This article is excerpted from the Rocky Mountain Pagan Journal.
Each issue of the Rocky Mountain Pagan Journal is published by
High Plains Arts and Sciences; P.O. Box 620604, Littleton Co.,
80123, a Colorado Non-Profit Corporation, under a Public Domain
Copyright, which entitles any person or group of persons to
reproduce, in any form whatsoever, any material contained therein
without restriction, so long as articles are not condensed or
abbreviated in any fashion, and credit is given the original
CONCERNING THE HEYOKAH
Copyright 1987, T. W. Moore
Hello, people! Before I get to the subject of this little
piece, let me give you a bit of information as to its roots.
Recently I have been doing a lot of writing, horror stories
for the most part, and this article grew out of that. It is also
derived from a dream that I had not too long ago and something
that has puzzled me until recently. Now, with all that out of
the way, let's get to it.
Those of you who are familiar with Native American beliefs
already have an idea of what a heyokah is. For the benefit of
those who aren't, I'll try to briefly describe him for you. Who
knows? There may well be a counterpart in your own tradition.
The word heyokah comes from the Lakotah (Sioux) and is used
in reference to a particular type of shaman. According to
tradition, the heyokah is one who has "dreamed of the Thunder
Spirits." This dream bestows great powers upon the medicine
man/medicine woman, one of which is reputed to be an ability to
influence storms. However, these powers have their price in that
the shaman becomes a "contrary/" If you've seen the movie Little
Big Man, then you have seen a sample of the heyokah's antics. Of
course, this was a parody of the real thing, but our subject does
do a lot of clowning around in reverse.
Now I've read quite a bit on the subject (there's a lot out
there, too), but still couldn't put it together. There seemed to
be something missing! It's only in the last month or so that
it's become clear to me and I'd like to share my insights with
Probably the greatest barrier to my understanding was the
one created by language. Not being able to speak Lakotah, and
additionally not knowing the culture, I lost something in the
translation. Here's the whole picture, as I see it anyway.
In his vision, the heyokah comes into direct contact with
the life-force itself. This is symbolized by the Thunder Spirits
that he dreams of. When this occurs, a death/rebirth sequence is
begun, which gives the shaman the capacity to control some of the
manifestations of life-force. This would include an ability to
influence storms and, as is typical of the shamanic experience,
the power to heal. He also becomes a very potent teacher. This
last is where the "contrariness" comes into focus, in two ways.
The first is that the heyokah is teaching us about our selves.
By "mirroring" all of our doubts, fears, hatreds, weaknesses,
etc. he forces us to examine what we really are. For example, if
you have any self-hatred (a common malady in our society) this
sacred teacher will make you look at it. The second aspect of
his mirroring is that, as we are taught, the heyokah heals us of
our hurts. This is the most important and remarkable part of the
holy man's clowning. For this wonderful shaman takes our pain
and transforms it into laughter. And what can heal a human
beings faster than to laugh at ourselves?
As you can see, these "sacred clowns" had a very important
role in traditional societies. And personally, I think we could
use a few more of them in today's world.
SEVEN ARROWS, Hyemeyosts Storm .
SONG OF HEYOKAH, Hyemeyosts Storm .
LAME DEER: SEEKER OF VISIONS, Richard Erdoes and Lame Deer.
SHAMANIC VOICES, Joan Halifax.
If anyone would like to respond to this or has anything to
share with me, please write to me c/o Post Office Box 11125,
Englewood, CO 80110
.......... FROM RMPJ, 2/3/1987
Next: Full Moon Ritual (Seastrider)