This week I noticed the first leaves just tinged with red. Summer is still very much with us, but Fall is already making itself known. Late summer is a clown, luxuriating in the pleasures of this seductive season, and pointing with sorrow to the frugalities of the coming Autumn. “Dance! Dance!” She seems to say. “Tomorrow may be to late!” Then she winks!
In many cultures, clowning is sacred. Holy clowns point to the mystery in everything, reminding us there is a spark of the creator even in the profane. My favorite First Nations clowns are Pueblo, irresistibly irreverent, socially critical and astute, and wildly funny. I am also drawn to the court jesters of old Europe, and their contrary equivalents in the New World. These clowns utilized humor and courage to heal by speaking truth to power.
Although clowns utilize comedy to address the human conditions, they are not comedians. Clowns rely on mime, carefully designed costuming, and artistic movement to communicate to their audience. Some use words, carefully and to effect. Many are silent. Clowns may be practicing shamans or healers, members of sacred societies, or circus perfromers. The best point always to the sacred.
The sacred, mystery, and joy are all found in the human experience of sexuality, and sacred clowns are so acutely aware of this conjuncture they may appear preoccupied with sex. They touch bystanders in provocative ways, make lewd gestures and comments, and pretend to mate with all manner of people, animals and objects. Their humor is scatological. Yet, beyond their ribaldry lies a message: sexuality is sacred, and central to life! There is another message as well: sexuality serves best when there are boundaries to engagement with, and in, it. Often the clowns pointedly single out those who are prude, or promiscuous, or who misuse their authority or status in order to acquire sexual favors. Healers and politicians who abuse their power should be prepared for a thorough, and very public, roasting.
Clowns are often masterful healers, restoring balance by uncovering the hypocrisies, secrets, and excesses of the communities and cultures in which they live. They cure by making us laugh at ourselves, each other, and even, the heartbreaks and terrors that enter our lives. Often clowns utilize “gallows humor” to remind us we are not alone in our bungling, hungers, and suffering. (Trauma survivors in group therapy soon discover the healing potential of gallows humor!) Clowns know that to be fully human is to laugh.
Autumn approaches. It heralds the coming of winter, the time of storytelling, ritual, and community. With the end summer, and the circus season, perhaps the clowns will leave the plaza for a while, will disappear from view. They will be back come mid-winter, and again at Carnival. They will make other appearances at unexpected, and probably, inconvenient times.
Oh look, here come the clowns!