Hidden deep within the mists of time, where our spiritual ancestors dwell yet within the stories of our diverse faiths and peoples, there leaps and peers and heartily laughs the most powerful archetype of human belief – the Trickster.
Imbued with the power to cross all prescribed social boundaries, the Trickster has the ability to shape-shift between communities, species, genders, generations, elements and perspectives. The Trickster’s ability to transform itself reveals the Trickster’s greatest power — to transform reality. Thereby, the Trickster is the catalyst for social change, providing creative insight to cultural visionaries who (guided by the Trickster’s unique brand of wisdom) discover the power within themselves to change the world.
Tricksters are reviled by those in power and, in the stories, are frequently vilified by those threatened by their message and their rebellious disregard for social conventions. Tricksters have a tendency to laugh with joy when what is carefully boxed up by the powerful few is freed for the entire world to gain. By those without social power, the Trickster is perceived as playful. By those who cannot comprehend its purpose, the Trickster is perceived as foolish. By those who have the most to lose if the Trickster is successful in its quest, the Trickster is perceived as cunning and incredibly dangerous.
Ultimately, if the Trickster is killed or dies, it then performs the greatest trick of all. The Trickster doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do — it doesn’t stay dead. Rather, the Trickster simply shape shifts, usually sharing the knowledge of transformation in such a way as to nurture and sustain the People. The Trickster is all about liberation, by setting human society on its head. Through a willingness to appear culturally foolish and risk its own current form, the Trickster is a both a force that destroys old ways of being while empowering the rise of new ways of being.
In many traditions of indigenous peoples, the actions of the Trickster are essential for connecting the human community with the Sacred. As a cultural hero, Tricksters (such as Coyote, Spider, Clown, and Raven) possess significant powers of transformation, resurrection, and strong medicine. Their powers mirror those of the Creator, to whom they are responsible and by whom they are empowered. Coyote of the Plaines Peoples releases the Buffalo (from one who keeps them all) so that all may hunt and eat. Raven of Southeast Alaska releases the Sun and Moon to bring light to the People. Spider of the Lakota connects their diverse People through language (communication), common ritual, and shared games. Among the sacred Clown dancers of the Pueblo Peoples, are those responsible for bringing rain to nourish the crops of corn and maintaining crop fertility – additionally, the Clowns critique the socially powerful as well as the status quo.
Trickster stories teach every generation about the power and necessity of transformation within the dynamics of society and Creation. Within the context of powerful social forces, Tricksters illuminate the collective urgency to strive for balancing the greed of the few with the need of the many, balancing the reality of loss with the urge for renewed life, and balancing societal oppression with culturally adaptive change for long term survival.
Examining the New Testament –particularly the stories of Holy Week – through the lens of the Trickster archetype reveals the ultimate power hidden behind the mask of Jesus (the Divine in human form). As a Trickster, Jesus is a challenge to social order and form, a danger to many, a destroyer of old ways and old powers, and a life giving force that has been set loose by the Creator to transform the world, free the People and cultivate new life.
In keeping with the characterization of Tricksters as “foolish,” even those closest to Jesus wish he would shut up about his apparently defeatist preoccupation with his impending death. Rather, to them, Jesus is supposed to fulfill their traditional beliefs of what a Messiah was said to be. For many of his followers, Jesus is potentially an insane embarrassment, even a disgusting excuse for the anticipated, all-powerful Anointed One of God. As the Messiah, Jesus was supposed to bring about social change and freedom through violence, war, and death to the enemy. However, instead of wielding a flaming sword of judgement and retribution, Trickster Jesus comes, instead, with very strong spiritual medicine – the ability to bridge diverse peoples and perspectives, the ability to heal bodies and communities, the ability to provide vision, the ability to set ALL people truly free through the transformative power of love.
Trickster Jesus leads his People on a journey to Jerusalem, which most of his followers believed was a journey towards their own deaths, a fool’s errand, a pilgrimage to nothing. They were led by a man whom they loved but in whom they no longer actually believed. Yet, there’s the Trickster power revealed to us – love! They went into Jerusalem, because they were motivated by love for a man who had become their friend, in whom they had entrusted their greatest dreams and who loved them because of their inescapable human weaknesses. Even as with each step they entered into the darkness of their fears, they also tread upon that road for the sake of love, towards a seemingly unavoidable meeting with death and defeat.
Drawing attention to himself by entering the Temple Mount, turning over the tables of the money changers, challenging traditional practices and centuries of belief, shaking a verbal fist the corruption of societal powers was all so very, very foolish. Yet, the foolishness of love would prove to be the far greater power, which even Jesus’s diverse community of friends did not expect.
Trickster Jesus broke the hearts of those who followed him, because those hearts needed to be broken – their hearts had been as hard as stone (no more receptive than those who oppressed them). The story of the rolling away of the stone from the tomb, to find it empty, is itself a symbolic narrative of how the human heart must be resurrected from its stony emptiness in order to find true life outside of itself. Only from having encountered our own emptiness through such a truthful vision are we made ready to be filled with the light of God’s love, for all the world to see – that there is no death within us.
If the light of God’s love dwells within us, then we, who would be Christ’s body in the world, are called to illumine the light of Divine Compassion upon the world through the lamp of our own eyes. As Christians, each of our unique and diverse faces simply serves as a mask for Trickster Jesus, who yet dances and teaches and heals and weeps and laughs in the market places and streets of a hungry and wounded world, which is yet so very beautiful and precious in the eyes of God.
Every person who chooses to follow Christ must reflect that they are choosing to follow a Divine Fool and that each of us is being called through the power of God’s love to be foolish, too. We must not be like those who live in the world to gain social power for our own sake, to gain material wealth at the heedless expense of Creation, to contribute to the alienation and marginalization of other peoples and species. Rather, our Trickster Jesus winks at those who thought him dead once and for all. He winks at corrupted power every time we help someone one need, on each occasion we use our voice for those who are silenced, and in every moment we respond to division with the strong medicine of understanding.
The human community is only genuinely foolish and assures its own demise when it does not yield to the Divine Wisdom of the Trickster, who did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. We must be prepared to be seen as foolish, to be perceived as a danger to the unjust status quo, to be ridiculed for our apparent naiveté and our collective vision of a God’s Kingdom. For the Fool’s Followers, how the world could be and ought to be resides within us as a blueprint etched upon our souls, like some kind of spiritual DNA that we are driven to create and to build and to make real through our societal relationships and global connections. Whenever we communicate the power of love and peace in the face of powers of hatred and war, we speak the Word of God. We heal what is wounded. We bridge what is divided. We reveal what must be seen. We give new life to those who believed themselves dead. We transform the world – one moment, one life at a time – just as our spiritual ancestors did. With them, let us go to Jerusalem, as fools for our love of Christ.
This April 1st, Easter Day, we again behold the empty tomb. We know that Trickster Jesus is not to be found there. He has shape shifted into another form.
He is us.