Most Famous Trickster Deities From Around the World
Trickster gods and goddesses play mischievous roles in the mythologies of various cultures, often challenging the status quo and causing chaos, but sometimes also bringing wisdom or benefits.
Below, World History Edu presents some of the most famous trickster deities from around the world:
Loki (Norse Mythology)
Coming in at number one on our list famous trickster deities is none other than Loki, the god of mischief in Norse mythology.
A powerful and cunning shape-shifter, Loki is the son of the giants Fárbauti and Laufey. He has several notable children: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and the half-dead, half-living Hel who presides over the realm of the same name.
Despite his Jotunn (giant) lineage, Loki lives among the Aesir gods in Asgard. He maintains a complicated relationship with them. On one hand, he shares camaraderie and even blood-brotherhood with Odin, and on the other, he often engages in mischief against them.
This god of mischief is central to several major Norse myths. For example, he assists Thor in retrieving his stolen hammer by devising a plan in which god of thunder and hammer dresses as a bride to trick the giant Thrym.
Also Loki was the one who cut off the hair of Sif (Thor’s wife) and then arranges for replacement golden hair from the dwarves. This incident leads to the creation of many magical items, including Odin’s spear (Gungnir) and Thor’s hammer (Mjölnir).
Loki orchestrates the death of Baldur, one of the most beloved gods, by tricking his blind brother, Höðr, into throwing a mistletoe dart, the only thing that could harm Baldur.
For his role in Baldur’s death, Loki is severely punished. The gods bind him with the entrails of his son Nari, while a serpent drips venom onto him, causing extreme pain. His wife, Sigyn, loyally collects the venom in a bowl, but when she empties it, the poison drips onto Loki, making him writhe in agony, which in turn causes earthquakes.
In the prophecy of Ragnarök, the end of the world in Norse mythology, Loki sides with the giants against the gods. He leads a ship full of giants to Asgard to battle the gods and meets his end at the hands of Heimdall.
READ MORE: Most Powerful Norse Gods and Goddesses
Anansi (Akan and Caribbean folklore)
Anansi is a central figure in the folklore and myths of the Akan people of Ghana and other parts of West Africa. He’s also widely known in the Caribbean, due to the African diaspora. Anansi is primarily depicted as a spider and is considered a god of wisdom, storytelling, and tricks.
Despite his small size, Anansi uses his intelligence and cunning to achieve his aims, often outsmarting larger and stronger creatures.
One of the most famous tales explains how Anansi became the god of all stories. Initially, all tales belonged to the Sky God, Nyame. Anansi offered to buy them, and in exchange, Nyame set a high price: Anansi must capture a series of challenging creatures. Using his wit and cunning, Anansi achieved the task and thus became the keeper of all stories.
In some tales, Anansi is portrayed as a son of Nyame, the sky god, and his actions are sometimes a reflection of the desires or plans of these more powerful deities.
Due to the transatlantic slave trade, Anansi tales were carried to the New World, especially the Caribbean and the American South. Here, he became known as “Aunt Nancy” or “Brother Anancy”, and his tales merged with Native American and European stories, leading to a rich tapestry of folklore.
Puck (Celtic and English folklore)
Puck is often portrayed as a nature spirit or fairy. In English folklore, he is a mischievous sprite, known for playing pranks on humans.
His name and characteristics have connections to the “púca” in Celtic mythology, which is a shape-shifting creature that can bring both good and bad fortune. The púca can be both benevolent, helping with chores or harvest, or malicious, causing confusion and night terrors.
Both Puck and the púca are known for their shape-shifting abilities. They can transform into various animals such as horses, goats, cats, or even humans.
In English folklore, this deity is also known as Robin Goodfellow. He’s a trickster figure, delighting in playing pranks like leading travelers astray with will-o’-the-wisps or souring milk.
In William Shakespeare’s play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Puck is a central character serving Oberon, the king of the fairies. His mischievous antics, like applying a magical potion to the wrong lover’s eyes, drive much of the play’s comedy.
Coyote (Native American Mythology)
Coyote is a pivotal figure in Native American mythology, recognized as a complex character that embodies both positive and negative traits. He appears in many stories across different tribes, and while the nuances of his character might differ, the core essence remains consistent.
Above all, Coyote is known as a trickster. His tricks often backfire, leading to unintended consequences. These tales typically carry moral lessons.
In some tribal stories, especially among the Navajo and the Pueblo, Coyote plays a role in creation myths or teaches humans essential survival skills.
It’s often the case that Coyote is depicted interacting with other animals or mythological figures. These interactions usually involve him trying to deceive or outwit them, with varying degrees of success.
