Archive for the ‘Jungian Psychology’ Category

Yes, months later we’re still discussing Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Hunger Games.  Well, technically, the main characters:  Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdeen.  Each story is coming out as a movie-adaptation in the next year, so it’s timely to re-post on this topic.  I also wanted to tie up loose ends of discussing these archetypes and how when they come together they can tell us something useful and intriguing about the books and perhaps about ourselves.

I think it’s clear that Lisbeth and Katniss meet various criteria of the Warrior and Trickster archetypes, respectively.  The question is:  so what?  What does it possibly matter that these characters can be seen in through the lens of Jungian archetype-ology?

I believe understanding more deeply the character of Lisbeth and the character of Katniss can enrich our lives as readers, for one.  I think it enriches the soul to notice the archetypal content around us and make deeper sense and meaning of what we read and consume in our culture.  As a feminist, I feel strongly that it is important to identify and celebrate complex female heroines in our pop culture landscape, and that includes literature.  Maybe readers see a bit of themselves in one or both of these characters.  Maybe seeing the Warrior or Trickster in these characters might help one to see the Warrior or Trickster in oneself… and be stronger for it.

Katniss, Lisbeth, you, me… we are all more than just Warrior women, more than just a Trickster, Virgin or Whore.  As women (and men) we are complex, full of shadow and light.  It is helpful to see the wholeness in ourselves, the multi-dimensionality in each of us, the capacity for goodness and evil all coexisting inside each and every one of us.  I chose Warrior-Trickster characteristics to examine because I thought these were interesting, curious aspects each character had in common.  I was interested in studying these archetypes through the fascinating stories of Lisbeth and Katniss; interested in studying these archetypes in myself.

What about the Warrior or Trickster archetypes speaks to you?  What is it about channeling your inner Warrior that scares you?  Interests you?  What about the Trickster feels exciting?  Feels… icky, perhaps?

I would love to know how you notice aspects of Warrior or Trickster archetypes in yourselves.

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Basics of the Trickster Archetype

Tricksters are tricky to define, as we have discussed here.  As F. Daniel Harbecke outlines in his article, “Why So Serious?  How The Trickster Teaches Us About Inner Travel”,there are four significant traits of the Trickster:

-They are “go-betweens.”  Tricksters are able to move with relative ease among contrasting regions or levels of being.  They have the power to escape order, crossing the threshold into another version of it.  Hermes was the only god able to enter the underworld regularly and without difficulty.

-They embody inconsistency.  Rather than enforcing one view of reality, Tricksters support the paradox of multiple views.  They follow the guiding principle of improvisational theater:  you never deny another person’s reality, you only build upon it.  Sun Wukong, the Chinese monkey god, could change each hair on his body into a double of himself.

-They have “smart luck.”  Tricksters are always prepared for the unprepared because they hold their ideas lightly.  There really are no accidents in the liminal perspective, only opportunities for discovery and insight:  you simply play through.  When Loki bet his head in a wager–and lost–he agreed to let the winners take his head as long as they don’t harm his neck.

-They have no home.  The Trickster is closely associated with the road or constant motion.  Hermes is the god of roads and escort of travelers.

I must add a few other key points regarding the Trickster:

-They play tricks of some kind.  There is usually a “trick” that is played, often allowing others to obtain something of value.

-They do the right thing.  Tricksters usually do the right things but not always for the right reasons.

-They are rebellious.  The Trickster is a type of rebel who is perpetually undermined yet undaunted by failure.

-They make us think.  The Trickster calls into question fundamental assumptions about the world, often through nonconformity or rebellion.

Lisbeth as Trickster

**Spoiler Alert** If you have not read (or finished) the Stieg Larson books you may not want to read the details of the story disclosed below as part of the analysis. **

Lisbeth Salander, from the Millenium Trilogy by Steig Larson, is a notable character from modern fiction and, I would argue, a Trickster-figure.  Lisbeth is able to travel and go-between various worlds:  the online world where she is known as “WASP”, a powerful superstar hacker, and the legal world where she is a ward of the state who has been wrongly declared incompetant; the world of trusting no one and flying solo always and learning to love Miriam Wu or even Blomkvist on some level.

