his is Mythic Deviant with Sea Gabriel. Hi!
This week, we’re on the Trickster as hero. The trickster, again, is an archetype that operates obliquely to create unexpected meaning, or accomplish unexpected tasks. And sometimes that great for us.
The first story is a native american story. As such, it is told in many ways in many groups, and each reflects the heritage of that group. This is an amalgamation of the story, and, as far as I know, is not considered sacred by any group. I could be wrong here. Just please let’s not pretend that we know other people’s spirituality. It understandably offends.
This is a story of Raven and the Sun. Raven is a trickster character in many tribes, particularly in the Pacific Northwest (where we’ve got many, and they are tricky).
Once upon a time there was a Shaman who was profoundly frustrated with humanity. So he took the sun and hid it. Maybe he wanted to teach them to appreciate it, maybe he wanted to inspire them to discover electricity and invent the lightbulb. We do not know his motives.
In any event, many animals (potentially including human) tried to find it but couldn’t. Raven, a snow white bird, decided that this was a job for her. She flew to the Shaman’s house and watched for a day or two. She noticed that his daughter had tea every night before bed, so she shapeshifted into a pine needle and crept into the young woman’s tea.
This miraculously impregnated the daughter, who gave birth to a bouncing baby bird, I mean boy. It was Raven herself, hidden in the body of the infant. The family loved and cared for the baby, who eventually became a young boy.
One day, the boy went to his grandfather, the Shaman. He looked up with big eyes and asked his Grandpa where the sun was. And, of course, the Shaman showed his beloved grandson where he hid the life-giving force.
The next day the boy was gone. Raven, concerned that the light might draw attention, grabbed the sun hid it inside a reed. Then she flew like the wind . . . or on the wind. It was quite a long way. Eventually the reed began to smoke. And Raven flew faster.
When she was almost there, the sun burnt through the reed, falling out and dropping to the ground sending sparks into the sky that became the moon and stars. Raven, always quick, dove down and grabbed the sun in her beak for the rest of the journey. But she paid for the journey: the fire scorched her. She spent many days and night attending to her wounds. In time, she healed and she ever remained a black bird.
Our second story is from the Bible: the story of Esau and Jacob.
Isaac and Rebekah were thrilled to have a baby on the way. And even more thrilled when the baby-lump began to move violently, indicating that they had not only one baby but two infants wresting in Rebekah’s womb. Esau was born several minutes before Jacob. As they grew, each of the parents came to favor one of the boys. Isaac like Esau because he appreciated a fine, meaty, meal. Rebekah preferred Jacob because he was fun.
One day, Esau was out doing what hunting, when he stumbled toward home starving and exhausted. He was genuinely afraid he would not make it. He fell into Jacob’s camp where his brother was making lentil stew, a nice meatless dish.
“Please,” Esau said, “I need food”
“Only if you give me your birthright,” his trickster-of-a-brother replied.
I presume that Esau looked hurt. It would be appropriate. Finally he said “whatever, I’ll die if I don’t.” And, thus, Esau lost his right-to-his-birthright.
Isaac, their dad, was not so onboard with this, however, and just lectured his boys on playing nice, Reminding them that he was the passer-oner of the birthright, and it would still go to Esau. Jacob found this unfair, but Esau liked it.
Later, as Isaac lay, near blind, on his deathbed, he called for his son, Esau. He told him to go hunting, then prepare a meal for his father before he died. Esau took off. And Rebekah called Jacob. Together, they prepared a meal. Then Jacob put on Esau’s clothing, and tied some goat fur to his arm, in case his dad touched him and noticed his smooth kissable arm. Finally, he took the food to Isaac, doing his best impersonation of Esau.
Isaac asked Jacob how he found the goat so quickly. Jacob replied that God had helped (and God had helped, through Rebekah). He encouraged his father to eat and drink, which he did, fondling Jacob’s goat-furred arm in the process. Then Isaac did, in fact, confer the blessing onto Jacob rather than Esau.
Later that night, Esau returned, made his dad, dinner, and experienced extreme disappointment when he learned that his brother had already taken off with his blessing, effectively reinstating the birthright deal. That is a heroic biblical trickster.
In both today’s stories, the tricksters are acting on behalf of humanity: they are thought of as heroic (if you’re human).
It is more evident in the Raven story, where she stole the sun back to ensure our survival. Kind of a no-brainer.
It’s slightly more difficult, at least for me, in the Jacob story. This story always bothered me. There’s so much manifest destiny implied in it.
Jacob was simply more deserving because he was Jacob. But, really, he was. Jacob was smart, and worldly. Jacob knew how to think things through, how to get things done. And that does make him a better leader. Plus, he was vegan.
No matter how good or competent Esau was at being Esau, he was not a leader. He was a fantastic hunter, but he could not live up to the responsibilities of his birthright. He had two wives. It’s a questionable choice for a farmer, but strictly out of bounds for most leaders.
We love tricksters when they’re tricking others on our behalf. Tricksters gets things done because they doesn’t give up, they just get clever.
But how do we know when to let things go and when to get tricky?
Are we being clever to prove we’re clever? To get something we personally want? Or to better our world?
How do we know when a trick has gone too far?
How do we forgive a trick that has been played on us?
What happens when we fail to perceive it as fun?
Next time, the trickster as monster. Until then, author responsibly.
his is Mythic Deviant with Sea Gabriel. Hi!