“Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep and miss your life” – Brian Andreas, Angel of Mercy
I was mid-way through writing a post about a completely different topic when I remembered a quote from Lewis Hyde’s excellent work Trickster Makes this World that I wanted to use to launch the piece. I located my kindle and typed the words I remembered from the quote into the search function. No results found. I tried a few different combinations and only then noticed the small print that said “This book has not been indexed.” Not been indexed? Argh! I was going to have to dig for it manually? How badly did I want this quote? The kindle is not the best medium for skimming, but I tried that first anyway – skipping around based on the table of contents, glancing through pages, but that didn’t get me anywhere. I was going to have to slow read the book from the beginning in order to find my quote. Fine. So, with a warrior frame of mind – this book was not going to best me – I started at the beginning.
As I read, though, something curious began to wind it’s way through my brain. I have had a Trickster post on my list of writing topics since the beginning of the blog, but I hadn’t gotten to it yet and frankly wasn’t planning to work on it for quite a number of months more. But in re-reading Lewis Hyde’s work, it suddenly felt like the Trickster was the most important and valuable topic I could be writing about right now. All other work either faded into the background or became somehow dependent on me laying out the concept of the Trickster. With my mind racing through how to structure the post, I began to laugh, for right there was the Trickster influence in action. I knew in that moment, a Trickster post was the very next thing I was going to write. I would never have chosen this course of action if I hadn’t been ‘forced’ to re-start the book. And, of course, the beauty of the trick was that even though I now realized what was going on, I wanted to write this post, nothing excited me more. The trap had been perfectly set and I was snared; hoist by my own petard.
“He is, in fact, some third thing…”
From a cultural history point of view the Trickster is a super-human character who seems to embody the qualities of illusion, mischief, uncertainty (or chance), and metacognition. Lewis Hyde finds examples of him in the mythologies of the Greek Hermes, the Nordic Loki, the Native American Coyote or Raven, and the African Eshu or Legba. His trickery goes beyond paltry parlor tricks to be transformative on a grand scale; he upsets the established societal order. So where can the Trickster be found in our modern world? Hyde says, “Outside.. traditional contexts there are no modern tricksters because trickster only comes to life in the complex terrain of polytheism. If the spiritual world is dominated by a single high god opposed by a single embodiment of evil, then the ancient trickster disappears.”
I would argue, though, that the Trickster existed before any of these mythologies personified him. It’s likely the trickster was a concept that communities were already familiar with that found room for expression in polytheism. Our earliest form of human organization was leading a fairly nomadic lifestyle as hunter gatherers. Surely in the course of daily life these very ancient hunters must have come into contact with animals that didn’t “follow the rules.” When it came to telling stories, this phenomenon was embodied in the character of the Trickster but, as is often the case, the simple symbol points to a much more complex, fundamental, and instrumental force in our universe that continues in tandem with existence itself. Thus, In the modern world Trickster hasn’t disappeared so much as gone underground.
But if he hasn’t disappeared, what, then, is the Trickster? a god? an idea? I prefer to think of the Trickster as an influence in the universe or perhaps a force of the universe – like Gravity or Entropy. Upon further consideration, maybe the Trickster is a result of the interaction between other forces of the universe – like the curvy line that separates yin and yang in the symbol most people are familiar with. Or better yet, perhaps the Trickster is a way of seeing and interacting with the universe. My inability to describe what the Trickster actually is underlines my point, however. The trickster can only be seen out of the corner of our eye, try to look directly and we miss him entirely. Try to pin him down and, like a shadow, he eludes us. However, it is an equally grievous mistake to pretend he doesn’t exist. In order to understand and work with (or deal with) this phenomenon we need to allow him to remain uncategorized. To answer the question of where he can be found? Everywhere. In the search for the Trickster it isn’t so much a matter of knowing where to look as knowing how to look. Learning to understand how this character operates is the key to finding him.
