“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory…
you have no control – who lives, who dies, who tells your story” – Washington, History Has Its Eyes on You from the musical, Hamilton
If you’ve read any of my posts so far this year, you might notice that I’ve developed a Trickster fixation. Three years ago when I picked up Lewis Hyde’s book Trickster Makes this World, I felt a powerful resonance with the subject.
Early in 2015, when I returned to Trickster Makes this World in hopes of finding a quote – I found, instead, a new level of understanding.
I realized then that there was nothing more important for me to cover on the blog than the topic of the Trickster. The very name I had given the blog when I started it – Standing Stones, referred to the stone cairns that provide direction on a path through the wilderness. Cairns, I learned in the book, that originated as ‘alters to Hermes’ – that didn’t feel like a coincidence.
After re-reading Trickster Makes this World, I wrote what I think is my best work to date in the post Trickster Makes this Road. After publishing, I thought, okay, now that that craziness is over, I can move on.
Except the craziness was only beginning.
It’s unclear exactly when the realization crystallized, but suddenly whatever I was reading, whatever I was writing, I kept bumping into the Trickster. Oh… not by name or in so many words… but he showed up in the pages of Sonia Choquette’s book Walking Home and Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s Thanks for the Feedback. I even found him in Michael Pollan’s Cooked and the recent scientific focus on the influence of the gut on the overall health of our body and mind.
As a result, he showed up in my posts about those books and a half dozen other posts besides – it turns out the Trickster was key to completion of a piece I’d been working for years on Free Will vs. Fate (The Double Agent of Change).
The last major time this happened was twenty years ago when I ‘accidentally’ started reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Hero Within simultaneously. The former emphasized the cultural confluence of the story of the Hero in world mythology and its significance as an archetype. The latter focused on, as clearly stated in the title, the ‘hero’ transformation of the individual.
At that time, my meditation and reading of those books (as well as copious time spent in the sun, no doubt) triggered a mystical experience that had lasting effects on the subsequent decade.
So, in this similar experience with the Trickster, I recognized that I was now operating out of a new personal paradigm and I wondered – why do I suddenly see the Trickster everywhere? What could the significance of this character be?
Trickster is a divine character, but usually he’s not exactly on par with the other gods; both the Greek Trickster figure, Hermes and the Norse Trickster, Loki are of questionable parentage, for example. Nevertheless, he is one of the oldest and most written about characters in Native American folklore and is a key member of the pantheon in the Greek (Roman) and Norse traditions.
However, unlike mythological stories that feature the other gods as grounded in their own power and authority (think of Thor or Apollo), many Trickster stories feature or at least reference very human aspects of existence; the gut, defecation, sex, age, appearance. In many stories, Trickster’s hunger starts the whole adventure – and in at least one story Trickster’s hunger essentially creates the world.
The “primitive” focus of Trickster stories have led prominent academicians such as Jung to categorize the Trickster as the product of a “primitive” human consciousness.
Perhaps, this is because they are juxtaposing early human life with that of other animals, and noticing that Trickster most closely resembles the animalian aspect of human existence.
But what if we made the same comparison that Trickster himself often makes? What if the comparison is instead between Trickster and the other gods?
When we orient the comparison in such a way, we see that among the pantheon, the Trickster most closely resembles the embodied human, corporeal existence.
But if Trickster is a portrait of humanity, it’s not a very flattering one. Which raises the question – whose portrait of humanity is this?
To answer that question we need to return to the two oppositional figures of Hero and Trickster.
Based on my understanding of these two characters from a mythological perspective, combined with what I have learned about the soul through reading, study, and my own self-reflection; the Hero is our spirit’s self-portrait.
The Hero represents how our eternal soul sees itself (like Trickster, the hero is also usually looking to reclaim or find some sort-of godhood) – the Hero is what the spirit wishes for itself out of incarnation – to face the challenges and lessons it was born to conquer and learn from them, emerging triumphant.
So if the Hero is the Soul’s self-portrait, who is the Trickster?
Building on the arguments I’ve laid out thus far in this post series, it is my belief that “The Trickster” is the eternal soul’s projection of how it feels about actual life on Earth. Contained within the projection of the Trickster are all the mixed emotions our spirit-self has about what it is actually like to be human; the ambivalence our divine selves feel towards embodied life.
When we look at the situation from this angle, it makes perfect sense that Trickster has sometimes been associated with our ‘Shadow’ or ‘The Devil.’ Is there anything that our religions – constantly striving towards the light – are more averse to than the human body?
Gluttony, Drink, Sloth, Sex – our demonization of these things, our consideration of them as sin is a reflection of our eternal soul’s discomfort with the needs, wants, and urges of a corporeal body. As souls, we think we are incarnating into a life that is going to go one way – the Hero’s path – and when we get here we find that the constant urges and distractions of the human body get in the way.
Thus we have, collectively, created the Trickster; the consummate wise fool. Sometimes easily tricked, sometimes the most cunning of hunters, constantly doing seemingly stupid things to get fed or have sex or gain status – because this is how we really see ourselves.
But just like all disowned aspects of the self – there is much to be learned from understanding and embracing what the Trickster can teach us. We’ll talk more about what we can learn from the Trickster in next week’s post – the last installment in this series.
 Read about this in the post Trickster Makes this Road
 Note: I did not write a post on Michael Pollan’s work, Cooked.
 There are examples of African Tricksters that Hyde certainly discusses in his book and perhaps Trickster could be found in the Mezo-American figure of Jaguar, but I do not have as strong a background in those traditions so I will not use them as examples.