Mythical Trickster Figures
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
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This collection of essays benefitted directly from the work of an international research consultation, the Trickster Myth Group within the American Academy of Religion. Working together for a period extending over five years, more than forty scholars shared insights and honed their individual analyses of various tricksters. In an age all too often characterized...
ONE: INTRODUCING THE FASCINATING AND PERPLEXING TRICKSTER FIGURE
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Brer Rabbit, cited in our first epigraph, is just one of many intriguing trickster figures.1 For centuries, perhaps millennia, and in the widest variety of cultural and religious belief systems, humans have told and retold tales of tricksters, figures who are usually comical, yet serve to highlight important social values. They cause laughter, to be sure, as they profane nearly every central belief, but at the same time...
TWO: HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THEORETICAL ISSUES: THE PROBLEM OF THE TRICKSTER
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For almost a century Western scholars have treated the trickster figure as troublesome. More than twenty years ago, Mac Linscott Ricketts, who initiated much of the contemporary discussion, declared that comprehension of the trickster figure is "one of [our] most perplexing problems" (1966: 327). A more recent essay by Karl Kroeber, "Deconstructionist...
THREE: MAPPING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MYTHIC TRICKSTERS: A HEURISTIC GUIDE
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At the start of these essays detailing the complexities of the trickster, the reader may find it helpful to ask the central question: What characterizes a trickster figure as such? Using a diverse selection of trickster myths, this chapter advances six characteristics common to many trickster myths. More characteristics could be chosen, but these six serve as...
FOUR: A LIFETIME OF TROUBLE-MAKING: HERMES AS TRICKSTER
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In exploring here some of the many ways the ancient Greek figure of Hermes was represented we sight some of the recurring characteristics of tricksters from a number of cultures. Although the Hermes figure is so complex that a whole catalog of his characteristics could be presented,1 the sections of this account include just six: (1) his marginality and...
FIVE: THE MYTH OF THE TRICKSTER: THE NECESSARY BREAKER OF TABOOS
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Recent works of African ethnography (Evans-Pritchard 1967; Marshall 1962; Wescott 1962; Wescott and Morton-Williams 1962, after Herskovits and Herskovits 1933 and 1958, and Tegnaeus 1950) have contributed new documents to the dossier of research on the problem of the mythic hero called "the trickster."1 At first believed to be only Amerindian in scope, with the works of Luomala (1949, on Maui, the trickster of Polynesia and New Zealand) and...
SIX: THE SHAMAN AND THE TRICKSTER
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It is the thesis of this chapter that the shaman and the trickster in North American Indian culture represent two diametrically opposite poles of spirituality. The shaman, the living religious expert, society's first "professional" (combining modern roles of doctor, priest, psychologist, medium, and perhaps philosopher and theologian—as well as actor)...
SEVEN: THE EXCEPTION WHO PROVES THE RULES: ANANSE THE AKAN TRICKSTER
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Studies of the trickster in world folklore (Babcock-Abrahams 1975; Makarius 1969, translated here) have indicated his role as a threat to the rules of societal and cosmic order. He is a paradoxical figure whose antics mock the seriousness of rules, the sacrality of beliefs, and the establishment of rituals. He is a vagabond, an intruder to proper society...
EIGHT: WEST AFRICAN TRICKSTERS: WEB OF PURPOSE, DANCE OF DELIGHT
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When I first heard the trickster described during an introductory course in the history of religions at the University of Chicago, I was fascinated. To be sure, I knew of medieval fools, Hasidic rabbis, Zen masters, and the intensity of contemporary religious communities; they all suggested that comedy was an essential aspect of seriously lived religion. Among those...
NINE: A JAPANESE MYTHIC TRICKSTER FIGURE: SUSA-NO-O
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This study explores the trickster figure in Japanese mythology. It is restricted to one figure, Susa-no-o, and essentially to one text, the Kojiki, completed in 712 C.E., the oldest extant Japanese book. The trickster dimension of Susa-no-o has been suggested before, for example by Cornelius Ouwehand (1958-59) and Maruyama Manabu (1950), but to...
TEN: SAINT PETER: APOSTLE TRANSFIGURED INTO TRICKSTER
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At first glance there would seem little reason to view the Apostle Peter within the context of the New Testament as anything but a straight forward disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, within the ongoing tradition of the formal Christian interpretation and ritual presentation of Peter, where has it been suggested that he may also be a trickster? However...
ELEVEN: THE MORAL IMAGINATION OF THE KAGURU: SOME THOUGHTS ON TRICKSTERS, TRANSLATION AND COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
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Recently I was asked to participate in a seminar on the concept of the trickster in African societies. As I surveyed the literature I became increasingly unsure as to whether this was a meaningful exercise, mainly because I doubted the usefulness of such a general analytical category as trickster. As I pondered why this should...
TWELVE: INHABITING THE SPACE BETWEEN DISCOURSE AND STORY IN TRICKSTER NARRATIVES
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...Trickster has been an embarrassment to Western scholars, particularly scholars of religion. Trickster's inner contradictions and complexity of character are again and again referred to, but are usually treated in terms that show the hidden problem to be the problem of Trickster's sacredness: how can a figure apparently so profane constitute part of a...
THIRTEEN: INCONCLUSIVE CONCLUSIONS: TRICKSTERS, METAPLAYERS AND REVEALERS
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Something about the antics of the trickster causes this figure to be enjoyed worldwide. The heartiest laughter within belief systems seems to be reserved for those mythic and ritual occasions when tricksters profane the most sacred beliefs and practices—be they occasioned by Hermes in Greece, Maui in Hawaii, Loki in Scandinavia, or Agu Tomba...
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Publication Year: 2009