history of fools: sacred clowns and holy fools

like what you heard? tell me about it!

here is the full script and list of references for my episode on sacred clowns and holy fools! i also threw some images in there for fun :) if you would prefer to read this in a google doc, click here!


my primary source for this episode was Blessed Fools of Old Russia by Natalia Challis and Horace W. Dewey This was a pretty great read and relatively easily-digestible for an academic paper. Also used in lesser capacities were The Ritual-Clown: Attributes and Affinities by Don Handelman and The Clown: An Archetypcal Self-Journey by Michael Bala

all of the backing tracks i use are random royalty free tracks, but for the first two sections covering the Sioux and Puebloan peoples, i did something a little different. the first track is called Seasons on Standing Rock, by Lakotan musician Kevin Locke. the second track is called Hunting Party by Pueblo musician Robert Mirabal.

section list
Ritual Clowns
Sioux Heyoka
Pueblo Clowns
Holy Fools
Foolishness for Christ
Let's get Cosmic

So, you may have seen the title of this episode and thought. Oh god. This bitch is going to start talking about religion isn’t he. And the answer is yes. I absolutely am going to start talking about religion. Don’t worry though, I'm not going to get evangelical on you. Just a bit orthodox at absolute most. In my research on jesters, the subject of sacred ritual clowns and holy fools in history came up with a very surprising frequency. I had never heard of the subjects before, and here were several pretentious academic sources making reference to them with such casualness as to make me feel like a total dum-dum. And so I did a little searching. And then I had to do a lot of searching. The main two subjects I'm going to touch on are going to be the Pueblo ritual clowns and the Russian Yurodivy. The latter subject has a relatively sparse academic foundation because it is a fairly narrow subject about what really amounts to a bunch of naked guys in chains yelling at passersby during a few-century stretch of Russian medieval history. That’s obviously reductive, but what I mean by that is it doesn’t seem as hot a topic to Christian or Catholic scholars as shit like. I don’t know. Whether Jesus was gay or not. I dunno, I'm not a religious scholar. The former subject, the pueblo clowns, is under-documented for a different reason- mainly, the effect of cultural genocide upon Native American peoples. White people were too concerned with eradicating the Pueblo people’s culture, they obviously didn’t care about preserving it. The few resources available to me were of course written by white people and thus had to be extensively cross referenced and taken with several grains of salt. And naturally, these people don’t necessarily want random ass strangers getting an intimate look into their most sacred ritual practices.

I am not Puebloan, I am not Russian Orthodox. so I am not going to try to speak from a place of authority on them. It’s different, talking about jesters, which were a secular job that were similar across cultures and time periods. These subjects are inextricably linked to their cultures, to which I am an outsider. As much as I'm not an expert on most of what I've covered, I am especially not an expert on the intimate cultural relationships these subjects contain. As a result, and out of respect, I’m going to just be giving you a high level look into these subjects. To put it plainly- I just think these topics are so cool, and so valuable, and I want more people to know about them and respect them as I have come to. But I don't want to expose the more personal and private aspects of them. So I won't.

Ritual Clowns

First, let’s send in the clowns. The term ritual clown is one that’s fairly self-explanatory. They are a clown who fills a specific role in a religious rite. There’s multiple Native cultures that utilize some sort of religious clown or fool figure, but the main two I saw referenced repeatedly were those of the Pueblo and Sioux peoples. Although they do serve a similar primary purpose there are of course differences between the two.

Sioux Heyoka

Stanley Good Voice Elk, Lakotan Heyoka, burning sage.

The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin of the American Great Plains are groups of Indigenous tribes and First Nations peoples in North America. The modern Sioux consist of two major groups based on language divisions: the Dakota and Lakota; the Dakota peoples residing primarily in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska, with the Lakota mostly in the Dakotas.