“He of the stone heap”
It would be too much to say that the Trickster is the ‘god of the road.’ However, Hyde indicates that Tricksters can be found “on the road” and goes on to say, “The road that Trickster travels is a spirit road as well as a road in fact. He is the adept who can move between heaven and earth and between the living and the dead.” The Spiritual Path, too, is a road-but-not-road and as a causeway that moves ‘between heaven and earth’ it is exactly the sort of context where we can expect to find the Trickster at work – or rather at play. For those walking the spiritual path, the Trickster can be found in the evidence he leaves behind. It may sound silly, but it’s not unlike tracking an animal through the forest looking for dung or marks on trees. The symbolic takes meaning from the literal because our lives are literal first and foremost – at one point in history we were all, quite literally, tracking animals through the forest to get our dinner. Hyde spends quite a bit of time describing the Trickster in the context of hunter and prey, and this association works partly because in the ancient evolutionary dance between the two (ie, animals get wise to traps and learn how to avoid them, hunters craft better traps, animals get wise to the better traps… and so on) we find one of the key relationships that informs our understanding of what the Trickster character is really all about.
There’s a Reason he’s called Wily…
One prominent Trickster Hyde focuses on in the first half of the book is Coyote. Hyde speaks of Coyote both as the mythological trickster character of Native American folklore, Coyote, and also in a literal sense (the animal, the coyote), noting, “Coyotes develop their own relationship to the trap; as one naturalist has written, ‘it is difficult to escape the conclusion that coyotes…have a sense of humor. How else to explain, for instance, the well-known propensity of experienced coyotes to dig up traps, turn them over, and urinate or defecate on them?’ With this image we move into a third relationship between tricksters and traps. When a coyote defecates on a trap he is neither predator nor prey but some third thing.” 
In folklore, Tricksters can be hunters, prey, and also this third thing which Hyde introduces as the ‘bait thief,’ a character who can, “separate the trap from the meat and eat the meat.” Understanding and employing the strategies of the ‘bait thief’ is key to safely and successfully walking the spiritual path, a point I will address in a bit. According to Hyde, “…the bait thief doesn’t enter directly into [the] oppositional eating game…he feeds his belly while standing just outside the conflict between hunter and hunted. From that position the bait thief becomes a kind of critic of the usual rules of the eating game and as such subverts them, so that traps he has visited lose their influence.”  Here we find one of the underlying themes of both Hyde’s book and the Trickster’s character which is either the exposure of a false dichotomy or the transformation of what was previously thought to be an exclusive dichotomy into a triumvirate. With the addition of the ‘bait thief’ the hunter / prey relationship becomes infinitely more complicated. “In addition to animals that disguise their tracks and predators that see through the disguise, we now have the encoding and decoding mind, and all the arts of reading.” 
Becoming a Bait Thief
So how can understanding the nature and operation of the Trickster help us walk the Spiritual Path? Taking our inspiration from the ‘bait thief’ persona of the Trickster, we can use such strategies to help us ‘read’ or interact with our Spiritual Path. For example, we often encounter seemingly rigid dichotomies on the Spiritual Path, by using the perspective of the bait thief we may find that these are actually false. One example of how this works taken from my own life is when I was mulling over going for a second past life regression, a very meaningful and life-changing session for me.
The idea to go for another session had been floating around in the back of my mind for some time due to a current challenging situation. Quite suddenly, one day at work, I overheard two co-workers discussing Brian Weiss’ book, Many Lives, Many Masters (which is about past-lives) right behind my cubicle. I work in a fairly conservative industry and although the particular person who started the discussion is open-minded, I certainly didn’t expect to be eavesdropping on a conversation about past-lives at work! Less then a week later I was working out at the gym in the early afternoon when I saw a television commercial for a Brian Weiss seminar on past life regression. Granted, I do not watch a lot of tv, but I have never seen a commercial featuring past-life regression before. Interest piqued, I went to my local library to see if they had the book Many Lives, Many Masters – and it was available! This last may seem like a ridiculous thing to emphasize, especially given how good the Chicagoland area library system is. However, I have definitely not found books at my library before – or, in many cases, found that the library had them, but they were checked out when I was looking for them. From a spiritual path perspective – it seemed like I was being directed to pursue another past-life regression sitting. Were these events directed by some higher power or just a series of unrelated happenings that amounted to no more than a curious coincidence?
