A jester is an entertainer that a monarch or nobleman would employ to entertain him and his guests. These court jesters thrived in the Medieval and Renaissance eras. These jovial entertainers wore hats featuring floppy, pointed protrusions, with a bell hanging from the tip of each protrusion. They also donned motley clothing (the traditional costume of the jester and Harlequin – a patchwork made up of a variety of bright colours, iconically arranged in a check pattern). Jesters were often adept at many forms of entertainment, including singing, music, storytelling, acrobatics, juggling, comedy, and magic. The jester is also depicted as The Fool, one of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck, which itself is similar in appearance to the Joker playing card.
Strangely, jester-type entities commonly appear in the DMT experience. In Rick Strassman’s study on the effects of this compound, detailed in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (2000), many participants reported encountering “clowns”, “jesters”, “jokers”, and “imps” during their experiences. Many users report also describe these types of entities as ‘tricksters’. These entities are often engaged in elaborate and mind-boggling performances and tricks. The environment they inhabit can also reflect their entertaining nature, with many users finding themselves in strange dimensions that resemble a circus, carnival, or casino. In fact, Terence McKenna said that “the archetype of DMT is the circus.”
The prevalence of jesters and tricksters in the DMT experience is quite curious. Why do so many people come to meet them? I believe that the ideas of psychologist Carl Jung can shed some light on this phenomenon. I propose that the jester-type DMT entities are archetypal: manifestations of the collective unconscious. However, a Jungian perspective on the DMT experience may be able to explain why these entities exist, but it may not resolve the mystery of why DMT – as a specific substance – has a propensity to bring these entities to the surface, and in such a peculiar, idiosyncratic fashion. Of course, other archetypes may appear in the DMT experience but when jesters make their showy entrance, there must be a reason they do so.
The ultimate explanation for the appearance of jesters in the DMT experience is unclear to me. Nonetheless, I posit that – since they are archetypal in some sense – we can learn from these jesters. We can understand the trickster aspect of ourselves and find immense value in that if we dig deep enough. So let’s explore the meaning of the trickster. But first, we need to illuminate Jung’s ideas on archetypes so we can better understand the nature of the trickster.
The Jungian Archetypes
An archetype is a universal symbol, which other more specific symbols are based on. The word archetype has its root in ancient Greek and roughly means “original pattern.” Archetypes are interpreted differently, depending on the discipline in question. In psychology, archetypes are understood to be models contained in the human psyche, whereas, in philosophy, archetypes are the ideal forms of more specific objects. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato promulgated the notion that there is a pure, perfect form (Form) – or archetype – that is common to many objects in reality.
The study of archetypes in psychology was really set in motion by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 – 1961). Due to the work of Jung and those who followed in his footsteps, such as the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987), it is clear that archetypes are essential elements of folklore, myth, stories, and the world’s most perennial examples of literature.
Jung sits firmly in the ranks of Sigmund Freud as one of the most famous thinkers of the 20th century. He was a Swiss-born psychiatrist, who famously developed the concepts of extroversion and introversion and would end up having some very unique interests, particularly in religion, myth, mysticism, and alchemy. For Jung, archetypes originate from the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is distinct from the personal unconscious, which is each individual’s own collection of experiences that they are unaware of. In contrast, the collective unconscious contains the archetypes shared by all people. Furthermore, the collective unconscious does not develop but is something that is inherited. So when each of us is born, we are infused with these universal images, which we are not immediately aware of. (See Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.)
Freud, in some sense, supported the idea of archetypes, as he said that within each person’s mind there are archaic remnants – or mental forms – whose existence cannot be explained by that particular individual’s life experiences. The forms are innate and shared by everyone. According to Jung, the archetypes represent important motifs of our experiences as we evolved over time. That is why they evoke a strong emotional response in us and why they repeat in myths from all over the world.
There is a plethora of Jungian archetypes, as they are called. Jung seemed to have some main archetypes, which he describes in his book Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. The archetypes include the Self, which each individual might think is just their personality. However, for Jung, the Self is the unification of the conscious and unconscious life of the individual. The Self is created through a process called individuation, in which all the aspects of the personality are integrated into a unified whole. For Jung, the Self as an archetype is best represented by the mandala. The word mandala in Sanskrit means “circle” and they are symbols that are significant in Hindu and Buddhist rituals and spiritual practices, such as meditation. The psychologist David Fontana remarks in his book, Meditating with Mandalas, that the mandala’s symbolic nature can give an individual access to deeper levels of their unconscious, which will ease the process of individuation.
Another of Jung’s famous archetypes is the Shadow. The Shadow represents our most basic, primitive instincts, and the life and sex drives. If the Shadow were to reside anywhere in the brain, it would be in our limbic system, which plays a central role in the processing of emotions. The limbic system generates emotions such as anger, lust, jealousy, and fear. The Shadow is comprised of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, and instincts. It is the dark aspect of our minds. As such, it can be dangerous – if we deny parts of our shadow, such as weaknesses we have, Jung said we might project these weaknesses onto others, distorting our view of ourselves and others. According to Jung’s analysis of dreams, the Shadow is usually symbolised by monstrous characters, such as demons.
