The World is Made by the Trickster

The trickster archetype is often found in mythologies, and cultures of all kinds, including religions, and it is by these tricks that the world turns.

When we pour the libation on the ground, it is a way of noticing the trickery that makes the universe work, that the world is made by the trickster, that the world is sustained by the trick, if you will. That we, like water, are homeless.

—Bayo Akomolafe

What is all of this about the trickster, and tricking? Can’t we just know the truth and be done with it? Why do we need a “lie,” the trick? Why do we need to be tricked? What is this archetype of the trickster for?

Perhaps because the trick is all there is. We don’t know the absolute Truth, and we cannot know it, intellectually. It is not something that is possible for our finite minds to comprehend. And so we must trick ourselves. We must often settle for relative truths to help guide our lives.

As historian Yuval Noah Harari has noted in his latest books, everything that we believe about the world are nothing more than useful “fictions.” But it is those very fictions that make the world tick. We live by those fictions, and if we didn’t have them, the world would fall apart:

Fiction isn’t bad. It is vital. Without commonly accepted stories about things like money, states or corporations, no complex human society can function. We can’t play football unless everyone believes in the same made-up rules, and we can’t enjoy the benefits of markets and courts without similar make-believe stories. But stories are just tools. They shouldn’t become our goals or our yardsticks. When we forget that they are mere fiction, we lose touch with reality. Then we begin entire wars `to make a lot of money for the cooperation’ or ‘to protect the national interest’. Corporations, money and nations exist only in our imagination. We invented them to serve us; why do we find ourselves sacrificing our life in their service.”

-Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

This is perhaps the very same reason we have religious or spiritual mythologies, legends, traditions, stories, epics, tales, fictions. They have helped to bring us meaning in civilization, purpose, hope, cooperation, bringing us together into communities. If we didn’t have them, we would be lost. This is perhaps related to the “death of God” as Nietzsche recognized, that would break the world.

We must have a greater story, a worldview, a narrative about what our lives are about, that will guide them forward. Without that, we are aimless, wanderers, not knowing where we are going, not knowing what path to take (Luke 9:58). You can’t know where you are going until you know where you are, until you have some sense of your location and your direction. And this is what tricks, fictions, mythologies bring to us. They give us something to believe in, to hope in, to love, and even though they are not the ultimate truth, they help us to eventually realize that ultimate Truth. They are upaya, skillful/expedient means as in Buddhism, but not the ultimate Truth.

We are all tricksters in a way, all playing our games, our tricks, participating in tricks, corporations, markets, religions, science, wearing our ego-masks as in a costumed play. All the world is a stage, and everyone is a character in it, making their entrances and exits, as Shakespeare noted. It is a necessary drama, it is what makes the world turn. We can’t avoid it. We cannot “escape” the play, this samsara, the game, the trickery. It is that very trickery that is the world, that is life, that is what brings joy, hope, happiness, and Love into the world. The Spirit is blowing where it will, and this is it. This is nirvana. This is heaven, right here.

We must trick ourselves, and each other, every day, in order to move forward, to progress, to realize solutions to the world’s greatest problems. Our scientific “truths” are nothing more than more tricks. They too are myths, shadows on Plato’s cave wall, which will be supplanted some day by newer “truths,” and yet those too will not be the ultimate Truth. We will never have that ultimate Truth, perhaps because we are that ultimate Truth. It is the very essence of our Reality. The Absolute is manifesting itself in all the relativity of our daily lives. That relativity is the ultimate Truth playing itself out, actualizing itself, realizing itself, manifesting itself, experiencing itself, living, breathing, doing, creating, expressing, beautifying itself in ever evolving spirals of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness.

Prophets, mystics, sages, and gurus are often tricksters, they know the world is made of tricks, that only relative knowledge and truth exist, and so they create stories, concessions, expedient means, in order to help point people towards the Absolute, to help guide them in the Way through Life. Their stories/mythologies/theologies are never absolutely true, and are often exposed at some point as partial, incomplete, fallible, metaphorical, symbolic, lacking, but their purpose is to guide us to a higher plane, point to the moon, a truer truth, to see through the relativity of the story so that we may transcend it to something greater and truer, eventually realizing the Absolute in ourselves, as our very Self, that we are the world/cosmos that we are that ultimate Reality, that Divine.


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