THE RIDDLE OF THE TRICKSTER
a cross-cultural overview
Thunderspud of Dragonfhain
Who is this trickster archetype, the one who inspires such mixed
feelings and brouhaha? Trickster has been with us from the
beginning. Trickster will be there at the ending. (If there is an
ending, Trickster will probably trigger it). Trickster is a creator,
a transformer, a joker, a truth teller, a destroyer.
Whoever has created a dance, a song, written a ritual, tailor-made a
job, birthed a child or invented a game has partaken of a controlled
Trickster energy. After all, in Northwest Native and Inuit
tradition, Raven created the world; Loki is known to the Norse as a
co creator (and the bringer of Ragnarok); Anansi the spider-trickster
among the Ashanti of Ghana and Nareau the spider in Micronesia;
Coyote among the Southwest Natives --these are the creator aspects of
this wild and uncontrolled energy. Trickster often begins in the
void, desiring to bring Order out of Chaos; once Order is imposed,
however, Trickster represents the breaking free of negative power
from the Universal Order of things.
As a shape-shifter, Trickster is all things to all people, at one
time or another, and often simultaneously. Of course Trickster is a
creator and a destroyer. Sure he's a family man and a vagabond.
Naturally he gives fire to humans and then steals their food before
they can cook it. This is his style; when he acts out of
selfishness, everyone benefits -- Maui of the Thousand Tricks might
snare the Sun to slow it down, making life easier for humans, but he
did it so his mother would have more time to cook for him. When he
acts out of altruism, there's most always a negative effect --Marawa,
a Lou Costello prototype from Banks Island carved human figures from
wood and put them in the ground so they would grow and be strong;
however, they merely rotted and death came into the world of humans.
This shape- shifter not only moves from shape to shape, but from
world to world. Number Eleven suffered at the hands of death to free
his brothers; his brothers then took his lifeless body away and
revived him. In the Winnebago cycle, Trickster dies three times and
returns to life three times. In just one collection of Coyote
stories, Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter, Coyote
dies of a snake bite, a gunshot, an arrow wound, a broken heart, a
rock-fall and a drowning; this resembles nothing so much as a
Last amended June 11, 1989 -- Page NEXTRECORD
Trickster fuzzes the lines between Male and Female, between cunning
and stupidity (in one story Coyote steals a horse, in another he
almost drowns trying to eat some berries reflected in a stream),
between wisdom and stupidity. Trickster tells us the truth about our
selves, showing us with truth and wit the sides of our nature that we
may be more comfortable not acknowledging; he's the one who points at
the Emperor's nakedness, he's Lenny Bruce and Ashleigh Brilliant, Ken
Kesey and Uncle Remus, Opus, Geech, Tom Robbins, Abbie Hoffman, Don
Becker, Weird Al Yankovich and David Letterman, holding up a skewed
mirror of reality for us to look into. Among the Aztecs, as serious
a culture as this continent has ever seen, Ueuecoyotl, a funny and
outrageously unacceptable clown figure; in the Southwest, at serious
rituals, he's the Koshare speeding around the circle with tickling
feathers and rattle, being ignored completely by the priest.
Trickster shines on as a culture bringer: Prometheus steals fire for
his poor stunted creations, and pays a terrible and eternal price for
his philanthropy. Loki also steals fire for humans, as do Anansi,
Raven, Coyote, Maui; so far I have found no less than seventeen
stories from different cultures on this theme. Anansi tricked
Nyankopon the Sky-God out of his stories and gave them to the humans.
Clat, from Banks Island, taught humans how to sleep.
In the stories of the Ashanti, Anansi invented the tar-baby as a ruse
to trap an elemental spirit, but in the Native American stories,
Coyote is trapped by a tar-baby set up by a farmer. Actually the
farmer had caught a rabbit with his tar-baby, but Coyote happened
along and asked Rabbit what he was doing there. "The farmer who owns
this field got mad at me because I wouldn't eat his melons, so he
stuck me here and said he'd come back and make me eat chicken."
Rabbit replies, "But I told him I wouldn't do it." Of course, greedy
Coyote extricates Rabbit and wraps himself around the tar-baby where
he still his when the farmer comes out and shoots him.
So this is the Trickster, the energy that allows us to break out of
our stereotypes, whether they've been imposed by ourselves, our
families, our culture. This is the energy that opens the world of
limitless possibilities and it behooves us all to work with it before
it destroys us, to touch the Trickster as he touches us.
...........from RMPJ, Oct.'86
Last amended June 11, 1989 -- Page NEXTRECORD
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