The Trickster Archetype

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A home in Las Cruces, New Mexico, displays a design of Kokopelli, a trickster from Native American mythology. Trickster archetypes are seen in cultures around the world.

The Trickster Archetype


The Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung asserted that much of world mythology and folklore represent manifestations of what he called the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious represents our inheritance of the collective experience of humankind, storing humanity’s experiences in the form of archetypes (or prototypes) that unconsciously predispose us to organize our personal experiences in certain ways. Jung further asserted that the archetypes of the collective unconscious shape the content of our dreams, emerging in various forms of archetypal dream images.

Jung’s theories arose from his observations that the dreams of his patients frequently contained images with which they were completely unfamiliar but which seemed to reflect symbols that could be found somewhere in the mythological systems of world culture. Jung further found that if he could discover the specific meaning of such images in their native culture that he could then better understand the dreams in which they occurred.

One widespread figure in world mythology is the trickster, a powerful spirit or divinity who, as the name implies, delights in all sorts of pranks and jokes. Although the trickster is not actually an evil spirit, the impact of the trickster’s activity is often unpleasant. In dreams the trickster archetype may emerge as a clown or other figure who mocks our pretensions or throws light on the ways in which we delude ourselves. The same archetype may manifest in less desirable ways, spoiling our dream pleasures and throwing things into a state of anarchy. Because tricksters are shapeshifters, they are also symbols of transformation.