Understanding the concept of the Trickster-as-bait-thief allows us to safely navigate this dilemma. For if I were to really believe those events happened just because of (or for) me, I run the risk of becoming delusional and ego-maniacal in my beliefs about my relationship to God and the universe. This is to take the bait and swallow the hook and is the road of Ron Lafferty from Jon Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven. Many a NRM leader has been thus ensnared. (See my post Sink or Swim for more about this danger). On the other hand, if I completely dismiss these events as just a coincidence, if I ignore the ‘signs’ and turn away – I run an equally tragic risk of missing an opportunity to take the meaning and inspiration of a valuable message to create transformative change in my life. In this scenario we are not captured by the hook, but we don’t get to eat either. Only by simultaneous acceptance of both realities – the signs are meant both just for me and have nothing to do with me – can this boundary be safely traversed. Just like the Trickster ‘bait thief’ is not concerned whether he falls into the ‘hunter’ category or the ‘prey’ category, this strategy allows us to take the meaning and the message without worrying so much whether the signs were ‘put there’ for us or not. We can take the bait and leave the hook.
To take this association of the Trickster with the Spiritual Path a bit further, consider that one of the hallmarks of the spiritual path – the mystical experience – is the greatest trick of all. For it is through this experience that we get only a glimpse, or to hold to the Trickster’s association with appetite, a taste of the beyond. Like the lucky find that it is, it has the power to change the fate and fortunes of our life. Hyde relates;
“..a wonderful West African story in which one of the gods is being chased by death and in order to escape ascends into heaven, leaving a rubbish heap behind on earth. The lesson seems to be that becoming pure enough to avoid death depends on having left all dross behind. By the same token, however, “deathless” purity is vulnerable to the return of what it sloughed off and tricksters…are the agents of that return” 
Once the mystical experience is over, we are forever changed, but all the dirt we eschewed to ascend cloaks us once more on the return. As a result of having witnessed the beauty and wonder of the universe, we can easily fall into the trap of only seeing our god-like, golden self and ignoring the pesky ‘dirt’ we believe we have risen above. Yet everyone around us can clearly see our dirt and wonders how we can be so oblivious to it. When we open our eyes and see the trap, only then can we do the ‘dirty work’ of cleaning ourselves up from the inside so that our light can shine through.
Eat or be Eaten
“In the Okanagan creation story, the Great Spirit, having told Coyote that he must show the New People how to catch salmon, goes on to say: “I have important work for you to do… There are many bad creatures on earth. You will have to kill them, otherwise they will eat the New People…The myth says, then, that there are large devouring forces in this world, and that trickster’s intelligence arose not just to feed himself, but to outwit these other eaters.”  When I think of people-devouring beasts – from a spiritual perspective what else could these be but our own subconscious fears and weaknesses that eat away at us from the inside? On the Spiritual Path we must face these dark and disconcerting parts of ourselves, we must ‘eat’ our own dirt in order to find peace and renew our spirit.
Hyde notes that “Trickster commonly relies on his prey to help him spring the traps he makes.”  If it is the Trickster’s job to kill the devouring beasts that would eat us, then this is his mode of operation. “The fleetness of large herbivores is part of their natural defense against predators; Coyote… takes advantage of that instinctual defense by directing the beasts into the sun and toward a cliff, so that fleetness itself backfires.” When we find ourselves enmeshed in a difficult situation, it often turns out that we were instrumental in our own entrapment. In walking the Spiritual Path our very identity comes under intense scrutiny. Qualities we previously thought of as strengths turn out to be our greatest weaknesses and traits we despise in others turn out to be deeply rooted in ourselves. It is part of the Trickster’s job to expose our idiosyncrasies and landing us in a mess of our own making may be the only way to force us to face them.
