February 18, 1997
I am writing to you today to tell you about a few wonderful myths that I
have read. I feel that they would interest you as much as they did me. I
will give you a brief summary on each so that they will be a little more
familiar to you if you decide to read them at some time in the future.
The first story I read was the tale of Hermes. Born on Mount Cyllene
to his mother Maia, Hermes was an astonishing child. His growth was equally
astonishing for he grew at a rapid rate. Deciding he wanted an adventure,
Hermes set out one day and stole a herd of cows from Apollo, the sun god.
When Apollo discovered the missing herd, he set out to find them but to
no avail. Hearing of a reward offered by Apollo for the recovery of the herd,
Silenus and his satyrs set out as well. Traveling far and wide their journeys
brought them to a small cave, which echoed with the beautiful muffled sounds of
a melody to which they were drawn. When finding out the music was produced by
an instrument made of cow gut and tortoise shell, it was then understood that
young Hermes had taken the herd from Apollo. Formal charges were brought to Mt.
Olympus. Apollo, while going to get his remaining cows discovered Hermes’
musical invention. Intrigued by this astonishing invention he offered his
whole flock for the musical instrument. Hermes agreed, after which he invented
a shepherd’s pipe, which also awed Apollo. He offered Hermes his golden staff
in exchange for the pipe but to no avail. In addition to the golden staff
Hermes wanted the knowledge of augury. He felt it was a useful art. Hermes
returned to Mt. Olympus to tell his father, Zeus, of all goings on. Zeus was
very amused. Hermes suggested to Zeus that he be made into a herald. Zeus
complied with this suggestion and showered Hermes with gifts.
Sounds like an interesting tale, doesn’t it. Well it is much better if
you read it yourself. The next tale I read was of Krishna. This one story
was the most confusing of the four I read. To fully understand it you must
read it and interpret it for yourself. I will try to do the best I can.
Rama and Krsna were two children who loved to play in the village.
First they crawled and then they walked causing the village women to laugh and
giving them great pleasure. Then Krsna started to untie the cows at
inappropriate times and steal milk and curds. Krsna’s mother was unable to
scold him after looking at the child’s’ frightened face. She could only smile.
One day a report came to her that Krsna had eaten dirt. She could not take it
anymore and grabbed his hand and began to scold him. Krsna swore he had not
eaten dirt and to prove this opened his mouth for his mother to peer inside.
While looking into her child’s’ mouth she saw everything that was in the world.
She saw all forms of life and time, she saw actions and hopes, her own village
and herself. In the winter a group of girls celebrating vows to the goddess
Katayayani went to the river, took off their clothes and chanted to Krsna.
Krsna appeared and told them to take their clothes and go back to the village.
When hearing the divine word from him the girls felt they had obtained what they
wanted and returned to the village under Krshnas’ command. To fully understand
this story it is necessary to read it yourself and indulge in the vocabulary and
trickster ways, which Krshna had shown. The next tale that I would like to share
with you is the tale of Old Man Coyote. I hope this story intrigues you as it
did me. This story told of a poor old coyote that wished he could renew his
youth and vibrancy. One day he spotted a strong proud buffalo. He knew that
this animal could help him so he went to ask the buffalo for his assistance.
The buffalo said that he could make the old man coyote young and strong but
could not restore his powers. Thankfully the coyote agreed to the buffalo’s
conditions and the process began. Once the coyote was transformed into a
youthful buffalo the old man coyote began his youthful days of fun. One day,
four years later another old coyote limped toward the buffalo. This time the
buffalo was the transformed coyote. The old coyote asked for the buffalo to
help him in his elderly days and transform him into a young buffalo as well.
Forgetting that he had no powers the old transformed coyote offered his services
and said that he knew how to help him. He led the old coyote to the same hill
that he used four years ago. Following all the steps in which he had been
transformed the buffalo tried to transform the old coyote. The result of this
was that the buffalo had become his old coyote self once more. This story
proved that if you start something it is always good to finish or the product is
not as good as the real thing. This story was much simpler to read then the
story of Krsna. The last tale I read concerned Legba, of the Fon tribe. This
tale had four different sections, the first two describe why God lives in heaven
and not on Earth. The second two describe the oracle’s connection with God.
The first section involves Legba. The tale explains how Legba and God lived
together on Earth. God would blame all the mishaps on Legba. Yet whenever
something good happened God would take the credit. One day Legba slipped into
Gods sandals and stole the five yams which were growing in Gods garden. Since
the rain had left the ground wet, the sandals left clear footprints in the
ground so the next morning they were still there. God brought everyone over to
see who fit the footprints. Legba offered the idea that maybe God had taken the
yams in his sleep, so God put his foot in the print and saw that it was a
perfect fit. All the people could not believe God could do this and even though
God blamed his son for this act, he still moved off of the Earth leaving Legba
to report the doing of the people on the Earth.
The second tale tells how Legba asked an old woman to throw her dirty
laundry water in to the air, as God got tired of getting hit in the face with
dirty water he left Legba to see over the Earth.
The other two parts of this tale explain how God watched over the Earth.
One idea that has been reported is that Legba is associated with Fa. Fa lived
on top of a palm tree and every day Legba would come and open his eyes. Since
Fa did not like to convey his wishes out loud he would throw one palm nut down
if he wanted two eyes open and two palm nuts if he wanted one eye open. This
was done so that Fa could look over the world.
Now that I have explained about these stories I have read, I hope you
see the pattern that they are all connected by. They are all tales having to do
with tricksters. Each story conveys a different characteristic that a trickster
displays. In the story of Hermes, the characteristic displayed is cunning.
Using his talents, Hermes avoided trouble and received not only respect and
promotion but also gifts from the people that he had stolen from.
In the tale of Krsna, the mother allowed the boy to get away with his
evil deeds because of his divine powers. A perfect example of this divinity
occurred when he opened his mouth and the mother could see the whole universe.
This example is the divinity inherent in the trickster.
In the tale of the old man coyote the characteristic displayed is
unmerited kindness. This is demonstrated by the transformed coyote giving up
his youth to help another. Even though he did this unwittingly he did not have
to try to help the second coyote.
The last tale showed the trickster framing another so that he could
escape Gods’ constant attention, and also so that he would gain the respect that
he felt he deserved. This demonstrates the characteristic of guile. In all
these stories the trickster does show a good heart but also a cunning side which
is primarily what makes him what he is and what he is infamous for.
I hope my letter has brought a little insight to the subject of
tricksters. Also, I hope my summaries have made you interested in reading the
stories in whole at your leisure.