Inebriation is, as we all know, a pretty goddamn good time.
It puts a spin on the world — physically and metaphorically — and opens doors on behavior both undiscovered and sublimated. Quiet people become loud, sad people get happy, introverts magically extrovert, and otherwise sensible folks propose marriage. Drunken behaviors are legion, and drunken extroverts have their mythological counterparts.
The Trickster figure spans, in dozens of guises, many cultures, ancient and contemporary. Hellenic Greeks knew him as Hermes. Among various sub-Saharan African tribes, he was called Eshu. The Navajo knew the Trickster as Coyote. The Ancient Chinese called him No Cha, and early Hindus named her Ratri. In the Norselands, among the Vikings, he was Loki. Today, we can point to Bugs Bunny or Johnny Knoxville.
Trickster is part jester and part con-artist. He’d rather borrow than buy, and will steal what he wants because earning is odious. Trickster represents the impish grifter, the mystical charlatan, the grinning illusionist that is a facet of all our personalities whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Humans (with the possible exceptions of Ralph Reed and Mr. Rogers) drift easily and happily toward thievery and deceit. Populations with a sense of humor and irony honor this important aspect of human nature. Those who have forgotten or sublimated their sneaky tendencies put their stock in surveillance cameras, America’s Most Wanted, and Total Information Awareness.
The Trickster is the adversary of walled-in thinking. He gives a royal wedgie to the exemplars of strident normality and dull pastel pleasures. He doesn’t shop at Target, drink at the Starbuck’s trough, or eat at any establishment with the word “bistro” in its name. Trickster doesn‘t watch TV, and if he did, he sure as shit wouldn’t watch American Idol. (Note to Idol contestants: slithering emotionlessly up and down the scale isn’t art. It’s pseudo-aesthetic wanking. Stop it.) He would never don a pair of expand-a-belt slacks, and will jeer at those who do. He breaks housing covenants, and with a wily twinkle in his eye, gets his neighbors to do the same. It is his laugh that echoes behind stock-market failures, and he is the belch that accompanies a statesman’s funeral.
Remember this, however, before putting Trickster on too high a pedestal. Trickster sometimes gets caught. A slip of the tongue, or some random twitch in an otherwise foolproof plan, blows his cover. The community is on to him. They get cranky, track the little fucker down and chastise him most severely. The people want to make sure he never does it again — whatever it was — and Trickster hangs his head and vows to reform.
He hangs his head so no one can see him smiling and making faces at his accusers. Trickster might claim to reform, but will he? Never. The next plot will be even more intricate, more subversive, and so effervescently gleeful it cannot possibly fail. For Trickster, plots are like breath.
Let’s say you embody some of Trickster’s traits, and buy into his nudge-nudge, wink-wink, philosophy. If you do see your reflection down in that pool, then chances are it is this philosophy that glazes your neurological Cinnabon, and gets you through to the end of the day with your smile intact. Conversely, if you think you are nothing like a thief, hold yourself to be above-board and honest in all affairs, and aspire toward such wispy goals as “pillar of the community,” then there is a very good chance that your suits cost more than a reasonable car and you wear a WWJD bracelet without ever having read the Bible. But, let’s say you are honest with yourself, and can allow room for a little subversion in your life, a little trickery. If so, what substance is your bestest buddy, your This Way to Civil Disobedience signpost?
You know. Of course you do. Rare is the day you don’t taste the stuff, turning to it to replace chaos with order, and black angst with aquamarine contentment. I’m talking alcohol, strong drink, what the Pilgrims called “heated waters.” Booze is the Funky Chicken of beverages, the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins of tummy fillers — Über Liquid.
From time to time, Trickster spins his webs with sober concentration, but this ability is a rarity. More often than not he takes his plots with a twist. He likes to have a small nudge in the right direction. Call it focus-in-a-pint-glass.
Liquor is the world’s jolliest cattle prod. By its nature, it is unruly. It’s a smart alec and a giggler at inside jokes. It can tell the truth (i.e. the sudden revelation of meaning in one’s life) and can lie like a senator (i.e. beer goggles). It opens doors, enjoys puns, and if you leave it unsupervised it’ll snort your last line and blame it on the cat. Drunkenness is nothing if not unpredictable. It’s a tad non-Euclidean, too, so can’t be tracked on an abacus. It’s got your back, but forges its own trail. It’s a fair-weather companion, but you better make your own forecast, or there’ll be a really gnarly kind of hell to pay. Never turn your back on the sui generis of the Trickster force.
