At the beginning of time, the universe was a cosmic egg consisting only of darkness and chaos. Inside this egg was a sleeping giant named Pan Gu. One day he awoke and stretched causing the egg to break into two parts. These two parts became yin and yang, earth and sky, two opposing forces in the universe. To keep the opposing forces separated Pan Gu stood between them. He grew 10 feet taller every day and after 18,000 years, exhausted by his work, Pan Gu fell asleep and died. His breath became the wind and clouds, his voice became thunder, his left eye became the sun and his right the moon. His head became the mountains and his blood the rivers and lakes, his hair became the stars, his sweat the rain, his flesh the soil. And the flies surrounding his head became humans of the earth (Myths Encyclopaedia, 2016).
This is a Chinese creation myth or cosmogony. They are symbolic narratives of how the universe, the world, and the people came to be. The etymology of the word cosmogony originated from the Greek word for birth (gonas) and order (cosmos) (Study guide M1, 2016 p.2). Found in every culture around the world creation myths share common themes and follow a common structure. All are set ‘ in illo tempore' or ‘in that time' referring to a nonspecific period in history where chaos came before existence (Lecture 2, 2016). They also begin with a void, infinite darkness and from this nothingness, the world or order (classification) is birthed. In other words chaos is pre-order and order is dependent on chaos, neither would exist without the other.
Myths reoccur time after time and have captured the imagination of their culture. Much thought has gone into the study of myths; structuralist, analytical and psychoanalytical approaches (Lecture 6, 2016). Humankind only has the capacity to create patterns, to create order from disorder. Not because we have to but because we can (Jung 1969 p.174). German philosopher Ernst Cassirer states that man cannot see things face to face anymore but instead lives in a ‘symbolic net, the tangled web of human experience’ (1944, p.25). Myths are full of symbols and like all symbols, they are dependent on the meaning the individual gives it. They are also open to new meanings and interpretations. Any attempt to analyse myths would be a study of yourself and your culture, full of projections. When you look into the abyss sometimes the abyss looks back into you. Belief amplifies projections. Studying a myth you believe in, such as a religion, it would cease to be a myth but would therefore become truth. There's a certain amount of objectivity that needs to be present, too much subjectivity colours one's perspective. Carl Jung, a Swiss psychotherapist (1969), put all his belief in the existence of the psyche and the unconscious, almost bringing his work to the level of philosophy rather than psychology. The unconscious is as make believe as any myth, with its existence seen only through signs and symbols and, as proposed above, are always open to new interpretations and new meanings. Myths will never disappear from our culture because they still have a function. They help us escape our primordial past but also help us not to forget it (Jung 1969, p.174). Popular usage entwines myth with fantasy and falsehood but in cultures in which they are told, myths convey a profound truth in the form of symbols, metaphors and sometimes in the literal sense.
Tricksters are important characters in myths and just like their hero counterparts they are often on a quest. They cross between the boundaries of existence such as between the underworld and the living world (Study guide, M 1, 2016). They often play tricks and disobey the rules of conventional behaviour and operate outside the framework of right and wrong. They are often associated with evil because they are agents of chaos and are unpredictable. Paul Radin states that the trickster is ‘at one and the same time creator and destroyer, giver and negator, he who dupes others and who is always duped himself’ (cited in Flam 2011, p. 3)
In Norse mythology, Loki is a trickster God who not only steps over the boundaries of social expectations but also the laws of nature. He is portrayed as a selfish coward seeking only simple pleasures and self-preservation. Loki is also a shapeshifter, having the power to transform into animals and change sexes. By his own doing, Loki is threatened by the giant Thiazi who demands him bring the goddess Idun. Loki kidnaps Idun to same himself but is then threatened by the Gods with death is Idun is not returned safely. He agrees and rescues Idun by shape shifting into a falcon and carrying her back to Asgard. He is pursued by Thiazi who also transformed into an eagle but is later engulfed in flames sent by the Gods. Loki is often in such predicaments and eventually becomes the unlikely hero but only to save his own skin (McCoy, 2016).
Comedy is universal and is a safe way to bring light to outdated systems. It is also form of pattern recognition. It can allow you to see things from a different perspective. I think the anti-hero allows the audience to achieve this in a way a purely good character cannot. Tricksters continue to make their influence seen and heard, ‘even when on the account of his stupidity and grotesque scurrility the trickster no longer plays the role of the ‘delight maker’’ (Jung 1968, p.167).
Jung believed that tricksters, such as Loki, are a part of our primitive collective unconscious. That the same traits found in the trickster can also be found in the ‘shadow’, which consists of the defects, the inferior traits of the conscious personality (Jung 1969, p.178). An individual sees a part of him/herself in the trickster and is unconsciously drawn towards this character. Jung believed that the quest the trickster was on captured the essence of the path to individuation, as a road from ‘amoral to the moral, the oblivious to the self-aware, desire to rational choice’ (1969 p.166). He justifies this explanation by asking, if myths and such mythical characters, like the trickster, were nothing but a historical residual, than why are they still here or as Radin would put it ‘so stubborn a refusal to forget is not an accident’ (cited in Jung 1969 p.175). Inside the trickster there resides a seed for transformation, a potential to achieve individuation. Tricksters may also have another purpose, only out of disaster can the hero arise and undo the damage (Jung 1969 p.179). Without the chaos there is no order and without suffering, the longing for the hero cannot be introduced. Jung believed that the psyche was a polarity structure and dependent of the tension of opposites, light/dark, male/female, good/bad, neither exist without the other (Jung 1969 p.179).
Bastin R, ASS233 Myth and Ritual, Deakin University, Study guide, Module 1, 20 April 2016.
Bastin R, ASS233 Myth and Ritual, Deakin University, Lecture 2, 20 April 2016.
Bastin R, ASS233 Myth and Ritual, Deakin University, Lecture 6, 20 April 2016.
Cassirer, E. 1974, ‘Clue to the nature of man: The symbol’ in An essay on man; an introduction to the philosophy of human culture, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 23-26
Flam, A. 2011, ‘Sacred fool’, Film Studies thesis, Stockholms Universitet, retrieved 20 April 2016, Trinity University database.
Jung, CG 1969, ‘On the psychology of the trickster-figure’ in Four archetypes: mother, rebirth, spirit, trickster, Routledge, London, pp. 159-179.
Myth Encyclopedia, 2016, ‘Pan Gu’, retrieved 20 April 2016, <http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Pa-Pr/Pan-Gu.html>.
McCoy, D 2016, ‘Loki’, Norse mythology for smart people, retrieved 20 April 2016, <http://norse-mythology.org/gods-and-creatures/the-aesir-gods-and-goddesses/loki/>.