Posted in divine magic, Shamanism

Sacred Clown

I wrote about the healing power of creativity and play recently and that got me thinking about the shamanic role of the sacred clown.

In certain tribal cultures, there’s a community role for sacred clowns. They are called by different names in different tribes, one commonly known name is heyoka, so I’ll use that term here.

The role of the sacred clown is not so much to make people laugh but to make them think. They do that by absurd and often backwards behaviour; they may be nice to an unpleasant person and mean to a kind person. This would mirror what each needs to learn. The unpleasant person would usually be treated dismissively but rarely receive any kindness. The kind person would expect to be treated pleasantly, so being treated badly for no reason presents a challenge to their ego. The heyoka is very tuned in to what people need and intuitively provides it.

In the West, clowns in circuses throw custard pies, mime slapstick entertainment that may also involve the kind of unexpected ‘backward’ behaviour used by the heyoka. We also have comedians whose words may get us thinking about things in a different way. Neither are seen as spiritual roles like heyoka, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything spiritual going on.

Most tribal societies that are healthy, balanced and not adversely impacted by the Western world, naturally thrive on laughter. Every activity can produce humour and fun, even spiritual ceremonies and sacred events are often light-hearted and full of laughter. Laughter is reverence, whereas to us, being serious and not ‘playing about’ is reverence.

Heyoka act as role models for the community, reminding people to turn things around, what we might term thinking outside the box. They mimic and tease a person to help them see differently and challenge the ego. They use the ridiculous and surreal to jolt people out of a complacent mindset. They are powerful and highly respected members of the community who can break taboos that nobody else would dare.

In Europe, we used to have jesters in medieval times. That’s where the term ‘playing the fool’ came from. Jesters were usually close to the throne and could get away with more than most. They were free to insult and name-call by means of japes. Perhaps they once had a similar role to heyoka.

A special skill of the Celtic druids was a form of poetry called satire. In the past, satire was akin to making a curse, a powerful act intended to cause injury. Once a person was satirised, they were stripped of their legendary Celtic pride and could no longer show their face, they were effectively ostracised and banished afar. Today, satire is a kind of humour but to the Celts, it was a powerful weapon. Satire was executed by a well trained bard who understood how to use the profound magical power of words.

Have you heard about the ancient totem poles discovered at Stonehenge, predating the stones? If so, you may realise there are spiritual artefacts shared between prehistoric British culture and native American tribal societies. Despite being separated geographically and by thousands of years, shamanic societies across the world had common understandings and similar ways of expressing their relationship with the land and each other. And some practices are as relevant today as ever they were, like the sacred clowns.

(Image: “Shamanic Sacred Clown Heyoka” art by Amenet Drago)

Posted in Celtic festival, Goddess, nature, Personal Story, Storytelling

Beltane Story

Today is Beltane and here is a rare Saturday post.  When I was a child, I began to receive glimpses of one of my past lives, the one that I learned about first.  I remembered being a young woman living on an island off the coast of present-day Wales, called Ynys Mon, otherwise known as Anglesey.  I was there in 60AD. I will try to recount a little of what I remember. 

I didn’t grow up on Ynys Mon but nearby Snowdonia, travelling to Ynys Mon for sanctuary because things were unstable in Britain.  There was no England, Scotland or Wales at the time, only Britain, we called the land Pryd or Bryd back then.  There were Romans in Britain, they had come to claim our lands. It was said they traded British people as slaves throughout their empire, as well as British dogs and horses, which were highly prized throughout the continent.  I could go on about all the horrible things they did but I won’t, suffice it to say, they were the enemy to me and mine.  British tribes, across the lands were making individual decisions whether to go in with them, try to keep their heads down or downright resist.  I lived in an area that resisted and, luckily, the mountainous landscape made things difficult for the Romans. So, a fighting resistance was created. My brothers, mother and father left to fight and support the resistance.  Only I stayed to tend the homestead.  But the day came when I had to pack up and leave.  I travelled with my animals and others of my tribe to Ynys Mon, for that was the safest place we knew. 

I already knew the island, my mother had taken me many times since childhood to visit the Temple of the Goddess cradled below what is now called Holy Mountain. I made my way to the head Priestess who knew me well.  Soon, I was immersed again in the wisdom, mysteries and blessings of the Goddess.  I loved it there.  Ynys Mon was known as the stronghold of the Druids.  There were a number of Druid strongholds throughout Britain but this was the main headquarters.

It is believed today that British people were Celtic then.  I must explain, people in Britain were, for the most part, British, and belonged to an ancestry that led back to the oldest days in the island.  What was Celtic was the new culture, fashion and style that people adopted.  It came from the continent, brought in by traders, travellers and a handful of wealthy settlers.  Clothes, artefacts, attitudes and behaviours had taken on a continental flavour but we didn’t know the word ‘Celtic’ back then.  

We celebrated the yearly festivals, more than the four we know today, my favourite was Beltane.  The sacred festival fell from dusk, when fires were lit to ignite the dark, to the next dusk when fires were quenched to invite back the night, safe in the knowledge that light and heat had been kindled for another year.  There were fires everywhere throughout the land, big and small.  They were often built in avenues and everyone drove their animals along the middle as they invoked the fire spirits to purify the animals. 

The festival atmosphere started a moon earlier and lasted the entire moon’s turning, since many came from far and wide and stayed long with friends over the festival.  It was a joyous, raucous time of celebration and passion.  It was also the time of hand-fasting and twelve-month bonding when couples entered into a trial marriage of a year and sealed or broke the bond at the year’s end. One Beltane, I entered into a hand-fasting with a man who was a Druid of the island. We had a strong soul connection and our union was destined. He died in the carnage when the Romans attacked in 60AD, as did all but a few. I was one of the few. I lived to be old in that lifetime and through many more lives, holding inside that terrible trauma, clearing it at last in this life time.   

Back to the Beltane fires. There were several people in those days who could still perceive the little people, they were the spirits who looked after nature and water and fire and some folks could talk with them.  During the festival, I saw the fire spirits dancing in the flames and amongst us in our dancing circles.  At Beltane in the season of Spring, we honoured the living fires.  We asked the fire consciousness to protect, purify and bless us.  As we left, we each took a piece of Beltane fire home to restart our hearths. Taken from the main fire, it had been circled and blessed by the Druids and Priestesses.  Beltane was the only time we put out our hearth fires, so we could light it again with the blessed Beltane flames. And that fire was kept alive in our hearths and hearts throughout the coming year, until the next festival of fire.     

Beltane Blessings to you, my dear reader.  May you kindle fire in your life today and invite the fire spirits to keep the passions ignited in your heart.