The Trickster's Race: a Blackfoot Story

In many stories, the Trickster is often a role filled by the Coyote.
Picture courtesy of 
by douglas reeser on July 31, 2013
Across traditions around the globe, the Trickster is a famous character who plays a central role in many fables, stories, and tales. Rules and norms are usually meaningless to the Trickster, and people, gods, and animals have often been the prey of the Trickster's pranks. However, more often than not, there is a lesson to be learned when the Trickster enters the story, and upon hearing such a story, one is often left contemplating just what that lesson is.

I have recently begun working on a seasonal project, developing a Halloween event for the fall. In some ways, the Trickster is the perfect character from which to draw inspiration for such an event. I am seeking ways to break rules and norms, to make people uncomfortable, and leave them contemplating what they just experienced when they leave the event. In a sense, I am seeking to create an event that embodies the Trickster.

In a seemingly random occurrence, I was picking up some props for the event, and came across an old book by Stith Thompson, called "Tales of the North American Indians." First published in 1929, the book is a collection of folk stories from Native American groups from across the US. Most compelling to me at this point in time, is the fact that chapter three has a selection of 15 stories about the Trickster. I've begun reading them, not so much in search of specific ideas, but more in an effort to find inspiration from the character of the Trickster.

While looking for some more information about the book, I found that a website, Sacred Texts, has the book available to read for free online. In a short description of the book, the author of the site explains folk stories, such as those contained in Thompson's book:
"Westerners have been schooled by Shakespeare and TV sitcoms to expect that all stories will conclude in the final act with all of the loose ends tied up. This isn't always the case in the dream-like landscape of the folktale. Some folklore stories seem to go nowhere, or end in a conclusion that seems unsatisfying, or have repetitive episodes that appear to be added just to fill out the story. In modern literature, a story must either be a tragedy or a comedy; most folklore has elements of both. Folklore often violates our modern expectations of how a story should be shaped, while keeping us riveted, wanting to hear more. In this way folklore is much closer to real life, where 'stuff' happens, at random and often without any apparent internal logic."
Folk stories force the listener/reader to think about life. With meanings and lessons that are not immediately clear, folk stories are able to transcend time. I am finding that out as I read through the Trickster stories in Thompson's book. Take for instance, the following story, attributed to the Blackfoot, a tribe from the central plains of the US and Canada. While reading this story about Old Man, herds of elk and deer, and Coyote, I was left wondering who plays those roles in our world today? Who is leading the "herds" over the cliff? Who are the herds? Does anyone still look out for our expectant mothers? I'm reminded of people like Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning when I get to the end, when Coyote shows that he has the interests of the greater good at heart. What does the Trickster's Race make you think about?

The Trickster's Race.

Now Old Man went on and came to a place where deer and elk were playing a game called "Follow your leader." Old Man watched the game a while. Then he asked permission to play. He took the lead, sang a song, and ran about this way and that, and finally led them up to the edge of a cliff. Old Man jumped down and was knocked senseless. After a while he got up and called to the rest to follow. 

"No, we might hurt ourselves." 

"Oh!" said Old Man, "it is nice and soft her, and I had to sleep a while."

Then the elk all jumped down and were killed. Then Old Man said to the deer, "Now you jump."

"No," said the deer, "we shall not jump down, because the elk are all killed."

"No," said Old Man, "they are only laughing." 

So the deer jumped down and were all killed. Now, when the elk were about to jump over, there was a female elk about to become a mother, and she begged Old Man not to make her jump, so he let her go. A few of the deer were also let go for the same reason. If he had not down this, all the elk and deer would have been killed. 

Old Man was now busy butchering the animals that had been killed by falling over the cliff. When he was through butchering, he went out and found a place to camp. Then he carried his meat there and hung it up to dry. When he was all alone, a Coyote came to him. The Coyote had a shell on his neck, and one leg was tied up as if badly hurt. 

The Coyote said to Old Man, "Give me something to eat."

Old Man said to him, "Give me that shell on your neck to skim the soup, and I will give you something to eat."

"No," said Coyote, "that shell is my medicine."

Then Old Man noticed that the Coyote had his leg tied up, and said, "Well, brother, I will run you a race for a meal." 

"Well, said Coyote, "I am hurt. I cannot run."

"That makes no difference," said Old Man, "run anyway."

"Well," said Coyote, "I will run for a short distance."

"No," said Old Man, "you have to run a long distance."

Finally Coyote agreed. They were to run to a distant point, then back again. Coyote started out very slow, and kept crying for Old Man to wait, to wait. At last Coyote and Old Man came to the turning-point. Then Coyote took the bandage off his leg, began to run fast, and soon left Old Man far behind. He began to call out to all the coyotes, the animals, and mice, and they all came rushing up to Old Man's camp and began to eat his meat. 

It was a long time before Old Man reached camp; but he kept calling out, "Leave me some meat, leave me some meat!"
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1 comment:

  1. This is cool, and timely, since my wife and I are trying to rename our dog. He's half German Shepherd, half Elkhound. And he's very sneaky. So trickster is right in line with his personality.

    Now to find the perfect name...


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