In Lakota mythology, Iktomi is a spider-trickster spirit, and a culture hero for the Lakota people. Alternate names for Iktomi include Ikto, Ictinike, Inktomi, Unktome, and Unktomi. These names are due to the differences in tribal languages, as this spider deity was known throughout many of North America's tribes.
In Lakota mythology
According to the Lakota, Iktomi is the son of Inyan, rock. Inyan is a creator god similar in form to other male creator gods. Iktomi has a younger brother, Iya, who is a destructive and powerful spirit. One story of Iktomi goes that in the ancient days, Iktomi was Ksa, or wisdom, but he was stripped of this title and became Iktomi because of his troublemaking ways. He began playing malicious tricks because people would jeer at his strange or funny looks. Most of his schemes end with him falling into ruin when his intricate plans backfire. These tales are usually told as a way to teach lessons to Lakota youth. Because it is Iktomi, a respected (or perhaps feared) deity playing the part of the idiot or fool, and the story is told as entertainment, the listener is allowed to reflect on misdeeds without feeling like they are being confronted. In other tales, Iktomi is depicted with dignity and seriousness, such as in the popularized myth of the dreamcatcher.
His appearance is that of a spider, but he can take any shape, including that of a human. When he is a human he is said to wear red, yellow and white paint, with black rings around his eyes.
The tales of Iktomi's propensity for mischief leads many without a full understanding of Native American mythology to believe that he is an evil figure, however, it is not quite that simple. Iktomi can be seen as both good and bad, and has been portrayed in both ways. Many other Native American trickster spirits, like Mica (Coyote) are often victims of the same misconception. Despite Lakota not expressing hysteria or extreme fear towards Iktomi, generally he is viewed as a being whose gaze is to be avoided, lest trouble find you; as depicted in the modern film Skins, directed by Cheyenne-Arapaho director Chris Eyre.
Iktomi is a shapeshifter. He can use strings to control humans like puppets. He has also the power to make potions that change gods, gain control over people and trick gods and mortals. Mica or Coyote is his great accomplice in all of this, though there are times when he behaves seriously and comes to the aid of the Lakota people, there are instances where he gives the people ways to protect from evil, live a better life with technology, or warn them of danger.
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