Tricksters: An Introduction: Crash Course World Mythology 20

Tricksters: An Introduction: Crash Course World Mythology 20


Hi, there. I’m Mike Rugnetta. This is Crash Course Mythology, and today we’re going to start the first of a few episodes a show favorite: trickster stories, but be warned, trickster myths can get sexy, a little gross, and they’re filled with betrayal, but we should be able to handle it, right Thoth? Oh, hmm… Oh, Thoth, Stan just texted me. You’ve been promoted to host. So, uh, I’m just going to go grab a coffee. See you later Good luck. [Intro] Just kidding. There’s no way that Thoth could host the show. He’s like thousands of years old and he only speaks Ancient Egyptian which literally no one understands. But roping some sucker into doing my work is exactly the sort of thing a trickster would do. Trickster stories are traditionally very popular, and for a good reason: In many trickster stories the underdogs come out on top, and not by virtue of their… superior strength or immortal attributes either, but because of their smarts. Another appealing thing about tricksters Is that they’re transgressive. They’re rebels and who doesn’t love a rebel? Just ask Ares, Greek God of War and Rebellion or James Dean the American God of pomade and leather jackets. A good place to start is mythologist David Leeming’s description of a trickster: so a moral and scatological, but otherwise a good guy. We all have that friend, I think. Let’s begin in Africa. African Trickster stories remain popular and frequently have ambiguous or morally dubious endings. According to Thury and Devinny, So let’s see exactly what they mean by “disharmony” in the Thought Bubble. Anansi the spider and his son [] are farmers having a bad year because of a drought. One day [] is out for a walk lamenting the poor harvest and he sees a hunchback dwarf by the side of the road. The dwarf asks [] what’s wrong, and when he explains the dwarf promises to help. He tells [] to find two small sticks and tap him lightly on his hump while singing. So, tap tap, and it begins to rain. Soon the crops start growing. Anansi thinks he can do better and goes to look for the dwarf himself, making sure to bring two big sticks. The dwarf tells Anansi to tap him on his hump again, but Anansi ends up hitting the dwarf so hard that he kills him. Now, Anansi is scared because the dwarf was the King’s favorite jester. So he puts the dwarf’s body in a kola tree and waits. When his son [] come by and asks his father if he’d seen the dwarf, Anansi tells him that the dwarf is climbing the tree looking for a kola nut. The quicken sin climbs up the tree the dwarf’s body falls down to the ground Anansi cries out that “his son had killed the King’s jester!” But [] knows Anansi’s tricks and replies that the King was actually angry with the dwarf and now he could go to the king and collect a reward. Knowing there’s a bounty Anansi exclaims that he had killed the dwarf. Anansi arrives at the Kings court and discovers the King was not angry with the Jester. But now he’s certainly angry with Anansi. The king orders the body of the dwarf to be put in a box which Anansi must carry on his head forever unless he finds someone else to carry it. Eventually, Anansi comes across Ant and asks him to hold the box while he goes to the market, and, wouldn’t you know it, Ant falls for it? This is why to this day we often see ants carrying great burden. Thanks, Thought Bubble. It’s probably becoming clear. Why you know a lot of us just don’t trust spiders. In a number of ways, this is a classic African Trickster story. It features animals with human characteristics interacting in a human world The Trickster is initially undone by his own greed. If Anansi had just listened to his son and not tried to outdo him, he would have been okay. Also, maybe he shouldn’t have tried to frame his son for a murder. But Anansi fails in his attempt to hide his crime because his son knows his reputation for duplicity. Despite his cleverness Anansi’s greed gets the better of him. His desire for the reward leads him to admit his bad deed and be punished for it. And if he did end up carrying the coffin for eternity, the story might provide a lesson about justice, but Anansi, being a trickster, is able to convince someone else to bear his burden. So he gets off scot-free. The ending of the story does explain a natural phenomenon (why ants are so industrious), but the story isn’t exactly a model