The Anima is a feminine image in the male mind and the Animus is a masculine image in the female mind. According to Jung, being able to combine our feminine and masculine natures, rather than letting one dominate, leads to wholeness. The last of Jung’s main archetypes is the Persona, a term which is derived from the Latin word for “mask.” The Persona represents all of the different social masks that we put on. This means that each individual’s persona may contain a work mask, a family mask, a friend mask, a romantic mask, etc.
There are, of course, various other archetypes, some of which are more recognisable and feature heavily in stories around the world. In his book Man and His Symbols, Jung examines some of them and what they stand for: the Father (authority), the Mother (comfort), the Child (innocence), the Wise Old Man or Woman (guidance), the Hero (champion), the Maiden (desire), and the Trickster (trouble-maker), the last of which will be elucidated further in this discussion. You can immediately think of examples in books and films which contain these archetypes. Yoda from Star Wars as the Wise Old Man, Satan in Genesis as the Trickster, Rapunzel as the Maiden, Zeus as the Father, and so on and so forth.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell, following in the tradition of Jung, would become famous for looking at the different myths, folklore, stories, and religions from around the world and picking out the fundamental, universal elements to them. In his highly influential book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses the journey of the archetypal hero. According to Campbell, all those famous stories involving heroes, such as the labours of Hercules or the life of the Buddha, share a basic structure. Campbell called this structure the monomyth and in short, it involves a call to adventure, a road of trials, the boon (or discovery), a return to the ordinary world, and, finally, the application of the boon. This structure is clever because Campbell is able to apply it to history’s most famous stories, such as Homer’s The Odyssey and the life of Christ as depicted in the Gospels. The trickster also appears in the hero’s journey, exemplified by characters such as the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, Dobby from Harry Potter, and Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings.
Campbell seems to vindicate Jung’s assertion that archetypes are something that we can easily identify with and which evoke a strong emotional response from us because they symbolise our evolutionary experiences. The hero’s journey represents the primitive struggle of our ancestors in entering an unknown world of danger but overcoming the danger and bringing back to the tribe or group some discovery or treasure that will benefit everyone.
Campbell’s idea of the monomyth has been very influential in the world of cinema – George Lucas credited Campbell with providing a lot of the inspiration for his Star Wars films, and the template of the hero’s journey also helped to structure the plot of The Matrix and Disney films such as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. The most successful books and films do appear to commit to many of Jung’s archetypes and Campbell’s monomyth (The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind), which attests to the very real existence and power of these universal symbols.
Jesters and Tricksters in Mythology, Culture, and Psychology
James Hollis, a Jungian analyst, says that the trickster is “the personification of the autonomy of nature.” He adds:
We gain a provisional recognition of trickster energy when we personify it as coyote, fox, hare, imp, devil, Kokopelli, “Murphy’s Law,” and the like. If we can image it, we can then begin to establish some conscious relationship to it. It is most autonomous, most likely disruptive to the expected order of things, when it operates unconsciously in our lives.
These tricksters are archetypal because they appear in different cultures, yet they are expressed with the style of a particular culture. For example, in the Native American tradition, the coyote features as a trickster figure in that culture’s myths, whereas the trickster Loki – from Norse mythology – is a shape-shifting god and lover of mischief. In English folklore, Puck, who plays a pivotal role in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a trickster that takes the form of a fairy. And then we have the jester, which is commonly equated with a trickster. Nevertheless, they are quite different in nature.
If we take the standard definitions of each, a jester is a person dressed in colourful garb and fool’s hat who amused a medieval court – they jest, mock, and joke. The trickster, in contrast, is a mythological figure who is impish and playful; they perform tricks and are responsible for teaching others through guile. In her book Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World, author Beatrice K. Otto notes:
The distinction between jester and trickster lies in the fact that the trickster is a completely free entity, not affiliated with any particular person in authority. In addition – and this may be the most significant difference – he is generally less discerning than the jester in choosing the victims of his pranks and wit. Jesters are often guided in their mockery by a certain kindliness that prevents their treating a friendly old farmer in the same way as an avaricious cardinal or a venal magistrate, and their mockery is often intended to show up a vice of some sort. The trickster, on the other hand, rarely has scruples about cheating anybody for fun or gain. The jester is usually aware of the effect he can have and frequently uses his talents to help others, cause merriment, give advice, or defuse a perilous situation. It is perhaps this more ethical input, together with his close relationship to the king, that distinguishes him from the boundless trickster.
In marketing, archetypes are used in branding because it anchors the brand against a universal symbol that is embedded within the collective unconscious of humanity. We can, therefore, easily identify and find resonance with this archetype. This is one key reason why marketing gets your attention. Based on Jungian psychology, marketers have designated 12 archetypes, one of which is the jester, usually synonymised with the trickster. Clowns, tricksters, comedians, practical jokers, and the fool seem to share a certain kind of playful energy in common. The jester is at home in the world of paradoxes. They embody humour and masterfully use it with powerful effect, to teach certain lessons and important truths. Comedy is the medium by which the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of the world can be illuminated. Jesters infectiously project joy and fun and want to invite others into their world of silliness and carefree living. By doing so, they lighten up tense situations, brightening the mood of others who are sullen.
