Episode 15 – Monkey Business

This week on MYTH, we’ll be trekking through the jungles of South America for two ancient animal myths.  In this episode, you’ll learn that teenage skunks are just as arrogant as teenage humans, that the Mayans could be brutal as fuck, and that anything can be fixed by a monkey with a guitar.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, it’s the weirdest were-animal missing a body part that you’ve ever seen.  This is the Myths Your Teacher Hated podcast, where I tell the stories of cultures around the world in all of their original, bloody, uncensored glory.  Modern tellings of these stories have become dry and dusty, but I’ll be trying to breathe new life into them.  This is Episode 15, “Monkey Business.”  As always, this episode is not safe for work.

  • We’ll be covering two stories from two different ancient South and Central American cultures.  The first will be a Mayan myth about Jaguar teaching his godson Little Skunk to hunt and why humility matters.  The second will be a Brazilian folktale about my favorite character archetype, the trickster.  Specifically, it’s the story of how the monkey first became a trickster like his spiritual Chinese cousin (and who doesn’t love a good origin story?)
  • Once, when the world was young, Mr. Jaguar had become friends with Mrs. Skunk (the exact nature of how that particular friendship started isn’t given, which is a shame because I bet it’s a hell of a story).  When Mrs. Skunk gave birth to a son, Little Skunk, Jaguar baptized the tiny animal and became his compadre, or godfather.  Mr. Skunk wasn’t in the picture at this point (having possibly eaten by someone), so when Jaguar decided to go hunting one day, he stopped by to see Mrs. Skunk first. 
  • “Good afternoon, Mr. Jaguar.  What brings you by today?”  “Well, my friend, I was hungry and decided to go hunting.  Since Mr. Skunk isn’t able to, I thought it might be helpful to take your son Little Skunk with me to teach him how to hunt.  It’s a skill he’ll need to learn.”  Skunks are in fact omnivorous, so this isn’t a totally crazy idea, just mostly since skunks and jaguars almost certainly hunt very different prey.
  • Mrs. Skunk wasn’t sure.  “I don’t know, Mr. Jaguar.  I mean, yeah, he does need to learn how to hunt, but I can probably teach him that later.  I don’t know that he needs to learn right now.”  Jaguar nodded and turned to leave when a small voice piped up.  “Aw, mom, come on!  I need to learn how to hunt, and the sooner I learn the better, right?  I’m gonna need a lot of practice if I’m gonna be the man of the house.  Cave, whatever.”  “But you’ll have to go so far away to be able to catch anything, and you’re still so young.  I’d worry.”  “Don’t be stupid, mom, I’ll be with Mr. Jaguar.  I’m safer with him than with you, right?  I’m going, and you can’t stop me.  It’s my right as man of the cave!  Skunk of the cave.  Whatever.”
  • Mrs. Skunk tried to object, but the little asshole was already passed her and out the cave after Mr. Jaguar.  He raced to catch up to Jaguar, who had been taking it easy since he had a long walk.  Jaguar assumed that Mrs. Skunk had changed her mind and let Little Skunk tag along.  “Where are we going?”  “The best hunting is near a river.  We’re going a long way from here to where the nearby stream runs into the large river.  That’s where we’ll find the best things to eat.”  They walked together into the forest.
  • “Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?”  This had been happening with more frequency as the day had stretched on, and Jaguar was frankly a little sick of this shit.  Fortunately, they were in fact almost there.  “We’re close, Little Skunk, so you need to be quiet if you don’t want to scare everything off.”  “Cool, I can be like super quiet, just you watch, Mr. Jaguar, I…”  “Shh. Dumbass.”
  • “We’re here, Little Skunk.  Hide here in the bushes while I sharpen my claws.”  Jaguar took a stone from the ground and used it to grid the edges of his claws even sharper.  When he was satisfied, he turned back to Little Skunk.  “Alright, boy, I need a nap before this (I’m a big cat after all, and I like to sleep).  Keep watch until you see something big come near.  Then wake me up.”  Little Skunk’s chest swelled with pride at being given such an important job, and he sat down next to Jaguar’s already snoozing form to stare at the river with utter determination not to fuck this up.
