Archetype of Trickster – Clown and the Fool
In several cultures the fool appears under the guise of idiot, trickster, harlequin, clown or jester. In the Japanese story Monkey this character is portrayed as Pig; in Britain it is Reynard the Fox, and in the USA Brer Rabbit and Coyote. Charlie Chaplin is a world image in modern times of this crazy, unpredictable yet wise clown.
Jung puts all these figures under the name of Trickster, who he says represents the earliest and least developed period of life – or the least developed side of our personality. According to Jung, Pig, like Trickster is a figure whose physical appetites and senses dominate his actions and decisions. His thinking does not rise above his belly or his genitals. Not understanding finer feelings, his responses to other people appear crude, self-centred, cynical and unfeeling. In some of the stories however, the difficulties of his exploits gradually bring about a transformation and he becomes a man instead of an animal.
Trickster delights in all sorts of pranks mischief and jokes. James Lewis, in his book The Dream Encyclopaedia, says that Trickster is not by nature evil, even though the results of his activities are often unpleasant. These activities centre around bringing attention to our own or other people’s often hidden stupidity, shams or lies. He is also the unexpected spontaneous ‘idiot’ aspect of life which for no reason at all emerges into our carefully arranged life to upset it. Trickster is a shape shifter and so has the possibility of transformation.
The undeveloped, idiot side of this symbol may have a type of clear-sightedness due to lacking the complications and contradictions of thinking and intellectual values. It also may be creative in a serendipitous sort of way. Because it doesn’t seriously hold onto a purpose or idea, this side of our nature may lead us to something new, a change of direction. In some dreams the fool is a figure who is sacrificed.
The fool or clown is also about the ability to either laugh at the ridiculousness of life, or to cut through the social shams and reveal our hypocrisy in an acceptable way. This makes the fool or clown wise, because they can see through who we are and what people do. Their talent is to reveal such things to us.
But the clown has another aspect which is as a man – usually the clown is male – of sorrows. He leads us to tears as often as he leads us to laughter. This is because the clown shows us the wonderful and tragic human feelings underlying the masks we might wear in daily life. Love, life, loss, success and failure, all have their deeply human side and the clown reveals such things to us.
Carline Myss points out that another aspect of the clown is the simple minded character who is wise in their innocence. Such a character is involved within us in many of our life activities, and brings a gentle kindness to what is lived or felt.
The negative side of the clown archetype is that knowing human drives and urges, the vulnerable underbelly of human life so well, the clown can manipulate, reveal what is hurtful or torture.