Reading the Trickster’s Footsteps

  • Patrick Laude


The trickster demiurge has been interpreted by anthropologists in three main ways. The first interpretation, which is perhaps the most common, sees the phenomenon as a grotesque release from the pressures and structures of normative society. Along this line of interpretation, the fact is highlighted that American Indian societies are characterized by very strong and stern social and psychological imperatives that make it necessary to integrate a kind of “safety valve” in order to ease the functioning of the group. This sociological approach accounts for the pervasive presence of the trickster as a beneficial and cherished character that brings laughter, joy, and freedom. This view of things may be bolstered, to a point, by reference to the parallel institution of the sacred clown in Amerindian and other traditional societies. The testimony of some Native American witnesses would tend to buttress such a psychosocial approach, as illustrated by Black Elk’s account in John G. Neihardt’s book. Commenting on the heyoka ceremony, which is characterized by absurd and foolish antics on the part of the heyokas, Black Elk remarks on the compensatory function of clowns when he mentions that “when people are already in despair, maybe the laughing face is better for them.”


Safety Valve Normative Hierarchy Psychosocial Approach Normative Society Narrative Voice 
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© Patrick Laude 2005

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  • Patrick Laude

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