The following is a crosspost from the JCMG on Yahoo - my own answer to the question posed, of how the trickster manifests in individual experience. It might be "cheating" to do so, but this discussion is certainly relevant to "Benevolent Scoundrels" - and conveys my personal sense that there is a mythic context to life - we can't outrun or transcend myth, for our lives follow the stories - or is it the stories follow our lives -
for we are
the figures of myth ...
Wow – thanks for the wonderful responses to the question about how we experience Trickster in our individual lives – particularly Vivienne's and Brendan's heartfelt ruminations. Both messages struck
chords deep within my own soul – especially the following passage from Vivienne:
Some people are habitually convinced that Loki, fate, chance, the world are against them...for them the intrusion of Loki, may be greeted with fear whilst for other, less traumatized souls, Loki is an invitation to the great dance... The stories about me and Loki could be comedy or tragedy. Let me just say that at the time I rarely found them funny. I'm lucky, but I'm not fearless. I'm happy enough stuck in my ways, I don't want to change...But the dance of life continues regardless of my wishes and desires <IMG SRC="/forum/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif"> and knowing this gives me the courage to step off the edge of the dance floor and to join the dance [especially after I've skidded in that direction only after stepping upon the banana skin]. Loki has a laugh ...
"Loki has a laugh" – yes!
For me – and I speak only from my own experience – the trickster evokes a bittersweet quality, but with an accent on humor and the appreciation of irony. It wasn't always that way – before I learned to recognize Trickster in my life, before I grew familiar with his ways and came to welcome his participation, his was an oppressive presence – very much that seamy underbelly of dark shadows and evil twins Brendan alludes to. Visits from Trickster proved sad and painful, leaving gloom, doom, and destruction in their wake.
That is Trickster unacknowledged – before we accept the invitation to the Dance.
Brendan captures this role well:
So the mockery of the trickster seems directed against my civilized self, attempting to crack the carapace of my learned behaviors, my structured, potty-trained superego.
How well put! The details differ from life to life, but the dynamic remains the same. I offer a few personal examples in response to my own question:
When my father contracted stomach cancer, responsibility for running the family business fell to me. Duty and a sense of family loyalty kept me tethered to the business after my dad's death; I now had money, success, and stability -- but marketing oil and grease to farmers, truckers and loggers up and down California's Central Valley was clearly not my bliss. I found myself living the unintended life.
He manifested in a variety of forms, rocking that success, stability, and stagnation, with, well, the darndest bad luck. After a couple good years, seemingly random occurrences struck in clusters. As but one example among many, an $1800 check arrived on time from a Texas firm for services rendered, made out not to me,
but to my late father - which meant returning the check and jumping through administrative hoops getting it reissued in my name - a process which ate up several weeks in the pre-internet era
... but nothing I worried about, for another payment close to the same amount was due to arrive about the same time – indeed, had already been mailed from another state – so my outgoing checks would be covered.
Alas, this other check ended up lost in the mail.
By the time I figured that out and had the post office put a tracer on it, untangled red tape, and finally received a replacement check for the second payment, nearly three months had elapsed. It's not that I lost the money – but when nearly thirty-six hundred dollars that generally arrives like clockwork fails to show in my bank account to cover monthly bills already written, checks bounce, are re-submitted and bounce yet again, leading to a cascading series of fees and multiple headaches plugging holes and putting out fires.
Even though both checks eventually arrived they were already spent, and a surplus on paper translated into a real world loss, accompanied by stress, worry, and frustration - freedom and spontaneity lost through a confluence of seemingly random errors on the part of others.
Do I hear Trickster's chuckle?
This was but one episode of many. Though I can't prove it - absent the ability to follow parallel timelines - I suspect that, had my heart been in what I was doing, had following my duty and living up to family and society's expectations been my bliss, these unfortunate "coincidences" would not have piled up the way they did. I clearly was not happy, but didn't have the courage – or the sense – to read Trickster's cues. I could not admit the truth to myself – that I did not belong where I was.
Trickster got the ball rolling, but eventually was able to just sit back and let me sabotage myself. Over time I developed a "who cares" attitude: with no steady hand on the tiller the business could continue under its own momentum for only so long. The "bad luck" persisted – in fact, it snowballed – though I could no longer blame random coincidences and forces outside myself. What followed was a result of my own negligence, which contributed to a series of bad decisions. Gradually, everything that counted towards stability - savings account, job, home, car, family and friends, and more – faded away.
