The Trickster Within

Using Magic to Manifest the Life of your Dreams

I saw a client recently who was struggling with direction in her life. Should she get a new job? Go back to school? Move to a new city? Consistently distracted by petty family dramas, she was feeling powerless, overwhelmed and unable to get any sort of clarity for herself. She needed to find a way to tune out the noise of everyone and everything around her, in order to tune IN to what it was she truly wanted – a near impossible task for many of us, especially with the world noisier than ever.

She also mentioned a recent pregnancy scare, confessing that in the past she wanted a child, but when faced suddenly with that very real possibility, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that now was not the right time. I was struck by this uncharacteristic surge of conviction.

She was directionless in almost every aspect of her life, how was she so sure of this one thing? She was never actually pregnant (her period came the next day) yet the idea of a pregnancy was enough for her to find clarity. Why?


A pregnancy scare is a bit like a fire alarm or a bomb threat. We drop everything and immediately home in on what’s important, and we do this in response to purely imaginary circumstances. In other words, we’re likely not looking at an actual bomb or fire when we split-second decide who/what to grab on our way out the door. We simply (and wisely) buy into the idea of a bomb or fire. We hear the alarm and think – Is this real? I’m going to pretend this is real. I’m taking my laptop! We willingly trick ourselves into taking bold and necessary action. 

Look up the word magic in a dictionary and you’ll find two definitions that go something like –

  1.  Producing illusions for entertainment
  2.  Producing a desired effect through charms or spells believed to have supernatural powers 

In other words there’s wizard magic and there’s muggle magic, depending on your M.O. But what if they’re actually sorta kind of… the same? Supernatural means “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the observable universe” which sounds a lot like an illusion to me. Whether it’s a card trick or a love potion, whether for entertainment or self transformation, magic is fundamentally about shaking up our perception of what’s real, of what’s possible. The witch, the shaman, the hypnotist and David Copperfield all disrupt our assumptions about the “observable universe” when, and only when, we buy in. We must willingly allow our minds to be tricked, just like when the fire alarm blares.

le bateleur madenie tarot

This card is from a Marseille tarot deck (c. 1709). With his bag of tricks, he oozes definition #1 i.e., muggle magic. “Le Bateleur” translates to mountebank or trickster.

But this card…

This one is more familiar to most people. It’s from the world’s most popular tarot deck, the Rider Waite Smith (RWS), published 200 years later, in 1910. It features a glam and fabulous magician, the epitome of definition #2 i.e:, wizard magic.

The creators of the RWS tarot (following the lead of earlier 19th century occultists) stripped all traces of trickery from their magician. In fact, most tarot readers today will focus on how powerful the magician is with his magic wand channeling divine energy into creation. If you get this card in a reading, you might be reminded of the inherent power within you to manifest all of your dreams. That sounds good and all but how does “manifestation” actually work? Is there a trick to making magic for ourselves? 

The Trickster

An archetype from world myths, religions, folklore and pop culture since antiquity – the trickster’s function is to disrupt. The trickster shakes the hero/heroine/society from doubt, complacency or overly rigid thinking. It seems to me we are living in quintessentially tricksterian times. Donald Trump, a disrupted economy, flat-earthers, anti-maskers; the trickster’s distinct mark of mayhem is everywhere in our increasingly post-truth culture. It’s unsettling indeed (read: terrifying), but the larger purpose is to shake us from complacency and rigidity. The trickster is a creative and necessary force, because we can’t manifest something out of nothing. We manifest by digging into, dismantling and rearranging old ideas into new creations. Wizard magic might look more glam and polished on the outside, but the real power lies in the man behind the curtain, the trickster within each of us, pulling all the strings.

“The old myths say that the trickster made the world as we actually find it. Other gods set out to create a world more perfect and ideal, but this world – with its complexity and ambiguity, its beauty and its dirt – was trickster’s creation, and the work is not yet finished.”

Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, 1997

The Magic If

I believe my client was visited by the trickster when she bought into the idea that she might be pregnant. It was only then that she was able to cut through the noise and get to what was important to her, clearing the way for something new. Can we tap this kind of magic on purpose? 

Actors do it all the time. The best of them are powerful tricksters. The Russian stage director Konstantin Stanislavski disrupted and revolutionized the craft of acting at the turn of the century (incidentally at the same time the creators of the RWS were revolutionizing the tarot deck), when he threw out the broad, presentational schtick that audiences were used to and developed a new, naturalistic acting technique with an imagination-based tool at its center that he termed the “Magic If”. Now the core of modern acting, the Magic If states simply that in order for audiences to buy into what you’re doing, you have to act AS IF the fictional circumstances of the play are real. In other words… you have to trick yourself.

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

Angela Davis

Performing the Magic Trick
(an exercise in what’s possible)


This is an exercise I developed for the most recent Full Moon Gathering based on years of playing around with these ideas. It’s a simple yet powerful tool for when you’re feeling stuck. It’s not about making a pro/con list and logically weighing your options. It’s about tuning out the noise and waking your inner trickster to shake you from doubt and complacency. It’s about opening to the future you’ve been too afraid to imagine, hence too powerless to manifest.