Jung said the trickster is “an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity.” In his essay ‘On the Psychology of the Trickster-Figure’, Jung provides some interesting insight into, as well as analysis of, the trickster archetype. He notes that the trickster figure is found throughout the world’s myths, although they do also differ widely in their characteristics and presentation. In the storytelling traditions of Africa – and later, African American literature – the trickster takes the form of a rabbit, while the fox plays the role of the trickster in Dogon, Scottish, Bulgarian, Russian, French, and Finnish folklore. In this text, he also says:
A curious combination of typical trickster motifs can be found in the alchemical figure of Mercurius; for instance, his fondness for sly jokes and malicious pranks, his powers as a shape-shifter, his dual nature, half animal, half divine.
Franchot Ballinger, former Emeritus Associate Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, has written extensively on Native American tricksters. He underlines that “we can see in the Native American trickster an openness to life’s multiplicity and paradoxes largely missing in the modern Euro-American moral tradition.” In the European and American tradition of the picaresque novel, stories often depict a roguish but likeable trickster figure (known as a picaro) who uses his wit, cunning, carefree attitude, and rascality to pursue a life of adventure. The picaro is a jester-like anti-hero.
Since the trickster lives in the world of paradoxes and is a shape-shifter, we can find juxtapositions of qualities in the Native American trickster when we compare different stories. The trickster may be a beacon of wisdom in one tale and terribly foolish in another. He may exemplify heroism in one story but stand out as a villainous character in the next. Lewis Hyde, in Trickster Makes This World, brings to light the universal playful and disruptive side of the human mind. We all have a trickster side. In his book, Hyde points out that the Coyote spirit and Raven spirit of Native American mythologies – who stole fire from the gods (like Prometheus of the ancient Greek legend) – are viewed as jokesters and pranksters. He also emphasises the pivotal and wise role of the Coyote – in Native American creation myths, the Coyote taught humans how to catch fish.
The Coyote as the trickster in the Native American tradition holds great power. According to the tradition of the Crow people – an indigenous group of Native Americans – Old Man Coyote mimics the Creator, making people out of the mud. The Chelan people tell a similar story: Coyote has abilities similar to the Creator. In a letter to comedian George Carlin, Byrd Gibbens – Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock – wrote about the significance of the trickster in indigenous myths:
Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies lest they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise. The trickster in most native traditions is essential to creation, to birth.
The trickster-as-creator is exemplified by Raven in Inuit mythology. For the Inuit people of Alaska and the western Arctic region, Raven is the creator of the world, light, man, and the animals, but he is also a trickster god, hero, and shape-shifter (in Inuit tales, he can take the form of both bird and human).
In many cultures, clowns – as comic performers – are typical tricksters and closely related to the jester. Like jesters, they serve a similar and important function. A Hopi Indian explains that “clowns represent us in our misdeeds…the clowns show life as it should not be…the clowns show, mimic the “hidden immoralities” and bring them into the open so we can see where we have gone wrong…the clowns show what is the essence of morality.” Otto says this points to an “age-old, deep-rooted human need for clowns.”
Jesters are ubiquitous, as are clowns – they are found in tribes and indigenous cultures all over the world. Clowns often play a key role in ritual, adopting the same license that the jester has to engage in comic criticism and social satire. Interestingly, there can be a correspondence between the attire of the jester and clown, even though the particular cultures that instantiate these tricksters are separated in distance and time, and so immune to each other’s influence. This seems to suggest a curious human proclivity to ‘paint’ the trickster in a certain way. As a case in point, in India, the Tamil village clown (komali) dons a conical cap and wears small bells on his legs. The komali skips, dances, laughs, sings songs, and taunts.
Pueblo clowns, also known as sacred clowns, are the tricksters of the New Mexico Pueblo Indians. Known as the Koshare (“delight makers”) in tribal traditions, the main duty of these clowns is to make people merry. Clowns heal people through laughter, according to the Pueblo tradition. They are witty and make efforts to point out the ludicrous nature of various situations. As well as evoking feelings of mirth during festive occasions, the sacred clown also has a sinister side, much like many other tricksters. After all, ridicule can make us laugh, as well as recoil in discomfort if it’s directed at our shortcomings. The Koshare have their bodies painted in stripes and wear pointed hats, as Medieval court jesters do.
The heyoka is another sacred clown, belonging to the culture of the Sioux, a group of Native American tribes, which includes the Lakota and Dakota people. Certain tribe members adopt the role of heyoka (the well-known Lakota medicine man Black Elk identified as one). In Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History, Vicki K. Janik notes: “The heyoka dress, act, and speak in contrary ways.” The heyoka’s contrary actions – like mounting ponies backwards, wearing boots backwards, shivering in the heat, walking naked in the winter (and complaining how hot it is), or saying the opposite of what is expected – all have the effect of producing laughter. Their antics also cause tribe members to laugh at medicine men or holy men, but rather than causing friction in the community, these actions help to revitalise the people – this is achieved through laughter (which acts as a tonic, opening people up to immediate experience and elevating mood), as well as through the revelation of higher truths.
Modern society has somewhat forgotten that jesters, clowns, and buffoons are not just there to amuse us. In traditional stories and fables, they act as spiritual mentors and guides for the young; they console those who are mourning and comfort the downtrodden. Their advice is sought and is taken as sacrosanct. Despite being more powerful than the master, they were lower than the lowest servant – a strange dichotomy, indeed.