This was a painful process – especially since I had no sense of what was really happening as I was stripped of, well, everything that stood in the way of actually living an authentic life. Instead of hearing the Call and undertaking the Adventure of my own free will, I was forced from the hearth and thrust into the wasteland, courtesy Trickster. Leaving what Campbell terms "the village compound" and entering the wastes is a risky proposition – some go willingly, and some are dragged.
I was dragged – and I still didn't get it
… so Trickster stepped in once more ...
Wouldn't you know, the moment I lost my medical benefits my health rapidly declined (Trickster's a master of timing). It's a long story in an already verbose tale, so I'll cut to the chase: I ended up in the emergency ward, where I was subjected to a battery of tests. When the doctors told me that I would be dead within weeks without radiation or surgery, it seemed one more in a series of surely random and surreal indignities.
Enough is enough. I was tired, ready to surrender in the only way I could – so I declined medical options, choosing instead to prepare myself for death.
At the time, I was staying in a converted garage apartment, no air conditioning, in 100-plus degree summer heat – but had cash enough available for several days in a decent motel, so opted to check in to the local Best Western and there, in relative comfort, contemplate death's approach (no Buddha me!).
But I could not sit still, could not slow my breath, could not slow the jumbled thoughts tumbling through my head any more than I could will my hands to stop trembling or my heart to beat regularly. I had a stack of Joseph Campbell's books with me, a couple of which I had read before and appreciated – from an intellectual perspective – and I sensed I might find therein words of comfort and vision
... but I found myself reading the same sentence, the same paragraph, the same page, over and over again, without focusing, without remembering, without thinking ...
Despite the best intentions, deep meditation would have been a minor miracle – it became clear I could not do this on my own - I needed some sort of meditation aid – but in my frame of mind it seemed only a powerful psychedelic might penetrate the mental fog – and where would I find something like that in the heart of California's rural Central Valley?
Of course, were this a myth rather than real life, 'twould be the appropriate moment for one of those mythic helpers Campbell describes to appear, perhaps offer a sip of some soothing, restorative enchanted elixir that provides wisdom as well as healing. Might even be Trickster himself, come to set things straight
... only in faery tales, eh?
Remember the opening scene of "Shrek," where the ungainly ogre is seated in the outhouse taking a dump (you just knew we'd circle back to the scatological sooner or later), reading a generic fairy tale about a handsome prince rescuing a beautiful princess and finding true love – then scoffing, ripping out the pages to apply to a more practical purpose
... only to find his life following the faery tale trajectory he previously pooh-poohed?
When I stepped onto the balcony outside the second floor room, my attention was drawn across the street, to the marble-columned steps of the imposing county library, where a small crowd had gathered around a colorful character juggling leather wrapped dowels. Long dark hair and bushy beard framed a face barely visible, necklaces strung with beads and bangles spilling down the front of a loose-sleeved purple velvet shirt, long, flowing hippie skirt taking the place of pants, and a jester's hat, complete with bells, to cap this amusing figure.
I immediately – and mistakenly – identified the gentleman as a Deadhead, one of a micro-community of several thousand counterculture types loosely centered around the Grateful Dead on tour.
(As an aside, Joseph Campbell and the Grateful Dead share an appreciation of each other's work, with Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, and Bob Weir acknowledging Joe's influence on the mythic structure of their music - in fact, i noted just this morning that another JCF associate - DarkStarCrashing ? - has posted a link to an essay he wrote exploring motifs from Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces
in the Grateful Dead's music.)
Facing the question of Death in a lonely motel room in downtown Modesto – a hot, dusty, squalid agricultural community of a hundred fifty thousand or so, descended from the laundries and brothels established to service the workers laying the Central Pacific rail line, a place where everyone lives in little square boxes with identical floor plans, works at the winery or the canneries, and shops in endlessly identical cookie-cutter strip malls, a place best known for producing Ernest & Julio Gallo, George Lucas, and, more recently, Scott & Laci Petersen – I am drawn to a man who sticks out like a sore thumb.
His beard, long hair and polychromatic dress shout hippie – which to me translates "Deadhead" ... and, if he is part of the Grateful Dead community, might be able to manifest some acid, which I anticipate will shed light on Death.