Eshu/Elegua (Yoruba and Afro-Caribbean traditions)
A central figure in the Yoruba pantheon, Eshu serves as the messenger of the gods and as a liaison between humans and the divine. He is also a trickster god, known for his mischievous and unpredictable behavior.
He is associated with crossroads, symbolizing the point where the spiritual and physical worlds meet. Crossroads are also emblematic of choices, dilemmas, and potential change.
He is often depicted with a shepherd’s crook (a symbol of guidance) and sometimes with a twisted, coiled staff, symbolizing his role as a trickster and his unpredictable nature.
Similar to Coyote in Native American mythology, Eishu is known as the bringer of both good fortune or clarity and misfortune or confusion.
And like Anansi, aspects of Eshu worship and reverence were transported to the Americas and can be seen in syncretized forms in religions like Santería (where he is syncretized with Catholic saints like Saint Anthony) and Candomblé.
READ MORE: Most Famous Yoruba Deities
Prometheus (Greek Mythology)
Prometheus was a Titan, a race of divine beings that predated the Olympian gods. He was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the nymph Clymene.
He is best known for his love of humans and for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humanity, an act that enabled progress and civilization.
In some myths, Prometheus is credited with creating man from clay, endowing the new beings with life.
For his theft of fire, Zeus ordered Prometheus to be chained to a rock on the side of a mountain. Each day, an eagle (or a vulture in some versions) would eat his liver. Because he was immortal, his liver would regenerate overnight, only to be eaten again the next day. This continued for many years.
In later myths, the hero Heracles (Hercules in Roman mythology) encounters the chained Prometheus during his travels and, taking pity on him, kills the eagle and frees the Titan from his torment.
Prometheus’s act of rebellion against Zeus and the subsequent punishment has made him a symbol of resistance against oppression and a champion of human endeavor, intellect, and progress.
The above explains why his name means “forethought” in Greek. The Titan was always thinking about the future, in contrast to his brother, Epimetheus, whose name means “afterthought” and who acted impulsively.
Iktomi (Lakota mythology)
Iktomi is primarily known as a trickster deity. Much like other trickster figures in various world mythologies, Iktomi often finds himself in tricky situations but uses his wit and cunning to get out of them, often at the expense of others.
He is frequently represented as a spider and is sometimes referred to as the “Spider Man” (not to be confused with the comic book hero). This is reflective of his cunning, crafty nature, as spiders weave intricate webs, both literally and metaphorically.
One of Iktomi’s notable abilities is shape-shifting. He can take on the form of a human or other creatures, which aids in his mischievous schemes.
In some tales, this deity is also portrayed as a cultural hero or creator figure, involved in the shaping of the world or the giving of essential tools or knowledge to humans.
One of the most well-known tales associated with Iktomi is about the origin of the dream catcher. In this story, Iktomi, in the guise of a spider, spins a web while talking to an old Lakota elder, conveying the circle of life. He gifts the elder a dream catcher, explaining that it will catch bad dreams and let only good dreams through.
Sun Wukong (Chinese Mythology)
Sun Wukong, also known as the Monkey King, is a central figure in Chinese mythology, particularly celebrated in the classic Chinese novel “Journey to the West” by 16th-century Chinese novelist Wu Cheng’en.
This trickster deity was born from a mythical stone located on the Mountain of Flowers and Fruit. His birth was a product of the wind’s influence on this stone, leading to a stone egg which eventually transformed into a stone monkey.
According to the myths, he possesses incredible strength and speed. He can travel 108,000 li (54,000 kilometers) in one somersault. He also has the power of transformation, allowing him to change into virtually any form, including objects and other beings.
Due to his mischievous behavior and power, Sun Wukong challenges the authority of the celestial realm and proclaims himself the “Great Sage, Equal of Heaven.” This leads to a major conflict between him and the gods of the heavenly court.
After creating havoc in Heaven, the Buddha intervenes. Sun Wukong is tricked into being trapped under a mountain called the Five Elements Mountain, where he remains imprisoned for 500 years.
After his release, Sun Wukong is appointed as a protector for the monk Tang Sanzang (also known as Tripitaka) on his journey to the west (India) to obtain sacred Buddhist sutras. He is given a circlet by the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, which can tighten around his head when a chant is recited, ensuring his obedience.
Kaulu (Hawaiian mythology)
Kaulu is a lesser-known figure in Hawaiian mythology, but he is recognized as a trickster and a hero in some tales. He is often associated with the island of Oahu.
