What is one to do when everything that was once normal is no longer the norm? What do you do when up is down, day is night, hot is cold and right is now wrong? What do you do when standard logic and reasoning no longer seem to apply and the world around you seems to have gone completely mad? What does one do when everything has become topsyturvy?
When simple logic no longer provides clear understanding it may be time to apply some of the “Heyoka” way.
What is a Heyoka?
Heyoka, approximately translated from Lakota, means ‘contrarian’ or ‘sacred clown’. Heyoka are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrarian in nature. This spirit is often manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally–riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a Heyoka would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a Heyoka will shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a blanket.
The Heyoka’s satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.
Principally, the Heyoka functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Heyokas also have the power to heal emotional pain; such power comes from the experience of shame–they sing of shameful events in their lives, beg for food, and live as clowns. They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are.
In addition, sacred clowns also serve an important role in shaping tribal codes. Heyokas don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. However, it is by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior. This is because they are the only ones who can ask “Why?” about sensitive topics and employ satire to question the specialists and carriers of sacred knowledge or those in positions of power and authority. In doing so, they demonstrate concretely the theories of balance and imbalance. Their role is to penetrate deception, turn over rocks, and create 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. Like the Thunderbird, the heyoka are both feared and held in reverence.
One of my favorite music groups, while growing up in Texas during the 70′s and 80′s, was a Rock-n-Roll band named Heyoka.
Thunderdreamer This track comes from the band’s last incarnation dating to 1984 and shows the band in full progressive rock mode. There are several studio recordings floating around but no complete album. If you should be so lucky as to find any of these recordings my suggestion is to get them immediately. My only hope is that history will rewrite itself one day and the complete recorded works of this GREAT band will come to light.
If you turned this video off before it got to the 2:54 mark, go back and forward to that spot and listen to a track called “Change My Ways”. It’s an excellent tune!