Their ritual clown is known as the Heyokha. His whole thing is that he's contrary. He does things backwards or opposite- like saying he's freezing cold during a heatwave, or wearing his clothes inside out. One famous anecdote is of "the straighten-outer" who would run around with a hammer trying to flatten out curved things like eggs and bowls and wheels, which is objectively a very good bit. These bits are done by specific members of the tribes, their funny routines utilized entirely at their discretion. They function both as mirror and teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, forcing them to examine their own fears, doubts, or prejudices. Through their admonishment of societal constraints they can actually use it to critique cultural customs and norms. Or sometimes reinforce the good ones. They also often are healers, both physically and emotionally. Honestly, they’re more related to a jester than a clown- except their responsibility to amuse and advise is to the community as a whole, not a king. Additionally, they’re not elected to their position, although I guess in a certain way you could say they are- the Heyokha are chosen by the spirits. This is one of the most distinguishing factors of the Heyoka- they are always a Heyoka. It is not a job. It is who, and what, they are: an intermediary between their kin and their spirits.

From Heȟáka Sápa, also known as Black Elk, Heyokha and cultural educator of the Oglala Lakota people: Only those who have had visions of the thunder beings of the west can act as heyokas. They have sacred power and they share some of this with all the people, but they do it through funny actions. When a vision comes from the thunder beings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunder storm; but when the storm of vision has passed, the world is greener and happier; for wherever the truth of vision comes upon the world, it is like a rain. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm."

Pueblo Clowns

The Pueblo peoples or Puebloans are the Indigenous peoples who inhabit the American south west- there are quite a few tribes that fall under the Puebloan umbrella, including the Acoma, Hopi, and Zuni tribes. These are some of the oldest cultures native to the US, over 7 thousand years old. The ritual clowns utilized by Puebloans are wide and varied, and there’s tons of them. They are most utilized in Kachina rituals, which have legacies of being practiced by most Puebloan peoples. Anyone who’s driven through the American southwest has no doubt seen the Kachina dolls advertised for sale by roadside tourist traps, and there is so much more to them than meets the unfamiliar eye.

There are 3 main aspects to the Kachina- the spirit, the human dancers representing them, and the dolls representing them which are used for educational purposes. The spirits themselves are personifications of things in the real world. They can represent anything in the natural world or the cosmos, from an ancestor to an element to a location to a quality to a concept to a natural phenomenon or an animal or a bug or the wind or…. anything! They have human-esque relationships to each other like uncles and children, a familial structure reflecting the fact that all are intertwined. Although not always directly worshiped, each one is a powerful being who must be respected, and when respected, can give humanity good returns.

The clowns involved in these rites do enjoy a bit of costuming. Primarily relying on body paint and headdresses, the clowns do varying degrees of dress up. One of the most recognizable and quite frankly rad as fuck looking ones is the Koshari (known by many other names)- painted in black and white horizontal stripes, with black circles around their mouth and eyes, and hair parted in the center bound into two vertical bunches trimmed with corn husks.

The central theme of kachina beliefs and practices as explained by Barton Wright in Hopi Kachinas, a Life Force is "the presence of life in all objects that fill the universe. Everything has an essence or a life force, and humans must interact with these or fail to survive."

I want to emphasize again here that the various rituals for different communities of Puebloans differ significantly. To speak broadly on the more common functions of the ritual clowns- these clowns are members of the community who guide some of the Kachina rituals. They’re often like intermediaries for the spirits and the people. Some are chosen to serve for a temporary engagement, some are more permanent. They serve the dual purpose of making sure the ritual goes smoothly, and making people laugh and doing generally absurd and silly shit at the same time. They’ll tease each other, roll around in the dust, humorously venerate a doll as a saint, fuck around with the worshippers, simulate eating shit and drinking piss. Nothing is off limits as long as it’s ludicrous. Some even do whole comedy routines involving the kachina, some of which end up with the kachina just beating the shit out of the clowns.

But these clowns don’t always have to be funny. A clown in ritual context can be a clown simply by being shameless and obnoxious and absurd. Similar to the Heyokha we briefly talked about earlier, but more extreme, the role of the clown is to be something of a mirror, and sometimes the function is to reflect why certain cultural norms are in place. Like the eating shit part. Most people don’t really wanna do that. The clown miming that action may not be outwardly laugh out loud funny, but he is being shameless and absurd for a reaction.

