Trickster

Though Trickster is often male, this rule-bending, convention-defying figure appears surprisingly often as a sister tot he heroine, raising spirits through her antics. Baubo, from the unrecorded feminine rituals of the Eleusinian Mysteries, is a quintessential trickster. Sometimes also known as Iambe, goddess of indecent speech, Baubo is the goddess of belly laughs and suggestive jokes. When Demeter sits weeping by a fountain in Eleusis, Baubo boldly lifts up her skirts and prances around, fully exposing herself to the goddess. Demeter is forced to laugh at her antics and the earth begins to thaw, heralding Persephone‘s return. Homer‘s Hymn to Demeter relates:

A long time she sat upon the stool without speaking because of her sorrow, and greeted no one by word or by sign, but rested, never smiling, and tasting neither food nor drinks because she pined with longing for her deep-bosomed daughter, until careful Iambe — who pleased her moods in aftertime also — moved the holy lady with many a quip and jest to smile and laugh and cheer her heart.[ii]

Only the Orphic version carries a more uncensored view of events, saying “She dres aside her robes and showed a sight of shame.”[iii] Baubo was also associated with the Eleusian Mysteries and fertility rites, as women told ribald jokes to awaken the earth to fertility.

A similar incident appears in the Japanese tale “The Mother and the Demon.” A mother and a daughter jump in a boat to flee from a demon. When he drinks up the lake, destroying the font of feminine power that preserves them, they instantly retaliate. They flip up their skirts, in other versions breaking wind or pounding spoons on their hips: The outrageous physical act makes the demon laugh and spew up the lake.[v]

These dirty goddesses offer a sacred sexuality and with it something even more precious: laughter. Thus Baubo teases Demeter out of her mourning and Ama No Uzume evokes curiosity in Amaterasu. At the same time, laughter fills the entire body, making it shake beyond control. It is healing, revitalizing, overpowering, like the upset and reversal that mark creation. Many creators are tricksters, and vice versa. Thus these goddesses, with their taboo -crossing and rule breaking, offer unmitigated pleasure mixed with joy and creative energy.



[i] Patricia Monaghan, The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (New York: Dutton, 1981), 42.

[ii] Homer, “Hymn to Demeter,” trans. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, Perseus Digital Library Project, ed. Gregory R. Crane, 2008, Tufts University, <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu>.

[iii] Clement of Alexandria, Athenians and the Rest of Greece, trans. G.W. Butterworth, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard U P, 1919), 41.

[iv] Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: New York, 1998), 336.

[v] A.B. Chinen, Waking the World: Classic Tales of Women and the Heroic Feminine (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1996), 176.