I saw a cartoon: Coyote the Trickster

Ok, this might or might not turn into a regular thing, I tend to see cool things that look like cartoon drawings and decided to take pictures and then actually draw them and if I am in the mood – like I am today – I even write something more about them.

coyote coyote

Obviously, this is a coyote, or rather THE coyote.I wrote my MA paper on the trickster in Northern American literature, its cultural influence for Native Americans and its modern role in their culture. Since I got into the topic pretty much in my first or second semester at University (I wrote a paper on Raven, another trickster figure, mainly for Inuit tribes), I am fascinated with the concept. Trickster is a deity, most of the time somewhat of a demigod because he can die but just like Jesus, he tends to come back from the dead, only less dramatic and more entertaining. He shares even more traits with G.O.D., given that he also lives somewhat outside of time and space.

Most people know that the boogeyman can be found pretty much all over the world in nearly every culture but maybe you didn’t know that the same goes for the trickster. That is a good thing, y’all, in a way, trickster is the anti-thesis to the boogeyman. In monotheistic cultures, he tends to be a human figure or an animal (Reineke the fox in Germany is a trickster by definition, the Schlemiel in Jewish folklore also falls under that definition). In Germanic myths, Loki was a real trickster, dealing with Asgard and Utgard (the good and the bad guys) and inadvertently causing the reign of the gods to end (ups). In Greek myths Hermes would be the go-to-guy for the traveling merchant (who had to be a smooth-talker), artists, thieves and story-tellers. In the Roman version of these myths, it was Mercury (who – incidentally – is the symbol for Gemini, who apparently are very playful and have many personalities). In Africa, we have Anansi the spider, in America we have Coyote and Raven, etc.pp.

Quite a few monotheistic cultures tried to turn the trickster into the devil. If you know a few folk stories about encounters with the devil, he is always a player, a merchant, someone with a fast tongue, humor and a fondness of games. However, as usual, monotheism has washed out some of the most compelling traits of more complex deities to squash them into the – for example – Christian culture where the middle ground between good and evil hardly ever exists.

Trickster, he is a weird dude, he is the symbol for mischief, lying, humor, music and dancing and stories, always stories. A trickster can shape-shift if he wants to or bend genders in case it helps him getting something out of it (or pull a joke on someone). He is childlike and therefore very much like humans. In many stories he doesn’t have a “way” as his other animal friends have. He wasn’t born with natural instincts how to get food or how to survive. He was born with wit and therefore has to learn how to survive. The trickster can be a fool but he is a fast learner and even if he loves to laugh, once someone made fun of him, he usually will get back at them. Trickster might be selfish and sometimes even dangerous but he is not evil. In fact, good or evil don’t exist in his world. It’s one of the main reasons why I am fascinated with him because he is nature’s law: there is no good or evil, only consequences. And in many trickster stories where he is some sort of deity, he created very important things for humankind such as fruits (I actually think in Coyote-stories those used to be his testicles or something), music and now and then even the land humans live on or the light they need to survive.

Stories about Trickster teach about consequences. People can laugh at a fool who does stupid or even dangerous things and they learn through Trickster’s mistakes. It’s a less horrible way to learn not to lie or not to steal than eternal hell if you ask me, somehow Schadenfreude at a silly coyote is a lot more compelling than sweaty nightmares of hellfire and demons poking you with their forks.

Obviously, I am drawn to the trickster because he lives through stories. I love a good story, it beats everything else. Moreover, his stories are a cultural heirloom, the identity of many tribes, religions and other groups of people are ingrained within Trickster’s stories. Whatever happens to him, he always appears again, he never gives up, he never vanishes. He makes mistakes, he is foolish and gets himself into dangerous situations but he always finds a way. And he does so with a lot of humor and glee. Boy, what a cool dude.

I have a friend who is just as fascinated with the trickster as I am, if not more. He shares many traits – fortunately mostly the good traits – of the traditional trickster which is probably the reason why he always wants to know more about that strange little fellow (it’s also one of the many reasons why I am friends with him). I am glad that he lacks the selfishness and irresponsibility to transform fully into coyote but given that at least it’s never boring with a trickster around, I am glad that he picked a mythical being as a role model that is not as obnoxiously dull as Thor, Prometheus or – yawn – goody two shoes JC.

I wrote many a paper during my studies but the concept of the trickster still stays with me and since roughly 5 years there is the idea of some sort of story swirling in my head. So who knows, someday, I might be able to add to the stories around the bonfire that people can tell to keep the good old coyote alive. Even though the best already has been written and animated…

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3 thoughts on “I saw a cartoon: Coyote the Trickster

  1. This actually blew my mind in a way that it shouldn’t be blown. Rarely, do I come across as Ameri-centric but this time? Yup. It never occurred to me that people in other countries might study a variety of American literature as a legitimate university topic. Yeah, I had several German lit courses, so you’d think I’d be un-surprised, but no. So, thanks for breaking me out of a (probably inconsequential) narrowness of mind.

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    1. Well, in your defense, studying literature of any kind is not the best business model for success and can (but doesn’t have to) be wildly useless in real life. So, why anyone studies literature, let alone foreign literature is one of the great mysteries of humanity. We should all be in marketing and be done with it.

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