Weekly Deity: Iktomi


Iktomi is a god of the Lakota people in North America. However, this particular deity is known by many names across many different tribes because he is a popular god as well as an archetype. His other names from other tribal languages include Ikto, Unktomi, Inktomi, Unktome, and Ictinike. Iktomi is the spider trickster spirit and also the god of language and new invention.

Attributes

Often Iktomi is portrayed as just a spider, but he can take on any shape and will sometimes even appear as a human.  When he’s in the shape of a human, he is often said to have black rings around his eyes and wear red, yellow, and white paint.

Mythology

Iktomi is a shapeshifter, and can turn into any shape he desires.  He is friends with Mika (also known as Coyote), who is his accomplice in trickery.  For the legend of Itkomi and the Coyote, see the Native American Indian Legends website.  Iktomi makes potions that can grant him power over people, change the gods, and trick gods and mortals.  Also, he can control humans like puppets using the strings of his web.

He isn’t always a trickster.  There are instances of when Iktomi comes to the aid of his Lakota people by helping them to protect themselves from evil or warn them of danger.

There is a prophecy concerning Iktomi that stated he would spread his web over the land.  The meaning of this is unclear, but one interpretation of this is the widespread usage of the telephone, and now the Internet.  Iktomi is considered to be the god of language, since he gave the Lakota people language, and also the god of technology (invention or innovation might be a better way to think of this, since the indigenous Lakota didn’t have technology as we call it today).

Generally Iktomi is not an evil spirit, just a mischievous one.  The Lakota people react not with great amounts of fear but with hesitation or unease.  His gaze is to be avoided, not because he is an evil or fearsome god but because you don’t want trouble to inadvertently come upon you.

Light Side

Iktomi seems to be a very polar god.  One the one hand, he is capable of aid, and has helped the Lakota people in the past.  He gave them language and invention, both of which are incredibly useful.  On the other, he plays tricks on people and gods alike, sometimes mean tricks.  He is a shapeshifter, which means he can be seen as a god of change, which makes sense considering his role as the god of invention.  Inventions tend to bring changes.  I’d say Iktomi’s Light side is made of his status as a god of change, languages, and invention, because all of these things can have a positive outcome and generally do not cause harm.

Dark Side

Iktomi’s Dark side, of course, comes from his trickery.  He tricks the gods into being changed (I assume this means he can change their forms once he gets hold of them), and he manipulates humans into his web so he can play a trick or gain power over them.  No one likes a manipulator, and sometimes it seems that his tricks can be cruel or cause harm.

I would say that Iktomi is about equal levels of Light and Dark. If Iktomi is going to be called upon, it’s my opinion that he should primarily be called upon as a god of change.  This is more likely to invoke his Light side while still acknowledging his Dark.  Just be careful when interacting with Iktomi–he may decide to play a little trick that you aren’t expecting.

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