Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb (§11 of the Trickster Cycle)

Version 1

retold by Richard L. Dieterle

As Trickster was walking along aimlessly, he heard what sounded like a voice. He listened very carefully and he could hear it sing,

If you eat me you will defecate;
You will defecate.

Trickster wondered, "Why is this person saying such things?" So Trickster went in the direction of the sound, until he heard quite distinctly someone singing,

If you eat me you will defecate;
You will defecate.

"I wonder whose saying such things," said Trickster, "as I know if I eat it I'm not going to defecate." Now he carefully followed the sound of the voice, and there, unexpectedly, he found that it came from a bulb or tubercle that was growing on a weed. So he broke it off and ate the whole thing, then went merrily on his way.

As Trickster walked along, he said out loud, laughing, "I wonder what happened to that bulb with the big mouth that said I would defecate? I'll defecate when I feel like it, and surely no plant can ever make me defecate when I don't want to." Thus he spoke, but no sooner were the words out of his mouth than he broke wind. "Well," said Trickster, "I guess this is what it must have meant; but still I am not defecating. Even a great one like myself will expel a bit of gas every now and then." But before he could even finish speaking, he again broke wind, and the sound of it echoed off the hills. "I wonder if this is why I am called 'foolish,' and 'Trickster'?" he said. Then he began to break wind over and over again. "Well," he said, "this must be why the bulb said what it did." Then he broke wind so hard that his rectum was nearly ripped. Trickster said with some pride, "That surely was a great one." Then he broke wind again, and the force of the expulsion drove him forward. He said to himself, "Well, well, I guess I could push a little, but I definitely will not defecate." Just then he broke wind with such force that his ass was launched off the ground, and he landed on his hands and knees. "Go ahead, do it again. See if I care!" he said angrily; and no sooner had he said it, than he broke wind with such power that he flew through the air and landed on his stomach. This time he was determined to stabilize himself, so he grabbed hold of a log, but when he broke wind both he and the log were launched into the air, and when he came down the log landed on top of him. He was nearly killed. So this time he ran over to a poplar tree and wrapped his arms around it; even so, when he broke wind his fee left the ground and the tree arched with the impact. This time he held the poplar with all his strength, but with a loud noise, he flipped upside down and pulled the tree out by its roots. This time he had to find a tree worthy of his problem. He finally came to an oak which he embraced with both arms. When he broke wind he was able to hold on, but he was knocked upside down so that his toes struck the tree.

Then trickster ran down to a small village and shouted, "Enemies! A large warparty is coming this way — quick, take down your lodges and let's get out of here!" So they disassembled their lodges and piled the twigs on top of Trickster. Then they gathered together their dogs and put them on top of the mountain of twigs. Then Trickster broke wind so hard that everything and everyone was scattered far and wide — the twigs and the dogs seemed to rain from heaven. People began to call out to one another, so far apart they had been scattered; and the dogs howled to one another. This trick made Trickster laugh until his sides hurt.

After that, he went on his way and felt pretty good. It seemed like his problems were over. "Well, that tubercle was a big talker," he said, "but I see that I have yet to defecate." Just the same, he felt a little like he could defecate. "Well, I guess that's what it meant when it said that," he said. Then he couldn't help himself, but had to defecate. "It seems that this is want it meant, but it sure was bragging considering." No sooner had he said that, than he really began to defecate. As he squatted, the pile of excrement got so high that it touched his body, so he climbed on top of a log to get some clearance. Soon the dung piled so high that he moved to a log that was leaning against a tree, but even there the pile of excrement touched his body. He could not stop defecating, and had to climb higher and higher. Soon he reached the top of the little tree, but even there the pile of dung mounted up until it reached him. Soon the limb that he was sitting on had become thoroughly manured, and when he tried to shift positions, he slipped and fell into his own hill of excrement. He disappeared in to the pile and it took quite some time for him to work his way out of it. When he finally escaped, he was covered with filth, and dragged excrement after him. His back pack and the box in which he kept his penis were both covered with dung, so he emptied the box and placed it again on his back. However, even his eyes were caked with filth and as he stumbled about, he ran right into a tree. He sang to it:

Tree, what kind are you?
Tell me about yourself.

