Clowns can be both tricksters and healers

Every culture has clowns that help relieve stress. Learn about some Native American clowns and how they have made events less stressful and calmed emotions and fears.

The book “Compassionate Laughter- Jest for Life” by Patty Wooten, RN describes how clowns have enhanced the sacred ceremonies of many cultures throughout history. Clowns capture the attention of the audience and allow them to forget petty concerns, opening them to a deeper experience. Certain Native American ceremonies and rituals cannot be started until everyone present has started to laugh and some ceremonies are actually performed by clowns. 

The Heyoka shatters perception

Wooten explains that among the Plains Indians, the Heyoka is a spiritual teacher as well as a trickster. To be a Heyoka requires an initial spiritual experience, usually in form of a dream or vision. The Heyoka is expected to act in ways that break with the traditional norms of the tribe. Their humorous antics are meant to shatter a person’s perception about everyday routines so that they may see things more objectively.

The Kachina horse around

The Hopi clowns, called Kachina, would appear suddenly at dances, their bodies smeared with mud and wigs on their heads made of stocking caps and cornhusks. These clowns partake in considerable horseplay, sometimes dashing into the crowd, teasing the children, taunting the adults and stealing objects. These same antics are used by many circus clowns today. 

The False Face Society brings laughter

Among the Iroquois, the False Face Society was a group organized to counteract the Evil Spirit and his emissaries. Their duties included curing illness and keeping evil spirits at bay. When someone was ill in the village, the members of the society would gather and cover themselves with masks and blankets and carry turtle-shell rattles. The masks were carved from living basswood trees and portrayed many different facial types. The most common features were crooked mouths, smiles or protruding tongues. When the clowns arrived they would crawl around on the floor, behaving like children and dancing until the sick person howled with laughter at their comical pranks. These clowns were believed to have the ability to heal. Healing clowns are used today in many hospitals and senior care centers because of the known benefits that laughter has in the healing process. 

Stock up on funny

When you are feeling down, frustrated or mad, think of a clown. Consider starting a collection of items that make you laugh such as funny comics, books and videos that you can regularly look at and read. Practice looking for comic relief on a daily basis. Have you noticed the clowns in your life? Play with them or give the clown permission to play and take notice how your stress levels decrease. 

Michigan State University Extension provides one-time presentations about mindful laughter which is part of a five-session series on mindfulness. You can participate in the series or the one session. Contact your local MSU Extension county office to find a class near you.   

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