Tag Archives: gods

Myth: Anansi Story from a Coworker


Informant S is a 25 year old graduate student in the film production department of USC SCA and is the collector’s coworker. S is from New Jersey, and their family is from the Virgin Islands. S has “heard various Anansi stories within [their] family. This one [they] remember partially reading it for a project [they] were doing in a class but it also was within the realm of the ones [they] heard growing up [they] just couldn’t fully remember it so [they] just found one.” The informant has studied folklore for their own personal interest in it and employed it in their own filmmaking.


Informant: “Anansi is essentially like an African diaspora. It’s a spider, like a trickster-spider, and it’s everywhere in the Caribbean, it’s in the whole diaspora. And there’s one Anansi story I sort of remember where he’s hungry and he wants dinner. So he keeps getting himself invited to, like, dinner parties and pretending there’s a bunch of people and then he steals the host’s dinner and just, like, leaves. I think he killed one of them at one point. But it’s all these different like creatures of the forest I think, there’s a fox, a wolf, and a crow I believe? And then eventually he keeps coming home, eating all the food he stole, and not bringing any back for his wife and kids. So, I think his wife rats him out and then there’s like a fake dinner party made to get him and he eats so much food he can’t move anymore. And then all the people he stole the food from capture him and basically tie him up and leave him tied against a tree. And then he eats the rope and escapes. That’s not… that’s the gist of it, I can remember.”

Collector: “Like that’s how it ends?”

Informant: “Something like that. They usually have kind of dark endings but the… essentially Anansi is supposed to teach you […] lessons about why not to trick people and be greedy and selfish and a bunch of stuff. […] Anansi itself is like a… almost universal… one of the few universal diasporic concepts. There’s a whole bunch of them, that’s just one I remember.”


I was lucky enough to find an informant for this collection entry that was familiar with concepts of folklore itself. S mentioned that their interest in the African diaspora is rooted in their own personal background, connecting them to heritage or family as we’ve discussed in class. It seems like this kind of interest in cultural folklore is common among the children and grandchildren of immigrants in America. S’ story reminds me of the concept of “universal archetype” – though that theory has been disproved, I can see why some folklorists have considered it. The concept of a trickster god, while not archetypal, appears in a number of folklores – notably in Indigenous American folklore, according to Lévi-Strauss’ work in structuralism. Anansi, like Lévi-Strauss’ examples, acts on instincts that are pretty reminiscent of human flaws, and is connected with a specific type of animal – a spider. Though S believes the story is to teach people not to mess with trickster gods, I believe it has to do with human flaw such as greed and gluttony as well. What’s more, I think it’s interesting that the informant specifically mentioned what they believe the story is supposed to teach, and has a pretty clear understanding of this story as a myth.

Lord Ganesha


My informant, NT, is my roommate and good friend. She is a junior at USC and she is Hindu. The reason she shared this story with me was actually very random. She has a small statue of a Hindu god in our room, but for most of the semester it was covered by her makeup bag on her desk. When we were cleaning, she said, “OH NO, I’ve accidently had a god hidden, no wonder I’m not thriving,” in a completely humorous and sarcastic manor. This led me to ask why the statue had an elephant head.

Main Piece:

NT’s summary- The Goddess Parvati created her son Ganesha so that he could always guard her chamber, and never let anyone in no matter who they were. One time, Ganesha didn’t allow the Goddess’ husband, Shiva, in the chamber. Shiva freaked out and was so angry that he chopped Ganesha’s head off; this enraged the Goddess so much that she threatened to destroy the world, he was not brought back to life. So, Shiva saw an elephant, cut its head off and gave it to Ganesha. The Goddess was still unforgiving, so Shiva bestowed a great amount of divinity to Ganesha and made it a rule that everyone had to pray to him before any other god.

Interviewer: So why is this the god you choose to have a statue of Ganesha, is there personal significance behind it?

NT- When I was a little girl, my mom took me on my first trip to India. I really didn’t know much about my own culture, which was kind of sad. I would always pray with my parents and repeat what they said but I never really understood what any of it meant. So, when we were in India, my mom decided to buy me a bunch of kid’s books about all the stories of the gods so that I could understand the myths behind each one and why we pray to them. I had probably like 20 of them, but my favorite one was always the one about Ganesha. He’s definitely the most well-known god among people who don’t know anything about Hinduism, mostly because he has an elephant head. But I was always taught (even though I didn’t understand) that we needed to pray to Ganesha first before ANY other god, even if it was a holiday celebrating a different god. I always thought it was so weird, but then i read the story of how ganesha came to be and what happened to him (how his father cut off his head lol) and that was the story that really got me into my culture. so now i even have an idol/statue thing of ganesha in my room because not only is he the remover of obstacles but he also brought me closer to my culture.


