Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Trickster women

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

I have a soft spot for tricksters. A huge, huge, huge soft spot. As a storyteller, no one sticks by you better than a good trickster story - kids love them, adults love them, I love them. And yet, when it comes to trickery and shenanigans, male tricksters are definitely in the majority in the world's folklore. Think Loki, think Hermes, think Coyote, think Ananse, think Monkey King, think Kanchil... So, since tricksters rock, I wanted to spend a post talking about the women.

Trickster women.

NOTE: I am very picky about what characters I'd consider a trickster - it is not enough to have tricked someone once, and not enough to trick someone just for survival (this is why Scheherazade did not make this list). Similarly, a lot of books call women who cheat on their husbands "tricksters," but I don't like that definition. Tricksters need a certain liminality and playfulness, a certain disrespect for rules mixed with innate curiosity - a trickster is someone that messes with the rules just for the heck of it.
For the sake of brevity, I am also excluding male trickster figures that sometimes shape-shift into female bodies (which is pretty common in tricksterdom)

Dalila and Zaynab
Probably the most badass female trickster mother-daughter duo out there. Their story is included in the 1001 Nights. Dalilah the Wily is a widow, living with her spinster daughter Zaynab the Coney-catcher. She is described as "mistress in all manner of craft and trickery and double dealing." Dalilah and Zaynab go toe to toe with some infamous male tricksters (with delightful names like Calamity Ahmed and Mercury Ali) and come out on top. Pretty epic stories.
(Read them here)

While the wives of tricksters are not always automatically tricksters themselves, Aso, the wife of Ananse the Spider, definitely fits the bill. She even tricks her own husband a couple of times - or calls him on his bluffs. Among others, she once catches him coming back from the grave and stealing food from their garden, by applying a tar scarecrow, the same trick used in stories of Br'er Rabbit.
(Read about her in Akan-Ashanti Folk-tales)

Probably the most famous female trickster figure in world folklore, Kitsune is a type of trickster, rather than one person. They are more commonly known as the "fox fairies" of Japanese folklore. They are almost always female, and deal mostly with seduction and illusions, in all kinds of genius ways.
(Read about them here)

Madame Malice
Apart from the awesome name, this lady is pretty cool too. She exists in Haitian folktales along with her male counterpart, Ti Malice. No one is exactly sure what they are, but they are said to have evolved from some kind of an African animal trickster - most likely a rabbit.
(Read about her and Ti Malice in The piece of fire)

The Princess of Tomboso
This is the French-Canadian version of a fairly popular folktale type, featuring three brothers who inherit magical items, and a princess that cheats them out of all three. While she is the "villain" of the story, she usually gets away with being taught a lesson in the end (by magically growing antlers and then losing them when she apologizes). In most versions of the story, she does not end up marrying anyone, and it seems like she was just swindling people out of their magical treasures for fun.
(Read the story in this book. I also included a version in my own collection of folktales about superpowers)

Wicked Girl
I have mentioned this Turkish lady before, talking about female friendships, but I am mentioning her again, because she is just cheeky, and goes out of her way to mess with men.
(Read her story here)

The old woman and Death
I also mentioned her before in detail, but she should be on this list - not many people cheat Death permanently, even among tricksters!
(Read about here in my previous post)

For more female trickster tales (in a broader definition than mine), read the wonderful book titled Scheherazade's Sisters.

Any other crafty women I should add to the list? :)


  1. A great list. I like the Kitsune's Fae nature ;-)

  2. This is interesting--I'm familiar with the Yrickster in Native American lore but did not know about trickster women.

    You commented on the mermaid legend on my blog. A friend of mine, Skye Alexander, wrote a book on Mermaid lore that has been selling like crazy. You might find it interesting.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

    1. Thank you for the recommendation! I'll look for it :)

  3. Great lists every single day. This is great.

    Tale Spinning

  4. This is probably my favorite blog theme. I feel like I'm learning so much.

  5. Great post!! Really enjoyed reading :D

  6. Love this list! Kitsune are one of my favorites. I researched them to write a story that featured the two types of them with karasu tengu.

  7. Very interesting. I can see I need to update the folklore section of my library.

  8. Your blogs are givng me an insight of world folklore. I think i will buy a copy of your book soon enough.
    Talking of female tricksters Indian mythology The Ramayana has kaikeyi who extracts a promise out of her husband and gets her stepson to be exiled for 14 years just so her own son Bharat be crowned the king.
    There is another character Surpanaka who could possibly feature in 'ugly = wicked' women stereotype.

    Your blogs make interesting reading. I am amzed by the vastness of your knowledge of world folklore, legend and mythology.

  9. I love Tricksters as well, and I'm swooning at this collection of female tricksters. Between all the fabulous characters and stories you've introduced me to this April, I expect I've got my reading cut out for me for many many moons. What a delight!

  10. With names like Calamity Ahmed and Mercury Ali, how can the story go wrong? ha!

  11. A lot of the women in Greek mythology have engaged in trickery. The one which springs to mind first is Circe.

  12. So many more things to read. These posts are great.

  13. This was so fascinating! Of course I've heard of the male tricksters, but I never even considered there would be female ones as well.
    Carol at My Writing Journal

  14. Thank you ONCE AGAIN. Every time I stop by here, my AWE-o'meter reading for you shoots ups! How does she do it? But, glad you do.
    Hope to bury myself in this happy land of tales this summer. Your list here puts 'Orange is the new Black' characters to shame.

  15. I'm always intrigued by the figure of the trickster, because, as a European, I kind of feel as if we don't ahve many of them. But I think I'm probably mistaken and just don't know folklore well enough ;-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  16. I'm always intrigued by the figure of the trickster, because, as a European, I kind of feel as if we don't ahve many of them. But I think I'm probably mistaken and just don't know folklore well enough ;-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

    1. We do, we just don't always call them that. It took me a long time to find the trickster in Hungarian folklore, and it turned out to be a king :)

    2. Do you know who the trickster king is in Hungarian folklore? I am having a hard time finding tricksters in Hungarian/Transylvanian folklore as well. Closest I can get is the fairies who switch your babies and do other naughty things if you hone in on their territory.

    3. King Mátyás (Matthias) picked up a lot of trickster tale types among his legends, so I'd say he is one. Also the fox, generically. And there is a little known female trickster called Térdszéli Katica, a smart girl that repeatedly tricks a king (kind of like the Basil Maiden tale type).

  17. Yay for trickster women :) The old woman who out smarted Death is still awesome.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  18. Trickster Women are so devious! ☺ I'm especially intrigued by The Wicked Girl.