Of the wide variety of booze cooked up by humans over the centuries, the simplest to make is mead. All you need is some honey, some water, and some time. (For that matter, all you really need to make alcohol is some fruit juice and a mouthful of spit. The sugar transformation will take place even under this most rudimentary recipe, but the resulting concoction probably won’t be terribly tasty.) Mead was probably the first human-made intoxicant, barring potions brewed from various solanaceous psychoactives — peyote, khat, mandrake, poisonous toads, etc. It originated in Mycenae, an ancient Greek city in North East Pelopennesus and the center of the Bronze Age culture. From Mycenae, mead production migrated north through central Europe (flavorful honeywine is still brewed in France), west across the European continent to eastern Asia, and far north into Scandinavia. Lots and lots of stout-hearted drunkards got blitzed on mead thousands of years before beer or grain alcohol appeared on the scene. It was among the Vikings, however, that wild and woolly culture of the North Atlantic (today’s Norway and Denmark), that mead really came into its own. Known as “Nectar of the Gods” or “Ambrosia,” mead was the booze of choice for that ancient and complex society. It was also the liquid of choice, occupying a place of honor above all other beverages, including water, and considered a sacred element of daily life.
Under mead’s influence, the Vikings made epic poetry (think Beowulf, and the other famous Norse Sagas), built ships that will still sail today, created a smallish empire from the frozen hell of the Northlands, and probably, depending on who you trust, sailed to the North American continent hundreds of years before Columbus. The fabled Roman Empire was halted in its tracks upon encountering the Vikings. Bronze swords and fancy battle tactics paled in the face of fur-clad, mead-warped, blond giants swinging six-foot broadswords and singing while they hacked you to pieces. The Romans went back to the British Isles and pestered the Druids and Celts instead.
Viking religion was pantheistic — many compartmentalized deities operating simultaneously under a single divine umbrella. They called their gods reginn or “organizing powers,” a no-nonsense view of religion, one certainly born of the simplicity of intoxication. Many of the Norse gods are familiar to us today. Particular among those are Odin (or Wodin), the Father of the Gods, his son Thor, the Thunder God, and Odin’s other son, Thor’s half-brother Loki — the deceiver, the liar, the gameplayer, the plotter.
Loki, as mentioned earlier, functioned as a Trickster figure for the Vikings. His pervue was that of change, randomness, and mishaps. He was a master of disguise, as well, something common to many Tricksters. (Later, after Christianity had oozed into Scandinavia and taken all the fun out of Viking religion, he became known as the Father of Lies, an obvious reference to Satan, and one that grounds this tricky god much too firmly in a tedious Christian good/evil paradigm and steals Loki’s laughter.) Classic Norse myth is rife with stories concerning Loki’s attempts to subvert Odin’s authority, and Odin’s retaliatory actions. Often aided by Thor, Odin went to violent extremes to punish his errant kid. After one of Loki’s schemes resulted in the death of the god Baldr, Odin and the other gods took Loki to the Underworld and bound him to a table with ropes made from the intestines of Loki’s own children. Yikes.
The complex depth of Loki’s ruses gives him a position very near the top of the Trickster hierarchy. The guy was a first-class button-pusher, capable of using guile, disguise, and a deft twang on his victim’s heartstrings to get what he wanted. Sometimes he got people out of the way so he could do his thing unhindered, and other times he talked others into doing his bidding for him. He knew the way to his marks’ inner sanctums, the way to manipulate each individual so as to make the mark desire what Loki desired.
One of his tactics, less complicated than some but no less effective, was to get his victim smashed on ambrosia, and then talk that person into doing some mischief. This ploy worked just as well on gods as mortals. What a marvelous theology, huh? Even the gods can have one too many and act irrationally. It’s so unlike Western religion. I mean apart from the water-into-wine thing, Jesus seems to have had the same relationship with booze as Harry Potter has with Draco Malfoy.
The Vikings knew, as is demonstrated in the ways they imagined the divine Tilt-A-Whirl of Valhalla, that people are going to act contrary to the “rules of society.” Like many cultures, ours included, they sometimes enacted brutal punishments for certain infractions. Unlike our culture — a whole buttload unlike it — they also honored some mischievous actions taken while the doer was mind-swimmingly crocked. For example, drinking competitions among Viking warriors were common. Our mushy-spined nation, especially anyone with the nerve to call “sociology” a “science,” would label these contests “macho,” or some other denigrating appellation. In fact, the Viking competitions were victories over unreason. The guy who drained the most goblets wasn’t simply rattling his sword, no. He was giving a wet willie to the Unknown, and living to tell the tale. (Note: when it comes to intoxication, always question the word of a sociologist. Far too many of them analyze lives they have never lived, and wrap it in a strangling feather boa of academic jargon — the stuff that passes for wisdom in our wonderful country. The academy loves nothing more than to suck the life from an activity. The Eight-Pound Oreck Vacuum doesn’t suck like an associate professor staring down the barrel of a publish-or-perish 12 gauge. (But anyway…)
There’s an old saying that rules are made to be broken. I’ve got no idea where it came from, but it’s a fact of monolithic proportions. Can anyone still refer to America as the “land of the free” with a straight face? Unlikely. No, our freedoms are drying up and stiffening like the upper lip of a Botox-shot actress. Every time an election is held another freedom (or dozen) takes a body blow or is terminated with Extreme Prejudice. The land of the free is rapidly mutating into the Land of the Safe, the Land of the Quotidian, the Land of the Lost, and not a Sleestack in sight.
