On Archetypes: The Trickster


So, what is it that makes a story “pop”?

Stories that speak directly to the human experience, with characters and themes that are familiar to us all tend to be the ones to capture our hearts and give us “all the feels.”

How do authors achieve this?  Often, they use something called an archetype:  A universal, symbolic pattern.  Joseph Campbell’s book  The Hero with a Thousand Faces, discusses the common themes and personality types prevalent in literature throughout human history.  These archetypes can be found across many cultures and time periods, and it’s exactly this universality that appeals to us, even today.

I’m going to be exploring some of the common archetypes in this blog from time to time, and today I’d like to discuss The Trickster.  According to Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers:

The Trickster archetype embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change.  All the characters in stories who are primarily clowns or comical sidekicks express this archetype.

Common traits of The Trickster include a tendency towards, as the name suggests, trickery.  They buck convention, and follow their own rules.  The mischief they enjoy can create all sorts of problems for the hero in a story, but often their antics end up being helpful, in that they give the Hero an outside perspective, and help her or him to find another solution to a problem.

Archetypal characters have two functions in literature:  The emotional or psychologial function, and dramatic function.  Emotionally, Tricksters are the characters who keep the hero humble, down to earth.  They point out our foibles, bring about healthy change, and remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.  They can symbolize the duality of nature as they are often shapeshifters, and are a good reminder to not just blindly accept the status quo. IMO, we should all keep our own personal Trickster in our closets!!

Dramatically, they provide comic relief in a story – when the action gets really hot and heavy, sometimes it’s good to throw in a little humor to lighten things up!

Some famous literary Tricksters:


  • Loki from Norse mythology:  There are numerous stories of Loki playing tricks on the other gods, wreaking havoc, then finding a way to make it up to them.   One example is when he cut off the hair of the goddess Sif, wife of Thor.  Thor threatens to kill Loki, but Loki then makes it up to Thor, by having a new, magical hair piece made for Sif out of gold.


  • The Coyote in Native American tales: In one story, before people inhabited the earth, a monster walked the land, gobbling up all the animals except Coyote.  Coyote tricked the monster by claiming he wanted to visit his friends in the Monster’s belly.  Once he was inside the Monster, he cut out the Monster’s heart and set fire to its insides, freeing his friends.


  • Br’er Rabbit from African tales:  One of this Trickster’s antics was to get Br’er Fox to rescue him from a well.  He told the fox that the moon reflected in the water at the bottom of the well was really a block of cheese. So, Brer Fox jumps into one of the water buckets, descends into the well, and, in in doing so, enables Brer Rabbit to escape when the other bucket rises to the top.  In fact, rabbits are very common tricksters – their quick-thinking often saves them from larger, stronger animals.

There are also plenty of Tricksters in modern-day movies and television:

  • “Vikings” – Floki (a personification of Loki
  • “Star Wars” Han Solo
  • Cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck
  • “Pirates of the Caribbean” Jack Sparrow
  • “The Simpsons” Bart Simpson

I’ve included a few links below if you’d like to do more reading on The Trickster:

Please comment, and let me know who is your favorite Trickster!

All photos courtesy of Shutterstock







A Sampling of Monsters (Or: Five Mythological Beings I Hope You Never Meet)

Baba Yaga – Slavic


Images via Shutterstock

The Baba Yaga is a common mythologic figure in Russia.  She’s the quintessential witch – she’s ugly, flies through the air, has a long gross nose, lives in a hut, and eats people who she doesn’t like.  What’s not to love?

Her nose is so long — here’s where you ask, “How long IS it?” — well it’s so long that when she sleeps draped over top of her giant brick stove her schnoz scrapes the ceiling tiles as she snores, making the horrible racket even more raucous.  She has iron teeth, and unlike many witches you’ve probably met, she does NOT ride on a broomstick, but she rides in a mortar, pushing herself along the ground with a pestle.  Her cottage sits up on top of a couple of chicken feet, and sometimes becomes airborn.  When it’s not flying, it’s sitting on the ground surrounded by a fence made of bones, and just may hover and spin about as you watch.

Sometimes Baba Yaga is seen with her two sisters, both of the same name.  That would get a little confusing at family reunions, methinks…

Bonnacon – Macedonia, north of Greece


Image by unknown (medieval) author (http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast80.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Bonnacon has the body and mane of a horse with the head of a bull.  It also sports some pretty cool curved horns.  They curve inward, making them useless for self defense, so it has another way to scare off predators:  Fire Farts!!  If you startle this beast, it’ll shoot acidic poo at you, burning your skin and everything else nearby, and grossing you the hell out to boot.  The Firepoo can be launched as far as a couple of acres, so let’s just hope your new neighbor down the street doesn’t own one!

