Trickster Hero

THE HERO AND EGO are more developed in the Trickster than in the Anthropocentric Landscape of the Heavenly God-Father Archetype.

While the hero myths vary enormously in detail, structurally they are very similar. There is a universal pattern even although the myths were developed by groups or individuals without direct cultural contact.   

The special function of the hero myth is the development of the individual’s ego consciousness and his exploration and coming to awareness of his own strengths and weaknesses, which equips him for later challenges of life.[i]   Joseph L. Henderson argues:

“Over and over again one hears a tale describing a hero’s miraculous but humble birth, his early proof of superhuman strength, his rapid rise to prominence or power, his triumphant struggle with the forces of evil, his fallibility to the sin of pride (hybris), and his fall through betrayal or a “heroic” sacrifice that ends in his death.”[ii]

Erich Neumann states “The hero is always a light-bringer and emissary of light … The hero’s victory brings with it a new spiritual status, a new knowledge, and an alteration of consciousness”: the heroic age is characterised as the “predominance of individual personality”.[iii] All are characteristics of the Trickster Hero.

The heroic culminates in the Technological/Materialist Landscape in the development of science and the world as object:[iv]

“The activity of masculine consciousness is heroic in so far as it voluntarily takes upon itself the archetypal struggle with the dragon of the unconscious and carries it to successful conclusion… The correlation of consciousness with masculinity culminates in the development of science, as an attempt by the masculine spirit to emancipate itself from the power of the unconscious. Wherever science appears it breaks up the original character of the world, which was filled with unconscious projections. Thus, stripped of projection, the world becomes objective, a scientific construction of the mind.”[v]

THE TRICKSTER HERO PITS HIMSELF AGAINST THE OLD GOD. Neumann maintains that in the modern world the disintegration of the old system of values is in full swing.[vi] In the modern world the hero with his human ego pits himself against the old deity. Thus:

“the hero ceases to be instrument of the gods and begins to play his own independent part as a human being; and when he finally becomes, in modern man a battleground for suprapersonal forces, where the human ego pits itself against the deity. As breaker of the old law, man becomes the opponent of the old system and the bringer of the new, which he confers upon mankind against the will of the old deity.”[vii]

[i] Carl Jung (ed.), Man and His Symbols (London: Picador, Pan Books, 1978).
[ii] Joseph L. Henderson, ‘Ancient Myths and Modern Man’ in: Carl Jung (ed.),  Man and His Symbols, 101.
[iii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (New York: Princeton University Press,  Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 160-161.
[iv] Ibid, 340-341.
[v] Ibid, 340-341.
[vi] Ibid, 390.
[vii] Ibid, 177.

“Trickster God is Universal”

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.

Revolutionising Religion

POSTMODERNISM HAS IMPACTED on religion. While modernist concerns with falsifiability have undermined, some would say fatally, orthodox religions; the impact of the postmodern pluralist spirituality challenge to fundamentalism is particularly devastating.

Vanhoozer distinguishes ‘modern theology’ from ‘postmodern theology’ and describes the situation of theology within postmodernism. Modern theology is situated within the Enlightenment critical and scientific narrative, while postmodernity marks both the end of theology and new beginnings. Postmodernity lets the particulars speak for themselves without having to conform to prevailing ideology or political system.[i]

Arguably the most appropriate methodologies for postmodern discourse are phenomenology, existentialism and hermeneutics.

For example, Dan Stiver talking about theological method in particular, emphasizes hermeneutics in postmodern theology; the “intertextual” and “intratextual nature of postmodern theology; the pluralistic spirit and the situated nature of the theologian. Contrary to those who would deny a distinction between modernist theology and postmodern theology, Stiver argues that theology in modernity relied largely on a foundationalist paradigm. The basis for theology had to be “nailed down” first.[ii] However, it was largely on the defensive because theology could hardly measure up to public standards for rigorous certainty and unchallengeable methods.

Postmodern Spirituality

THE RENAISSANCE OF ‘SPIRITUALITY’ has been associated with postmodernism.

 

“Postmodernity as spiritual condition” is argued by Vanhoozer. The condition of postmodernity “is neither simply philosophical nor simply socio-political, but spiritual, a condition in which belief and behavior come together in the shape of an embodied spirit”.[iii]

Ecofeminist, postmodern theologian Carol P. Christ argues that together with “many spiritual feminists, ecofeminists, ecologists, antinuclear activists, and others” she shares “the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is at root spiritual”.[iv]

Frederick Mark Gedlicks argues that for “religious pluralism to flourish in a postmodern era, the predominant expression of belief must be spiritual, rather than fundamentalist”.[v] He distinguishes fundamentalism, metanarratives, discrimination and government power from postmodernism, religious liberty, nondiscrimination, government absence and spirituality. That the concepts of ‘spirituality’ and ‘postmodernism’ have both been linked in De Paul Law Review (2005), a secular law journal dealing with the laws of state and society, would indicate perhaps that both concepts have now ‘come of age’.

