My Dearest Grimericans. It pains me to have to type this out, but due what I can only describe as a “difference of opinion” with one of the Grimerican boys and also to unforeseen circumstances, this will be my last blog post on Grimerica. Whilst I wish I had the patience to let his argument slide, this disagreement in moral principal won’t allow for that kind of leeway. So with a heavy heart, I must say farewell. And before you, my massive fan base, starts sending me emails pleading for me to stay, I must insist that in doing so, while thoughtful, it would be futile. There is just no way that I can continue writing and working with a person who believes, well… I’ll just leave that alone. And for those of you who haven’t realized that this is published on April Fool’s Day, then now is a good time to tell you that you fell for my Fool’s Day prank, and while I’m at it, I might as well tell you the subject of this blog post:
Examining the Trickster Archetype/Mythos
You just can’t talk archetypes without bringing up our old buddy, Carl Jung. Jung’s theory of archetypes stems from his theory of the collective unconscious. The idea that the unconscious mind, at least part of it, is derived from the ancestral memory and experiences of all mankind. In this web of memories and instincts lay common patterns of mythical characters and motifs that all of humanity is unconsciously aware of. He argued that the collective unconscious can have deep and profound impact on individuals who can live out these patterns of archetypes. He also put forth that these memories could be the origin of men’s belief in reincarnation. Whether or not you believe that we all are connected through this proposed collective unconscious, it is hard to dismiss the similarities of the mythical characters that show up all over the world in many cultures and religions. The Great Mother, the Hero and of course, the Trickster, to name a few.
The Trickster archetype, as mentioned above, crosses many different cultures and religions. Folklore around the globe is riddled with different types of Trickster spirits, anthropomorphized animals, and gods and goddesses (Okay, maybe not too many goddesses). While these characters take on different forms depending on their region, the one thing that most have in common is their personality. It’s what makes the trickster a trickster. They are both admired and despised. Cast as thieves and liars and then held in reverence for their caliber and fortitude. They are the creators of elaborate, imaginative schemes that are skillfully executed and then by the same token, painted as a fool. They are forever the practical joker, and their pranks can be either malicious or benign. You never know if they are trying to impart wisdom or just trying to get a sick laugh. The Trickster itself can be duped and humbled, and then call attention to the folly of man. Indeed it would seem that for every admirable facet of their character, there is an equal and opposite one attached. Let’s explore a small selection of Tricksters from around the globe. I’ll try and keep it brief. I promise.
The Tales of Sang Kancil
Malaysia & Indonesia
Sang Kancil (pronounced: sung kahn-chill) is a clever mousedeer (a small, mostly herbivore ungulate that inhabits primarily South and Southeast Asia. Picture Bambi with stumpy legs, weird nose and solid black eyes). The collection of traditional folklore are popular children stories and are amongst the most famous folktales in the Malay and Javanese cultures of Malaysia and Indonesia. They tell of the sly mousedeer named Sang Kancil, outsmarting mightier creatures than it using it quick wit. This theme is popular in all Trickster analogs. As with most traditional folklore, these stories have been passed down orally from generation to generation so it is common to have multiple variations and names to stories. One such tale called “Kancil Steals a Cucumber” or “Kancil and the Farmer” relates the cunning mousedeer stealing cucumbers from a farmer’s garden. Successful in its attempt, the trickster makes fun of the scarecrow’s inability to keep the mousedeer away. In doing so, Kancil punches the scarecrow only to break through and get stuck in the glue the farmer used to make it. The farmer finds Sang Kancil and throws it in a cage. Later that night, the farmer’s dog comes to mock the mousedeer saying that it will be the morning’s breakfast. Using its wit, Sang Kancil remains unprovoked. This confuses the dog who then asks the mousedeer why it remains so calm. Sang Kancil replied that no breakfast would be made of him and that he was to wed the farmer’s daughter and become a prince. Adding that the dog got the raw end of the deal for all of his loyalties to its master. The dog begged the mousedeer to trade him spots so that he can become a prince, something that Sang Kancil obliged to. The next morning, all the farmer found in his cage was his own dog, happily wagging its tail.
Anansi the Spider
West Africa & the Caribbean
This itsy-bitsy spider is said to be the god/spirit/keeper of all knowledge and stories. The origin of the honor being bestowed is probably the most popular tale. There are a few variations but it goes something like this: The sky-god, Nyame had possession of all stories, leaving none in the world. Anansi sought out the Sky-God and asked for the price of the stories. Nyame gave the spider what he thought to be a high price to pay. For Anansi to buy the tales, he must bring the Sky-God Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and the Mboro Hornets. Though his cunning and wit, Anansi easily brought back all three. Tying the Python to a palm branch to “measure it”, the leopard fell into a hole dug by the sly spider and then the trickster helped it out with the use of its webs, thus trapping the feline, and the hornets he trapped by producing fake rain and offering a hollowed out calabash plant as shelter, then closing the lid. Upon delivery of the three specimens, the Sky-God then named Anansi the GGod of all stories and from that day on, all stories are called Anansi Stories. You might recognize the character from a few comic books as well, appearing in both DC’s Justice League of America and Marvel’s The Amazing Spiderman.
