What's your favorite scary movie?
Who is this?
[deep voice] What's your favorite scary movie?
Oh, Dr. Z, is this you?
You really have to stop with these prank calls.
But, serious, what's your favorite scary movie?
Okay, we can talk about that later, but I'm filming an episode right now.
Okay, sorry, good luck.
If you've attended a sleepover party anytime in the last 50 years, chances are high that you've encountered a prank call like this.
Maybe you've even made one yourself.
But for thousands of years before the invention of the telephone, pranks fell under the purview of a force even more powerful than rowdy teens.
It was left to the Trickster Gods.
[intro music] From Maui in the Southern Hemisphere to Amaguq in the North, Trickster Gods and spirits can be found in mythologies across the globe, and their stories are some of the most fascinating ones, like the Chinese tale of Sun Wukong.
Also known as the Monkey King, Sun Wukong used his super-human strength and impressive shape-shifting abilities to pester the other gods.
Once, he crashed a heavenly banquet that he was rudely not invited to, drank all the wine, and then drunkenly stole a bunch of immortality pills.
For his misbehavior, the Monkey King was imprisoned under a mountain for 500 years, and his escape provides fodder for countless modern stories.
On the other side of the world, the Hopi people of the American Southwest told tales of Kokopelli.
According to one source, Kokopelli is described as a lascivious troublemaker whose obscene behavior provides an outlet for people's less socially acceptable desires and reminds them how they should behave.
This flute-playing Trickster God is also a fertility deity who makes his own fun as he travels the region to spread corn seed and encourage pregnancy, sometimes through wild parties and erotic dances.
This naughty figure is so popular in the Southwest that his image can be found adorning countless pieces of art and souvenirs.
And of course, the Norse people gave us what might be the most wi dely known Trickster of all-- Loki, the god of mischief.
Much of what Marvel reveals about Loki onscreen is faithful to the old myths, like his chaotic nature and his long-held beef with Thor.
Even alligator Loki has some foundation in the old Eddas, which mention Loki's shape-shifting powers.
But the MCU's interpretation of Loki is just that-- their interpretation.
In the original myths, Thor and Loki aren't even brothers, so don't expect to be an expert in Norse mythology after watching Tom Hiddleston charm his way to the Avengers' bad sides.
By the end of this video, I'll tell you about another Marvel superhero inspired by a Trickster God, but first, let's analyze why the Trickster is so common around the world.
It has to do with why myths were told in the first place.
Before the Internet and the scientific method and even the concept of writing things down, humans told stories for a few different purposes-- to explain the natural world, to educate, and to entertain.
Myths, like monsters, were created to explain natural phenomena and reflect human understanding of the world around them, and throughout time immemorial, one thing that humans have definitely known about nature is that it's tricky.
Storms come when you least expect them, animals steal food and other valuable resources, and don't even get me started on fire-- a bright light that provides warmth and prepares your food but can also burn you and magically turns wood into ash?
Sounds like a very elaborate prank to me.
A Trickster Deity is a convenient way to explain these events.
Indeed, in many mythologies, it's a Trickster who teaches humanity how to harness fire.
Myths were also used to codify social norms for children and adults alike.
In mythology, the Trickster often faces consequences for their nefarious hijinks, like when Sun Wukong was imprisoned for eating the very peaches of immortality that he was assigned to protect.
These peaches, in addition to the pills he stole before, made Sun Wukong extra invincible.
This lets everyone who hears the story know that an immortal god could not run their punishment, and neither can you.
And finally, Trickster stories are fun and funny, just like an entertaining myth is supposed to be.
The chaos and randomness in herent to a Trickster persona often make us laugh.
Psychologists who study humor have found a few theories about what makes something funny, and incongruity is one such theory.
We find something funny when there's a mismatch between our expectations and reality, and randomness creates the opportunity for that hilarious juxtaposition.
In one Norse myth, the giantess Skadi demands to be compensated for her father's murder and insists that one of the gods needs to make her laugh.
Loki is apparently the only Norse god with a sense of humor, so he tied one end of a rope to a goat and the other to a very... sensitive part of his body and then squealed with pain as the goat ran away.
It must have been a you-had-to-be-there kind of joke because Skadi was appropriately amused and agreed not to kill the gods.
So Tricksters can be found in so many different mythologies because nature is violent everywhere, and the crafty qualities of the Trickster make this particular archetype the perfect vehicle for delivering moral or practical lessons in a fun, memorable package.
Across cultures, Tricksters share many characteristics.
They're unpredictable, are often able to shapeshift, and they rely on their quick wit and penchant for mischief to get them out of hairy situations.
One Trickster that embodies all of these qualities is Anansi, the Trickster god of knowledge and stories who originated with the Akan people of Ghana in West Africa.
Christianity has been the dominant religion in Ghana for nearly a century, but traditional Akan religion is polytheistic.
Their pantheon is ruled by a supreme Creator God who goes by many names, sometimes Nyame.
Second to Nyame is Asase Yaa, a goddess of the earth, and together, they have many children and messengers of lesser power known as Abosom.
Amongst some, Anansi is the most important of these children.
Often depicted as a spider with a man's head, or a man with eight legs, Anansi plays a key role in some fundamental Akan stories.
According to one, the human world was originally bereft of stories until Anansi got bored one day and decided to buy them from his dad, Nyame.
The Sky God said that Anansi could have his stories for a steep price.
Anansi had to bring him four of the hardest creatures to catch-- Onini the python, the hive of Mmoboro hornets, Osebo the leopard, and a fairy.
But Anansi uses his cunning and his targets' weaknesses to capture each one.
Impressed, Nyame granted Anansi ow nership of his stories, and Anansi shared them with humanity.
But lest you think that makes him a good guy, there's another story where Anansi tries to horde all the wisdom in the world by trapping it in a pot and sticking it at the top of a tree.
Except the pot was much bigger than Anansi, and he had trouble carrying it to the top until his son, Ntikuma, suggested he place it on his back.
Anansi was so shocked that he hadn't thought of the answer himself that the pot slipped from his grip.
The pot shattered on the ground, and a storm carried away the wisdom inside to the rest of the world.
In yet another story, Anansi brings disease to the world in an angry act of revenge after his father took all of his wives from him.
In Nyame's defense, Anansi did promise to bring him a beautiful wife in exchange for one of his delicious sheep, and then used that sheep to woo several new wives who he kept for himself.
When the Atlantic slave trade forced West Africans from their home and enslaved them across an ocean, they took stories of Anansi with them.
They held onto him as a symbol of resistance, as a reminder that, with a little bit of cunning and resilience, even something as small as a spider can escape most tough situations.
Now stories of Anansi have spread and morphed across the Caribbean and the Americas, making their way into plenty of popular media, like Neil Gaiman's Mr. Nancy from "American Gods," or Spider-Man.
That's right--it's Marvel canon th at in an alternate universe, Earth 7082, to be precise, the very first Spider-Man was Kwaku Anansi.
Whether it's displayed on the silver screen, told around a campfire, or painted on the wall of a cave, Trickster stories remind us to roll with the punches that life throws at us and to face obstacles with cunning instead of force.
But Tricksters' most important characteristic is their unpredictability.
You never know if a Trickster in a story will be the hero or the villain or merely the fool providing comic relief.
Their flexibility is what makes them so effective and appealing.
And if you start looking for them, you'll see Tricksters everywhere, from Prometheus tricking the gods into giving us fire, to the Roadrunner "beep beeping" his way through a world where the laws of physics don't mean a thing.
Comment below with your favorite Trickster figure, and remember: prank responsibly.
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