"What kind of tree do you think I am?" it answered. "I am a forked oak tree, the one that used to be in the middle of the valley — that's who I am," said the tree. Trickster replied, "Can you tell me where the nearest water is?" "Go straight ahead," it said. Then Trickster stumbled about some more until he hit a tree so hard that he was knocked over backwards. He sang,

Tree, what kind are you?
Tell me about yourself.

"What kind of tree do you think I am?" it answered. "I am the red oak that used to stand at the edge of the valley. That's who I am." "Is it possible," said Trickster urgently, "that there is some water around here?" The tree replied, "It's straight ahead." He ran straight forward, but soon knocked against another tree. So he sang again,

Tree, what kind are you?
Tell me about yourself.

"What kind of tree do you think I am?" it answered. "I am the slippery elm that used to be in the middle of the forest. That's who I am." "Just go straight forward as you have been," advised the tree, but when he did, he collided with another tree. He put his hands on it and sang,

Tree, what kind are you?
Tell me about yourself.

"What kind of tree do you think I am?" it answered. "I am the basswood tree that used to stand at the edge of the water. That's who I am." "It is good!" exclaimed Trickster, and jumped straight forward into the water. He washed himself thoroughly. It was very difficult, for the dung had been on him so long that it had dried. Had not the trees helped him, he would surely have died. After he washed himself off, he washed his raccoon skin blanket and his penis box.1

Version 2

by Oliver LaMère

Hocąk-English Interlinear Text

The following variant was given in the course of a homily presented in the Christian Peyote service.

(23) There Trickster was going about again. As he went along there on the road, something was speaking. (24) While he listened, it said this: "If anyone eats me, bad things will come out." And so Trickster went there and said, "What do they call you?" he asked. It said, "They call me 'Blows Itself Away'." However, he had his doubts, and so he chewed it up. After awhile, he blew himself away. Trickster laughed, "Or perhaps he might have meant this little thing," and he sure said it. As he went along, it got worse until he did a lot. In one spot he pulled out all the hazel brush. (25) In the evening, after a lot of trouble, he came to his senses.

While a Hocąk travels on the earth, his life becomes old, and then he tastes something. There, after a lot of trouble, he comes to his senses. They doubted him. Some did it, they opened their eyes. Then their eyes really became red. When they were told of it, thus they were. It was bad to look upon them, but they were alive. When anything is good, it comes out. Doing this good is denigrated. I myself say this.2

| The Previous Homily |

The Leaves of the Beaked Hazel
(Corylus cornuta)
Photo by Bill Cook
Commentary. "a bulb or tubercle" — the bulb in question is represented as a tubercle on a weed (raxek š'ok). It is said that witches sleep in the tubercles of weeds, and it may be that they inhabit the tubercles of other plants as well. This would tend to associate tubercles with evil consequences.

"the hazel brush (huk’šík’uja)" — the leaves of this plant [inset] were apparently used here to clean up after defecation.

"he tastes something" — this is a reference to peyote, a psychodelic drug used in the rites of the Native American Church. The mescaline within it creates an otherworldly high, after which the participants "come to their senses."

"their eyes really became red" — the word hišjára, "the eyes" (the pronoun is understood), is ambiguous, and also means "the face." In the previous story, when the ducks whom Trickster was killing, opened their eyes, they turned red, but they were able to save themselves in flight. So this passage refers back to the previous story, but due to its ambiguity, can be taken to mean that when this story is told, it made people blush. The opening of the eyes, and the regaining of consciousness and the emotional pain attendant upon it, are meant to illustrate the effects of converting to Christianity and being thus saved.

Comparative Material. The Assiniboine trickster has had similar adventures as related in summary by Radin:

Sitcóⁿski finds berries and asks them for their second name. They are called Scratch-Rump. He eats of the berries, and is obliged to scratch himself until the blood begins to flow. He angrily builds a fire, burns his buttocks, and walks away. Returning to the same spot, he puts his burnt flesh on the trees, forming gum.

Sitcóⁿski finds roots, named Wind. After eating them, he breaks wind and is carried up into the air. He is carried higher and higher. Trees which he tries to cling to are carried up with him. He finally falls into a mud hole. When he gets out, he finds many snakes. He uses them as whips, killing one after another.3

These stories differ in some of their particulars, but are interesting parallels.