On the other hand, modern society also continually honours the role of the trickster. The importance of the jester and tricksters cannot be understated. This is why we cannot help but repeatedly express them. They crop up in modern films, as Helena Bassil-Morozow details in her book The Trickster in Contemporary Film, with trickster actors including people like Jim Carrey (e.g. his role in The Mask) and Sacha Baron Cohen (who plays the Gonzo-trickster Borat).
Bassil-Morozow insists that we should not underestimate the serious role played by tricksters in films. We cannot simply laugh at them, be outraged at them, and then move on. What they do is invite contemporary audiences to question the order of things in society and present a picture of what change might look like. The author writes that ““Crossing the boundary”, in narrative terms, is the trigger, the beginning of the conflict.” The trickster shows us what we can achieve if we too are willing to step outside the social, cultural, and personal edifices that act as boundaries – obstacles to individuation. Bassil-Morozow says that:
…raising your voice….against “higher powers” is bound to be dangerous…..the learning path is fraught with errors. Only fools are prepared to leave the safety of the womb/mother/nature/the village/paradise, and “go and seek their fortune”.
The Jester and Trickster Entities of the DMT Experience
A DMT entity can be your typical trickster: a clown, imp, fairy, joker, jester, Harlequin, and so on, but they can take multifarious forms too: an alien, child, animal, angel, god, or goddess but manifesting strangely, idiosyncratically, and in an incomprehensible fashion, as is DMT’s nature. They can be combinations of forms, other mythical entities, be made up of abstract concepts (i.e. love and understanding), or pure geometric and fractal madness. Yet, all these other types of entities can still typify, be imbued with, and exude the trickster archetype.
Hyde describes the trickster archetype as a “boundary-crosser”. They love to break both societal and physical rules. The writer Paul Mattick reiterates this point, noting that tricksters “violate principles of social and natural order, playfully disrupting normal life and then re-establishing it on a new basis.” And this is exactly what the jesters and trickster entities in the DMT realm like to do. They break the rules, in an absolutely confounding manner. They will dismantle, construct, manifest themselves, move, and perform tricks that seem to bend all notions of causality, normality, and sense. These entities will casually throw all of your reference points and preconceptions out the window. Breaking the laws of physics and playing games with reality is what they do best.
As another case in point, the clown or ‘dance manager’ of the Tubatulabal Indian tribe in east-central California, is a participant in ceremonies who would dance backwards and go around talking like crazy. Here we find another parallel with the strange language and surprising movements of the DMT trickster entities. In some parts of the world, the trickster takes on superhuman capacities, employing magic and shape-shifting abilities, as well as appearing as godlike figures. Similarly, the DMT trickster entities are often shape-shifting and carrying out alluring magic tricks, in a perplexing fashion. They too may take on the appearance of deities (e.g. Egyptian, Mayan, and Hindu) yet retain their essential trickster nature.
The trickster Mercurius is the god of commerce, messages, communication, and trickery. His name is related to the Latin word merx, from which we get the English words merchandise, merchant, and commerce. It may also correspond to the Latin word mercari (to trade). It’s interesting to note that the tricksters of the DMT realm can act like enthusiastic traders, pushing their strange and astounding products and gifts onto you, like a hyperactive vendor in a busy market in Morocco or India.
In a word, McKenna describes the DMT entities as “zany”, which means amusingly unconventional and idiosyncratic. The word zany is derived from Zanni, a character in the commedia dell’arte, an early form of professional theatre that originated in Italy in the 14th century. These types of theatrical performances featured masked characters and were popular forms of entertainment in the 16th to 18th centuries. Zanni, a clever servant and trickster, is one of the character types. Arrlechino or Harlequin is the best known of the Zanni or comic servant characters in the commedia dell’arte.
One of the most impressive and emphatic traits of the Harlequin is his physical agility and nimbleness. He would perform all sorts of acrobatics, such as somersaults, cartwheels, and flips. The Harlequin is always on the move. And here we find another curious parallel with the trickster entities in the DMT experience since they behave in a similar way, except their level of acrobatics and Harlequin-like gesticulations are intensified beyond comprehension. The Harlequin is one of the masked characters you will come across in the Carnival of Venice, which is said to have originated in 1162. In this old Italian tradition, we can find many other masks and costumes that bear an eerie resemblance to the jester and trickster entities of the DMT experience and the patterns which adorn them.
Carnivals themselves have been around for a long time (since the Middle Ages) and are present throughout the world. They traditionally precede Lent in the Christian calendar, providing time for debauchery, indulgence, feasting, and celebration, before the period of fasting and spiritual rigour that characterises Lent. The carnival epitomises a party atmosphere, featuring various kinds of entertainment and parades, whilst combining elements of the circus. Like with the Carnival of Venice, people wear elaborate costumes and masks.
The Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin has argued that a carnival involves a general reversal of everyday norms and rules – and this quality, as we have seen, is central to the spirit of the trickster. The jester-like aspect of ourselves, the trickster archetype that resides deep within us, finds its home in the expression of the carnival. Bakhtin additionally claimed that the carnival is deep-rooted in the human psyche, as clowns and jesters seem to be. Indeed, we find many parallels between the traditional conception of the jester and the carnivalesque, a concept coined by Bakhtin and explicated in his book Rabelais and his World (1965). The carnivalesque is the spirit of the carnival, which Bakhtin refers to as the subversion of social norms. “[O]ne might say that carnival celebrated temporary liberation from the prevailing truth and from the established order; it marked the suspension of all hierarchical rank, privileges, norms, and prohibitions,” says Bakhtin. And this spirit is connected to laughter. He writes:
Clowns and fools…are characteristic of the medieval culture of humor. They were the constant, accredited representatives of the carnival spirit in everyday life out of carnival season…carnival is the people’s second life, organized on the basis of laughter. It is a festive life. Festivity is a peculiar quality of all comic rituals and spectacles of the Middle Ages.