NT shared with me a myth from her religion; by her very easy recall of details, it’s obvious that it holds a special and sacred place in her heart. A very common motif amongst religious myths is the creation factor, hence the creation story for the god of obstacles. Using Levi-Strauss’ paradigmatic approach, myths can be analyzed by how they relate to the underlying patterns in life. People can use myths as a guide for what to do on earth, so Ganesha’s perseverance can be translated into one’s own challenges in the real world. Being able to find commonality and comfort in myths is a reason that people hold them so sacred.

“The Honest Woodsman”: A folk tale


My informant was particularly familiar with storytelling. They had this story prepared both in terms of content as well as delivery. Throughout the telling, they made gestures and motions to convey their thoughts.

“One sunny day, there was a woodsman. This woodsman was cutting down trees and collecting lumber so he could sell it to the people in his village. He was usually respected as a really honest man, and a really hardworking man. He was in this forest chopping down wood as per usual until he hit a particularly hard piece of wood. Out of shock, his hands let go and his axe flew back behind him into a river.”

The god Hermes saw this as the woodsman searched the river for his axe. Wanting to mess around for a little bit, Hermes decided to appear to him and say ‘Woodsman, I think I may have found your axe.’ He then showed the woodsman an axe made of solid gold. And Hermes said to him ‘Is this your axe?’ The woodsman said ‘No, that is not my axe.’ Hermes said ‘Oh, this must be a different axe’ and set it aside. Then he pulled out a silver axe, ‘Woodsman, is this your axe?’ And the woodsman said ‘No, that is not my axe.’ Hermes set that one to the side and showed him another one. ‘Is this your axe?’ He holds out a very plain, very battered axe with a wooden handle and iron tip. The woodsman says ‘Yes! That is my axe! I built it myself!’ Hermes, very impressed by his honestly, gave the woodsman all three axes for being such an honest person.”

The woodsman return to his village and shared the news. A competitor of the woodsman, a man who did not work so hard and was not known for being trustworthy, saw this and grew very jealous. The next day, this competitor went to a similar part of the woods and started cutting down trees behind pretending to drop his axe in the river behind him. So Hermes, seeing this again, appears and says ‘Hello, it seems you’ve lost your axe.’ The competitor said ‘Ah yes, I lost my axe! Do you, by any chance, know where it is?’ Hermes pulls out a golden axe and offers it to the competing woodsman. He asks, ‘Is this your axe?’ to which the competitor said ‘Yes, of course it is!'”

Hermes makes the golden axe disappear and actually takes the man’s own axe. The competitor said ‘That’s my own axe! I built it with my own hands and I use it for my livelihood. Hermes responded ‘A man who cannot be honest probably doesn’t make an honest living and should not make one at all.’ With that, Hermes leaves.”

The informant smiled. “The end.”


“I don’t know, it’s the story that’s stuck with me the most because when I was younger, I liked to read a lot of tales and fables. This is one that stuck out to me.”

“I had a book of Aesop’s Fables, so it was probably in that book,” they said, a bit unsure. “But seeing as all stories are the same and storytelling is very repetitive in its behavior, I probably heard it– or something like it– in a church setting since I was raised in Catholicism. The first time I heard the story the way I heard it was probably in that book.”

“It’s a pretty simple story– it’s a story of ‘tell the truth and you’ll get good things out of it.’ It’s mainly giving a moral, but because of the Greeks, it’s probably also used as a way of saying ‘The Gods giveth, the Gods taketh away.'”


“The Honest Woodsman”/”The Honest Woodcutter” story is one that I’ve come across in other cultures– specifically Japanese. I thought it was particularly interesting that the version I heard never had a competing woodsman who had an example made of them. In this version, I think it’s not only a lesson on being honest, but also a lesson on being a good person in general. This version makes sure to describe the competing woodsman as being not-hardworking, jealous, and greedy along with being dishonest. It’s this combination of negative traits that suggests there should be a punishment given to him as a moment of comeuppance.

Aztec Creation Story of the Sun

Background: The informant is a 19 year old girl who is currently a college student in Chicago, Illinois. She was also born and raised in the city. Her father is Mexican-American and she also grew up with aunts and uncles to pass on traditions.

Context: The informant mentioned hearing about it when she was younger, but she relearned the myth in detail when she took a Latin American Studies class  at her college last year.


“So, from what I remember, this is the Aztec creation story of the Fifth Sun. So, with the Aztec, there’s a bunch of different gods and, like, their story involves different suns – like in the sky, not a boy. Their suns are the five different births of the world, so to speak. There’s birth, death, and that’s all I can remember as of right now but anyways, –all the gods were kinda standing around the fire that created the light of Earth, and they were trying to keep going. And this fire was dying out. These gods were like ‘what can we do?’

