The Trickster Cycle

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Trickster Cycle is a set of myths tracing the adventures of the culture hero Trickster (Wakjąkága). [1]

The whole Trickster Cycle can be told in a brief overview, with more expanded versions linked to the titles of each section:

§1. Trickster's Warpath. Trickster is established as the chief of a village, but acts in a way totally incompatible with the office. He sets out on a warpath, but during the preliminary feasts, he leaves early to cohabit with a woman. When he does lead a warparty, he sets out without setting up a first night's encampment, destroys his canoe, stamps his warbundle into the mud, and throws away his arrows. Eventually all his followers desert him.

§2. Trickster's Buffalo Hunt. On his journeys Trickster encounters a buffalo standing atop a small hill. He creates a group of scarecrows that scare the buffalo into a morass of mud, where Trickster dispatches him with a knife. While he is butchering his kill, his left and right hand begin fighting one another over the possession of the carcass. Before it is over, Trickster has injured himself.

§3. Trickster and the Children. Trickster encounters a man who carries a bladder with four miniature children inside it. He feeds them but once a month. Trickster persuades him to give him two of the children, which he does despite his misgiving. He sets firm rules about how they are to be fed, but Trickster does not do as he is told, and the children die. When the man finds out what had happened to them, he chases after Trickster trying to kill him. However, Trickster escapes by jumping into the Ocean.

§4. Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean. Trickster swims aimlessly around in the ocean because he cannot determine which direction the shore is. He asks one fish after another how to get to the shore, but they do not know. Finally he encounters a school of white fish, and they tell him that where he is now is practically the shore. He wades ashore and make a clay pail so that he can catch a fish to eat. When he finally does catch a fish, it is already dead. He buries this fish to eat sometime later.

§5. The Pointing Man. As Trickster approaches a lake, he sees a man on the opposite shore pointing at him. So he puts on a black shirt and points back. Finally he wearies of this, and leaves. As he looks back, he sees that the man is actually a stump with a branch jutting out.

§6. Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks. Trickster comes upon a flock of ducks by a lake. He tricks them into dancing with their eyes closed. During the dance he kills most of them, then sets them to roasting over a fire. While they cook, he goes to sleep after appointing his anus to guard the meat. When a group of foxes chances upon the scene, the anus attempts to drive them off by flatulating, but to no avail. The foxes eat all the ducks. When Trickster awakens, he is so angry with his anus that he burns it with a brand from the fire. Then, as he walks along, he sees pieces of cooked fat on the trail, which he eats. He discover, much to his surprise, that these pieces of meat are fragments of his own burned intestines.

§7. Trickster's Penis. Trickster wakes up to find a flag flying above him, but he soon discovers that the "flag" is his blanket and the pole is his phallus. He reels his penis in and carries it in a box. He encounters a princess and her girl friends swimming in a lake and orders his penis to find the princess. His penis has three false starts in the lake, but on the fourth try it lodges in her. No one can dislodge it from her, and no one understands what it is until an old wise woman tells them it is Trickster trying to have sex. She disrupts his intercourse by working her awl into his member until he withdraws it.

§8. The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster. Trickster meets a turkey buzzard who agrees to take him for a flight. Trickster generally enjoys the experience until the buzzard dumps him into a hollow tree from which he cannot escape. Some women out cutting wood hear singing from the tree. Trickster tells them that he is a fat raccoon and to cut him out. He persuades them that if they stuff the opening with their own clothes, they will be able to return and capture him. They plug the hole and return home nude, but in the meantime Trickster makes good his escape.

§9. Trickster Gets Pregnant. Trickster meets up with a fox, a blue jay, and a nit, who decide to live together. However, when winter starts to come on, they are in danger of starving, so Trickster comes up with an idea. He takes them to a village and there he masquerades as a woman. He is so beautiful that the chief's son marries him. He becomes pregnant many times, and gives birth to three sons in succession. One of these cries incessantly until the shamans give him what he most wants to play with. When Trickster leaps over a roasting pit, his false vagina falls out, and everyone realizes who he really is. He and his friends scatter and escape with their lives.

