Trickster is at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others, and who is always duped himself … He knows neither good nor evil yet he is responsible for both. He possesses no values, moral or social, is at the mercy of his passions and appetites, yet through his actions all values come into being. ~ Paul Radin
When Trickster archetypes prance and prank their way into your life, it’s time to pay attention!
Tricksters defy duality: they are both light and dark, heroic and villainous, foolish and wise, benign and malicious. At the same time they’re lovable, they’re also hateful. At the same time they’re friendly, they’re also fearsome. If you feel drawn to, or repulsed by, the Trickster archetype, this is a clear sign that you need to explore the hidden parts of your nature more.
In mythology, Tricksters are portrayed as the jokers, pranksters, clowns, rule-breakers, alchemists, magicians, truth-tellers and wise-fools. In psychology, Tricksters are the mischievous archetypes of the collective unconscious that shatter old paradigms and gleefully poke sticks at our sanctimonious beliefs and stiff pretensions.
These days, Trickster archetypes still appear in our cultural myths and dialogues. Tricksters continue to incarnate as characters such as Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Beetlejuice (Tim Burton classic), The Mask, Cheshire Cat (Alice in Wonderland), the Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, The Joker (from Batman) and Rumplestiltskin. And in our own lives, Tricksters are represented by the class clowns, the anarchists, the comedians and the rule-breaking harlequins that defy all worldly decrees and decorum.
In a sense, Tricksters are the ultimate pot-stirrers and “trolls” of life. As destroyers of duality, Trickster archetypes 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.
We’ll explore these lessons today.
11 Trickster Archetypes and Their Crazy Wisdom
My first ever Shamanic encounter in the spirit world was with a Trickster. Tricksters, like any archetype in life, are powerful spirit guides and facilitators of conscious expansion.
In my case, the Trickster I encountered was the ancient goat-man God, Pan. Guiding my vision, Pan’s face changed drastically every few moments to happy-angry-sad-gleeful-suspicious-thoughtful-wizened-neutral-blissful-ferocious. As I focused on the ever-changing nature of his face, I was guided deeper and deeper into my own inner Underworld, my own hidden Shadow. Ever since then, Pan has remained my primary spirit guide, reminding me of the importance of embracing my own inner Trickster and multi-faceted nature.
Trickster archetypes aren’t just limited to Ancient Greek mythology, however. In fact, they entertain a place in almost every civilization known to man. Tricksters are both man and anthropomorphized animal, half-man-half-beast, worldly and spiritual, god and goddess. They bring with them the gifts of illumination, playfulness, revelation, truth and balance.
Eleven of the most common Trickster archetypes known to man include:
- Loki (In Norse Mythology, he was the shape-shifting god who is portrayed as playful, nihilistic and self-serving)
- Anansi (In African folklore, he was the sneaky, sly, but ultimately benign spider god of mayhem)
- Kitsune (In Japanese mythology these are trickster-spirits that often appear as intelligent and mischievous foxes)
- Eshu (In Nigerian tale, he is the sneaky god of uncertainty and change)
- Krishna (Hindu god portrayed as seductive, entertaining Supreme Being)
- Saci (In Brazilian folklore he is portrayed as a one-legged malevolent prankster dwarf)
- Hermes (In Greek myth he was the cunning and thieving messenger of the gods)
Trickster animals include:
- Coyote (As seen in Native American mythology)
- Rabbit (Like “Br’er Rabbit” who features in African-American folklore)
- Fox (Like “Kuma Lisa” in Bulgarian folklore)
- Raven (Famous among the Native Americans)
Coming across multiple Tricksters on your path through life is inevitable. But while the self-serving, deceptive shadow side of every Trickster is extremely apparent, it’s also important to be receptive to their lessons – to their crazy wisdom.
The truth is that we all have a hidden Trickster inside whether we are conscious of it or not. That is perhaps why we’re so enamored and intrigued by figures such as The Joker or Mad Hatter.
