The Trickster in Modern Culture

The Joker, the King’s Court Jester, Bugs Bunny, Loki in Viking Myth, the Native American Coyote, the Greek’s Prometheus, Forest Gump, and Sherlock Holmes are all Tricksters. But what is the Trickster, and why do Modern authors and filmmakers continue to blindly fill our entertainment with versions of the Trickster, while not knowing what or who this archetypal figure is? And what is the Mythological narrative behind this figure?

The Trickster is a part of our brains, an artificially-created, imaginary being summoned up from some strange part of ourselves. For none of the figures listed about are real, but parts of story, myth, and legend we create in Myth and Modern Mythopoeia to sustain us.

We then ask ourselves, why write about and tell stories over and over about this strange figure?

It turns out that the Trickster is a part of our minds that lies outside ourselves. For unlike the Tragic Hero who redeems us or the dark nemesis that shadows our darker selves, the Trickster represents disorder and chaos. He lies outside what I call the “Life Affirming” archetypes that fill our fiction and which are designed to elevate the will to live and the illusionary meaning and purpose of our lives they are designed to hide.

The Trickster resides in our minds in a place beyond the Id of our primitive needs, outside the Ego’s desperate search for purpose, and the SuperEgo’s authority over the world. The Trickster is the part of ourselves that lies beyond the Self in the world, in the darks waters of the unknown, the deterministic plane of the God’s that control us, and the chaotic Nature that surrounds us. For the Trickster waits for the Twilight of the Gods, the last days of our living self, the part of our brain’s that knowingly represent the death of the Self and how to laughingly cope with our own demise.

To fulfill that strange purpose you will see the Trickster drive both the protagonists and antagonists in story towards their own undoing, breaking old laws, rebirthing universes through their ends, subverting cultural norms, and twisting truth into believable lies. The Trickster’s purpose is to destroy the Self so it can be reborn, to humiliate those who succumb to hubris, to laugh at death, and make dark humor of the dire fate of all life.

For we as Modern Humans in our unconscious – despite the honeyed veneer of our religions, societies, and wealth – know that Life and Living is an absurd act with no purpose or meaning. And so the Trickster’s only purpose is to form an mythological archetype inside us to help us cope with the horror of that one Truth. And so he/she serves that purpose admirably in story. And that is why we so readily laugh along with the Trickster and accept his strange purpose in myth.

The beauty of the Trickster is that this global archetype is universal, and appears in cultures all over the world. And so it makes sense that the myth form some purpose in the minds of all cultures of homosapiens through story.

Some examples: In ancient times the Trickster took the form of animal totems. The Native American myth of the trickster often took the form of the Coyote or Fox, but there are other forms. He often appeared from the Other World to steal maidens or lead hero’s astray on paths through wood’s that revealed new treasures for the poverty stricken or stripped wealth from the greedy. In European culture the Trickster was often a God like Loki who in Norse legend would lead the Gods to their own demise in Ragnorok, or Prometheus who tricked and defied the God’s through theft. The more modern court jester of Kings evolved to challenge the aristocracy and show the foibles of leaders, keeping the King in check as we must diminish our own egos when we foolishly defy the will of others or of death itself. The Trickster is a personification of all these things.

In Modern times there have been many lighter versions of the Trickster. Bugs Bunny seems to have been the purest Trickster I can think of, who has no other purpose but to malign the anti-hero in cartoons. For the best Tricksters are always comedians. But more recently we have seen darker forms, like the Joker of comic book fame. However, their authors have failed to see that the Joker’s purpose isn’t evil or to lose before the hero, but to subvert both good and evil. In some films I have seen the Joker laugh at death but also do the absurd.

And so in that role alone does the Modern Trickster trick our brains by subverting the constant Good vs Evil plays in our theaters and subsume his original purpose which was always to temp the Gods and have them destroy themselves by their own foolish motives.

If Modern Cultures are to survive, as a mythologist, I feel we must gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Trickster’s original purpose and Modus Operandi. Doing so we can stop recreating the same predictable Good vs Evil, Us vs Them political stories in books and film and return to more creative works where the absurd nature of the Trickster can live again. For he/she has no purpose but to sew doubt and destroy cultures so a new creativity can be born into them.

But through our brains alone does the Trickster work his magic. For the Trickster’s role is critical to the rejuvenation of not just our own creativity as writers and artists, but in the reimagining of our own Modern Culture and its redistribution of power, wealth, ideas, and people. For history shows that is what sustains the world and keeps Humanity thriving and alive…..the same death and rebirth in society that we as Humans need to survive psychologically through story.

– Mitchell Stokely, October 2018



Leave a Reply