Myth & Movie: Loki in the Information Age
A few weeks ago my website was hacked, and I realized I’d been the victim of the Trickster—an ancient archetype which is alive and kicking even in the information age.
Actually, I’d go so far as to say the information age, where the internet and media rule the way we communicate and even how we live, is the Trickster’s dream come true.
Virtually every culture that develops a mythology has a Trickster. In Ancient Greece, he was Hermes. In Native American tradition, he’s Coyote. In West Africa, he’s Eshu. In Ancient Egypt, he was Seth. In Norse mythology, he’s Loki.
The Trickster is usually a male, but he has no problem cross dressing, and can even shape-shift into a female if he wants. He’s really good at shape-shifting.
He likes to cause trouble. Sometimes he does it because he wants to make a point, and sometimes he’s just being a prick. He can get downright malicious for very little reason. He loves breaking rules—not just to prove that he can, but to prove that all our carefully structured versions of reality are really just ideas and things we’ve agreed upon, and the Trickster doesn’t give a rat’s hoot about any of that. He likes to knock down the mighty—again, not just to prove he can, but to prove that all our self-importance and security is hollow.
It was the Trickster who sank the Titanic. And he probably wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t named the thing “Titanic” and called it unsinkable.
He’s also good at making you think you see something, though it’s not really there. He’s a master of illusion.
However, the Trickster’s brand of magic doesn’t actually change the substance of things. He just changes the surface and what we see. It’s like David Blaine or Criss Angel “levitating.” Not like an Eastern monk who’s practiced meditation all his life and sometimes levitates. One is a performance, an attempt to wow us and manipulate our perception. The other is a result of a level of spiritual mastery.
We get numerous demonstrations of the Trickster’s illusion hijinks in Marvel’s Thor movies, as Loki projects his image here and there, using it to deceive enemies, friends, and victims alike. He uses it to make himself look stronger than he is, when he’s really dejected and sad.
Another way we see Loki use his powers of manipulation is when he enslaves people’s minds. (Okay, technically he used the scepter for that . . . but a Trickster could do it without the scepter, by making people believe something and give their whole hearts to it.)
You really can’t trust a thing that comes out of Trickster’s mouth. You can’t trust a thing he shows you. BUT that doesn’t mean he’s lying all the time. All it means is that you can’t tell the lies from the truth.
He’s behind internet hacking. Also, he’s behind spam and annoying pop-ups.
He’s behind catfishing—this is a prime example of Trickster doing his thing. You never really know who you’re talking to online.
He’s also behind trolling. Trolls don’t make constructive comments. They just look for ways to be cruel and cause trouble.
Then there is the information itself—the defining factor of the information age—that we find online and in the mass media.
The Trickster loves this.
I think that archetypes are not only psychological; they’re spiritual.
One example is how Mr. Trickster shows up in Kabbalistic spirituality. The following quote comes from a Kabbalistic writer. (I’m not going to get into Kabbalah here. It’s enough to know that the Trickster archetype shows up in the Kabbalah, in the area of study that deals with how we perceive the world.)
“ . . . Most people form their model of what the world (in the large) is like via the media. There are a few individuals who travel the world sufficiently to have a model based on personal experience, but for most people, their model of what most of the world is like is formed by newspapers, radio, and television; that is, the media have become an extended (if inaccurate) instrument of perception.”
We can add social media and the internet to this mix.
So we form our understanding on the world based on the information we receive.
Trickster has a lot of fun skewing, misinterpreting, misrepresenting, undermining, and flat out lying about that information.
Remember that video that went viral awhile back, which demonstrated how it was possible to charge your iPod with an onion and some Gatorade? The guy who made this video went into a lot of detail about how and why the process works. And people watched it and said to themselves, “WOW. I have to try that.” Even though the video’s description clearly says, “This is a parody.”
So we just need to be responsible about the information we believe, right?
We just need to research everything we come across and make sure it comes from a verifiable, trustworthy source.
Except, that’s just what the Trickster’s expecting us to do.
We can and should check the sources of our information. But we should also know that Trickster is going to lead us to more sources we can’t quite be sure of. He’s going to send us down a virtual rabbit hole seeking the information that contains the truth.
David Cain at Raptitude put it really well when he wrote his piece “How to Decrease the Amount of Bullshit on the Internet.”
“If a friend or social media acquaintance tells you, ‘Sugar is poisonous! Didn’t you know that?!’ and cites Dr So-and-So’s book as a source, do I need to read that book if I want to know if that’s true?
“If I do read it, for the book to verify anything to me, I need to consult its sources, which probably amount to a pile of other books and some studies. Then I need to not only read these books and studies, but to understand them, and the efficacy of their methodologies, and by this point I’m hundreds of hours in the hole and way out of my depth. And I’ve only just begun, because it’s only fair to repeat this process with the books of each of Dr So-and-So’s detractors, and even then there’s no guarantee that any of them are right.”
One thing Trickster especially loves debunking is the idea of security.
If I can just check my information and my sources—if I can just do enough research—I won’t be wrong, and I won’t get egg on my face. I will be secure, and won’t suffer. This shows up in different ways:
• My passwords are secure.
• I have a steady source of income.
• I have a solid education which will guarantee me a position in the world.
• There is so much security at my art museum no team of Danny Ocean’s could ever pull a heist.
• I know right from wrong.
• I eat healthy food.
• I am a scientist.
• I am a faithful Christian.
• I have a strong relationship with my spouse.
• The Titanic is unsinkable.
• The dress is blue and black; I saw it.
• The dress is white and gold; I saw it.
The Trickster can undermine any of that on any day of the week. His motto, always delivered with a sly smirk, is, “Are you sure about that?”
The Trickster reminds us that nothing is certain. Nothing secure. Not even what we see. And certainly not what we think we know.
But I’ve found it can be helpful to keep in mind, as I navigate the world and surf online, that all I’m really looking at is second hand information and people trying to influence what I think and how I experience the world. Simply being aware of that can help me maintain an even keel when my website is hacked, when I deal with internet trolls, and when friends post BS to social media. It helps me as I try to remember to keep an open mind, but also take everything with a grain of salt. That way I have more freedom to choose my responses to things. A Trickster doesn’t control my experience of the world.
Well, not completely, anyway.
© Leslie Hedrick 2015. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact me to request usage.SUBSCRIBE