The Ojibwe have a pretty close parallel about their own trickster figure, Wenebojo. One day Wenebojo is walking along and hears a bird sing, "Eat me and you'll crap." He notices every time that the bird sings, the grass waves, so Wenebojo plucks a bit of the grass and eats it. Pretty soon nature begins to call, and he goes running for the nearest big hole. He sits right on it and relieves himself. However, soon the hole fills up; then it reaches his chin; then even though he tilts his head back, the feces reach all the way to his nose. Finally, he gets up and walks away. As he is going along, he hears a strange noise. The second time he hears it, he thinks, "It must be the South Wind people shooting." Twice more he hears it: pom-pom-pom! He has no idea what it is, as he has never heard it before; but it's his own farts.4

The episode of the talking trees occurs in the context of a different Ojibwe tale (see The Elk's Skull). There, Wenebojo cannot see because he has a moose skull on his head, so he asks a number of trees whether there is a river nearby. He asks the maple first, but that trees says that there is no river nearby. He bumped into one tree after another, until he encountered the cedar. The cedar told him that there was indeed a river nearby by and that all he need do is walk in the direction that the tree's limb pointed. He did so, but fell down the side of a slope. However, the moose skull broke, and now Wenebojo could see again.5

There is a pretty good Arapaho parallel to the blinded Trickster finding the water by asking of the identity of the trees he encounters. This incident happens to the Arapaho trickster Nih’āⁿçaⁿ, in a story cognate to the Hocąk "Elk's Skull." Having gotten the elk's skull on his head, Nih’āⁿçaⁿ finds that he cannot see where he is going. "He felt aimlessly about him. 'What kind of tree are you?' he said to whatever he touched. 'This is dogwood,' it was said to him. Then he went on again. 'My friend, what kind of tree are you?' he asked. 'This is bow-wood.' 'Indeed!' Then he asked again: 'My friend, what kind of a tree are you?' 'This is Pawnee-wood.' 'Well, I am getting closer,' he said. 'My friend, what kind of tree are you?' "I am a praying bush.' 'Indeed!' Then he started on again, feeling about him. 'My friend what kind of a wood are you?' 'This is cottonwood,' the tree said to him. 'Well, I am finally getting near,' Nih’āⁿçaⁿ said to himself, and he continued to go. 'My friend, what kind of wood are you?' 'This is willow,' it said to him. 'Well, at last I have gotten there,' Nih’āⁿçaⁿ said. He stepped on the sand and walked over the bank, falling into the river."6

There is a parallel episode in a Fox story. When Wolf falls asleep, the raccoon that he has treed comes down and defecates in his eyes. When he awakes, Wolf is blind. He tries to find water and bumps into one tree after another from whom he asks directions. First he runs into an oak, who tells him what kind of tree he is and what direction to head to reach the water. Then in turn he bumps into a walnut tree, a hickory, an elm, a hard maple, a cottonwood, and finally a sycamore. Then, at last, he reaches the water.7 There is an allusion to another such story among the Fox: "... when Wisaka boastfully ate the artichoke that sat in his path, he was soon overwhelmed by his own dung."8

The Arikara also have a similar tale. "The Coyote was going along through thick timber. He saw an Artichoke plant, which he dug up. He asked it its name. The Artichoke said, 'Cosósit,' meaning artichoke. The Coyote waned to know if he had any other name. The Artichoke said, 'Takes-a-Bite.' When it said that, the Coyote took a bite. The Artichoke repreated this name for times, and every time it repeated it the Coyote took a bite of the Artichoke. Finally, the Coyote had eaten the Artichoke. The Coyote went on, and again and again he explelled flatus, moving his feet each time. Every time he explelled flatus he seemed to grow worse. Once it threw hi up in the air. Now, before expelling flatus, he got hold of a tree, and he said, 'Now let me expel flatus.' The flatus threw him up in the air, tree and all. Again he went on, and he came to a stone, and when he knew he was to expel flatus, he said, 'Now let me expel flatus.' This he did, and the stone wentup with the Coyote. The stone fell on the Coyote and killed hi. This is the reason we find coyotes lying beside stones."9

This same episode has a good parallel in the Lipan Apache story. One day Coyote is walking along and sees some rose hips which he is anxious to eat. The berries on the plant tell him, "Don't eat the rose hips or you will break wind!" Nevertheless, Coyote eats a great mess of them. Finally, his insides began to bother him, and he ran to a tree and held on for dear life. He then broke wind like a horse. This went on over and over again, until Coyote was all but exausted.10

Links: Trickster, Tree Spirits, The Sons of Earthmaker.

