Trickster Essays

The Trickster in Myth

Trickster myths, a significant part of most cultures if not all, have permeated the legends and folklore of peoples since the early days of civilized man. The ancient Greeks had Hermes, the Chinese the Monkey King, and the Native American Indians the coyote. These diverse tricksters found within cultures often have many commonalities with each other, and then, often they do not. But this illustrates the very nature of the trickster; ever changing, shifting, shaping, disguising, and tricking his or her way into the lives of the Gods as well as the mortal people. The trickster is often seen as a physical presentation of a God, or an anthropomorphic animal, that which can walk and talk; breath and die. However, as societies developed and cultures became more advanced, newer, more advanced ideologies of the trickster began to appear. No more are we, "of the time of millions of years ago to the magic moment of fist creation, that, dawn time, Ð''when first the world was born', and we, Ð''walked with the gods'."(Crystal, The Trickster) Today the evolution of the mind allows us to seek alternative explanations. Paul Radin, I believe, said it best when he asked the question, "Is this a speculum mentis, wherein is depicted man's struggle with himself and with a world into which he had been thrust without his volition and consent?"(Crystal, The Trickster) To find out we must fist understand the trickster at large; who is he, where does he come from, and what does he do. Then we must look at the trickster from behind the eyes of the people, the cultures that embraced him; that feared him. Over the next several pages we will do just that; it is my intent to understand and present the trickster through an analysis of the general trickster myth itself and then to explore the trickster within his habitat of three different and unique cultures: the Slavic Norsemen of the Scandinavian north and their trickster Loki, the Hopi Indian culture of Southwest America and their trickster Kokopelli, and the culture of Chinese and Buddhism and their trickster, The Monkey King.

The trickster is a myth found in nearly all cultures. Bound by tradition and omnipresence, the trickster has infiltrated societies and culture with his duality and duplicity; his tendency to shape-shift and gender shift whenever necessary for the sake of the trick. In many cultures the trickster is the villain and the hero; stealing fire from the gods and bringing it to the people as Prometheus did in ancient Greek culture. (Wikipedia, Trickster) Within his duality he is a god and a mortal; a creator and a destructor; a male and a female. The trickster can be found to live as a god or goddess or simply as an anthropomorphic animal, which under the guise of a tree, an insect, an animal, or any face; will wreak mischief and chaos on nature and the gods. The trickster, again in his duality, can be seen to have gender variability; a two spirit nature that can choose a gender when the mischief deems it necessary. (Wikipedia, Trickster) While I introduce the trickster here as a physical being, a manifestation of a living animal or god, the trickster is in fact much more spiritual. The trickster is a deep seeded consciousness; an embedded archetype embodied within the oldest and most primordial part of our brain, existing to serve as the mediator of our conscious allowing us to test boundaries, formulate ideas, and assumptions toward, the duality and duplicity of life's daily chaotic discourse. Helen Locke, in a formative essay on the "Transformation of the Trickster", effectively employs the following quotes by Carl Jung and Lewis Hyde, to explicate the unconsciousness and ambiguity of the trickster. Jung, the definitive voice of the archetype, has this to say about the trickster. "Trickster is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being, whose most alarming characteristic is his unconsciousnessÐ'...He is so unconscious of himself that his body is not a unity, and his two hands fight each other."(Locke, Transformations of the Trickster) Locke clearly describes many of the tricksters characteristics learned through study by quoting Lewis Hyde from his book, "Trickster Makes This World". "Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity and ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox," (Locke, Transformations of the Trickster) and Locke adds, "and can thus be seen as the archetypal boundary-crosser."(Locke, Transformations of the Trickster) The trickster has been studied extensively within the discipline of anthropology by researchers such as Paul Radin and Lewis Hyde. A great wealth of research exists for the student of the trickster myth and as I end this general introduction to the trickster we shall now move on to a more focused look at tricksters in culture.

The Hopi Indians of southwest America paid homage to perhaps one of the most popular tricksters of recent time: the Kokopelli trickster. Kokopelli is the hunched back flute player also known as the "Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers".(Zodiac Master, Trickster) In the past, Kokopelli was characterized on cave walls with a large phallus which some tribes considered to be detachable so the trickster could send it upstream and impregnate unsuspecting girls bathing in the water.(Wikipedia, Kokopelli) The Kokopelli god can be found in many Native American myths throughout tribal culture, although they usually exist under different names and guises. Spanish explorers first learned of the Kokopelli from the Hopi, and thus the name Kokopelli spread to become the accepted name for this trickster. (Wikipedia, Kokopelli) The Kokopelli was first worshipped by the ancient Pueblo People and has appeared on Hohokam pottery as long ago as 750 AD. (Wikipedia, Kokopelli) Kokopelli is a fertility deity who served over the women of the Hopi tribes. The Hopi believed that Kokopelli carried unborn children on his back to distribute them to women. The young Hopi girls were very afraid of Kokopelli for this reason. (Wikipedia, Kokopelli) He is found in marriage rituals and also presides over the reproduction of game animals. Kokopelli's flute playing is thought to chase away the winter and bring about spring and his petro-glyph is commonly found on cave walls in southwest America and is also the most recognizable. Hopi craftsmen are known for their depictions of Kokopelli in the form of Kachina dolls. Spanish priests convinced Hopi craftsmen to omit the large phallus once represented through the Kokopelli petro-glyph and Kachina dolls, in an attempt to cleanup the look of the now popular tourist gifts.(Wikipedia, Kokopelli) Today the Kokopelli of the Hopi is widely known by tourists of the southwest and can be


Acclaimed by many scholars as having created the first Don Juan in European literature, Tirso de Molina received the honor of accompanying the vicar general to Santo Domingo by way of Seville. Tirso had resided in Toledo, where, under the influence of Lope de Vega Carpio, the creator of the Spanish comedia or play, he began to compose theatrical works. Tirso, a Mercederian priest elected to several important positions in the order, prepared himself for writing plays by attending literary academies and participating in poetic competitions. Tirso showed his genius by composing more than three hundred plays—both highly animated and serious comedias.

The Trickster of Seville, derived from a libertine story and a Castilian ballad featuring the figure of a stone guest, portrays the theological theme that God punishes blasphemy. Tirso’s stylistic procedure involves varying Don Juan’s multiple seductions of women by showing the action in the middle of the episodes and then modifying the settings and types of victims. The quantity of seductions provides the rapid pace of the play, and the pace is further supported by the lively dialogue of the verse form, which is varied according to the speaker. The episodic structure of repeated seductions, culminating in Don Juan’s encounter with the stone guest, is unified by warnings of tragedy in previous scenes through continual allusions to the finality of death, the judgment of God, and the flames of hell. Don Gonzalo’s death resulting from his attempt to avenge his daughter’s lost honor in a duel with the trickster introduces the prime unifying element of the play: the statue erected on Don Gonzalo’s tomb that becomes the vehicle of Don Juan’s condemnation to hell.

Another unifying factor is Don Juan’s gracioso, or servant, who emphasizes the theme of procrastination that characterizes the deceiver. Instead of mimicking his master’s ideas as a typical gracioso would, he cautions Don Juan not to delay his preparation for the Judgment Day. Although the fearful Catalinón underscores Don Juan’s courage at the arrival of the stone guest, Catalinón assures the statue that he can trust his master’s word as a gentleman, and that Don Juan’s dishonesty extends...

(The entire section is 931 words.)

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