Category Archives: Trickster

Azeban

Azeban
Pronounced: ah-zuh-bahn

Also spelled: Azban, Asban or Azaban, Espun, Hespuns, Hespens

Azeban is a low-level raccoon trickster spirit in Abenaki folk lore and mythology. The Abenaki’s traditional homeland is known as Wobanakik, meaning “Place of the Dawn” and located where Northern New England and South Quebec are today. Another tribe that Azeban is associated with is the Penobscots.

Like many animal tricksters from Native American folklore, Azeban is known for doing many foolish and mischievous things. Unlike many of the tricksters, Azeban is not dangerous or malevolent as they prefer to tricking others for food or other deeds.

Azeban Stories

There are a few stories regarding Azeban and his antics.

A Dog Named Azeban

For those who study the stories and folklore of the Abenaki, there is a story where a woman, Cedar Girl named her six dogs based on their characteristics. This had caused a lot of confusion because people that the trickster of Azeban was a dog, not a raccoon. The dog was so named as he had the characteristics of a raccoon.

As to the story itself, Azeban, the dog was one of a litter of six pups born to Awasosqua or Bear Woman. The other pups were: Awasosis (Little Bear), Kwaniwibid (Long Tooth), Mikwe (Squirrel), Moosis (Little Moose) and Soksemo (Good Nose). All six pups are spirits and so named for their characteristics. But when you’re translating from one language into another, you can see how misunderstandings and mistakes can happen.

Raccoon Learns A Lesson

This is the type of story that explains how the raccoon came to have his black facial mask and ringed tail.

Once there were two blind men living in a village who had become very unhappy as they could no longer see or do things for themselves. Frustrated and unhappy, the two settled themselves on a log, determined to remain there.

They remained there until Glooscap happened upon them one day and asked what was wrong.

The two replied that no one wanted them around as they could no longer take care of themselves or help anyone else and were planning to remain on the log until they died.

Not willing to let them die unable to take care of themselves, Glooscap built a wigwam for the two. Then he took a rope, instructing them to go down to the river and tie it to a tree and to tie the other end to a bucket. When the two wanted to drink, all they needed to do was put the bucket in the water and pull it back in to them.

This of course is where Azeban or raccoon comes into the story. He saw what was going on and decided he would enjoy a bit of fun and mischief.

When one of the men went down to get water, Azeban followed after. When the bucket was thrown into the river; Azeban very sneakily took the bucket and moved it up onto the sandy bank.

Pulling in the bucket, the blind man found only sand in his bucket and not water as expected. The man returned to his friend lamenting that the river had gone dry and there was no more water to be had.

The friend accused the other of being lazy and not having gone at all for water. That he was just making excuses.

The first man insisted he told the truth and the second man went down to the river so he could prove it.

Azeban had already gone back down to the river and moved the bucket back into the water so that when the second man arrived, he was able to pull up some water. This only confirmed the second man’s accusations of the first being lazy. This started a fight and argument.

Some time later, Azeban noticed that the two men were cooking dinner. They had four pieces of meat in a pot. Planning more mischief, Azeban stole two pieces of the meat and then hid himself.

When the first man came to serve himself, he took two pieces of meat from the pot. It is when the second man went to get his food that the trouble began again. He accused the first taking all the meat for himself in addition to being lazy and refusing to get water.

The first man claimed he had only taken two pieces of meat and that there should still be two other pieces of meat. Once more the two men fought and Azeban just sat back laughing to himself about it.

Eventually Glooscap returned and saw the two fighting. He asked them what the fighting was all about and the second man told of how the first was too lazy to get water from the river and then his taking all of the food.

Hearing that, Glooscap looked around and quickly spotted Azeban where he was laughing at the two blind men. He knew then instantly what was happening.

Glooscap proceeded to take a piece of coal from the fire and then he seized Azeban, drawing a black mask around his face. He told Azeban that this was for stealing the meat from the two men. Then Glooscap took the coal and drew four rings around Azeban’s tail, telling him that this was for causing all those fights. These marks would be a reminder of Azeban’s misdeeds and thievery.

Azeban And The Waterfall

In this story, Azeban was out wandering around looking for something to do rather than stay at home, taking care of the things that he should have been doing.

As Azeban wandered along through the wood, he heard the chirping of baby birds above him in the trees.

Azeban called up to the baby birds, trying to get them to come down to him and play. The mother birds knew of the type of mischief and trouble that Azeban could cause and forbade their nestlings from going. They knew Azeban to be a nest robber and that he was very likely to eat the young fledglings instead of playing..

Prevented from causing trouble with the birds, Azeban wandered on until he found himself in a valley leading through some hills. Tilting his head, Azeban could hear something that sounded like a good number of people all shouting.

