Practical Campbell - Trickster Redux

Who was Joseph Campbell? What is a myth? What does "Follow Your Bliss" mean? If you are new to the work of Joseph Campbell, this forum is a good place to start.

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I am curious, as a question tossed out to associates of the Foundation – how does the Trickster manifest in your life? Does he play a role in your dreams? Or has the Cosmic Prankster visited you in waking life? Some random happening, whether high comedy, poignant tragedy, or fortunate serendipity that influenced your direction today, perhaps imparted a life lesson? What mercurial alchemy has manifested in your life?

The above question is prompted by a discussion of "Benevolent Scoundrels" - this month's Practical Campbell essay - on the Joseph Campbell Mythology Group (JCMG). I've been absent for much of the discussion - scheduling commitments have kept me away from the conversation boards at both the JCF and the JCMG the last couple weeks. However, when i checked in to the discussion unfolding on JCMG, i dropped this same question into the mix

(a technique i use when time is limited - ask the right question, and i don't have to write so much, as the group mind takes over and explores the topic).

I wanted to raise the same question here, making a connection between an academic interpretation of the trickster, and the actual manifestation of this archetypal pattern in individual lives.

Several interesting replies on the JCMG. I wanted to share a couple that struck a chord with me, see if they trigger further conversation - and follow that with my own answer to the question.

First, a reply from Vivienne:
Oh my...

Well I always considered my self a 'lucky' person and so I'd say that Loki has been more of a friend than a vexation!

But this question is about our habitual process of making sense of random stuff, no?

Some people are habitually convinced that Loki, fate, chance, the world are aginst 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, he knows that I am apprehensive and a control freak. But somewhere along the line,in some relativly sane moment I decided to light him a candle, offer him some flowers and a glass of wine and promised to welcome those moments when my best plans are shattered by a bolt from the blue.

Welcoming the very-unwelcome is a knack no one has.
Welcoming death
Welcoming homelessness
welcoming the doctor finding a lump...

The trickster trips me up when I'm least expecting it, otherwise we just nod to each other as we pass by....
This was followed by a comment from Brendan:
Moivelous topic Bodhi, though the trickster is a gooey one to tango with -- a bunch of cartoonesquely fat carrots tossed to your cyber doorstep --

Vivienne in another post suggested that perhaps the trickster assists us in facing / integrating our own shadow, a sort of hermeneutic interface, or to put it in fractured American English, goodies from Acme Wiley E. Coyote uses to catch Road Runner.

The other day I was cashing a check at Publix and saw a woman come into the store wearing a black t-shirt that said, "I am my evil twin." She didn't really look like she was playing the part, but obviously the message was important to her. Appearances anyway are deceiving; the trickster is usually elsewhere of the thicket I think he's hiding in. Literal tricksters are flat-footed cartoons with the sensibility of a TV husband -- dork, doofus, drone -- and a banally destructive closet to exploit, his wild spirit trapped in bottles, babe-mags and bedlam.

Naw, that ain't him ... my foolery is not necessarily the trickster's, simply lame approximations of what I think he gives me license to do. Spirit concretized is always literalized into lust ((sounds good, but is that true?? -- ok, appetite)). And I'm just as apt at discerning his inner meanings as I am telling you what the will of God is. So much of the trickster is dark, chthonic, a destroyer; we may have bounded some of his energies but his pelt is still thick and he's sports a quite a package, if you know what I mean, and he's not afraid to use it whenever he deems it inappropriate.

Omigoodness ... oracles of Hermes were read in sneezes and farts, rude intrusions into our ordered day, and my unsponsored ripper in the middle of yoga class doesn't do much but paint my face red, and turn my heroic Triangle Pose into a motleyed pyramid of embarrassment. If that's the trickster phoning home, then his trumpeted greetings are mostly my shame.

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. His war may be against civilization itself, and our fascination with him says that he is still campaigning, a mujahadin of instinct.

And if our civilization is taking off at warp-speeds -- what has happened in technology & science over the past 100 years is unfathomable -- his 100,000-year legacy only seems to grow, more dangerously and mysteriously for our having lost most of our ability to invite him in. Dancing with the trickster is awful stuff, with all sorts of demons streaming in from the wounds to rip and sunder and boil all flesh from the bone; only then, at hell zero, does the assimilation begin. Our culture has made such contact an anathema. On
one end of our culture CEO's wallow in unmitigated greed and there's an unquenchable thirst for porn, youth and liposuction; on the other end its a holy sexlessness ravens the capitals, cauterizing any orifice or pudenda that might invite and sustain pleasure. The doors are shut both ways against the trickster.

