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Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen by Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1788

Amoral Tricksters that Enhance World Mythology and Entertain Cultures

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Mythologies around the world speak of beings which cannot be defined as good or evil. German folklore mentions a household elemental named kobold. Even though he can be helpful, as a trickster, he can make mischief and play pranks on the members of his household. He can hide tools and other objects and he may push over the people who live in the house causing them to fall. On the other hand, he can also help with household chores, provide help in finding lost objects and, sometimes, he even is said to sing to the children.

Apart from the household kobold, there is another type of kobold which legends say resides in caves and mines and haunts them. In 1657, metallurgist Georg Landmann published a study entitled “De Animantibus Subterraneis” in which he explained that the belief in these kobolds dates back to at least the 13th century, but older accounts of similar spirits also existed in Ancient Greece where the mischievous entity was referred to as a “kobalos”.

All these examples discussed here are but a few out of the numerous types of tricksters appearing in mythologies, folklore and stories of the world. From fairy tale characters like Reynard the Fox or Rumpelstiltskin and up to jinn, elementals and trickster spirits, mischievous entities play an important part in the tales and mythologies to which they belong.

Reptilian humanoids known as Kobolds

Reptilian humanoids known as Kobolds ( forgottenrealms.wikia)

Amoral Tricksters

The term “moral” refers to the human standards of good and bad to which each individuals has their own standards. Thus, behaving morally implies acting in ways most humans believe to be honest and correct. The opposite of moral is “immoral” which refers to something morally wrong, something which people do not regard as socially acceptable. However, there is another term which stands apart from both. It is the term of “amoral” which describes something or someone without moral principles.

The amoral category is the one that best defines mischievous trickster entities. What all these tricksters have in common, apart from their shape shifting abilities and the predilection for playing tricks, is the fact that they are all outside of the human concept of morality, thus they cannot be separated according to the good – evil distinction. Also, when it came to trickster gods or spirits, throughout time, they have been valued, respected, feared and, in some cases, even worshiped.

A statue of a dwarf. Dwarves were often known for playing tricks around houses.

Dwarves were often known for playing tricks around houses. ( Public Domain )

From gods to spirits, tricksters exist in the mythologies all over the world. Leaving aside their many differences, they all have another thing in common: they love to play and, most of all, they love to play tricks. The form and appearance of the trickster varies from one legend to another, thus exemplifying the diverse character of these entities. In Japan, the trickster takes the form of the shape shifting fox, the kitsune, which can be either good or evil. In Europe, the role of the trickster is most commonly played by spirits which appear in many forms and classes. These are but two examples of tricksters present in cultures all over the globe.

Inari Ōkami appears to a warrior accompanied by a Kitsune.

Inari Ōkami appears to a warrior accompanied by a Kitsune. ( Public Domain )

The Legend of Jinn

There are many legends regarding jinn (aka. genies). They are masters of illusions, wielders of surprising supernatural powers and beings beyond good and evil born of the smokeless flame. Jinn use their illusions to trick those who ask for their help. Thus, in the ancient times, people did not just worship and revere jinn, they feared them. In 1997, Wes Craven released the first movie of his successful series “Wishmaster”. The beginning of the movie sets the background and presents jinn as follows:

Once, in a time before time, God breathed life into the universe. And the light gave birth to Angels. And the earth gave birth to Man. And the fire gave birth to the Djinn, creatures condemned to dwell in the void between the worlds. One who wakes a Djinn shall be given three wishes. Upon the granting of the third, the unholy legions of the Djinn shall be freed upon the earth. Fear one thing only in all that is… Fear the Djinn .”

An illustration of a male Djinn

An illustration of a male Djinn ( CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 )

The description the movie provides for jinn corresponds to the original mythological descriptions. The legends of old speak of how jinn were feared for not being too kind or friendly towards humans. Jinn never proved too eager to help humans or to fulfill their wishes. This is why people in the stories had to find ways to compel jinn into fulfilling their wishes. They used magic formulas to conjure jinn and to force them into obedience. It was only under such circumstances that jinn helped humans and granted their wishes. However, in case anyone lost control over the conjured jinn, the consequences proved to be terrifying. The same thing happened when the wording of the request was vague - leaving the jinn with room for interpretation to use against the human.

Jinn are often linked to the smokeless fire from which they have come into being and so they resemble elemental spirits and there are many types of jinn, just as there are several types of elementals. The Marid are jinn of water, while the Ifrit or Afreet are jinn of fire. Even though jinn resemble elementals to a certain extent, they also differ from this type of beings as they reside in the space between worlds, a space which does not make them as linked to nature as elementals are.

Appeasing the Elementals

In the present day, mass-media promotes the funny and softened image of Santa’s elves and dwarves, but the legends of the past offer an entirely different perspective on things. The peoples of the ancient times used to perform certain rituals in order to appease many of the supernatural entities especially the spirits of the elements - most commonly referred to as elementals.

Illustration of Santa Claus and Elves

Illustration of Santa Claus and Elves ( CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 )

Elementals are spirits of nature separated into categories according to the element which they represent: fire, air, water and earth. These spirits are attested to in many sources, but especially in Celtic and Norse ones. The classification of elementals according to the elements which they represent was first developed by Paracelsus in the sixteenth century when he distinguished salamanders as fire elementals, gnomes as earth elementals, sylphs as air elementals and nymphs and undines as water elementals. These are but few examples of such entities as the full list of elementals includes many more.

Queen of the Fairies

Irish mythology speaks of a female spirit who announces the approaching death of an individual through her screams. She is the banshee and her name, “bean-sidhe” in ancient Gaelic, means “woman of the fairy mounds” or “queen of the fairies”. Myths describe her as having long red hair and a beautiful appearance. In Leinster, she is also called “bean chaointe”, “the kenning woman”, thus making reference to her loud and piercing scream. The Greeks described how mermaids used to comb their hair; in a similar manner, the banshee stays in front of the house where someone is soon to die and combs her long red hair and she signals approaching death with her loud shrieking. Irish history contains numerous references regarding banshees. These entities have been said to announce the death of Finn McCool, Connor McNessa, Michael Collins (the commander of the Irish liberation army who fell into a trap during the civil war and died), and Brian Bohru (the man who put an end to the Viking domination on the territory of Ireland.)

Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825

Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825 ( Public Domain )

Additionally, each respectable Irish clan of the past had a certain protective spirit whom they worshiped and, when the moment of death approached for a member of the clan, the respective spirit tormented the banshee who would scream. In other cases, the banshee herself was worshiped as the guardian entity of the clan. In such instances, she provided protection, warded off evil, and her habit of shrieking represented the final favor which she performed for a respected member of the clan when he found himself or herself on the brink of death. At times, in order to signal approaching death, the banshee was said to take the form of a woman, and wash the blood stained clothes of the person about to die.

Featured image: Prince Arthur and the Fairy Queen by Johann Heinrich Füssli, c. 1788 ( Public Domain )

By: Valda Roric

References

Valda Roric – “Loki – The Trickster Redeemed and the Secret of the Runes”

Rene Louis – “Dictionary of Mysteries”

“Paranormal”, L.V.B. Publishing

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