Archetypes / C.G.Jung

Crazy Wisdom – the Archetype of the Fool, the Clown, the Jester and the Trickster.

When I lived in California I listened often to the KFOG radio commentator Wes (“Scoop”) Nisker who happened to be also a comedian:  “If you don’t like the news … go out and make some of your own”, was his frequent catchphrase.  Comedians are often called jester, fool, trickster and clown. Very recently many European ( foolish) fools call an Italian comedian a clown. Because he did not like the news, and made them himself. All of above those terms are nearly universally recognized patterns of characters – Jungian Archetypes.  Every of this upcoming four archetypes challenge conventional wisdom differently, offering different Crazy Wisdom.

C.G. Jung stressed the point that archetypes are not inherited only collective patterns of potential representation. When they are touched by the light of the conscious mind they may become in the lower plane instincts and the higher realm images. That, while it is the core of the matter, can said simpler.  First instincts transport in an instant information and trigger predefined reaction and save the soldier’s life.  Second, symbols do the same as images – they convey a message and transport it instantly on many layers.

A picture is a fact. – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Lets face it, Archetypes are numerous and often ambiguous under the Jungian folk – worse  the Fool, the Clown, the Jester and the Trickster are often interchanged in common language. So lets the sort them out.


BEPPE GRILLO, satirist, blogger and protester has staged one the greatest coups de theatre in Italian political history and als put off  uniso named as most dangerous Clown

BEPPE GRILLO, satirist, blogger and protester has staged one the greatest coups de theatre in Italian political history unison named as most dangerous Clown ever

The clown is the most lovable  human and timeless. He tries hard and fails pathetically. Lets face it, he encourages us laugh at ourselves, because in a way we all are clowns. The clown does not need words, just by mime Charley Chaplin managed to get the awkwardness of modern times across. They even outsmart the philosopher Wittgenstein who wrote in Tractatus … Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent – Clown mainly are silent and are not. Like Max Frisch’s “Gantenbein” put on the blindman’s stick and glasses, the Clown puts his mask on to either laugh at the ridiculous masks of life, or to cut through the social shams and reveal our hypocrisy in an acceptable way. This makes clowns wise, because they can see through who we are and what people do. Their talent is to reveal such things to us.  Take the mentioned Beppe Grillo, his storming finish in the Italian general election is not only turning Italy upside down, but threatens to do the same across the EU. The “Clowns” Five Star Movement, just a blogger’s favorite four years ago has now 150 members of parliament. Why? Because he showed the Italian emperors without clothes.

But the clown has another aspect as a man – usually the clown is male – of sorrows. He leads us to tears as often as he leads us to laughter and reveals our modern prehistoric tribal society. The clown mirrors the basic (and personal unconscious) functional complex Persona (literal mask) and shows us the wonderful and tragic human feelings under those  masks we might wear and see in daily life. Stupidity, wisdom love, life, loss, success and failure, all have their deeply human side.  The traditional circus is no longer in vogue. Once emblematic of optimism, fun and entertainment it now carries an air of shabbiness and decay. The 1960’s were probably the last heyday of  fun and positivism. Since MacDonald’s Corporation launched its hamburger chain television commercials in 1963 with Ronald MacDonald, the world’s most recognizable clown, there has been a slow decline in the popularity of clowns. Thanks to the crisis and politicians the clown is back – if not even in charge.

C. G. Jung had a special Swiss sense of humor (on YouTube even in English) and impressive smile, but in his works one finds no clown. Apart from the essay on the “trickster”archetype, which is not a Clown at all and not particularly cheerful written.  For the first and last time I give credit to Freud who took himself far too serious but handled the Clown in the still readable essays : his failures, his wit and sense of humour (“Die Antwort, warum wir über die Bewegungen der Clowns lachen, würde lauten, weil sie uns übermäßig und unzweckmäßig erscheinen”). Well, Freud’s cultural back ground provided not only many outstanding scientists, intellectuals but certainly the sharpest and  legendary humor – Chuzpe.   This one I took from Wikipedia. Two Rabbis argued late into the night about the existence of God, and, using strong arguments from the scriptures, ended up indisputably disproving His existence. The next day, one Rabbi was surprised to see the other walking into the Shul for morning services:  “I thought we had agreed there was no God,” he said. “Yes, what does that have to do with it?” replied the other. That leads us to the cynical Jester.


