Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Posts Tagged ‘Trickster’


Trickery is Part of the Shaman’s Craft

The Trickster or Foolish God teaches us that we often deceive ourselves. Beneath the ego and its mask of order and reason lies an untamed, wilder, lawless self as genuine as the masks of respectability we present to society. By embarrassing us, the Trickster teaches us deeper truths about ourselves. Not only does the Trickster confront us with the multiple nature of the universe, he shows us the multiple nature of ourselves, a truth the shaman learns through the tricks and deceptions of his initiating spirits. Indeed, trickery is part of the shaman’s craft, for he or she understands that often the mind has to be tricked for the body to heal. Some shamans relied so heavily on trickery and sleight-of-hand that Western observers misunderstood their motives and dismissed them as mere charlatans. They failed to appreciate the purpose of trickery and illusion as a means of “performing” in ordinary reality the transformations that were occurring on the psychic or spiritual plane.

Tom Cowan, Fire in the Head, p. 60

Emphasis mine.

Trickster Stories As Parodies of Shamanism

In 1964 [C.E.], Mac Linscott Ricketts finished a doctoral thesis that is a remarkably wide-ranging survey of North American trickster tales. There and in later essays Ricketts has argued that the tales locate the trickster in opposition to the practice and beliefs of shamanism. To Ricketts’s way of thinking, humankind has had two responses when faced with all that engenders awe and dread in this world: the way of the shaman (and the priests), which assumes a spiritual world, bows before it, and seeks to make alliances; and the way of the trickster (and the humanists), which recognizes no power beyond its own intelligence, and seeks to seize and subdue the unknown with wit and cunning. “The trickster…embodies [an] experience of Reality…in which humans feel themselves to be self-sufficient beings for whom the supernatural spirits are powers not to be worshiped, but ignored, to be overcome, or in the last analysis mocked.” The shaman enters the spirit world and works with it, but “the trickster is an outsider…. He has no friends in that other world…. All that humans have gained from the unseen powers beyond—fire, fish, game, fresh water, and so forth—have been obtained, by necessity, through trickery or theft….” In obtaining these goods, the trickster, unlike the shaman, “did not also obtain superhuman powers or spiritual friendship…. He seems to need no friends: he gets along very well by himself….”

To explore this idea, Ricketts shows how a number of trickster stories can be read as parodies of shamanism. In shamanic initiation, for example, the spirits kill and resurrect the initiate, often placing something inside the resurrected body—a quartz crystal, for example—which the shaman can later call forth from his body during healing rituals. If someone in your group claims such powers, you might find wry humor in stories which have Coyote, when he needs advice, calling forth (with much grunting) his own excrement. Likewise, dreams of flying are said to be premonitions of shamanic initiation, and the shaman in a trance can supposedly fly into the sky, into the underworld, into the deepest forest. With this in mind, it’s hard not to hear the parodic tone in the almost universal stories of trickster trying to fly with the birds, only to fall ignominiously to earth. Trickster’s failure implies that shamanic pretensions are daydreams at best, fakery at worst. “Humans were not made to fly…. Trickster, like the human being, is an earth-bound creature, and his wish to fly (and to escape the human condition) is…a frivolous fancy.”

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, pp. 293-94

Emphasis mine.

Find Trickster At The Boundaries

…In short, trickster is a boundary-crosser. Every group has its edge, its sense of in and out, and trickster is always there, at the gates of the city and the gates of life, making sure there is commerce. He also attends the internal boundaries by which groups articulate their social life. We constantly distinguish—right and wrong, sacred and profane, clean and dirty, male and female, young and old, living and dead—and in every case trickster will cross the line and confuse the distinction. Trickster is the creative idiot, therefore, the wise fool, the gray-haired baby, the cross-dresser, the speaker of sacred profanities. Where someone’s sense of honorable behavior has left him unable to act, trickster will appear to suggest an amoral action, something right/wrong that will get life going again. Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.

That trickster is a boundary-crosser is the standard line, but…there are also cases in which trickster creates a boundary, or brings to the surface a distinction previously hidden from sight. In several mythologies, for example, the gods lived on earth until something trickster did caused them to rise into heaven. Trickster is thus the author of the great distance between heaven and earth; when he becomes the messenger of the gods it’s as if he has been enlisted to solve a problem he himself created. In a case like that, boundary creation and boundary crossing are related to one another, and the best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found—sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, pp. 7-8

Emphasis mine.