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Book Digest
The Trickster and The Paranormal
By George P. Hansen
Get Your Copy Here!
Digest by Clayton Montez

Part 1

Has the supernatural world touched you today? It likely has and you didn't know it. According to George P. Hansen, author, magician, theologian and parapsychologist, the supernatural holds enormous power over our lives – influencing entire cultures. He warns that we ignore it at our peril.

Despite marginal notoriety in modern culture, Hansen explains that supernatural phenomena are frequently portrayed in the world's greatest art and literature, and most of us believe in them.  It has fostered history's most important cultural transformations, including the miracles of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. In the same vein of Edgar Cayce's tenets that “thoughts are things”, Hansen shows us in his new book, “The Trickster and the Paranormal” that the ubiquitous and very real supernatural demonstrates that our thoughts move of their own accord and influence the physical world.

In “Trickster”, Hansen finds significant consequences in the interaction of seemingly unrelated and obscure phenomenon about which we often disregard. He includes fortune telling, the occult, magic, telepathy, psychokinesis, miracles, the power of prayer, clairvoyance, UFO’s and communication with the dead. Although this phenomena is controversial and irrational, it is precisely for this reason that Hansen urges us to reach out beyond the limits of our “rational” way of thinking and grasp its significance before we become victims of our reckless assumptions.

Earlier cultures knew the supernatural to be dangerous and surrounded by taboos, but because we tend to refer to it as more of an anomaly – as something outside of mainstream science, we have no understanding of the awesome power to which we are vulnerable. Essentially, our grasp of a structured and routine world is continually elusive due to disruptive interruptions that destabilize our psyche and subtly influence the way we live. By allowing these forces to influence us unconsciously, we may likely, according to our rational perspective, become uncivilized. Hansen embodies the attributes of the supernatural under a common and well-known, but little understood figure – the Trickster. By familiarizing ourselves with the trickster, we can understand the chaos that enters into our lives and learn to master our fears of it.

In many tribal cultures, trickster tales are not merely literary creations; the tales are sacred; they are descriptions of the world. It is a character type found in mythology, folklore, and in literature around the world. Tricksters appear as animals, humans and gods and have a number of common characteristics. Some of their most salient qualities are disruption, unrestrained sexuality, disorder and non-conformity to the establishment. They are typically male and can be endearingly clever or disgustingly stupid. Their stories are irrational and often difficult to understand.

Hansen’s research on the Trickster shows how its attributes blurs the distinction between imagination and reality and how we are consequently challenged in the face of subjective, nonrational beliefs to separate fiction from reality.

Part 2

Hansen says that it is a fact that the trickster's traits of uncertainty, ambiguity, instability, the void and the abyss are neither patternless, nor without power. They often hide within the realm of the supernatural and the irrational, a place beyond the limits of reason. He warns that if we choose to ignore their existence, they become exceedingly dangerous.

If, on the other hand, we acquaint ourselves with the attributes of the trickster and the neglected aspects of the paranormal, we can more readily adjust to and incorporate destabilizing factors that would strengthen us rather than turn our world upside down. The trickster's attributes and their relevance to the paranormal as well as our responses to them are complex. Therefore, we must heed the signs that expose the trickster for what it is.

Hansen explains the trickster as an embodiment of an archetype. It is a “personification of a group of abstract qualities that appear in a variety of circumstances.” This aspect of the trickster is abundant throughout the world's writings. For example, Wakdjunkaga of the Winnebago, a formless, selfish buffoon plays tricks, is deceptive, and sexually insatiable. The trickster of the Greeks known as Hermes or Mercury, is a charming sociopath that “fleeces” his victims and yet, psychologically speaking, assists communication between the conscious mental world of mind and intellect (earth) and the collective unconscious (underworld). And, the trickster figure of Mercurious described by Carl Jung, mediates between the lower material world and the higher spiritual one.

The above tricksters, along with countless others, engage in deceit throughout social and historical progression in order to destabilize structures and dominate transitions. They are misfits that embody paradox, contradiction, and ambiguity. They are marginal characters with uncertain, ambiguous statuses. Some traditions believe that their function for disruption is to stimulate change or transform the social order.

How do we cope with these obscure creatures that warp our Aristotelian world with subversive activities and meddle in our civilized affairs?

Hansen answers that the concept of marginality for the trickster is important for us to consider and continues to explain the importance of “boundary” and “structure” that we use to define our place in the world.

Part 3

The issue of boundaries is central to understanding the trickster. Hansen targets the psychological research of Earnest Hartmann, a psychiatrist at the Tufts University School of Medicine and author of Boundaries in the Mind (1991), to illustrate the concept of boundaries as a useful framework for understanding personality and its relationship to psychic phenomena.

Throughout extensive studies with sleep disorders, Hartmann noticed that some people were more prone to freely reveal their innermost secrets and behave fluidly while others appeared more organized and revealed rigid psychological defense mechanisms. This discovery led Hartmann to create “thick” and “thin” boundary personality types. Thick-boundary people tend to fixate on definitive goals and anchor themselves to the sensory world. Conversely, thin-boundary people act with apparent detachment. Corporate managers are likely to have thick boundaries, and artists, writers and musicians tend to have thinner ones. Thin-boundary types also tested significantly higher for clairvoyance; thus supporting connections between thin boundaries and the paranormal.

Hansen finds that the thin-boundary personality types have much in common with those characteristics found in the Greek trickster, Hermes, who is also a god of boundaries. Some of these shared attributes are instability, unpredictability, rebelliousness, unreliability, and spontaneity. However, personality characteristics of individuals only partly explain trickster manifestations. The following theories from anthropology expand upon the significance of boundaries.

Part 4

Since anthropologists examine a wide range of cultures and typically observe the extremes of the human condition, Hansen stresses the theories of anthropologists Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner to further explore the issues central to Trickster – change, transition and instability. Van Gennep and Turner were particularly well known for their instructive insights on rites and rituals in religion, literature, folklore and psychology. They studied relatively simple societies, but through comparative methodology they could use concrete examples to discern complex patterns in higher order civilizations that traditional systems of cause and effect scientific inquiry might miss.

Of particular relevance in the study of the trickster is van Gennep and Turner’s focus on social status and social structure. Turner opined that a social structure consists of a system of social positions, and “the units of social structure are relationships between statuses, roles and offices.” Organized culture and civilization require differentiation, roles and structure. Roles define continuity; they designate positions and statuses in the structure of society. Consequently, structure produces social distance and inequality that subtly leads to alienation beyond conscious recognition. We erroneously tend to see others as a collection of individuals with discrete differences, and assume that the character of the group can be derived from those of the individuals... much like having a bird of a feather kind of mentality. Hansen says this fundamentally wrong assumption robs us of the understanding that we are being victimized by a social structure that rules over us practically invisibly and without our knowledge of its effects upon us.