Growing up in that, living and working and loving and learning in such a culture, how does the trickster ever manage to get through? IMO he is the dark underbelly of all those events, the evil twin of every bad impulse, riding on the back of our shadowy impulses (far more regnant than we'll ever accede), letting us barge our way in the name of false dreams right into his domain, which isn't verbal or pictorial or even mortal though psychic, the greater half of soul we ferry about without any real clue to its nature ... we don't dream the gods, the gods dream us, and current gambols -- those high and higher walls protecting the suburbs from death -- are mere invitation to Mssr. Wiley to come dance on the rims, shake his booty 'n' toot, and laugh loud and real, affrighting for good our every good sense.

I don't think there's any real way to "integrate" the trickster as much as we learn -- through hard experience -- to allow him his due, his altar and glade -- maybe it's a simple as accepting that we have a lot of Loki and Wiley in our shorts and brain-pans and well-oiled plans. Giving the trickster his due would be like the stone piles or herms which were dedicated to Hermes and raised to mark boundaries --not to separate his land from mine, but to show where they merge.

Marie Louise von Franz in her wonderful book on the grail legend remarked on "Le Cri de Merlin" or "The Cry of Merlin," which was actually a laugh -- a loud, booming, startling laugh, up from the gut and deeper -- a laugh shared by Carl Jung, who for all of his highbrow speculations on the nature of psyche knew its true locus in the belly-laugh. We affirm what we know really down there, not up in our heads, and often we laugh for reasons we don't understand, not nearly fully enough. Wiley's a comic character, no doubt, and his reel-after-reel attempts to nail the Road Runner -- all climaxing in that long fall down the cliffs to a small whiff of dust and the eventual, muted poof -- show us that we'll never quite catch the bastard, though in failing we get as close as we can.

Or so it seems today, to this befuddled sailor --

A toot of the ship's horn,
Brendan
These comments sparked my own response - and since my DSL provider was down for over twenty-four hours, instead of a quick hit-and-run post my reply expanded considerably ... it's sprawling and a bit lengthy, so i'll post it separately, immediately following this message ....

blessed be
bodhibliss

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

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.

Enter Trickster.

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

(pregnant pause)

... 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 that endures.

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 more!)

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!

Hmm ...

As many wise ones have noted before, what if the Hokey Pokey really is what It's All About?

blessed be
bodhibliss
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Post by Psyche » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hello again Bodhi! another intriguing topic.

As I post a reply to your introductory posting, I notice that you have added a second. I will read that after posting this one. We'll see how those worlds collide.

Vivienne's reponse was really interesting, but Brendan's caught my attention much more; perhaps it is his writing style. A sampling:
...The other day I was cashing a check at Publix and saw a woman come into the store wearing a black t-shirt that said, "I am my evil twin."
I think I should wear a shirt like that one. <IMG SRC="/forum/images/smiles/icon_lol.gif"> Point well taken, though, as the message perhaps hints at Trickster being both within and without. That is an intriguing re-framing, and probably very true, esp those who subscribe to the idea of projection, transference, mythical metaphor, and our dual natures of dark and light. This would also support the idea that we are our own best teacher, if we pay attention well enough, in mindful and 'dis-interested' fashion (I borrow the Jerome Stolnitz notion of dis-interested (similar to buddhist) meaning ego's interests are put aside in order to get a more neutral view of a situation.)

Again, he brings up a really interesting discussion of what this "Darkness" is. I wonder if there is perhaps two Darknesses, one more in keeping with Darth Vadar (repression) and that which is underdeveloped aspects of self. Static vs dynamic. Both involve destroyer/creator, but as if flip sides of a same coin.

Brendan wrote:
Spirit concretized is always literalized into lust ((sounds good, but is that true?? -- ok, appetite)). And I'm just as apt at discerning his inner meanings as I am telling you what the will of God is. So much of the trickster is dark, chthonic, a destroyer; we may have bounded some of his energies but his pelt is still thick and he's sports a quite a package, if you know what I mean, and he's not afraid to use it whenever he deems it inappropriate.
More pointedly, he write:
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. His war may be against civilization itself, and our fascination with him says that he is still campaigning, a mujahadin of instinct.
Interesting reflections. I'd love to hear other associates thoughts on this point; if we are to perhaps equate "civilization" with our developed ego self.