I crossed the street, watched him play with the sticks a few minutes, waited for the crowd to dwindle, then introduced myself during a break in the action.
His name was ... Coyote Fred
... when he's wearing a skirt, he added. When he isn't, it's Coyote Frank
Even then I liked to think of myself as non-judgmental, but inwardly I rolled my eyes, wondering if maybe this guy hadn't done a little too much acid in his time.
It didn't occur to me then that neither Fred nor Frank matter ... they are simply names, like the skirt, something he wears or not depending on how he feels and what's most comfortable in a given moment
... but it's Coyote
Nor was I fully aware at the time of the role Coyote plays in the mythology of indigenous Americans – a trickster figure, sometimes a Creator God who pulls a bit of mud from the ocean bottom to create the Earth (Jung's "dirt-work"?), or who, conversely, masturbates and ejaculates the world into being. In some legends he steals flame from the Fire People, in another he morphs into a girl and becomes pregnant – but Coyote always moves the plot along –
as he does in my story ...
Light banter gave way to more serious inquiries. Understandably reticent, not knowing me from Adam in a town with a police force known for the enthusiasm with which they address their task, he followed me to my quarters, where we smoked a healthy nugget of kynde green bud with little sticky golden hairs all over. Good way to find out if I'm a cop. The law had been getting mean – at the time, grass brought a much lighter sentence than LSD (still true today, I believe, though I've been out of the loop for years). Charges against acidheads lump the weight of the "container" in with the weight of the substance, which makes for some twisted karma – a single hit of acid on a strawberry or sugar cube can bring ten times the sentence of a hundred times that amount in liquid form.
(hmm ... I guess economist E.F. Schumacher was right – less is
We talked, and learned more about each other. Coyote Fred turned out to be a member of the elusive Rainbow Family
, the first of this legendary tribe I had met.
I perked up – Rainbow rumors had for years floated around the periphery of my consciousness, things I'd heard here and there in the Grateful Dead parking lot on tour.
Rainbows were thought to wander the fringes of the Dead scene, sharing similar values and attitudes, with a particular emphasis on love, peace, and tolerance – nay, encouragement – of seekers after Truth in whatever form, no matter how eclectic or unique each individual's path. Some described Rainbows as more nature-oriented and less materialistic than the tourheads hustling tie-dyes, veggie burritos, glass pipes, grass, shrooms, and nitrous oxide before and after shows to raise enough cash to score tickets and the gas money to get the bus to the next city on the tour. A few claimed Rainbows were more political than Deadheads – confrontational, even, especially regarding the environment – and now and then someone called them self-righteous.
Rainbows were said to like to get stoned and/or take psychedelic trips with almost religious fervor; many considered them mysterious and mystic, and I'd heard at least one person refer to them as a cult
... but the most appealing tale held that the Rainbows – some twenty thousand strong – lived communally each summer, gathering tribally in a village in a remote mountain wilderness, a different forest every year, a place known only through word of mouth, safe from the prying eyes of law enforcement and "community standards," where all are free to play and dance and drum naked all night long if you please, where all are free to be one with Nature and with each other, where all is
free – no tickets, no fee at the gate, no charge for food or coffee or tea, no stamp on the hand to get in or out, no rules save Love your Other
- sort of a mystic anarchistic Brigadoon, with its own water and sewage system, neighborhood cafes, rustic showers ...
But to find Rainbow, you have to know a Rainbow
... and now I knew one ...
He sits across from me at the table by the motel window – drapes drawn, latches bolted and towel wedged along the foot of the door – packing bud into the bowl of a pipe fashioned from a spiky spiral sea shell. Do I pepper him with questions about Rainbow, sift fact from rumor, ask that year's location? No – I'm too absorbed in my own drama, focused on satisfying immediate concerns – "got any doses?"
(okay – I was dying at the time, which might be an excuse, but I'd always been self-absorbed and somewhat oblivious to what was right in front of my face).
Coyote Fred left for his camp in the overgrown "no man's land" along Dry Creek – from which his extended family withstood efforts at eviction by members of the sheriff's department (acting at the behest of Ernest and Julio Gallo, owners of adjacent undeveloped creek side property abutting their massive winery) for the next many months before finally moving on. He returned, attired more conservatively in tee-shirt, beret, and blue jeans, as Coyote Frank, bringing with him a sheet of acid – 100 hits of LSD, which he let me have at the relatively low price of fifty cents a dose (again, decades ago - I've no idea what the going rate is here in the 21st century).