Van Gennep described three major stages of the overarching social structure that is typically found in many cultures. Essentially, most cultures have important transitions, such as puberty, marriage, change in leadership, and death. During these transitions people often experience emotional stress involving separation (dissolution), transition (a period of adjusting to new experiences), and incorporation (combining the new experiences with the familiar in the maturation process). These three passages involve revisions in structural positions that involve an entire group and not just an individual. Van Gennep and Turner call these passages liminality, communitas, and anti-structure.

Liminality, a term referring to the physical separation of an individual from the rest of the populace during initiatory rites of passage, is known in a variety of contexts involving transitions.  Van Gennep included matters such as initiations, vision quests, retreats into hideaways, sacred contexts and territorial passage. Turner expanded upon the idea to illustrate that court jesters, good Samaritans and even small nations shared common characteristics that “fall into the interstices of social structure”. Fundamentally, liminality describes a process whereby the initiate seeks novel ways of seeing the world by exploring new aspects in the familiar; the essence of creativity. For example, shamans often undergo a crisis to meet their calling. They roam forests, see visions and act seemingly peculiar. Yet by the end of the crisis, the shaman has new abilities and becomes an important member of society.  Hansen cautions that we miss the benefits of liminality as the source of rejuvenation and creativity because we discredit the value of marginality and withdrawal.

The second passage, communitas, is a Latin term to describe a feeling of fellowship. In communitas, persons drop their normal roles and statuses and become absorbed into the social structure – what Turner describes as “a sense of a generic social bond between all members of society regardless of their traditional affiliations.” In our culture, the Marine Corps boot camp is an example. The new recruits undergo rigorous training that upset the patterns of their familiar existence and they become strongly bonded with their buddies and the Corps in general. If they survive, they emerge transformed, with self-confidence, new abilities, and a new identity. Communitas is linked with humility and at least an interim loss of status to emphasize our frail human condition. It cannot last for long periods and has the potential for disorder without supervision. Yet, communitas is believed to be essential for rebirth and regeneration. Turner notes, “man is both a structural and an anti-structural entity, who grows through anti-structure and conserves through structure.”

Like liminality and communitas, the third passage of anti-structure evokes ideas of disruption, a primary trickster quality. It's blurring of distinctions and oppositions such as life-death, male-female, and food-excrement are associated with the characteristics of the trickster as a mediator between binary oppositions. One of Turner's students and literary theorist, Barbara Babcock, illustrates why it is instructive to study the anti-structural traits of the trickster.

Having identified 16 characteristics of tricksters and their six functions in society, Babcock says that trickster tales help us become conscious of aspects of life and culture that might otherwise be neglected. She further describes the trickster's congruence to creativity, saying: “In contrast to routine thinking, the creative act of thought is always ‘double-minded, i.e., a transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both thought and emotion is disturbed.’

Hansen says that if we selectively cherish our own beliefs and values while avoiding others, we build a structured life that stifles creativity. Meanwhile, the trickster traits of anti-structure subtly steer us towards a re-vision of our fixed notions by upsetting our customary habits. The more rigidly we hold onto our slice of the world, the more we resist change, and the greater our anguish when novel circumstances requires adaptation. The agony of dissonance reduces when we incorporate the new experiences with the old. Think of the private giving the master sergeant a piece of his mind. He may lose his ‘peace’ of mind if he doesn't adjust to his new surroundings!

Turner notes that “liminal situations and roles are almost everywhere attributed with magico-religious properties that are often regarded as dangerous, inauspicious, or polluting to persons, objects and relationships that have not been properly inducted into the liminal context.” Such people as diviners, witches, prophets and rainmakers dwell within ambiguous circumstances and are often viewed as having supernatural power. They occupy the middle ground of binary opposites between God and man. This middle ground is abnormal, non-natural, and holy. It is the liminal, the interstitial, the anti-structural; it provides contact with the supernatural realm. It is the domain of the trickster and the netherworld of spirits whose existence blurs the separation between life and death. Mortal trespass into this world and supernatural intrusion are mediated by sacred rules or taboos that are intended to “protect divinity from profanation and to protect the profane from divinity.” Violations of taboos are often deliberately rendered through ritual in the expectation of obtaining powers and truths that can not be reached by conscious effort. The enabling ritual invites disorder from whence power comes. Hansen warns that disorder without understanding the contradictions inherent when forbidden acts are committed for the same reasons they are forbidden brings peril.

As liminality is related to mystical power, anti-structure is closely affiliated with the paranormal. The vision quests of shamans and the lives of mystics tell of frequent meetings with supernatural beings and demonstrations of psychic abilities. These people typically cultivate altered states of consciousness, which verifiably demonstrate the occurrence of psychic phenomena. Furthermore, these and other people who tend to be liminal and live marginal lives “strive with passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role playing”, according to Hansen. In our own society, marginal, low status groups and individuals that are closely aligned with anti-structure keep paranormal ideas and practices alive.

Part 5

One example of perpetual liminality is the life of the mystic. However, this not an ordinary illustration of passage and transition. Rather, the mystic's strong, disruptive and sometimes, grotesque anti-structural qualities reflect permanent immersion in trickster phenomenon. The intervention of the supernatural into the rational world is often profoundly unsettling and the latter often consider the mystic to be deviant or psychotic. Hansen remarks that it is no accident that the mystic is often cloistered and has therefore shielded divinity's contact with the larger world. Having lost this understanding we continue to question whether God exists when what we might instead wonder in the face of mysticism, “Is God sane”?

Hansen claims that history is filled with stories of “fools for God.” Many famous mystics and saints disrupted social order and upset people, were persecuted as heretics and often imprisoned or killed. They often mirrored the most common trickster traits, making it difficult to tell the difference between a holy man and a con artist. Never the less, mystics established important religious traditions. They have also demonstrated powerful psychic phenomena, including instantaneous healing, immunity to fire, and levitation.

One popular saint, Francis of Assisi (1182)-1226), was renowned for communion with nature, particularly with birds. Tricksters and liminality also share this feature. St. Francis reportedly tried to maintain a permanent liminal state. He spoke in parables and levitated during prayer. His stigmata not only included bleeding, but also black nail-like protuberances formed from his flesh making it difficult for him to walk. Another saint, Lydwine of Schiedam (1380-1433), is a more exotic example of liminal and trickster characteristics. She spent extended periods in mystical, ecstatic trance, prophesying, performing miraculous healing, making trips to purgatory and escorting souls to heaven. And yet for these extraordinary deeds she lived a tortured life with stigmata and perpetually putrefying flesh.

The common thread among mystics and saints, Hansen’s sources affirm, is that their spiritual fervor and extreme asceticism made an impact on their communities, if only by provoking disapproval and mockery. Their unconventional actions were purportedly intended to shock their community into reacting against traditional beliefs. Their self-styled spiritually enhanced mode of life was an implicit criticism of the secular life-style. Their miracles, as signs from God, gave them legitimacy to challenge the established religious hierarchy.

