. The two gods then captured her, and distorted her to make the land from her body. After that, they created the people, and people had to offer sacrifices to comfort Cipactli for her sufferings. Because of this, Tezcatlipoca is depicted with a missing foot.

Another story of creation goes that Tezcatlipoca turned himself into the sun, but Quetzalcoatl couldn’t bear his enemy ruling the universe, so he knocked Tezcatlipoca out of the sky. Angered, Tezcatlipoca turned into a jaguar and destroyed the world. Quetzalcoatl replaced him and started the second age of the world and it became populated again. Tezcatlipoca overthrew Quetzalcoatl when he sent a great wind that devastated the world, and what people who survived were turned into monkeys. Tlaloc, the god of rain, became the sun, but Quetzalcoatl sent down fire which destroyed the world again, except for a few humans who survived who were turned into birds. Chalchihuitlicue, the Water Goddess became the sun, but the world was destroyed by floods, with what people survived being turned into fish.

Now, you may be wondering why Krishna is on this list. It’s actually because of a specific story involving Baby Krishna stealing some ghee (mmmm clarified butter) from his mother. Apparently he made quite the name for himself as a regular butter thief.

Anansi the spider is one of the most important deities in West African and Caribbean folklore. Like Coyote, he is the ultimate trickster but is also renowned for his wit and wisdom. The Anansi tales are some of the best known stories in West Africa and often contain morals to guide people in their daily lives. One such story is that of how Anansi got his stories (it’s also one of my favorites):

Once there were no stories in the world. The Sky-God, Nyame, had them all. Anansi went to Nyame and asked how much they would cost to buy.

Nyame set a high price: Anansi must bring back Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, the Mmoboro Hornets, and Mmoatia, the dwarf.

Anansi set about capturing these. First he went to where Python lived and debated out loud whether Python was really longer than the palm branch or not as his wife Aso says. Python overheard and, when Anansi explained the debate, agreed to lie along the palm branch. Because he cannot easily make himself completely straight a true impression of his actual length is difficult to obtain, so Python agreed to be tied to the branch. When he was completely tied, Anansi took him to Nyame.

To catch the leopard, Anansi dug a deep hole in the ground. When the leopard fell in the hole Anansi offered to help him out with his webs. Once the leopard was out of the hole though he was bound in Anansi’s webs and was carried away.

To catch the hornets, Anansi filled a calabash with water and poured some over a banana leaf he held over his head and some over the nest, calling out that it was raining. He suggested the hornets get into the empty calabash, and when they obliged, he quickly sealed the opening.

To catch the dwarf he made a doll and covered it with sticky gum. He placed the doll under the odum tree where the dwarfs play and put some yam in a bowl in front of it. When the dwarf came and ate the yam she thanked the doll which of course did not reply. Annoyed at its bad manners she struck it, first with one hand then the other. The hands stuck and Anansi captured her.

Anansi handed his captives over to Nyame who rewards him with the stories, which now become known as Anansi stories or Anansesem

Perhaps one of the most likable Olympians, Hermes is another classic trickster. The second youngest of the Olympians, Hermes was a deity of many things (commerce, thieves, travelers, sports, and border crossings…) Hermes was well known for his tricks that he would often play on unsuspecting gods and mortals alike. A Homeric hymn to Hermes describes him as a god “of many shifts, blandly cunning, a robber, a cattle driver, a bringer of dreams, a watcher by night, a thief at the gates, one who was soon to show forth wonderful deeds among the deathless gods.” Everyone knew things were off to an interesting start when, as his first act shortly after being born, Hermes snuck out and stole Apollo’s cattle. However, if you have issues with infants stealing your livestock there may be larger issues at hand. Just saying. In any case, Hermes had a very eventful career. He fathered several notable children (Pan, Hermaphroditus, Priapus, Eros, Tyche…) and had supporting roles in both the Iliad and Odyssey. Hermes often aided Zeus in his extramarital affairs and just as often had to clean up the mess afterwards. In conclusion, Hermes has been inventing things and tricking his divine siblings since Day 1. Observe:

According to legend, Hermes was born in a cave on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia. Zeus had impregnated Maia at the dead of night while all other gods slept. When dawn broke amazingly he was born. Maia wrapped him in swaddling bands, then resting herself, fell fast asleep. Hermes, however, squirmed free and ran off to Thessaly. This is where Apollo, his brother, grazed his cattle. Hermes stole a number of the herd and drove them back to Greece. He hid them in a small grotto near to the city of Pylos and covered their tracks. Before returning to the cave he caught a tortoise, killed it and removed its entrails. Using the intestines from a cow stolen from Apollo and the hollow tortoise shell, he made the first lyre. When he reached the cave he wrapped himself back into the swaddling bands. When Apollo realized he had been robbed he protested to Maia that it had been Hermes who had taken his cattle. Maia looked to Hermes and said it could not be, as he is still wrapped in swaddling bands. Zeus the all powerful intervened saying he had been watching and Hermes should return the cattle to Apollo. As the argument went on, Hermes began to play his lyre. The sweet music enchanted Apollo, and he offered Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre. Apollo later became the grand master of the instrument, and it also became one of his symbols. Later while Hermes watched over his herd he invented the pipes known as a syrinx (pan-pipes), which he made from reeds. Hermes was also credited with inventing the flute. Apollo, also desired this instrument, so Hermes bartered with Apollo and received his golden wand which Hermes later used as his heralds staff. (In other versions Zeus gave Hermes his heralds staff).

And with that, I shall spare you from further block quotes and conclude this exciting mythology post. Until next time, gentle readers!


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