Study Guide

Hermes (Mercury) - The Class Clowns/Delinquents

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The Class Clowns/Delinquents

Always down for a practical joke, not above stealing someone's wallet, you'll probably find Hermes milling about the cafeteria and schoolyard during lunch, looking for trouble and gossip. He's the kind of kid who should always be in detention, but who never is. He manages to get away with practically anything, thanks to his charm. And he's not alone. Tons of cultures have trickster gods.

The trickster figure appears in almost every mythology. The trickster loves to play pranks on the other characters, usually to fulfill his own desires for food, sex, or just for the sheer fun of it. The trickster figure is usually someone who crosses boundaries, defies social taboos, and eludes easy identification. Sometimes he is a creator, and, at other times, a destroyer. There are so many trickster figures throughout world mythology and folklore that we can't possibly list them all, but here are a few to get you started.


Loki is the trickster Norse god. He is constantly causing trouble and getting his fellow gods into the most awkward situations. The Norse gods can't stand him, but they can't live without him either.


In some Native American cultures, Coyote is a part-man, part-animal figure that shares Loki's ability to shape-shift. Although the stories about Coyote vary among the many and diverse Native American cultures, in all of them Coyote possesses great cleverness and powers of transformation and resurrection. Some Native American cultures, like the Plains Indians, credit Coyote with impersonating the creator and naming the world's creatures. In the Pacific Northwest traditions, a similar figure takes the form of a raven.


Anansi is the trickster-figure of West African oral folklore. He takes the form of a spider. Most of his stories deal with his attempts to trick people out of food or money, or convince people of his great sexual prowess. Anansi shares Hermes's cleverness, which he sometimes puts to good use to benefit the world. In fact, in one story, the Sky-God rewards Anansi's clever captures of a python, leopard, hornets, and a dwarf by giving stories to the world.

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