A reader linked to these selections from “Trickster: Trickster Makes This World Mischief, Myth, and Art,” by Lewis Hyde. From the review, the book appears to be an interesting account of some of the mythology that predates evolutionary biology with regards to how predator/prey relationships shake up the status quo. Although the selections are definitely worth reading in their entirety, here’s a taste of what it covers:
The trickster myth derives creative intelligence from appetite. It begins with a being whose main concern is getting fed and it ends with the same being grown mentally swift, adept at creating and unmasking deceit, proficient at hiding his tracks and at seeing through the devices used by others to hide theirs. Trickster starts out hungry, but before long he is master of the kind of creative deception that, according to a long tradition, is a prerequisite of art.After many stories of how Trickster accomplishes his tricks and the effects that Trickster has on “society”, a few words on what it all means for Trickster:
In Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence, Harry Jerison presents a striking chart showing the relative intelligence of meat-eaters and the herbivores they prey on. Taking the ratio of brain to body size as a crude index, Jerison finds that if we compare herbivores and carnivores at any particular moment in history the predators are always slightly brainier than the prey. But the relationship is never stable; there is a slow step-by-step increase in intelligence on both sides. If we chart the brain-body ratio on a scale of 1 to 10, in the archaic age herbivores get a 2 and carnivores a 4; thirty million years later the herbivores are up to 4 but the carnivores have gone up to 6; another thirty million years and the herbivores are up to 6 but the carnivores are up to 8; finally, when the herbivores get up to 9, the carnivores are up to 10. The hunter is always slightly smarter, but the prey is always wising up. In evolutionary theory, the tension between predator and prey is one of the great engines that has driven the creation of intelligence itself, each side successively and ceaselessly responding to the other.
In all these stories, trickster must do more than feed his belly; he must do so without himself getting eaten. Trickster's intelligence springs from appetite in two ways; it simultaneously seeks to satiate hunger and to subvert all hunger not its own. This last is an important theme. In the Okanagon creation story, the Great Spirit, having told Coyote that he must show the New People how to catch salmon, goes on to say: "I have important work for you to do ... There are many bad creatures on earth. You will have to kill them, otherwise they will eat the New People. When you do this, the New People will honor you ... They will honor you for killing the People-devouring monsters and for teaching ... all the ways of living." In North America, trickster stepped in to defeat the monsters who used to feed on humans.
The myth says, then, that there are large, devouring forces in this world, and that trickster's intelligence arose not just to feed himself but to outwit these other eaters. Typically, this meeting is oppositional--the prey outwitting the predator. The bait thief suggests a different, nonoppositional strategy. Here trickster feeds himself where predator and prey meet, but rather than entering the game on their terms he plays with its rules. Perhaps, then, another force behind trickster's cunning is the desire to remove himself from the eating game altogether, or at least see how far out he can get and still feed his belly (for if he were to stop eating entirely he would no longer be trickster).