Step 1 | Get yourself set up somewhere comfortable with pen, paper and some time on your hands. The single most important thing to remember is THIS IS JUST AN EXERCISE. No one is watching. You’re not being forced to take action on any of this. You’re simply giving yourself permission to play. Now is the time to BUY IN.

Step 2 | Think about some aspect of your life that needs to change – somewhere you feel stuck, something that maybe feels scary to even consider. It could be that you’re afraid to take action around this thing or it could be that you’re not even sure what action to take. Just be as specific as you can with what you know. Maybe you want to leave your job but are overwhelmed by the thought. Maybe it’s a failing relationship where both leaving and staying feels impossible. Write it all down. And write down WHY this particular aspect of your life needs to change. 

Illustration of Rumpelstiltskin by Edward Gorey

Step 3 | If you’ve chosen something juicy, you’re probably already feeling a little unhinged. Perfect. You’re entering trickster territory – unpredictable and full of potential. Now you’re going to create the mind trick, the pregnancy scare, the “Magic If”. Imagine a crisis scenario that would prompt you to take action on this particular aspect of your life. Include some kind of liberating or freeing opportunity as well. (More on this below.) Once you’ve got your scenario in mind, start journaling on anything and everything you would realistically do in response to that scenario. Start throwing around ideas, making plans, asking questions. If the inner critic enters with a – should, can’t, stupid, crazy – remind yourself that THIS IS JUST AN EXERCISE. You’re free to be crazy right now. There is no should or can’t. 

A Quick Example

The thought of leaving your job feels scary (especially in a pandemic), but you know you’d be happier elsewhere. For your mind trick, what if you imagined a scenario where you get laid off tomorrow (crisis) but are given three months of severance pay (liberating opportunity). You go in to work, they tell you they can no longer afford to keep you on the payroll and you’ve got three months to manifest something new. What would you do in those three months? What’s the first thing? The next thing? The next? Keep journaling. That’s your mind trick. It’s fiction, yeah, but what if

  1. CRISIS + FREEDOM. It’s called a pregnancy scare and a bomb threat for a reason. The scenario you imagine should fire up the adrenaline. At the same time, there has to be something in it that gives you the space to take action. The scenario shouldn’t depress you. The energy goes up, not down. Something too scary or overwhelming will shut you down and make you want to hide. Choose something that sparks your imagination, that makes you go – Holy shit, what if I were pregnant right now? Seriously, what would I do?! We do this all the time. We imagine the earthquake, the loved one dying, the lottery win. Life is full of surprises, so we perform mind tricks to prepare ourselves. The heavy/stuck bits of our lives are simply the bits we haven’t imagined our way out of. Go big, dangerous, freeing. It’s just an exercise.
  2. MOVEMENT. You’ll know the trick is working if you start journaling immediately. The ideas you’re writing won’t necessarily be great ideas but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re moving, you’re in the imaginal space where anything and everything is possible. If it feels like a slog, try imagining a different scenario.
  3. THE TICKING CLOCK. The pregnancy scare has a time limit built in. This is highly effective and forces you to take action. Again, be careful not to choose a limit that feels impossible and shuts you down. Choose something that gives you enough time to take the action of your dreams. In the example above, the idea of getting laid off tomorrow felt overwhelming but when I added three months of severance, it suddenly felt exciting. Six months felt too abstract to motivate and one month felt impossible. Three was perfect… for me. Time limits will illicit different reactions in different people, and not all scenarios will require one.
  4. WHATEVER WORKS. Psychologists say our erotic inclinations are mysterious, instinctual and very hard to change. I think this is true for trickster magic as well. You might find yourself imagining a scenario that for all intents and purposes “should” do the trick, but for whatever reason, it bores you to tears. Let it go and move on to something that lights you up. The goal isn’t to come up with a scenario that could actually happen in real life. The goal is to get you unstuck, moving towards the life of your dreams. If it does the trick and gets you making plans, it’s perfect. You have to be completely honest with yourself during this process. Choose something you actually buy into. If the idea of Trump winning the election tomorrow would prompt you to finally take the leap on that crazy new business venture because the world is ending and why the hell not? – use it!

If you can’t come up with a scenario that truly lights your fire, maybe that’s your answer. Maybe this particular aspect of your life doesn’t need to change right now. Is there some other related bit that could be shaken up instead? 

Step 4 | Once you’re done journaling, toss out the made-up scenario and read back over your ideas and plans. These are the steps you can take right now, on your own time, in your own way, without anyone forcing you. This is your road map for the future. You might not take action, but at least you’ll know action is possible. And that’s really what this is all about – finding the clarity and courage to own our choices so we’re no longer living in a powerless, purely reactionary space; a victim to whatever life throws at us. When we work intentionally with the trickster in this way, we tune in and reclaim agency in our lives.

The world’s on fire. Change is afoot. But your magic is untouchable; it exists beyond the observable universe, deep down in the supernatural world, waiting to be summoned by those two magic words… What if…

*Illustrations: “Hare and Fox” by Jackie Morris; “Le Bateleur” by Yves Reynaud, a restoration of Pierre Madenie’s Tarot de Marseille, 1709; “The Magician” by Pamela Colman Smith for the RWS tarot, 1910; “Rumpelstiltskin” by Edward Gorey, 1974.

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