We’re all a little bonkers inside.
Deep down, our inner Trickster craves to break taboos, revel in the destruction of the known, and shatter decrepit ideologies. If there is anything Trickster archetypes teach us, it is to “lighten up” about life and to not take ourselves so seriously. However, when we deny the crazy wisdom of the Trickster both within and without ourselves, we find ourselves becoming rigid, bull-headed, narrow-minded and humorless. The cracks in our perfect facades begin to shine when we intentionally take a nasty kind of pleasure in others pain and failure.
When we fail to embrace the lessons of the Trickster archetype, we deny ourselves frivolity and the capacity to experience our Shadows. When we get lost in superficial appearances, the Trickster holds a mirror to our faces. When we get stranded in the ignorance of egotism, the Trickster, through his antics, lays out our faults on a platter with a smile.
It was once said that Krishna secretly stole all the clothing from a few milk maidens that were bathing. When they realized what happened, they begged for their clothes back. Krishna reprimanded them for breaking the vow about bathing nude. Then, he made them ascend from the water nude to find their clothes. In this way when interpreted, the women were forced to abandon their sense of shame or ego (clothing), allowing them to realize their ultimate divine union with Krishna. This story, like many others, represents the powerful unpredictability of the Trickster.
The power of the Trickster is in his (or her) ability to help us question life, embrace uncertainty and become receptive to seeing everything just as it is.
It can be so easy to fall into dogmatic traps and small-minded ideologies on our paths of soulful expansion. When a Jester, Clown or Trickster comes into your life shaking up all the pretensions, lies and illusions that you cling to … pay attention! Your anger, sanctimony, and exasperation can be alchemized into humor, acceptance and even curiosity if you let it.
What is Your Flavor of Holy Madness?
Finally, I want you to take a few moments to think about your own inner Trickster. Has it been outlawed to your Shadow? Do you give it enough healthy expression in your life? What does it look like, sound like and feel like? You’re welcome to share below.
There is a Trickster at work. I used to work with him on a daily business, some days we was awesome friends, the next enemy’s, the next we could be neutral with him making me feel sorry for him in the morning and taking the piss out of eachother in the evening. You just never know what side of him is coming out next.
We don’t work together now as we have both been promoted and when we get the odd job together it’s always the same!!
He taught me that even a person who pushes your buttons can still be a friend and tricksters never really want conflict. Just reactions and that ignoring things doesn’t make them go away. It just makes them worse.
He told me he uses angel cards once but keeps most things about his spirituality secret.
Excellent article. It awakens me to some ‘old friends’ who said “lighten up” or “get out of your head!” I’ve seen the crazy wisdom of the raging trickster as he drove an MR2 sports car spookily fast at a cliff edge, on tight, tortuous mountain roads in New Zealand’s Coromandel region…. crazy trickster! Here’s a relevant bit of information about duality and ultimate UNITY…………. :) The mind is formless like the sky, Yet it wears a million faces. It appears as images from the past, or as worldly forms; But it is not the supreme Self. I’m One; I’m all of this! Yet I’m undifferentiated, beyond all forms. How, then, do I regard the Self? As both the Unmanifest and the manifest world. You, also, are the One! Why don’t you understand? You’re the unchanging Self, the same within everyone. You’re truly illimitable; you’re the all-pervading Light. For you, how can there be any distinction between the day and the night? Understand that the Self is continuous Being, The One within all, without any division. The “I” is both the subject and the supreme object of meditation; How can you see two in That which is One? ~ Dattatreya’s Song… Read more »
I felt like I was reaing about myself the whole time. I’ve been told there’s something not right about me & yet I can be the most level headed, mature person. I’m a paradox…lol
I definitely feel like this is how I come off to everyone.