She is paradoxical in many ways.  Lisbeth is bisexual, is a tiny yet powerful, non-conformist who fights for justice all the same, even breaking the law to help others.  She is demonized by the press as a “murderer and member of a satanic, lesbian cult” and yet she is actually the victim of numerous crimes and not a murderer at all (nor in a cult).   She is a computer hacker (operating outside the law) and yet she often hacks and steals from criminals and those skirting the law, attempting to reveal their activities to the public.

She has “smart luck” mostly in how people around her underestimate her, many times giving her the upper-hand and an element of surprise when she attacks with great ferocity, skill and creativity.

Lisbeth has no home: she grew up in an abusive home with an epically abusive father, ended up a foster-child moving from home to home, and has gained only temporary homes even in her adult life (she gives Miriam her apartment and then rents an empty luxury apartment which she also has to abandon).

The tricks she plays are often meant to outwit assassins and other brutes attempting to harm or kill her.  She notoriously attempted to trick her sadistic guardian who was sexually assaulting her by video taping his abuses.  Unfortunately, she assaulted her more horrifically than she had anticipated, though she did blackmail him with the footage.

Lisbeth does the right thing often, yes, but not always for the right reasons.  She attempts to help Mia and Dag.  She initially helps Blomkvist with research… for the money?  to satiate her curiosity about the case?  because she cannot believe he is actually “squeaky clean”?  She saves Blomkvist’s life in the moment a serial killer is attempting to murder him.  She steals money from bad people because she does seem to need it…

Lisbeth is perpetually undermined (ending up in a psych hospital after she attempted to protect her mother once and for all; and then declared mentally unfit and requiring a guardian).  Yet she continues to fight for what she believes is right and worth fighting for (fairness for victims and the safety of other people).  She has rebelled against her father’s treatment of her mother, ideas of what one should do for employment (including the topic of keeping regular hours), and courageously rebels against Advokat Bjurman’s treatment of her, the list goes on.

She calls into question over and over again the choices of authority figures, the decisions of the court, the position “the system” has placed her in.  She helps the reader to question the trustworthiness of what goes on around us in real life and wonder what really is going on beneath the surface of business and government.


Punk-Lisbeth as Trickster…

Lisbeth embodies “punk” attitude and style:  dressing in black, having multiple piercings and tattoos, mohawked hair… she projects toughness and general badassery.  Her status as a “punk” also smacks of tricksterness in Swedish culture (where the story is set).  She does not fit the mold for traditional femininity.  She is a rebel.  She is seen as a threat to others (via her diagnosis as a violent youth or her standoffishness in a court room) and yet she is often plainly kind, creative… actually one of the “good guys”.  She appears to be a scary shark but inside is part-shark, part-kitten; more than meets the eye.

Katniss as Trickster

**Spoiler alert.** If you have not finished the Hunger Games books you may not want to continue reading.  You have been warned!**

Katniss Everdeen of the soon-to-be infamous Hunger Games books (and movie) also fits the definition of a Trickster.  Katniss is in a unique position to go-between the world of her own district, the world of the Games, the world of the Capitol with all of its glamour and status and finally, the world of the rebel-effort to be free.  She also goes between her role and relationship with Peeta and that with Gale.

She is focused on herself (immediate survival) but also the survival and freedom of others; a kind of paradox.  She searches for solutions, often finding them in rulebreaking (hunting for food outside her district walls, not following orders etc).  Katniss faces the paradox of saving her sister, saving herself, saving Peeta and trying to figure out who she really loves (Gale or Peeta).

I believe Katniss’ smart luck comes in her willingness to trust certain opponents within the Games.  She makes some brave and smart choices of who to team up with (Rue, and later Finnick and Mags).  She also demonstrates over and over her willingness to improvise, even when it comes to “appearing” to be in love with Peeta.  Being a hunter prior to the Games was smart luck for our Katniss.

In some ways, the idea that Katniss may have no home does not seem to fit since  she clearly considers District 12 her home in book one.  Throughout the bulk of the books though, she is traveling to the Games and the Capitol, in various capacities (tribute, survivor, propoganda-tool, rebel).  Later, she has a new home–or should I say house–in the district.  In the end, District 12 is destroyed and again, has no place to call home.  Technicalities aside, I believe Katniss is a wanderer, looking for a home, a place she belongs and her people always.