“the clown breaks taboos and receives both praise and punishment for doing so. He offers himself for the hostility of the audience as his art becomes greater when he gives up his dignity. the clown stands outside of human order. He is in the service of the power that is the declared enemy of well-behaved and organized society. the clown stands outside of decorum, propriety, and society’s censure.”

Holy Fools

The difference between the holy fool and the ritual clown is, to put it stupidly, one of job. Like, literally what their job is. While the ritual clown is there serving the community directly, guiding rituals, being caregivers and stewards and whipping boys, the holy fool under the christian faith is far more of a loner. The holy fool does not hold anything so consistent as the job of a Hopi ritual clown enacting a play-like ritual with the kachina. No, a holy fool mostly just goes around and acts weird. and then if he acts weird enough for long enough, the people around him start to give him some reverence, and listen to his potentially prophetic ramblings, and give him the occasional alm. This is not to say the Christian holy fool is not significant. He absolutely still serves a greater cultural purpose. It’s just a bit more…. Loosey goosey.

What makes for a fool?

Let’s take a quick moment to define what makes the “fool” in “holy fool”. Think of this position as more of a jester, where every common person is his king. Except in this case his job is far more on the “advisory” part. And also he doesn’t really make people laugh, he mostly just embarrasses himself. So like, a cringe and fail jester. …Okay that didn’t really work the way I wanted it to. So let’s pivot and reframe. The holy fool’s job, regardless of the eccentric tactics he uses to achieve it, is much like the clown: it's to use unconventional and shocking behavior to highlight cultural issues, personal folly amongst fellow worshippers, and act as an intermediary to their respective deities. The holy fool also is one who is almost always a prophet, often thought to be someone god speaks directly through, due to their untethered nature to worldly goods and needs. They also, as I said, are usually nomadic in nature. A lot of the fools here are primarily known for eternal wandering. Another unique twist is the emphasis on pain. The pain here is often meant to mimic Christ's. But it’s a personal pain. It’s reflective suffering.

This is a great time to introduce you to a core term. Don't worry I'm not going to put this on the final exam. Just retain it for the next 20 minutes or so. The term is Asceticism. It can be defined as "self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence", not always for religious reasons, but almost always. Running parallel to and then far beyond the religious practice of fasting, Asceticism is severe by nature. You are suffering. You are doing this on purpose, and you are doing it for God.

Foolishness for Christ

So let’s get back to the beginning. Like literally, the beginning of holy fools begins almost with the start of Christianity itself. The term was allegedly coined by Paul the Apostle, who was basically in the first generation of Christ’s followers after Christ and the original 12 disciples’ deaths. One of the earliest recognized holy fool-related stunts would be from the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel 4:9-15 tells of him laying before a stone which was representative of Jerusalem in strife. God commanded him to eat bread baked over human shit. (There’s a weird commonality of fecality happening with the religious fools). Ezekiel obviously did not really want to do that, so he asked God to compromise and let him use cow shit instead. God acquiesced and let him eat the cow shit bread instead. Quote: “Then he said unto me, Lo, I have given thee cow's dung for man's dung, and thou shalt prepare thy bread therewith."What a nice guy. You can tell this is not New Testament god.

Generally, early Christian holy fools would often follow in veins like this. Ones of depravity, letting go of earthly things like shame or embarrassment for the sake of god, enduring mocking and humiliation. Giving away all your possessions could often be enough to brand you as such. Holy fools are ascetic by default. That’s kind of the point. Paul the Apostle said in 1 Corinthians 4:10 "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised." I will say for the sake of being the devil's advocate that these things are not unique to Christian identity. Anyone who knows about Greek Stoic philosopher Diogenes knows that being publicly naked and doing depraved things back in the Pre-Christ or early Post-Christ era wasn’t all that uncommon. The difference here is that 1. Diogenes wasn’t doing it for God, he was just a Chad and 2. I don’t think any of these fools were public masturbators who lived in a big jar on the street. I could be wrong though.
Our man Juniper, letting a beggar steal his robes.

