Tag Archives: trickster

Thoughts on “The Sandman, Volume 9: The Kindly Ones” by Neil Gaiman

So I finished this book a couple days ago, and have been digesting it and trying to decide how I will approach writing about it without spoiling the ending (Note – do NOT read the introduction to this book unless you want to know how it ends). And also, how do I write about something that contains so many layers of complexity? After stepping away, then going back and reviewing my notes, I decided I will focus on the theme of responsibility, and how that is tied to an individual’s nature.

The first scene I want to examine is when Delirium visits Dream and tries to convince him to join her on a search for her lost dog. The Dream Lord tries to explain to her why he cannot leave the dream realm at the present time.

Delirium: So can you come with me? And look?

Dream: Sister, I have responsibilities. I cannot leave the Dreaming at this time.

Delirium: You use that word so much. Responsibilities. Don’t you ever think about what it means? I mean, what does it mean to you? In your head?

Dream: Well, I use it to refer to that area of existence over which I exert a certain amount of control and influence. In my case, the realm and action of dreaming.

Delirium: Hump. It’s more than that. The things we do make echoes. S’pose, f’rinstance, you stop on a street corner and admire a brilliant fork of lightning — ZAP! Well for ages after people and things will stop on that very same corner, and stare up at the sky. They wouldn’t even know what they were looking for. Some of them might see a ghost bolt of lightning in the street. Some of them might even be killed by it. Our existence deforms the universe. THAT’S responsibility.

This is profound. Not only do our individual actions affect the universe, no matter how small (think the butterfly effect), but our consciousness molds reality and existence on a cosmic level. Nothing we do, nothing we say, and nothing we think is trivial. Everything we do has consequence. Every individual is responsible for the direction that reality takes. Our thoughts and actions ripple across the universe, forming and “deforming” the very fabric of being. The fact that I am writing this, and the fact that you are reading these words, will have an impact on the unfolding of future events. We must, as sentient beings, never take anything for granted.

In the realm of Faerie, the Lady Nuala asks the trickster Puck why he is the way he is.

Nuala: Why do you take such joy in confusion, Robin Goodfellow?

Puck: Because I am true to my nature, Lady Nuala.

This echoes the words of Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” Puck knows he is an incarnation of the trickster archetype, and it is his responsibility to accept his true nature. We are all responsible for acknowledging our nature and adhering to it. It is when we deviate from who we are, when we pretend to be something we are not, that we create disharmony in the universe. Honest self-evaluation is requisite for living a genuine life. Do not deny your essence—embrace it, as Puck does.

And this leads us to the final passage I want to share, in which Dream accepts his true responsibilities, understanding that he must make sacrifices in order to fulfill his responsibilities and embody his true nature.

Dream: Rules and responsibilities: these are the ties that bind us. We do what we do, because of who we are. If we did otherwise, we would not be ourselves. I will do what I have to do. And I will do what I must.

We are bound by our natures, by our responsibilities, and by our thoughts and actions. We are intrinsically tied to existence, and all we can do is do what we have to do. So once again, I will repeat the words of Shakespeare:

To thine own self be true.

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Conflicting Archetypes in “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman: Issue 02

In this installment, Shadow accepts the job as bodyguard for Mr. Wednesday and then has an unpleasant encounter with Technical Boy.

Wednesday and Technical Boy embody two archetypes that are in conflict with each other. Wednesday is a manifestation of the Trickster as embodied in the American con man or highwayman, the person who lives on the road, scheming and chiseling people in order to get by. Technical Boy is a modern archetype, that of technology as a god. There is a tension between the two, and the arrogant Technical Boy views Wednesday as an archaic thing whose time has passed.

You tell Wednesday this, man. You tell him he’s history. Tell him we are the future and we don’t give a fuck about him. You fucking tell him that, man. He has been consigned to the dumpster of history, while people like me ride our limos down the super-highway of tomorrow. Tell him that language is a virus and that religion is an operating system and that prayers are just so much fucking spam.