We have all seen how an appropriate and well-timed joke can sometimes influence even grim tyrants. . . . The most violent tyrants put up with their clowns and fools, though these often made them the butt of open insults.—Desiderius Erasmus, Praise of Folly

We have all seen how an appropriate and well-timed joke can sometimes influence even grim tyrants. . . . The most violent tyrants put up with their clowns and fools, though these often made them the butt of open insults.
—Desiderius Erasmus, Praise of Folly

Jesters use pen and words, and have the (social) context of a specific time. They operate with wit and criticize, even with cynicism, the weapon of the powerless. For instance, nowadays non-technical Consultants  are Jesters. Like court jesters grew and flourished in the Middle Ages as well-paid attendants of Royal Courts. Power was highly consolidated in medieval times as it is today. The typical Jester is a Management Consultant. They,  just temporarily, move up the social ladder with borrowed authority. They have come from a wide range of backgrounds — from monasteries to universities. The jester is the natural enemy of an overinflated ego (since a jester has one too), which drives on its own importance. They are born nay-sayers, even critical to what is holy to religions and  business. Richard Quest in CNN is a funny Jester; one of the few journalist in the media crowd of mostly foolish fools. Having said that, be reminded, that a Jester will always act in public on behalf of the King he services )and pays for the show).

Resourceful jesters would gather an audience with clever attention-grabbing techniques before the invention of PowerPoint. Added to their wit, most had developed several additional performance skills — they played flutes, danced, juggled, told jokes, did acrobatics and pantomime, performed ropewalks and  tongue twisters, sang and did vocal tricks. Since they have no stake in the power game, Jesters have told Kings and later Managers the truth. As kings and queens’ confidants, jesters often developed deep friendships with them. The royals often became tired of the false compliments and praise from their many lackeys and valued a connection with these offbeat performers, who, between witty wisecracks, would share very valuable insights. After all, many truths have been spoken in jest, and many lies have been spoken in earnest. It better be funny, though – otherwise the Jester loses his head. Perhaps more common was the jester’s role as healer. Medieval doctors believed that human health was controlled by four forces: Sanguine, Melancholia, Choleric and Phlegmatic, considered emotional states. Although these theories of human mind-body-spirit relationship fell into disrepute after the Renaissance, many have been reexamined in recent times by psychologist C.G. Jung . The idea that laughter aids recovery, long considered evident in Eastern philosophies, is steadily gaining traction in Western medicine so much so that it’s now considered mainstream. Few people would argue that a comedian can also help a group bond by sharing in deep laughter. Philosophers of the East and West were, dreamers, and unconventional wisdom seekers and Ego’s like Shaw, Wittgenstein, C.G. Jung and Nietzsche. The latter three deserve a few words more.

Many have interpreted that Nietzsche believed in a literal death or end of God. Instead, the line points to the western world’s reliance on religion as a moral compass and source of meaning. The true Jester explains in “The Gay Science – Die fröhliche Wissenschaft”:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?

Nietzsche’s works foresaw that the decline of religion, the rise of atheism, and the absence of a higher moral authority would plunge the world into chaos.

Another  small tidbit: The philosopher Wittgenstein (a millionaire by inheritance) gave away all his money just like St. Francis from whom Pope Francis I took his name. The bulk of Wittgenstein’s work deals with logic and language. His view of religion and religious language was a by-product but had significant implications for the understanding of the God exists. In Tractatus he wrote:

“To understand a statement is to know what is the case if it is true.” But we do not know what is the case when someone says that “God sees.”

While theologians spent much time proving the existence of God, and while atheists have done their very best to show how incompatible religious claims are with the ´convential wisdom of common sense and science, both sides always took it for granted that basically religious statements are either true or false. Both Wittgenstein and C.G. Jung were religious, and both declared religious statements simply out of scope. Political theorists have long been frustrated with Jesters. Although they develops profound critiques of society, morality, culture, and religion, it is very difficult to (ab)use them for political implications of their insights. There is a reason for this: skepticism.  Unsettling, that is what Jester do well.

