Trickster Archetype: An Exploration in Writing the Tale

Today’s Guest Blog: ‘Trickster Archetype’  is written by Christian Gerike M.A,  teaching assistant in the Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California, Psychology Department, for the Introduction to Psychology and Myth, Dream, and Symbol courses. Christian has also two other guest blogs  for Mindfunda: How to Remember your Dreams, and Sleeping well, Remembering Dreams.

You can read more about the Trickster on Mindfunda in Trickster Gods: Tricky ways to discover the Self,  and Trickster Tactics: from Archetype to Evolution 

Trickster Archetype

The whimsical and diabolical Trickster is a character found in folk tales and myths around the world.

The Trickster, generally recognized as one of the oldest expressions of mankind, originated in and is the chief mythological character of the paleolithic world.

trickster archetype
Paleolitic Paintings in Lascaux

 

Found among the simplest to the most complex of indigenous groups, this is a figure and a theme with “. . . a special and permanent appeal and an unusual attraction for mankind from the very beginnings of civilization” (Radin, 1956, p. xxiii).

The Trickster is a strange combination of benevolence, harmless mischief, and destructive malice.

trickster as archetype
Trickster by Bill Lewis

Erdoes and Ortiz, in their 1998 book American Indian Trickster Tales, describe the Trickster as:

“. . . always hungry for another meal swiped from someone else’s kitchen, always ready to lure someone else’s wife to bed, always trying to get something for nothing, shifting shapes (and even sex), getting caught in the act, ever scheming, never remorseful” (p. xiii).

In West Africa we find the Spider, the Tortoise in Nigeria, the Hare among the Bantu people, in Hawaii is the Trickster/Culture Hero Maui, in ancient Greece is androgynous Hermes/Mercury, in Scandinavia shape-shifter Loki lies and steals from the other gods, in Europe is Reynard the Fox, on the Andaman Islands is the Kingfisher, in Turkey it is Nasr-eddin, the hodja (clown-priest).

 

trickster archetype
Picture: Josh Felice

 

In traditional and modern Native American cultures, there is Raven in the Pacific Northwest, androgynous and shape-shifting Coyote in California, the Great Hare among northern and eastern woodland tribes, and in the southwest the Hopi have Keshari, the Clown. In looking at Native American traditions we see Coyote the Trickster par excellence.

Trickster Archetype Defined

Trickster is proud to be described as destructive, immature, devious, quick-witted, sly, deceiving, lying, thieving, villainous, cowardly, mischievous, shrewd, cunning, wise, self-centered, ingenious, ambiguous, bi-sexual, fool, lecher, and a cheat.

trickster archetype
An icon of chaos theory – the Lorenz attractor.
By User:Wikimol, User:Dschwen – Own work based on images

 

“Clever and foolish at the same time, smart-asses who outsmart themselves” (Erdoes & Ortiz, 1998, p xiv).  It is this aspect of the Trickster that has made him such an entertaining character around the world. In manifesting these characteristics, the Trickster represents the chaos principal, the principle of disorder.

Trickster Archetype: Dark vs Light

Jung (1956/1969) sees the dark side of the Trickster as being “. . . a collective shadow figure, a summation of all the inferior traits of characters in individuals . . . subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being, whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.”  A ‘cosmic’ being of divine-animal nature, superior to man because of his superhuman qualities; inferior to him because of his reason and unconsciousness (pp. 270, 263, 264).

There is another side to the Trickster.  As the giver of all great boons—the fire-bringer, teacher of mankind—it is common for the Trickster to be a creator figure who created the earth and brings culture and civilization to humans.

In his role of bringing inventions, agriculture, tools, and fire the Trickster is a cultural hero.  For example, the Japanese storm god Susanoo provided humankind with such necessities of life as daylight, fire, and water.

Among the Classical Greeks, Prometheus as creator brought into being all of the world’s animals;

trickster archetype
Prometheus Carrying Fire, 1637
Jan Cossiers

 

he brought fire, numbers, writing, farming, medicine, divination, metallurgy, and served as protector of humans.

