Take a look at tricksters

They cross boundaries and break rules but have strong intellects. You need them but also need to be wary of them, especially when it comes to your wife or daughter.

In mythology, they appear across cultures, and not always as an animal or immortal. And we’re not talking about trick-or-treat night.

Take a look, here are ten.

  1. Coyote, largely among western Native cultures in North America, has been at the forefront of a new consciousness about tricksters. His tales were recorded by early ethnologists, who shifted to Latin when the stories turned randy.
  2. Kokopelli, the hunchback piper from the American Southwest, has become especially popular as an image, though not yet his stories.
  3. The rabbit or hare in West Africa and its transport into the Americas via the slave trade. Leads us to Br’er Rabbit.
  4. The spider. Just don’t get caught in the web.
  5. Froggy the gremlin on the early TV show “Andy’s Gang.” Not that we got it as kids, Froggy was just weird. And maybe perverted.
  6. The clown as an archetype. Well, I do know a professional firefighter who’s frightened of them.
  7. A figure in fairy tales who tests the status quo. He frequently changes hats. Or even genders.
  8. The fairy Puck. Or a leprechaun. Or even Robin Hood.
  9. Lilith, in Babylonian cultures.
  10. Jesus.

Come dance to Kokopelli

Somehow, this hunchbacked flute player has become the most widely recognized Native symbol around. Maybe because there’s something playful in his step. He even became a character in one of my novellas in The Secret Side of Jaya.

Here are some facts about him.

  1. He’s often shown with feathers or antenna-like protrusions on his head. They often make him look like an insect.
  2. He may have originally been a representation of Aztec traders who brought their goods in sacks slung over their backs. His first appearance, however, is on pottery dated to 750 to 850 CE, before the Aztec empire.
  3. He represents the spirit of music and has roles related to fertility. He’s also fluent in languages and an enchanting storyteller.
  4. He appears on ancient petroglyphs and pictographs as far back as the Anasazi cliff dwellers. Guess that makes him the first rock star.
  5. In these representations, he’s often accompanied by animal companions or an apprentice. Well, he does preside over the reproduction of game animals.
  6. He’s venerated in some Native cultures in the Southwest, where he chases away winter and brings on spring as well as rain. But watch out, he is a trickster deity.
  7. The popularized image of today usually omits the phallus.
  8. Among the Hopi, it is said that he carries unborn children on his back and distributes them to children. For that reason, young girls often fear him. He also participates in marriage rituals. The Zuni also have stories.
  9. He’s seen on the changing moon, much like the “man” on the moon.
  10. He was a noisy visitor, bringing welcome news from afar and leading to a night of revelry.

Looking afresh at a personal foundation of reading

Living in the family I do, my TBR stack of books is well larded with Christmas and birthday presents – things others think I’ll like or should at least tackle, as well as volumes they’ve already enjoyed and wish to tempt me. I’m not complaining, mind you, though I can be perplexed by their choices, at least until I’m moved to open the cover and dig in.

Sometimes it takes me several years to get around to that, which was the case with The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.

The tome surveys the Inklings, a literary circle established at Oxford University by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, an affiliation that lasted their lifetimes and paralleled the more progressive Bloomsbury elite.

As I read of the budding authors’ early years and passions, my eyes were opened to how different their reading habits and expectations were from mine. They were steeped in a desire to recover a mythos of elves and other realms arising in ancient Britain but lost over time to the teachings from the Continent. There was also a fascination with invented alphabets and languages and secret communications. In contrast, apart from an early round of Tom Sawyer and English shipwrecks, my tastes ran to non-fiction – biographies, histories, and science, especially – and to visual arts and classical music. I still love to read maps, by the way. As for language, English still holds plenty of room for exploration, and Spanish and French are challenging enough.

Fiction returned to my lineup my senior year of high school via an essentially political route – Animal Farm, Brave New World, and 1984 on the leading edge. Besides, that was the time when I was finally getting serious about writing and editing, too.

In short, I read to learn things, and still do, for that matter. Rarely would I admit to reading for pleasure, as such.

But the first years after graduating brought a change, including The Lord of the Rings (which struck me as a rehashing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle material), Samuel Johnson, and Virginia Woolf before getting to Tom Wolfe, Vonnegut, and Kerouac and, after college, Brautigan.

My preference soon settled on contemporary and American, here and now, even if I have a fondness for baroque twists and long sentences.

I have to admit having little in common with the Inklings. Even our religious leanings veer in opposite directions – their thick Catholic and Anglican wrappings versus my Zen and Quaker ascetic.

~*~

At that point, while cleaning a very dusty bookshelf, I chanced upon Becky Gould Gibson’s Need-Fire, a poetry chapbook elaborating the life of Hild, a 7th century abbess who founded a monastery for men and women in Whitby, North Yorkshire but at the time Northumberland. It was a time when some women had more authority in the Catholic church than would be the case later. That, in turn, led me to learn more of the history of Britain in that period, including the reality that much of the land was openly pagan perhaps into the 9th century, much later than I’d assumed.

With another leap of thought, I realized that much of what I’ve found puzzling in the English folksongs, mummers’ plays, and the Abbots Bromley and Morris dances  I’ve encountered through Boston Revels is thinly veiled pagan tradition living on, part of the deeper culture of the land and its earlier peoples.

Well, as we say, the plot thickens.

My next question returns to these shores and an awareness of what this land means to its inhabitants. For me, that’s a blending of science, economics in the broadest sense, spiritual awareness, and the arts.

So how would you define the grounding of your own reading habits and interests? Has it changed over time?

You don’t have to take it as gospel

Despite of having read all of the Bible – and wrestled with many of its passages – I had never read it straight through until a few years ago. (Rather, it had been piecemeal. Seeing it in the larger structure presents some unique hurdles and troubling assumptions, as well as an evolving comprehension of the Holy One and faithfulness. )

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been retracing that experience with a new post each week at my As Light Is Sown blog. My reflections, as you might expect, are quite unorthodox, and in the books of the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament), they’ve been augmented by heartfelt insights and confessions by some wonderful Jewish poets and novelists – not  the stuff commonly encountered in Christian circles. You don’t have to be a believer to be engage with these stories. Think of them like Shakespearean or Greek drama, if you will, filled with human drama.

It’s a much different approach than reading it as law, one filled with more punishments than rewards. No, this is essentially about life itself.

I’d love for you to join in the series – and look forward, especially, to your reactions and comments.