Akaname – Japanese


Image by Utagawa Yoshikazu (歌川芳員, Japanese) (scanned from ISBN 978-4-7959-1955-6.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

IMHO, this is probably the most disgusting demon of all time.  Little gremlins with very long slimy tongues, the Akaname is also known as the “filth licker” because of their foul habit of licking up the congealed goo, poo, gunk, and other junk found in unclean bathrooms.  He inhabits only the dirtiest homes and public bathrooms, so if you see one of these running around your new boyfriend’s apartment, I’d get in the car and leave without so much as a “See ya.”

It’s often described as having red skin, with one toe on each foot and a nasty, gnarly nail growing from that one toe.  Someone buy that gremlin some shoes, please?


Aswang – Phillippines


Image by H.M.Bec [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The Aswang of Phillipine legend is kinda part werewolf, kinda part vampire.  Sounds like a Twilight movie theme if you ask me!  It loves to eat unborn fetuses and small children.  It even uses its very long nose to suck the babes right out of mum’s tum while she sleeps!  One description I read mentioned that the ghoul replaces the deceased with bananas after consuming them.  Hmm…was that really my baby brother in the banana costume  or did the Aswang strike our house!?

If you have someone in your town who looks pretty normal, but is shy and keeps to him or herself, he or she *could* be an Aswang.  By day they look like normal folk, but at night they assume the shape of a bat, crow, wild boar, black cat, or, most commonly, a big black dog.

How do you know if your neighbor is Aswan?  Stand with your back to the person, bend over, and look at them through your legs.  Is their upside-down image different than their right-side-up image?  If so, it’s an Aswang.  If not, you look hella goofy.

Dullahan – Ireland


Image via Shutterstock

I’m sure the legend of Ichabod Crane had at least some of its origin rooted in the story of the Dullahan, a headless rider who carries his or her head under one arm.  This demon, however doesn’t have a pumpkin head, but rather a head that looks like moldy cheese.  I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer the pumpkin.  A hideous grin adorns the Dullahan’s visage:  think of The Joker from Batman here, with a grin that *literally* goes from ear to ear.

In case the Dullahan wasn’t scary enough for ya, he or she uses the spine of a human corpse for a whip.  And remember that movie “Speed” where Keanu Reeves has to keep that bus moving over 50 mph or it blows up?  Well when the Dullahan stops, someone dies too.

in case you thought you might want to keep this scary monster out of your closet, it’s important to know tha there is no way to keep the Dullahan out — all locks and gates open as soon as they show up.  And whatever you do, don’t watch them, or they will either throw a bucket of blood in your face or lash out your eyes with their whips.  Not very nice AT ALL.

Hope you enjoyed my little tour of some of the lesser-known mythological creatures out there!  Tell me something about your favorite mythological beasties, and stay safe people!!

The Seeing of Things: Living in a Mythological World

I grew up in the woods in a time when kids were allowed to wander aimlessly for hours on end without a parent in sight.  And in those woods I saw creatures.  To be fair, a lot of people see creatures in the woods: birds, squirrels, bugs, foxes, wolves, bears, yada yada yada.  But those weren’t the creatures that I saw.  The creatures that greeted me were nothing you’d find in any zoo in *this* world.  If I’m to be honest, here, I must admit I still see them.  Everywhere I go.  It’s a little disturbing sometimes, but I figure SO FAR, none of them have tried to hurt me, so I should probably be fine.  Probably…

I See Tree People…

Whether it’s faces peering out at me from within a twisted trunk, roots reaching for my feet, or sinewy bodies wrapping and twisting, reaching for the sky with their skinny arms, the tree people beckon to me.  I swear it!  Tell me you DON’T see Happy Tree Dude reclining on the hillside here!


Or these lovely ladies twisting and reaching for the sky?


If you’ve ever read JRR Tolkien, you might remember the Ents, keepers of the forest?  I assure you they are alive and well in our modern world…although this one looks a little shorter (and more surprised!) than most I usually see…


The Moss is Alive…

And in case you’re thinking I’m nothing but a tree-hugger, the hallucinations don’t just end there.  Have you heard of moss mice?  The little critters who live in the forest looking all innocent and immobile until you piss them off, then they swarm and mass into a giant ball of moss, cover you from head to toe, then turn you into stone?  No?  Well neither did these poor souls, who just sat down for a little meditation.


And for crying out loud, if you EVER run across a building that looks like this DO NOT ENTER!!!  Those Moss Mice on the roof are just itching to drop onto your head and turn you into stone!


And speaking of Stone…

Oh, yes, there’s more.  One day I was minding my own business watching the waves crash on the beach.  I felt eyes on me.  My hair stood on end and goosebumps covered my body, but there was no-one around.  Then I saw him…the Stone Giant who lives at the beach.  Fortunately for me, he was pretty well ensconced in the clay soil so I was able to hightail it outta there before he got me.

Rock Man

Who knows?  One of these days one of these creatures might actually reach out and drag me (or you!) into their world.

Best keep your eyes open…and report back to me if you see any woodsy, rocky, tree-y, watery, or other well-hidden creatures that the rest of the world has missed…