Curious, Azeban went to go find the source of the noise. He followed the sound ot the end of the valley. As the noise got louder, Azeban finally found the source when he pushed through some bushes and found himself at the edge of a cliff.

There, Azeban found himself looking out over the Winnoski River as it flowed down, forming a waterfall. It was the sound of all this rushing water and the roaring sound it made that Azeban had heard.

For some reason, Azeban decided to get into a shouting match with the waterfall. As it is just water and a waterfall, it couldn’t answer back to Azeban’s challenges and kept on doing what rivers and waterfalls do.

So Azeban kept yelling, angry that the waterfall would ignore him. With each challenge that Azeban made to the waterfall, he couldn’t out match the sound of the roaring water.

Eventually with Azeban’s antics of trying to out shout the waterfall, he got too close to the edge of the cliff where he lost his balance, falling into the water and getting swept out over the falls.

Amaguq

Amaguq

This is another one where when I went to look it up, there really isn’t a whole lot of information to be found or had.

In Inuit mythology, Amaguq is the name of a trickster and wolf god. There is another wolf entity, Amarok, a spirit and one who isn’t so nice. Amaguq is described as being sly and cunning.

Wolves In Folklore

There are whole books, websites and articles dedicated to the significance and prominence of wolves in folklore. Their presence is common throughout a lot of European and North American cultures and mythologies.

The most notable trait of wolves is that they’re predators and depending on the culture, they are seen as either symbols of warriors or evil incarnate, representing danger and destruction.

It can vary too by culture and even religion with how wolves are viewed. Those who relied on hunting, tended to see wolves in a positive light. They saw in them traits worthy of a warrior or hunter to have in order to survive in the wilds. Those who relied more on agriculture and raising livestock, tended to see them more negatively,

While there are many Native American tribes who saw wolves as guides, guardians and protectors, there are those tribes such as the Netsilik Inuit and Takanaluk-arnaluk who didn’t always view wolves so favorably. This is understandable as wolves were some of their main competitors for feeding their families and tribes.

Yehasuri

Yehasuri
Alternate Spellings: Yenosu’riye, Yehasu’rie

Also known as: Wild Indians, Little Wild Indians, Wild People, Not Human Ones

Etymology – “wild little people”

Pronunciation: yay-hah-soo-ree

The Yehasuri are a race of small (roughly two feet tall), hairy humanoids from the Catawba legends of South Carolina in the United States.

It is said that the Yehasuri live in tree stumps and eat a variety of different things like acorns, roots, frogs, fungi, turtles, and insects to name a few.

While Yehasuri are not known for being dangerous, they are known for pulling a lot of mischievous pranks and tricks. Some of these pranks include: stealing children’s footprints and shadows, outright kidnapping children, tying people by the hair to trees, undoing people’s work if they aren’t properly respect or avoided. Sometimes these pranks can get rather destructive.

It seems to be that Catawba parents use stories of Yehasuri, portraying them as a type of bogeyman, to keep children in line and from misbehaving themselves.

Protection from Yehasuri

The only way to stop the Yehasuri is to rub tobacco on your hands and to say an ancient Catawba prayer:

“dugare ini para’ti na yehasuri deme hana te we stere yanamusi sere.”

Other precautions against Yehasuri were to make sure that nothing is left out where they can’t mess with things, bringing in clothing at night, sweeping away the tracks and foot prints of children before night and avoiding potential places in the forest where they might be encountered.

Alyosha Popovich

Alyosha Popovich & Tugarin

Russian: Алё́ша Попо́вич, Alexey, Son of the Priest

In Russian folklore, Alyosha Popovich is an epic hero of the Kievan Rus era. He was a mighty warrior and a trickster; one of three well known bogatyrs, similar to other medieval knight-errants. Alyosha Popovich is considered the youngest of these three bogatyrs. The other two are Dobrynya Nikitich and Ilya Muromets. All three bogatyrs have been portrayed in Vasnetsov’s famous painting called Bogatyrs.

Where many bogatyrs are known for their physical might and prowess in defending the borders of old Russia and fighting various monsters, Alyosha did so by the use of trickery and outwitting his foes. He is best known for his agility, ingenuity, cleverness and resourcefulness. Alyosha Popovich is portrayed as fun-loving with his cheerful, talkative manner and something of a lady’s man with how he could woo women.

Alyosha was always ready to play mischievous pranks on his friends too. Once, when Dobrynya went away on a quest, Alyosha began spreading rumors of how Dobrynya was dead. The people eventually came to believe this and Dobrynya’s wife, Nastasya was expected to marry someone of Prince Vladimir’s choosing. Dobrynya managed to return from his quest to find his wife’s wedding ceremony in progress. Interrupting or stopping the wedding, Dobrynya gave Alyosha a sound beating for this stunt.

