Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Enos and the Trickster God: Mormon Theology Seminar 2020

Huehecoyotl from Codex Telleriano-Remensis

Enos knew that “God could not lie” (Enos 1:6) and therefore his guilt over his sins was swept away. Bearing testimony of a God that doesn’t lie suggests the possibility of gods that did lie. Assuming the possibility of trickster gods that Enos encountered in society at large, or maybe believed in during a rebellious phase, and which would make him want a remission of his sins when he came back, brings additional insights the life of Enos, his encounter with God, and provides insights in Nephite and Lamanite societies as well.

Because trickster gods are common throughout different cultures in different times it possible that Nephite culture responded to and interacted with these belief systems. Enos’ initial impulse was seeking forgiveness for his sins. Understanding the trickster gods might help us understand what sins bothered him. The Aztec god Huehuecóyotl for example was often a symbol for indulgence and male sexuality which suggests the sins of Enos could have been sexual in nature. It’s possible that Enos indulged in his youth in sexual proclivities much like Corianton from later in Nephite history (Alma 39).[1]

In another text, much like the Greek gods Huehuecoyotl fomented wars between humans to relieve his boredom.[2] This is rather insightful because as the faith of Enos increased, or “began to be unshaken” (Enos 1:11), the God who couldn’t lie explained his just reasons for blessing the Nephites with protection, and God then explained the reasons they would forfeit that right. Both reasons are based on the people adhering to covenants in contrast to the capriciousness of a trickster God. Perhaps during his sojourn among other gods or disbelief in God Enos started to think, like the fictional character Romeo, that they were simple fools of fortune or a trickster god (Romeo and Juliet III.1). The desire for God’s promised protection of the Nephites suggests the possibly precarious state of Nephite affairs in this period and the seeds for their eventual exit from the land of Nephi.

The Navajo Coyoteway ceremony is particularly insightful as well. In the ceremony the ritual singer acts as a mediator between the trickster God and the people who offended him.[3] During his prayer Enos acted as a mediator for his people, praying for their welfare (1:9) and the perseveration of their records (1:16) from the hatred of the Lamanites. The Nephites had a knowledge of Moses, and presumably his intercession for the children of Israel which could mean that Enos was applying one or both of several traditions to his specific circumstances. 

The Lamanite behavior also has some possible relation to the trickster god. In the usual ethno centric description given by the Nephites of a wild people dwelling in tents and eating the flesh of wild beasts, Enos mentions that they were a short “skin girdle” (Enos 1:20). While not explicitly mentioned, the visual image of wearing the skins of creatures could recall the priests of trickster gods that often wore animal pelts that represented their gods and who were both feared and revered among ancient people.  

The Ekeko character from South Ande tribes and Kokopeilli from  North American South West tribes both represented trickster gods from afar that came bearing important messages. The importance of this trait could be that Enos used the concept of messages from the trickster gods, as something that was familiar to him and would make an easier transition back to praying to the God who couldn’t lie.[4] Kokopelli is often depicted with a prominent phallus which again connects to the possible sexual sin of Enos which would have created strong motivation and desire for the remission of his sins. Kokopelli’s petroglyphs as a hunchback flute player remains in many caves today which provide vivid physical reminders of locations where ancients would tell stories or perhaps pray all night around a camp fire.

Examining the Book of Enos and the God who couldn’t lie as a response to trickster gods seen throughout ancient societies gives us tantalizing hints into the sins of Enos, the way God interacts with his people through righteous judgement, possible Nephite politics and Lamanite material culture, and the way trickster beliefs like intercession and messages from afar may have influenced Nephite religious leaders. 

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[3] Karl W. Luckert and Johnny C. Cooke, Navajo Interpreter, COYOTEWAY: A Navajo Holyway Healing Ceremonial, University of Arizona Press, 1979.
[4] Young, John V. Kokopelli: Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers: The Hunchbacked Flute Player. Palmer Lake, Colorado: Filter Press 1990.


Michael W. Towns, Sr. said...

The trickster motif has always fascinated me since first encountering the concept in the writings of Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade. Thanks for a very interesting and fresh take on Enos.

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