Thanks for this very enlightening article. I have found in my own experience drawn to The Joker like trickster, finding a lot of his characteristics in my own personality. The ideas of chaos and anarchy as well as complete self sabotage have always been enticing to me, crashing and burning only to be reborn. Transformation through complete destruction. How do we begin to honour the trickster within us without ruining ourselves or hurting others? Could we use these trickster traits to cut through illusion, give up our attachments to control? If so, how? How do we work with our trickster archetype without driving ourselves completely insane in all the uncertainty?
Oh WOW! I am drawn to your connection w Pan. I have recently come into a new awareness and so many things that are occurring in my life are simply off the chart. I’ve connected w a man on a level I have never experienced and it seems as though so many of my other worldly gifts have been tapped into through a transcendental type sexual connection with him. The connection to Pan came about whilst we were making love. I saw faces take form in his face, also shifting faces and demonic like faces. Pan came to me firstly as a beautiful looking man then he morphed into the unsightly face you see in mythology, I only felt beauty as he was showing me kindness as opposed to anything other. A little bit of research was required to understand who it was that I was meeting. And I quickly realised that I was forewarned of him as I had not long before read a book called Jitterbug Perfume – Tim Robbins and low and behold, it was Pan who graced the front cover. A certain psychic ability has come forward in my daily life over the past several months.… Read more »
Funny how much these said tricksters sound so much like me (^_^)~
I always share the same vision and opinion in all your articles (It’s very very uncommon, that this happens to me) and quickly understand the meaning and direction that will take the topic. But this time I can’t completely grasp something in this archetype. Perhaps is that I don’t like clowns and buffoons (they ,make me depress) and yes the others forms. Since adolescence I feel a connection with the pagan god with deer head, but I didn’t know about the greeks and Pan and his trickster side. I love The Mask and Beetlejuice since childhood but I don’t like the joker of Batman and the mockery part. (Also I like the character of the movie “The Crow”). I love the archetype of The Fool in the Tarot (although I identify more with The Magician), but even I don’t like the english name “The Fool”. I like “El Loco” (Loco=Crazy) because he is the pure expression of the soul. He is only fool or crazy in the perception of others who don’t understand. In one test of this page, I believe about personalities, I got 100% Destroyer, 95% Magician, and I have forgotten that also 90% Joker and 85% Sage.… Read more »
I’ve often met these so called tricksters in my daily life. For instance, Exus became a constant. In the beginning I was terrified and couldn’t sleep until a sort of shaman, friend of mine, made him go away. After many years and some research on the subject, it came to my knowledge that Exus are very important since they’re the bridge between the physical and the spiritual world (I’ve come to think about Hermes, the Messenger). Like other tricksters, they’re also attracted to worldly things, like alcohol, cigars, jewels, and also pranks. Even in their duality, they’re considered deities and also reverenced as well. They are plenty and the one who accompanies me sometimes still haven’t told his/her name. But he/she also protects me and gives me good advice, like many others I’ve the pleasure to get to know.
Brilliant piece. A great opener into an aspect that is not given much thought. However, I wonder if there are many levels of trickster. There is the ‘crazy wisdom’ aspect, portrayed by Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, Hazrat Khizr ( a prophet figure) in the Muslim scripture, and spiritual leaders such as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. These are the truly wise who make you question your value system and present reality as it is. Just when you think you have understood the game, they can change the rules, so to speak. But they essentially come from a place of enhanced understanding and knowledge and want to broaden our horizons. Then there are others who may just manifest as tricksters in our lives, like you say, to help us understand our shadows and to embrace our humanity. They may, or may not be the possessors of wisdom. Or as someone else put it in the comments, an infant soul. But they can teach us wisdom. I think that there is a distinction, but an arbitrary one in the sense that we can learn from both. And it may depend on the stage of our personal spiritual journey, as to which one manifests.… Read more »
What if you think you are the trickster? How do you grow and evolve? I have lead a very deceitful life and for the first time I can see my deception to myself and others but what now ?