Reading introduction to American Indian Trickster Tales by
Erdoes & Ortiz today, in which they quote Howard Norman describing one of the northern tribes’ trickster gods:
“Like a magical hermit, he must live outside civilisation, even though his life lessons, his mesmerizing tricks, nurture the human imagination, make people laugh, and animate life itself. Trickster can never fully marry into human life, just as he can never truly become physically human. Likewise neither can he inherit our human past, nor does he long for any future. He is the perfect embodiment of the present tense.”
I’ve thought much about that aloneness of Trickster’s lot: at one and the same time be to engaged as a culture hero, as a seducer, as a con-man, a charmer – worming his way into the middle of society to one devious end or another but destined never to be part of it; for he is always there in ways that separate him from that he has inveigled himself amongst – lying, shape-shifting, slipping away with what was most valuable to his hosts just when people have got used to having him around. It’s impossible for Trickster to have real relationships because trying
to truly meet him would be like grabbing mist – who is he really? Would he know who he was anyway, he who has spent his entire life pretending to be things he is not, constantly slipping on new masks? Percy Topliss, the Monocled Mutineer – as near as I have found to a real-life trickster archetype – spent his whole life pretending to be one person after another that he wasn’t: army officer, upper-class gent etc…. One has to suspect that in the constant (& admittedly admirably audacious and successful) changes of the mask, he must have lost sight of who Percy Topliss actually was. And did he not get lonely? Or did
the constant scheming, acting, tricking, thinking up new ruses, and patting himself on the back over another successful trick, leave no brain-room for self-reflection?
As for ”…the perfect embodiment of the present tense” , I can see what he means: not for Trickster does there seem much anxiety about the future or reflection on the past. But he does have what Ted Hughes describes as ‘…the optimism of the sperm, still battling zestfully along…”. Optimism only exists in relation to the future, and there seems to be a quality to trickster that is always looking to the future, though it’s a short-term future - one that’s just round the corner, as far away as the fulfilling of his latest sexual desire or the filling of his stomach.