We can stand at lecterns. We can call ourselves “poet.” We can work as professors. We can give talks on Oprah (or more commonly, at our local independent bookseller). We can win Pulitzer Prizes (or at least fantasize about them). But in our heart of hearts, we all know the truth. What we really are is Tricksters. Every writer in the world.
In mythology, the Trickster is the wise fool, the cruel prankmaster, the rule-breaker, the laughing destroyer, the schemer. He is a god who isn’t quite divine, who is flawed and damaged and utterly inconsistent.
In Norse mythology, he was Loki—aptly called the God of Hokey Pokey by Godchecker.com. In West Africa, he is Anansi, who was brought to the Caribbean and to the American South, where he became the Aunt Nancy of Black Southern folklore. Nowhere was the archetype better developed than among Native Americans, where he was Old Man Coyote in the Southeast, Raven in the Pacific Northwest, and the mysterious Wakjungkaga among the Winnebago, to name only a few of his incarnations.
For a long time, I couldn’t explain my fascination with the Trickster archetype. I thought it was just the humor. There was something wickedly delicious in the odd mix of cruelty and fun that make up Trickster stories. (I’ve always been drawn to the grotesque.) It took a while for it to sink in that I found the Trickster so intriguing because he resonated with my own experience of life, with my way of being in the world. Especially, with being a writer.
How are Tricksters like writers? How are they not?
They are shapeshifters, appearing in different forms at different times. They change genders, turn from human to nonhuman-animal and back again, sometimes in the blink of an eye.
They are master manipulators. They can pull the strings of the mightiest gods and wisest mortals, just the way writers control their characters (and, just like our characters, the Trickster’s victims sometimes turn the tables).
They live on the boundaries, in between the real and the unreal, just outside the mainstream. They dwell outside of time; They are of our world yet not quite of our world.
They break the rules. Even the laws of physics.
They tell lies.
They are often childlike, willing to play the fool.
They are catalysts.
“[The Trickster] is a powerful creative force with his ability to disturb the norm, introduce chaos and raise difficult questions,” Nanna Jorgenson writes in “Old Man Coyote.” “Yet, out of chaos a new understanding, a new connection may be made.”
“It is [the Trickster who] points out the flaws in the carefully constructed societies of man,” says so many websites that I don’t know whom to cite. “He exists to question, to cause us to question. . . He appears when a way of thinking becomes outmoded.”
In fact, mythology makes no bones about the relationship between Tricksters and writers. Loki is known as the Storyteller. Anansi is the one who is skilled with words. Old man Coyote is a teller of tales.
Last week, I said the lovely, compassionate goddess Guanyin should be the goddess of writers. But I’m reconsidering. Because there’s this other side to us as well. This side that bites the world in the butt and then runs off laughing.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...