THE TRICKSTER ARCHETYPE – or Trickster God, otherwise known in the West as the Greek God Hermes – is universal. Trickster is found in the mythologies of many peoples. Like Hecate – whose cult probably spread from Anatolia into Greece and who is associated with Hermes – Trickster is the quintessential master of boundaries and transitions. He brings both good luck and bad, both profit and loss. He is the patron of both travellers and thieves. Like Hecate, Trickster is the guide of souls to the underworld and the messenger of the gods. He surprises mundane reality with the unexpected and miraculous. In traditional primal cultures, Trickster emerges under the dominance of the Earth Mother.[i] Combs and Holland point out:
“The trickster god is universal. He is known to the Native American peoples as Ictinike, Coyote, Rabbit and others; he is Maui to the Polynesian Islanders; Loki to the old Germanic tribes of Europe; and Krishna in the sacred mythology of India. Best known to most of us in the West is the Greek god Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[ii]
However, the Trickster God is not confined just to traditional primal cultures – today he is well and truly at home in the Technological/Materialist Landscape.
Trickster is at Home Today
AS JUNG STATES, the Trickster appears par excellence in modern man:
“He is a forerunner of the saviour, and like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine beingwhose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconscious.”[iii]
While Hermes the Greek God is not reducible to the Trickster; in the West, the Trickster is frequently associated with Hermes – for example ‘Trickster Hermes’ and ‘Hermes the Trickster’. Combs and Holland argue that the Trickster God is universal:
“Best known to us in the West is the Greek God Hermes, who represents the most comprehensive and sophisticated manifestation of the Trickster.”[iv]
The Trickster, like Hermes and Hecate, is also specifically associated with liminality[v] – thresholds, or the point beyond which a sensation becomes too faint to be experienced.
Above all the Trickster is fun. In the Technological/Materialist Landscape we are all imbued with the Trickster and ‘his’ exploits – both angelic and devilish. We partake in his exuberance, ambitions, boundary exploration, trickery, games, sleights-of-hand, personas, commercial success, communications expertise, technological genius, liminality and in his shadow-side – if not in actuality then in fantasy. We both applaud him and are appalled by him. We live vicariously through the Trickster and his shadow via entertainment – films, video games and the mass communications of television, internet, texting, smart phones, magazines and books.
Today we are imbued with the Trickster. For those whose ‘focus of perception’ is primarily the Technological/Materialist Landscape, the symbolic correspondence between the individual’s inner life and the outer world has many of the characteristics inherent in the Trickster Archetype. When “an individual’s inner life corresponds in a symbolic way to the outer objective world, the two are connected by meaning”.[vi] In other words the inner life connected by symbolic meaning to the outer world is an indication of the governance of an archetype. As Combes and Holland state:
“The themes carried by archetypes are universal: they are neither wholly internal nor wholly external but are woven into the deepest fabric of the cosmos. This notion is supported by Jung’s idea that archetypes have their origins in the unus mundus, or “one world”, which is at the foundation of the psyche and the objective, physical world. Bohm’s concept of the holographic universe offers similar possibilities. It follows, then, that myths as expressions of archetypes might be expected to portray certain aspects of the object world as well as depicting psychological realities. Indeed many of the Greek Gods represent aspects of reality that overarch both the inner worlds of human experience and the external worlds of nature and society.”[vii]
[i] See for example Paul Radin, The Trickster – A Study in American Indian Mythology, with commentaries by Karl Kerenyi and C.G. Jung (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).
[ii] Alan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.
[iii] C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980),142-3. (Note: The internet throws up almost 13,000 associations between Trickster and Hermes).
[iv] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 82.
[v] George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal (Philadelphia: Xlibris Corporation, 2001).
[vi] Allan Combs and Mark Holland, Synchronicity – Science, Myth and the Trickster (New York: Paragon House, 1990), 97.
[vii] Ibid, 79.