  • Over an hour passed before he saw anything, but he decided the small monkeys were too small.  Jaguar had wanted something big.  Most of another hour passed before he saw a herd of deer walk to the river’s edge.  A few of the bucks were massive, with impressive racks of antlers, and Little Skunk decided that these were the right motherfuckers to pop a cap in.  He gently shook Jaguar awake, and the big cat stood silently.  Jaguar looked over the deer herd, then nodded to Little Skunk.  This would be fine.
  • Jaguar crouched low in the bushes, and when one of the huge stags wandered near, he leapt out of the bushes and seized the buck around the throat, dragging his struggling body to the ground.  Jaguar’s sharpened claws raked over the skin of the deer, flaying the skin from the agonized deer’s bones and causing it to spams and kick in desperation.  It’s struggles soon weakened as the gush of blood from his ruined throat became a trickle.  At last, Jaguar dropped the dead buck’s neck and turned to his godson, who was staring at him in awe and bloodlust.  “That, Little Skunk, is how you hunt.  Find where your prey will be, wait for them to come to you, and pounce when they least suspect it.  We’ll need to find time for you to try it yourself, to practice, so you don’t get hurt.  Right now, though, I’m hungry, and we still need to bring the leftovers back to your mother when we’re done.  I’ll find someone more your size next time to let you try your paw at this, alright?”  Little Skunk was clearly not paying attention.  He was completely absorbed by the pooling blood and the smell of terror and death in the air.
  • Jaguar shook his head knowingly.  The first kill could do this to a young predator.  He’d learn.  He began to rip chunks of meat off of the carcass, and Little Skunk walked up beside him and did the same, although much smaller chunks.  When they were both full, Jaguar dragged the remainder through the woods to Mrs. Skunk (Little Skunk thought he helped, but mostly he got in the way).  When they arrived, Mrs. Skunk rushed out of the cave to nuzzle her son and thank Mr. Jaguar for taking such good care of him.  Once the pleasantries were done, Jaguar said goodbye and went to his own home to sleep off the meal, leaving the two skunks to drag the meat into their small cave.
  • It was quite a lot of food for the two small animals, and it lasted them a while (since they aren’t as picky as humans are about meat being “rotting” and “covered in flies and dirt”.  Still, they eventually ran out, and Jaguar hadn’t come back to visit.  Mrs. Skunk figured she would need to go out and round up a nice bird or maybe a snake if she could find one.  “Little Skunk, we’re out of meat, so I’ll need to go get some more.”
  • Little Skunk gave his mother a look of disdain that only children starting to think of themselves as adults can manage.  “Mother, don’t be stupid.  I’M the one that learned to hunt from Mr. Jaguar, so I’M the one who’ll go get us some food.”  The little shit never stopped to think about where Mrs. Skunk had always gotten her meals before she met Mr. Jaguar, because it didn’t help him justify doing what he wanted.  He was kind of a brat, honestly.  “I don’t think that’s a good idea, son.  You’ve only been out the once, and you haven’t actually hunted anything yet.  I worry you’ll get hurt.”
  • This was probably the worst thing she could have said.  Little Skunk swelled with wounded pride and strode to the cave entrance.  “I know how, Mother.  I’m not a baby.  I’m going to hunt now.”  And he left before his mother could stop him.  She tried to follow him, but he’d always been good at hide and seek, and she lost him.  She didn’t have much choice except to wait at home and hope he would be okay.  She sat there the entire time worrying.
  • After losing his mother, Little Skunk found his way back to the river where his godfather had shown him how to hunt.  “How hard can it be?  Mr. Jaguar did it, and he didn’t even breathe hard.  It looked simple enough.  First, I sharpen my claws.”  He found a rock to run over his claws, though he did a very uneven job of it.
  • He sat down in a bush and looked around to see what was there.  He saw several birds and lizards, which was what his mother would have hunted, but he was better than that.  “I don’t need to hunt the little animals; that’s for babies and pussies.  I’m gonna bring down a big one.”  He lay down to take a nap, since that was what his godfather had done, forgetting that he didn’t have a lookout.  He had hidden well, fortunately, and his sleep was unmolested.  He woke to the sound of another herd of deer walking up to the river to drink.  Little Skunk grinned.  “Show time!”
  • He waited until one got close to his bush, then he darted out and leapt at it’s throat when it knelt to drink.  Surprisingly, he actually managed to latch on, and he thought he had done it.  Instead of screaming and falling to the ground though, the deer leapt and dashed into the forest, with the skunk still hanging on for dear life.  Little Skunk raked the deer with his tiny claws, but he wasn’t strong enough to break the skin.  He held on, and the deer ran.