One great little case study of early Christian holy fools is that of Brother Juniper, an early follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. He was called by some as “the jester of the lord’, so you know I like him already. He was known for taking some Fransiscan doctrines to the extreme. Whenever someone asked him for literally any of his possessions he would freely give them away. Including his clothes. He apparently once even cut off the little bells of his altar tablecloth for a woman who, I guess just really liked bells. His extreme altruism became enough of an issue that his brothers in Christ had to keep watch of him, and they strictly forbade him from giving away his clothes, after what I can only imagine was a particularly revealing incident inciting such a rule. While such behaviors were embarrassing for his fellow Franciscans, it also resulted in him being recognized as a pure example of the Franciscan order, and was thus very esteemed by those around him.

I have to break here for a second- God this shit is so fucking funny. Can you imagine having to hold your bro back from giving his undies to a stranger, and then also begrudgingly admitting he is the most pious and popular among you. God it’s so fucking funny. I love it. History is so wild. I love Humanity so much.


If we’re going to speak on holy fools however, the most distinguished in the Christian vein are undoubtedly the Yurodivy of Russia. Eccentric, commanding, rambling, smelly, mostly-naked, and all-around commanding of presence, Russia was particularly fond of and receptive to their holy fools in a way other countries in Europe at the time simply were not. This Russian holy fool's main defining trait was being, to put it in modern reductive terms- a fucking weirdo. Some traits of the yurodivy include: being half or fully naked, being nomadic, speaking in riddles or tongues, having seizures, being a prophet, wearing chains, giving unsolicited advice, and just generally being disruptive and challenging almost to the point of being immoral, though it is important that this must always be to make a salient point. From “Blessed Fools of Old Russia”, My primary source for this part of the episode: Apparent foolishness cloaked superhuman insight. Sources often provide "keys”— logical explanations — for the most outlandish conduct. Why, for instance, did Novgorod's Nicholas of the Cabbages (Nikolai Koeanov) indignantly hurl cabbages at another Novgorod holy man and drive him away, after the man had made a special trip from another part of the city? Because Nicholas wished to give the citizens of Novgorod a lesson by exemplifying the internal bickering and strife which kept the city in turmoil. Why did Moscow's Basil the Blessed kiss the outside corners of a building in which sinners caroused? Because he wished to console some angels who sat, dejected, at those corners. And why did he cast stones at a house where righteous people prayed? Because he wished to help drive away the demons who no longer had any place in that house. Why, when Tsar Nicholas the 1st came to visit a monastery, did the fool-in-Christ Feofil lie on an anthill beside the road, his eyes closed and his arms folded across his chest as though dead, with ants swarming over his face and body? Because Feofil was prophesying the Tsar's death during the closing months of the Crimean War”.

Strange mannerisms, compulsion to meaningless (to the outsider) personal rituals, a disinterest in adhering to social norms, and different communication abilities such as speaking in metaphor or echolalia or just complete silence at all times are also symptoms of the holy fool. There also seems to be a high rate of epilepsy. Seizures have been interpreted as god working through a person in a religious context basically forever, and the Yurodivy were no exception. The other side of these eccentricities include impressive traits such as superb memory or mathematical skill. Yurodivy were never just raving lunatics, or at least, the legitimate ones weren’t. It did take some degree of skill, restraint, piety, and dedication to be one. The skills of the Yurodivy are broad and varied, obviously. The point in all are to be weird and thought provoking.

These holy fools started to gain prominence in the 13th century Russia, ish. Back then the madness of the fool was a bit more ambiguous, and could be real or simulated. As time went on, the common taste for the holy fool was more genuine. People would judge harshly those who they thought were wandering around naked in the tundra for clout rather than god. Though in my opinion if you’re that desperate for clout, you deserve some.

There were men and women yurodivye by the way, and the women more often served a more domestic purpose, like prophecies regarding specific families and providing an intermediary purpose. Of course, as with a lot of history, these women were not as well documented, but it is absolutely worth mentioning they were there.

