Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Trix Rabbit Was A Penis Bearing Trickster

Upon learning that the Trix Rabbit "is probably the most striking example of a cereal trickster who closely follows the mythic conventions of the North American tricksters in particular," I began to ponder "tricksters" again.

In case you are too lazy to click the above link (tsk tsk), here's some info from Tricksters and the Marketing of Breakfast Cereals, by Thomas Green, The Journal of Popular Culture (Volume 40, Issue 1, Page 49-68, February, 2007) that you'll need to keep along with the class:
In his basic form, the Trix Rabbit resembles mythical trickster figures in that he is an anthropomorphized animal, like the hare trickster Wakjunkaga. He exhibits the insatiable hunger typical of Wakjunkaga, but not for foods typically associated with rabbits. He desires only the Trix brand breakfast cereal, and is willing to cheat and deceive in order to get it. In the early days of Trix, the variations on the specific disguise that the Rabbit adopted were still closely identified with the plot premise: He was attempting to appear as something other than a rabbit, so a little old lady or astronaut disguise would do. In more recent years the disguises have begun to take on the form of whatever the advertisers perceive as popular with kids at the time, so in the 1980s the Rabbit disguised himself as a breakdancer, and, most recently, a karaoke singer. In any case, the Rabbit is using these disguises, to appear more human than rabbit, which emphasizes the way in which the Trix Rabbit most closely corresponds to the archetypal Radin/Jung trickster.

Jung, in particular, theorized, in a now largely discounted but still interesting way, that the trickster figure represents the psychological state of humanity making the transition from animal to human. Using Radin's description of Wakjunkaga as a touchtone, Jung describes the trickster cycle as demonstrating how the trickster gradually comes to greater levels of control over his selfish, predatory, animalistic impulses—associated with animal physical forms such as the hare, the coyote, and the raven. In this way, according to Jung, Radin's trickster evolves into a thereomorphic culture hero who sacrifices himself to give gifts to humankind, which is the hallmark of humanity in this scheme (144).

But what Green doesn't tell you may put your breakfast cereal in a whole new red light.

The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology by Radin Paul Radin, who Green mentioned, was an anthropologist who focused mainly on folk literature and religion among Native Americans (among others) and wrote The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology. This initial trickster treatise was published in 1955 after studying Winnebago myths.

Of this work, Karin Glinden writes Trickster:
The Winnebago Trickster cycle of forty-nine stories is central in his book, The Trickster and is the most referenced trickster figure of his writings by subsequent students of Native American tricksters. According to Radin the translation of the tricky one in a Siouan language of the Winnebago is wakdjunkaga; accordingly this specific trickster cycle is also known as the Wakdjunkaga Trickster cycle.
(Please note, there are several spellings of wakdjunkaga (Green used "wakjunkaga" and I've also seen "Wisakejak" & "Wisakedjak" for the Cree trickster.)
Among the forty nine stories are the story of Wakdjunkaga taking his extremely large and weighty penis from the box off his back where he carries it to send it across the river to impregnate a chief's daughter and the story of the talking laxative bulb consumed by the trickster resulting in effluent scatological comedies.
According to Glinden, Radin concludes his study by saying:
The overwhelming majority of all so-called trickster myths in North America give an account of the creation of the earth, or at least the transforming of the world, and have a hero who is always wandering, who is always hungry, who is not guided by normal conceptions of good or evil, who is either playing tricks on people of having them played on him and who is highly sexed. Almost everywhere he has some divine traits. These vary from tribe to tribe. In some instances he is regarded as an actual deity, in others as intimately connected with deities, in still others he is at best a generalized animal or human being subject to death (155).
But the effluent scatological comedy plot thickens... as Glinden writes:
Trickster myths are found in nine of the eleven Native American Regions (Hynes 3). Koshare, Koyemshi, and Neweke are trickster clowns of the Pueblo people who display wanton voracity, sexual and otherwise, but are confined to ritual ceremonies (Leeming 46). Other common animal-person tricksters besides the Hare and Spider are the Raven and Coyote. "Coyote…easily the favorite…crosses tribal boundaries with as much ease as he crosses moral and social ones. He exists is the West from Alaska to the great deserts, he is everywhere on the Great Plains, and he ranges even to the East Coast"(Leeming 48). Coyote is often a teacher by counter-example as he employs base human traits including lying, cheating, and sexual misconduct.
It should be noted at this time that tricksters are not really thought of as shape-shifters; they may have the ability, but the key is that the trickster is disguised, just as the Trix Rabbit, in order to fool or expose foolish things. Trickster may fool, be fooled, but he also teaches; this is his purpose.