We should take heart, though, that “Coyote can imagine the fish trap precisely because he’s been a fish himself…” Only by having been both caught in traps and designer of traps does the Trickster become an authoritative guide and teacher. “Trickster is at once culture hero and fool, clever predator and stupid prey.” With all this trap-springing and beast-eating, the Trickster is really, in a way, teaching us to be like him; to learn from our mistakes, to adapt to changing circumstances, to recognize that not only can our strengths be our greatest weaknesses, but sometimes our weaknesses can be or can become our greatest strengths. At core, this message is a hopeful one. We may be caught in a trap today, but – if we learn – we may develop the cunnning to avoid a future trap.
Friend or Foe?
It is important to note that the trickster is the guardian of the road, not necessarily the people on it. Sometimes, in walking the Spiritual Path (especially during or recently after a mystical experience), we can romanticize life a bit; believing everything is love and all the universe is benevolent. While the truth is hardly the doom and gloom opposite of that, we must remember that sometimes love is “tough” and the universe is a place of both creation and destruction. It is our perspective that puts a positive or negative spin on what are actually just events. Not that our perspective is invalid, it is absolutely valid, but it is our perspective – not a universal truth. We should approach the concept of the Trickster from a similar vantage point.
There is sometimes a tendency to associate the Trickster with our Western concept of Satan, but this is both mistaken and unhelpful. “The Devil is an agent of evil, but trickster is amoral not immoral.” says Hyde. Equally unfortunate, however, would be to overly angelicize this character, believing that this influence would never “harm” us or anyone we love. Rather, “He embodies and enacts that large portion of our experience where good and evil are hopelessly intertwined. He represents the paradoxical category of sacred amorality.” In keeping with this image, I believe the trickster influence is responsible for much of the ‘spiritual testing’ that happens on the path. If you are attacked and robbed by thieves on a real road you are unlikely to affectionately laugh it off as ‘spiritual testing,’ and this is often just what spiritual testing feels like. You are robbed of some sense of your self, some piece of your identity or maybe something more corporeal than that – yes, the experience is going to lead to ultimate renewal and some deep learning, but it can certainly be very unpleasant when you’re going through it!
In determining the answer to whether the Trickster is friend or foe, the answer should be obvious by now; he’s both – and neither. What is a person who tells you truths you don’t want to hear? A phrase from Barack Obama’s inaugural speech returns to me here, “we are willing to extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist” We often have our fists clenched around our interior selves and attachments. So long as we do, the Trickster influence is going to be prying open our fingers and trying to expose what’s inside. If we loosen our hold a little, however, this interaction becomes much less hostile and we will realize that there is much guidance and support in the universe for those who are open and willing to do their own ‘dirty work.’
The Original ‘In-Betweener’
Although having to deal with a character with such an unpredictable nature as the Trickster may make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, we should also remember that the intermingling of opposing influences  often inspires awe and fascination within us. Noon and Midnight are more or less the same in their extremity, only dusk and dawn – where day and night come together – are constantly surprising us with their ever-changing beauty. Each sunrise and sunset feel unique, as if we’ll never see it’s exact like again. I’ve never heard anyone say “What a beautiful noon” yet often people talk of beautiful sunrises and sunsets. It is the mix of perceived negative and positive events in our lives that keeps things interesting and the Trickster represents just this sort of interaction.
A story in Sonia Choquette’s new book Walking Home demonstrates the Trickster influence in action. The book is a recounting of Sonia’s experience walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. The Camino is, of course, a road – and not just any road, but a holy road. Unsurprisingly, the book is peppered with Trickster-like antics in the experiences of Sonia and the other pilgrims. The below anecdote stood out to me, however, as a very clear example of the type of Trickster activity I’m trying to shed light on in this post;
“..I entered a section of the Camino where everything seemed strange and magical and out of this world, and I found myself totally turned around. I couldn’t find the arrows anywhere. I was lost. I continued on a bit farther and came to several forks in the road, a heavy mist in all directions. I was confused and didn’t know where I was or which way to go… following my instincts I took the path to the left, where eventually I came upon…a house with an open door, so I called out. Then I boldly walked in, hoping to ask for directions back to the Camino. Inside was an older, scruffy, Spanish-speaking man…who invited me into his kitchen to have coffee… I thanked him and declined, saying I just needed to get back to the Camino, but he shook his head and said that I was brought to him by the Camino for a reason and should stop and rest. Seeing the light in his clear dark eyes, I knew that it was true.”