Ikotomi the Spider, the Trickster of the Lakota and Dakota Sioux tribes, created time and space, invented language, gave the animals their names, and, as a prophet, foretold the coming of the white man.

archetypical trickster
Artist Gertrude Spaller’s rendition of Iktomi in the story Iktomi and the Ducks.

 

We should keep in mind that since these contributions were bestowed upon humanity by Trickster, that there might be a Shadow side to these advances in civilization.

Trickster Archetype: Time

The Trickster is alive and well in mythic time – an era when the world and its inhabitants were very different from they are now, a time when there were animals that walked and talked as human beings do; and Trickster lurks about in historical time, when the earth is no different than today, though there may still be mythical lands where mythical beings interact with humans.

 

trickster archetype
Time machine concept by oreocactus
©2014-2017 oreocactus

 

Even in modern times the Trickster abounds, as wide ranging as Charlie Chaplin, Wile E. Coyote, Richard Nixon, and the 3 Stooges.

Trickster Archetype: Gender

The trickster is usually male.  Lewis Hyde, in his 1998 book, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, explains that

  • Tricksters may belong to patriarchal mythologies, ones in which the prime actors, even oppositional actors, are male.

    trickster archetype
    Cartoon: Azilliondollarcomicsdotcom
  • There may be a problem with the standard itself; female tricksters may simply have been ignored.

    trickster archetype
    Morgan le Fay, female Trickster?
    Art by Sandys, Frederick
  • Perhaps the trickster stories articulate some distinction between men and women and even in a matriarchal setting this figure would be male. (p. 336)

 

Trickster Archetype: Native North America

Trickster, in its earliest form among North American Indians, is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others and who is always duped himself.

He behaves as he does from impulses over which he has no control, possessing no values, moral or social, he is at the mercy of his passions and appetites. The others in Trickster stories possess similar traits: the animals, the various supernatural beings and monsters, and man.

Paul Radin, in The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology, tells us that

The overwhelming majority of all so-called trickster myths in North America give an account of the creation of the earth, or at least transforming of the world, and have a hero who is always wandering, who is always hungry, who is not guided by normal conceptions of good or evil, who is either playing tricks on people or having them played on him and who is highly sexed.

Almost everywhere he has some divine traits.  These vary from tribe to tribe. In some instances he is regarded as an actual deity, in others as intimately connected with deities, in still others he is at best a generalized animal or human being subject to death. (1956, p. 155)

Trickster Archetype: Coyote

While appearing both in human and animal forms in Native North America, Trickster is generally an animal with human characteristics, such as the hare, raven, spider.

It is Coyote, however, who is the classic Trickster in the Native American myths of North America, if not worldwide.  Barry Lopez (1977, p. xv), informs us that

No other personality is as old, as well known, or as widely distributed among the tribes as Coyote. He was the figure of paleolithic legend among primitive peoples the world over, and though he survives today in Eurasian and African folktales, it is among native Americans, perhaps, that his character achieves its fullest dimension.

Kimberly A. Christen (1998), in Clowns & Tricksters: An Encyclopedia of Tradition and Cultures, describes Coyote as being most recognizable by his flaws: selfish, disrespectful, glutton, at worst a murder and thief.

trickster archetype
Click here to buy the book and support Mindfunda

“The coyote shares with other tricksters a total disregard for cultural mores and laws. In order to teach young people the proper way to act, stories about the coyote often focus on greed and wrongheadedness” (p. 33).  We can see Coyote at his finest among the Lakota:

“The Lakota coyote Mica has an unending sexual appetite, he steals, and he is greedy and generally disrespectful. Mica disregards all social mores by being selfish and rude. Mica takes advantage of his friends’ wives, he steals food from his neighbors, and he lies to get whatever he wants, never working at all. Mica outwits other people using lies, tricks, and any other means possible. He challenges people, animals, and other powerful beings to contests he is sure to win; if necessary he cheats to make sure he will be victorious. (Christen, 1998, pp. 32-33)

Trickster Archetype: Its Function 

The animal aspect of the Trickster indicates a close identification with nature. Howard Norman describes the Trickster’s role in explicating the relationship of humans and the natural world:

“These tales enlighten an audience about the sacredness of life. In the naturalness of their form, they turn away from forced conclusions, they animate and enact, they shape and reshape the world” (as quoted by Erdoes & Ortiz, 1998, p. xix).