for good behavior. In the end Anansi gets away with killing the dwarf. His comeuppance is brief and the only thing he learns is that ants are total suckers. It’s really like a Quentin Tarantino film of trickster myths. The story of Anansi and the Ant bears some resemblance to one of Hercules’s labors. We’ll talk more about Hercules when we get to our episode on heroes, but the long and short is that he had to do twelve labors, and completing them cemented his reputation. One of these labours, the eleventh, was to gather Zeus’s Golden Apples from the far end of the Earth. These apples were guarded by a dragon (Ladon) and the Hesperides, nymphs who were the daughters of Atlas, the Titan with the unenviable task of holding the world on his shoulders. Talk about legendary back pain. It took a long time and a number of adventures before Hercules even found out where the apples were, but eventually he is told about them by another trickster, Prometheus. You remember him, he’s the guy who stole fire for the Humans and was punished by being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten daily by an eagle. Well good news, eventually Hercules kills that eagle and in return Prometheus tells him that the way to get the apples isn’t to fight a dragon, but to simply ask Atlas. Atlas can easily get past his daughters and that Mr. Dragon. No sweat. So hercules makes a deal with Atlas hercules will hold up the world giving Atlas a much-needed break and in return, apples. Atlas is thrilled because I mean think about it, how would you feel holding up the literal world all the time? So he leaves, he goes he grabs the apples. The problem is that when he returns he tells Hercules that he really doesn’t want to hold up the earth and the sky anymore. So like maybe that’s just your job now Hercules. I don’t know, just spit balling here. So here’s Hercules, he can’t move, he’s holding the world after all, but he does some quick tricky thinking. He tells Atlas “Sure, he’ll do it”, but could atlas take the Earth and Sky back for just a second while he gets some padding for his shoulders? And when Atlas agrees, Hercules grabs the apples and vamooses. Tricksters tricking tricksters. Kind of like [???]. In these stories, we see that it often doesn’t take much for a trickster to figure out how to fool the object of his trick, sometimes called a dupe. Often the dupe doesn’t really deserve it, although it’s hard to feel sorry for Atlas, who was attempting some minor league trickstering himself. While tricksters can be seen as playful scamps, they also show us that play can be dangerous, especially, when like Anansi, we let it go too far. in the Anansi story, the trickster acts as what Leonard and McClure call a moral counterexample. We’re usually better off when we don’t lie or cheat each other, but that’s exactly what tricksters do. We’re typically happy when they’re punished for their tricks, but this doesn’t always happen. Trickster stories can be especially troubling because not only do they usually get away with their tricks, but are often celebrated for it. Tricksters aren’t all bad, though. The trickster can provide a model for the oppressed to reclaim some autonomy in the face of overwhelming power. This is one of the main lessons of the Br’er rabbit stories which are descended from African Trickster stories, but transplanted into the context of chattel slavery in English-speaking North America. Br’er can be seen as representing slaves who would use their ingenuity to fort and outsmart cruel plantation owners Maybe then, it’s worth asking what would happen if the tricksters just always won. And the truth is while some tricksterism may be justified and a little bit of transgression here and there is fun, if everyone decides that it’s okay to beat dwarves to death in order to double the amount of rainfall, metaphorically speaking, that wouldn’t be great. Trickster stories are often morally ambiguous in this way. Even Br’er rabbit isn’t all clearly the good guy, and that’s one part of why we like them so much, maybe. Sometimes it’s simply a thrill to break the rules. We as human can see ourselves pretty clearly in the trickster myths. It’s hard to identify with someone who can hold the world or who goes on errands for the father of creation, but we’ve all at least tried our hand. Bamboozling someone into taking over our responsibility. Sorry Thoth, you’re a good sport. Thanks for watching, we’ll see everyone next week.