§10. Trickster Visits His Family. Trickster returns to his original family and lives with his wife's people. He leads a conventional life, and when his son Kunu reaches manhood, Trickster resumes his aimless travels over the face of the earth.

§11. Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb. Trickster hears a tubercle on a plant tell him that whoever eats it will defecate. Trickster arrogantly eats it to show it that it can do nothing to him. However, the laxative affects him so badly that he creates a mound of excrement into which he falls. He is so covered with excrement that he cannot see, so trees tell him where he can find water to clean himself.

§12. Trickster and the Mothers. Trickster dives for plums thinking that their reflection on the water is the real thing. He induces two raccoon mothers to leave their children behind and search for more plums. While they are gone, Trickster eats their children. When they return, Trickster in a new guise leads them into a cavern in a hill side where he burns them to death and later eats them.

§13. Trickster Loses His Meal. Trickster cannot eat because his concentration is being constantly interrupted by a creaking sound, which he traces to a nearby tree. He climbs the tree and tries to take revenge by breaking it at one of its forking branches, but instead gets himself caught in the fork. Wolves come along and devour all of Trickster's meal, despite his remonstrances.

§14. The Elk's Skull. Trickster hears the sound of a celebration and runs to its source. There he finds a host of flies that are going in and out of an elk skull. Trickster asks them how he can participate, and they tell him to just say, "Enlarge," and the skull will open up wide enough for his head. He does this, but the opening closes around his neck trapping his head inside the skull. He walks to the bank of a river near a village where he tries to look like one of the spirits that live in the water there. He induces the people to crack open his skull to use it for medicines. When they do this, they discover that it is only Trickster. Nevertheless, he blesses them with what he promised anyway.

§15. Trickster's Tail. Trickster sees a hek (buzzard), and decides to take revenge for a previous incident. He becomes a deer that has just died. This eventually draws the hek down, but the only opening that he can find is through the anus. His head gets trapped inside and Trickster wears him as a tail ornament. A bear sees his tail and wants one for himself. Trickster lets the hek go, but it cost him his head feathers. In pretending to prepare the bear for his new tail, Trickster kills him by pulling out his intestines.

§16. A Mink Tricks Trickster. Trickster offers to share his meal of bear meat with a mink, but they agree to race to see who will be the chief and who will dish out the food. They race on a frozen river. Mink jumps over a crack in the ice, and when Trickster asks him how he did it, Mink says that he merely said, "Enlarge." When Trickster says this he falls into the water and the ice closes over him. Mink eats all of Trickster's food, and when Trickster breaks through the ice to catch him, Mink escapes by slipping under the ice.

§17. Trickster Loses Most of His Penis. Trickster hears a mysterious voice that teases him about the fact that he packs his penis. He tries repacking it, but the teasing from the voice continues. When Trickster lunges in the direction of the voice, a chipmunk flees into a hollow log. Trickster probes the log with his penis, but cannot seem to find the end of the hole. When he pulls his penis back, he finds that most of it has disappeared. Trickster smashes both the log and the chipmunk. Then he takes the gnawed remains and casts them into the lake, making each piece into a plant useful to humans.

§18. The Scenting Contest. Trickster meets Coyote and the two of them climb a small hill where they decide to engage in a game called "Keen Scenting." Trickster creates the impression that he won. He goes off to live in a village where he marries. In time he goes off with his wife to live in isolation.

§19. The Bungling Host. Short of food, Trickster visits Muskrat. After the meal, Trickster leaves, but invites Muskrat to his place by giving the invitation to one of his children. Muskrat chops up some ice and when it is heated over the fire, it turns into lilies of the lake roots. When Muskrat visits him, Trickster does the same thing, but fails so that Muskrat has to do it for him. Trickster is happy now that he has food. When this food runs out, Trickster visits Snipe. Snipe gets food by jumping through the gills of a large fish while he carries a length of twine. When Trickster tries the same thing during a visit by Snipe, he gets swallowed by a fish. Snipe rescues him and catches many fish, so that once again Trickster has a supply of food. When this runs out, Trickster visits Woodpecker. Woodpecker gets food by striking the center pole of the lodge with an awl, which causes a bear to fall down onto the floor. When Woodpecker visits Trickster, the latter tries the same thing, but all he gets for his trouble is a bloody nose. Woodpecker gets up on the post and knocks down four raccoons and four bears. Trickster now has more food than ever. When this finally runs out, Trickster visits Skunk. Skunks gets food by calling deer, then turning his anus towards them and flatulating. During a visit by Skunk, Trickster tries the same thing, but only makes a mess. So Skunk goes out and kills many deer for Trickster. Trickster and his family now have plenty of food.

