April 29, 2006 9:11 PM   Subscribe

In the study of mythology, folklore and religion, a trickster is a god, goddess, spirit, human hero or anthropomorphic animal who plays pranks or otherwise disobeys normal rules and norms of behaviour.

Tricksters come in all forms, from all cultures. Notable examples include Br'er Rabbit, Odysseus, Eshu, Raven, and Loki; most or all of whom you are likely familiar with.
posted by Eideteker (30 comments total)
deja vu
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:38 PM on April 29, 2006

Why the hate, skallas? I think its a good post and very interesting read.

Thanks Eideteker!
posted by subaruwrx at 9:39 PM on April 29, 2006

Might as well just link to the google results page.
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:39 PM on April 29, 2006

ahem: deja vu
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:40 PM on April 29, 2006

Bah, this should have been 47 individual posts. I hate when they are all related and put together in one place.
posted by Balisong at 9:41 PM on April 29, 2006

TwelveTwo! You are more Meta than Meta!
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:42 PM on April 29, 2006

I'm pata.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:42 PM on April 29, 2006

Twelve, thirteen, whatever it takes.
posted by Balisong at 9:43 PM on April 29, 2006

posted by Eideteker at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2006

posted by rhruska at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2006

A post so nice, they deleted it twice?
No snark, I just don't get it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2006

I am upset because the "and" links don't go to pages relevant to the word "and."* It's like you don't even care, Eideteker.

*also because I have strep throat and my lymph nodes are swole up like little angry plums.
posted by jenovus at 10:13 PM on April 29, 2006

I thought Eide's prank was brilliant... I had no idea it'd been deleted. (How lame.) Although I guess if he was going for true Andy-Kaufman-esque "provoke them till they want to kill you" pranksterism, the deletion of the post was the cherry on top.

Good links, Eidetaker... the "No soap, radio!" one explains something I'd heard referenced many times but never thought to look up on my own.
posted by BoringPostcards at 10:23 PM on April 29, 2006

I'll take pranksters any day.
posted by caddis at 10:43 PM on April 29, 2006

Can someone rank the links in order from best to worst, so I don't have to read them all?
posted by knave at 11:04 PM on April 29, 2006

"Golly, Mr Kesey..."
posted by Balisong at 11:06 PM on April 29, 2006

ยก ... debe 'splicar algo!
posted by rob511 at 11:20 PM on April 29, 2006

posted by Bonzai at 11:22 PM on April 29, 2006

pmichaels' glorantha fools' paradise :P

posted by kliuless at 6:14 AM on April 30, 2006

My favorite Trickster-based link is here, an entire cycle of Trickster tales from the Winnebago tradition.
posted by DataPacRat at 6:28 AM on April 30, 2006

Oh, yes, please post more links! Thanks to everyone who's contributed to this FPP.
posted by Eideteker at 7:16 AM on April 30, 2006

That's a good link DataPR
posted by storybored at 8:32 AM on April 30, 2006

Would the study of mythology be Meta-Mythology?
posted by Tullius at 9:36 AM on April 30, 2006

There is some controversy over whether you can lump a bunch of different entities from different pantheons or folk traditions together as being prototypes or like or all the same with different names.

And if I go to another ritual where someone tells me that Coyote is just like Loki, who is just like Br'er Rabbit, I'm going to become homicidal. Lumping can be an easy way to be intellectually lazy.

So can bunches of links with next to no narrative...
posted by QIbHom at 9:45 AM on April 30, 2006

I am not who I am. Thanks for the post. [I originally didn't take the time to check it out, but MeTa led me here.]
posted by exlotuseater at 10:17 AM on April 30, 2006

Years ago I read "Trickster Makes this World," a beautifully written book by Lewis Hyde on the importance of the Trickster figure and mythology in various cultures, from China to India to pre-Columbian America.

As Margaret Atwood said in her LA Times review of the book, Hyde makes "connections that seem both absolutely true and absolutely obvious once Hyde has made them but which we've somehow never noticed before. He's one of those quirky, eccentric Wise Children the United States sometimes throws up--a sort of Thoreau-cum-anthropologist-cum-seer, an asker of naive questions that turn out to be the reverse of naive."