  • He didn’t know how long he had been clinging, but his jaw was tired.  He couldn’t hold on much longer.  He scrabbled weakly with his paws, but he still couldn’t latch on.  He did manage to irritate the deer, who shook his head violently, throwing the tired skunk against a rock with a sickening thunk.  He rolled off the rock and onto the ground until he came to rest in a small clearing on his back.  He couldn’t move, and every breath burned.  Scared, alone, and crying for the mother he thought he didn’t need, he died there in the forest, jaws still bared in fear and pain.
  • Night fell, and Little Skunk hadn’t come back.  Mrs. Skunk couldn’t stand waiting anymore, so she went to see Jaguar.  He told her where he had taken Little Skunk to hunt before, and suggested he was probably there now, still trying to catch something.  He chuckled.  “Little ones always try to bite off more than they can chew.  He will learn.  Failing today will teach him humility.”
  • Not entirely sure about Jaguar’s teaching methods, Mrs. Skunk went the way that Jaguar had told her to go.  She found the bush her son had hidden in, and she saw where he had run and leapt, but his tracks ended there, and a buck’s tracks began.  Ice cold fear tore through her stomach.  “Oh please, not my son.  Oh please oh please.”  She raced off after the tracks until she came to the little clearing where her son was lying on his back.  She saw that his mouth was open and thought he was laughing at her.  “What is so funny, Little Skunk?  I thought for sure something had happened to you!  You shouldn’t scare your old mother like that, and you definitely shouldn’t find it funny.  Here, take my paw.” 
  • She reached out for him, but his body was cold and stiff.  She realized now that she was closer that her son wasn’t lying on his back laughing at the world.  He was dead.  She broke down and wept on his corpse long into the night.
  • I hope you weren’t waiting for a happily ever after on this particular story, because you’re not getting one.  Life in the ancient Mayan empire could be short and brutal, and this story reflects that.  It has one very clear message: check your pride and listen to your elders or you might end up dead, and it’s not above killing off a baby skunk to get that point across.  Ye gods and little fishes, but shit got dark, but I have the perfect cure: an upbeat story about an adorable trickster monkey from Brazil.
  • Once upon a time, there was a beautiful garden.  All kinds of fruits grew in it, and all kinds of animals too.  It was basically the garden of Eden, but without all those humans fucking shit up.  It even had one rule: eat whatever you want, but before you do, bow to the tree, call it by it’s name, and ask it politely if you could please have a taste of its fruit.  It was vitally important that the animal use the tree’s correct name and say please before eating, which makes at least as much sense as the biblical account of “eat from any tree but this one, because reasons.” 
  • It was also important that no one be greedy.  It would be rude to eat too much from the tree.  Someone else might wander by and want some, and besides, the tree needed enough left to make sure it could look all purty. 
  • In one corner of the garden stood the most splendid tree of all.  It was the tallest tree in the garden, with a wide trunk and beautiful foliage.  Sprinkled throughout the spreading foliage was a rosy-colored fruit.  It was large and juicy looking, but no one knew what it tasted like because no one could remember its name, so no one could ask the tree for one.
  • In a corner of this idyllic garden lived a little old woman.  She had been there longer than any of the animals, and she knew the names of every tree in the garden.  Now, I can almost hear you yelling at me “You just said no one could remember the fruit’s name, you lying asshole!”  First, stop yelling, I can’t hear you since I’m in the past and you’re not here.  Second, I’ll explain.  It wasn’t that no one had ever thought of asking the woman the name of the fruit.  In fact, many animals had tried that over and over again, but the name of this particular fruit was very long and complicated (so complicated, in fact, that even the original tellers of this story couldn’t remember it, so it’s been lost to time). 
  • The tree was at the opposite corner of the garden, which was a long ass haul, so by the time the various animals walked from the old woman’s house to the beautiful fruit tree, they had already forgotten the tongue-twistingly hard name.  If you’ve ever seen Sam Raimi’s classic Army of Darkness movie, you can get a good mental image of this.  In the movie, the hero is given the magical phrase Klaatu Barada Nikto (a reference to the 1951 sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still).  He needs to repeat this at the desecrated graveyard where the Necronomicon is being held in order to stop an invasion of dead-ites (long story, just watch the Evil Dead movies if you’re curious).  When he gets there, he proudly proclaims Klaatu Barada NNNNNNNnecktie.  Nectar.  Nickel.  Noodle.  It’s an “N” word, it’s definitely an “N” word.  Klaatu Barada N::cough mumble cough::.  It works about as well as you’d expect, and that’s pretty much what kept happening here.  Since no one could remember the exact name, no one got to eat the fruit.  See, when I said no one could remember the name, I was being tricksy.
