Category Archives: Iktome

Iktome and the Ducks

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Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…

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Iktomi's Duck Feast

Iktomi’s Duck Feast

Iktomi and the Ducks

May Tricksters: Week #4

This Tale is from the Native American Tribes of the Plains, South Western and Western areas of the United States. Ikto’mi is a man with spider-like characteristics and features. He does everything backwards.

 In our tale this week Iktomi says to the gray wolves, “Don’t come and eat my duck feast.” Of course, as soon as the wolves hear that there is a duck feast they promptly arrive to eat his ducks. Iktomi makes the same mistake again by telling the wolves that they hadn’t eaten his buried baking ducks under the coals. So the wolves dig up the ducks and eat them too. By calling to the gray wolves and telling them what they shouldn’t do the wolves quickly react and do it anyway. They come and eat his ducks.

 But, at the beginning of the story when Iktomi tells the ducks they don’t want to know what is in his blanket the ducks stop what they are doing and demand to know what Iktomi has in his blanket. This time his backward speak works in his favor.  He is able to get the ducks inside his straw hut, and get them dancing with their eyes closed.

 He tells them not to  peek, not to open their eyes until he tells them to do so or  their eyes will turn red forever. After the ducks open their eyes and fly away their eyes do turn red … his curse does comes true.

This is trickster magic.  Backward speak, trickery, spells and the unexpected happen all throughout  the trickster encounters.

One message this tale gives  is the same trick doesn’t always bring the desired results.  The Trickster needs to consider the possible outcomes before using the backward speak.  Since the backward speak convinced the ducks to do exactly what Iktomi wants them to do, it worked to his favor. But when he uses the backward speak with the wolves, it doesn’t.  Actually the trick worked the same, but the outcome was not what Iktomi desired. He really did not want the wolves to eat his ducks.

 There is a Blue’s song that speaks to this very situation. The title of the song is … “Don’t advertise your man.”  The message is,  if you tell everyone how great your man is then some other woman will go behind your back and win him away from you.   In the Iktomi tale he advertises his duck feast and the wolves eat all of his dinner.  Next time,  Don’t advertise your duck feast.

Coyote as Trickster

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Coyote says, “RUN!”

In this story of Coyote, we discover that he does not understand the cultural rules about gift giving. When he returns and demands the Rock, Iya, give his blanket back Coyote has disregarded the cultural belief that what is given is given forever.  He is reminded that the blanket is no longer his by Iktome who says, “It is Iya’s blanket now!” Coyote still thinks of the blanket as being his.

When Iya tells Coyote “NO” because he likes having the blanket.” Coyote explains that it is cold out and he needs HIS blanket back. He tells Iya he doesn’t want to catch a cold.  Yet,  Iya still says “NO!” This makes Coyote angry. Coyote just takes the blanket and leaves.  Iya warns him that it is not over.

There have been times in my life when I have not understood the rules or the person I’m dealing with seems to have a different set of rules that I don’t understand.  The whole idea of etiquette or manners is to make social interchanges comfortable and pleasant.

The newspaper columnist Dear Abby or the writer Emily Post are often asked about what manners and/or etiquette rules apply in very specific social situations. Not all rules are written down. In addition, as our society becomes more and more complex new rules have to be established.

My collage this week shows the Rock chasing Iktome and Coyote through the river. Coyote has his blanket flapping behind him. The over all collage depicts a patchwork broader suggesting that the entire piece is a blanket. The reason for the dispute.

Despite the fact that rocks don’t need blankets and Coyote did make the mistake of giving his away, Coyote cannot be an “Indian Giver”.  He cannot expect the Rock to give the blanket back. As the Rock explained, “What is given, is given.”