Tuesday, 31 March 2009

862 - Trickster

I knew that mini-library I've built would come in handy!

Trickster Makes The World is a book by Lewis Hyde (this edition Canongate, 2008), in which he documents and dissects Trickster myths from around the world. Trickster could be a coyote, or a rabbit, or raven, or the nearly-god Hermes, but one thing for sure, he (in the stories it's almost invariably a he) is very, very human!

Trickster is a boundary-crosser, who defines the boundaries that exist by the act of crossing them. He's basically out for what he can get, and grows nimble in the act of getting it, and of not, in the process, getting got by others. Coyote's after food, and escape. Hermes is after godhood, and immortality. Lewis makes the point that the transactions by which trickster progresses (or not) are the same acutely observed psychological tricks by which we make our own way in the world. Out of them is spun the culture that we pass on to the next generation. Being human is about accepting that we are tricksters, even when what we are trying to escape is our tricksterhood.

Immediately, for me, trickster resonates with my own journey. That's the one through religious fundamentalism as a young man, through a consequent fundamentalist rejection of fundamentalism, finally to a shamanic rebirth acknowledging both extremes, but happiest dancing nimbly on the boundary.

On that boundary, a new culture is created.

Here are the parallels: coyote (for example) seeks meat, and at the point of getting it, the point of getting snagged in the trap that lies beneath, leaps back, scratched. But now he's hurt and hungry. He's learnt not to trust his instincts, but not yet to catch the meat which will give him the strength to heal. So he tries another tack. He notes the fly, light enough to land without setting the trap off, and he observes he is getting thinner by the hour. Perhaps if he waits long enough, cunningly, he'll get so thin the food will be his for the taking. But as he thins, his strength ebbs, till, too light to pounce, too heavy to fly, he is caught out a second time. But here's where the world steps in. Brother mouse, or fly, or whoever, at coyote's point of weakness, is able and willing to lift the food from the trap and give it to him. Coyote learns a lesson about the kindness of the world at the same time as he learns his limitations.

And here's me, seeking adulthood, and at the point of achieving it (a career and, more than that, home in the Church), leaping back as I realise the cost is the loss of my a-religious childhood. I'm scratched, as deep as I know, and I've lost my sense of self. So I wait, getting thinner all the time, as the rest of my peers take what they need, and though I try to emulate them, creating the shell of a successful life out of the childhood I have been given, I can never quite generate the sense of adulthood I need. I'm too light. I'm too heavy. But here's where the world steps in. At my point of weakness, asleep one night, I am woken by... what? Love, that's all, given to me by... well, in the end, both by the world I found in church, and the world I knew outside. The meat and the not-meat together, filling that sense of identity up, with what was there all along.

So I'm a trickster, wise that I'll always be a trickster. I'll never be more (or less) than I am, nor do I want to be. But I can now take my part in creating whatever new culture I, my peers, and those that come after, can best use to survive a little longer. What I've learnt is that the natural world is drenched with love, but so is the cultural world. The two interact, tango together, and in the sphere of my own identity, at least, I can set myself dancing howsoever I please.

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