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What Is the Trickster Archetype?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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The trickster archetype is a character that is built on the fundamental idea of one party deceiving or playing tricks on another. An archetype is a commonly understood idea that has staying power within the universal human community. Archetypes are often related to the arts, and to literature in particular. The trickster archetype is a primary example, where many types of human communications include references to these types of characters.

One essential characteristic of the archetype is its use in storytelling. True to form, the trickster archetype is prominent in many kinds of storytelling. Experts, including anthropologists, point to the use of trickster archetypes in many cosmology stories, or stories of human origin that have been passed down through many generations in oral societies. Today, many of these have been recorded in books.

In classical mythologies like those of the Greeks and Romans, the trickster archetype is common, just as it is in more obscure cultures. Even in general fiction of various ages, the trickster as an archetype continues to surface. For example, the “Mephistopheles” trickster is a character of the Faust cycle, which is itself a much copied and emulated tale in Western civilization. This character informs those in many other tales, as an example of a trickster aligned with unholy powers.

Experts point out that the trickster archetype has various presentations within a literary or other artistic canon. Some versions of this archetype are generally harmless, humorous, and even lovable tricksters. Others are formidable antagonists or villains that threaten others. Both of these are common in the literature of many societies.

In many cases, the trickster archetype is an allegorical figure. In creation stories of the kind referenced above, the trickster may take the form of a common animal. Often, the use of this character references specific ideas about the human’s place in the world. Through reflecting a certain relationship to other characters, the trickster says a lot about the intentions of a divinity, as well as the intentions of humans.

Studying the trickster archetype can give individuals insight into not only the literary conventions of a society, but also its deepest mores and mass psychological characteristics. Some forms of this archetype are also used in psychology. For example, the trickster archetype is also an instance of a “Jungian archetype,” named after the famed doctor Carl Jung, who posited various theories about the human mind.

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Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Mar 20, 2014

Is the Jerry of Tom and Jerry a trickster archetype?

By bluedolphin — On Mar 19, 2014

@burcinc-- I don't know how recent this development is, but the trickster does not have to be evil. There are plenty of examples of good tricksters in older and newer literary works. It's also very common in cinema.

When I was child, one of my favorite stories was Puss in Boots. Now that I think about it Puss in Boots was a trickster as well. But he was certainly not evil. Puss in Boots had a kind heart and he used trickery to help a good person.

In cinema also, tricksters are sometimes good people trying to achieve something or overcome corrupt and bad people. So the trickster is sometimes the hero. In order to outwit the villains, the hero uses trickery.

By burcinc — On Mar 19, 2014

The trickster archetype has existed since the time of ancient epics and sacred texts.

For example, in the Indian epic, Ramayana, the evil Raavan changes his appearance to look like an old man. He tricks Rama's wife Sita to leave her home and abducts her. But Rama eventually saves Sita and kills Raavan.

In spiritual and religious epics, the trickster is often evil. The trickster can be used to give lessons about good and evil. The lesson is that good always wins. I think that giving good and likable characteristics to the trickster archetype is a relatively recent development in epics and stories.

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