In Native American culture, trickery can go a long way in telling an engaging story.
Storytelling is how Native Americans “pass on our history, our traditions, and our parables to teach people how to behave and relate to their surroundings,” says actor Michael Horse (Twin Peaks), who narrates Coin Trick.
Trickster characters—also known as Sacred Clowns—make the stories more entertaining, while sharing important lessons at the same time. “When you have the clowns in there, especially with younger people, they learn to not fear the lesson,” Horse says.
Tricksters can be good or bad, and sometimes a combination of both. Three popular tricksters in Native American mythology are:
This popular flute-playing, hunchbacked figure was known to travel through villages across the Southwest, changing the seasons as he went. Kokopelli symbolizes fertility in all its forms – he could bring rain, a good harvest, and even pregnancy to women who had trouble bearing children. Although Kokopelli brings a sense of security and well-being to the people, he also disobeys common rules and traditional behavior.
A common figure among tribes in the Pacific Northwest, Raven is said to have given humans the world – although he created it for his own selfish reasons. So while this trickster does good deeds for the people, he’s also known for being greedy and impatient. Native Americans are grateful for the opportunities and lessons learned from Raven, yet they also recognize that he cannot be trusted.
Many Native American tribes have stories about the crafty and clever Coyote, whose playful nature gets him into all sorts of trouble. In some tales he is a hero who, despite lacking wisdom, helped humans steal fire and discover its many uses. Others portray him as a villain and showcase his sneaky nature and disobedience. By sharing his flaws of arrogance and greed with humans, Coyote offers us many valuable lessons.
Michael Horse adds that while Native trickster characters share important messages that we all can identify with, sometimes it takes us a while to figure out the message. “It wasn’t until later in life that I realized, ‘Oh, I am the Coyote!’” he quips.
Which trickster do you most relate to? You can learn from all of them – as long as you don’t get tricked yourself!