Heyokah Blues ~ or the Cost of Being the Clown-Guardians of Society

Heyokah blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start ofa very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves, wild sheep and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals. I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys. There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.

The trickster



Since I live by the sea, it goes without saying that I live alongside a variety of seabirds. We get most of them: common gulls, herrings gulls, black backed gulls(lesser and probably greater at times of storm) plus the usual sweep of terns and so on. Die hard seaside residents dislike the gulls because of their chaotic behaviour.

This handsome chappie was rooting through the chip wrappers at the clifftop car park, looking for a stray chip or fragment of sausage, and chucking the paper left, right and centre. It’s quite a “nice” area, and I can say without fear of contradiction that most locals will object to such a mess being made.

Me, I took his photo. He’s only doing what he needs to do. It reminded me of the archetype found in many cultures of the trickster. Coyote in certain NA myths, Loki in Norse legend; just a few examples of the beings that play tricks on us to get us to wake up. NA spirituality has a sort of “order” of sacred clowns, the Heyokah, who are regarded with equal measures of frustration and approval.

I’ve never been able to resist stirring things up, of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, just to see what might happen. I do it even when I know I oughtn’t and for that, in all seriousness, I am sorry for the disruption I sometimes cause. Trying to teach a friend’s Furby to say, “F*** off!” was not a good thing to do but she did forgive me(maybe because the Furby didn’t catch on very quickly) . I’ve done some stupid things in my time, just because I couldn’t help myself. I won’t make a list of them here, but on reflection I don’t think they were all BAD things to do.

We do need people who do not act according to society’s norms all the time, because norms need challenging some times and we need to reestablish where the boundaries need to be.

And somebody needs to remember to shut the damn bins before the gulls get in!