Finally,
On one end of our culture CEO's wallow in unmitigated greed and there's an unquenchable thirst for porn, youth and liposuction; on the other end its a holy sexlessness ravens the capitals, cauterizing any orifice or pudenda that might invite and sustain pleasure. The doors are shut both ways against the trickster.
Yep, I think that the ego can be really adept in locking both doors, but there is a big price to pay.


I like his concluding words here:
Marie Louise von Franz in her wonderful book on the grail legend remarked on "Le Cri de Merlin" or "The Cry of Merlin," which was actually a laugh -- a loud, booming, startling laugh, up from the gut and deeper -- a laugh shared by Carl Jung, who for all of his highbrow speculations on the nature of psyche knew its true locus in the belly-laugh. We affirm what we know really down there, not up in our heads, and often we laugh for reasons we don't understand, not nearly fully enough. Wiley's a comic character, no doubt, and his reel-after-reel attempts to nail the Road Runner -- all climaxing in that long fall down the cliffs to a small whiff of dust and the eventual, muted poof -- show us that we'll never quite catch the bastard, though in failing we get as close as we can.
OK - now I will read your next post.

Thanks Bodhi.
Psyche

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Post by Psyche » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Bodhi,

Thank you for that fabulous story of Trickster in your life. There is so much there...I will choose to address this key item:
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.
I love this. This is true, I think. If we fear Trickster, it is pain, judgment, doom, gloom, cyclical self-rapproach, and destruction.

But, Shiva's dance with Shakti reminds us that destruction goes hand in hand with creation. And so we learn to embrace Trickster; we learn to listen to what is being tested and said. We learn to step up to the plate and become more; we step further along the journey of self-actualization/individuation.

Trickter's been particulary playful (testy?) with me over the years as well. To return to your initial querry regarding how Loki, Coyote, and so on have manifested in individual lives, well, I have a recent story: a test of perseverance and faith. It is actually part of a larger story, but is enough to demonstrate what you seem to be investigating.

In December/January, I had huge problems with my student loan documents. They were problematic from the start due to the unusual circumstances: I live in a different part of the country from my home institution. There were mix ups and many hurdles and events, one after the other to a point of exasperation: I felt as though my faith and determination along this path were being tested. I felt as though I were being asked by Trickster to prove my determination: with everything taken away, what is left, and is this what you truly want. Yes! of couse this is what I want! One more test to come: documents lost in the mail by february with all my personal information contained therein. No money in the bank, tuition coming due, rent coming due. I remember phoning all the powers that be to try to find the most efficient and effective way to solve my problem(s). None were forthcoming. I stood in my livingroom totally exasperated, frustrated, and stunned. Reluctantly, I filled out the appropriate form for reporting lost documents and requesting reissuing. I felt a need to wait another day and a half; I would mail the documents on Friday, because if I mailed them then, it would be another 4 to 8 weeks before anything would resolve. Friday morning, the docs showed up at their intended destination. Intuition and trying to remain calm, with intention and determination; even clarity of thought and resolve probably saved me from another 8 weeks of waiting, and who knows what other disastrous fate.

Since then, Loki's dance has turned into a brilliant dance with fortunate events. Destruction into creation. There are still many tests along the way, of course, and there will be many more. But I will take from that day the perceived lessons learned.
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Post by Mark O. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hullo all,

I'd like to add a link here to a wiley discussion about the Trickster started by Michael that seems to have gotten buried a bit.

Wonderful stuff!

Mark
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Post by Vissi » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Bon jour folks,

Synchronous topic, as ever. <IMG SRC="/forum/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif"> Beautiful writing and expression by all concerned. My compliments.

What occurs to me, by way of the powers that be, is that the energies of life are oceanic and largely without intent until we tap them, name them, and steer them in a particular direction meant to confirm our own needs and motivations. For me, it seems that when we identify something as Trickster, we might be accepting the universal flow and trying to bend it into a specific verification of our own understanding. If something goes awry, we could say, "Trickster at work!" and negate the possibility that our own vision of how events should unfold may be too restricted to accommodate the scope of the energies available to us at any particular time. Is such an exercise in pre-ordaining how we determine our life should be flowing, ego at work? In Campbellian reference, could such actions be us, as architect, building a cage of our own invention to house the fear-bound and expectant normalcy or accomplishment we deem suitable -- home for those dragon scales of "should" and "shall?" I don't know, just what seems to want voice right now.

