Trickster figures are beloved primarily because they behave and exist outside the bounds of civility. They challenge order with chaos, and defy conventions and reject rules simply by employing their “outsider” personas.
Some suggest trickster figures, and their actions, are motivated by “an urge to belong.” Such logic underestimates the peripheral nature of the trickster. The trickster does not want to belong; instead, the trickster wants to be the epicenter of attention. He wants to stand out.
In the Native American folk-story, “Coyote and the Pebbles,” Coyote acts as the trickster figure, whose mistakes garner both sympathy and contempt. The narrative follows the “night creatures” and their quest to appease an entity—The Great Mystery, by composing portraits of themselves in the sky from shiny pebbles collected from the riverbed. In an effort to create the “largest and the best” portrait, coyote wastes time collecting the most pebbles, then struggles to find a space left to draw. He trips and falls as “pebble bumped pebble, and a chain reaction caused everyone’s artwork to explode” (Edmonds & Farritor). Coyote is left howling at the night sky. He is asking The Great Mystery for another chance for the night creatures to recreate their portraits—the ones he destroyed. But his howl goes unanswered, because you can’t undo what’s already been done. Actions are forces of motion that always move forward; while they can change direction, they can never go backwards.
Coyote is a rebel—one with an empty cause. This is why he is lovable. Contradictions are exciting. They defy “normalcy” and create innovative, albeit sometimes poorly constructed, methods of solving problems. Coyote fails spectacularly, and the consequences of his failure are equally remarkable. Coyote created the stars, and I would argue that those scattered pebbles are more awe-inspiring in their vast quantity and randomness than any other ethereal object.
Coyote, as a trickster figure, adds richness to our culture. It challenges social conventions and the frivolity of obedience. To make the stars… you have to be a “star” yourself.
How to Achieve “Stardom:” 6 Trickster Tips
– by Coyote
- Tip 1: Recognize that time is an arbitrary constraint–do not let it define you. If you sleep-in a little and run late to a meeting, someone is bound to fill you in. There’s always “time” to catch up on assignments.
- Tip 2: If you claim to be the best, you must prove your “better-ness” by outshining all your competitors. You must obtain the best tools, and the most resources. You must push the limits of your capacity, until you can “carry no more.”
- Tip 3: If at any point, something feels unfair; blame others. It is unlucky and unfortunate to befall unequal circumstances. If there is not enough space in the sky for your portrait, it is because members of your group neglected your well-being. Never mind if your “membership” within the night creature group is “conditional.”
- Tip 4: Fail in a spectacular fashion. A trickster’s actions cause mass distraction and/or destruction. Tricksters make things “explode.” Chaos is our mechanism, our catalyst, our tool of choice.
- Tip 5: Avoid responsibility. Run away from confrontation. Although tricksters may feel guilty, we never outwardly or directly accept responsibility for our actions. Instead, we prefer to reflect on our shortcomings in solace and come up with a plan to get back into everyone’s good graces.You may miss important plot twists, or advice from god-like entities, but at least you have the self-awareness to feel “ashamed.”
- Tip 6: Persistently request second chances. Even if it means howling at the moon every single night. Do not concede to the constraints of “time.” Carry on as long as necessary to heed forgiveness. Eventually, the night creatures will find your penance enough and start inviting you to their celebrations again. Maybe, eventually, the night creatures will even understand that you helped them get exactly what they wanted in the first place…as The Great Mystery acknowledged, “you did not ask to draw portraits. You asked only for more light, and you have it” (Edmonds & Farritor).
Tricksters are important because they remind us that a little chaos is not always such a bad thing. They remind us of the human-like tendency to make mistakes. They remind us that we are simultaneously self-centered, and good-natured. They remind us that we can find beauty in our blunders.
Farritor, Micah. “Coyote and the Pebbles.” The Graphic Canon, Volume 1: from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons, by Dayton Edmonds, Seven Stories Press, 2012, pp. 20–31.