Trickster and the Geese
by Felix White, Sr.
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
In his travels about the world Trickster had reached a lake in the far north. As he stood there taking in the scene, a flock of geese began to land on the lake. As they came in they flipped, dove, and glided into the lake. Trickster thought to himself, "That was amazing, I will have to talk to the leader of these geese," so Trickster walked up to them and said, "Hąho, little brothers! It was a great thing to watch how you landed on the lake, flying with such grace and skill. I was indeed amazed, my little brothers. I see that you are going someplace, as you have come from the forest where you had a nice meal of buckthorn berries to clean you out. You must be going on a long flight." Thus did he speak, saying over and over how great the geese were. He wanted something from them, that is why he did it. Then as he started to walk away, he said something to himself just loud enough for the geese to overhear him: "It would be a wonderful thing if I could fly like that myself!" The geese said, "Kunu, you could do it too if you wanted." "Well then," replied Trickster, "take me to your chief." So the geese brought him to their leader.
Trickster and the goose leader sat and talked for awhile, then Trickster got to the matter that he wanted to bring up: "Well then, little brother, where are all of you going?" "We are headed south, Kunu," he replied. "The season of bitter cold will soon be upon us, so we must find a new place to live for the winter. Why do you ask?" "Well, little brother," he replied, "I was thinking how nice it would be to fly as you geese do, and they told me that I could if I wanted." "Yes," he answered, "you can fly if you want, Kunu." Then Trickster asked, "How can I fly if I don't have any feathers?" The goose chief answered, "Kunu, feathers are a small matter — we can fix that for you. Flying south with us, however, will be difficult. Indeed, Kunu, it will be very difficult, as we must set a goal for ourselves each day, and nothing can distract us or tempt us to part from that goal. If you resolve to dedicate yourself to achieving our objective, then you certainly may come along with us." "It is good," said Trickster, "and I shall look forward to flying with you. It will be really nice; but I still don't have any feathers." To repair this deficit, each goose plucked a feather from his own plumage and donated it to Trickster. Soon Trickster was covered with feathers, and looked just like any other goose. "Before you can fly with us," said the geese, "you will have to be able to honk." So Trickster took a deep breath and cried, "Honk!" "It is good, Kunu," they all agreed. They told him to be ready to take off before dawn that morning. However, Trickster said, "How will I get into the air?" The geese said, "Now that you have feathers on your arms, all you have to do is start running and then flap your arms, and soon you will be airborne. Now that you are like one of us, that is what you should do." As night had fallen, Trickster spent his time sleeping.
Very early the goose chief arose and said to Trickster, "Elder brother, it is time to wake up. Now is the time that we are going to fly south to where it is warmer. When we fly, we shall go over the villages where the two legged walkers live. They may call out to us and try to distract us from our goal, but you must ignore them and keep on flying. When we are past the Wazija and the Hočągara, then we shall be in the southlands." Then the goose chief awoke the others. Soon the whole flock were running along and flapping their wings and before long they were in the air. Trickster ran along with them flapping his arms, and then, unexpectedly, he too was flying in the air. There they flew high in the air in a perfect formation. They flew over many villages as they headed south. As they approached the Wazija, the leader called by to Trickster and said, "Kunu, don't forget to concentrate your mind on flying as we pass over this land, and every now and then give out a honk." Trickster said, "All right," and began honking. Soon all the geese were honking in order to drown out the noise from the ground. Trickster thought to himself, "Ah, this is the life. And now we are about to fly over the Hočągara, perhaps I will fly over my own village. Wouldn't they be amazed if they knew that I was flying right over head! It would indeed be a great thing if they knew it. I wonder if there isn't some way I could just let them know it is me who is flying with the geese?" Thus he thought. Every now and then one of the geese would say, "Elder brother, honk here!" So Trickster would cry out, "Honk, honk!" Soon they were all honking. Just the same, Trickster's mind began to wander, and soon he was flying lower and lower. Just as this was happening, they began flying over the Hočąk villages. When the Hočągara saw the geese, they came out and beat on drums and hollow logs. The women were shouting as the men shot up into the air with their arrows. All this excitement distracted Trickster, and soon he fell even lower in the sky. He became so distracted he forgot to flap his arms. As he passed overhead, people shouted, "Look, there's a big fat one," and they all ran under him. Soon he landed with a thud in a weed patch. The women rushed up to him and began beating him with sticks. Trickster yelled, "Stop, stop, it's me!" As the feathers were knocked off him, someone said, "Hoho! it's Wakjąkaga." "Oh, it's only Trickster," they said, and some, who were disappointed that their goose had turned out bad, began to beat him all the more.1
Commentary. In most stories about a hero who is setting out to accomplish a great feat, there is usually an episode in which he is tempted to abandon his goal, but through perseverance he overcomes such distractions and succeeds in spite of all. In this story, the opposite is the result, and the hero fails because he cannot resist the distractions.