It's the only book I've read on the figure of the Trickster, but I'm willing to bet that it's the best.
posted by jackbrown at 10:43 AM on April 30, 2006

By the way, am I the only one who is in love with Amazon's new (?) "Statistically Improbable Phrases" feature? It's the 'SIPs' link that you get on Search Inside the Book pages now, and it lists unusual phrases from any searchable book on Amazon. Apparently it compares all the phrases in a book against all the phrases in every other book, and ranks the most unusual ones in the volume you are looking at. I find it oddly compelling, although of uncertain usefulness.

The list for 'Trickster Makes this World' is:

shin scabs, bait thief, reflected plums, bungling host, new theogony, youthful theft, shame threshold, smart luck, butter thief, mere bellies, female tricksters, absolute newness, sixteen gods, shining youth, trickster cycle, plantation culture, trickster stories, deathless gods, great archer, chance operations, double motion, eating game, immigrant child, trickster tales, untrue things

It's not quite a summary of the book but it provides you with a snapshot of what's unusual about the book you are looking at. Very interesting.
posted by jackbrown at 10:50 AM on April 30, 2006

I really enjoyed this compendium. Thanks, Eideteker. My favorite link: Trickster's Way ("study").

Jackbrown, that book sounds great. I'll put it on the list.

In response to qlbhorn: Although there is a danger of smoothing over important cultural differences by generalizing about the trickster character, it would be absurd to deny that the meme is near-universal if not entirely universal. You'd be arguing against a vast assembly of evidence. The trickster appears cross-culturally enough that both Jung and Freud believed that the trickster is embedded in human consciousness in one way or another - for Freud, the trickster was the embodiment of the id, for Jung, he was an expression of the Shadow self.

van Brunvand's American Folklore: An Encyclopedia has a very good short article on trickster, saying: "Trickster is more likely to be discovered through roles and functions than through labels and appearances." Characteristic activities include the playing of tricks (of course), luring others into humiliation or injury (or even death), betrayal of trust, and revealing venality and stupidity. The hallmark trickster trait is"heedless self-gratification." The trickster is
the perfect antihero by almost any definition. He is the individual who is isolated from society and who has no concern for it. He is the one creature without goals for himself or others. He is a menace to society without being its enemy, and he brings disaster to others without any malevolence. He is the rule breaker par excellence: He mocks religious rituals, scorns the proper way to do anything from cooking to war, has sex with his grandmother, and betrays all trusts...Trickster is the breaker of taboos, and it does not take full Freudian analysis to see in that fact the source of his humor. Thre is something simultaneously horrifying and satisfying about his breaking the rules all humans in society chafe at. He does, it has been observed, what everyone would like to do, but cannot, because of fear, reason, or virtue. Trickster is the ultimate poor role model for living in community, and thus the opposite of hero."
So there would be no reason to expect the trickster/antihero to be any less universal than the hero. When the trickster's character varies, that is because the social norms of each culture vary, and the trickster character is shaped in opposition to local social norms.

Some scholars note that tricksters can have positive social benefit. They deflate the inflated ego. They highlight common errors in thinking and warn us away from them via cautionary tales. And perhaps most importantly, by directing derision and critical attention to culture itself, cultural leadership or mistaken values, they teach people to be suspicious of power and the pitfalls of taking our cultural values as unshakeable truth.

"..scholar Mary Douglas...suggests that the ultimate function of the figure is to remind people embedded in culture that their culture is itself an invention and, therefore, limited. From that view, the Trickster is a god far beyond cultural gods, one who awesome power is that he represents Reality beyond culture....there is much to ponder in the fact of cultural institutionalization of ritual figures whose main function is to mock the rituals in which they appear."

Some folklorists consider Jesus Christ a trickster character.

Now I'm off to read the MeTa thread, which I haven't yet. I'm scared that I'm about to learn that this post was some sort of joke I didn't get.
posted by Miko at 12:28 PM on April 30, 2006

Seconding trickster makes this world - an excellent and entertaining book. Nice post topic, even if the tpost itslef is a googlehash.

Metafilter: reflected plums
posted by lalochezia at 1:21 PM on April 30, 2006

Woody Fucking Woodpecker. I hate that little bastard.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:59 AM on May 1, 2006

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