The Trickster

Karl Jung\'s explanation for the archetypes that surface in cultural and
religious literature is that they are the product of what he calls the
collective unconsciousness. That thread of consciousness that connects all human
beings and cultures around the world. Yet it is not visible to the naked eye,
one must look for the signs of it by researching cultures who are long gone and
comparing them to each other and our own. Studying it reminds us that all humans
are bound together by a common source.
The "Trickster" is an archetype that surfaces in many cultural and
religious stories. Each trickster is unique to it\'s own culture, but all
tricksters are bound by certain characteristics no matter what religion they
show up in. Anthropologists would argue that each trickster should be evaluated
in it\'s own cultural setting, but in order to see their archetypal value they
must be and can be evaluated as a group. Jung would say he is a manifestation of
our own collective unconscious. Evidence to support such a claim was found by
psychologist John Laynard. In his research on schizophrenia he found the
qualities of the trickster surfacing in the disorder (p.54 Euba). This suggests
that the Trickster is within all of us just sitting on the borderline of
conscious and unconscious though.
So who is this Trickster? He has many forms both human and animal. His
physical form seems to be particular to each religion. The best way to view a
trickster is by his personality. "[He is] Admired, Loved, venerated for his
merits and virtues, he is represented as thievish, deceitful, parricidal,
incestuous, and cannibalistic. The malicious practical joker is deceived by just
about anybody; the inventor of ingenious stratagems is presented as an idiot;
the master of magical power is sometimes powerless to extricate himself from
quandaries." (p.67 Hynes and Doty). The trickster seems to be a comedy of
opposites. For every good aspect of his persona there is an equal and opposite
aspect. In religious stories his role is very diverse. He is the breaker if
taboos. He provides comic relief to a religious myth. And he will pull off
elaborate schemes to teach a moral lesson or expose the folly of men.
The Trickster shares many attributes with man. In Native American
stories he takes the form of the coyote. He is earthbound, like man, but is
constantly trying to transcend this fate. He is always attempting to fly (which
is the sign of a god to the Native Americans) with disastrous consequences. No
matter how hard he tries he cannot escape the human condition. Perhaps these
stories are meant to teach Native Americans not to aspire to be anything more
than human.
The Trickster can be seen as a parody of the Shaman, or the spiritual
leader of the tribe. The Shaman looks to the supernatural for his strength while
the coyote relies on his own wits. The coyote is always looking for the short
cut. Through meditation the Shaman is said to be able to fly. This is a sign of
his divinity. The coyote always has an elaborate scheme for flight, like
hitching a ride with a buzzard, but the end is always the same.( p.87 Hynes and
Does this character sound familiar? Millions of kids grew up with this
very same character, but we knew him as Wile Coyote. The Looney Toons character
that was always after the Road Runner. The creators of him were interested in
the comedic value they saw in Native American stories and adapted him into a
cartoon. Wile would come up with some elaborate schemes, but in the end the
result was always the same. The long fall from the cliff to the ground.
The Trickster of Greek mythology was a God by the name of Hermes. Once
again we see a sort of bridge between the average man and the gods. Hermes is
the only God in Greek mythology that is born to a nymph (a mortal) . Also with
Hermes we see the recurring theme of flight. Hermes is said to have wings on
either side of his head.
In Greek culture Hermes is seen as a patron of facilitating roles as
oppose to commanding roles (p.48 Hynes and Doty). Icons of Hermes were displayed
in front of houses and where roads intersect. He is seen as guiding people in
transition. Stories about him also provide comic relief and make him one of the
Greeks favorite Gods.
In Africa the Trickster we encounter goes by the name of Esu. Esu is a
great satirist