An illustration from my own recent experience: A week or so ago, I was invited to a sweat lodge ceremony. During the course of a beautiful enactment of waking two pipes, one male and one female, the Fire Tender, who is responsible for bringing the Grandfather Stones into the lodge, lost his grip on one of the stones that found its way against my foot. His sorrow was profound, feeling he had mis-performed his sacred task. To me, the signifigance of the moment was that a year or so ago, a friend who is a medicine healer did a medicine wheel for me. Her finding was that "fire" was absent from my life. "Fire" found its way home, at least in my life, that evening. Now, the scar, perhaps a ritual mark, is healing and interestingly (at least to me), the healing marks have changed form several times, first appearing as a chalice with two flames rising, and then into what appeared to be twin cobras (bringers of rain, in some cultures?) climbing the heavens. Because I'm wont to find compositions in form and color, perhaps I'm only seeing what I want to see, but I can say that bearing this small burn has prompted me to think about the purpose of scarification as well as musing on the cleansing aspects of elemental energies.

Being in the flow of this fire energy, I found its spirit given voice and movement in the songs, dances, palmas, and jaleos of a local flamenco performace, smiling in the sunset, and lighting life. Not "fire" as I would have previously envisioned it but a great teaching of boundless and ceaseless love and joy for my small life.

Wishing for peace, love, joy, and understanding for all beings

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We are symbols of our own enlightenment. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Thanks, Mark for the link to the earlier thread about the trickster, which, alas, petered out a bit over two years ago (but that's part of the fun of these message boards - resurrecting long dormant conversations). Interesting that this earlier discussion as well revolved around manifestations of trickster energy in individual experience, rather than scholarly dissertation.

As much as we admire Joseph Campbell's academic breadth, i suspect most people are drawn to his work not just for intellectual stimulation (which one can find in any number of fascinating scholars and popularizers, from James Burke and Carl Sagan to Stephen Hawking and Ken Burns) but primarily because of the relevance of Campbell's observations to our daily lives.
On 2005-05-14 18:42, Psyche wrote:

I love this. This is true, I think. If we fear Trickster, it is pain, judgment, doom, gloom, cyclical self-reproach, and destruction.

But, Shiva's dance with Shakti reminds us that destruction goes hand in hand with creation. And so we learn to embrace Trickster; we learn to listen to what is being tested and said. We learn to step up to the plate and become more; we step further along the journey of self-actualization/individuation.
I love how your personal example illustrates exactly that, Psyche. I am reminded of dropping a bar of soap in the shower: the harder you try to grasp the wet soap, the more likely it will slip out of your grip (slapstick and the trickster are so intimately entwined) ... but the lighter the touch, the less struggle, the easier it is to hold.

What fascinates me about my tale of the trickster (apart from the fact that it is my life story - still hopelessly narcissistic and self-absorbed, you know) is how unconscious I was of this dynamic at work in my life at the time, coupled with an apparent sense of purpose behind this archetype’s manifestation throughout my life.

The trickster is an archetype of the collective unconscious - a pattern of behavior collectively experienced by humanity, traced back into the dim and distant prehistoric past. Every human experiences it - at times playing the trickster, other times being played by Trickster – and so this image appears in every mythology, as universal a theme as Mother, Father, Death, Birth, and other primary archetypes.

This arches into the question of what exactly is myth, and from where does it come?

I’m not thinking of the four functions, which speak to specific tasks a mythology addresses – but of the basic biological need for myth (from the perspective of the species). Many are familiar with Campbell’s description of myth arising from the impulses of the organs of the body in conflict with one another, but I’m not sure how well this is understood – so I’m moved to examine the concept more closely.

I prefer this description, from the last year of Campbell’s life, from an interview promoting The Inner Reaches of Outer Space:
I think of mythology as a function of biology; the energies of the body are the energies that move the imagination. These energies, then, are the source of mythological imagery; in a mythological organization of symbols, the conflicts between the different organic impulses within the body are resolved and harmonized. You might say a mythology is a formula for the harmonization of the energies of life.
"Mythology is a formula for the harmonization of the energies of life" – that’s my favorite answer to the question "What is myth?"

