“God is a comedian playing to an audience who is too afraid to laugh.” –Voltaire
Archetypes are vitally important mechanisms for higher thought. They are psychosocial masks that launch us into heightened states of awareness. And could there be anything more Nietzschean, more self-evolving and socially insurgent, more vitally important to our own time, than the ability to let masks come and let masks go… to self-overcome? As Zlavoj Zizek says, “The true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their commonplace inertia, but to change the very coordinates of social reality.” Harnessing the power of archetypes, wearing them like masks, does precisely that.
Now enter Heyoka as archetype. No other archetype, except maybe the trickster archetype, is as adept at donning and discarding masks, especially as a means toward shaking things up through radical emancipation. Heyoka as archetype is the primordial symbol of man as makeshift, as stopgap, as crudely temporary and permanently impermanent. Heyoka is both sacred and profane, the laughter in the whirlwind, a shattered compass pointing in all directions and none; the personification of a crossroads leading to all crossroads, all thresholds, all existential junctions and ecstatic intersections of cognitive genesis. Heyoka understands more than anybody the painful Shadow of the Shaman. Let’s delve into this vitally important energy. But, reader beware, such vitality can be dangerous, a triple-bladed sword. Proceed with caution.
“If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” –William Blake
Heyokas, otherwise known as sacred clowns, were crucial members of the tribes of the Planes Indians. They were tasked with maintaining social balance and cultural equilibrium by contrary means, daring to ask taboo questions and to question established answers. Psychosocial troubleshooter of the first order, their backwards tactics, often hilarious and always humbling, shined light on darkness and darkness on light. They personified the painful Middle Gray by being the glue that binds white to black and black to white. Often living in solitude on the outskirts of the tribe, they nevertheless had a huge social impact by poking holes into the sacred and knocking big-headed warriors off pedestals and uppity chiefs off high horses.
As it stands, there has never been a time in the whole of human history that this type of energy was needed more than right now. Our world (tribe) is in dire need of such a humbling force. Heyoka is the infinite-edged Sword of Damocles, dangling warningly over the head of anybody taking themselves too seriously or being irresponsible with their power. Heyoka is the ultimate spell-breaker, shattering mental paradigms, stretching comfort zones, and flattening outdated boxes. When you need shelter, Heyoka is the rain. When you need a parachute, Heyoka is the fall. When your glass house needs a mirror, Heyoka is the stone.
“As anywhere else in the world, the unwritten law defeated the written one.” –Hermann Hesse
Like the thunder gods from whom they are initiated, Heyokas are a force that cannot be tamed. They are the only power within the tribe perceived to be outside of the law. Heyoka scoffs at mediocrity, assails clichés, and laughs at the petty laws of men, knowing that cosmic law is all that truly matters in the end. Heyoka is the Dialectical Overman of the human condition, dropping halos into choke-chains, and mocking saccharine romanticism. Heyoka’s tongue is meat and acid, pillorying and hijacking, scorning trite banalities and resurrecting absolute ambiguity. Heyoka’s voice is détournement and paradox, shatter-happy in its power to reroute all moments through the power of backward antics and retrograde ways.
Post-secular, post-theistic, and post-apocalyptic, Heyoka has escaped from the clutches of human history only to reemerge as a force to be reckoned with on the Stage of the World, in the here-and-now. Revered and feared by the tribe, all human laws are at the Heyoka’s mercy. Nothing is independently sacred when all things are interdependently sacred. And so Heyoka’s twisted path shows the way through all straight paths. Heyoka declares to the tribe, “You can have your moral high ground and immoral low ground; I will stick with the amoral middle ground, and astonish you all.”
“There are people in this world who can wear whale masks and people who cannot, and the wise know to which group they belong.” –Tom Robbins
More is possible than actual. Heyokas understand this, and proceed to tap the possible in order to make it actual. Mirror-shower and smoking mirror, Heyoka practices radical reflection and unhindered psychosocial mirroring; triggering mirror neurons like a billiard player puts English on a cue ball. Never comfortable, but always invigorating, Heyoka wills absolute discomfort, surrendering to the bouleversements of the cosmos while burning the “authentic self” at the stake and dancing around the ashes wearing a Phoenix-mask. Heyoka is constantly in the throes of self-overcoming. Even Nietzsche’s Übermensch blushes with envy.
Heyokas are both gamboling gamblers and gambling gambolers. Coup-stick happy in their incessantly blasphemous dancing on the face of all false gods. They understand that everything which can be imagined is real. And so they are constantly donning and discarding masks. All masks: whale masks, thunder masks, medicine-wheel masks, coyote masks, crow masks, thunderbird masks, love masks and death masks. Any and all masks necessary to reveal the fact that mankind is never more human than when he is playing a role, and to unleash the infinite secrets hidden within the human condition.
Sacred Humor Between Worlds
“The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.” –Novalis
Through lampoon and travesty, satire and infinite jest, Heyoka transcends worlds. Especially the worlds of men. Constantly in the throes of metanoia, Heyoka humorously flattens all aggrandized egos and overreaching ideologies. With uncanny wit and absurd acumen, Heyoka socially ninjaneers awe and sacred amusement, existentially hell-bent on disturbing the undisturbed by pulling the Heavens down to earth in order to give it roots.
Heyokas are tragi-comedians and solemn-jokers. Adept at uniting joy with pain, they act on the higher and more inscrutable imperatives of the Great Mystery. They are seen as continual reminders of the contingency and arbitrariness of the social order. As determined to give wings to the worms in the hearts of men as to give the gods feet of clay, they are conduits to forces that defy comprehension. And by their absurd, backwards behavior they are merely showing the ironic, mysterious dualities that exist within the universe itself.
Heyoka-energy is the epitome of expiation, and the cure for an over-reaching, aggrandized, and unsustainable human world. If this powerful energy can be harnessed today, it can be an amoral force for moral good in an otherwise immoral world, thereby balancing the equation of power. It can be the personification of checks and balances, all at once keeping the powers that be from becoming corrupt, and flipping the tables on power itself. And although a true heyoka is chosen by fate, and one cannot simply choose to be heyoka, there’s nothing saying that this sacred and vital energy cannot be tapped into and used to humble a not-so-humble humanity run amok.
From his tattered and smoke-darkened tipi, Swallowing Arrows, post-modern Heyoka and Disaster Shaman, rouses the thunder god within himself. Tomorrow he will remind the “World Tribe” that Wakan tanka, the Great Mystery, is beyond good and evil; that its primordial nature doesn’t correspond to human platitudes of right and wrong. It has sharp teeth, but no mouth; sharp claws, but no limbs; giant wings, but no body. It speaks a language older than words, and it longs for the people to shed their self-seriousness, to cast off their nature deprivation, and to recondition their preconditioning so that they can once again translate the numinous into a human experience and beyond.
Read more articles from Gary ‘Z’ McGee.
About the Author
Gary ‘Z’ McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world.
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