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.