“Trickster is an agent of transformation, and transformation is directly connected to the trickster’s typical character as a shape-shifter, neither fully one thing nor the other, someone betwixt and between all moral and ontological categories. The trickster is the embodiment of contradiction, creator and destroyer of norms, clown, monster, giver of fire, creator of worlds. Having such a confounding figure at the center of one’s worldview helps to keep the mind nimble as it moves between opposites, both creating meaning and tearing it down to make room for new creation.” ~ Louis G. Herman
We all have a hero buried somewhere within us. For most of us this hero lies dormant, expressionless and cut off from the world. To connect with it is to begin the difficult path toward individuation and self-actualization.
We, the hero initiates, discover our hidden hero through an inward journey broken up into four stages. This article covers the third stage: the encounter with the inner Trickster.
Like life, the path of hero-initiation can have many ups and downs. Sometimes (usually, I’m guessing) things don’t turn out the way we think they should. Our expectations get crushed under the unforgiving boot of reality.
Maybe the path is bumpier, rougher, scarier, or more painful than we thought it would be. It’s times like these that we need a little pick-me-up. We need to laugh, and laugh hard. More importantly, we need to laugh at our self-seriousness.
Goethe wrote, “The highest to which man can attain is wonder.” But I disagree. I think the highest to which man can attain is laughter, which is usually the reaction to wonder anyway.
This is the job of the inner trickster, who uses laughter to assuage the pains gained from our trials and tribulations, while also using humility to temper our expectation of how things should turn out.
Our inner trickster does not trick by nature, but by necessity. Sometimes it’s necessary to poke holes in things we’ve deemed sacred or necessary, so as to recycle outdated values and harvest new knowledge. Knowledge is nothing more than an impasse anyway.
For the hero, the unknown is the truer passage. Whoever cannot seek the unknown seeks nothing. So our heart must become a trickster.
What it tricks is us; the small-picture-us, so that the big-picture-us can call the shots. It’s the duty of the inner trickster to shake us out of our typical, conditioned states of mind, so as to awaken latent capacities for perceiving reality.
It plays pranks on both our ego and our soul, not to make us feel embarrassed or stupid, but to show us ways we can become more imaginative. Indeed, only the trickster can see the hero’s “feet of clay.”
The synthesizing effect of Trickster metaphysics is underlined by the fact that “knowledge exists in a fundamental relationship with not-knowing. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes, and even this absolute may not be an absolute.” ~ Louis G. Herman.
This absolves us from the bureaucracy of truth and empowers us to become more proactive with expanding our consciousness and experiencing direct relationship with the divine.
By recognizing that a background of mystery always remains, we are free to humiliate our certitude.
Through our very own coup de wit, a sudden or unexpected stroke of trickster genius, we are free to ninjaneer the rational into the irrational, the yin into the yang, the chaos into the order; we give ourselves permission to be more courageous in the inhale-exhale between inner and outer, self and other, individual and community, right and wrong. We launch ourselves, like Nietzsche wrote, “beyond good and evil.”
At the end of the day, such endeavors can be enlightening, but they can also be frightening. What the inner trickster reveals is that we are clumsy creatures torn between imagining we’re gods and realizing that we’re mere animals caught up in the hide-and-seek game of mortal life.
There is much to be gained from this push-pull dynamic, but there is also much to lose. Above us there is the promise of individuation and enlightened self-actualization.
But nothing is a given, everything on the hero’s path is hard-fought, for below us is the ever-present, snarling, howling, breathtaking abyss just waiting for us to fail. Like Lewis Hyde wrote in Trickster Makes This World, “It’s better to operate with detachment, then; better to have a way but infuse it with a little humor; best, to have no way at all but to have instead the wit constantly to make one’s way anew from the materials at hand.”
Read the other parts