Links within the Trickster Cycle: §10. Trickster Visits His Family, §12. Trickster and the Mothers.

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 Geese, Trickster and the Dancers, Trickster and the Honey, Trickster's Adventures in the Ocean, The Pointing Man, Trickster's Buffalo Hunt, Trickster Visits His Family, The Coughing Up of the Black Hawks, The Petition to Earthmaker, Waruǧábᵉra, Hare Secures the Creation Lodge; about flatulence: Why Dogs Sniff One Another, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Bungling Host; in which defecation plays a role: Ocean Duck, Mink Soils the Princess, Trickster Soils the Princess, Little Human Head; mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Man Who Lost His Children to a Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧábᵉra, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Stench-Earth Medicine Origin Myth, The Necessity for Death, The Story of the Medicine Rite; mentioning red oaks: The Children of the Sun, Bladder and His Brothers, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Turtle's Warparty (v. 1), Trickster Gets Pregnant; mentioning basswood: The Children of the Sun, Redhorn's Father, Bear Clan Origin Myth (v. 3), The Big Stone, The Fox-Hocąk War, Hare Burns His Buttocks, The King Bird, Hare Kills Wildcat, Turtle's Warparty, The Birth of the Twins, The Messengers of Hare, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store.

Themes: a voice, which appears to be disembodied, speaks to Trickster: Trickster Loses Most of His Penis; someone hears a disembodied voice and only later discovers its source: The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Hare Retrieves a Stolen Scalp, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts; a small plant speaks to someone: A Weed's Blessing; arrogance: The Skunk Origin Myth, The Blue Jay, The Fatal House, The Creation of Evil, Holy One and His Brother, The Foolish Hunter; someone flatulates with superhuman force: The Bungling Host; Trickster defecates uncontrollably after taking a natural laxative: Trickster Soils the Princess; eating something has predictably dire consequences: White Wolf; someone defecates on a blanket: Little Human Head; trees talk to people and give them advice: The Children of the Sun, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Annihilation of the Hocągara I; trees cause Trickster to suffer: Trickster Loses His Meal; people who can't see are misdirected: Raccoon and the Blind Men; 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, The Elk's Skull, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster and the Honey, The Markings on the Moon, Trickster and the Eagle.


1 Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (New York: Schocken Books, 1956) 25-28. The original text is found in Paul Radin, "Wakdjukaga," Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago V, #7: 1-586 [230-269].

2 Oliver LaMère, Untitled, in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3862 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, n.d.) Winnebago I, #3: 23-25. Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 377.

3 Radin, The Trickster, 101, #40-41. These tales are collected in R. H. Lowie, The Assiniboine, in The Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1909) 4:239-244.

4 Tom Badger, "The Wenebojo Origin Myth," trs. by Julia Badger, in Victor Barnouw, Wisconsin Chippewa Myths and Tales (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977) Story 6: 19-20.

5 Badger, "The Wenebojo Origin Myth," Story 10: 25-26.

6 Cleaver Warden, "Nih’āⁿçaⁿ and the Mice's Sun Dance," in George A. Dorsey and Alfred L. Kroeber, Traditions of the Arapaho (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997 [1903]) Story 52: 107-108.

7 Fred McTaggaart, Wolf That I Am: In Search of the Red Earth People (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1976) 46-48.

8 McTaggart, Wolf That I Am, 181.

9 Cut Arm, "51. The Coyote and the Artichoke," in George A. Dorsey, Traditions of the Arikara (Washington, D. C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1904) 139.

10 Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz (edd.), American Indian Trickster Tales (New York: Penguin-Putnam, Inc., 1998) 87-89.