Much like other trickster figures across various cultures, Kaulu is known for his cleverness, wit, and occasional mischief. Yet, his adventures also often involve heroic acts or challenges against greater forces.
In some legends, Kaulu is known as a god or demigod of the wind. He could command the wind and use it in various ways during his adventures.
Hermes (Greek Mythology)
At number ten is the Greek god Hermes, the son of Zeus and the nymph Maia. Hemes is one of the most multifaceted gods in Greek mythology.
As a messenger of the gods, the patron of travelers, thieves, and merchants, and the conductor of souls to the Underworld, Hermes played numerous roles. One of his most defining characteristics, however, is his cunning and his involvement in trickery and mischief.
Not long after his birth, Hermes sneaked away from his cradle and stole the cattle of his elder brother, Apollo. Using his cunning, he made the cattle walk backward to confuse anyone who might track them. On his way back, he also created the first lyre using a tortoise shell. When Apollo confronted him, Hermes played the lyre so beautifully that Apollo was charmed and allowed him to keep the cattle in exchange for the lyre.
In one myth, Hermes is sent by Zeus to save Io, a lover of Zeus whom Hera had turned into a cow and set the watchful Argus to guard. Hermes used his wit and storytelling to lull Argus to sleep and then slew him, earning him the epithet “Argeiphontes” or “Slayer of Argus.”
Raven (Pacific Northwest Native American Mythology)
The Raven is a central figure in the mythology and folklore of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast, including the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian.
He is seen as both a hero and a trickster, responsible for creating and shaping the world, but also for playing tricks on both humans and other supernatural beings.
In many narratives, the Raven is responsible for releasing the sun, moon, and stars into the sky. In one story, he steals the sun from a chief who kept it hidden away in a box, and upon releasing it, transformed the world from darkness to light.
Beyond bringing light to the world, the Raven has stories where he sets free the water, fish, and other elements necessary for life. These acts of creation often involve cunning, trickery, or transformation, showing Raven’s dual nature as both creator and trickster.
And like many of the deities on this list, the Raven is a master shape-shifter and can transform into humans, animals, or objects to achieve his goals. This ability allows him to interact with the world in various ways, often leading to unexpected outcomes.
Many stories emphasize Raven’s insatiable appetites, be it for food or shiny objects. His quests to satisfy these desires often result in changing the world in some significant way, even if unintentionally.
Bamapana (Yolngu mythology)
Bamapana is known for doing things backward or in an unconventional manner. He frequently breaks taboos and challenges societal norms, pushing boundaries in humorous or confounding ways.
In some stories, Bamapana is associated with Djäpana, another Yolngu mythological figure. Their interactions often involve Bamapana playing tricks on Djäpana or leading him astray.
Krishna (Hindu Mythology)
While considered a divine and compassionate being, Krishna’s childhood and youth are filled with playful mischief.
Known as Bal Krishna, he performed many miraculous feats, like vanquishing demons sent by Kamsa and lifting the Govardhan Hill to protect the villagers from torrential rains. He’s also known for his mischievous acts, like stealing butter.
Krishna was born to Devaki and Vasudeva in the city of Mathura. Due to a prophecy that he would be killed by Devaki’s tyrannical brother, King Kamsa, Krishna was secretly taken to Gokul and raised by foster parents, Yashoda and Nanda.
As a charioteer to the Pandava prince Arjuna, Krishna delivers the philosophical discourse of the Bhagavad Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Here, he elucidates the nature of life, duty, righteousness, and devotion, offering profound spiritual insights.
Amaguq (Inuit mythology)
In Inuit mythology, Amaguq is a trickster god and a wolf deity. He often plays tricks on humans to confuse or mislead them, either for his own amusement or to teach them lessons.
Through his tricks, Amaguq might force humans to adapt, think critically, or reconsider their beliefs, teaching them valuable skills or lessons in the process.
The Inuit have a deep respect for the natural world and its creatures, and their mythology often reflects this. Wolves, being skilled hunters and pack animals, would naturally have a significant place in their cultural and spiritual narratives.
Bluetongue Lizard (Australian Aboriginal mythology)
In some Aboriginal stories, the Bluetongue Lizard is considered a creator being. Its actions during the Dreamtime are believed to have shaped the landscape and, in some cases, established certain cultural norms and practices.
There are tales that explain the origin of the lizard’s distinctive blue tongue. In some, it’s a result of consuming particular food or drink, or it could be a mark of a special power or significance.
The Bluetongue Lizard, like other animals, can represent certain qualities or characteristics, such as cunning, adaptability, or survival. It might be seen as a totemic creature for certain clans or groups, representing their identity and ancestral connections.