Not that difficult to understand, even on the most basic level: my stomach has one impulse to action, my gonads another – and there are times when the two are very much in conflict … just can’t feed and f*** at the same time, no matter what "Larry the Cable Guy" and those other "blue-collar comics" might say. But the battle isn’t just between the digestive and the reproductive system, for we also have the brain entering into the fray, and the heart, and more abstract "organs."

This thought is troubling to those who can’t fathom heart or stomach or any organ as more than a machine, or who see nature itself as composed of only inert, soulless matter – which of course is not how we experience either the world around us, or the world within. When Campbell speaks of the "organs of the body" he isn’t describing cuts of meat on the butcher’s slab, but the miracle and mystery of the organizing principle of life. There is a distinct resonance between organ and organization here ...

Individual cells grouped together form an organ, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – and these organs and related body processes working in concert also form a whole greater than the sum of its parts, a synergy we call the individual (and this metaphor can be extended from individuals to a society, and indeed to humanity as a whole).

The coordination and organization of the billions of individual impulses within the human body that taken together add up to a human life is a mystery, one which we continue to explore from a variety of different angles, from biology and psychology to philosophy and theology – all of which can’t help but overlap and/or bump into one another at times.

Mythology both reflects this elusive organizing principle, and serves as guide when consciousness is at odds with one or another of the elements of our being.
I think Carl Jung’s term "archetypes of the collective unconscious" is fundamental and appropriate here. The archetypes of myth are manifestations of the nature of man in accord with the nature of the universe. Interpose before these ideas derived from man’s limited knowledge of the world, and we have then a system of rational thought. In dream the rational mind becomes aware of impulses of the larger nature, of which it is itself but one organ. Impose the will of that one organ upon the whole, and the imposition has to be by violence. It has to be enforced by police-state methods. But when you touch Nature, the center of the force is shifted.

(Joseph Campbell, from a conversation in Greece with Costis Ballos)
Notice that the rational mind is one of the "organs" whose impulses are at odds with other organs of the body – so we aren’t just talking slabs of meat. The rational mind, of course, is a product of evolution, of Nature - and hence of biology – unless one believes consciousness is somehow inserted into an inert bodily container from Somewhere Else (Yahweh breathing life into dead clay; the Cartesian split between spirit and matter, etc.).

If my head is exclusively running the show, then heart is neglected – and if belly is in charge, or my testicles always get their way ignoring cautions of head and heart, then the whole is imperiled. Of course no one organ, no one system, is supreme: one just has to fall in love, for example, to realize how little control conscious rational intention exerts

... and even sex addicts have to stop and order a pizza now and then.

I used to teach literature in junior high (still do, on occasion). The key to plot in every story is conflict. No matter how poetic the imagery, how precise the characterizations, there is no story without conflict. There are several basic types of conflict: man against man (Rambo taking on the bad guy); man against society (Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights, Gandhi resisting the British overlords); man against nature (Tom Hanks in Castaway), man against the supernatural (Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, etc.); and man against himself (crises of conscience – Spencer Tracy, for example, in Guees Who's Coming to Dinner?)

[There are certainly more gender-neutral ways of expressing this concept, but we should assume I’m using man in the sense of humanity]

Conflict is not something new, something foreign to Nature that only enters the scene with the emergence of the human ego.

Spengler points out that the natural state of the animal world is characterized by polarity – whether an amoeba floating in a drop of dew on a blade of grass, a hawk soaring through the sky, or a commuter stuck in traffic, one exists as foreground against the background of everything else – and this contrast gives rise to a natural state of tension (which, at least for vertebrates, is not relaxed until fatigue sets in and one falls into sleep and the dream state, a state of consciousness where the separation between oneself and the other objects of dream is vague and fuzzy at best).

As Campbell poetically points out in Creative Mythology and elsewhere, the eyes are for animals the scouts of the stomach – "can I eat this or will it eat me?" There is not just conflict between predator and prey, or between contending species competing for the same food supply, but even for the individual creature, where conflict between appetite and self-preservation determines behavior (e.g., which direction a wolf runs might hinge on whether it has bumped into rabbit, or raging grizzly).

