Who’s Fooling Who? The Role of the Sacred Clown

April is the month associated with ‘tomfoolery’. We kick it off with April Fool’s Day, much of nature can have us guessing as to whether Spring is truly here yet or not, and we await to see what the Earth and the elements have in store for us. Author Barbara Meiklejohn‐Free explains the role of the Heyoke or trickster in many native cultures.

Often when we are following a medicine path, there is a tendency to become too serious or too intense about the work. In fact calling this path ‘work’ seems to preclude or exclude the happy, joyful, and contrary ways of life.


Illustration courtesy @ Yuri Leitch

When we laugh fully from our bellies, we are relaxed and open, free and inviting.
Remember the teacher who said: ‘where we constrict is where we repeat our patterns.’ To laugh heartily and to be tricked by a practical joke or an odd turn of events can be a wonderful antidote to our conditioning of self-restraint and the pressure on us to ‘contain’ all of our emotions all of the time. When we are open and vulnerable we are learning, giving up old patterns naturally and moving ahead in our lives.

In many native cultures, the Heyoke or trickster plays an important role in the balance of things. The Wiley Coyote cartoon character is an excellent example of this archetype. He is always falling off a cliff, holding on to the dynamite just a little too long, or sticking his neck out on to the highway just as a big truck passes by. We all laugh at his stupidity and carelessness. Yet tn medicine work it is important to dedicate a place to this type of energy.

Remember the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes when everyone was pretending that the Emperor was dressed in beautiful garments, when in fact he was stark naked? Then someone (usually a child or someone dim-witted) simply tells the truth. Suddenly the game was over, the illusion was lifted and everyone was totally relieved that the truth had been told.

The Heyoke is the truth teller, the shadow, the one who dares to see things, do things and say things that aren’t politically or culturally correct. There is aliveness to this creature, to this impulse in each of us that can’t be silent, especially when there is so much falseness around us. This shadow, this unspoken voice, in each of us is important to acknowledge, to listen to and to encourage expression from.

Sometimes the best Heyokes or sacred clowns among us are the silent ones. Silent people often feel sense and hear things that others don’t. By allowing space in our individual and group psyches for the unseen and unknown, we are giving room for the unconscious to be expressed and to manifest in real time. The silent are also often the ones who experience suffering and pain more acutely. They are often part of the group that suffers from the haste and fire of the main speakers. To hear from them, either silently through non-verbal cues or more openly, is to hear the fullness of the collective soul, the completeness of the wheel of life.

The trick when dealing with the Heyoke spirit is not to take it seriously or to become attached to what is being said or played out. Clowns are clowns and just as the court jester in ornate European palaces was given a very wide birth to poke fun at royalty, we too would be wise to make sure that we always set a place at our sacred table for this sprite of unknown ways.

Barbara Meiklejohn‐Free is a healer, author, teacher and storyteller – all of which she employs in Barbara Meiklejohn‐Free imageweaving the ancient craft of the Shaman. Drawing on her extensive work with the Native American traditions, as well as those of many other indigenous cultures including her own Pagan heritage, she is a recognized expert in assisting people to explore the Calling, in vision questing, in performing initiations and in hosting ceremonies across the globe. Barbara has been communing with Spirit since the age of 12 and her work today is synonymous with integrity, authenticity and vision. Her no‐nonsense, hands‐on approach has helped thousands to reclaim their natural gifts through her many talks, readings, performances, seminars and residential workshops.

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Barbara Meiklejohn-Free
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