The lives of the mystics personify troubling philosophical questions that are not easily resolved. Although some may commune with heavenly figures, have ecstatic visions of heaven, and display grace through miraculous powers of healing and clairvoyance, they themselves often endure severe physical suffering, battle demons and undergo mental breakdowns. Carl Jung’s “Answer to Job” highlights their sacred dilemma and begs the question of whether God is merciful and just. Such trauma remains ambiguous as traditional societies scorn the chaotic anti-structure of the mystics rather than explore it.

Part 6

Still another exemplar of the trickster is the Shaman. Shamans were the sacred technicians of tribal rituals and healing. Like mystics, they existed outside of the social order, forsaking conventional ways of life in order to bridge the living with the spirit world. Invariably, shamans were artists of deception. For example, Hansen cites American pilgrimages in the 1980’s to the Philippines for treatment by psychic surgeons who seemed to extract diseased tissues without leaving a scar. The “extracted” materials were later found to be from pigs, cows and decomposed human tissue but not from the patients. Whether their trickery aided healing via placebo effects or enhanced their power to compel obedience, Hansen points out that the more significant aspects of trickster liminality and cunning found in shamanism convincingly mirror the mysterious magico-religious aspects of the paranormal.  Tribal peoples accepted trickery and paranormal events as mutually inclusive and believed that they could exist side by side. The shaman thus became the subject of respect and ridicule. This unusual complexity defines the trickster constellation as it applies to the life of many shamans.

The examples of mystics and shamans heretofore illustrate a psychological perspective of supernatural/trickster traits, as they are manifest at an individual level. However, the depth of power in the paranormal is much more insidious at the sociological level where social processes shape our thoughts unconsciously. Hansen warns that we must know this process if we are to learn where are own thoughts come from. This is especially true in regard to magic, religion, and the paranormal. Consequently, Hansen looks to cultural transformations and the research of prominent anthropologists, Winkelman, Weber and Wallace in order to demonstrate supernatural influences underlying human evolution.

Part 7

Through Winkelman and his cross-cultural studies of people who use supernatural powers, Hansen connects the status of the mystic or shaman with the complexity of the society within which they function. Winkelman determined that the least complex societies, typified by hunting and gathering cultures have shamans with a greater command of paranormal powers than their agricultural counterparts who represent a more complex social stratification and political sophistication.

The hunter-gatherers relied upon the vagaries of nature, requiring mobility, spontaneity, and more intimacy with the wilderness. Whereas, their agricultural counterparts were further removed from nature and exerted their political will to control it through planning and stockpiling rather than risk the potential for famine. The hunter-gatherer shaman was therefore regarded as significant, charismatic leader who commanded the spirits through altered states of consciousness in order to heal, find game and give counsel. Where societies became more complex and further removed from nature, the shaman was more or less regarded as a medium and one controlled by spirits.

Hansen finds in Winkelman that more complex societies lose touch with supernatural powers and experiences because the beliefs and practices that were typical of the hunter-gatherer shaman are displaced and repressed. The practices and beliefs in simpler societies made the most use of psi phenomenon. Hence, the cultivation of psychic functioning is absent in the higher status social structures of Western culture. The institutions of science and medicine marginalize those who attempt to engage it. Under these influences modern societies have become antagonistic towards parapsychology and are fundamentally unconscious of its subtle effects upon us.

Moreover, Hansen believes that Max Weber’s concepts of charisma, rationalization, and disenchantment are critical components to the structure and stability of societies. Charisma is central to Weber’s theories of authority, power, and domination. He explains that pure charisma requires the presence of miracles, including prophesy, telepathy, and weather control.

As cultures become more rationalized, miracles and magic (e.g., overt control over paranormal and supernatural powers) are suppressed and charisma becomes neutralized.

Accordingly, our modern societies grow increasingly dependent upon a predictable future, bound by rules and regulations, and forged by standardization, regimentation and specialization. Hansen muses, “We are the bureaucratic culture that guarantees careers, advancement, and organized evolution. Our increasing depth of intellectually analyzable rules leads to rigid thinking and stifles creativity.”

Magic and miracles are never eliminated; rather our conscious awareness of them is diminished. We tend to view them as fiction according to the way they are institutionalized by contemporary academic and media bureaucracies as well as most exoteric religions.

For Weber, charisma was the primordial source of authority. Bureaucracy was directly opposed to it. Therefore, those who directly employ psychic powers do so outside the purview of bureaucratic institutions. In times of cultural transitions, when such institutions undergo instability as traditional values are challenged, the trickster, the paragon of marginality and of transition, becomes publicly prominent through charismatic leadership.

However, all civilizations are prone to disruptive transitions from the old familiar traditions toward the establishment of new ones. Whether dramatic and full blown, or relatively mild and limited, cultural change and revitalization are complex processes, but they have commonalities. Revitalization, in the works of University of Pennsylvania anthropologist F. C. Wallace, runs a structured course similar to that of Van Genep’s work on rites of passage. Wallace describes the movement from stability to chaos and finally, to re-stabilization, in five overlapping stages: 1) Steady State; 2) Period of

Individual Stress; 3) Period of Cultural Distortion; 4) Period of Revitalization (in which behavior modification, communication, adaptation, cultural transformation, and

routinization), and finally, 5) New Steady State. This movement reiterates the theme of the mythical ‘Heroes Journey’, whereby disturbing changes occasionally challenge our lives and we must reconcile with inner demons (e.g., old habits) in order to emerge with new insights.

It is at this time of cultural change that the trickster and anti-structural manifestations are particularly apparent, and the supernatural is an important part of them. For as a person’s picture of his or her existence undergoes changes, the normal patterns of life that we imagine as having some sort of boundary have suddenly become permeable and perhaps collapsible. Wallace sees society as organic, so that if one member of a group becomes dysfunctional the group will, as a whole, make adjustments in an effort to ameliorate the problem and maintain the status quo.

The varied responses to cope may invite further chaos and distortion to where a pronounced deterioration can potentially lead to the death of a society. During this process of demolition and rebuilding of a ‘world view’, it is not uncommon for stressed individuals to find solace in other worldly phenomena, e.g., religious visionary experiences, and rebound with a more active and purposeful way of life. Thus a religious leader, for example, derives power from outside of the traditional authority structure ascribed by society (e.g., via anti-structure) and gains legitimacy by paranormal manifestations. Revitalization can be constructive or destructive, but it always occurs in periods of cultural transitions.

Hansen asserts that the trickster is ubiquitous during this time with deception, loss of status, disregard for moral boundaries, general disruption and a highly visible presence of the supernatural.

Heretofore Hansen paints relatively abstract portraits of the trickster to help us appreciate its elusive qualities. From this point forward, Hansen illustrates concrete, modern examples of the trickster’s presence. These include: phony psychics, UFO’s, magic tricks, hypnosis, supernatural hoaxes, witchcraft, government disinformation, and more.

Deception is pervasively associated with all of the above.