The Feast of Fools, a feast day celebrated by clergy in Europe in the Middle Ages, typified the carnivalesque. The celebration involved an inversion of power, in which fools became kings and popes for the day. The Feast of Fools inside the church may have been much tamer than rumours at the time made it out to be, yet the celebrations and parades outside the church doors featured drinking, merry-making, cross-dressing, singing, and other mischievous behaviour that would not normally be tolerated. In representations of the event, such as in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engraving, The Festival of Fools (circa 1570), we see that the celebration is depicted as chaotic, playful, and disruptive, just like the trickster. Perhaps the natural motif associated with the inversion of order is the circus or carnival (both are closely related). If the DMT experience is an expression of the inversion of order (the trickster archetype and the carnivalesque), then it makes sense that a circus or parade-type environment would be the visual corollary of the experience. McKenna might have been correct after all when he stated that the archetype of DMT was the circus.
In Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1963), Bakhtin discusses the “carnival sense of the world”, an attitude that “is opposed to that one-sided and gloomy official seriousness which is dogmatic and hostile to evolution and change, which seeks to absolutize a given condition of existence or a given social order.” The carnival tradition stems from a “culture of folk humor” (subverting norms), according to Bakhtin. This is a culture that has developed over thousands of years. The jester is likewise born out of such a culture. Bakhtin also figures the “popular sphere of the marketplace” in his account of the carnivalesque since the marketplace was a site of transgressive discourse and laughter, a counterpoint to the “serious” church and feudal culture of the Middle Ages. This point is relevant to this discussion since DMT hyperspace can appear like a market as well, or have the atmosphere of one; again pointing to Bakhtin’s conception of the carnivalesque.
The proliferation and universality of the carnival seem to point to an intrinsic part of human nature: our jovial, wild, and celebratory side. However, whilst our natural proclivities may help to explain why the themes of carnival, circus, jester, and trickster are commonly reported in the DMT experience, it is still an absolute mystery why these themes are so ingrained in human psychology, and why DMT, as a substance, is so efficacious in bringing these themes to the surface, particularly in the bizarre manner it does so. While a Jungian analysis of the DMT experience offers some fascinating insights, it can only take us so far.
Many users have reported negative DMT experiences involving jesters and tricksters and this might have to do with the darker or shadowy aspects of the user. If the jester is a partial reflection or representation of who we are, then a negative DMT experience – where sinister jesters mock you and mess with you – may point to something uncomfortable about yourself that needs to be addressed. For example, the uncomfortable truth may be about a lack of self-control in your life, which has led to negative consequences. Similarly, the jester itself has a darker, shadow form, making him prone to constant inebriation, drug abuse, or perversion – essentially, any negative attribute that is caused by a loss of impulse control. The jester’s desire (so, our desire) for present-minded joy can be beneficial or harmful, depending on how it is harnessed. In the words of Jung: “The trickster is a collective shadow figure, an epitome of all the inferior traits of character in individuals.”
The message conveyed during these challenging experiences is often not at first palpable but, after a period of introspection, meaning can be unearthed and integrated. You should pay close attention to the evil jesters and clowns of the DMT experience, rather than cower in fear at them. They may be making an appearance because you have been hiding from certain negative aspects of yourself. The jester, however, leaves no stone unturned and may poke fun at you in quite a disturbing way in order to teach you an important lesson.
Also, even when these beings do not appear blatantly unfriendly, mocking, or malevolent, there can be a sense that they have that potential. One of the participants in Strassman’s study on DMT recounted the following from her high-dose experience:
…I started flying through an intense circus-like environment. I’ve never been that out-of-body before…We went through a maze at an incredibly fast pace. I say “we” because it seemed like I was accompanied…There was a crazy circus sideshow. It was extravagant. It’s hard to describe. They looked like Jokers. They were almost performing for me. They were funny looking, bells on their hats, big noses. However, I had the feeling they could turn on me, a little less than completely friendly.
There is an argument to be made that the expectation of seeing jesters and clowns, which have become associated with DMT for many users, leads to people encountering them in that state. This role of the user’s mindset (or ‘set’) is plausible. Nevertheless, clearly there are many users who don’t have such an expectation, like the participants in Strassman’s study, so this explanation may apply only in some cases. Or, if one wants to argue that Strassman’s study subjects – or contemporary or antecedent DMT users – saw jester entities due to the influence of Terence McKenna’s talks, we can find descriptions of elf-like entities seen in the DMT space that precede those of McKenna.
In an article from 1966, titled ‘Programmed Communication During Experiences With DMT’, Timothy Leary describes encountering “a band of radar-antennae, elf-like insects merrily working away,” but could Leary have been influenced by trip reports himself? Well, in his article, he mentions the work of Hungarian chemist Stephen Szára – the first to scientifically study the psychoactive effects of DMT – who recounts in a 1958 paper examining the effects of DMT how one participant “saw strange creatures, dwarfs or something, they were black and moved about”.