What follows in this anecdote is a meaningful revelation and a very healing experience for Sonia. In several places in the book she prays to not get ‘lost.’ Sonia, herself, is a spirit worker and thus means lost in both the physical and spiritual sense. It is the hallmark of the Trickster, then, that here is an instance where she does, in fact, get lost and yet she ends up finding an overwhelmingly spiritual experience. The nature of her happening upon the house, as well, has all the signs of the Trickster – there are crossroads, obscuring mists, a lack of proper signage. It’s clear this place must be ‘found’ by those traversing the Camino, and is not a stop ‘on the map’ so to speak.
Sonia is a clear believer in God – and I am not trying to suggest here that accepting the “existence” of the Trickster supplant that kind of belief. Hyde, in his book, notes that Hermes executes the will of Zeus and Legba executes the will of his mother, the creator goddess, Mawu. Elsewhere he says, “In short… the Tsimshian Raven is a go-between, a mediator. There are three spheres of being in the story, and Raven moves among them.” Thus, the Trickster is not meant to be or replace our idea of a benevolent ‘God’ – it is an influence or force that operates in the in-between and allows or creates the circumstances for events – like Sonia’s experience – to happen.
The End is only the Beginning…
It is not my intention in this post to enumerate all the various ways Hyde identifies the Trickster in his book, Trickster Makes this World, and associate them one-by-one with the Spiritual Path. Although there are many parallels and enough comparisons could be made to make my case very clearly, it would take a very long time to do this and I don’t think it is the best use of your time. (Also, remember what I said earlier about trying to ‘pin’ the Trickster down – it’s not wise to attempt it! or as Hyde puts it, “we should be wary of getting too comfortable with any single line of analysis”)
The goal of this post, instead, is merely to introduce the Trickster as an influence that’s still ‘alive and kicking’ so to speak and to raise awareness of his association with, and circumstantial guardianship over, the Spiritual Path. Those who are actively walking the path should consider Hyde’s book required reading. I think you will find many more valuable insights for your work on the path in the book than can be found in this post. Even if you are not actively walking the Spiritual Path, I strongly recommend the book as life, itself, is a journey and at some point or other in our lives we will all have a run-in or two (and probably many more) with this vibrant and volatile character.
 Trickster Makes this World, Hyde, Lewis; Farara, Straus, Giroux; August 17, 2010, loc 384 – the meaning of this is explained later in the post (Hereafter referenced as “Hyde loc + kindle location #)
 By this I mean he is like a god or a divine being – I retreat from using those exact words, however, as they have connotations attached to them in “the West” that I want to avoid associating too strongly with the Trickster.
 This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, merely an example of some main Trickster characters.
 Hyde loc 223
 or “on the road” in other words 🙂
 There’s an excellent quote from the Movie the Usual Suspects “That smartest thing the Devil ever did was convince the world he didn’t exist” – I was tempted to use this quote in the main text except that I think it encourages an association between the Devil and the Trickster which is a mistake. Rather, I think this quote is actually better fitting for the Trickster than for the Devil. It is the Trickster who benefits from obscurity and confusion.
 There may be some who bristle at my use of the gender pronoun “him” – I, personally, am female – and support girl power in most cases, but in this post I don’t want to get sidetracked by a discussion of the Trickster and gender. I feel like “it” sounds too weird and Hyde mentions that almost all Trickster references are male so I choose to use a masculine reference throughout the text.
 Hyde notes, “Coyote, Hermes, Mercury, and more – and all tricksters are ‘on the road.’ They are the lords of in-between…He is the spirit of the doorway leading out, and of the crossroad at the edge of town…Travelers used to mark such roads with cairns, each adding a stone to the pile in passing. The name Hermes [the Greek embodiment of the Trickster] once meant ‘he of the stone heap,’ which tells us that the cairn is more than a trail marker – it is an altar to the forces that govern these spaces of uncertainty, and to the intelligence needed to negotiate them.” (Hyde loc 163) If you are wondering if my heart stopped when I read this line and thought about the name and concept of this blog – yes it did. Did I subconsciously remember this line when I created this blog even though I had read the book a few years before that? Was it just a happy coincidence? See what I mean?