Humans are by no means exempt. We do not stand outside biology, outside Nature, immune to the principles of evolution. Conflict is inherent to life – a concept my inner hippie resists ... but then, that inner hippie takes the word a mite literal at times.

Conflict does not automatically translate into fighting and violence. Whenever and wherever there is a decision to be made, there is conflict:

Do I take Betty or Veronica to the dance? Do I vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee? Do my wife and I spend the holidays with her family, my family, stay home by ourselves, or volunteer at the homeless shelter? Do I follow in my dad’s footsteps and work a job that provides a measure of security but does not feed my soul, or do I follow my own star, risking failure, poverty, and loneliness?

Our individual experiences differ in the details, but what is constant is this conflict - which does have roots in unconscious biological motivations. The reasons I choose Betty over Veronica are definitely subjective – maybe I get along better with Betty, or think she is prettier than Veronica, has bigger breasts or silkier hair, or she likes me better than Veronica, or maybe I think she’s easy, or her parents are obscenely rich and terminally ill, or maybe we have fallen hopelessly head-over-heels in love –

but I’m afreud the urge to merge is biological, and my biology has a bearing, of which I’m often unconscious, on the choices I've mad (whether looking for a life-partner, a mate to bear and raise my children, or a quick roll in the hay).

Similarly, who I vote for is affected by concerns ranging from self-preservation to quality of life – again, impulses arising from our biology (survival, for example, a basic drive). Where we spend the holidays is shaped by concepts of family and nurturing and childbearing, also related to a number of biological cycles.

It shouldn’t be a surprise when Campbell speaks of the structure out of which myths come as "the structure of the human body and of the relationships to each other of the energies of the organs of the body as impulse-givers, whether in conflict with one another, or in harmony." The body, after all, is the organ through which we mediate reality. All we perceive is filtered through the sense-organs of our body (and some mythological systems as Heinrich Zimmer points out, in Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, embrace the mind/imagination as a sixth sensory organ),

and we interact with the universe on the basis of those perceptions, which are very different from the way the universe is perceived and experienced by say a dog, or a butterfly, or an amoeba, or a rock, or a photon (not sure to what extent the latter two phenomena can perceive and experience – but clearly a photon occupies a very different universe than the one constructed by my senses).

Yet though mythology’s structure is related to the body, it is not "caused" by the body ... a subtle difference, I know. Instead, they are interrelated. An image Campbell often uses is that of the bodies of the Buddha – five bodies or sheaths of which are intertwined and interelated in each of us:
The first sheath is called annamaya-kosa, the food sheath. That is your body, which is made out of food and which will become food when you die. The worms, the vultures, the hyenas, or the flame will consume it. This is the sheath of our physical body: the food sheath.

The second sheath is called the sheath of breath, pranamaya-kosa. The breath oxidizes the food; the breath turns it into life. That's this thing, this body: food on fire.

The next sheath is called the mental sheath, manomayakosa. This is the consciousness of the body, and it coordinates the senses with the you that thinks it is you.

Then there is a big gap.

And the next sheath is called the wisdom sheath, vijnanamaya-kosa. This is the sheath of the wisdom of the transcendent pouring in. This is the wisdom that brought you to form in the mother womb, that digests your dinners, that knows how to do it. This is the wisdom that, when you cut yourself, knows how to heal the wound. The cut bleeds, and then a scab comes along; finally a scar forms, and this is the wisdom sheath going to work.

You go for a walk in the woods. Somebody has built a barbed-wire fence. It leans right into the tree. The tree incorporates that barbed wire. The tree has it, the wisdom sheath. This is the level of your nature wisdom that you share with the hills, with the trees, with the fish, with the animals. The power of myth is to put the mental sheath in touch with this wisdom sheath, which is the one that speaks of the transcendent.

And the sheath inward of the wisdom sheath is the sheath of bliss, anandamaya-kosa, which is a kernal of that transcendence in and of itself. Life is a manifestation of bliss. But manomaya-kosa, the mental sheath, is attached to the sufferings and pleasures of the food sheath. And so it thinks, Is life worth living? Or as Joyce asks in Finnegans Wake, "Was life worth leaving?"

...

All of these things enable you to understand what myth really is about. When people say, "Well, you know, this couldn’t have happened, and that couldn’t have happened, and so let’s get rid of the myths," what they are doing is getting rid of the vocabulary of discourse between manomaya-kosa and vijnanamaya-kosa, between mental wisdom and organic, life-body wisdom.