Barry Lopez (1977, pp. xvi-xvii), in Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with his Daughter: Coyote Builds North America, presents several of the Trickster’s social and psychological roles.

Lopez states that while “Coyote stories were told all over north America . . . with much laughter and guffawing and with exclamations of surprise and awe . . . the storytelling was never simply just a way to pass time.” Coyote stories

  • Detailed tribal origins;
  • emphasized a world view thought to be a correct one;
  • dramatized the value of proper behavior;
  • participating in the stories by listening to them renewed one’s sense of tribal identity;
  • the stories were a reminder of the right way to do things—so often, of course, not Coyote’s way;
  • telling Coyote stories relieved social tensions. Listeners could release anxieties through laughter, vicariously enjoying Coyote’s proscribed and irreverent behavior; and
  • Coyote’s antics thus compare with the deliberately profane behavior of Indian clowns in certain religious ceremonies. In a healthy social order, the irreverence of both clown and Coyote only serve, by contrast, to reinforce the existent moral structure.

trickster archetype

With the Trickster we experience paradoxes, if not outright contradictions, of being human.  “Coyote, part human and part animal, taking whichever shape he pleases, combines in his nature the sacredness and sinfulness, grand gestures and pettiness, strength and weakness, joy and misery, heroism and cowardice that together form the human character” (Erdoes & Ortiz, 1998, p. xiv).

trickster archetype

It is in the Trickster these combinations of qualities are recognized as being in the world, and from the Trickster we learn existential lessons as to the consequences of letting our darker side rule our lives.

Through the Trickster we can see that “Individuals have the power to recognize their shadows and in doing so, choose the better part” (Lundquist, 1991, p. 29).

Conclusion

Jung (1956/1969) sees the Trickster as “. . . simply the reflection of an earlier, rudimentary stage of consciousness . . .” (p. 261).

The Trickster symbol, however is not static and changes through time, with Coyote now right alongside Charlie Chaplin.

trickster archetype
Charlie Chaplin

The Trickster lets us know that there is no clear differentiation of the divine and the ordinary; that, in fact, the divine can have less than stellar qualities.

Paul Radin (1956) concludes that the Trickster

. . . became and remained everything to every man—god, animal, human being, hero, buffoon, he who was before good and evil, denier, affirmer, destroyer and creator. If we laugh at him, he grins at us. What happens to him happens to us. (p. 169)

The Trickster carries an enormous number of opposites and many of the adventures could be seen as arising from the tension that is found between these opposites.

Trickster dwells in the realm of the Shadow, but perhaps that is for our salvation. C.G. Jung (1956/1969), at the end of his essay On the Psychology of the Trickster-figure, states:

“As in its collective mythological form, so also the individual shadow contains within it the seed of an enantiodromia, of a conversion into its opposite” (p. 272).  Let the Trickster inhabit the darker side of life, while we use that force, through his stories, to bring us to the good side of life. Let us have balance by leaving evil in the realm of the gods and keeping good in the realm of humanity.

 

Bibliography

Bastian, D.E. & Mitchell, J.K. (2004), Handbook of Native American mythology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bierhorst, J, (1985). The mythology of North America. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Bright, W. (1993). A Coyote reader. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Campbell, J. (1969). The masks of god: Primitive mythology. New York, NY: Penguin Compass.

