The Old Gods in American Gods have roots in the past and in mythology. While we might know the ins and outs of the New Gods, like Media and Technical Boy, there’s probably a lot we can still learn about their predecessors. For those of you hoping to get a better understanding of these characters before you continue on with American Gods, we have you covered. Get to know the history that inspires the characters in our American Gods History Primer series.
Anansi, a.k.a. Ananse, a.k.a. Aunt Nancy, a.k.a. Mr. Nancy
In the Series
The second episode of American Gods introduced us to an Old God with fierce words and a stylish suit. He appeared in the hold of a slaver ship in a "Coming to America" story. One of the African slaves prayed to Anansi and asked for help, and he appeared. Anansi offered a unique brand of assistance. Rather than snapping his fingers and getting the slaves off the boat and to dry land--or whatever instant rescue action a god could perform in such a situation--he empowered them.
He didn't make some fairy godmother bullshit magic: he dropped truth on the men shackled before him. He told them about the myriad injustices they would face in America. He wasn't wrong. Though he listed horror after horror, he inspired hope in the slaves. He encouraged them to take their destinies into their own hands and take action. They climbed out of despair and let their rage fuel them and the fire that destroyed the ship. As Mr. Nancy/Anansi said, "Angry gets shit done."
Their sacrifice also served to strengthen Mr. Nancy--who appeared as a man and one hella terrifying looking spider--and brought him to the shores of America. As with the other Old Gods, belief carried him across the ocean.
In the pages of lore, Anansi got his beginning in Africa as a folk tale character. Though he was depicted as a creator of the sun, moon, and stars and as the son of the sky god Nyame, Anansi became more well known as a trickster who brought stories to the world.
As a cunning trickster, Anansi has a reputation for being wise and articulate. We certainly saw the latter trait in American Gods. One story from back in the day, shared by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, features Anansi taking wisdom from various creatures through tricks and saving it for himself. When he thought the wisdom wasn't any good, he threw the pot where he stored the wisdom in frustration, and thus scattered it to all humans in the world. A proverb from the Asante (a nation in the Ashanti Region of Ghana) goes, "No one goes to the house of the spider to teach it wisdom."
Like in the TV series, the stories about Anansi, also known as the spider god, traveled from their origins in Africa to the Caribbean and America as slaves were transported across the waves. Oral tradition played a strong part in keeping Anansi's spirit alive--I'd say it plays a role almost as important as that of belief. As with anything passed down verbally, the stories of Anansi changed over time. With his ability to trick others and defeat those he faced, Anansi became a symbol of sorts for rebellion and gave hope to those enslaved--which is fitting with his introduction in American Gods.
In Other Stories
If you're interested in more of Mr. Nancy, you should read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. The novel isn't a sequel to American Gods, but it does borrow Mr. Nancy for the story.
Images: Starz, Morrow, Tumblr/Sam