The Trickster

I’ve always been fascinated with the myth of Trickster. He is cunning and sly; the wise man who acts as the fool. His very nature is contradictory because he is a bringer of both chaos and order. He is considered evil, but a necessary evil.

Every culture has Trickster in it, though the actual representation may differ. For instance, to many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan native people, the Trickster is Raven. The winged God with the dual nature, Mercury, is considered Trickster in Greek Mythology by some (because of Mercury’s dual nature), and Loki is Trickster in Norse mythology.

To the Turkish (Islamic) people, Trickster is a person, Nasreddin Hodja, and takes on the personification of Trickster as wise man who plays the fool. It’s hard to pick among them, but my favorite Hodja story is probably Everyone is Right:

Once when Nasreddin Hodja was serving as qadi, one of his neighbors came to him with a complaint against a fellow neighbor.

The Hodja listened to the charges carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”

Then the other neighbor came to him. The Hodja listened to his defense carefully, then concluded, “Yes, dear neighbor, you are quite right.”

The Hodja’s wife, having listened in on the entire proceeding, said to him, “Husband, both men cannot be right.”

The Hodja answered, “Yes, dear wife, you are quite right.”

The Navajo (the Dineh) have, in my opinion, the most sophisticated outlook regarding Trickster, who to them takes on the persona of Coyote. In fact, Coyote still forms an important aspect in current Navajo culture to the point where many of the Dineh will not cross the path of a live coyote, in case it is Coyote come to play a trick.

Occasionally you might hear a reference to Coyote in regards to a person having to fight their own personal demons. In particular, the Navajo associate many forms of illness with Coyote, referring to alcoholism, drug addiction, stomach and other illnesses as “coyote sickness”. This sickness is usually associated with an external influence such as alcohol or drugs, or poor diet and even exposure to chindi, or ghosts.

To resolve these illnesses, the shaman will perform a healing ceremony and take a person back to their center, performing a ritual cleansing — a healing way — as the person makes reparations for the offenses they have made.

You won’t find much online about healing ways, nor will you find much about the sandpaintings used by Navajo shaman during the rituals associated with healing — the Navajo consider that this information gives power and power given foolishly can rebound on the person who disseminates it indiscriminately. However, I did find reference to one healing way, the Bear way, that seems to be for women in their 40′s. The mention of the “crystals” in the ceremony, though, would lead me to guess that this is new age rather than traditional Indian ceremony.

The study of Coyote and illness, particularly illness associated with addiction, isn’t restricted purely to Navajo medical and religious tradition. In an excellent article, Jacques Rutzky discusses addiction and Coyote from a psychotherapist’s position, somewhat based on Jung’s Archetypal Trickster:

Forced to cultivate an awareness of the Coyote in myself as well as my patients, I have come to recognize that Coyote’s greatest delusion, that he knows everything, is frequently my own delusion as well. I try to remember that the images, associations, and thoughts that arise in my mind may be a link to another’s experience. Or they may not. And though I know with great certainty that Coyote will never be destroyed, I can, at least, recognize his familiar shape, smell, and howl when he comes into my office, sniffs the furniture, and plops down beside me, smiling.

The Yellow and Black Skunk

When I was a young’un, I lived on a farm several miles outside of Kettle Falls, in Washington state. Below the farm was an undeveloped field with a dirt road running through it that connected several homes. And below the road and the field was Lake Roosevelt. Surrounding all of this was bits and pieces of the Colville National Forest.

Back in those more innocent days, my mother let me go down to the field by myself as long as I didn’t go down to the water.

I loved this field of tall golden weeds. Since I was only about five at the time, the weeds would come up to my chest and I could look out on a sea of waving fronds and imagine I was on a ship in the ocean.

I loved the dust of the dirt road and would walk it slowly, sucking on the end of a grass blade pulled from the side of the road, occasionally chasing after a grasshopper or butterfly. Every once in a while I would see another critter such as a deer or a skunk, always trying to entice the former towards me, always giving considerable room to the latter.

Imagine a soft, warm summer afternoon, blue sky, glimmer of light reflection off of the water in the distance, the sound of insects and birds the only noise. And absolutely nothing to do but walk along the road and think thoughts of faraway places and strange new doings, such as my cousin coming for a visit and my Uncle giving my brother a rifle and not me because I was a girl. I got a stupid china tea set. You know the kind of thoughts — a child’s thoughts.

One day, there was a movement in the field towards my left. I stopped and looked, hand over eyes to shade the sun, squinting my eyes al-most tight (sign of glasses to come the following year), trying to see what was causing the motion.

Up a head pops and then down it goes.

What?

Up a head pops and then down it goes again.

What is that?

Again, the head appears and I have a better view. It’s golden and kind of flat and has black markings.

That’s not a deer. Too small for a deer.

Up the head pops and then down it goes again.

That’s not a bunny. It’s too big.

Up and down.

That’s not a skunk though it does have markings like a skunk.

I watched this strange creature for some time. I wasn’t frightened. If anything I thought this new experience was a huge treat considering the usual activity associated with a warm sunny afternoon, such as standing in the middle of a road of dust, listening to the insects rub wings and legs.

Up the head would pop, down it would go, each jump moving it farther away until with a last rustle, it disappeared into the woods.

I ran home and opened the door and there was my mother, washing something in the sink, the smell of good things to eat hanging in the late afternoon air. I remembered running up to her, excited, telling her in the jumbled child manner about this creature in the field that had these black markings and it jumped up and down and up and down and up…

“That’s a skunk, honey, You just saw a skunk is all.”

A yellow and black skunk? Well, okay. If you say so, Mama.

So I went for the just the longest, longest time, with this memory in my head of my warm, sunny afternoon and the field of gold and the dusty road, and my yellow and black skunk.

Until the day when I was looking at a new picture book and realized that my skunk was a bobcat.