Just Shelley

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.