Tricksters (Continued)

by Terri Windling

There are also a number of human Tricksters found in tales around the world: "wise fools" and "clever simpletons" who make their way through life with a combination of wit, naivety, and luck. The "Jack" tales of Great Britain and the Appalachian Mountains of North America feature a well–known hero of this type, as do the stories of Tyll Eulenspiegel told in Germany and among the Pennsylvania Dutch.Such tales often feature a peasant hero who uses his craftiness to triumph over men and women of the higher classes.The high are brought low, the low are raised high, the social conventions are turned upside down. The little guy wins — not because he’s virtuous, but because he’s clever and sneaky.

French Tarot Card of The Fool

Trickster appears in religious folk tales too, turning up in humorous stories of riddle–loving Christian saints, clever Hasidic rabbis, and wily Muslim mullahs. The "Crazy Wisdom" stories of Tibet are the comical teaching tales of Zen Buddhist lamas who believe that laughter, foolishness, and contrariness can lead to wisdom. "Tibet harbored the extraordinary gnostic tradition originating from the enlightened yogic adepts and ‘divine madmen’ of ancient India," explainsLama Surya Das. (9) "These inspired upholders of ‘Crazy Wisdom’ were holy fools who disdained speculative metaphysics and institutionalized religious forms . . . .They expressed the unconditional freedom of enlightenment through divinely inspired foolishness . . .vastly preferring to celebrate the inherent freedom and sacredness of authentic being, rather than clinging to external religious forms and moral systems. Through their playful eccentricity, these rambunctious spiritual Tricksters served to free others from delusion, social inhibitions, specious morality, complacence — in short, all variety of mind–forged manacles."

A number of Native American spiritual traditions have a role for clowns and other contrary characters within their most sacred rituals. It is the task of the clowns to be unruly, disruptive, and outrageous, and it is said that some ceremonies have not properly begun until somebody laughs. All clowns, both spiritual and secular, are descended from the Trickster archetype — as are comedians, jesters, Medieval court fools, the masked actors of the Commedia dell’Arte, and the anarchic puppets in Punch and Judy shows. All such figures make use of outlandish behavior to cross over social boundaries and to mock and satirize the status quo,sometimes making quite serious statements in the guise of foolery and humor.

"Ship of Fools" by Bosch

There are holidays that belong to Trickster, allowing his spirit of disruption and transgression to flourish, if only for a few days each year. In the Middle Ages, the Christian Feast of Fools, with its roots in Pagan Saturnalia, included outlandish revels in which all the usual social conventions were reversed: men dressed as women and peasants as priests; they danced and played dice games in church, then paraded through the streets singing obscene songs — letting off steam one day a year in order to be good during all the rest. Carnaval festivities in Catholic countries were intended to serve a similar purpose before the hard, lean days of Lent.Carnaval, too, had its roots in older pagan mid–winter rituals in which laughter and satire were given a social outlet and a sacred context. Journalist Alan Weisman described Carnaval in a small village in Spain in 1993: "This is when, for a few moments each year, the people reign. Power is concentrated in the masks thundering by, borne by the sons of the village itself, lashing the crowd ever harder. Priest and politician alike must hide or be pummeled with insult and ridicule; the world is turned upside–down and shaken until the established order cracks loose. Anything is possible, everything is allowed: Humans transform themselves into animals;males become females; peons strut like kings. Social station is scorned, decorum is debunked,blasphemy goes unblamed. In neighboring villages, normally sober citizens drench each other with buckets of water; in Laza, they sling rags soaked in mud until everyone is reduced to muck. Bags appear containing ashes, flour, and — most prized of all — fertilizer crawling with red and black ants. A frenzy erupts; the air fills with stinging, fragrant grime, coating everyone with the earth’s sheer essence. Men and women throw each other to the ground and roll in the street. With any luck, the heavens will be shocked and the new season jarred awake. Then, once again, day can steal hours back from the night, vegetation will arouse from hibernation,spring will heave aside winter, and what was dead can live again." (10)