The Heyoka

The Heyoka is a Native American character, sometimes also called the “trickster:”
The Trickster, in Amerindian tradition, is the one who, subject to basic instinct, puts upheaval in the all-too rational set-up of life and forces one to stoop and listen to repressed areas of vital impulses which, if not heeded, become destructive. Navaho tradition has it that their people studied all that was right, and became a virtuous people - but incapable of integrating what seemed to be opposite of virtue. They became prey to the energies of ‘wrong’, of their own shadow…so their wise elders devised a member of the clan to become Heyoka: the trickster, the jester, who would at all times represent the fears, weaknesses and disregarded aspects of the humans and of life. With elaborate costume, surprise attacks, and fear-inspiring noises, seemingly senseless discourses and rituals all of his own, the Heyoka is kept in high regard as the unpredictable and untamed aspect of civilization…
So it seems the Heyoka is the messenger of the shadow. In other accounts, I’ve read that Heyokas were used specifically to challenge and mock beliefs and behaviors–to get members of the tribe to question their assumptions. By “pissing on the altars,” so to speak, they would cause people to rethink their premises, or to engage in introspection or vision quests. The role of the Heyoka was to embody the unexpected, the profane, to deliberately cross boundaries and engage in taboo behaviors–to shake people out of their illusions.
I think this tradition is relevant, and we need more of it. People who think it somehow represents an abdication of rationality are missing the point entirely.


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