Also, the trickster is not male or female but rather is genderless meaning that a trickster may be of any gender -- but they are not Two Spirit People, expressing the gender continuum.

While a trickster may appear as any gender, most often they are depicted as male. This is for two reasons.

One, in stories where the lesson lies in sexual misconduct the male member is most useful -- nothing illustrates sexual impulsivity like a penis!

The other reason lies in cultural constructs which allows and disallows freedoms based upon gender. In Transformation Of The Trickster, Helen Lock writes of the cultural situationality of trickster gender:
...both Landay and Jeanne Rosier Smith, in Writing Tricksters: Mythic Gambols in American Ethnic Literature (1997), which focuses on women writers, make the crucial point that tricksters are culturally specific. In the patriarchal societies that produced the archetypal tricksters Hyde discusses, the very qualities that enabled the trickster to operate belonged culturally to men, or, as Landay puts it, “[I]n a sexist society, the male trickster clearly has the advantages of masculinity: mobility, autonomy, power, safety” (2). These advantages are in themselves gender-neutral, but are gendered by cultural association. Trickster is not gendered—only cultural perceptions of the freedom and mobility necessary to be trickster. Thus, premodern tricksters were imagined as primarily masculine, though with gender-changing abilities, while the alchemical age saw Mercurius as fully hermaphroditic (representing also the “female aspects of matter” [Nicholl 32] as part of his elusive ambiguity), but gave this transformative spirit the masculine name of the god whose powers they perceived it to embody; and now, particularly in modern Western literature and culture (although such figures abound elsewhere, also), Landay and Smith find many female trickster figures, from Toni Morrison’s Pilate to Catwoman. Each age redefines the trickster it needs, as the boundaries of the possible, in this case for women, continue to shift; and although Hyde may be right that there are no modern tricksters in the sense of the archaic archetype that depended on a world of polytheism, it seems more appropriate to say that tricksters have always resisted the confinement of archetype, and modify and transform it whenever a new age gives them a chance.
Speaking of new age...

I find it interesting that there are a number of tarot cards which feature Coyote Trickster. On one hand, this is due to a popular resurgence of interest with Native American culture, sometimes on a more pop level than a scholarly one. But it certainly makes sense that tricksters would hold an appeal to those who like to deal with symbols, including not only authors but those who use tarot cards.

There is something fascinating about the mutability of tricksters which easily lends to twists, modifications and new or different interpretation. My Daughter of the Moon Tarot, a very female centric tarot deck of Dianic Wiccan principals, offers a Coyotewoman card which is optional to use rather than the Pan card (the only male card in the deck -- and a positive male energy card).





It was, strangely, this Coyotewoman card which made me once obsessed with tricksters.

Which is not surprising, given my Judeo-Christian up-bringing. From Glinden again:
Taking note of this is to underline a fundamental difference in the psyches of Native and non Native Americans. Inherent in Christian mythology is the concept of tragedy as one can fall from a rigidly defined sense of order. When there is no coherent order to fall from, rather a creation birthed from paradox that is inclusive of both sacred and profane, there is no tragedy. Tricksters bring instead comedy, a communal adhesive.

Oral stories were told for specific reasons within the separate cultures of Native Americans; the revered storyteller tailored the story while speaking to distinct people of the group being addressed. It is difficult to ascertain the full extent of the messages from these historic trickster stories as they were respectfully told to and altered for the people they were told to, which also accounts for the myths' mutability. However, the trickster is prevalent in contemporary Native American literature. The messages are apropos in light of the movement of Native Americans to deconstruct old stereotypes of American Indians and renew a vital consciousness about their identities and clearly accessible to the contemporary reader.
For more on tricksters, see the Introduction to Native American Tricksters by K. L. Nichols.

Image credits: Image of coyote and stars by Layne Miller, via.

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