GORDON D. KAUFMAN (1925-2011), the renowned American liberal theologian whose research, writing and teachings had a profound influence on constructive and systematic theology – gives an early working example of postmodern spiritual theology. He places an emphasis on mystery, imagination, and imaginal construction. Kaufman maintains theology is, and always has been, an activity of “imaginative construction” by persons attempting to put together as comprehensive and coherent a picture as they could of humanity in the world under God.[vi]

For Kaufman theology as “imaginative construction” contrasts with the conventional conceptions of theology whereby the work of theologians is “understood to consist largely in exposition of religious doctrine or dogma (derived from the Bible and other authoritative sources)”.[vii] Rather than concentrating on traditional doctrines, dogmas and their systematic presentation in a new historical situation, Kaufman places emphasis on imaginative construction and the powers of the human imagination: ‘symbolic perspective’ and plurality.

Hence Christianity is just one of a plurality of world views. He stresses de-emphasizing traditional doctrines in new historical situations, and the de-emphasis of the importance of literal historicity. All this exemplifies a postmodernist theological perspective.[viii]


[i] Vanhoozer (2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, xiii-xiv.
[ii] Dan R. Stiver (2003) ‘Theological Method’ in: The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 172-179.
[iii] Vanhoozer(2003) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, 23.
[iv] Carol P. Christ, ‘Rethinking Theology and Nature’,  in: Judith Plaskow and Carol P. Christ (eds.), Weaving the Visions – New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (Harper:  San Francisco, 1989), 314.
[v] Frederick Mark Gedicks, ‘Spirituality, Fundamentalism, Liberty: Religion at the End of Modernity’,  De Paul Law Review, (2005), Abstract. See ‘Social Science Network’:http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm? abstract id=634262.
[vi] Gordon D. Kaufman, In the Face of Mystery – A Constructive Theology (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), ix.
[vii] Ibid, 40.[viii] Cf. Sheila Davaney (ed.), Theology at the End of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman. (Philadelphia: Trinity Press International, 1991).

Archetypal Theory and Carl Jung

BECAUSE BOTH JUNG and archetypal theory have come under attack in recent years, it is worthwhile to briefly clarify the epistemological parameters, controversial issues, and answers to challenges. In essence, archetypal theory is associated with the life-long thought, work and research of Carl Jung. As James Hillman argues, it was Jung “who reintroduced the ancient idea of archetype into modern psychology”.[i]

THE EVIDENCE given for archetypes in this chapter is largely based within the parameters of Jung’s archetypal theory – ‘archetypes of the unconscious’. This is not to say that Jung is the only archetypal theorist. Henry Corbin, James Hillman and others, throughout history, are also important. Corbin is particularly seminal in regard to archetypal landscapes, as we shall see in the last chapter. Hillman is an important contemporary archetypal philosopher and theorist, who “offers a way into Jung – and a way out of Jung, especially his theology. For to stay wholly with this one thinker is to remain a Jungian, which as Jung himself said is possible only for Jung”.[ii]

By calling on Jung to begin with, Hillman states he is acknowledging the fundamental debt archetypal psychology owes to Jung. Jung is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through to Plato and to Heraclitus, with even more branches yet to be traced. But Hillman also acknowledges “the second immediate father of archetypal psychology”, namely Henry Corbin (1903-1978).[iii] Hillman argues that for Corbin the fundamental nature of the archetype is accessible to imagination first and presents itself as an image; hence the entire procedure for archetypal psychology as a method is imaginative.[iv]

Jung’s Challenge

JUNG’S THINKING SPANS both modernism and postmodernism. Jung is now recognized as an important postmodernist. Of course, Jung and his theory of archetypes are controversial in some quarters. Perhaps this is not surprising. Jung implicitly challenged the patriarchy and the ideologies behind patriarchal hegemony. He challenged Freud, the undisputed ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’. Jung wanted to go beyond Freud’s foundationalist theories of sexuality – for example the ‘Oedipus complex’ and ‘penis envy’ – to an exploration of spirituality.

Jung was a life-long student of world religions, both historical and cultural. He challenged head on Western monotheistic cultures with the concept of an inner spirituality within the archetypes of the collective unconscious. This spirituality was pluralistic and had many potential ‘Gods’. In this, it was more akin to Paganism, alchemy, Gnosticism, the hermetic traditions and the mystical and esoteric wisdom streams. Jung challenged the monotheistic ‘God/Father’ concept. This was just one archetype among many; hence Jung challenged the hegemony of the traditional religious institutions and their foundational disciplines. In particular, he challenged fundamentalism and modernist theology. For Jung the God image, or Imago Dei, comes from within the psyche. It is an archetype. It displays the struggle of the psyche for self-realisation; which is the spiritual goal of the individual and all of humanity.

THE SOUL AS THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE or anima archetype within the human being, was emphasized by Jung. It is perhaps because of this that he was well regarded by educated and independent women, both in his time and after his death.

As well, the anima archetype within is congenial to openly gay men, and those heterosexual men secure enough in their personhood and masculinity to be happy to enjoy and acknowledge their feminine side. This recognition of the archetypal power of the anima, redeemed the feminine, long derogated within traditional patriarchal monotheism. For example Jung argued that the “whole nature of man presupposes woman, both physically and spiritually.” [v]

 

[i] James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), xiii.

[ii] Ibid, xii.

[iii] James Hillman, Archetypal Psychology – A Brief Account (Dallas: Spring Publications,Inc. 993), 2.

[iv] Ibid, 4.

[v] Carl Jung, ‘Two Essays in Archetypal Psychology’, in: Collected Works, vol. 7, 188.