Hansen finds that psychic individuals harbor one of the more publicly known forms of trickery in the context of the supernatural. They tend to influence public perception of the paranormal with bizarre beliefs, odd behaviors, and sometimes cult-like teachings. They are often colorful, charismatic, and invite allegations of fraud with sleight-of-hand activities. Ironically, their popularity is not only supported by devoted followers, but by debunkers who keep the psychic’s name alive through pragmatic disclaimers. Whether or not they produce convincing evidence of psi, Hansen feels that their power to shape public perception of paranormal phenomena merits scrutiny.

When illustrating several successful spiritualists and mediums, such as Helena P.

Blavatsky, Arthur Ford, don Juan Mateas and Sathy Sai Baba, to name a few, Hansen observes that most of them engaged in trickery to seduce their audience. Investigators exposed some. Others later confessed their faults. Notwithstanding the merits of their gifts, Hansen says the trickster traits amongst them are blatant. Blavatsky, for example, was known for exotic psychic feats in materialization and levitation. She lived a tumultuous existence with an obscure reputation for sexual promiscuity, compulsive lying, and political espionage.

Another famous medium, Aurthur Ford, gained notoriety in 1929 for cracking a secret code that Houdini had left with his wife. The code was designed by Houdini to prove that its discovery could only mean that Houdini was speaking from his grave. Later, it was discovered that Ford and Bess were romantically involved and the stunt was a hoax.

Dubiously successful at his craft, Ford battled alcoholism and engaged in bi-sexual relationships.

Blavatsky, Ford and the other prominent psychics under Hansen’s pen exemplified liminal and anti-structural patterns of existence through socially deviant lifestyles and high visibility. They were highly successful in drawing attention to themselves and stimulated discussion about their experiences. At the same time, their antics and deceptions motivated status-conscious scientists to ignore them and marginalize their credibility. Hansen claims it is a cultural fact that the Trickster rules the lives of the psychics.


The world of magic is another popular forum for the trickster. Marginality, solitariness, and travel, all associated with the trickster, resonate with deception and the paranormal in the art of creating illusions. The magician craftily plies his trade to take advantage of people’s assumptions. Hansen declares that assumptions are simply abstractions and representations of the world that can perpetuate ignorance and allow deception to penetrate virtually unnoticed.

Although the practice of conjuring has been around for centuries, it has a comparatively low status with other arts such as music, painting and drama that enjoy a wider variety of public exposure. It is a hobby that stimulates fraternal camaraderie, but because of the secretive nature of magic, much of the trade is cloaked to outsiders.

The relationship between the trickster character-type and the magician seems obvious, according to Hansen. Yet, few if any have explored it. In order to illustrate the presence of liminal and anti-structural qualities of the trickster in the world of the magician,

Hansen notes that most practitioners lead unusual lives. None have held long-term, prominent positions in structured institutions. Their achievements are self-serving rather than for public benefit. And they are usually well known for curious sexual activity. When exploring the realm of the magician the subject of deception is difficult to ascertain. Hansen points out that the debate continues as to whether psychics are only magicians, or conversely, whether conjurers have psychic powers. Even magicians argue amongst themselves over the validity of psi. This instability among the practitioners reinforces Hansen’s convictions that the trickster lives within the magician.


Paradoxically, the trickster manifests with opponents of the supernatural. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is the most aggressive antagonist of the paranormal today. Hansen targets this organization for trickster qualities simply because it cannot escape its influence when directly confronting paranormal issues. CSICOP’s eclectic membership of writers, scientists, philosophers, anthropologists, some magicians, and so on, earnestly strive to debunk psi phenomenon to such an extreme that it does not conduct formal research for fear that such activity will give the paranormal credibility. Nevertheless, CSICOP has expended such great energy marginalizing paranormal activities that it has elevated psi’s importance in Hansen’s opinion.

Hansen selects three issues that point to CSICOP’s association with the trickster. The first issue concerns the overall anti-religious sentiment pervasive in CSICOP and its strong alliance with atheistic groups. This disposition apparently serves to intensify efforts to ridicule the paranormal. Yet such intensity suggests the presence of an energetic, unconscious, archetypal process. Hansen says the trickster figure Prometheus illuminates this, and he has much in common with the skeptics. His titanic nature is filled with power-ridden ambition to blackmail and destroy. Unlike Hermes who gives freely to the

Gods all that he has stolen, Prometheus cheats and helps himself to the very offerings: an anti-religious sentiment par excellence.

The second issue shows CSICOP’s considerable efforts to assure its status and respectability in the eyes of the scientific, academic, and media elites. Therefore, its membership consists of the most highly respected icons of hierarchical institutional structures that are bestowed with positions of influence and honors. These personalities often have great vested interests to support the status quo and reinforce the beliefs of scientific leaders. Its penchant for considerable status eclipses its ability to conduct serious research against paranormal activities. Instead it prefers to ridicule those who take

psi phenomenon seriously. Hansen claims that unlike other scientific organizations such as the American Physical Society whose goals, organizational structure, operations, and demographics are dedicated to advancing issues in their field, CSICOP’s only function appears to be self-ingratiating.

Thirdly, CSICOP’s penchant for rationalization quashes sensitivity to mystical experiences. Its repression of portions of the human experience poignantly shows the limits of science and rationality. Hansen admits that there are valid reasons for respecting taboos, prohibitions, and restrictions surrounding the supernatural. However, denying the value of the supernatural merely invokes self-destruction by the disbeliever. Hansen opines that CSICOP is living proof.


The trickster and anti-structural features are also abundant in small groups. The groups worth noting share a common tendency to elicit paranormal phenomena through one of the following methods: séances, psychotronics, UFO telepathic communications, and dowsing. Psi, disorder, lowered sexual inhibitions, and deceptions are all present despite whether these groups have any ability to induce real paranormal events.

Hansen writes that the members of the groups under study have typically experienced a recent major transition (e.g., divorce, completion of an education program, a geographical move). They are looking for, or presently undergoing, change and reintegration and are vulnerable to promises of hope. Consequently, they tend to reinforce each other’s beliefs and expectations for the paranormal. The trickster constellation strengthens and the boundaries between real and imaginary, subjective and objective, become less distinctive.

Hansen shows the tumultuous life of Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who is internationally acclaimed for her pioneering work on death and dying. Throughout her work with the dying she used séances to seek the counsel of spirits. Accomplices often plied hoaxes during the séance to gratify the seekers. She had not used any scientific methodology to study the matter. Rather, she immersed herself as an explorer of the life-death transition outside of conventional wisdom. In spite of her sizable following and the creation of the hospice movement and bereavement groups, Kubler-Ross never established a long-lasting institution. Additionally, she continued to blur the life-death binary opposition by asserting there is no death. Hansen concludes that Kubler-Ross’s life’s work reflects both the anti-structural and liminal characteristics of tricksterism.

Generally, the groups selected by Hansen such as SORRAT (The Society for Research on

Rapport and Telekinesis) and Psi Tech (a government sponsored organization) bring discredit to themselves with bizarre claims while engaged with paranormal powers and supernatural beings. “The trickster appears, and marginality comes again and again”, says



Presently, there are three alternative religious movements in our culture that share common elements, conflict with the establishment, and demonstrate marginality and anti-structure.

