Source: Path of the Sacred Clown

Most every Native American tribe had their Clowns. The Oglala and Lakota called them Heyoka (“crazy”), the Arapaho called them Ha Hawkan (“holy idiot”), and both peoples considered them religious specialists. The Salish people honor the memory of a Clown who (not so long ago) challenged a missionary. The missionary was enticing people to come to his church by handing out little mirrors to them while urging them to cover their bodies with white folks’ clothes. It is told with a smile that the Clown (a woman!) walked into the church one Sunday wearing nothing but a hat and old shoes!

The Hopis protected their Sacred Clowns by incorporating them into their Katchina (“Cloud spirit”) ceremonies where the Clowns make a hilarious entrance from a roof, descending a rope ladder into the plaza where the Katchinas are dancing. “Look down there!” they exclaim, “Everything is bountiful and beautiful!” Their descent is very precarious, usually head-first, and causes much laughter as they tumble over each other and fall the last few feet. They do not see the Katchinas until they bump into them, and then they say “This is MINE!” or “This many are MINE!” They act silly, childish, greedy, selfish, and lewd. As they pretend to become aware of their surroundings, they mock tourists, anthropologists, neighboring Indians, even themselves! They beg for food. Their guessing games and balancing acts please the crowds. The dancing Clowns sometimes pretend they are invisible, heightening the joke.

The survival of these ritual clowns gives us a clue as to how important a Clown was to the community-spirit of each Native American tribe. Nothing was sacred to a Sacred Clown. She was a social critic of the highest order. Her funny mimicry and joking exposed hypocrisy and arrogance. Her portrayals of ridiculous behavior showed the people (in a very humorous way) their own foolishness and blind-spots. “A clown was like a newspaper, or a magazine, or one of those people who write an article to tell you if a book or a movie is worth botherin’ with. They made comment on everythin’, every day, all the time. If a clown thought that what the tribal council was gettin’ ready to do was foolish, why the clown would just show up at the council and imitate every move every one of the leaders made. Only the clown would imitate it in such a way every little wart on that person would show, every hole in their idea would suddenly look real big.”

These Clowns were dangerous to tyrants and exploiters because they were so disorganized and so completely honest. They could see with the eyes of a child, and because of this, could spot a phony a mile away. They were sometimes called “destroyer of heroes.” The white invaders hated them, of course, so it was either be killed or find a way to hide. Those who were killed are remembered with much respect by their people. Those who survived did so by learning to be Tricksters, to change their form, to become invisible if necessary.

A negative religious figure (such as the Sacred Clown) seems odd to most non-tribal people. Most Native Americans, however, LOVE the humor of it and tell stories about a mythic Trickster whose pranks and mishaps teach the tribe moral lessons. The Trickster takes many forms, but the favorites seem to be animals who are exceptionally curious, resourceful and adaptable—SURVIVORS, such as spider, raven, rabbit, owl, bat, coyote and crow. The stories are full of funny situations with the Trickster being mischievous, being in turn made a fool of, and even getting involved in obscene affairs. “Mostly, Trickster likes pullin’ antics and tellin’ dirty jokes.” Perhaps it is this appreciation for the Trickster that has given the Native American the ability to survive against all odds. The Trickster makes a lot of mistakes, and usually has a hard time learning from them. However, She keeps on keepin’ on. She doesn’t drown Herself in despair, doesn’t kill Herself in frustration. She survives.

Trickster shows us how we trick OURSELVES. Her rampant curiosity backfires, but, then, something NEW is discovered (though usually not what She expected)! This is where creativity comes from—experiment, do something different, maybe even something forbidden, and voila! A breakthrough occurs! Ha! Ha! We are released! The world is created anew! Do something backwards, break your own traditions, the barrier breaks; destroy the world as you know it, let the new in.

Sacred Clowns function as the eyes of the Trickster in this world: mirrors in which we see our folly as well as our resilience. As the Salish clown said to the people who were seduced into the missionary’s church by the pretty, shiny mirrors he handed out, “There are better mirrors—the mirrors in the eyes of the people you love.” We’re reflections of each other. When we begin to take ourselves too seriously, there is the Clown to give us a laugh! When we become too heavy with self-importance, there is the Clown to knock some of that load away and lighten us up! The power of the Clown is the power of life itself. Acknowledge the pain, then let it go. Don’t carry it around with you. Focus on the joy, the mystery, the happiness, the cosmic joke. When Clowns delight in eating and in sexual horseplay, they are showing this love of life.

A Clown becomes Sacred by opening herself. Like a child, she is vulnerable, fluid, and open to the Life Force. Unlike a child, however, she has learned to shield herself and move safely through an insane world by using masks, disguises, tricks and transformations. In a sane world, she might risk a bit more exposure.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s