Sometimes the trickster's acts are comic pranks, but they often have a cruel side as well. To some tribes, the Great Spirit was found in everything, including land, water, sky, flora, and fauna. A dire fate—such as an attack by snakes—awaited those who told the stories at the wrong time. First, the people used myths to express wonder about the universe. Tricksters are often animals. A number of Native American mythologies feature paired or opposing characters or qualities. He loves to upset things and spread confusion. The trickster appears as a culture hero when his pranks—such as stealing fire or the sun—benefit humans.
Tricksters appear in nearly all Native American mythologies, but they generally have a greater place in the folklore of hunter-gatherer peoples than of settled agricultural groups, possibly because people who lived on wild resources were more keenly aware of the uncertain nature of life. The secondary gods are often personifications of natural forces, such as the wind. Coyote argued that if people returned from death, there would soon be too many of them. Wolf said that people could be brought back to life after they died. The trickster, who is almost always male, represents uncertainty. A dire fate—such as an attack by snakes—awaited those who told the stories at the wrong time. Although each region contains many different peoples and languages, some elements of mythology are shared across the region, and certain kinds of stories are particularly important. This Woman Who Fell from the Sky lands in the primeval sea. She then shaped and wove Tawa's thoughts into solid form, creating birds, fish, and other creatures. They could be told for fun or to teach a lesson about proper behavior, and those who told them were free to change or add elements to the basic story. Major Themes and Myths Despite the great number and variety of Native American myths and legends, certain themes and subjects occur again and again. Such a character might form the earth and sky, create people and animals, or kill monsters or turn them into stones. The Eye-Juggler story, for example, tells how the trickster saw birds tossing their own eyes into the air and then putting them back in their heads. They formed the basis of sacred rituals, including ceremonies in which participants acted out traditional sacred stories. She went with them to the home of the bear chief and married his son. All lived together until food became scarce. After people were created, Tawa rose into the sky. Wolf agreed that Coyote was right, but then he arranged for Coyote's son to be the first to die. A water creature—such as a duck, muskrat, or turtle—plunges to the depths of the sea and returns with a lump of mud that becomes the earth, which is often supported on the back of a turtle. In Hopi mythology, the creator deity is a female being called Spider Woman. Myths about a "dying god" also appear in the Midwest region, which stretches into central Canada. He then turned back into Raven and flew away, taking the sun with him. The animals and spirits on these poles often come from Native American myths and folktales. Myths about migrations, heroes who rid the world of monsters, and the origins of humans within the earth are also important in the Southwest. The many different tribal groups each developed their own stories about the creation of the world, the appearance of the first people, the place of humans in the universe, and the lives and deeds of deities and heroes. Some groups may also have reached Alaska from Siberia by boat or by walking on ice.
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Humans and Nature and Creation: Crash Course World Mythology #6
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