These movements, Spiritualism, New Age, and Witchcraft dabble in the training and use of psychic abilities. None of them are institutionalized in the manner of government, academe, or mainline religion. Nor do they have any central authority; control is local.

Like shamanism, Spiritualism relies upon altered states of consciousness. Usually mediums went into a trance and allowed spirits to speak through them. Their messages were often punctuated by mysterious activities such as levitated tables that gave them legitimacy. Darkened séances provided opportunities for sexual liaisons. Overall, the mediumistic trickery found in Spiritualism accents the trickster characteristics of disruption, deception, lowering of sexual inhibitions, and the display of paranormal powers.

The New Age movement, as defined by Hansen, is a “loose network of people and organizations involved with such causes as holistic health, channeling, spiritual seeking,

Eastern religions, personal transformation, and ecological awareness, among others.” It is more ambiguous than the other two movements mentioned here and seemingly just as subversive to established norms. Such notaries as Edgar Cayce, Ruth Montgomery, Jane

Roberts (channeling Seth), and Helen Schucman (A Course in Miracles) fueled strong interest among thousands searching for self-empowerment in a fluid, decentralized network removed from structured hierarchies.

Alongside the New Age Movement, modern-day witchcraft and neo-paganism rose to popularity in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hansen notes, “A central figure of witchcraft and neo-paganism is the use of ritual magic for practical ends, and as such, direct contact with the supernatural is salient.” Hansen recognizes anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann for her detailed commentary on magical practices in her Persuasion of the Witch’s Craft (1989).

Luhrmann discovers that witchcraft engages in imagery rather than in analytic rationality.

It is believed that in order to manipulate the subtle currents and connections of the world conjurers must step outside the normal ways that people think and communicate. They use techniques that help them to avoid the subjective-objective perceptual barriers that define the Western version of the self and world.

The above three movements are strikingly similar where altered, or de-structured, states of consciousness play a major role. None recognize a central authority for their movement, and they engage in no institution building. All of the movements are considered subversive by the establishment; they court direct involvement with paranormal and supernatural phenomena, and all display elements of the trickster constellation.


Paranormal phenomena and established institutions are generally incompatible. The former thrives on anarchy while the latter relies upon order and stability for self-preservation.

Hansen finds when studying relationships between institutions and the paranormal that groups which form for the purpose of producing paranormal phenomena generally divide into two classes: those that maintain a focus on directly engaging the phenomena and those that move away from it. The groups that eventually institutionalize have shifted away from the training or display of psychic abilities and emphasize “spiritual development” and “personal growth”. The Association of Research and

Enlightenment (ARE) founded by Edgar Cayce in 1931 is an example. The ARE is established with buildings, a professional staff and a publishing facility for the purpose of education, a monument to an earlier era where paranormal activities were more evident.

Those that prefer to engage the paranormal through some semblance of incorporation seem to acquire a reputation for fraudulent mediumship in an effort to please their clientele or to prey on vulnerable people. Spiritualist camps, psychic hotlines, and even the entertainment industry fabricate psychic themes for self-serving agendas. Psychics that endeavor to provide a legitimate service usually work privately and apart from any institutionalized regime. Nevertheless, all of these types connected closely with the paranormal dance in the shadows of popular culture and appear to be odd or exotic; frequently with a negative taint.

Academe does not totally neglect the paranormal. However, like the entertainment industry, it treats psi as fiction. This consigns the paranormal to the realm of the imagination and subtly reinforces the idea that it need not be taken seriously. Students of various disciplines can study beliefs about paranormal events, but must not attempt to verify their reality. This implies to the students that the phenomena are not real. Hansen comments “academe is a product of, and an agent for, the rationalization and disenchantment of the world, and that entails marginalizing the paranormal. It exerts its influence more strongly through neglect, by ignoring, and what is left unmentioned.”

Given the clash between the anti-structural nature of the paranormal and the popular worldview, Hansen says it is unlikely that the paranormal can be rationally explained.

Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect the scientific establishment to study the phenomena. Since the supernatural is marginalized, and beyond the grasp of rationalization, he concludes that direct investigation of paranormal phenomena must be dealt with on its own level – “in the margins.”


Historically, investigations into the nature of psi are short lived. Hansen finds that when groups attempt to study paranormal phenomena by directly engaging and interacting with it, they self-destruct through brushes with fraud and trickery and loss of institutional affiliation and support. Their research activities never produce sustainable growth. Some of the more notable institutions such as, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), Duke

University’s Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), the Division of

Parapsychology and Psychophysics at Maimonides Medical Center, the American

Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), and the US government psychic spying program are barely surviving or have perished due to lackluster performances following dubious leadership, unstable philanthropy, and soured morale.

Once a darling of the socially tumultuous 1960’s and early 1970’s, parapsychology catered to the idealism of the baby-boomers coming of age. Counter cultures sought alternatives in the midst of civil rights movements and unwanted wars and the mystique of psi caught their eye. Movies (e.g. the Exorcist), TV programs, books and adult education courses reflected its popularity. Parapsychological research centers, although few, enjoyed public approval. However, in the 1980’s the baby boomers traded idealism for corporate greed. The promise of success in business shifted their interest from the paranormal. The “Me Generation” left parapsychology in the hands of the older, greyer forebears and the research labs decayed along with them.

Given the consistency in the pattern of promising beginnings, rapid initial growth, encounters with tricksters, internal conflict, stagnation and decay, parapsychology faces an ill-fated future for institutional longevity. Still, intense interest in psi and the high percentage of people who report paranormal experiences continues.


One of the major fallouts of paranormal experiences is the extraordinary blending of fantasy and reality. Paranormal events are exotic and confusing, ill defined and unstructured, and many invite more chaos beyond the known confines of the séance or the research laboratory. The challenge for validation under these circumstances is overwhelming, as researchers must cope with obscure roles and the ambiguous identities of the participants. Quite often they became entangled in the phenomena of their study and lose their ability to remain objective. Seemingly unrelated events such as Bigfoot sightings, cattle mutilations and UFO panics obfuscate scientific investigation through the common thread of disinformation and hoaxes. Like paranormal events, Hansen finds that these too lie beyond our comprehension because of their anti-structural characteristics of the trickster.

Encounters with such events helped Hansen discover a significant concept. Psi phenomena are “ideoplastic”. They respond to, and are shaped by, the ideas, beliefs, and anxieties of the observers. For example, one researcher spoke frequently with alleged UFO abductees who reported receiving mental messages from flying saucers. Soon, the researcher would unwittingly engage in telepathic or pre-cognitive events with them. The situation deteriorated to where the victims and the people associated with them became “tainted”, looked upon as odd, different or dangerous. Many developed paranoia. The researcher, upon noticing his plight, recognized that UFO sightings are not limited to a circumscribed time and place. It is not a discreet event in isolation. Rather, the consequences last for weeks or months, destabilizing the personal lives of those who become enmeshed in the phenomena.

