Reality Checking—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, February 2023
The Many Faces of the Trickster
by: Brent Raynes
More and more researchers in the UFO field seem to be recognizing and attempting to more deeply define and reconcile the complex role played by the so-called trickster. The trickster has repeatedly and annoyingly cropped up in the parapsychological field for over a century and for many, many more centuries has been described in much supernatural folklore as well as in shamanic traditions. The shape-shifting tricksters of yesteryear, often appeared as animal-like forms, although they can run the gamut of archetypal representations of more human appearances too, like the Virgin Mary, angels, demons, djinn, etc. Today in ufology our contactee/abductee accounts flourish with the insectoids, reptilians, greys, and even Nordic types, along with a huge cast of others, who can also shape-shift as in the “screen memories” involving deer and owls one moment who may become various updated humanoid type alien forms the next.
It was Fortean author and investigator John A. Keel who tried to give his overview on the trickster in this paragraph in his 1975 classic The Eighth Tower: “Obviously there is some kind of intelligence behind all these manifestations. It is very mischievous, with a great sense of humor. Would beings from some distant galaxy travel hundreds of light years to play such jokes on us? Parapsychologists devoted to poltergeist cases (a poltergeist is a noisy, troublesome but invisible ‘ghost’) have noted this same kind of joke-playing. After investigating many poltergeist cases, zoologist Ivan Sanderson compared their mentality with that of a small child or an animal like a monkey. In my own peculiar adventures with people claiming to be in contact with the UFO entities, I found that the representatives of that superior technology in the sky were astonishingly stupid, had a wild, even vicious sense of humor, and also had furious tempers like the devils, demons, and Valkyries of old.”
“I always have to remind myself of how memetic the phenomenon is,” Fortean researcher Peter Jordan, who had become a good friend of John Keel, stated in a recent interview with me. “When I was involved with poltergeistry so many times phenomenon that would occur would be imitative. Sometimes they would see people who were almost like spiritual doppelgangers of members of the family. Someone would see someone who they thought was their brother standing or coming though the room only to go to look and see that the brother is fast asleep in the adjustment bedroom. There would be dogs, sometimes phantom dogs that would appear. People would hear voices and it would be voices of people they recognized, that weren’t home at the time.”
Author and parapsychologist George P. Hansen attended Keel’s New York Fortean Society meetings from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. He wrote The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001), a quintessential book that delved deeply into the historic and global trickster phenomenon. He pursued the trickster across innumerable fields, be it anthropology, folklore, sociology, semiotics, the occult, parapsychology, cryptozoology, shamanism, as well as ufology, and he had a good bit to say about John Keel.
“Keel spoke frequently with UFO contactees who reported receiving mental messages from flying saucers,” Hanson wrote. “Much of the time they made no sense, but sometimes the messages seemed telepathic. Keel would think of a question, and immediately one of his stable of contactees would call him on the phone with the answer; at other times they seemed precognitive and predicted what would happen to him. The contactees began prophesying a large power blackout for December 15 . A number of their other predictions failed to occur, but this was persistent. The blackout didn’t happen, but on that date a bridge at Point Pleasant, West Virginia collapsed at rush hour and killed more than 30 people. Keel had known some of the victims, and the entire string of events shook him. He saw much of it as evil. It wasn’t until years later that he wrote the book [The Mothman Prophecies], and only with the prodding of an editor.”
Hansen also cited Keel’s The Eighth Tower. He addresses how the trickster is associated with destructing, boundary crossing, and blurring distinctions, pushing us to reevaluate and rethink many aspects of our social, cultural, scientific and spiritual lives and beliefs. Nothing is off limits or too sacred not to be touched upon by the trickster. Hansen wrote: “After deep involvement with Fortean research, investigator John Keel wrote The Eighth Tower asking not: ‘Does God exist?’ but rather the much more disturbing question: Is God sane? Encounters with the supernatural can be profoundly unsettling and provoke questions that raise grave doubts about the legitimacy of religious and scientific authority.” Peter Jordan spoke to me about how besides the witnesses, researchers can both become disturbed and victimized by their involvement in the field. “Standing in a particular location where someone has experienced something, regardless of what it is, whether it was a sasquatch, a UFO sighting, a close encounter, spontaneous human combustion, or whatever it is, it makes its mark on you, and that can take its toll. Especially if you become too emotionally engaged in these particular experiences.”
