The Gatekeeper is one of the most important archetypes that is active in our lives. He or she is that power that opens and closes our doors and roads. The Gatekeeper is personified in many traditions: as the elephant-headed Ganesha in India; as Eshu/Eleggua in West Africa; as Anubis in ancient Egypt; as Hermes or Hecate in ancient Greece. I open my classes and gatherings by invoking the Gatekeeper in a universal way, with the request:
May our doors and gates and paths be open
They say in Spanish, “Tiene que pagar el derecho” (You have to pay for the right to enter). In many traditions, it is customary to make an offering to the Gatekeeper when embarking on a project or a journey. The offering required of us may simply be to check in and show a little respect.
There is a close affinity between the Gatekeeper and the Trickster. A being like Hermes or Eshu may play either role. One of Hermes’ appellatives, stropheos literally means “socket,” as in the socket of a hinge that enables the pin to turn, and the door to open and close. So we can think of him as a Hinge guy — as in “hinge of fate” — or a Pivot. As he swings, so do our fortunes. Hermes steps through the doors between worlds with a hard-on, as men often transit from the dream world to the waking world and as hanged men enter the afterlife. Hermes is penetrating, and this is the effect of synchronicity. It pushes through, it opens up, and it inseminates.
Trickster is the mode the Gatekeeper — that power that opens doors in your life — adopts when you need to change and adapt and recover your sense of humor. If you are set in your ways and wedded to a linear agenda, the Trickster can be your devil. If you are open to the unexpected, and willing to turn on a dime (or something smaller), the Trickster can be a very good friend.
The Trickster will find ways to correct unbalanced and overcontrolling or ego-driven agendas, just as spontaneous night dreams can explode waking fantasies and delusions. Our thoughts shape our realities, but sometimes they produce a boomerang effect. The Trickster wears animal guise in folklore and mythology, appearing as the fox or the squirrel, as spider or coyote or raven.
Anansi, a Trickster god of the Ashanti of Ghana, brilliantly and hilariously evoked in Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys, is a spider and also a man. “It is not hard to keep two things in your head at the same time. Even a child could do it.” He makes out that he is the owner of stories. Indeed, to make friends with the Trickster, we want to be ready to make a story out of whatever happens in life and to recognize the bigger, never-ending story that may be playing through our everyday dramas. If nothing goes wrong, it has been said, you do not have much of a story. The Trickster knows all about that.
We are most likely to meet the Trickster at liminal times and in liminal places, because his preferred realm is the borderlands between the tame and the wild. He invites us to live a little more on the wild side. He approves when we make a game or a story out of it when our plans get upset, our certainties scrambled.
He insists on a sense of humor.
The well-known psychic and paranormal investigator Alan Vaughan tells a great story against himself about the peril of taking signs too seriously. He read that Jung had noted a perfect correspondence between the number of his tram ticket, the number of a theater ticket he bought the same day, and a telephone number that someone gave him that evening.
Vaughan decided to make his own experiment with numbers that day in Freiburg, where he was taking a course. He boarded a tram and carefully noted the ticket number, 096960. The number of the tram car itself was 111. He noticed that if you turned the numbers upside down, they still read the same. He was now alert for the appearance of more reversible numbers. Still focused on his theme of upside-down numbers, he banged into a trash can during his walk home. He observed ruefully, “I nearly ended by being upside down myself.” When he inspected the trash can, he saw that it bore a painted name: JUNG.
It was impossible not to feel the Trickster in play. Alan felt he had been reminded — in an entirely personal way — that the further we go with this stuff, the more important it is to keep our sense of humor.
A title of Eshu, who is both Trickster and Gatekeeper in the
Yoruba tradition of West Africa, is Enforcer of Sacrifice. He is the one who
makes sure that the gods receive their offerings. The price of entry may be a
story, told with humor.
Text adapted from Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life by Robert Moss. Published by New World Library.
Photo: This is my favorite image of Ganesha, and the one most likely to appeal to any writer. In one of his hands he is holding the tusk he broke off when all other writing tools were exhausted, so he could fulfill his bargain to record the whole of the immense Mahabharata on condition that the sage Vyasa never paused in his dictation.