Okay, what’s that? BTW I hope you remember that scene in Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, where the Native American Indian plays the Contrary. Since I have been reading and learning about the Heyoka Super Empath, I am more and more convinced that I am part of this “joke”. Are you?
Like Thomas Merton wrote, “In a world of tension and breakdown, it is necessary for there to be those who seek to integrate their inner lives not by avoiding anguish and running away from problems, but by facing them in their naked reality and in their ordinariness.” Sacred clowns are the epitome of such integration.
In Tibetan Buddhism it’s referred to as Crazy Wisdom, which the Guru adopts in order to shock their students out of fixed cultural and psychological patterns. But perhaps the most popular type of sacred clown is the Lakota equivalent of Heyoka, a contrary thunder shaman who taught through backwards humor.
Almost all types of sacred clowns combine trickster spirit with shamanic wisdom to create a kind of sacred tomfoolery that keeps the zeitgeist in check. Their methods are unconventional and typically antithetical to the status quo, but extremely effective. They indirectly re-enforce societal customs by directly enforcing their own powerful sense of humor into the social dynamic. They show by bad example how not to behave.
The main function of a sacred clown is to deflate the ego of power by reminding those in power of their own fallibility, while also reminding those who are not in power that power has the potential to corrupt if not balanced with other forces, namely with humor. But sacred clowns don’t out-rightly derive things. They’re not comedians, per se, though they can be. They are more like tricksters, poking holes in things that people take too seriously.
Through acts of satire and showy displays of blasphemy, sacred clowns create a cultural dissonance born from their Crazy Wisdom, from which anxiety is free to collapse on itself into laughter. Sacred seriousness becomes sacred anxiety which then becomes sacred laughter. But without the courageous satire of the sacred clown, there would only ever be the overly-serious, prescribed state of cultural conditioning.
Lest we write our lives off to such stagnated states, we must become something that has the power to perpetually overcome itself. The sacred clown has this power. Christ was a sacred clown, mocking the orthodoxy. Buddha was a sacred clown, mocking ego attachment. Even Gandhi was a sacred clown, mocking money and power.
Their extreme behaviors works as a mirror and a teacher, using to mirror others. Heyokas heal emotional pain by singing of shameful events, provoking laughter. When people or over confident and completely secure, the heyoka will emphasize despair, provoke fear and chaos to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are.
Although they important role in shaping tribal codes, Heyokas don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. By violating norms and taboos, they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. They are the only ones who can ask “Why?” about sensitive topics and satirize specialists and authority. In doing so, they demonstrate concretely the theories of balance and imbalance. They cut through deception and the superficial creating a deeper awareness.
It was believed among the Lakota that if you had a dream or vision of birds you were destined to be a medicine man, but if you had a vision of the Wakinyan Thunderbird, it was your destiny to become a heyoka, or sacred clown. Like the Thunderbird, the heyoka are both feared and held in reverence.
“When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm… you have noticed that truth comes into this world with two faces. One is sad with suffering, and the other laughs; but it is the same face, laughing or weeping…… as lightning illuminates the dark, for it is the power of lightning that heyokas have.” (Black Elk, quoted in Neihardt 1959: 160)
The Heyoka are healers and have many functions, for example healing through laughter and awakening people to deeper meaning and concealed truth and to prepare the people for oncoming disaster with laughter.
The ritual clown was called a Heyoka and became one with the Thunderbird god Wakinyan.Heyoka. A person became a Heyoka as a result of having seen the Wakinyan in a dream-vision. Heyoka clowns spoke with reverse meanings, saying the opposite of what they meant, and acted in ways contrary to nature–backing out of a tepee, wearing a buffalo robe and sitting next to a fire on hot days, going without adequate clothes in winter, resting their legs against a tepee with their back on the ground. Heyoka clowns were said to pick meat from boiling kettles with their bare hands and frolic by splashing boiling hot water on each other–without being harmed by their acts. Heyokas were credited with great powers as curers.
Cheyenne contraries pledged to certain roles in warfare, This was a more serious commitment, and lonely as well, because the Contrary warrior could mingle with others Cheyennes only in battle, and otherwise freely associate only with the few other contrary warriors.
The Crazy Men, or Lime Crazy Society of the Arapaho of the northern Plains, had already served their time in the field, and had already graduated through lower orders. Their duties were primarily spiritual and ceremonial.
They would talk backwards, expressing the opposite of their meaning. To get them to perform what you wanted, the reverse was requested.
The crazy-dancers, would walk over hot coals with bare feet, also spoke in reverse and engaged in clowning, but only during crazy-dances and while wearing certain owl-feather headbands. Owls are associated widely not only with night and death. The crazy dance was only performed in obedience to a vow made by someone for the recovery of a sick child, a successful war party or some other blessing.
The dance continued for four days. The first three days were performed without costume, and on the fourth, the costumes were worn. Costumes were the skin outfits of buffalo, mountain lion, foxes, wolves, deer elk and birds.
Crazy dancers would dance back and forth through a fire until they had extinguished it by their trampling. The dancers were never severely burned
Crazy men also handled poisonous snakes. Sometimes a group would surround a buffalo, and kill it by sheer physical strength.