We’ve all come across the trickster archetype. You know, that personality that you love and hate, view as a hero and villain, and sounds foolish but is also wise, all in equal measure. Because of their extremes, the trickster archetype has the power to shake the status quo, overthrow the prevailing leadership, and trigger the start of a revolution.
Indeed, think about it; the fool always precedes the master. And, all inventors and creators had to be foolish enough to dare and attempt the impossible before their inventions became a success.
Nowadays, Tricksters continue to incarnate as characters such as Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, The Joker from Batman, etc. And in our own lives, Tricksters are represented by the anarchists, the class clowns, the comedians and the rule-breaking harlequins that defy all worldly decrees and decorum.
In a sense, Tricksters are destroyers of duality. They expose illusions, challenge worldly rules, and celebrate holy madness. For every likable trait within them, there is an equally disturbing trait. For every form of provocation, there is a hidden lesson.
In this article, we will explore 10 popular Trickster archetypes from ancient mythologies.
10 Trickster Archetypes from Ancient Mythologies
As psychoanalyst Carl Jung puts it in his writings, the trickster archetype originates from our collective unconsciousness. It is a clown in the form of a human, animal, god, or goddess, in numerous ancient mythologies, folklore, and religion. Let’s have a detailed look at ten notable trickster archetypes: –
Kuma Lisa is a fox trickster archetype in Bulgarian and Russian folklore. It has magical powers, enabling it to shapeshift and transform at will. In Dogon mythology, it is a pale fox with unnatural and socially disruptive traits, born alone after the mating of Amma and Mother Earth. In turn, this pale fox brings imbalance in male and female qualities, resulting in chaos in the Dogon world. For this, the Dogon view the fox, crocodile, and the snake as sacred, never to be killed.
The raven is a powerful trickster in Native American folklore. Like a transformer, it brings change to the world by creating the land and coaxing people from a cockle shell. In the Haida mythology, the raven shrinks to the size of a hemlock needle. That way, it fits in a basket of drinking water, waiting to be swallowed by the daughter of an old man.
This old man is hiding all the light in the universe in a box stashed inside countless other boxes. Hence, by getting reborn as a human/raven child, he becomes the pesky grandchild that disturbs the old man until he lets him open the boxes and has the light. And, that is how the raven steals the sun and illuminates the entire universe.
The Judge Rabbit is a protagonist with great intellectual as seen in the Cambodian Khmer folk tales. He uses his wisdom to pursue truth and justice for the underdogs in society. Here, Judge Rabbit points out the foolishness of those in power to eliminate boastful pride and humble the rich and powerful. Still, there are times when he takes advantage of people by using trickery.
Coyote is an animal trickster as narrated in the Native American mythologies. Here, this archetype goes against the teachings and rulings of the Shoshone, Paiute, Chemehuevi, and Ute tribes, a contradiction of societal values. In turn, this character can be greedy, arrogant, and reckless, while other times, it is heroic, helping humans in distress.
Narad Muni is a wise yet mischievous god-sage. In the Hindu mythology for the millennial, Narada is often in the divine company but goes against the lifestyle directed by his father, Brahma. In turn, he commits to a life of devotion to the gods and abstinence from sexual relations. He even curses his father when the father suggests that he marries. Eventually, Narada lives a life of illusion, getting married and raising a family, only to realize that this family life is non-existent.
Loki is a cunning trickster and shapeshifter, as depicted in Germanic Norse mythology. Here, this companion of the great gods Odin and Thor comes up with clever and helpful plans that turn out to be a disgrace to the gods. Other times, he makes enemies with the gods by playing elaborate jokes on them to achieve his sinister motives.
In Greek mythology, Hermes, the herald of the gods, operates between the mortals and the divine to lead departing souls into the afterlife using his super speeding winged sandals. As a divine and cunning trickster, Hermes stole Apollo’s cattle, won battles using his tricks and conniving plans, and stole the sinews of Zeus from Typhon. Hermes could disguise himself as a slave trader and traveler to carry out his missions.
Saci is a dark-skinned, one-legged young man who is a trickster archetype mentioned in Brazilian folklore. As a powerful spirit, Saci can control the winds, put a spell on people or objects that rub him the wrong way, and interfere with animal life in communities, causing a shortage of food supplies.
Likewise, as a shapeshifter, this trickster transforms into Matita Pereira, a bird that hums melancholic tunes. Still, the community entices Saci to do favors by giving him his favorite tobacco and cachaca.
Amongst the Yoruba people of West Africa, there is a story of Eshu, a sly trickster archetype. Eshu is a god and a gatekeeper between the people and the gods. He has such traits as lawlessness, deceit, humor, and sexuality. Hence, he uses metaphysics to create chaos while remaining an excellent communicator and spiritual linguist. His tricks keep the Yoruba people on their toes and make them aware of the creative side of their destiny. To date, Eshu remains a symbol of worship amongst the Yoruba people.
Finally, Kitsune is a Japanese trickster archetype featured in thirteen Japanese mythologies. It is a fox that tricks people using his sorcery. Hence, sometimes Kitsune transforms into a human, giant, or monster to harass the greedy or those who do not pay their debts. Still, when careless, Kitsune’s true nature leaks out, exposing a patch of fur, a tail, or any other fox body part.
All the trickster archetypes above use their cunning abilities to win the trust of others and achieve their goals. They all portray common traits like the prankster, practical joker, inventor of ingenious stratagems, masters of psychic powers, and a comedy of opposites. Still, these archetypes have qualities unique to their culture and religion. Hence, Carl Jung proposes analyzing each trickster archetype according to their cultural setting.
Trickster’s Role In Our Lives
The power of the Trickster is in his/ her ability to help us question life, embrace uncertainty and become receptive to seeing everything just the way it is.
We all have a hidden Trickster inside whether we are aware of it or not. Think about your own inner Trickster. Has it been outlawed to your Shadow? Do you give it enough healthy expression in your life?
Deep down, our inner Trickster craves to break taboos, revel in the destruction of the known, and destroy old paradigms. The main lesson Trickster archetypes teach us is to not take ourselves too seriously. However, when we deny the crazy wisdom of the Trickster, we find ourselves becoming narrow-minded. And when we accept the wisdom of the Trickster, we become capable of receiving the gifts of illumination, playfulness, revelation, truth and balance.
By accepting the Trickster as your spirit guide, you will be able to embrace your own inner Trickster and its multi-faceted nature.