It’s been a little over a month now since David Bowie passed away; A singer, songwriter, painter, actor and cultural icon that fascinated and inspired many, myself included. There has been a real outpouring of love and remembrances all over the world as a result of his death and I think it’s because we all related to Bowie on some level, connecting to his ever-evolving creativity. One of the reasons I think this is so is because Bowie epitomizes the archetype of the Trickster.
An Archetype is a particular and recurrent theme, motif, model that is universally present. It’s as common in mythology as it is in any individual’s life. (For example, We all have a bit of the trickster within us.) The dictionary definition of archetype is: images, patterns, and symbols that rise out of the collective unconscious and appear in dreams, mythology, and fairy tales.
Let’s take a look at the Trickster archetype and I’m pretty sure you’ll see what I mean.
- The Trickster is a chameleon. Bowie, of course was famous for “shape shifting” or for his chameleon like ability to reinvent himself. David Bowie’s ability to morph into his characters in his early years was compelling – Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Zane, The Thin White Duke, etc.. Bowie himself admitted that there were times where he didn’t know where the character ended and he (aka David Jones) began. Of course, this probably was exacerbated by his well known cocaine addiction in the 70’s.
2. The Trickster is a mischief maker and a provocateur. A trickster will sometimes break societal rules and mock authority.
3. A Trickster is a boundary crosser. Bowie famously pushed boundaries of sexuality and gender throughout his life. He often did so with his characters and the concept albums he created that were based on them. Because he was portraying a “character” through music; this made it so everyone connected to his work: male, female, gay, straight, black, white..Through his art, he challenged stereotypes and explored issues of gender fluidity and sexuality. He also worked across musical genres, played many different instruments, sang, wrote, produced, and acted.
4. The trickster is a seducer. David Bowie had charisma in spades! He was magnetic.
All archetypes, the trickster included, have both positive and negative charges. The positive trickster is quite appealing as he is fond of using irony. He finds expression through imagination and experience. The trickster exists to question rather than just blindly accept authority. He urges us to think creatively, and this archetype helps us to lighten up when needed. The negative side of trickster can be destructive. He is the cruel joker. Instead of being ironic, he use sarcasm, and rebels against authority. In this way, trickster can be his own worst enemy.
All cultures have tales of the trickster, this mischief maker that often acts as a catalyst for change. The trickster brings gifts of synchronicity when we are at or near boundaries or experiencing a transitional phase. (i.e, he brings an “abundance of meaningful coincidence” with him that he imparts cleverly).
So the trickster in Bowie urges us all to find wit and humor, question outmoded rules, ways of thinking, and to use our own imagination and creativity. The trickster in him, resonates with the trickster in us all.
But David Bowie was more than an archetype. He was a husband, father, painter, reader, friend. He helped people who didn’t fit the mold feel like they were okay, and he helped them feel free to be who they were; black, white, gay, straight, alien, human! He was funny, fashionable, an artist in the truest sense of the word; an innovator and always, himself.
Rest in Peace.