Pathways to Bliss, p.xx-xxiii
We aren’t automatons, abdicating our decision-making powers to some sort of uniform biological code. We don’t all take Betty to the dance - some choose Veronica, some prefer Archie, and a few remain celibate. Every individual is unique, facing different circumstances, with differing priorities - and so makes different choices. Myths don’t tell us what to choose, but provide guidance on how to make choices in harmony with our own nature – especially when the conflict is unbearable and one is unable to make a choice, or has no sense of one's own nature.
The organization of the energies that is intended by the correspondence to a mythological system is something that harmonizes within a given life. It is something that harmonizes the energies on a given stage as different ones dominate during different periods of their prominence or importance. The energies that should dominate in early life are not those that are going to dominate in late life. There is an organic process of transformation. These organs dominate, now those, now another. The mythological organization helps a person to know where he is.

(Campbell in conversation with Tom Collins)
This is most clearly observed at adolescence, when suddenly secondary sexual characteristics appear as hormones kick in, genitalia awaken, and thoughts turn to yearnings and imaginings that no six year old would ever entertain. I have taught junior high for years and regularly bear witness to this massive paradigm shift as childhood gives way to something foreign and unknown (for the child), with confused, tangled emotions and completely brand new motivations powering behavior. This isn’t a conscious choice – it happens, ready or not

... and mythology provides a context within which to assort and assimilate these new energies without destroying the individual. The myths and rituals of initiation midwife this transition ... even today, in the absence of elders and a tradition of initiation, these same rites of initiation spontaneously emerge from the psyche of the adolescents themselves as they aggregate in their own tribal clusters, with the initiations, hazings, gangbangs, drive-by shootings and drug overdoses of gang life taking the place of the dancing and drumming, the terror of evil monsters, the pain of circum/subincision or tattoing or scarring and such of traditional tribal rituals. Even outside the violence of street gangs the male adolescent’s fascination with speed, risking life and limb in extreme sports, is an expression of this new biological imperative (the Testosterone Monologues?).

It’s difficult to deny the existence of the collective unconscious when there is such a universal response to a biological change. This is not learned behavior – the leaders of the Crips and Nortenos didn’t hire anthropological consultants to help them replicate archaic initiation rites or make the Lord of the Flies required reading.
MOYERS: Where do these kids get their myths today?

CAMPBELL: They make them up themselves. This is why we have graffiti all over the city. These kids have their own gangs and their own initiations and their own morality, and they’re doing the best they can ...

The Power of Myth, small pb, p. 9
Much of this ground has already been covered in the August 2004 Practical Campbell essay – "Ritual: Who Needs It?" ( http://www.jcf.org/practical_campbell.php?id=6 ), so I won’t belabor the point – but initiation myths and ritual serve to channel and direct these otherwise overpowering energies.
Rituals have to do with helping you realize what the hell you are doing and that you are not simply an entity acting, you are the vehicle of the life process, an agent somehow of the life stream ...

Hearing the song that is beyond your own individual life cycle is the thing that opens you to the wisdom of the Buddha. You can hear it in your life, interpreting it, reading it, not in terms of the calamities of your individual existence, but as a message of what life is.

Campbell, to Tom Collins
This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t face and deal with "the calamities of your own existence," but that when we do, we are also able to locate ourselves in the larger picture.

My encounter with Trickster – appropriately clad in bells, bangles and jester’s cap, sporting Coyote’s name – came at a confused moment in life, when there was tremendous conflict within my soul, impulses pulling me in different directions, a collision of appetites and fears manifesting in a life-threatening condition. Nothing materially changed – I had still lost my home, my income, close relationships, and the change in health wasn’t immediately apparent to me

(in fact, it took a little while to accept that such dramatic physical symptoms had disappeared – that was hard to wrap my head around)

... but what did change was my perspective: "the mythological organization helps a person to know where he is," and "conflicts between the different organic impulses within the body are resolved and harmonized" – definitely my experience

even though I didn’t fully, consciously realize it.
We carry all potentialities in us. It is not by reason and conscious will that we can rouse them from their deep slumber when the need arises. But the symbolic, revealed again and again in myth, practiced forever anew in the right, has this magical conjuring power over our unconscious ...