What is the most fascinating to me about this is the fact that we may be living in a time when new archetypes are forming. The digital age has altered human existence in such a way that it has thrust open the doorway to a place where it is possible for new archetypes to arise. It really feels like we are in the midst of a paradigm shift of such proportions that we may need new archetypes to help us navigate the new landscape.

As I look around me, I see people reacting to this paradigm shift in different ways. Some people are energized and inspired, while others are fearful and seek to return to the relative safety of the bygone era. It’s no wonder that there is so much polarization in the socio-political climate right now. The storm is gathering, so to speak.

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“Tales from the Darkside” Issues 2 – 4: Manifestations of the Shadow Self

darkside_02

I decided to wait until all three issues in this mini-series were published so I could read them consecutively, and I’m glad I did. Sometimes I forget some of the details from the earlier installments in a serialized arc.

This story is about the struggle between the conscious mind and the primordial shadow part of the psyche. The main character, Brian Newman, finds himself in a struggle with a manifestation of his shadow self, who he calls the “big winner.” The big winner is the opposite of Newman, who is timid, uncertain, and withdrawn. Big winner is more like the trickster archetype: capricious, boisterous, and prone to the chaotic. As the big winner begins to take control of his reality, Newman agrees to undergo experimental surgery to gain control of this darker self. As you can imagine, things do not end well.

Before the surgery, the doctor explains to Newman that the manifestation of his shadow self is the result of a brain abnormality.

The anomaly in your brain is connected to an overdeveloped amygdala, a more primitive part of your mind. The part of you that can distort reality – this big winner – is undoubtedly very id like. Impulsive. Childish. A sort of negative image of yourself.

darkside_03

The surgery does not go as planned, and instead of reigning in the shadow self, that darker aspect of reality becomes the prevalent reality. What is so fascinating about this concept is that, truthfully, our reality is based solely on perception that is agreed upon by the majority of people. But this begs the question: what happens when the paradigm of reality shifts? And this is what occurs in issue 4.

Here we encounter two kids who are constantly wired into their devices. They are obsessed with a sort of virtual reality app that allows them to control the “windows” through which they view their world. What they create through the app manifests in reality, and their darkest fantasies are manifest. What is eerily accurate about this portrayal is that virtual reality gaming can actually tap into the primordial center of the brain, the amygdala. Is it possible that virtual reality will one day alter our actual reality? It’s a thought-provoking question.

darkside_04

Because the darkside becomes a part of them. It waits for them when they close their eyes, when they sleep… if they ever sleep again. Just below the surface of what they think is real… the darkside is always waiting.

Anyway, this arc is a great read. The writing and artwork are outstanding, and the concepts are challenging and relevant to our world today. I highly recommend giving this series a read.

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“The Devil in the Belfry” by Edgar Allan Poe – Time, Chaos, and the Disruption of Order

devilbelfry

I was not sure what to expect from this tale, having neither read it before nor heard of it until I happened across it in my anthology. It is a very short parable about deviation and disruption of order, and the chaos that ensues as a result.

The story is set in a town called Vondervotteimittiss. Very early in the tale, the narrator explains that he does not know the history of the town’s name, which implies there is some significance to the name.

Touching the derivation of the name Vondervotteimittiss, I confess myself, with sorrow, equally at fault. Among a multitude of opinions upon this delicate point—some acute, some learned, some sufficiently the reverse—I am able to select nothing which ought to be considered satisfactory.

The name of the town is a sort of Germanic transliteration and play on words, so the town should be pronounced “wonder what time it is.” The key then to understanding this story is the importance of time as a constant.

The town of Vondervotteimittiss is built in a circle, symbolizing a clock and the eternal cycle of time, which is a constant. The town is comprised of “sixty little houses” which represent the sixty minutes and sixty seconds which are the foundations of time. In addition, the steeple in the center of town, which houses the great clock, has seven sides with seven clock faces, symbolizing the seven days of the week, another important symbol of time and structure.

The great clock has seven faces—one on each of the seven sides of the steeple—so that it can be readily seen from all quarters.