“And, I believe the different gods offered little things they were associated with. Like, one was associated with nature and would offer flowers. It didn’t really work in terms of the fire. They were like ‘hm, okay, this is a bit of a problem.’ Eventually, there were two gods. I forgot their names, but what’s important is what they represented. One was associated with frail and sickness. And the other was associated with richness and wealth. He was abundance and gold and luxury. 

“And, so these two very different gods were like… ‘I’m gonna go and sacrifice myself into the fire.’ For about a week of time, they prepared themselves for the fire. But, what happened was, when preparing themselves, they were thinking, well only one of them can do it.

“Then, When it came down to it to throw themselves in the fire, the god associated with luxury was like “Yeah! I’ll go” and then when he ran towards the fire, he went “Psyche!” and didn’t go into the fire. So, the other one, who was running right after him to go second, went into the fire, but there was no change in the fire. But, his courage and bravery was applauded by all the other gods who were watching. So, then, all the other gods sacrifice themselves into the fire. Which is how the sun was able to keep going.”


Informant: She finds the information particularly interesting because the Aztecs hail from Latin America, and are commonly disregarded as a great civilization. She has retained the myth in her head since taking the class, and has shared it with others, revealing how she thinks the information is worth sharing and knowing.

Mine: It’s always exciting when creation stories are retold through modern lenses because it gives a new perspective on it. Hearing the gods talk in casual terms, or the one deity yells “psych!” would never be something heard in the past, but perfectly conveys the same meaning – that the god was trying to trick the other one into sacrificing first. Finding other examples of the story online, another variation of the myth is how it created the sun and moon from the two gods who jumped in. They both deal very similarly, until the last message of how something was created, and they both have slightly indifferent tones to them. In the one performed by the informant, it holds a tragic, yet content, element in how all the Gods sacrificed themselves to keep the sun and life alive. In the second one, it seems like more a lighthearted story, where God wasn’t trying to trick the other but simply hesitated in fright. As Chicago is very far away from the Mexican border, it may reflect how the myth has changed over time to reflect a new telling.

The Origin of the Korean Nation

The origin of Korea is shrouded deeply in myth, though there is one widely circulated story that is most popular. This is a version of the story told to me by my father, who grew up in Korea for 30 years before immigrating to the United States.

호랑이와 곰이 사람이 되고 싶어서 환웅이란 사람한테 부탁했는데, 마늘이랑 쑥을 100일 동안 먹으면 사람이 된다고 했다. 그런데 호랑이는 포기하고 곰은 100일 동안 참고 먹어서 진짜 사람이 된다. 사람이 된 곰(여자)은 나중에 환웅이랑 결혼해서 한국이란 나라가 만들어졌다.


ho-rang-ee-wah gom-ee sa-ram-ee dwe-go sheep-uh-suh hwan-oong-ee-ran sa-ram-han-teh boo-tak-het-neun-deh, ma-neur-ee-rang ssook-eur bek-ear dong-an mug-eu-myun sa-ram-ee dwen-da-go het-da. geu-run-deh ho-rang-ee-neun po-gee-ha-go gom-eun bek-ear dong-an cham-go mug-uh-suh jin-jja sa-ram-ee dwen-da. sa-ram-ee dwen gom(yuh-jah)eun na-joong-eh hwan-oong-ee-rang gyur-hon-heh-suh han-gook-ee-ran na-ra-ga man-deur-uh-jyut-dah.


A tiger and a bear person wanted to become so to Hwanung a person they asked, and garlic and mugwort if they eat for 100 days they will become a human. But the tiger gave up and the bear for 100 days endured and ate so they became a real person. The bear who became a person (female) later married Hwanung and the nation of Korea they created.


A tiger and a bear wanted to become a person so they asked a man named Hwanung, and he said that they would become people if they ate garlic and mugwort for 100 days. The tiger gave up but the bear endured and ate for 100 days, and she eventually became a human. The bear who became a person later married Hwanung and they created the nation of Korea.

This myth is very deeply engrained in Korean folklore and history, as it tells the story of the marriage between Hwanung and the bear. It is widely told that the two produced a son named Tangun (sometimes Dangun) who is regarded as the legendary founder and god-king of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom. He is said to be the “grandson of heaven” and “son of a bear”, and to have founded the kingdom in 2333 BC.

Personally, I really enjoy this story because it links the heavens with humans and animals, who all play a vital role in the subsequent creation of Korea. Seeing the relationship between the divine member and the animal-turned-human was quite novel to me, as I had never seen animals actively approaching deities before. The inclusion of the vegetarian diet requirement was fitting for the mythological founding of Korea as well, since the people were a mostly agriculture based society. I also found it ironic that the bear becomes the wife of the founding father of Korea, although the tiger is most commonly attributed to the country and serves as its national animal. Perhaps this creation myth was hinting at the future, as Siberian tigers are now extinct in Korea while wild bears still roam the lands.