THE TRICKSTER FIGURE IN MYTHOLOGY
1 In the study of mythology, the character known as the trickster is a god spirit, human, or animal who breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously but usually with results that are positive. The rule breaking often takes the form of mischief 01′ thievery. The trickster is usually male but occasionally disguises himself in female form. He can be cunning or foolish, or both, and often very humorous. His curiosity leads him into trouble, but he rescues himself with his sly wit. When he plays tricks, he performs important cultural tasks that benefit humans, and for this reason the trickster is a significant figure in world mythology.
2 In different cultures, the trickster and the hero are combined in various ways. In Greek mythology, Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to humans, a feat making him more of a hero than a trickster, and he is usually portrayed as an intellectual. In many Native American stories, Coyote also steals fire from the gods, but Coyote is usually more of a jokester or a prankster than an intellectual.
3 The trickster is both creator and destroyer, giver and taker, one who tricks others and is tricked in return. The £ranks of the trickster are compulsive and uncontrollable. He does not act consciously; he acts out of passion and impulse. He knows neither good nor evil, yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no morals, yet through his behavior morality comes into being. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the trickster is “a primitive cosmic being of divine-animal nature, on the one hand superior to man because of his superhuman qualities, and on the other hand inferior to him because of his unreason and unconsciousness.”
4 In Native American mvthology, the majority of trickster myths concern the creation or transformation of the earth. Such stories have a trickster who is always wandering, who is always hungry, who is not guided by normal ideas of good and evil, and who possesses some magical powers. In some stories he is a deity, and in others he is an animat or human subject to death. Several of these myths feature Raven or Coyote as the trickster-hero.
5 In many creation myths of the Pacific Northwest, Raven illustrates the transformational nature of tricksters. Raven is the greatest shapeshifter of all and can change into anything to get what he wants. In one story, there is darkness at the beginning of the world, so Raven decides he will find light. He flies far from the earth, searching in the darkness, until he spots a glimmer of light coming from a window in the house of the gods. Raven knows the gods are protective of their possessions, so he devises a trick. He perches on a pine branch next to the house and watches each day as the chief god’s daughter draws water from a nearby lake. He magically transforms himself into a pinyon seed and falls into the girl’s drinking cup. The girl swallows the seed, which grows within her body, and she eventually gives birth to a boy. The child delights his grandparents, and his laughter tricks the elder gods into revealing where they hide a shining ball of light. The gods give the child the ball to play with, and then Raven transforms back to a bird and flies off carrying the ball of light in his beak. He hangs the ball—the sun—in the sky, bringing light to the world.
6 Coyote’s character is similar to that of Raven’s, and both appear in stories carrying out similar roles. In several stories from the American Southwest, Coyote steals fire from a group of “fire beings” and gives it to humans. In some tales Coyote wants to make human life more interesting, so he introduces sickness, sorrow, and death. He often teaches through negative example by employing the human vices of lying, cheating, and stealing. His tricks often bring about destructive natural phenomena, such as a great flood that destroys the earth. However, by causing the flood, Coyote leads the human race to a new and better world. Coyote shows us that at the heart of the trickster is a savior whose great gift to humans is showing them new ways of knowing and doing.
mischief: tendency to play tricks or cause minor trouble
thievery: the act of theft; stealing pinyon seed: the seed of a pine tree; pine nut
39. The word maliciously in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to
40. Which sentence below best expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 1? incorrect choices change the meaning in important ways or leave out essential information.
(A) In world mythology, every important aspect of human culture is the result of the trickster’s behavior.
(B) The trickster develops human culture by tricking people into performing dangerous cultural tasks.
(C) When the trickster wants to be helpful, he devises a trick that will teach people what is important.
(D) The trickster is an important mythological character because his tricks contribute positively to human culture.
41. The author discusses Prometheus and Coyote in paragraph 2 in order to
(A) illustrate two different views of the trickster-hero
(B) explain how humans received the gift: of fire
(C) argue that the trickster is an intellectual hero
(D) encourage readers to study world mythology
42. The word pranks in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to
(A) funny stories
(B) complex plans
(C) mischievous acts
(D) divine traits
43. The word both in paragraph 3 refers to
(A) creator and destroyer
(B) passion and impulse
(C) good and evil
(D) morals and morality
44. All of the following are traits of the trickster EXCEPT
(A) a desire to break the rules
(B) the ability to disguise himself
(C) superhuman powers
(D) awareness of good and evil
45. Native American stories with a trickster-hero are usually about
(X) the victory of good over evil
(X) the creation or transformation of the world
(X) the struggle to control one’s nature
(X) the punishment of humans by the gods
46. The author tells a story about Raven in which the trickster
(X) gives humans the gift of fire
(X) changes into a young girl
(X) steals the sun from the gods
(X) causes a destructive flood
47. The word savior in paragraph 6 is closest in meaning to
(X) one who wants total power
(X) one who rescues others from harm
(X) one who causes terrible suffering
(X) one who cares about only himself
48. It can be inferred from the passage that the author most likely believes which statement about the trickster?
(A) The trickster is responsible for many serious problems in the world today.
(B) The trickster shows us that there is no difference between good and evil.
(C) The trickster serves as an explanation for creation, change and renewal.
(D) The trickster teaches children that lying and stealing are acceptable behavior.
49. Look at the four squares, [A], [B], [C], [D] which indicate where the following sentence could be added to the passage. Where would the sentence best fit?
Like Raven, Coyote is a master transformer whose mischievous power is responsible for events that benefit humanity.
Coyote’s character is similar to that of Raven’s, and both appear in stories carrying out similar roles. [A] In several stories from the American Southwest, Coyote steals fire from a group of “fire beings” and gives it to humans. In some tales Coyote wants to make human life more interesting, so he introduces sickness, sorrow, and death. [B] He often teaches through negative example by employing the human vices of lying, cheating, and stealing. [C] His tricks often bring about destructive natural phenomena, such as a great flood that destroys the earth. However, by causing the flood, Coyote leads the human race to a new and better world. [D] Coyote shows us that at the heart of the trickster is a savior whose great gift to humans is showing them new ways of knowing and doing.
50. Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices and match them to the trickster that they describe. TWO of the answer choices will NOT be used. This question is worth 3 points.
(A) Introduces sickness, sorrow, and death to make life more interesting
(B) Transforms into various shapes to achieve his purposes
(C) Appears as an intellectual hero in stories of good and evil
(D) Creates a ball of silver light that becomes the moon
(E) Changes into a seed to gain entrance to the house of the gods
(F) Causes a great flood and then leads humans to a better world
(G) Brings light to the world by playing a trick on the gods