Katniss plays “tricks” by breaking rules and doing what she wants and believes in.  Specifically, her use of the trackerjackers during the Games was a kind of trick played on her opponents in the name of her own survival.  She snuck across the border at home to hunt, a “sneaky” trick that, again, served her and her family’s survival.  She shot an arrow at a food pile and made landmines explode, a tricky but necessary move.

Katniss often does the “right” thing, but for a variety of reasons.  She volunteers to take her sister’s place out of love for her sister and to protect her.  She “pretends” to love Peeta in the eye of the public because it gives her strategic advantage (and perhaps she has real feelings for him blossoming as well…).  Was this the “right” thing for her to do?  I don’t know, but I get that she’s not perfect and I liked that as a reader.  She complains a lot along the way that she detests being made up to be this beautiful symbolic figure for the country, but does she really hate it?  I think, perhaps Katniss doth protest too much… I think she goes along but also enjoys it on some level!

Katniss is perpetually thrown into strife, her efforts seeming to be undermined (I mean, a second time in the Games??  Come on!).  Yet she continues to fight for herself, her family and her district.  She fights for what she believes in anyway.

She calls into question the righteousness of the punitive nature of the districts from the beginning, questions the Games and questions what she actually wants romantically.  She helps the reader too to question what goes on in the real world.  I know I found myself asking myself “what would it take for the U.S. to look like Panam with it’s punishments for rebellion and districting?”

Both Lisbeth and Katniss embody, in their own unique ways, the Trickster archetype.  And, as described in an earlier post, they also embody the Warrior archetype.  Does that make them… Trickster-Warriors, powerhouses of archetypal energy??

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I love Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy.  I love The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up, you are truly missing out!  (Spoiler alert:  if you’ve not read all of the Millenium or Hunger Games books, be warned there are lots of details that reveal plot discussed below.)

Lisbeth Salander is the female protagonist in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:  a punked-out, tough as nails computer hacker and resilient survivor of multiple abuses, who is motivated over and over to fight for the truth to come out about the exploitation of others, especially women in her country of Sweden.  Katniss Everdeen is the main character in The Hunger Games, as a skilled bow-and-arrow wielding youth chosen by her society to fight to death (but also working to end oppression of her fellow citizens, in the end).


These heroines are strong women of action, opinionated, and disliked at times by other characters in their respective books .  They are each what I would call Trickster-Warrior figures (archetypally speaking)… and maybe Feminist Herioines too (if we wanna get political).  I will be breaking down my arguments for each archetype. 

First, we begin with analysis of the Warrior archetype visible in each character.  Here we go.

Basics of the Warrior Archetype

When thinking of a hero, many of us imagine a warrior.  Warriors risk their lives to defend the kingdom and honor or protect others from harm.  The Warrior archetype is about claiming one’s power in the world, establishing one’s place in the world, identifying aspects of our individual or collective lives that displease or dissatisfy and working to change those aspects by persuasion or perhaps force. 

According to author Carol Pearson, in her key work Awakening the Heroes Within, each archetype has a goal, fear, response to problems, task and gift.

The Warrior


Win, get own way,

make a difference through struggle


Weakness, powerlessness, impotence, ineptitude

Response to Problems:

Slay, defeat or convert it


High-level assertiveness;

fighting for what really matters


Courage, discipline, skill


Lisbeth as Warrior

Lisbeth works to make a difference through struggling to make the truth known and for justice to be served.  Through wit, skill, or weaponry (stun gun, pistol, bat, fire, mace, or tattoo needle) she wins physical altercations with grown men often bent on killing her; she bests lots of money out of corrupt business owners via her supurb hacking skills and helps for the truth to come out about human trafficking.  As a warrior, Lisbeth often appears passive and fragile but is sharply assertive and extremely effective in surviving and fighting so that she and others might live.