Much like a jester, a holy fool was one of the few people who could openly challenge social leaders like tsars or emperors or bishops. There is a tale recounting: "the Pskov chronicle reports that Ivan the Terrible, "roaring like a lion," bore down on Pskov in February, 1570, intending to destroy the city and to "slaughter innocent people and spill much blood" as he had just done in Novgorod. Pskov's holy fool, Nicholas, walked up to the mounted Tsar and warned him not to shed blood or plunder church property. At first Ivan ignored Nicholas' words, and he had just ordered the Trinity monastery's bell removed when his best horse fell, in accordance with the holy man's prophecy." Terrified, Ivan withdrew from the city.

Obviously this doesn't mean divine folly was appreciated universally in Russia. There were plenty of people who did not appreciate these random weirdos coming in and rattling their chains and yelling divine nonsense, and it would result in them being mocked, insulted, and sometimes beaten because of it. Some holy fools accepted this almost gratefully, as it meant they were doing good by their god and suffering as Christ would for their beliefs.

The 16th century seems to be the high point of the holy fool in Russia, as there were 10 of them canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church during this stretch. Of course, whenever something becomes popular there are going to be posers, and this was also true for the yurodivy. We have record of Tsar Ivan the 4th addressing his council with complaints of an influx of holy fools allegedly "traipsing through the countryside, barefoot and naked, hair in disarray, thrashing about and beating themselves, saying that Saint Pjatnica and Anastasija have appeared to them". This was one thing. but of course the more urgent matter was the disruption of the rural economy, as these free spirits were encouraging workers to desist from manual labor on wednesdays and fridays. That's just going too far. So the council recommended passing a royal decree forbidding orthodox christians from listening to them. They really should have formed a holy fool union. A foonion.

Some were also punished by the tsars and emperors they would criticize, because of course they were. But overall, Moscow during the 16th century had a pretty chill and tolerant approach to the holy fools.

One of the most well-known and well-regarded fools of the early centuries was Basil the Blessed. Born 1468 near Moscow to a pair of predictably poor parents. He was originally a shoemaker's apprentice, and started showing signs of being different early on in life. Legend says, once a man ordered special boots that he wouldn't be able to pick up until he returned in a year. Basil upon hearing this started weeping- he said "I wish you would cancel the order, since you'll never wear them". When questioned he explained that the man would never be able to wear them as he would soon die, and apparently he was correct and the man died soon after.

At the age of 16 he started doing the types of things associated with the holy fool as we've already outlined- walking barefoot through the streets of moscow in extreme heat and cold alike, causing various disturbances to the local people and vendors who would occasionally beat him, for which he would thank God profusely. As his antics grew so would his reputation, and before he knew it, he was gaining respect as a genuine yurodivy.
He would preach mercy, helping those who were too ashamed to ask for alms. He was a frequent cryer, as he would weep at the sight of walking by people's windows who were just like having a nice time partying and drinking, which is a bit of a downer move but could be worse.

At the age of 80 whole years old he was said to have finally been given the gift of prophecy. Which like, Rasputin said he got his when he was like 5 so I do feel bad it took him so long, but hey, he got there eventually. He is said to have predicted the great fire of Moscow which killed an estimated 3,700 people, and also doused a smaller yet still potentially lethal one in Novgorod using the power of prayer. He died at the age of 89, quite a feat for a man who is predominantly depicted as being naked all the time in fucking russia of all places. and one of his pallbearers was Ivan the Terrible, who he had publicly admonished several times during his tenure as Yurodivy. I guess even someone with a title The Terrible can't help but respect such a fool.

Basil is a perfect example of the life and times of a well-respected and well-tolerated holy fool. Although his actions were deemed inexplicable by the common folk he did, after a time and persistence, gain the respect and to some degree admiration of plenty of his contemporaries.