Comparative Material. Our present story resembles several Greek myths about youths who recklessly disregard the instructions of their elders only to come to grief. Icarus, the son of Dædalus, dons the plumage of a swan but is warned not to fly too high lest the sun melt the wax that secures his feathers, but Icarus gets carried away, and soon comes to grief, falling into the ocean.2 Also similar is the fate of Phaëthon, who takes the chariot of Apollo for a reckless ride, only to end up in a fatal crash.3
Links: Trickster, Bird Spirits, The Wazija.
Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster's Warpath, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Elk's Skull, Trickster and the Plums, Trickster and the Mothers, The Markings on the Moon, The Spirit of Gambling, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Green Man, The Red Man, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster's Tail, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster's Penis, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis, The Scenting Contest, The Bungling Host, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster and the Children, Trickster and the Eagle, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, Owl Goes Hunting, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Holy One and His Brother (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧábᵉra, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth (black hawk, kaǧi), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; mentioning drums: The Descent of the Drum, The Blessings of the Buffalo Spirits, The Buffalo's Walk, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, Tobacco Origin Myth (v. 5), Young Man Gambles Often, Trickster and the Dancers, Redhorn's Father, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, The Elk's Skull, Ghosts, The Four Slumbers Origin Myth, Great Walker's Medicine, Redhorn Contests the Giants, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 1b), Wolf Clan Origin Myth, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Turtle's Warparty, Snowshoe Strings, Ocean Duck, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Hog's Adventures, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; mentioning the Wazija: The Hočąk Migration Myth, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Deer Spirits, Waruǧábᵉra, The Creation of Man.
Themes: a group of animals is preparing for the cold of winter by looking for a more suitable place to live: Porcupine and His Brothers; Trickster Gets Pregnant; birds grant someone's wish to fly like them: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster; people make a lot of noise in order to divert someone from his goal: The Four slumbers Origin Myth, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Redhorn Contests the Giants; someone falls from the sky while trying to fly with the birds: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster and the Eagle.
1 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 46-50. Informant: Felix White, Sr.
2 Strabo 14.1.19; Apollodorus, Epitome 1.12-15; Lucian, Gallus 23; Arrian, Anabasis 7.20.5; Zenobius, Cent. 4.92; J. Tzetzes, Chliades 12.13 (409); Severus, Narr. 5; Scholiast on Homer, Iliad 2.145; Virgil, Æneid 6.14 sqq.; Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.183-235; Hyginus, Fabulæ 40; Juvenal 3.25; First Vatican Mythographer, 43 (Bode 1:16); Second Vatican Mythographer, 125 (Bode 1:117).
3 Hesiod, Theogony 986 sqq.; Diodorus Siculus 5.23; Apollodorus, 3.14.3, Frazer's note 2, p. 82; Apollonius of Rhodes 4.598 ff.; Pausanias 1.4.1, 2.3.2, Lucian, Dialogi deorum 25.1, J. Tzetzes, Chiliades 4.19 (137) sqq.; Eustathius on Od. 11.325 (p. 1689); Schol. on Homer Od. 17.208; Scholia on Pindar Olympian Odes 6.78; Ovid, Metamorphoses 2.19 (1.755 ?) sqq.; Hyginus, Fabulæ 52, 152, 156 (154?); Lactantius Placidus on Statius, Thebaid 1.221; Scholia in Cæsaris Germanici Aratea, p. 421 (ed. Fr. Eyssenhardt in his edition of Martianus Capella); Scriptores rerum mythicarum Latini (Bode) vol. 1:37, 93, 208 (First Vatican Mythographer 118, Second 57, Third 3.8.14); Virgil, Eclogues 6.62; Servius on Virgil Æneid 10.189; Lucretius 5.396; Eurippides, Hippolytus 737; Tragicarum Græcorum Fragmenta (ed. A. Nauck) pp. 599 sqq.; J. Frazer, Apollodorus, Appendix XI: 388-394.