Monday, April 1, 2013

The Trickster

Well, it was April Fool’s Day today. I didn’t go out anywhere, and I am on my own at home at the moment, so I was neither a fool, nor fooled. At least, I was no more the fool than usual.

Apparently, April Fool’s Day is first referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, so it has a long history. Other cultures have similar days. Iranians, for example, play jokes on each other on the 13th day of the Persian new year, which falls on April 1 or April 2. This day has been celebrated as far back as 536 BC. Why do different cultures celebrate such a day? And why do such traditions persist?

Playing pranks is deeply embedded in human culture. In fact, many pantheons contain a mischievous god: Loki, in Norse mythology; Hermes in Greek mythology. Carl Jung identified the Trickster as one of our most enduring archetypes. In earlier centuries the court jester played an important social role, not only providing amusement, but also cutting social commentary. So, if archetypes and gods are different representations of aspects of human personality and behaviour, it seems that the Trickster or Prankster is lurking there somewhere in all of us. It is both playful and slightly cruel, it seems to me, and, therefore, closely related to the child within us. There is, indeed, a fine line between humour and cruelty; and we all know how cruel children can be.

If this Trickster is lurking within, and is, perhaps, stronger in some of us than in others, perhaps it is not a bad idea to set aside one day per year in which we can let this mischievous spirit out to play. This day can serve as the opening of a pressure valve. Otherwise this mischief might explode at other times and in other places, with possibly unpleasant or disastrous consequences.

Human beings like to regulate the world – both the inner world and the outer world, it seems. Having a single figure, such as the court jester, embody the role of the Trickster, is one way of both honouring and regulating this aspect of our nature. And days like April Fool’s Day serve a similar purpose. April Fool’s Day prevents the Fool in us from running wild all year round. But it also makes sure that the Fool within is not forgotten, and is given some air time. It is useful to acknowledge these inner gods from time to time.


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