Heyoka are thought of as being backwards- forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. The spirit is often manifest by unconventional acts - riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in backwards language.

The heyoka portray many aspects of the sacred, the Wakhan. They present important questions by acting silly, comical, funny. 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, leading them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. Their role is to bring absurdity and paradox into the tribe, to illuminate reality by subverting assumptions.

They shock people into an awareness of the fine balance between extremes that create the energy tension of life. Heyokas 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. Sacred clowns also serve a role in shaping tribal codes.

Heyokas don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries. It is by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for acceptable 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 deeper awareness. Jokes, puns, satire and nonsense are forms of humor that are important teaching tools. Sacred clowns symbolize aspects of the sacred in a way that gets through to us without even thinking about them. The most obvious characteristic of the sacred clowns is that they are full of contradictions. Sacred clowns in their actions don’t seem to care about concepts. They are not concerned about definitions but at the same time they define the concepts at the roots of tribal cosmologies, the guidelines for moral and ethical behaviors, and the theories of balance and imbalance. The heyoka’s effort is to help you look outside of traditional solutions and find your answers from within. Their main goal is to teach by negative example and cause imbalance at the ceremonies.


In The End

At the end of the ceremony, everyone, adults and children alike, should understand the concept of balance. Everyone is to understand that personal responsibility is at the heart of social order, survival and sacred power. However insulting or sacrilegious heyoka actions might be, they were tolerated, since it was assumed they were acting on the higher and more inscrutable imperatives of the Great Mystery.... (From Youtube video “Heyoke Sacred Clown")