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So many cultures in the world have versions of a clown. In many of them, though, the role of the clown or fool goes beyond simple entertainment and ventures into the realm of the sacred. 

 

Plato speaks to this in his Allegory Of The Cave. In it, he sets up a scenario in which there are people that live their lives in a deep cave, completely stationary, facing a wall. There is a fire some distance behind them and they can see the shadows its light casts. To these people, these shadows are the whole world; the flickers and shadows of objects are all they can experience after all. Suppose one day, says Plato, one of the people is set free. He ventures out of the cave and, after some initial confusion, realizes how much more there is to the world than shadowy flickers on a wall. There are so many colors, so much to hear and smell, so much activity! He goes back to the cave, back to his friends, to explain to them the reality that he has seen. He doesn't even have words for some of it, it's so different from his and his friends' lives. The stationary people think he must be mad as he speaks about impossible things and unimaginable experiences. They ignore him and go on staring at the wall.

 

The Lakota and Dakota are two tribes indigenous to the great plains of North America. In their culture there is a ceremonial role called the heyoka, or sacred clown. Only people who have been visited by specific deities can be heyoka, and their task is seen as vital. By behaving in contrary and backward ways that subvert expectations, the heyoka remind people of important questions. When a heyoka sits in a snowstorm and complains about how warm he is, he reminds his people that being mournful and bitter about their situation will just make it worse and they will feel the cold more strongly. When someone is behaving  arrogantly, the heyoka might imitate them satirically as a way to remind them to be humble. Because of their special sacred role, the heyoka are able to violate societal norms and point out ways in which they could be improved. 

 

We humans can get stubborn about how things "should be" and have difficulty seeing beyond our habits and traditions. We need people whose task it is to shake us up and remind us that things can and often should be different. The Pueblo Indians have Koyemshi, the royals courts of medieval Europe had jesters, and Netflix has Hannah Gadsby and Bo Burnham. Even the tarot deck has the Fool card. 

 

And then there are Jedi. In many ways, we could be considered sacred fools. We follow a serious spiritual path that traces it's roots to popular scifi films from the 70s, which you have to admit sounds a bit unusual. We act as the Force moves us to, often walking away from the harmful religious and social traditions and conditions we were raised in and acting contrary to them. We point out connection in an increasingly isolated world. We focus on the spiritual in a world obsessed with the material. So next time someone tells you that being a Jedi is foolish, just smile and nod and own your vital and profound role in the world.