The archetypes or variants of archetypes in myths and rites speak to the unconscious, which no rational admonition or consolation can reach; in the unconscious they encounter something that is related to them at work in its depths, which they awaken and make into an instrument of the regent within us, a guiding image which can gain power over our individuality and adapt its behavior to that of the archetype.
Thus such archetypes, awakened from their slumber within us, become visible images and effect transformations in us; when called forth by kindred archetypes in myth and observance, they rise up within us and become our guides. Our conscious will cannot create such guides ... and this archetype summoned from our depths preserves us; it prevents our formless forces from tearing our personality apart or driving it to madness under the pressure of the eternal contents of life, of the destiny that oppresses and threatens to crush us. This primeval archetype, with its timeless validity, enables us to live at peace with our inexorable destiny. The sacred and nonsacred figures that have risen to the level of mythical symbolism – and this is their prime function – lead us to emulate them in our actions and our suffering ...

Heinrich Zimmer, "The Significance of Tantric Yoga," in Spiritual Disciplines: Papers From the Eranos Yearbooks, ed. Joseph Campbell


Here Zimmer describes my experiences, as I was overwhelmed by forces "tearing [my] personality apart ... driving it to madness under the pressure of the eternal contents of life": I bumped into the "visible image" of an archetype (Coyote Fred/Frank) which, through the repetition of an ancient rite (involving the ingestion of an entheogen and descent into the Underworld, such as that evoked at Eleusis) awakened a corresponding archetypal image within. From this moment on what had fallen apart in my life started to come back together, seemingly of its own accord, without conscious effort or manipulation on my part.

"It is not by reason and conscious will that we can rouse them from their deep slumber when the need arises"

... but I do wonder who writes the tale? Were I scripting a story from scratch, critics might complain a juggling jester called Coyote, appearing in a pivotal moment, sounds a touch contrived – yet no way could the conscious me have conceived of this scenario ahead of time

... in fact it wasn’t until chronicling this episode years later that I consciously noted, with great wonder, the parallels to the trickster motif and how appropriate they were to this stage of my journey!

And looking back in memory, I’m not quite sure if I thought of tripping first and then spied this oddly out of place character, or if his appearance triggered the possibility in my mind, prompting me to pose the question. Either way, though, the two go together. I certainly wouldn’t have crossed the street to the library if that were an accountant or a cowboy standing on the steps, and there would have been no accelerated life-or-death vision quest

... but the image of a juggler in fool’s clothes worked like a charm ...
What I think is that when we are ready for an initiation, something in the environment will initiate us. It may be a person, or it may be an event, but if we are ready, it is going to happen. – Joseph Campbell to Costis Ballos
Though Trickster had played with me for years, it was not until I ran into a living, breathing flesh-and-blood image of the archedude that I learned to see with a mythic eye.

According to Joe, "I can tell you that when a mythic dimension is opened to people, happiness, joy, and a sense of what might be called self-potentiality is opened to them as well. They have been given the saving image of human self-confidence and a new appreciation of the value of the human being." Again, this too proved my experience – but not because I read it in Campbell. I had no sense of how archetypes functioned in my own life, didn’t really believe in the collective unconscious save as some sort of catch-all phrase, and would have scoffed at any story such as my own as being, well, a figment of the imagination at best.

Once I stopped fighting to remain unconscious of the unconscious and embraced same, partnering with this unconscious in forming and shaping life, there was a noticeable shift from an attitude of Struggle, to one of Dance (I much prefer the latter – not that there is no pain and suffering today, but I experience the same through different eyes).

Campbell’s reading of myth is thus - for me - validated in my own experience. Anecdotal this may be, and not scientific validation (despite my experience having replicated that of countless others over the millennia in mythologies from around the world – and in the experience of many right here … not done in a laboratory though, you know …)

… but it’s rings true for me. I suspect that resonance between these mythic archetypes and individual experience explains Campbell’s popularity, and might be the reason why many of us are here at JCF.
When I wrote ... forty years ago, I was writing out of what I had read. Now that I've lived it, I know it's correct. And that's how it turned out. I mean, it's valid. These mythic clues work.

Joseph Campbell, with Michael Toms, An Open Life, p. 26.


metaphorically yours,
bodhibliss

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Painted Owl
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Post by Painted Owl » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am






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