The Fool

Jesus Agent of Change

Jesus Agent of Change

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions says that holy fools subvert prevailing orthodoxy and orthopraxis in order to point to the truth which lies beyond immediate conformity. Or as a monk said in his Sermon rethinking “metanoia” is the beginning of our journey with “authentic” faith in Jesus Christ, not as a U-Turn but as “think further”. In English the closest synonym is repentance, but it is not quite the same. The word repentance implies a “turning away from sin” or in German a form of turning around. This is an incorrect interpretation of biblical doctrine. One must first widen his thinking (metanoia) be critical of orthodoxy.

Let the fool lead the way. The wise and the sacred fool provide truth, balance, play, recreation, destruction, creation, change. Would Buddha live today his followers would be reprogrammed, Jesus would be in jail for subversion and the DEA wold breath down the neck of the Sufi poets. Lao-tse,well we all know the story of Gandhi a contemporary holy fool.  I would even think the new pope comes across as a sacred fool in the media.  They did not think, change comes from obeying rules. The sacred fool is the destroyer of our well-ordered world run by foolish fools. The wise fool is the creator of the new through play. It is by change that we are made new. We are all Phoenixes, capable of rising out of the ashes, if only the holy fool will bring us change.

The fool gets to tell the truth, the hard truths that might cause trouble if anyone else tells them. The fool can get (for while) away with telling the hardest truths just because he is a fool. He speaks in parables and paradoxes, we struggle to understand. He can speak harsh truths and we must listen because he is entertaining in his difference. We must listen because he is a misfit and cannot be held fully responsible . The fool plays and everybody believes that play is not serious so he can accomplish the difficult, controversial issues in play. In the middle ages there was an implicit understanding of this with the belief that joking could help shield one from misfortune and indeed we can understand the truth of this.

Jesus was a sacred fool. At the command of God he came to change the world. He sought to destroy the old structures and bring God’s kingdom, a change of great magnitude. His methods were subversive to the society where he lived. He was viewed as a dangerous fool but like all sacred fools, brought a message of change and hope crashing down empires. When Jesus was betrayed and arrested he said:

Luke 22-52:  “Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns”.

Crazy visionaries as Jesus, the Sufi Poet Rumi,  Buddha, Lao-Tse,  Mahatma Gandhi travelled on a comedic course to enlightenment, representing the collective “Self” – that is the divine.

God has no religion ― Gandhi.

Tao called Tao is not Tao ― Lao-Tse.

“My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.” ― Rumi.


Coyote runs over the ground, warm in his thick fur, while Eagle soars over the wind, and Eagle does the wise thing and does not offer Coyote power anymore, and Coyote is crazy and cheers Eagle up with his tricks.

Coyote runs over the ground, warm in his thick fur, while Eagle soars over the wind, and Eagle does the wise thing and does not offer Coyote power anymore, and Coyote is crazy and cheers Eagle up with his tricks.

The Trickster, often represented as a coyote is no fool. It seems they come from a time, in which there was no good and evil. There is a duality here that often gets expressed in the trickster god being viewed both as hero and villain. Jung has assigned his collective shadows under the name ” Trickster”. According to Jung, the Trickster is a figure whose physical appetites and senses dominate his actions and decisions. His thinking does not rise above his belly or his genitals. Frequently the Trickster figure exhibits gender variability, changing gender roles and engaging in frequent sex practices. Not understanding finer feelings, his responses to other people seem crude, self-centered, cynical and unfeeling. In some of the stories however, the his exploits bring  transformation and he becomes a man instead of an animal. In the Navajo worldview, coyote sickness arises out of activities that distort social relationships like the breaking of a taboo or self-indulgence. It comes from contact with a storm, lightning, a corpse, or a substance outside the natural order of harmony and beauty. Or it comes from losing sight of the Holy Way, contact with ghosts, sorcery, or the intrusion of an evil force.