Thus, it appears that elf-like entities were encountered in the DMT realm, independent of reports of such entities, which would have the potential to influence people’s experiences. Now you may be thinking: but elves and dwarves aren’t jesters. That is true, but there are similarities between these entities. They share a mischievous nature; plus elves have pointy ears, and elves and dwarves are often imagined or depicted wearing pointy and/or floppy hats, not unlike the jester hat. ‘Elf’, ‘dwarf, ‘gnome’, ‘clown’, or ‘jester’ may all be different ways to describe the type of entity one may meet in the DMT space; there are many forms, or approximate descriptions, unified by character.
Graham Hancock, in his book Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind (2005), suggests that altered states could be the origin of clowns, rather than clowns appearing on the cultural landscape first and then making their way into people’s altered states. He writes:
…where did the idea for clowns come from in the first place? Were the visions of carnival-type figures seen by Strassman’s subjects, Maria Sabina, Michael Harner, and others influenced by strictly modern and culturally contingent television and circus spectaculars? Or is it possible that the direction of influence really flows the other way, and that the inspiration for the earliest clowns came from visions and hallucinations seen in altered states of consciousness – whether entered spontaneously or under the influence of DMT-linked hallucinogens? We know that at least as far back as ancient Greece, a land rich in psychoactive plants, stage plays, farces, and mimes frequently featured performances by dwarves and children dressed up in ways quite similar to modern circus buffoons. Before that, the history of such theatrical figures is obscure – as well it might be if they had emerged from occult realms that were originally accessible only in visions.
In a 2018 paper, Michael Winkelman – an anthropologist and researcher of altered states – analyses psychedelic entities from an evolutionary perspective. He found that ayahuasca and DMT entities were similar to conceptions of gnomes, dwarves, elves, angels, and extraterrestrials. Psychedelic entities, he states, “exemplify the properties of anthropomorphism, exhibiting qualities of humans.”
Winkelman argues the features of these entities reflect certain innate aspects of human psychology, which evolved for our biological advantage. These capacities also help explain why people experience spirits and believe in them. These human tendencies include agency detection: perceiving agents with intentions in one’s surroundings, anthropomorphism: attributing human characteristics to non-human things or events, and Theory of Mind (ToM) or mindreading: inferring the mental state of another. These faculties, if activated by DMT, could account for the anthropomorphic appearances and behaviours of the DMT entities.
The entities may be the end result of the brain trying to predict patterns in ambiguous stimuli, combined with agency detection and the complex fractal imagery that is characteristic of DMT. Indeed, many users report that these beings have a geometric flare to them. Certain fractal or geometric shapes may also lend an ‘elfin’ quality to the beings or, as other users may report, a ‘jester’ quality to them.
Dennis McKenna, a psychedelic researcher and the brother of Terence McKenna, was once asked whether he thought DMT entities were archetypes in the mind or autonomous beings. He responded:
That’s the $64 million dollar question right there — is it another dimension? [Terence and I] were convinced that it was a portal into another dimension. But now, I think it’s impossible to say. I think these are archetypes, but the crux of the question is, is it another place? It certainly has that feeling about it.
An Evaluation of Jungian Archetypes
There are some conceptual difficulties with the Jungian archetypes. Strictly speaking, Jung stressed that archetypal figures, such as the trickster, are not archetypes-as-such but archetypal images that have crystallised out of archetypes-as-such, or underlying patterns or forms shared by many images. In Man and His Symbols, Jung writes that “definite mythological images of motifs … are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited.” These figures originate from deep, instinctual sources or ‘archaic remnants’ – residues of the long history and evolution of the human species – which Jung called ‘archetypes’ or ‘primordial images’. “The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif – representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern,” says Jung. One problem is that Jung did not define the exact relationship between an image and its archetype.
In order to help resolve this issue, the Jungian analyst Anthony Stevens explains that the archetype-as-such is both an innate predisposition to create an image (i.e. the trickster) and something deep in us that prepares us for – and allows us to appropriately respond to – that image. Essentially, we know a trickster when we see one. Our common fear of snakes and spiders, including amongst urban dwellers, seems to provide supporting evidence for the existence of inherited mental contents. And we can offer an evolutionary explanation for this phenomenon. Vestigial snake and spider phobias make sense since our ancient ancestors would’ve aided their survival by having such fears, passing them on to their progeny as a result. But what, we may ask, is the evolutionary advantage of an archetype that fosters the trickster, or any other archetypal figure for that matter?
Well, to offer one perspective, various researchers have suggested that humour and laughter evolved, not as an accidental by-product of something else advantageous but as a distinct feature of human psychology that aids our survival. When Pueblo Indians maintain that humour and laughter heal, there is a strong scientific basis for this claim. For example, Dr Lee Berk and colleagues in the 1980s discovered that laughter helps the brain to regulate the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine. They also discovered a link between laughter and the production of antibodies and endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers. We also know that levels of dopamine, the ‘reward hormone’, increase during laughter.