Peter even used John Keel as an example. “If you look back at some of the correspondence that Keel was having with other researchers in the field, it shows this mounting paranoia which was coming, from what? Things like maybe a medium or psychic out on Long Island? Moon Owl? Or maybe its because you have pranksters like Jim Moseley. Some of the things he did almost bordered on cruelty. And Gray Barker wasn’t too far behind. And when those two got together and they started drinking, all hell would break loose, and you didn’t know what they were going to do. And Keel was somebody they knew they could victimize pretty easily because during this time with MIB experiences and the Mothman, doppelgangers, and all these things taking place, and telephones going click and hearing other voices on a phone that shouldn’t be there, finding taps on your phone – just endless. It was just easy to take someone like that and sort of make them even crazier. And the point of all of that is one has to be very careful that you don’t self-victimize, that you don’t constantly allow yourself to be frightened all of the time.”
A few months ago, in a chat with my good friend Tennessee psychologist and author Dr. Gregory Little, he shared how some decades ago, when he was initially visiting UFO witnesses and investigating abductees, and doing some regression hypnosis, he started to realize that “this is not what it appears to be” and that “something is amiss.” He continued: “There’s clearly something very real going on but whatever it is it’s being concealed. And that’s like the Native American trickster which conceals its real appearance and its real nature. You don’t know what it is. So, in order to understand like a Native American trickster that actually has a lot of knowledge, and a lot of beneficial things can come from interacting with it, you have to get past the trickster part first, meaning you can’t really be pulled in by it. I don’t mean fooled by it. But you can’t be trapped by it. The trickster will trap you a lot like a spider that’s making a web. The web is alluring and good looking, but you can get trapped by it. So that’s what I feel has gone on with the UFO field for a long time.” “In psychology, you get trapped by your own beliefs. If you believe they’re extraterrestrial that is what you’ll focus on. You will ignore reports of paranormal stuff. I vividly recall Walt Andrus, who was then the head of MUFON, coming to Memphis and saying that the paranormal stuff had nothing to do with UFOs. That the abductions that appear to be almost spiritual in nature have nothing to do with UFOs. What were the UFOs to him? Well, they were physical alien craft and he just wanted to know what their propulsion is and what they were doing.” My wife Joan is part Cherokee and we have participated over the years in a variety of Native ceremonies and rituals. In a private conversation that I had with a revered medicine man named Bobby Lake-Thom, the author of Native Healer, Spirits of the Earth, and Call of the Great Spirit, I was telling him of some of my experiences. I had one that truly puzzled me where I perceived a Native American blanket of unknown origin that appeared in my bedroom on two separate occasions, several weeks apart, but later each time would be gone without a trace. In fact, the last time I saw the blanket it disappeared right before my very eyes!
What Bobby told me reminded me some of Greg’s observations on the trickster. “Either you had some kind of mischievous spirit that you picked up some place that was like playing games with you, kind of to test you out and see how your intuitive powers are, or even as a trickster form it might have come in to try and teach you how to develop your intuitive powers. That or you could have been projecting this mentally, seeing another form of reality that exists.”
What could an interactive trickster intelligence wish to make clear to us?
Lesson number one would appear to indicate that our understanding of truth and reality is incomplete. The Reality Game (as the late author Brad Steiger once called it) demonstrates, to those aware and paying attention, a mindset that may be capable of discerningly and critically thinking beyond our culturally and socially conditioned “roof-brain chatter,” as the author Joseph Chilton Pearce called it.
It’s time to quit playing the Reality Game with those displaying a monkey’s mentality and acknowledge the complex and often overwhelming, unanswerable seeming nature of what lies before us, and strive to take, as best as we may be capable of, a grounded, objective and unbiased attitude and approach.
Then, the notorious Trickster, may shed his confusing and deceptive masks and forms and become a Teacher more worthy of a title that truly embodies truth and understanding. Otherwise, it’s more of the same, which in ufology hasn’t gotten us very far thus far.
Keel pointed out a good half a century ago that these anomalous experiences often conform to our expectations. We need to look beyond the archetypal appearances we have been conditioned to perceive as literal reality and recognize our own big role in unconsciously following the archetypal Trickster’s nonsensical, misleading, and disturbing façade as the literal truth.
As for the big question is God sane, let’s flip it around and take a hard look at the human ape-man looking back at ourselves in the mirror. In large measure the Trickster is us as we repeatedly often adopted and allowed false versions and narratives of what was supposedly reality and truth to dominate our beliefs.
It seems we must strive to break the cycle between ourselves and the confusing and reflective it. Though the yellow brick road is incredibly inviting and hypnotic, we must seek detours and, as the late Rosemary Ellen Guiley recommended, try and expose who the Oz behind the curtain really is.
Who is game?