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.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It speaks to the importance of traditions and the trickster archetype without romanticizing these oft-appropriated symbols.
Topics include the history and development of the editing and publication of The Red Book; influences of Goethe, Schiller, and German Romanticism on Jung's writings; the similarities of the biological illustrations of Ernst Haeckel to Jung's illustration of jelly fish from his dreams; Korean shamanism and it relationship to the mandala symbolism in Jung; Jung and Gnosticism; and the trickster archetype in relation to Jung's inner journey and Cervante's character of Don Quixote.
In doing so, Hunter was seen by many as exactly what the Trickster archetype represents: a cultural hero, demigod, and savior of peoples.
Following the theory of the trickster archetype, it is only when sacred and secular aspects of the person and the culture merge that reform can come from within.
The trickster archetype suggests that humans are all walking paradoxes.
Yet, especially in connection with those works (and there are many) in which the author leaves no doubt that the trickster archetype is one of the models for the fictional character, analyses of the relationship between the folk trickster and the modern character can be illuminating.
The trickster archetype is of particular significance here, as the anchor of this vernacular choreography and the figure traditionally associated with the space of the crossroads.
The reason is that psi, and all those who get too close to its subversive effects, are apt to fall under the spell of the trickster archetype. As the tide indicates, the trickster is key in this massive 564-page study.