The Trickster as collective Shadow mirrors the basic ( personal unconscious) archetypes of the shadow experienced in individuation. That denotes the process by which a person becomes a psychological unity connecting  two fundamental psychic aspects, the conscious and the unconscious. The Shadow is the easiest of the archetypes for most persons to experience. We tend to see it in “others.” That is to say, we project our dark side onto others and thus interpret them as “enemies” or as “exotic” presences that fascinate. We see the Shadow everywhere in popular culture. We see it in popular prejudice as well.  Of course, Satan is the great Shadow image of popular religion.  The Shadow is the personification of that part of human, psychic possibility that we deny in ourselves and project onto others. The goal of personality integration is to integrate the rejected, inferior side of our life into our total experience and to take responsibility for it.

Trickster delights in all sorts of pranks mischief and jokes but is not by nature evil, even though the results of his activities are often unpleasant. These activities centre on bringing attention to our own or other people’s often hidden stupidity shams or lies. The Trickster is a shape shifter and so has the possibility of transformation an alchemist and shaman. In mythology, and in the study of folklore and religion, a trickster is a spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal.  In many cultures, (as may be seen in Greek or Norse with Odin or Wotan), the trickster and the culture hero are often combined. Odin’s Germanic predecessor, Wotan, was associated with Mercury (Hermes) by the Romans. Odin and Mercury often deceive and trick.  In Native American mythologies, the coyote (Southwestern United States) or raven (Pacific Northwest and coastal British Columbia) stole like the Greek Prometheus fire from the gods. The trickster is thus an important archetype in the history of man. He is a god, yet he is not. He points out the flaws in carefully constructed societies of man and rebels against authority. Sometimes he pays dearly. Jung said once, ” unfortunately that the so-called civilization has forgotten the trickster”.

Throughout human history the mythological trickster, has played an essential role, the role of change of a therapeutic effect. In many myths the trickster brings a treasure to man, but is it really a treasure? All change has mixed blessings. When the Raven trickster of the Northwest Indians brings fire to the people is he a destroyer or creator? Looking back we say he brought a valuable change. But fire is also dangerous, a change that can and does destroy.

Satan thought as trickster may serve a crucial role. What if instead our understanding of Satan was influenced by the concept of the “trickster” figure, which seems to be present in the Hebrew Bible? Learning to interpret Satan as the ultimate trickster, rather than the embodiment of dualistic Evil, could end blaming the present reality on the metaphysical reality of evil or on the moral depravity of humanity.

For example, Satan in the book of Job leads Job to insights. The Satan who confronted Jesus in the desert in a way helped Jesus, in all his humanity, to assert also his own divinity. Jahweh did listen to Satan, as God did in the case of Job.  Viewing Satan as trickster is not without problems, specifically the ambiguity that exists between Satan and God—an ambiguity that can find its full expression in the trickster figure. Rather than being God’s antithesis, God’s opposite, a certain ambiguity, if not complimentary position, is held by Satan.  If Satan has no power except that given by God, we are left wondering whether evil can come from God, a proposition that the early biblical writers and ancient Church Fathers like Augustine raised.


According to the psychological model of C. G. Jung the archetypes originate in the collective unconscious, described as a repository for all of mankind’s experience and knowledge and are therefore  not available directly — only its images and created patterns can become manifest as symbols potentially unlimited in number and variety. Symbols of God are the core of our culture being the universal patterns of myth, religious symbols and ideas. They can be employed very beneficial in life. I am neither especially crazy, or especially wise. Sometimes my job was to communicate complex issues to those who shuns, even hate it.  Ideally I could get the Crazy Wisdom across with the headline, with a simple picture. I was the Jester on the court.  Senior Managers were the Kings.  The picture is easy understandable, isn’t it? Why? Because I don’t need to explain what a good King  or weak King is or enumerate his virtues or deficits. We know it since  thousands of years, Plato has written a long book about virtues of leaders.

Clown and Jester are paid to entertain or present. Fools and Tricksters unsettle. Foolish fools claim they lead with conventual wisdom.

“silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.” ― Rumi


Wes Nisker, 1990 Crazy Wisdom

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