§20. Mink Soils the Princess. A stranger arrives in the village, but Trickster recognizes him as Mink, and plots his revenge. He persuades Mink to court the chief's daughter, but before they set out, Trickster feeds him a special laxative concoction. Mink succeeds in sleeping with the princess, but in the morning, Mink soils her, and Trickster runs through the village announcing the fact. Mink is so ashamed that neither he nor his kind has ever lived around men since.

§21. Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride. Trickster persuades Mouse to tell Coyote a lie: there is a large dead animal just outside the village and Coyote may have it to himself. When Coyote gets there, Mouse ties him to the tail of the animal so that he can tow it away to a more secluded place. However, the animal is actually a horse that Trickster put to sleep. As soon as Coyote tugs on him, the horse awakens and drags Coyote through the village. Coyote and his kind are so ashamed that they have never lived around men since.

§22. Trickster Concludes His Mission. Trickster decides to travel the world again. He clears the Mississippi of all obstacles to make it a fit place for people to inhabit. He causes the roads of the Waterspirits to be driven farther underground. Trickster encounters a waterfall whom he orders to move. The waterfall refuses, so Trickster makes a stick and moves him with that. Trickster eats his last meal on earth, then ascends to the heaven assigned him by Earthmaker.

Links: Trickster, The Sons of Earthmaker. For other trickster figures, see: Coyote, Minks, Raccoons.

External Links: Fool's Paradise: a webpage dedicated to exploring the complex mythic/archetypal figure of Trickster.

Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: 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 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 Geese, 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, Waruǧápara, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; cycles of other great soteriological spirits: Hare Cycle, Redhorn Cycle, Twins Cycle.

Themes: spirits come to earth in order to rescue humanity from enemies who threaten their existence: The Mission of the Five Sons of Earthmaker, Bladder and His Brothers, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Grandfather's Two Families, The Hare Cycle, The Hočągara Contest the Giants, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Raccoon Coat, Redhorn's Sons, The Redhorn Cycle, The Roaster, Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, The Spirit of Gambling, The Reincarnated Grizzly Bear, Wojijé, Redhorn's Father, Turtle and the Merchant; a great spirit changes his form in order to decieve someone: The Skunk Origin Myth (Turtle), The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster's Tail, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Elks Skull, Trickster Soils the Princess, Old Man and Wears White Feather; a spirit assumes the form of another person: Old Man and Wears White Feather, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Trickster and the Mothers; a man's meal is stolen before he can eat it: Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster Loses His Meal, A Mink Tricks Trickster, A Raccoon Tricks Four Blind Men; Trickster hunts buffalo: Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, The Woman Who Became an Ant; Trickster defecates uncontrollably after taking a natural laxative: Trickster Soils the Princess, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; trees cause Trickster to suffer: Trickster Loses His Meal, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb; Trickster turns into a woman and goes courting: Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster Gets Pregnant; Trickster takes someone's clothes so that they are forced to return to their village naked: Trickster Soils the Princess, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster; Trickster is the victim of a trick: Trickster Soils the Princess, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, The Elk's Skull, A Mink Tricks Trickster, The Markings on the Moon; Trickster wins a contest by cheating: The Spirit of Gambling, The Green Man, The Scenting Contest; Trickster fools Coyote: Trickster Takes Coyote for a Ride, The Scenting Contest; animals insult Trickster as he sojourns on earth: Trickster's Warpath, Trickster Loses Most of His Penis; Trickster mistakes the covering of vegetation for human clothing: Trickster and the Dancers, The Pointing Man; Trickster thinks that people are ignoring him while performing a certain activity, so he competes with them in this activity only to learn later that the "people" were actually just vegetation seen at a distance: Trickster and the Dancers, The Pointing Man.


[1] Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956).