Due to the disorienting tendencies of supernatural phenomena, we try to understand them in familiar terms, usually in one of two ways. Either the phenomena are believed to be of a religious or other worldly nature (e.g., from spirits, demons, gods, or extra-terrestrials), or they are attributed to a human conspiracy. Hansen remarks that such perceptions create a misleading framework of structure and limits upon which we build a premise for control, e.g., gods can be negotiated and dangerous humans avoided. He cautions that psi phenomena have an intelligence that addresses non-conscious entities. Our usual frameworks for scientific bias do not work here. The subversive activities of psi in the realm of anti-structure and liminality are incomprehensible to the modern rationalistic mind. Accordingly, the primitive mind “grasped the ideas of ‘participation’ and the contagion of taboo violation far more than the scientific theories accepted today.”


Adding to the congestion of subterfuge is the arena of government disinformation.

Hansen cites several government agencies, notably the CIA, and their murky connections with civilian organizations that dabble particularly with UFO sightings and cattle mutilations. The CIA, for example, monitors groups such as the Citizens Against UFO

Secrecy (CAUS) and the National Investigations Committee on Arial Phenomena

(NICAP) while at the same time it strives to confuse rather than clarify UFO activities. In

1952, the CIA recommended, “The National security Council debunk UFO reports and institute a policy of public education to reassure the public of the lack of evidence behind

UFOs…and that such private UFO groups as the Arial Phenomena Research organization in Wisconsin and the Civilian Flying Saucer Investigators in Los Angeles be watched for subversive activities.” Reportedly, the CIA also deploys an Incident Response Team to investigate UFO landings.

Contrary to the overt efforts of the CIA to dispel rumors of extra-terrestrial visits on earth, the United States Armed Forces went to great lengths to create them. Hansen cites heavily documented cases where influential people in key positions fabricated stories for public consumption. The infamous Roswell incident, a 1947 hoax perpetuated by the Air

Force base near Roswell, New Mexico, told of a captured flying saucer. The consequent supporting, albeit bogus, “ M-12” documents and photographs boosted disinformation by con artists and dishonest researchers for half a century to make the Roswell saga one of the most celebrated UFO cases.

The Roswell story and many related ones raise far more questions than answers, but unlike in other sciences, Hansen doubts that the questions will ever be resolved.

“Historically, many groups that dabbled in paranormal phenomena became unstable.

There is little reason to think that secret government projects would escape that fate.”

When the various government and civilian agencies toy with the paranormal they engage in supernatural powers that lead to problems in distinguishing fantasy from reality and right from wrong. Cloaked in secrecy and without critical review, government disinformation complicates the paranormal experiences with ambiguity. Consequently, institutionalized deception as illustrated by Trickster earmarks the trickster characteristics of boundary blurring, marginality, and deceit mixed with supernatural and mythological themes. Hansen laments that the ongoing feed of information of dubious reliability from the selected government agencies not only obfuscates paranormal phenomena, and in some cases fuels its popularity, it also undermines public trust in the government.


Based upon Hansen’s observations, UFO stories fit the schema of trickster characteristics because they have properties in common with angels, spirits, fairies and demons. They are all remotely separate from, yet somehow interconnected with, our perceptual world.

“It is an enchanted area where the rules of the rational do not apply.” We tend to conceptualize ET phenomena as “flesh and blood” humanoids traveling in “nuts and bolts” flying saucers and apart from the supernatural. Because of this misperception,

Hansen warns that we misunderstand the nature of the phenomena and become vulnerable to them.

Hansen compares the irrational behavior in Ufology with the mythical and magical nature of role-playing. Often thought to be popular during childhood as a natural part of human development, role-playing shaped our lives for most of us as we mimicked role models to learn who we are and how to behave. As adults we continue to be fascinated with more exotic roles. The large-scale, fantasy game of Dungeons and Dragons that emerged in

1974 is one example that nurtured adult fantasy role-playing where players assume roles of characters such as monsters, wizards, and other mythical creatures. They suspended their normal, rational thoughts and shared a common fantasy within the subculture created by the hundreds of variants that followed D&D.

These fantasy role-playing games (FRPGs) resemble the trickster in several ways.

Through the participatory nature of drama, props and physical action, the players have the opportunity for more intimate contact with supernatural ideas. Liminal components emerge in the blurring of fantasy and reality and the invocation of magical beings. The players are frequently high school or college age – a transitory stage, and usually unmarried. Games rules do not cover all contingencies and are often transgressed.

Cheating is encouraged although there are no winners or losers. Another liminal feature is the adoption of some New Age guided-imagery exercises where magical beings are sought to resolve real-world problems. Hansen remarks, “Fantasy role-playing taps archetypal images that hold considerable psychological power. Those images and ideas can become immensely attractive, even addictive, to people playing the game.”

FRPGs are like Ufology because they allow direct, immediate involvement with powerful otherworld beings and mythological motifs. Although participants in each event can become heavily engrossed, FRPG players are able to successfully detach themselves from the activity. Some become obsessed with the “game” and have difficulty re-entering the real world. However, UFO phenomena have far more serious problems than with

FRPGs. Ufology is more unstructured. Its boundaries are not as well contained as that of an FRPG. In an FRPG, the time is set, the players are known, and the Dungeon Master settles disputes. There are fewer rules about what is or is not possible in Ufology. UFO phenomena can happen without warning, at any time or any place with any target. Paranoia is rampant with fear of ETs and government conspiracy themes. Investigators of

UFO topics enter an unbounded, liminal domain, unaware of its dangers. They become especially susceptible to hoaxes. “Hoaxes are liminal productions”, warns Hansen. They lower the statuses of the victims, and loss of status is one of the defining characteristics of liminal conditions. Marginality is another trickster quality, and hoaxes marginalize not only the victims but the whole field of ufology. Consequently, hoaxes protect the paranormal from close examination.”

In Western culture today, there are subtle taboos that restrict our participation in the paranormal world. It threatens to destabilize our world in shades of ambiguity, hoaxes,

liminality and anti-structure. When the supernatural appears we often miss the opportunity to understand it because it doesn’t fit within our rationalistic worldview.

Therefore, Hansen proposes several theoretical constructs to guide us.


Due to the elusive nature of psi phenomenon, Hansen uses an abstract concept known as Reflexivity to clarify it. Reflexivity is “the turning of some function or process back upon itself, as if using awareness to learn about awareness or using logic to study logic.”

A popular example is Epimenides' paradox: "This statement is false." If it is true, then it's false, and vice versa. The distinction between the subject and object is blurred just as it is in the liminal and paranormal circumstances explored earlier.

Hansen remarks that reflexivity can point to paranormal experiences practically because we have an opportunity in some cases to observe the results of its application. When reflexivity is evident, some aspect of the paranormal frequently appears in the vicinity.

