Mythological Tricksters

The trickster deity breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously like Loki, but usually, albeit unintentionally with ultimately positive effects. Tricksters are characterized as selfish, mischievous, impatient liars who show no remorse. Some tricksters have hidden meanings behind their rudeness that carry good intentions. All cultures have archetypal, male tricksters. In the Greek and African myths, Hermes and Legba are both messengers of god.
Hermes, through is intelligence, makes a convincing appeal to Zeus who gives him the duties of “making of treaties, the promotion of commerce, and the maintenance of free rights of way for travelers on any road in the world” (165). Even though the myth started out with Apollo fiending to kill his cow-thief, Hermes trickery lands him a top position with the top dog Zeus. In the African myth, Legba was God’s donkey boy. He followed the orders of God and neither gained credit nor the respect of the people.
When he finally revolted and turned to trickery, God, in his embarrassment, left the world but told Legba “come to the sky every night to give an account of what went on below,” making him an articulator of the divine (172). In the Indian and Native American myths, both tricksters possess selfish characteristics. The Indian myth, Krishna, tells of the girls of the Nanda village who are so obsessed with their Prince Krsna that they are blind to his trickery. One day the girls were worshipping their goddess Katyayani in the Kalindi (body of water) and their beloved prince robs them of their clothes.

Krsna, after the girls devote themselves to him, tells them that “Since you swam in the water without clothes while you were under a vow, this was an insult to the divinity. Therefore you must fold your hands and place them on your heads and bow low in expiation of your sin, and then you may take your clothes” (168). The girls in their stupor did as he said and the pleased prince gave them their clothes before inviting them to spend their nights with him. Despite the prince’s selfish trickery, the girls obtained their “gorgeous prince” and the prince marveled in it every night.
Similar to Krishna, Old Man Coyote gets to marvel at his young self every night. In the Native American myth, Old Man Coyote finds himself rotting away with age and wishing for a re-do. He comes across a young, strong, buffalo bull, who tells him he can make him young again, but there’s a catch, “You will look like a young strong buffalo, but you will still be Old Man Coyote inside. Don’t ever forget that” (170). The buffalo then proceeds to change the Old Man and before he knows it, he is a young, spring, buffalo calf all full of life. The Calf- Coyote enjoys the next four years of his life until he met a poor, old ragged coyote.
The old coyote begged the Calf-Coyote to be “young and strong again,” and the Calf-Coyote remembering his second chance agrees. In his attempt to recreate what the buffalo did for him, he ends up returning to his former state. The Calf-Coyote, in his young state of mind, forgot that the buffalo did not transfer any of his powers reminding him not to “start anything unless you know you can finish it” (171). In most trickster myths, it works in their favor; however in this case, Old Man Coyote was not so lucky. Despite Old Man Coyotes good intentions, he failed, unlike Loki, who had bad intentions in the Norse (Icelandic) myth.
Loki is known as a “contriver of fraud” who can shape shift into forms that benefit his terror. In the Norse myth, Loki disguises himself as an old woman and plots the death of Baldr. Just for fun, Loki tricks Baldur’s blind twin, Hod, into killing him with a spear made of mistletoe. Loki is known for bringing about chaos, but by challenging the gods he brings about change. Without Loki’s problem-causing influence, the gods would be blind to the problems around them. The tricksters who contribute to the chaos of the mythological world have heroes who try to defeat the trickery in their extraordinary godliness.
Some of the characters of the hero myths were born great and some achieved greatness. Unlike the tricksters, heroes prove to their people that they are miraculous without using devious maneuvering. However unlike the heroes, tricksters are not born miraculously with the ability to walk, talk, or slay beasts like in the Bantu Myth, Lituolone. The tricksters and the heroes actions differ greatly, but their outcomes are similar for both have hidden meanings. Trickster tales maybe outrageous in their actions but they provide a crude humor that the hero myths cannot.

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