Christen, K. A. (1998). Clowns & tricksters: An encyclopedia of tradition and culture. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Erdoes, R. & Ortiz, A. (Eds.).  (1998). American Indian trickster tales. New York, NY: Viking.

Hyde, L. (1998). Trickster makes this world: Mischief, myth and art. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Jung, C. G. (1969). On the psychology of the trickster figure. In Read, H., Fordham, M., Adler, G., & McGuire, W. (Eds.) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.), The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 9, part 1. The archetype and the collective unconscious (2nd ed., pp. 255-272). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1956)

Kirk, G.S. (1970). Myth: Its meaning & functions in ancient & other cultures. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Laffert, J.V. (Ed.) (2008). Essential visual history of world mythology. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Leeming, D.A. (1990). The world of mythology: An anthology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Lopez, B. (1977). Giving birth to Thunder, sleeping with his daughter: Coyote builds America. New York, NY: Avon Books.

Lundquist, S. E. (1991). The Trickster: A transformation archetype. Distinguished Dissertations Series 11. San Francisco, CA: Mellen Research University Press.

Radin, P. (1956). The Trickster: A study in American Indian mythology.  New York, NY: Schocken Books.

Shipley, W. (Ed., Trans). (1991). The Maidu Indian myths and stories of Hanc’ibyjim. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books.

Vizenor, G. (1993). Trickster discourse: Comic and tragic themes in native American literature. In Lindquist, M.A. & Zanger, M. (Eds.), Buried roots and indestructible seeds: The survival of American Indian life in story, history, and spirit (pp. 67-83).  Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.

Trickster Gods: Tricky Ways to Discover the Self

Do you want to understand more about yourself, your dreams and the struggles of your life? Today I like to tell you more about our online course Mindfunda Mythology.

This is the fifth of a six part blog about Mindfunda Mythology, an online course that will make your life easier:

The Creation myth: Genesis and The Big Bang
The Amazing Animal: The Animal in Mythology
Mythology of Men 
Mythology of Women
Mythology of the Trickster
Mythology of the Grail, Pulling Out the Sword

 

Trickster Gods are tricky. They tease you, they obstruct your path, and when you look back at your life you see how much they have helped you.

A trickster breaks the rules. The Trickster Gods have knowledge beyond this world. They can be mean, but they always put the hero on the path of his life.

Let me know in the comments who has been a trickster in your life. Identifying your trickster gods will shine a light on your life’s path.

trickster gods
Roadrunner: Copyright by Warner Brothers, Inc.
Trickster gods: the butterfly

There is one story that will help you understand the function of the Trickster. It is a short story about a man and a butterfly.

A man saw a caterpillar struggling to get out of its shell. It did not seem to work for this butterfly to be.

trickster gods
Photo: Eddy Van 3000 on Flickr

So he decided to help and gently cut away the cocoon. Out came the butterfly. But it was not able to fly…

The struggle of getting out of its cocoon would have enabled it to gain the strength its wings need to fly.

You need struggle in your life to find out who you are. Your trickster helps you to gain strength. Who has done that in your life? Let me know in the comments.

Trickster Gods: My story

When I look back upon my life, I can clearly distinguish my tricksters. One of them is my older sister. She was always more popular, more beautiful and much funnier than I was.

My sister could be extremely cruel to me, telling others how much of a loser I was. And to my great surprise, that did not seem to turn off other people. She was my trickster.

trickster gods
Copyright: Disney

This trickster taught me that I had a path in life. Hers was to be beautiful and charming, mine was to be intellectual. I still like thinking and reading very much.

The lesson about the Trickster in Mindfunda’s Mythology course will tell you stories. Trickster stories. We will analyse them, and learn lessons about ourself.

And ask the daunting question: in what way(s) have we been tricksters ourselves?

Trickster gods: Trusting the Trickster

The first paragraph is about trust. We all get betrayed in our life. No matter how good treat others. Everybody gets hurt. The magic is in healing. Daring to open your heart again after you have been betrayed by a loved one.