Meditation, for example, often facilitates psychic experiences. It is reflexive in many cases because in its practice consciousness is used to observe consciousness.

Using science to study science is another reflexive process. In the practice of the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK), sociologists become participant-observers in scientific research. SSK practitioners have demonstrated the subjective and ambiguous aspects of science, much to the chagrin of many scientists. Some of the most eminent

SSK researchers have also been involved with parapsychology.

Reflexivity courts disruption, another trickster quality. It is antithetical to order, structure, boundaries, classification, foundations and limits. It is a source of paradox and ambiguity with problems generally avoided by scholars. First, it poses problems in scientific experiments, particularly when replicating them while encountering the Rosenthal-Pygmalion Effect ~ experimenter expectancies that thwart objective outcomes.

Second, it exposes limits to logic, objectivity, knowledge, communication, representation and so on.

Third, it inverts social status of scientists who dare to chance their reputations for applying science reflexively, using science to study science. Finally, but not conclusively, it exposes foundational assumptions, particularly religious issues, which are usually veiled from conscious awareness.

The life of Martin Gardner is an instructive example of the trickster personified. Hansen spotlights his work in the fields of mathematics, magic, literary criticism, the paranormal, religion and paradox which, according to Hansen, “exemplifies the cross-pollination and hybridization that accompanies reflexivity.” Gardener often overlaps academic boundaries, freely mixing the above areas of study while simultaneously extolling the scientific method except when he attacks the merits of religion and the paranormal.

Though an aggressive debunker of psi, he writes lucidly of its significance. Through Gardener, Hansen shows how individuals can be interstitial or anti-structural in character and living marginally on the fringe of conventional civilization.

In effect, Hansen writes, “Manifestations of reflexivity generate ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty; they provoke feelings of unease, worry, and even paranoia. The trickster does to. The issue of limits is fundamental to the trickster, and reflexivity reveals limits.”

Psi Under the Microscope

A common notion about psychic phenomena is that it violates commonsense expectations about what is possible. By definition, all normal alternative causes must be ruled out before psi is acknowledged. Thus that which is excluded characterizes psi.

This idea becomes vastly complicated when we detect and interpret our world in myriad ways. Hansen notes that, “through classification, social structure, rational thought, and many other mechanisms, we bring order and intelligibility to our world.” A clue to finding psi emerges when established classifications and categories break down. It is within this context that the recurring themes of boundaries and limits become poignant when considering psi.

Hence it is no surprise that psi, like other subjects of study, are investigated in the laboratory where controlled conditions limit and constrain extraneous influences in an artificial environment. Notably, J. B. Rhine at Duke University in the early 1930’s is credited with establishing effective methods for studying psi phenomena. His card tests with the still famous symbols: circle, cross, wavy lines, square and star, are internationally recognized for detecting clairvoyance.

However, even controlled experiments fail to completely encompass the boundless nature

of psi into a comprehensive and predictable theory. Sometimes, remote viewing transcends continents and history. Other times, telepathy barely survives statistical significance across the room. Sometimes it is doubtful as to whether the test results reflected the scope of the research or psi mediated effects originated from the experimenter. Hansen also probes other mitigating factors such as retroactive PK, where effect precedes the cause; disposition and conformance behavior, where random events seem to align with a perceived need; and, task complexity independence tests, where hidden targets and blind tasks make information less available to sender/receiver subjects as well as the data recorder/observer.

With the possibility that subjects, experimenters, checkers, and outside observers might all influence the outcome, Hansen remarks, “it’s a wonder anyone can determine what caused the psi effect in an experiment.”

Nevertheless, progress in detecting psi has been made. Hansen cites research that demonstrates a variety of factors that affects psi, including: belief in ESP, personality traits, spontaneity, and altered states of consciousness, to name a few. So far, psychic phenomena can be influenced, if not fully controlled. Undisputedly, psi violates common-sense assumptions.

One consequence of the research is that psi experiments are found to be a social process, involving complex interplay beyond the exploration of the individual psyche. “ESP is not a mental radio. Nor is it blocked by distance or time”, writes Hansen. Occasionally, disturbing events change our outlook, destroying old ideas and creating new ones. These are the conditions where the trickster and psi manifest.


Although the presence and consequent influence of the trickster is just as strong today as it ever was, Hansen laments that we fail to regard it as seriously as our ancestor’s have.

Through their social customs, notably Totemism, Hansen notes that primitive cultures were acutely aware of the trickster’s existence. Citing works of Emile Durkheim, Andrew

Lang, William Wundt, Arnold,van Genep, Herbert Spencer, Marcel Mauss, and Sigmund

Freud, Hansen examines the various forms of totemism that are used to preserve tribal civilization amidst tricksterism.

For the primitive mind, totemism classifies items, structures society, and organizes the world. When totemism breaks down liminality and anti-structure surface. Therefore, the primitives regarded liminal conditions as a danger that needed to be fought. They used rituals to separate the elements of oppositions and reinforce the order of the world. For example, a tribe might be divided into a bear clan, an eagle clan, and others. Each clan has different rights, responsibilities, taboos, marriage restrictions, etc. Such arrangements included a wide range of magical interconnections and blurred boundaries, a life vastly different from our own. Hansen suggests that the examples of totemism subtly signal the limits to Western rationality and this difference is the key to its nature. For instance, the life-death binary opposition for us is distinct from each other. The primitive, on the other hand, not only communicates with the deceased, but the dead can harm the living and vice-versa.

Hansen opines from Max Weber’s view that modern academe and science banish the mystical and the irrational in the “progressive rationalization and disenchantment of the world”. Whereas the primitives understood themselves as mystically connected to the cosmos, the rational mind perceives objective reality through concrete symbols.

Rationalization fortifies the gulf between the human and the divine. The irrational is shunted from consciousness. However, magic never really disappears. Rationalization merely blocks conscious awareness of it. Conversely, totemism incorporates magical interconnections. And although we fail to grasp the significance of totemism for coping with supernatural powers, Hansen notes that the downplaying of miracles and mysticism through rationalization reinforce the same need that the primitives had to observe taboos against contact with the supernatural, though in veiled form.

The primitives knew that society could be torn apart if magical power were released. This could be done inadvertently, or intentionally with ritual protection. In either case, danger and chaos were invited. Similarly, the trickster who is also associated with the supernatural continues to thrive in disruption, boundary crossing, paradox and ambiguity.

Hansen advises that we may better recognize the trickster when we comprehend the significance of totemism, for both “illuminate” each other.

Literary Criticism

Since the trickster lies at the heart of meaning, it even touches the soul of literary criticism. Hansen points out that the term hermeneutics (the study of interpretation) is derived from the name Hermes, the trickster of the Greeks: “Meaning is the explicit concern of literary criticism, an innately reflexive discipline – it uses language to study language.” Since literary critics have long pondered the limitations of language, they have found critical insights about the trickster.

Trickster manifestations are more commonly evident in the smaller part of literary criticism involving structuralism and its intellectual descendants – deconstructionism and post-structuralism.

Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist and forebear in the structuralism camp showed language to have a betwixt and between quality where thought and sound were separated by a nether region and linguistics works “where the elements of sound and thought combine.” Likewise, semiotics is the study of signs and symbols – where binary opposites, the signifier and the signified, produce meaning. Both structuralism and semiotics show the relationships between literary ideas and social structure. It is a system of communication used to study patterns in order to clarify and organize.

In psi experiments, meaning is ascribed to a relationship between a random process in the outer world and a mental image, impression, or intent inside a person. The person perceives a relationship, but there is no physical cause for it. Psi is inferred when meaning is found.

The successor of structuralism, namely deconstructionism, attests that the relationships between objects and the perception of them are ambiguous and, consequently, the observer often implies meaning inconsistent with that of other observers. Deconstructionism, founded by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, attempts to confront the issue of representation. But it is also reflexive and leads to paradox. For if it is supposed that no objective meaning can be found in any text, then that applies to deconstructionism as well.

Hansen laments that the subtle detachment by deconstructionism not only confuses the meaning of language, it further deludes our awareness regarding the trickster’s presence.

“An archetype suppressed is not an archetype subdued; it erupts elsewhere.” Hansen illustrates the life of Paul de Man as a leading deconstructionist who exemplified the trickster: A bigamist who abandoned his children and consorted with Nazis was regarded as a charming, humorous, modest, and highly cultured man. While at the same time, “swindling, forging, and lying were second nature to him.” Literary criticism shares an essential concern with the paranormal – interpretation, particularly in ambiguous situations. In psi phenomena there are layers of meaning, and they are not the same for everyone. Both psi and meaning fall outside formal logic systems and both pose profound challenges to rationality. When literary criticism falters in its efforts for clarity and precision and slips to ambiguity, chaos and disorganization, the domain of the trickster, creep in.


Hansen often refers to the “betwixt and between” as the realm of the trickster.

Accordingly, the imagination is an integral part of the trickster’s modus operandi.

Whereas, psi interacts with the mind and the objective world with binary oppositions such as internal-external, subjective-objective, and fantasy-reality, Hansen maintains that its existence blends fact and fiction through imagination.

From primate behavior to religion to fiction, Hansen observes that the imagination is often associated with paranormal experiences in these areas. Remarkably, the imagination is more developed in anti-structural conditions and persons. Sociologist John

Macionis (1989) attests that “persons in socially marginal positions have an above average ability to take a sociological perspective and understand patterns that are not immediately observable… particularly when the established patterns of society begin to shake and crumble.” Both marginality and periods of transition are hallmarks of the paranormal, which in this case, underscore anti-structural and liminal aspects of the imagination.


Additionally, Hansen cites psychologist James Hillman that primitive imagery-based perception thrives today in such areas as Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Rosicrucianism, and

Alchemy. This points to significant commonalities that tie imagination to tricksterism: lowered social status, pervasiveness of fantasy in marginal groups, low imagery ability among the professional elite, and the prevalence of sociological imagination during societal transitions.

Hansen claims that a comparative observation of the nuances of the imagination helps to understand psychic phenomenon. “There are deep evolutionary connections among mental representation, imagination, awareness, simulation, pretending, and deceit… Thus the imagined realm is a liminal area, and it is governed by the Trickster.”


A lesser-known link to paranormal phenomena is paranoia. Examples include fear of being watched by ESP, witchcraft accusations, ideas that occult societies rule the world, and conspiracy theories of government cover-ups of UFOs. Hansen advocates that the study of paranoia helps to explain fear of the paranormal and opposition to psychic research.

Paranoia, Hansen explains, is not necessarily, or even primarily pathological. It occurs in intermittent growth stages of self-awareness – a period of confusion between self and other, between dream and reality, and between internal and external. The separation of the binary opposites -- of distinguishing ourselves from others or finding a niche in society -- is a liminal process, and fears naturally arise.

Paranoia is commonly associated with anti-structural circumstances. The third-party candidate for the 1992 U.S. presidential election, Ross Perot, believed that conspiracies targeted him and included threats against him and his family. While not necessarily marginal, Perot’s existence outside the mainstream made him vigilant to threats.

Many circumstances illustrated throughout Trickster show social processes at work to curb the paranormal and repress psychic awareness. When psi appears, paranoia poses special problems for psychic research.


Throughout Trickster, Hansen guides us through human evolution from the primitive, magical mind to the modern, rational mind where logic and science dominate reason and bottle up superstition. Hansen contends that we perennially hone our intellect to cope with the physical world and ignore other aspects of our relationship to the world. The primitive mind regarded the supernatural as all encompassing. It not only provided a ground for existence, it was also feared as irrational and dangerous. Although the supernatural has just as much impact upon our lives as it had upon the lives of the primitives, modern academia leads us to regard these ideas as nonsensical or neurotic. Earlier cultures celebrated its presence. We consider it amusing, but of little consequence.

The dominant cultural myth, according to Hansen, is that the world is rational. This is underscored by sociologist Max Weber’s explanations of our disenchantment with the ever-present supernatural world through progressive social complexity and its dependence upon authority and power. However those in power for ordering our civilization scorn the existence of psi and are consequently unaware of supernatural forces that nevertheless sway them.


We cannot continue to disregard the existence of supernatural forces just because we no longer understand them, Hansen warns. The issues of marginality, binary oppositions, irrationality, and rationalization permeate the history of civilization and the trickster archetype lies behind them all.

The anti-institutional nature of the trickster is witnessed in marginal groups such as spiritualists, witchcraft practitioners, parapsychologists, and loose confederations that often misbehave. It cannot be explained in today’s rational terms. Rather, it is more likely grasped in altered states of consciousness such as in dreams or meditation. It is difficult to measure and problematic for observers to determine its source. The two major themes attached surrounding the trickster are marginality and transition. Its presence accompanies processes of change, flux and disorder that pervades all aspects of life with examples ranging from social, to psychological, to physical processes.

The trickster is a collection of abstract properties that merge together. Having no fixed shape, form or image, its primary characteristics include disruption, deception, lowered sexual inhibitions, psi phenomena, and marginality. The trickster is found worldwide and central to many religious beliefs. It is irrational and has many meanings that cannot be reduced to a single interpretation.

Psi phenomenon and its personification through the trickster ought not to be ignored. It both accompanies and stimulates change and disorder. Today’s censures mirror the taboos of the primitives – prohibitions to guard against paranormal phenomena are real and necessary. But by the same token, Hansen fears that we cannot ignore the enormous power it has over individuals and collective societies. The clues of its existence are all around us in times of confusion and doubt. We must re-vision our limited world of rationalism and reacquaint ourselves with the primitives understanding of how paranormal influences move of their own accord to influence our physical world, or we are doomed to blindly follow its reign of chaos.



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Clayton Montez is a graduate of Atlantic University, Mayor of East Troy, Wisconsin, and Head of Security for the Art Museum at Marquette University

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