How did we get here? How is it that we’ve consistently elected people who view the Constitution and Bill of Rights — two of the great statements of purpose ever committed to parchment — as just another wad of Charmin with which to attend the Populist posterior?
We are here because we have forgotten our Tricksters. We’ve traded our sense of humor on eBay. Our culture has become so small, so narrow, that we can no longer smile when someone gets our goat. Know why crime seems to get worse every year? Because every years there are more rules and laws for us to run afoul of. We can barely draw breath without being ensnared by a slimy governmental tentacle, and the saddest part is that not only do few people seem to notice it’s happening, but that they apparently believe that putting our civil rights on Slim-Fast is a welcome addition to the national game plan. Freedom is wasted on people who refuse, or are too frightened, to act freely.
“Well, golly, y’all, that sure sounds like a hoot, but gee-whiz. It’s against the law, right? Well then, even if it isn’t, it’s not what productive people do. There’s a new Touched By An Angel on tonight. I think I’ll do that instead.”
The 1960s was a time of beautiful, face-up, long overdue change for this country. That those victories are currently being burned out and plowed under is a hideous turn of events. More importantly, however, is the lesson we can learn now. The 1960s worked because for a few short years Americans rediscovered their Trickster Consciousness. Think Woodstock (the brown acid, notwithstanding). Think Timothy Leary. Think Ken Kesey and the Pranksters. In the 1960s, America got Tricky, and for that instant saw all of its possibilities. Then, as Hunter Thompson has famously noted, the wave crashed and rolled back. Crashed and rolled back into the ocean where all waves are born.
It’s time for another wave, and who is the best choice to Hang-Ten on that bad boy than a bunch of outraged drunks? LSD is too hard to come by and of iffy quality. Grass makes you too amiable and sofa-dependent. Designer drugs are scarred with a yuppie taint. We are left with booze, but what an ally! Booze and boozeheads have been changing the world for 10,000 years. Booze is the lump of cholesterol in the flow of the middle-class Artery. Booze is slam dancing in a world that polkas its cares away.
You are going out to the bar tonight (you are, don’t argue). Just before you go in, take a moment to think about the Trickster. Don your horns, as it were. Get some little wings on your feet. Hatch a plot.
You know that corporate yes-man that’s always hanging around your tavern trying to impress people with his money? The guy who wears expensive, yet still hideous clothes, and pontificates to anyone who looks his way like he’s the Bal Shem Tov? Irritating little prick, ain’t he? See how many drinks his wallet will buy for you while you pretend he knows shit from Shinola.
How about that woman who shows up every Ladies Night and parlays her flirtatious smile for pints? Remember her? How much have you dropped on her just to have a simple conversation? Well, now it’s her turn. Flip her grift back on itself, and see if her need won’t wet your whistle. Six rounds ought to do it.
Or that one friend you have? You know, he drinks like a Kennedy then pours over the check like he’s cracking the Enigma code in an effort to pay only his part. Doesn’t matter how many drinks you ordered for him. He only wants to pay for what he asked for himself. Stick that greedy troglodyte with the whole tab and see how many blocks away you can hear him howl.
Get them to like doing things for you. Once they think it’s their idea, the sky is your oyster. Think of it as honing your plotting skills before moving on to bigger fish. With sharpened abilities you can take on a congressman, a PAC, or a swarm of prohibitionist tse-tse flies, and scam them first. All they have for defense is their tragic sense of High Moral Dudgeon. You, on the other hand, have the Great Trickster backing you up — history, myth, and archetypal power. You might get caught every now and again, but you will learn from those times. You won’t make the same mistake twice, and that makes you dangerous.
When you get loaded, dip into the bath of intoxication. You are acting as an avatar. The old ways are working through you to advance their difficult ideas. Trickster won’t hate you if you fail to make a score. No, he’ll keep trying until he’s opened your eyes to the Cornucopia of Maybes. Your job is to listen, and you either will or you won’t. It’s your call. Trickster knows that if there is an audience for the Backstreet Boys, there are plenty of minds around longing for a subversive mission. Try, for a while, being Loki instead of Thor. Con, disguise, deceive, and disseminate harmless fictions. America is already too full of lies that hurt. Grab yourself a big ol’ peacock feather and tickle Social Mores until they pee.
Life shouldn’t be safe. Life should be fun. Trick someone into following the Fun Path. If you succeed even a single time, History and the Heavens will buy your next round.
Unless, of course, they are only kidding.