  • Monkey had watched others try and fail, and had tried himself once or twice to no avail.  He simply couldn’t keep his mind focused on the stupid fucking name for the whole walk back.  He needed to find a better way than just repeating it to himself over and over until it didn’t even sound like a word anymore.  As you probably know, Monkeys are very clever.  If you’ve watched enough classic sitcoms, you probably won’t be surprised when I tell you that Monkey could play the guitar.  And also that he owned a guitar.  He would play it on those nights when the beasts of the jungle would gather together in the garden to dance. 
  • Monkey had an idea.  He went to the little house of the little old woman, guitar in paw.  He asked her the name of the fruit once again, and she obligingly told him (I can’t help but wonder if she was getting sick of constantly being asked the same questions over and over again).  While it was fresh in his mind, Monkey made a little tune, and started singing the name to the simple melody. 
  • The whole walk there, he played his guitar and sang the fruit’s name.  On several occasions, other animals walked up to him and asked “Hey, Monkey.  That’s a sweet new song you’ve got.  What’s it called?”  Monkey ignored them, and continued to walk and sing.  “Fine, dick.  Be that way.  It’s actually kind of a shitty song anyway.  Asshat.”  He might have pissed off a few friends, but the idea worked, and Monkey reached the strange tree still singing the fruit’s name to his simple song.
  • Impressed with his own cunning and really excited about finally being able to sink his teeth into that fucking amazing secret fruit, Monkey bowed to the tree and ask the tree for the fruit by name.  One of the fruits dropped off of the branches at Monkey’s request.  Monkey set his guitar down and picked up the biggest, ripest looking fruit he had ever seen.  It smelled incredibly sweet, and the rosy color looked amazing.  Grinning, Monkey took a huge bite…and promptly spit it the fuck back out.  His face screwed up into a horrible grimace a the bitter, sour, shitty taste of the fruit.  What the fuck?  He smelled it again, and it still smelled every bit as sweet as he thought it had.  He took an experimental lick, and his face screwed up again.  “Son of a bitch!  What a waste of a good idea!” 
  • He hurled the half eaten fruit away from him, disgusted.  He crossed his arms and sat in a huff, pissed right the hell off about the way today had gone.  He wondered what his face had looked like when he bit into that nasty ass fruit.  It had probably looked pretty funny.  The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to see that look.  With a wicked grin, Monkey had a second clever idea.  He went back to find one of the animals he had ignored on his way over here.  He found the skunk first. 
  • “Hiya, Skunk.  Sorry about blowing you off like that before.  I made up a song to remember the name of that one tree no one can ever eat from, and guess what?  It worked!  It fucking worked!  I just had one of the fruits from that tree, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever had before.  You want to try it?  You’ve got to try it!”
  • Skunk, initially miffed about being ignored, begrudgingly admitted that remembering the name of that impossible fruit was a good reason to ignore him, and that getting him one of those incredible fruits would be a fine repayment for the insult.  He happily followed Monkey to the corner of the garden.  Monkey repeated his bow and request for fruit, and a second large, sweet smelling fruit dropped to the ground.  Monkey presented it to Skunk with a flourish and sat back, trying not to grin.  Skunk inhaled the intoxicating aroma, smiled with anticipation, then took a huge bite. 
  • The face was every bit as amazing as Monkey had hoped, and he rolled on the ground, laughing and laughing.  Skunk was offended, and walked off in a snit.  “Jackass.”  Monkey didn’t care though.  This was way better than getting a good fruit.  His stomach aching from laughing so hard, Monkey wondered who else he could trick like this.  Today was going to be fun.
  • And that’s the story of how Monkey realized he liked tricking other animals.  He would eventually come up with lots of tricks, but getting unsuspecting animals to eat the terrible fruit was always one of his favorites.  It’s not surprising that Monkeys are tricksters in several cultures.  They’re inquisitive and clever enough to get themselves into trouble from time to time with humans, and as many people have discovered over the years, they have no qualms whatsoever about stealing things from the unwary.  Plus, monkey’s are cute as shit, and who doesn’t imagine them plotting schemes and dry washing their little monkey hands?