Immediately, I rip three tiny squares – each the size of a piece of confetti – from the perforated blotter sheet and pop them in my mouth, letting them sit and soak a minute under the tongue before washing them down with a swig from a bottle of soda. Coyote Frank asks to use the shower – a much appreciated luxury for anyone living on the road. He disappears into the bathroom, and I settle back to wait ...
LSD usually starts coming on in a half hour to forty-five minutes, a gradual process – but I feel something within minutes, a growing sense of well-being combined with clarity of vision ... colors brighter, the light almost liquid in nature. Emboldened by the intensity of the acid, I decide to hazard a larger dose of maybe up to ten hits (at this strength, enough to send twenty people on an eight to twelve hour trip). After all, what do I have to lose? My head plans to tear off a half-dozen more or so little squares – but my hand follows another plot. Impulsively, I stuff the entire sheet into my mouth, committing myself irrevocably to whatever mayhem one hundred full strength hits of LSD might release from the depths of the psyche!
Emerging from the bathroom years younger and free of grime, Coyote Frank wishes me "Happy Trails" and takes his leave, unaware I have ingested the entire stash.
Gravity overwhelms me – though I'm frozen to the chair, every cell in my body feels awake and alive, vibrating in anticipation of the full onslaught of the acid. The sensation is akin to the first long, slow, steep, upward crawl on a roller coaster – that twinge in the belly as excitement grapples with fear, accompanied by the recognition there is no turning back now. I was no stranger to acid and had often faced that Moment of Truth at journey's start – but this time the stakes are enormous, the passage extraordinarily intense.
The only way into the Underworld of Psyche is to surrender to the experience – but I'm unable to do so – a part of me hangs on to Fear, magnifying trivial possibilities into a paranoiac's certain hell. My senses are flooded by stimuli too numerous to process, my ego drowning under the weight of so much information. I focus on the TV, pour into it all my fears: What if someone finds me? I'm so exposed, vulnerable, open, conscious control completely impossible – I might have bitten off more than I can chew. So much is happening visually, aurally, internally, that I can't tell if the television set is on or off – I perceive it as on, but know I can't trust my senses – of which suddenly I seem to have too many: I thought there were just five, but now data streams in from all directions, from all dimensions.
I dare not fiddle with the controls, try to turn off the television, for what if it's already off and I inadvertently switch the TV on, maybe unwittingly cranking it up to maximum volume, prompting the neighbors to report me to Management
? It could even be on right now, turned way too loud – maybe they've already reported me – any second I can expect the knock on the door and here they'll find me, a gibbering idiot, unable to care for himself, just take me away and lock me up!
Any moment ...
Just then, three sharp raps on the door!
Furtively I peer through the peephole, quivering with near unbearable relief at the elongated visage of Coyote Frank! He has returned to retrieve a forgotten beret. I am saved - if the TV's on, he can turn it off for me. I gesture towards the TV and ask his help, but already words are beyond me. Surprise flashes in his eyes, but he ambles over to the cabinet, cautiously eyes a complex control panel, turns and shrugs: "Sorry, man – I don't know how to turn it on."
The Coyote Man leaves, shaking his head, no doubt puzzled that, having sampled perhaps the most powerful psychedelic I'll ever encounter, all I want to do is watch talk shows and soap operas. I'm unable to explain myself, mind having moved beyond speech, but I am over the hump and deliriously happy: now that I know the television is off I can let go the imaginary fears holding me back that are embedded in this image. I settle into fetal position on the bed, the last shreds of individual personality spinning off as I drift upon a cosmic sea. The last conscious image I recall is Brahma, breathing in my ear, inhaling and exhaling the universe with an all-encompassing low-toned aum
. For the next eight hours Steve ceases to exist: the individual dissolves, leaving in his place an absolute identification with the Ground of Being
(or so it seemed - for lack of better terms to describe the indescribable).
Acid-laced perceptions diminished over the next three days, during which time I read lots of Campbell, seeing what I had never seen before – that the myths speak directly to my life, my experience, helping me locate exactly where I am on the hero's journey (deeply mired in the Wasteland), and offering a map of what lay ahead.