No, this paragraph of the course is not about being naive or stupid.  If someone treats you bad, either mentally or physically, you need to get away.

It is about trust that you are going to be alright. No matter what you have been through, to believe that you have the spiritual power to learn and grow.

Trickster gods: Loki the killing prankster

The second paragraph of the Mindfunda Mythology course tells a story about Loki.

Loki is the asshole who kills another god. Baldr, son of Odin and Freya. He does not get away with it. He gets severely punished. But it is apparent that a trickster transcends divinity.

James Hillman says in The Souls Code: “Loki is a Giant, a representation of the forces of nature that are beyond human control”.

trickster gods
Doug Savage

 

In our current society we are held responsible for so many things. Often things beyond our control. It is healthy to acknowledge that some things are trickster – stuff. Using stories and  questions, this course will give you techniques to recognise these patterns in the story of your own life.

TRICKSTER GODS: Carl Gustav Jung

First thing I want to do is to tell you all that I admire the spirit of Carl Jung and all that he has given this world. He had a brilliant mind. But he also was a great trickster.

trickster gods
Artwork: Copyright Funny Times

I do consider him to be a shaman, a magician. And like everybody, Jung himself had a dark side.

In the Mindfunda Mythology course I consider Jung an example of the Know it All Trickster. This Trickster is a boy who has a sense of mental superiority from early childhood on.

A mental superiority that he feels compelled to prove and show off in various ways. The Know It All Trickster knows how to use his charm.

Trickster gods: animals

Exploring Carl Jung’s life in Trickster terms helps us get a grip on the Trickster as theme of the development of the Self.

The Trickster as animal also explores the theme of the Self, coming out of the unconscious darkness and becoming more shrewd,  cunning, and wise along the way.

trickster gods
Artwork: Mark Parisi

This lesson will share stories of the Chinook tribe, indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, to explore this energy in your life.

Trickster Gods: Death the final trickster?

The concluding paragraph of this lesson explores if death is the final trickster in our lives.

One of the themes of the Trickster Mythologies found around the world is to defeat death.

trickster gods
Artwork: Ahley Cooped

In our day and age, the mighty God Google, who knows everything about you and in that sense has gotten god-like qualities, has hired Kurzweil to see if they can defeat death.

Who has been the trickster in your life? Let me know in the comments!

TRICKSTER GODS: Fifth lesson of Mindfunda mythology

All Excited? Mindfunda Mythology is designed to make the journey of your life easier. You will get:

  • Knowledge about the Sefiroth, the Cabalistic Tree of Life;
  • You will be introduced to the two main categories of myth so you can (re)connect with the strength of your inner animal;
  • You will have access to al the 24 possible ways of behaviour of male and female archetypes;
  • You will be able to tap into the power of the Trickster whenever you feel reluctant to follow the call of your own path;
  • All these methods and techniques will enable you to enlighten your inner fire, your personal Grail;
  • You will get 44 exercises during the course, an average 6 – 10 exercises per lesson to help you master the knowledge.

 

Click here to find out more: Mindfunda Mythology

I like nothing better than to give away valuable information to make your life better. Here are two books to choose from: 10 tips to remember more dreams and a report on Mutual Dreaming 

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THIS CONTENT IS CREATED BY SUSANNE VAN DOORN, AUTHOR AND OWNER OF MINDFUNDA; MAKING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF PSYCHOLOGY, MYTHOLOGY AND SPIRITUALITY EASY TO USE IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE!

What is Mindfunda about?

My name is Susanne van Doorn, I am a Dutch psychologist, blogger and author. I have been working with psychology, dreams and mythology ever since I finished my study in psychology at Tilburg University. I made this independant site to share insights, and recent scientific articles about the brain, dreams, and mythology for use in your personal life.

This posting is categorised as Mythofunda:
“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths” Joseph Campbell used to say. This part of Mindfunda shows you how your personal mythology can create peace in your life.

Read more about Mindfunda here, or visit our Courses Page.


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