  • And now it’s time for Gods and Monsters.  This is a segment where I get into a little more detail about the personalities and history of one of the gods or monsters from this week’s pantheon that was not discussed in the main story.  This week’s monster is the mula sem cabeça, which is Portuguese for the Headless Mule, a character out of Brazilian folklore, and it’s both exactly and not at all what you think it is.
  • As you probably guess, the Headless Mule is a mule with no head.  It is usually brown or black with silver horseshoes that produce a clopping sound louder than any living horse or mule can produce.  It seems to get along fine with no head, since it is somehow capable of neighing very loudly through the bridle tied to its non-existent mouth.  It also manages to spew flames from its nonexistent nostrils or, in some versions, from the stump of its severed neck.  The best version has the flames spewing from its severed neck forming a flaming head (like Marvel’s Ghost Rider, but a mule).
  • What you probably didn’t guess is that the Headless Mule is a living woman who has been cursed by God for her sins, which usually include fucking a priest inside a church).  The story doesn’t mention what, if anything, happens to the priest in this scenario, which is bullshit.  He’s at least as responsible for the unholy fornication as the woman is, if not more so since it’s his vows that have been violated.  There are some variations on the sin that condemned her to headless muledom, running the gamut from fucking outside of marriage, sacrilege against the church, infanticide, and necrophagy (which is cannibalism, but with dead people, so gross).  In her fire-spewing mule form, she runs across the countryside from sundown on Thursday to sunrise on Friday.  She must cover the territory of seven parishes in the course of the night, starting and ending in the parish where the sin that condemned her was committed.  In the morning, she wakes up naked, sweaty, and reeking of sulfur, which is no way to start the weekend.
  • The legend most likely came over in the 16th Century with the Portuguese colonials, so it has some of the classic hallmarks of the European mythos, such as having the transformation occur at a crossroads.  In a lot of folk magic and myths, crossroads represent a place where the natural and the supernatural worlds meet, a place betwixt and between.
  • If you see the mula sem cabeça, and you want to help her, there are a few options.  Tying the woman to a cross will prevent the transformation from happening that night, but you’d have to do so every goddamned week.  Pricking the mule with a needle and spilling its blood will keep the poor woman from changing into a weremule for as long as you are alive and living in the same parish in which you pricked her, but she’ll go back as soon as you leave the immediate area.  If you want to help her and not be unable to ever leave, you can remove the red-hot bridle from the flaming neck stump, which will keep the woman from shifting back to the headless mule for as long as her new best friend is alive.  She has to be careful not to piss off her benefactor though, because all the person has to do to fuck her over again is tie the bridle back in her mouth and she goes back to being cursed.
  • If you do see the Headless Mule running around, be careful not to cross its path as she roams the night or your ass is grass.  If crossed, the mule will stop wandering aimlessly and track you down to trample you the fuck to death.  Once you’ve pissed off the mule, your only options are to prick it with a needle if you have one, remove the bridle and hope your hands don’t get burnt to a crisp, or lie down on the side of the road face down, covering your teeth, nails, and any shiny jewelry.  Despite being a night monster, she apparently has shitty night vision, so if you blend into the ground enough and don’t shine in the moonlight, she might run on by you and spend the rest of the night trying to find you while you get your ass safely inside.

That’s it for this episode of Myth Your Teacher Hated.  Keep up with new episodes on our Facebook page, on iTunes, on Stitcher or on TuneIn, or you can follow us on Twitter as @HardcoreMyth.  You can also find news and episodes on our website at myths your teacher hated dot com.  If you like what you’ve heard, I’d appreciate a review on iTunes.  These reviews really help increase the show’s standing and let more people know it exists.  If you have any questions, any gods or monsters you’d want to learn about, or any ideas for future stories that you’d like to hear, feel free to drop me a line.  I’m trying to pull as much material from as many different cultures as possible, but there are all sorts of stories I’ve never heard, so suggestions are appreciated.  The theme music is by Tiny Cheese Puff, whom you can find on fiverr.com.

Next time, we’ll head down under for an Aboriginal myth about three beautiful sisters and a flesh-eating monster.  Then, in Gods and Monsters, we’ll meet what might be the only toothless vampire in the world.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for listening.