But the golden age of the Yurodivy would not last, because what fun thing ever does? As the 17th century progressed Russia finally was getting a delicious hit of the religious strife that Western Europe had become so accustomed to. The schism of the Russian church, or "Raskol '', was a period during which the Russian orthodox church was facing a rift. The official church was on one side and those calling themselves the Old Believers were on the other. The flashpoint of this conflict was that the church wanted to accommodate and grandfather in some of the practices of the Greek orthodox church. Under the approval of Tsar Alexi Mikhailovich, Patriarch Nikon started reforming the church. He "corrected" several divine service books, changed small aspects of ritual like upgrading the two finger sign of the cross to three fingers. Although not total earth-shattering changes, people obviously did not take kindly to some religious government official changing up the rules of worship they'd followed for centuries. This resulted in the Raskol movement. common folk and low level clergy members predominantly made up their ranks. While there was no great war, there was lots of exodus and some self-immolation. They did play a pretty big part of the Moscow Uprising of 1682, which was one of those really complicated uprisings involving disputes on who should be the new monarch after one died, so I'm not gonna get into it, but it was pretty important because it resulted in a lot of deaths, as these things normally do. Outside of that however, the Raskol movement was not one nearly on the level of western christian wars. However it kind of still exists to this day! There are plenty of Old Believers still in Russia who follow the older ways of worship. they're just not legally persecuted anymore.

The 18th century came in and with it, new tactics against "false prophets" who would cause disruptions in church services and just sort of generally disturb the peace. Various decrees and administrative measures were taken against them as public tolerance for weirdos was running out. However it did not do much to deter their numbers. Relying on the generosity of their countrymen, vagabonds of all kinds still swarmed Russia posing as fools for christ or pilgrims, though it's hard to parse exactly who was legit and who wasn't. If someone had long hair, a staff, wore rags and chains, and was barefoot, would that really not be enough to classify them as yurodivy even if they weren't having prophetic seizures? The struggle to find the genuine fool among the imposters was a difficult one. From "Blessed Fools of Old Russia”: Only those yurodivye were "genuine," for example, who were yrodivye the year around. "Of this kind there were not many, because it is a very hard and cold profession to go naked in Russia, especially in winter."

I couldn’t find a specific reason for the end of the Yurodivy, but I do have my own little conspiracy theory. It’s all Rasputin’s fault. No really, hear me out. Rasputin was born a peasant and claimed at an early age to have prophetic abilities. He went on many religious pilgrimages which mirrored the Yurodivy- he wandered the Russian countryside bathing in mud, rambling wildly, and being a nuisance wherever he went. He also participated in a few niche christian cults for good measure. After an eventful young adulthood of being very stinky and very traveled, he ended up in Moscow. It was here that he took a bath and started working his charms and enigmatic behaviors on the upper crust of Russia’s social class at the time. He found he was so good at it that, as I’m sure you know, he ended up right in between the Tsar and Tsarina themselves. He served primarily as spiritual advisor, but by all accounts was just all around a family friend at some point. So there’s the holy part. The fool part? Well, Rasputin was a drunk, and boy did he love getting up to some antics. One of them was how he really liked whipping his dick out for fun, which is cool and not at all weird and off putting. He was pretty crude despite his charm, and really, REALLY horny. And by all accounts most of the Russian public was not a huge fan of him. His foolishness does diverge from the Yurodivy because I do not think Rasputin really liked being subject to scathing op-eds in Russian papers every day, but he was definitely part fool nonetheless for engaging in such debasement. Seriously, the Romanov family was not very popular at the time, and the fact that they brought on this giant hairy spiritual drunk to be a close advisor did not do a lot for their image, or the image of the alleged holy man. He is not directly responsible for their assassinations at the hands of the Bolsheivks, but man he certainly did not help. With the death of the Romanovs came literally the end of an empire- Nicolas was the last Tsar of Russia. The death of the last royal family was a symbolic death of the old ways, as it so often is, and I can’t help but feel like the Yurodivy was a part of that.

So why was Russia so susceptible to these holy weirdos? Although the hypothesis is that the spark for the yurodivy came from the eastern branch of christianity, there is also the hypothesis of the susceptibility for the Russians born out of their own local ancestry. Why was the soil for the holy fool so fertile in the east? Perhaps because of the pre-christian native mythology of sorcerers and wizards. It's also worth noting the discouraging nature of christianity to a decentralized method of worship- there are rigid hierarchies running from priest up to pope that random naked ramblers simply would not fit into. I mean all it took was one dude getting mad and nailing a list up to a local church door to cause an earth-shattering rift in the religious social fabric of 16th century christianity. The tight grip that singular method of worship had in western europe also could be part of why the holy fool didn't flourish so easily over there. Russia simply did not have the rich history of holy wars that western europe was so lucky to be constantly beset by.