Katniss as Warrior

Katniss fights to win at the Hunger Games and eventually for herself, Peeta, her family, her community to stay alive.  The further the story progresses, she is fighting to make a difference for the whole country through agitation and revolution; a clear warrior.  Time and time again she is willing to sacrifice herself for the wellbeing of others.  She slays problems left and right with her creativity and skill:  when the Capitol restricts food resources in her district she solves the problem by hunting and providing food for the community, she hides well in order to stay alive in the first Games.  Her desire to defeat others in the Games turns into wanting to defeat the Capitol’s punitive rule and finally, to kill President Snow… herself.  In righteous anger she charges ahead protecting others and fighting for what she believes is just (even for Peeta to live when he continues attempting to kill her).  She exhibits the gifts of the warrior as well in her courage of stepping up in place of her sister entering the Games, her woodswoman and sharp shooter skills serve her well throughout the story, and even continually resisting and withstanding numerous manipulative authority figures set along her path.  Katniss is a fighter, a heroine, a fiesty and fabulous warrior.

I would love to hear people’s thoughts and additional ideas.  Lisbeth and Katniss exemplifying the Trickster archetype up next!

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Over the past few months we have explored some of the benefits of practicing sitting with ambiguity.  I discovered recently that there is an archetypal figure that is considered the embodiment of ambiguity; The Trickster.


So, let’s start with defining what an archetype actually is.  Archetypes, according to the work of psychologist Carl Jung, are fundamental human themes found throughout world mythology.  Archetypal examples include The Child, The Hero, and of course, The Trickster (just to name a few).  One way of understanding archetypes is to see them as characterological patterns our minds instinctually recognize and that perhaps can serve as lenses that contribute to how we each perceive and experience the world around us.  Archetypes can also be tapped as “guides within” on each of our individual journeys.  Each archetype brings with it, in any given moment, a lesson, a task, and ultimately, a gift.  Archetypes live in each of us, teaching us and reminding us how to live.  What the infamous tarot deck is truly presenting is a constellation of archetypes to work with.  If the whole idea of the archetype still seems hazy, feel free to read more here.

The Trickster Archetype

Reinvented from culture to culture in mythology and folklore tales, the Trickster is presented as god, spirit, man, woman, anthropomorphic animal, supernatural being or the occasional mischievous fairy who disobeys rules and conventional behavior, causing chaos while also inspiring some kind of change to occur.  Not just any rogue or antihero can be termed a Trickster.  As literary scholar Helen Lock notes, “the true Trickster’s trickery calls into question fundamental assumptions about the way the world is organized, and reveals the possibility of transforming them (even if often for ignoble ends)”.  The Trickster lies somewhere between the hero and the villain; in true ambiguous style.

As Terri Windling beautifully summarizes:

Trickster can be an agent of creation or destruction, a cunning hero or a predatory villain; most often he is an ambivalent figure, shifting back and forth from one mode to the other. In some tales, his tricks allow humankind to obtain fire, language, laughter, song, sacred rituals, hunting, and love–making skills, while other tales show how his tricks gone awry have resulted in death, disease, sorrow, and strife entering the world. He is often portrayed as a creature at the mercy of overweening vanity and prodigious appetites (for food, for sex, for social power and recognition), perpetually undermined by these things and yet also perpetually undaunted by failure. Psychologist Carl Jung viewed Trickster as an expression of the shadow side of a culture, the embodiment of all that is repressed and disowned — the greedy, needy rascal that lives somewhere inside every one of us …The Trickster is the mythic embodiment of ambiguity, ambivalence, doubleness and duplicity, contradiction and paradox.

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Trickster characters are known for doing the right thing, but not always for the right reasons. They are able to outsmart and outwit anyone, but they are often their own worst enemy.  The Trickster openly questions and mocks authority, encourages impulse and enthusiasm, seeks out new ideas and experiences, destroys convention and complacency, promotes chaos and unrest.  At the same time, the trickster often brings new knowledge, wisdom and new insights.

Examples of Tricksters

Let’s consider some common Tricksters.  Classic Trickster figures include Loki, Hermes, Coyote and Sun Wukong the Monkey King.  Loki is considered a Trickster God in Norse Mythology, an associate of Thor.  Sometimes Loki helps and sometimes he makes trouble, dressing in disguises and causing others harm.  Hermes from Greek mythology is known for stealing, tricking people but also known as messenger of the gods and one who protected and shepherded those into the underworld.  Hermes is one of only a few gods who were able to enter and leave the underworld without hindrance (able to traverse liminal spaces…).  Old Man Coyote in the Crow tribes (and Winnebago cycle, the coyote named Wakdjunkaga) often impersonated The Creator while also stealing fire to help humans.  Perhaps he is an ancestor of a certain Wile E. Coyote of cartoon fame?  He is a bit of a trickster, no?  Finally, there is Sun Wukong the Monkey King from Chinese and Buddhist lore.  Sun Wukong was endowed with supernatural powers including immense strength and the ability to shape-shift.  Hanuman, the monkey god of India shares many of Sun Wukong’s attributes.  Other more modern Tricksters include Robin Hood, Dracula, Jack Sparrow, Puck and Bugs Bunny.