The Coyote and the Raven
North American Natives Tibes
Popular characters in many different Native American tribes are the Tricksters Raven and Coyote. Although I don’t know of any tribes that regards them both as their main trickster players, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few. Something that these characters have in common, and indeed, most anthropomorphized tricksters, the two previous included, is their small stature, relatively weak physical strength and their extreme intelligence that they use to deceive perceived bigger, stronger characters. Whether it’s stealing the sun for mankind or freeing the buffalo on the Earth, these two Tricksters are important players in the cultures of Native peoples of North America. In Europe, the Fox is the Coyote’s counterpart, and sometimes instead of the Raven, it’s a Crow. Why are these creatures so common in Trickster tales? A French anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss, suggested a stucturalist theory that says the Coyote and Raven obtained their mass mythical status as a result of being seen as mediator animals between the living world and the next.
There! I told you I’d keep the examples short! I had to! There are so many Tricksters that permeate the cultures of the globe that to try and examine them all in a blog post would be next to impossible. Well, if I wanted to keep you reading, that is. But there are so many, many more! In some Greek tales, the one and only Hermes plays the trickster part. The now well-known Loki is the mischievous prankster in Norse mythology. And if you have kids then you are probably familiar with Trickster God Maui. In the movie Moana, he is a demi-god which I guess is fair because depending on the source, he is either a god or a mere human. One similarity I feel should be pointed out is that the Trickster often has the ability to shapeshift. Every trickster character mentioned has a story or ten of it changing shape to further its current goal. Maybe that is why this ability has been given to the trickster. To trick. If seeing is believing, than the Trickster has got one up one you.
In regards to the previously mentioned Greek God Hermes, I did notice a small relation with alchemy and the Trickster. I recently finished Joshua Cutchin’s amazingly well written and researched book, “The Brimstone Deceit: An In-Depth Examination of Supernatural Scents, Otherworldly Odors, and Monstrous Miasmas” and in the end chapters, he discusses the origins of Alchemy and Hermeticism. Hermeticism derives its name from Hermes Trismegistus, a kind of mixing between the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth. Both were the gods of magic and intelligence and in Hellenistic Egypt and back in Greece, they were generally seen as one god. What does this have to do with the Trickster? Well Hermeticism is synonymous with Alchemy and a fundamental concept of which is the Two Contraries. A principal where, for the alchemist, there are two primary ways of viewing reality. The rational, intellectual and scientific way and the instinctive, imaginative and nonlinear way. Two opposites that balance one whole. An idea that can be seen in the Taoist yin-yang symbol. This concept embodies the Trickster to a T. The paradoxical dichotomy of rational and irrational. Is there something to this thought? I don’t know. Just saying.
Now in a moment of synchronicity, I was typing out this post while simultaneously catching up on some back episodes of Mysterious Universe when what do the hosts, Ben and Arron start discussing? Rhetorical question. It was tricksters. They helped provide some insight that I had not previously thought of and will share some of that here. They were discussimg a book called, “Holy Madness: Spirituality, Crazy-Wise Teachers, and Enlightenment”. Yet another book to add to my list of “Must Reads”. They quote the author, Georg Feuerstein, saying:
From the conventional point of view, the crazy-wise teachers are eccentrics who use their eccentricity to communicate an alternative vision to the one that governs ordinary life. They are masters of inversion, proficient breakers of taboos, lovers of surprise, contradiction, and ambiguity. They share this skill and penchant with the figure of the trickster and the clown… He’s a being who is really clever but unprincipled, delighting in the irrational… There is an element of malice in many trickster spirts, though they are never entirely demonic… They are out to best their adversaries and spare no cunning to achieve their goal. As part of their duplicity, they often pretend to be stupid… The trickster knows no shame because he does not delineate between right and wrong.
So I think that is a good place to wrap it up. Again, the Trickster bench is deep and would be more of a book project rather than a blog to try and examine them all. Maybe a part 2 is in order. Before I leave, I want to leave you with one with one more gem from Ben and Arron. It is a short tale of the Winnebago Trickster, Wakdjunkaga, moments after the creation, the Trickster scattered all creatures by means of an enormous flatulence. This same trickster keeps his penis in a box and is assumes a life of its own, and he also orders his anus to guard some geese he has just killed while he catches up on some sleep. Its anus’ alarm is, you guessed it, more flatulence. So there’s that… Sorry again if I gave you a panic attack with the thought of me leaving. I doubt it, but a guy can dream, can’t he? So which Grimerican did you think I had a tiff with? Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Leave comment below. Well that’s it for me Grimerica! Stay classy!