Studies on laughter indicate that laughter is a pleasurable reward. And evolutionary scientists posit that humour and laughter are rewards for being able to spot a pattern. This pattern could be in the form of “it’s so true” humour, the similarity between the comedian’s storytelling and the mental image in the listener’s mind, the difference between expectation and reality, or some form of reversal (as achieved with sarcasm). The British science writer Alastair Clarke proposed an evolutionary theory of laughter in his book The Faculty of Adaptability, known as Pattern Recognition Theory. Speaking on the theory, Clarke states:
Effectively it explains that humour occurs when the brain recognizes a pattern that surprises it, and that recognition of this sort is rewarded with the experience of the humorous response, an element of which is broadcast as laughter.
An ability to recognize patterns instantly and unconsciously has proved a fundamental weapon in the cognitive arsenal of human beings. The humorous reward has encouraged the development of such faculties, leading to the unique perceptual and intellectual abilities of our species.
These evolutionary ideas, at the very least, provide some food for thought as to what substantial benefits tricksters can confer. Yet, if we can turn back to Jungian psychology, it also should be noted that Jung’s conception of archetypes has received a great deal of criticism. Firstly, many critics have argued that Jung, in formulating and expounding his archetypes, is guilty of essentialism. This is the idea that things have an essence, a set of attributes that are necessary to their identity, and these attributes can be shared among many things that demarcate them as belonging to a certain category (e.g. table, tree, person, and so on). At face value, essentialism may seem uncontroversial. However, in the discussion of archetypes, it results in various difficulties.
While we may think we can discern the essential nature of the trickster, for example, this archetypal motif – and archetypal motifs in general – is vaguely defined. As the above discussion highlights, the trickster portrays itself in a broad and multifaceted fashion. The very fact that we use the term ‘trickster’ is not itself supportive of essentialism – it could simply be a sign that helps us to group together similar archetypal images, rather than denote one essential characteristic they have in common. But if archetypes cannot be adequately generalised or specified, then they may elude rigorous study and systematic analysis. How can you tell one archetype from another? As the philosopher Walter A. Shelburne puts it, “archetypal motifs are not easily divided into unambiguous, discrete types.”
Furthermore, if the archetypes are interpreted as residing in a kind of metaphysical or supernatural realm, how do you go about proving their existence? By what scientific methods can we locate the trickster? Jungian analysts and mythologists can point to the plethora of tricksters around the world. Yet, this cultural analysis does not shed light on the evolutionary reason that archetypes exist – we would need to speculate further, as I did previously, that tricksters are in some way connected to the evolution of humour and laughter.
Perhaps neuroscience could also help us better understand the archetypes. As Jung stated: “The universal similarity of human brains leads to the universal possibility of a uniform mental functioning. This functioning is the collective psyche.” If we were to take on board at least some version of the physicalist or materialist conception of the human mind, would it be possible to outline the brain regions or processes that give rise to the trickster archetype? It could very well be possible. Nonetheless, some critics of archetypal theory stress that it is scientifically unfalsifiable, meaning that it is not capable of being proven false. The philosopher Karl Popper argued that falsifiability is a basic scientific principle. As he maintained, “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.” If a claim or idea cannot be proven false, then it cannot lead to progress in human knowledge.
This may mean that archetypes are not a suitable subject for scientific inquiry. But perhaps this is not so problematic. After all, experiences can still be valuable, meaningful, profound, and life-changing, even if they cannot be neatly categorised and solidified. Moreover, Jung emphasised that archetypal theory belongs to descriptive psychology, which is a comprehensive and systematic conceptual framework that is pre-empirical, so it does not require experimentation or solid evidence in its repertoire. This doesn’t mean that descriptive psychology is pseudoscientific – only that its methods of psychological theorising, research, and application are different in nature from the scientific method. In the same way, phenomenologists concern themselves with what is directly experienced; yet this doesn’t make the enterprise pseudoscientific.
Jung argued that archetypal theory did not belong in the camp of experimental psychology, which is the application of the scientific method to how individuals respond to controlled experiments. Instead, Jung believed that analysts could precisely reveal certain things about human psychology based on clinical case studies: what patients display in psychotherapy sessions. Nevertheless, many critics of Jungian psychology still take issue with Jung’s prioritisation of inner experience over empirical data, which makes it difficult for archetypes to shed their quasi-mystical status and become something a bit more clear, grounded, and verifiable. Also, as Shelburne writes:
The archetypal theory is postulated to be the end result of the interaction between the innate archetype per se [the archetype-as-such] and the environment. But…the archetypal theory does not attempt to specify precisely how these two factors interrelate to produce the archetypal image. Thus, in the absence of any archetypal laws specifying how these two factors interact to produce the archetypal images, the question arises as to how the innateness of the archetype per se is to be established. For if we are not in fact able to separate these two factors through some sort of isolation experiment, it might well seem that the claim that the archetypes are innate, rather than acquired as a result of experiences in individual development, would be on very weak ground. Moreover, if we cannot substantiate the innate nature of the archetype per se, then the theory as a whole will lack a credible basis.
Leaving these criticisms aside, in his reflections on the trickster, Jung drew attention to the ubiquitous, perennial nature of this archetype, as well as its ancient origins. He said:
In picaresque tales, in carnivals and revels, in magic rites of healing, in man’s religious fears and exaltations, this phantom of the trickster haunts the mythology of all ages, sometimes in quite unmistakable form, sometimes in strangely modulated guise. He is obviously a “psychologem,” an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity. In his clearest manifestations he is a faithful reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness, corresponding to a psyche that has hardly left the animal level.
