There is a recurring character in the world's myths who delights in wrecking everything. He goes by many names--Coyote in Native North American lore, Hermes in Greek mythology, Puck in English mythology--but he lives through them all as ... Trickster.
Storyteller and "myth-chief" maker Michael Trotta and I talk about the trickster in this week's episode of The Mystic Cave. I had regarded this mythic figure simply as a nuisance, a jokester, a pest. And he might be all those things. But Michael explained that he's far more than that, in fact, more the contrarian than the meddlesome prankster. When Trickster appears there's going to be trouble.
The apparent purpose of Trickster, in all his guises, is to slap us in the face and cause us to wake up and rethink everything we take for granted about what is sacred, what is "normal," even what is human. This is something we rarely want to do. Left to our own devices, we will float along on a sea of safe assumptions about the world and our place in it, until a catastrophe befalls us, like the death of a loved one or the election of a clown as President. Suddenly, we become disoriented. Things are not what we thought they were. We are awakened to a larger vision of reality.
As unpleasant as these experiences may be, ultimately we must accept that our personal windows on the world are always too small, our lives too narrow, our choices too few. Trickster is summoned by our complacency, to shake things up, to kick us out of our comfy beds, and to re-launch us into our own unlived lives.
Michael Trotta encourages us to "think mythologically" about the tricksters in our lives, the people who bother us and upset us. We might ask, for instance, why we are bothered by them in the first place. After all, when we point a finger at someone we don't like, there are always four fingers pointed back at us (or three, discounting the thumb, which tends to go its own way). What parts of our own shadowed lives come to light when Trickster is at play? What is Trickster showing us about ourselves? And why now? What have I not been paying attention to, such that my world can be so easily upset?
Trump's disastrous term in office in the US scandalized even those of us who watched from a distance, making the whole world feel unsafe. What had formerly been a marginal and marginalized underbelly of American society suddenly rose up to triumph in a horrific display of civil disaffection that spilled into the very hallways of Congress itself. But what might we learn from this trickster? What unexamined parts of our own lives--both personal and political--was he able to arouse? And how might we change as a result?
Trickster is always unwelcome. But like all archetypes, he arises from our unconscious with his own role to play in calling us back to life. In other words, there's a reason he shows up in the first place. While we may deplore him and resent him and wish he'd just go away, we dare not dismiss him. He just might be our salvation.
This week in The Mystic Cave: A Conversation with Story-teller Michael Trotta.