Learning from the Trickster Manifesting in Your Life…

There are several overlapping archetypes that I believe bear mentioning here.  The Trickster, The Fool, The Magician, The Villain and The Destroyer are closely related in typology.  The Fool for instance tends to be misunderstood, reminds us of the importance of humor and playfulness, helps us see unconventional perspectives and the absurdities of modern life, and often encourages entropy and disorder.  The Magician tends to be linked with shapeshifting, is known for encouraging others to accept transformation and change, teaches us to connect parts of self to become an integrated whole, helps make inner and outer realities more visible and connected, and aims for making more of the unconscious conscious.  While The Magician archetypal figure can often change physical reality, The Fool cannot.  The Fool can change our perceptions of reality; perhaps sometimes that is more important.

The Trickster is also notable in his tendency to exist within the liminal space.   The Trickster archetype often appears in moments of passage, rupture, and transformation, helping us integrate apparently irreconcilable oppositions within ourselves and in life.  In this sense, there may lessons to be learned from noticing how and when The Trickster presents itself in your own life. 

The Trickster archetype—in all of its irrepressible charm, ability to create and solve problems and constant pressing of boundaries—speaks to the struggles and perseverance of human beings.  Carol Pearson, author of The Hero Within, provides an interesting quote regarding lessons from The Trickster, she notes “the well-developed Trickster helps us know how to do what we want; Shadow-Trickster lies about what is required for survival.”   We must always be careful of the Shadow-Trickster for he may tell us things like our feelings will be too much to bear if we do not numb out on drink or drugs, or tells us intimate relationships are a threat to our identity, or that we have to work all the time and never take time for ourselves.  She goes on to say “the best way to free oneself from a Shadow-Trickster is to befriend it, and in doing so… begin to develop in oneself the Wise-Fool.”

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Carl G. Jung’s work often centered around the very idea of unifying opposites that we find in the lotus.

Namely, Jung draws our attention to the many polarities within the Self:  masculine-feminine, light-dark, conscious-unconscious, spirit-nature, positive-negative.  Jung also explored the polarities found in mythologies of the world, identifying universal archetypes that are often opposites (example:  The Hero vs. The Trickster).  Jung asserts that a big part of the individuation process is becoming aware of the polarities and opposites within oneself and working to unify or balance them.

Jung goes on to posit that these opposite aspects of self are archetypal in nature and even these qualities of self have light and shadow aspects and so can easily be out of balance.  Jung calls for people to acknowledge these opposites within Self and work towards reconciling them.  The balance of feminine and masculine of which Jung speaks are, of course, distinct and different from gender roles or biological sex.

So how does one go about integrating the polarities of Self that Jung refers to??  I think part of that answer lies in a more modern psychologist, Marsha Linehan, the founder of DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  In order to effect lasting change, Ms. Linehan suggests we must begin to think dialectically.  Dialectical thinking is all about balancing, or sitting with, opposites; in this case, the opposites of change versus acceptance.


We must accept what is; accept ourselves without judgment.  Freedom from suffering requires we accept rather than resist reality.  If we have a wish to integrate opposites, to change was is to what will be, we have to want that change as well as accept what currently is.  Just as we have to learn to see the lotus as a whole plant and not just the blossom or roots; we have to learn to see the self as a whole being, not just full of all positive with no shadow side, or all feminine with no masculine.

What Jung is asking us to do is to first accept shadow and light that exist within ourselves and then learn to integrate them as best we can.  I believe integration requires the kind of dialectical thinking presented in Linehan’s model.  The lotus is a great symbolic reminder of the polarities in ourselves and how we must learn to grapple with them.

current music faves:  the kills, the ting tings, tori amos (as always)

current show faves:  how i met your mother, grey’s anatomy, breaking bad

breakfast today:  fiber one honey cluster cereal, turkey sausage with syrup on top, hot apple cider

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