The Trickster Spirit

In classical mythology, the figure known as the Trickster takes many guises.  In Judeo-Christian beliefs, it is known as Lucifer or Satan.  In Native American folklore, it’s called Coyote.  The Norse knew it as Loki. Even modern parables such as comics have their own version in the form of the Joker. Widely spaced belief systems, both geographically and temporally, all came up with the same basic notion: a being so clever and devious that it could win our trust, grant our wishes, and make all our dreams come true.  But at a price: everything.

Just ask Faust.

The Trickster can be seen as evil, as the figure of Satan is in many religions today.  Some, such as Coyote, are more playful and mischievous.  But from a wider perspective, the Trickster is a force of nature that protects humanity from its own tendency toward excess. In granting us our deepest wishes, it forces us to face our true selves, the selves we keep hidden from the world and even our own waking minds.  If we give into the temptation, we become corrupted.  Some, like Jesus, were able to resist these temptations and remain true to themselves.  In fact, that is essentially the most fundamental role of many religions: to keep the Trickster at bay.

I can’t be certain that there are actual Tricksters out there, toying with our hearts and minds, but I do know that corruption is real, and it is born out of our successes.  The old phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” is a commentary on this phenomenon.

(I should point out that not all corruption is of the “good turning evil” variety.  Corruption could be seen as emotional rust, or a layer of dust, or increasing carelessness in our lives or the failure of remaining vigilant in our quest for self-actualization.)

I’ve seen this tendency toward corruption many times in the general field of UFOlogy and paranormal research.  Many honest researchers seem to become enamored of their own tales and the daring truths they uncover, and they are rewarded with fame, or fortune, or renown.  Some win awards, some sell millions of books, some have movies made about them.  But sooner or later, many (if not most) of them become laughingstocks not only to society at large, but to their own following.  They become so blinded by their apparent success at discovering the secrets of the universe that they lose perspective and cease to question things; that is, they stop doing the very things that brought them their success in the first place.

This, of course, can be said of any industry, not just the study of the paranormal.  But I think when discussing paranormal studies, UFOlogy, and Contactees in particular, it strays closer to the classical mythological context than it does in, say, modern politics or the tech industry.

The Contactees, beginning with George Adamski, rose to great prominence on the strength of their stories. As in any population, the Contactees had their fair share of deceivers and folks in it for a quick buck, but many of them were absolutely sincere.  They had real experiences, or at the very least, thought they had.  They rode this wave of success for a decade or so before cracks began to appear.

Where great crowds once gathered to hear them speak, they eventually found themselves relegated to living rooms where the few remaining true believers could easily fit.  Sometimes, their stories that seemed relatively plausible–i.e. that they had met a being from another planet who was just here to help–had transformed into more and more surreal galaxy-spanning stories of derring-do.  They left the masses behind–those who’d not been fortunate enough to have these experiences could no longer relate to these stories.  Or maybe it was that society moved on to different interests, leaving the Contactees behind, who desperately tried to reclaim their relevance.

Either way, their great success eventually collapsed under its own weight.  Was it the doing of some outside force?  Were the Space Brothers actually manifestations of Loki or Coyote, tricking these people into thinking they were from Venus or Mars or Saturn, and then pulling out the rug from under them for their own amusement?  I’m not here to say.  The idea of a Trickster is at once a terrifying and weirdly comforting thought for me; on the one hand, it suggests that any one of us could fall victim to this effect without any warning.  On the other, it suggests that society as a whole will always be kept away from the brink by this supernatural system of checks and balances.

Loki, from a medieval illuminated manuscript.  You were expecting Tom Hiddleston?

Some have suggested that many of the Contactees did indeed have valid initial experiences; they actually met beautiful blonde flying saucer pilots in the Mojave who told them of peace and love.  But then they were abandoned by the flying saucers altogether (a classic Trickster technique), and turned to fabricating ever more elaborate tales to outdo one another and maintain their position of fame or prominence.

I’ve seen this effect happening before my eyes in other fields, and if nothing else, it is a fascinating window into the mind of humanity.  We flail about until something strikes a chord, then we beat it mercilessly until it gives up every drop of whatever it has to give.  Whether the tales of the Contactees are true or not, they stand, like every great religious parable or myth, as reminders of our own nature.

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