He adds that the trickster:
is a forerunner of the savior, and, like him, God, man, and animal at once. He is both subhuman and superhuman, a bestial and divine being, whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconsciousness.
Here again, we see how the trickster is the embodiment of paradoxicality. The trickster has, at once, superhuman abilities yet an animal level of consciousness. But does this fit in with people’s experiences of the trickster during their DMT experiences? Of those experiences featuring jesters and tricksters, descriptions and interpretations will inevitably vary – even wildly so. But it is hard for me to say whether the tricksters I have encountered were unconscious in the Jungian sense of being characterised by a predominance of compulsive instincts (and were thus animal-like), resulting in a lack of inhibition. In some sense, they do have that wild energy, yet they also seem to have an awareness, intelligence, and wisdom of their own. It is possible, of course, that the tricksters bursting forth from hyperspace were intermingled with other, more ‘conscious’ archetypes (such as the Wise Old Man, the Mother, or the Goddess), which could help explain their other features, such as the exuberant giving of wisdom and knowledge or tender loving care.
It should be emphasised that the trickster is not the only Jungian archetype that manifests itself in the DMT state. A few others have been mentioned. The entities that you meet and interact with during the experience may indeed be an intermingling of archetypes, although this analysis cannot exhaust all of the characteristics of these entities, especially since their nature may completely defy language itself. Nonetheless, it is endlessly fascinating to note the prevalence of jesters. What’s even more interesting is that when DMT is ingested in the form of ayahuasca, which includes the addition of the caapi vine, the jesters lose their predominance. Instead, we find the archetype of the Mother becomes more prominent, commonly referred to as Mother Ayahuasca.
People may have archetypal experiences of the Mother or motherly energy in the DMT experience and can come across jesters under the influence of ayahuasca. However, for some extremely strange reason, the type of archetype that will arise appears to be closely related to how the DMT is experienced, whether it is smoked in crystalline form, or ingested along with an MAOI. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the possibility that expecting certain entities or presences to appear (jesters with DMT and the Mother with ayahuasca) – in other words, your set – may influence the predominance of those entities with a particular substance. But also, let’s not forget that users of other psychedelic compounds can meet jesters during their experiences.
It is not clear whether the experience of different archetypes corresponds to markedly different levels of activation in certain areas of the brain. But with brain imaging studies being carried out on participants who have taken DMT, it would be interesting to see if reports of jesters and tricksters are associated with different brain activity than other archetypal entities, or non-entity-type experiences. Jungian archetypes have been criticised for their lack of scientific credibility, but could modern brain imaging technology help to illuminate them in any way?
We should be wary about underestimating the healing, therapeutic potential of tricksters. In contemporary society, we see real-life percolations of our trickster side in the form of stand-up comics. Comedians point out and probe taboos and controversial subjects, meddle with our expectations, and elicit shock and surprise. To sit in a comedy show and laugh as a collective at the jokes of these modern-day jesters can be curative in so many ways. Laughing at the dark and forbidden elements of human nature and society is an unburdening of sorts. It makes the darkness lighter. Moreover, when a comedian’s jokes strike a chord – or hit a nerve – this can help us examine the beliefs and attitudes that we deeply cling to.
But I believe that comedians are expressing an innate trickster quality that we all have, by virtue of the trickster’s archetypal nature. In the DMT experience, we can witness the projection of the trickster in manifold ways; expressed, of course, in recognisable trickster barb, appearing as, say, a jester or clown. However, the trickster archetype can be expressed also through the intent and actions of the DMT entities, even if they don’t appear as jesters. What matters is the message the entities are trying to convey. Personally, when encountering trickster-type entities, I have attempted to see if I can apply their manifestation and behaviour to my own life. What meaningful message can I take from such strange entities?
In light of the Jungian concept of individuation, that is, integrating the conscious and the unconscious, I think it’s important to recognise the DMT tricksters as being part of myself, representing me in the experience. And so it seems that wholeness and harmony must come from integrating this trickster nature, as well as the other archetypes. Important value can be wrought from the trickster aspect of human psychology; after all, the trickster is often a wellspring of wisdom and joy. And I think this is showcased in the DMT experience in the form of jester therapy.
The DMT trickster entities exude silliness and play, perhaps communicating the intention that we should be more like them. I believe that if we assimilate the trickster archetype, we will notice various improvements in our life. This is something that is hinted at in the DMT experience, in the way that it offers us a fresh perspective. For example, the DMT jesters help to make things lighter by quickly lifting the burden of seriousness and heaviness that we have become so accustomed to feeling in our everyday lives. They show us an alternative, more joyful mode of being. We can also think of these entities as the court jesters of the mind, appearing because the inner king or ruler (i.e. the ego) needs to be mocked and kept in check, thereby helping to achieve a greater degree of psychological balance.
These psychedelic jesters reveal to us that the extent to which we take life seriously is ridiculous – a hilarious joke. And this can be an extremely therapeutic experience and realisation, so long as the wisdom is deeply integrated. Indeed, one common takeaway message from the DMT experience is that we would be psychologically healthier if we could view the world as an absurd game deserving of playfulness and laughter. In everyday situations, we can practise jester therapy. By mocking and laughing at the world and ourselves, we can approach life more cheerfully.