The Trickster

Fox Trickster


Definition of Trickster: What is a Trickster? A Trickster is a legendary supernatural creature that features in the stories, myths and legends of the different tribes of Native American Indians. Tricksters are mythical creatures that are mischievous supernatural beings who take the form of animals such as the coyote, spider, ram, hare and raven.

The trickster, who is almost always male, represents uncertainty. The trickster disobeys normal rules and conventional behavior. The trickster loves to upset things and spread confusion. The Trickster can be fun, like a clown, but they can also have a cruel side. The Trickster can be a hero in one tale and a villain in the next tale.  His outrageous and totally unconventional behaviour might include lying, cheating, tricking, and deceiving. These traits might be unconscious due to the Trickster being a fool lacking in intellect or may have the deliberate actions of a spiteful spoiler who lacks morality.

The Character of the Trickster
Despite the many tribes and their different mythologies the character of every Trickster has a couple of the following traits:

  • The Trickster fundamentally causes confusion and is inconsistent
  • The Trickster that is a deceiver and plays tricks
  • The Trickster that is a shape-shifter
  • The Trickster that turns a situation upside down and often reflect the uncertain nature of life
  • The Trickster that acts as a messenger and imitator of the gods
  • The actions of a trickster are spontaneous, without proper thought

Trickster Tales
The Trickster have been brought to life in many tales, myths and stories. The tales, stories, legends and myths relating to the Trickster were often morality tales and told to teach lessons about proper behavior to children. Those who told the stories were free to change or add elements to the basic story to make them relevant to the subject being taught. The trickster tales are generated by human imagination and many are based on personal experience. In some Native American trickster tales he is depicted as foolish and other tales he is depicted as wise. The Trickster can therefore be a hero in one tale and a villain in the next tale. The Trickster rebels against authority, makes fun of the overly serious, creates long-winded schemes, that may or may not work. He is sometimes his own worst enemy but his purpose in Trickster Tales is to cause us to question orthodox routes and not accept things blindly.

Trickster and Clown
Many Native American traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconceptions and fixed ideas. The Trickster is known for entertaining people as a clown does. Sometimes the acts of the Trickster are comic pranks. The Trickster has fun and delights in all sorts of tomfoolery, mischief and jokes.  These activities centre around bringing attention to our own or other people’s often hidden stupidity, shams or lies. He represents the unexpected aspects of life which upset careful plans for no apparent reason. The clown has the ability to laugh at the ridiculousness aspects of life. The clown is wise because he can see through people and reveal hidden motives for their actions and expose their hypocrisy. The clown appears as a foolish creature who lacks clear thinking and intellectual values and revels in unorthodox, spontaneous actions. However, his erratic behaviour can lead to new ideas and beneficial changes in direction. With the help of his wits and cleverness, instead of fighting, the Trickster or Clown fools monsters and enemies with unorthodox acts. The Trickster breaks us out of old stereotypes and opens the world to new opportunities and possibilities. The tales of the Trickster clown teaches people to 'think outside the box".

Trickster and Shape Shifter
The Trickster is a shape shifter and so has the ability of transformation. The Trickster might appear in the guise of an  animal but they seldom have purely animal characteristics. They talk and interact with people and often transform or change between human and animal form. According to some legends that feature in Native American mythology are stories that at the beginning of time animals could change their appearance whenever they wished. As a shape shifter, or transformer, the trickster can alter his shape or bodily appearance in order to facilitate deception. The Trickster can be a creator and a destroyer. The Trickster shape shifter can change appearance, role or personality. This changeability makes the alliances and loyalty of the shape shifter uncertain, and his sincerity is often questionable.

Trickster and Hero
The trickster appears as a culture hero when his pranks and mischief, such as stealing fire, benefit humans. In many of these tales the Trickster always benefits and the benefits to humans are coincidental. The Trickster as a hero changes the world through invention or discovery, usually through unintentional, coincidental acts and motives. The Trickster becomes a hero by breaking the rules. His bending or breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery.

Names of Tricksters
The names of Tricksters that feature in the legends and mythology of Native American Indian tribes are as detailed in the following list:

  • Azeban: Abenaki: A raccoon spirit
  • Wisakedjak: Cree: A Bird like hero
  • Heyoka: Lakota Sioux: A clown
  • Mannegishi: Crow: A race of tricksters
  • Nankil'slas: Haida: A raven spirit
  • Kokopelli: Hopi and Zuni: Kokopelli is a famous trickster
  • Amaguq: Inuit: Wolf Spirit
  • Iktomi: Lakota Sioux: A shape shifter spider spirit
  • Coyote: Various Tribes: A shape shifter and clown
  • Tonenili: Navajo: Rain Cloud Clown
Native American Mythology
Mythical Creatures
Monsters and Mythical Creatures List
Native American Culture
Native Indian Tribes Index

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