Birth of a Legend

According to legend, Alyosha was born to the sounds of thunder and the next day he jumped into the saddle to go off and see the world, all the while bragging of his accomplishments and victories. It’s mentioned in the story of Alyosha’s fight with Tugarin, that his father is Pope Leon of Rostov.

Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin

This story is perhaps the best known of all of Alyosha’s exploits and adventures. In this story, Alyosha Popovitch and his servant Yekim, went to Kiev in order to meet Prince Vladimir. When they arrived, Prince Vladimir was holding a feast and he offered Alyosha a seat next to him at the head of the table. Alyosha declined this offer and chose to sit at the lowest, social hierarchal spot next to the stove.

At the feast, the monster Tugarin came and insulted Prince Vladimir by sitting between him and his wife at the head of the table. Some versions of this story suggest that this is because Tugarin and Vladimir’s wife were having an affair. Tugarin failed at other social protocols such as refusing to say prayer and instead, started right in on the feast, gorging himself.

Disgusted by all of this, Alyosha proceeded to insult Tugarin first with a story about a dog that kills itself by eating too much. Then Alyosha tells Tugarin another story of a cow that kills herself by drinking too much. Both of these stories were commentaries on Tugarin’s table manners. Recognizing the insults for what they are, the monster throws a dagger at Alyosha Popovich which his servant Yekim catches.

Still enraged, Tugarin proceeds to threaten Alyosha with strangulation, with smoke, fiery sparks, charred logs and bolts of fire. Accepting the challenge, Alyosha told Tugarin to meet him out in an open field near the Safat River.

When Alyosha arrives, Tugarin is already up in the air flying, flapping his paper-like wings. Alyosha then prays for rain and in the ensuing rainfall that happens; Tugarin falls to the ground as his wings are too wet and unable to support him for flight. At this point, Alyosha Popovich is said to have knocked Tugarin’s head off with a staff and sticks it on a spear. He then cuts up Tugarin’s body into small pieces and presents it to Prince Vladimir’s court. When Vladimir’s wife hears of Tugarin’s death, she becomes sad and reproaches Alyosha Popovich for the death of her “dear friend.”

Did Alyosha Popovich really exist?

It’s known that Vladimir the Great, a Grand Prince of Kievan Rus’ from 980–1015 C.E. did exist and lived at the time, unifying the area and protecting it’s borders from invading Mongols and other nomads. Vladimir converted to Christianity in 988 due mainly to political motivations and Christianized Kievan Rus. This helps to explain the nature of some of the stories like Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin as the older Pagan traditions and religions giving way in favor of Christianity.

The existence of Dobrynya Nikititch and Ilya Muromets as historical people has also been proven by scientists and scholars. Some historians certainly think there is merit to the stories of Alyosha Popovich having come from Pyriatyn. The evidence for this comes from surviving stories where Alyosha’s mother watches her son march against the enemy in the market square of Pyriatyn. In that story, Pyriatyn is a border city of Old Rus and could easily be a place where many nomads would have been fought off. Literature also places Pyriatyn as Alyosha Popovich’s home town. What’s also considered interesting is that the surname of Popovich is still found among families living in present day Pyryatyn.

Different chronicles also record Alyosha’s exploits. Such as the Nikon Chronicle where he distinguishes himself again the Polovtsy, killing the Polovtsian Khan and his brother. Around 1201, Alyosha Popovich is mentioned again in the fight against Pechenegs. In the Tver Chronicles, it’s recorded that Alyosha fought at a famous battle on the Kalka river in 1223 and it is there that he is killed along side seventeen other champions.

Tugarin Zmeyevich

This monster from Russian bylinas and folktales is known by many names such as Zmey Tugarin, Zmey Tugaretin, Zmeishche Tugarishche, the Worm’s Son and others. Worm, for those who don’t know is an archaic term and name for dragons and can also be spelt Wyrm to distinguish it from earth worms. This monster has come to personify evil, cruelty and appears in the form of a bogatyr with draconic features and temperament.

Tugarin is often described as hissing like a snake and wearing numerous deadly and fiery serpents on him. He is capable of choking people with smoke and throwing bolts of fire at his enemies in order to burn them to death. Some folklore sources say he is also able to take the form of a dragon and fly, but when it rains, his paper-like wings are unable to support him aloft in the sky. Tugarin’s horse is also described as sounding like a beast instead of neighing.

For Folklorists, Tugarin is a clear chthonic symbol of the ancient dragon slaying myths and the dangers of the steppes that show the transition from older Pagan religions to Christianity. The name of Tugarin is also decidedly Turkish in origin and would easily explain how some myths and retellings of the story of Alyosha Popovich and Tugarin Zmyevich, that Tugarin changes from a dragon to a Mongol Khan.