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100 Comments

  1. I never get these turtle, guy, etc, etc holding up the world. Like just put the world down on the ground you are standing on bruh,

  2. Shoutout to Ghana. the stories did spread through west africa, and to the carribean but ofcourse it is still a ghanaian story.All the names are obviously Ghanaian.

  3. For more "Passing off a dwarf jester's murder onto someone else" action, read "The Tale of the Hunchback" from the Arabian Nights. The Hunchback's body gets fobbed off onto person after person, each one blaming themselves and then framing the next person down the line. Then when the last person is about to be hung for murder, all the rest come forward to confess. There is also a surprise twist at the end, which I will leave unsaid.

  4. Was I the only one who was actually expecting that Thoth would be the host? I don't even know why or how, but I seriously imagined lots of scenarios like, "Would Thoth have a voice actor" while the CC intro was playing. *laughing emoji*
    Anyways, I enjoyed the video and still learned lots from it~! Thanks again, CC!

  5. Hahaha! Can you believe our ancestors were dumb enough to believe this stuff literally?

    Welp time to go to church and learn about the sky man who sent his son to save humanity that came from a virgin mother. I know my savior is real because his apostles were smart enough to write their journeys down. Yep, archaeologists will find his grave or Noah's ark any day now!

    fast forward 1000 years

    Hahaha! Can you believe our ancestors were dumb enough to believe Christianity literally?

    Welp time to go to Church and pray to the man who flew and taught us morals and his apostles wonder woman, batman and the flash. We luckily know our savior really existed because his best friend Jimmy Olsen was smart enough to write it down for us. Archaeologists will find the fabled city of metropolis any day now! Maybe even the batmobile!

  6. Total misunderstanding of the trickster myth. Sorry. Look into how bayesian fits into this and you will understand coyote.

  7. "EUROPEAN FOLKTALES, WHICH USUALLY HAVE A HAPPY ENDING"???
    DUDE, Disney ain't european folktales X'D You're a BIT off on that one

  8. Whats whith Eris/Discordia godesses of strife and chaos in Greek/Roman mythology .
    I mean she started the Trojan War whith only an golden apple .
    The apple of Discord wich had the phrase "To The Fairest" written upon it .

  9. This is so cool! I live in the Caribbean and I grew up on Bra/Brer Aanansi/Nansi stories, I always wondered if they originated from Africa and now I know. Thanks!!

  10. …Are there any authentic visual depictions of Anansi? such as Masks, Illustrations
    My search led me only to pop cluture depictions

  11. Actually Loki is in many ways sorta fluid gender-wise (Loki lived as a woman underground for several years and gave birth to a horse [Sleipner] amongst other things).

  12. I'm Jamaican so Anansai ( idk how to spell his name ) are things that I've heard a lot when I was younger

  13. Tricksters are necessary for myth, religion, and superheroes, because decay also guides our way, as sure as Batman's Joker makes sure that Batman is the good guy.

  14. Anansi's character is directly incorporated into Jamaican folklore with similar stories. It makes me wish I could have known all the other tales, traditions & beliefs that my ancestors held before they were deemed demonic and savage, only to be erased and replaced by British/ European norms.

  15. I have also heard of the story of trickster turtle in Nigeria. I have also heard about Eseu, the yoruba pantheon of chaos. His attitude is similar to Anansi the spider and the trickster tortoise.

  16. Ha, you got me there, good opening joke. I was bleak there for a sec. I really enjoy your course. Tote could never do better than you Mike. Thank you for making me laugh and learn.

  17. It's like doing an episode on lil Wayne's single 'drop the world'.
    Don't take it seriously. I mean. Come on, man!

  18. Prometheus wanted mankind to have greater knowledge, so he gave them fire, and the supreme God Zeus punished him.

    Cut from the Bible, Lucifer actually wanted humans to have knowledge, and rebelled against Yahweh's restrictions. Yahweh didn't like this, so he cast Lucifer out and turned him evil.

    I think Lucifer and the Devil are two separate beings. I think the latter used the former as a host.

    This story is also in myths with Enki. Enki created humans and presumably liked them, while Enlil, who became Yahweh, hated them.

    Interesting how that was twisted, eh?

    Also dragons are evil to the west but benevolent to the east.

  19. Atlas does not hold up the Earth, just the sky. The whole holding the world thing is a misconception.

    I'd say it's a myth, but…

  20. How can it be free for everyone if a bunch of people are paying for it?

    And yes, it's a "couple of bucks a month", but do you know how many YouTubers use Patreon? How would I decide which ones to support? How do people have the money to support online creators and just live?

    This is why your student debts are so high, not because you need to pay for tampons or expensive woman shampoo.

  21. This myth could have served as a rite of passage or a preparation for the real state of the human condition I.e the consequence of injustice or even an attempt to enhance critical thinking .

  22. I'd argue that Jigsaw is an amoral trickster.

    "You see, things aren't sequential. Good doesn't lead to good, nor bad to bad. People who steal, don't get caught, live the good life. Others lie, cheat and get elected. Some people stop to help a stranded motorist and get taken out by a speeding semi. There's no accounting for it. How you play the cards you're dealt–that's all that matters."

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