Let's Get Cosmic

Regardless of the susceptibility of the Russians, this much is clear. There is a lot more in common between the Christian holy fool and the ritual clown than one would think at first glance. This I think speaks to the consistency of the role of the fool across culture. In our last episode we talked about the role of the fool in a more literal employment sense. Culturally? It’s a whole different ball game. Why is the fool one of the most common archetypes across human cultures? It could simply be the fact that elevated humor is one of the things that makes us uniquely human. Why does the fool serve this same role across all these cultures? The fool is the one who has this pure knowledge, the one who highlights our folly, the one who, in a twist of expectation, guides us. The fool suffers for us, debasing himself for our amusement, and yet also. For his own satisfaction. Anyone who has ever been a class clown can attest to the strange adrenaline rush you get out of making a fucking fool out of yourself and getting laughs from those seated amongst you. Why is it so intoxicating? As far as I know we don’t see chimp comedians addicted to the thrill of the jape, so why are we? What makes us so special, or so cursed?

As we go into these next few episodes, I want you to keep these questions in mind. I don’t have answers for you. But that’s not why I asked them.

I’m going to read you a fairly woogity woo excerpt from one of my main sources on ritual clowns. It’s a little dense, but I bring this up for the sake of mentioning the core of the fool runs so deep as to even be found in its etymology.

From Anthropos: the clown-in-ritual has reflexive properties with regard to the organization of ritual, and that ritual action itself exists in a state of in-process, for which the ritual-clown has an amenity. To explore this possibility it is necessary to delineate attributes of the ritual-clown as a symbolic type. In this regard, the etymology of 'clown' is suggestive. The word 'clown' appears in English in the second half of the sixteenth- century, and it derived originally from words meaning 'clod,' 'clot,' or 'lump,'. A nineteenth-century gloss of 'clown' suggests that "The fool was indeed the inmate of every opulent house, but the rural jester or clown seems to have been peculiar to the country families" that is, that 'clown' and 'fool' were analogous in character. 'Clod' and 'clot' were long synonymous, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Among the meanings of 'clod' are: "a mass formed by the coagulation of anything liquid" and "a lump of earth or clay adhering together" . Among the meanings of 'clot' are: "a mass, lump, rounded mass: especially one formed by cohesion or congelation". In putting together the meanings of 'clown,' 'clod,' and 'clot,' one gets a strong sense of the clown as a figure which is somehow unfinished or incomplete in its internal organization; and of an entity which hangs together in a loose and clumsy way. The clown is again somehow torn out-of-context, and its outline is blurred. It is 'lumpish', it is imperfect, but congealed and adhering, a fusion of unlike attributes. The clown has an affinity with the medieval fool, of which Welsford noted that it had the tendency to "dissolve" events, and to melt the solidity of the world. The word 'fool' derives from the Latin follis, literally 'bellows,' but also used in the sense of 'windbag.' The term 'buffoon,' with connotations similar to that of 'fool,' is cognate with the Italian buffare, 'to puff.' In the derivation of the term 'fool' there is a sense of movement, motion, and lightness. Given the probable affinity between the clown and the fool, there is in the clown a figure which is clumsily integrated, which adheres to itself with a strong incipient sense of internal movement or of 'frozen motion' and which has connotations of the generation of movement, of motion-in-process.

To once again put stupidly: Every fool is a clown, every clown a fool. The more I research fools throughout history the more the terms and roles seem indistinguishable.

There are so many different manifestations of fool to be found across times and cultures. Every single one we talk about over the course of this series is important. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. Each one serves an important purpose, just by the sheer value of being in a certain place, at a certain time, under a spotlight, making somebody laugh. At the risk of sounding excessively romantic- giving mirth is what gives the fool purpose, and mirth is indispensable. We would be nothing without it. So please. Next time you see a clown. I want you to think about why they are there.