The final number to keep in mind is twelve, which are the numbers on the clock face and the number of months in a year.

So one day, a stranger comes into town, and the way he is described conjures the image of the devil, or possibly the trickster archetype. He commandeers the clock tower, and as the clock strikes twelve noon, he causes the clock to chime once more, making it 13 o’clock.

“Twelve!” said the bell.

“Dvelf!” they replied, perfectly satisfied and dropping their voices.

“Und dvelf it iss!” said all the little old gentlemen, putting up their watches. But the big bell had not done with them yet.

Thirteen!” said he.

Thirteen is considered an unlucky number and portends evil and disruption. What Poe is expressing here is that deviation from the norm, disruption of the perfect order of things which is symbolized by the steadiness of time, results in chaos, which is exactly what happens in the town of Vondervotteimittiss.

Meantime the cabbages all turned very red in the face, and it seemed as if old Nick himself had taken possession of every thing in the shape of a timepiece. The clocks carved upon the furniture took to dancing as if bewitched, while those upon the mantel-pieces could scarcely contain themselves for fury, and kept such a continual striking of thirteen, and such a frisking and wriggling of their pendulums as was really horrible to see.

We now accept time as something relative, but for millennia, time was the constant, so the thought of what we view as stable crumbling is a sign of chaos and collapse. I look around us and we have created an illusion of stability, but I cannot help but see the potential for chaos at the slightest deviation.

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Puck as Trickster Archetype in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

MidsummerNightsDream

I’ve read this play several times and have seen it performed more times than I can recount, but I still enjoy it every time. And reading it again this time was no exception. It’s fun, witty, and never gets old. Anyway, I figured for this post I would take a look at Puck as a manifestation of the trickster archetype.

Tricksters are archetypal characters who appear in the myths of many different cultures. Lewis Hyde describes the Trickster as a “boundary-crosser”. The Trickster crosses both physical and often breaks societal rules. Tricksters “…violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

When Puck (also known as Robin Goodfellow) first appears in Act II, one of the fairies immediately recognizes him as the trickster.

Fairy

Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite
Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he
That frights the maidens of the villagery;
Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
Are not you he?

Puck

Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And ‘tailor’ cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth and neeze and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.
But, room, fairy! here comes Oberon.

(Act II: Scene i)

One of the powers of the trickster is the ability to change form. When Puck encounters the troupe of unskilled actors gathered in the woods, he decides to use his shape-shifting ability to taunt the actors.

Puck

I’ll follow you, I’ll lead you about a round,
Through bog, through bush, through brake, through brier:
Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

(Act III: Scene i)

It is important to point out that the trickster, although sometimes playful, is also something to be feared. The trickster’s pranks can often lead a person into a dangerous situation.

Puck

Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear’d in field and town:
Goblin, lead them up and down.
Here comes one.

(Act III: Scene ii)

The trickster is definitely one of my favorite archetypal characters, and I find myself connecting to manifestations of the trickster whenever he appears in a book. And Puck is such a great incarnation of the trickster. He is, without question, my favorite character in this play.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XXIII – The Trunk of the Olive Tree

Odysseus and Penelope in Bed: Source - Wikipedia

Odysseus and Penelope in Bed: Source – Wikipedia

After the battle, Eurycleia wakes Penelope and tells her what happened. Penelope is reluctant to believe what happened, even after seeing Odysseus. She believes she is being tricked, which is ironic considering Odysseus is the consummate trickster. To test whether Odysseus is who he says he is, she instructs Eurycleia to move the bed, which angers Odysseus. He asserts that the bed cannot be moved since it was constructed from the trunk of an olive tree that was still embedded in the ground. At this point, Penelope is convinced. The couple retires together and Odysseus briefly recounts his tale.

The bed is the primary symbol in this episode. The fact that it is built into the trunk of the olive tree implies permanence and stability. It is also the central point of the house, which is constructed around the tree. It is also a symbol of the pledge of love between Odysseus and Penelope, a connection which can never be uprooted.