Somewhere along the way I fully realized and embraced the truth that "I" am
going to die – and so are you, and so is everyone – if not today, then some day, which of course will on that day be today.
The stress arising from the conflict between head and heart, duty and bliss, so long a part of my life, instantly evaporated. I determined in the time I had left to "follow my bliss" – Campbell's maxim – and my bliss lay not with ledger books, bottom lines, white picket fences or ballooning debt, but in the world of imagination, creativity, and magick. Death impending freed me to live life not according to the dictates of others, but instead, for the first time in memory, i was presented with an opportunity to be me ...
all I had to do is find out who this "me" was - which is yet another story.
Thus began my Rainbow walk.
I never saw Coyote Fred again ... but from that day forward I bent my energy toward leading an authentic life, striving to live out of my own center. I studied everyone who evinced the characteristics of such an understanding – shamans, psychologists, philosophers, mystics and more. I lived for a decade out of a backpack, traveling tens of thousands of miles by thumb, visiting friends and fellow seekers met along the way, spending large blocks of time in the American southwest and the Pacific northwest, performing a Tarot reading here, interpreting a dream over there, with sumptuous meals or a place to stay manifesting as needed. I found I was always in the right place at the right time, meeting exactly who I needed to meet, hearing what needed to be heard, saying what needed to be said, learning what I didn't know and teaching what I did ...
It took a good two months after the encounter with Trickster to accept that all symptoms had vanished, and some time after that to regain my strength ... and another two years before I danced to the drums in the meadow at my first Rainbow Gathering, where I discovered many of the legends were indeed true – but that, too, is another story.
Some may see in this tale nothing more than an endorsement of drugs, which is to miss the point by a wide margin (sort of like seeing the Lakota Sun Dance, where supplicants are sometimes pierced through
the chest and suspended from a pole or the rafters of lodge, as an endorsement of torture and impalement). Nor am I suggesting that LSD is the solution to our health care crisis – indeed, I don't believe it is the chemical that healed me of a terminal condition, but a shift in realization and perception, a new personal paradigm arising out of the entheogenic trance – illuminations that can be achieved through far more gentle, less drastic, and certainly more legal means - all of which I would generally endorse today over psychedelics, but none of which happened to be accessible to me in that moment.
(The role of psychedelics in a variety of mythological systems, however – from soma and ganja in India, to ergot beverages at Eleusus, to the peyote cults of Mexico and the United States, to the crucial role ayahuasca plays in rainforest cultures, as well as their relationship to the mystic and shamanic traditions - has been explored by Gordon Wasson, Albert Hoffman, Robert Shultes, Stan Grof, Joseph Campbell, and others in fields ranging from botany and biology to anthropology and psychology, and has been described in some detail in other Conversations here at JCF.)
This post, though, is a response to my own question about personal encounters with Trickster.
Brendan points out that "[s]o much of the trickster is dark, chthonic, a destroyer; we may have bounded some of his energies but his pelt is still thick ..." This was my experience of the Trickster in the years he was shaking me out of my complacency, stripping away the comfort and attachments of the unintended life.
But then in my encounter with Death and the depths of my own psyche, I heard the call Vivienne described - "an invitation to the Great Dance" – and I'd have to be completely obtuse not to chuckle at the humor and panache with which the Cosmos delivered the invitation ... in the hand of a juggler sporting Fool's cap and Coyote's name - drubbing me over the head with a three-dimensional flesh and blood metaphor, just in case I wasn't paying attention
... not that I could have missed the significance of that episode, given that I've long outlived expectations!
Over the next decade spontaneity and synchronicity were my constant
companions, ultimately bringing me to where I am today. Trickster still pulls pranks on occasion, but the play is more humorous and less harsh than before that pivotal moment – or maybe I've developed a different take on things, for i have not seen the world the same way since ...
Of course, this is how the trickster dynamic has played out in my life – details differ from one individual to another, but the dance remains the same. It's ever so much more fun, however, to consciously participate rather than just being dragged across the floor
... so feel free to jump in and join the Dance!
As many wise ones have noted before, what if the Hokey Pokey really is
what It's All About?
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Bodhi_Bliss on 2005-05-14 15:44 ]</font>