 Hyde loc 166
 Hyde loc 384
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 Hyde loc 1152
 At the time, I had very mixed feelings about past-life regression, something I hope to discuss more in an upcoming post on the cohesion of the soul.
Hyde also identifies the Trickster as a blocker or creator of opportunity, “[Trickster] closes off a passage to capture its prey, or it finds a hole to elude its foe. It can seize an opportunity or block an opportunity.”Hyde loc 845. Speaking directly to library availability and unavailability I have recently been trying to track down the book Dancing Wu-Li Masters which I read almost twenty years ago and it’s been unavailable twice when I’ve looked at the library – once it was checked out and the other time it showed “available” but wasn’t anywhere to be found on the shelf. Obviously, I could have bought the book on the Kindle – but I hesitated because… if it wasn’t really a direction I was meant to be going at the time, I didn’t want to machete my way through the underbrush… that’s just a waste of time.
 NRM stands for “New Religious Movement” I wanted to avoid using the negatively-connotated term “cult”
 From Hyde, “In classical Greece the lucky find is a hermaion, which means “gift-of-Hermes” loc 2269
 Hyde loc 1958- by the way THIS is the quote that I was manually re-reading the book for!!!
 From Hyde, “…what tricksters in general like to do, is erase or violate that line between the dirty and the clean. As a rule, trickster takes a god who lives on high and debases him or her with earthly dirt, or appears to debase him, for in fact the usual consequence of this dirtying is the god’s eventual renewal” loc 3104
 or God – interpret this however you like
 Hyde loc 409
 Hyde loc 344
 Hyde loc 348
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 Hyde loc 227
 Hyde loc 227
 this was directed to the Muslim world in the speech, I am not using it here with any political underpinnings… I just think it is a good turn of phrase to represent this relationship. Jung had a quote about approaching the unconscious minds that was more or less along the same lines – if we approach with fear and hostility, the interaction will be marked by such, but if we approach with an open mind it can be a much more positive experience – of course I can’t find the quote and I’m not about to interrupt this post to go manually read another book just to find a quote 🙂 🙂 🙂 this time I saw the trap, LOL
 I’ve had a post on attachment in draft for almost four years now because I am just not happy with it yet. I’m hoping to clean it up and post it this year. Attachment is such an important and integral topic to the Spiritual Path (plus there’s so much out there on it already) that I really don’t want to post a piece on it that I don’t love.
 I’m avoiding using ‘good’ and ‘evil’ here because I don’t think they are very helpful terms and there are many more opposing influences than just those two.
 I won’t give it away as folks should read the book 🙂
 Hyde loc 472
 as I write this I can’t help but think the phrase “moves things in such a way” and hearken back to my post about time – Everything is now. There is a section towards the end that talks about how various elements must “come together” to grow flowers (vs. just thinking of growth in terms of elapsed time). There is definitely a ‘motion’ element to the Trickster – Hyde, himself, mentions this and it may be why I keep finding so many parallels with how the Trickster operates and many of my own beliefs on how the universe works.
 Hyde loc 1501
 I talk about this elsewhere on the blog, but basically we are all on our Spiritual Path technically, I mean life is our Spiritual path, but many people are walking it without realizing it and therefore getting lost or missing things, or making things more difficult for themselves, or having to repeat lessons over and over etc. by “actively, consciously” walking the spiritual path I mean those of us who are cognizant that we are actually on a path, that we are meant to do certain things in this lifetime – and who are actively working to figure out what those things are and do them. As I write this, however, I do laugh at myself since I’ve definitely been one to have to repeat certain lessons over and over or made things more difficult for myself despite actively walking the path 🙂 :). Our challenges in life are precisely that – our challenges. They are difficult mostly because they are difficult for us. I hope to write more about my particular challenges in the series of posts about my journey (creatively titled “My Journey” 🙂 )