There is our pact and pledge, our secret sign,
built into that bed—my handiwork
and no one else’s!

(Fitzgerald Translation: p. 435)

As I read the description of the bed, and how the chamber was sealed and no one other than the couple and Penelope’s slave have ever laid eyes on the inner sanctum, I could not help seeing a correlation between the bedchamber and the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple. In Solomon’s Temple, the Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant; similarly, the bed and the olive tree symbolize the covenant between Odysseus and Penelope.

But here and now, what sign could be so clear
as this of our own bed?
No other man has ever laid eyes on it—
only my own slave, Aktoris, that my father
sent with me as a gift—she kept our door.

(ibid: p, 436)

After all the trials that both Odysseus and Penelope suffered, it is great to see them united and happy. Check back soon for my final installment on The Odyssey.

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“Odyssey” by Homer: Book XIX – Recognitions and a Dream

OdysseusNurse

Quite a bit happens in this book. Odysseus speaks with Penelope (though he is still in disguise and she does not recognize him. The elderly maid, Eurycleia, while washing Odysseus’ feet, recognizes his scar and realizes his true identity. Penelope tells Odysseus about a dream she had, which he interprets for her. And finally, Penelope decides to hold a contest using Odysseus’ bow to see which of the suitors she will marry.

There were several passages in this episode that I found interesting. The first was when Penelope describes how she tricked the suitors by telling them she needed to finish her weaving before she could marry. She would weave during the day and then surreptitiously undo her weaving at night (Fitzgerald Translation: p. 358). The tale presents Penelope as similar to Odysseus, almost like a feminine trickster archetype. It is clear that she also relies upon her wit and craft, as does her husband.

The next passage that caught my attention was when Odysseus swears to Penelope that her husband will return.

Here is my sworn word for it. Witness this,
god of the zenith, noblest of the gods,
and Lord Odysseus’ hearthfire, now before me:
I swear these things shall turn out as I say.
Between this present dark and one day’s ebb,
after the wane, before the crescent moon,
Odysseus will come.

(ibid: p. 363)

I found it interesting that not only does Odysseus swear by the gods, but also by the hearth. I suspect the hearth served as a kind of altar. I can picture statues of gods around a hearth, and it appears that the hearth was used as a place to burn offerings to the gods. The hearth is clearly considered to be something sacred.

What is even more important about this passage, though, is the astrological symbolism. Odysseus predicts his return to coincide with the new moon, the period after the waning cycle before the new crescent forms. So when the moon is in this phase, it is considered to be veiled. The moon still exists, but it is hidden. This represents the state of Odysseus. He is there, but veiled (disguised). As the moon begins the cycle of revealing itself, then Odysseus will also reveal himself. So essentially, we have a cosmic connection between the heavens and the events with which Odysseus is involved.

The last passage I want to discuss from this episode concerns the two types of dreams.

Friend,
many and many a dream is mere confusion,
a cobweb of no consequence at all.
Two gates for ghostly dreams there are: one gateway
of honest horn, and one of ivory.
Issuing by the ivory gate are dreams
of glimmering illusion, fantasies,
but those that come through solid polished horn
may be borne out, if mortals only know them.

(ibid: p. 371)

I interpret this as representing the two types of consciousness: normal waking consciousness and the deeper subconscious. What is puzzling, though, is which type of dream symbolizes which type of consciousness. Are the glimmering illusions and fantasies what we perceive when we delve into our subconscious minds, or are the illusions what we perceive to be real in our normal state of consciousness? Are the dreams associated with the polished horn reality as we perceive it through ordinary consciousness, or is it the realm of forms and archetypes associated with the subconscious that mortals need to interpret symbolically? Personally, I feel that ordinary reality is the glimmering illusion and that the subconscious is the realm of divine truths, “if mortals only know them.”

There are lots of other thought-provoking passages in this episode (I have many more entries in my journal), but as another famous poet wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” so I will choose not to write too much. I do encourage you to read this episode closely, though. There is a lot here and it is worth the effort to read closely and carefully.

Cheers!

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