The Fool
(Under Construction)

"Jesters do oft prove prophets." (V, iii, l. 73) King Lear

"Fool: also called jester, a comic entertainer whose madness or imbecility, real or pretended, made him a source of amusement and gave him license to abuse and poke fun at even the most exalted of his patrons."
Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1995 ed.

Throughout England and Wales the Morris is danced.  An ancient ritual dance, a dance of planting, a dance of the hunt, a dance of fertility.  As well as dancers, the Morris teams usually have at least one special character, an animal, a backwards man, a fool.  The role of these characters is complex, even in the limited context of the dance.  The practical role is crowd control.  The fool must keep drunken watchers and small children out of the way of the dancers.  The fool also comments on the dance itself.  If a dancer misses a step or stumbles, the fool is there to strike him, usually on the posterior, with an inflated pig’s bladder.  The fool must keep the dance from getting too serious as well.  If rituals become too serious they harden and break.  It is imperative that the crowd laugh during the ritual.
A similar role is played by the Mudhead clowns of the Hopi.  In the Hopi rituals, the sacred clowns are combination jester and shaman.  They amuse audiences with their antics, intensify the rituals by offering a contrast between the sublime and the ridiculous, and, like the Morris fool, they control inappropriate behavior and may make the misbehaver the butt of a joke.  The fool is the one that is allowed to make fun of anyone from observer to priest.

The fool and the Mudhead clown keep the rituals alive and fresh and they keep them from becoming boring. They add the catalyst that causes the desired reaction to proceed.  They have been described as the leavening for the seriousness of the ritual.

The fool provides entertainment.  But if we look a little deeper it is often more than entertainment.  The fool gets to tell the truth, the hard truths that might cause trouble if anyone else tells them. The fool  can get away with telling the hardest truths just because he is a fool.  He speaks in jest and we laugh.  He speaks in parables and we struggle to understand.  He can speak harsh truths and we must listen because he is entertaining in his difference.  We must listen because he is crazy and cannot be held responsible for what he says.  The fool plays and everybody knows that play is not serious so he can accomplish the difficult, controversial issues in play.  In the middle ages there was an implicit understanding of this with the belief that joking could help shield one from misfortune and indeed we can understand the truth of this.

Throughout human history the persona of the fool and his mythological equivalent, the trickster, has played an essential role, the role of change.  Just as the fool can force change in social situations with his license, his mythological counterpart, the trickster, is the central force of change in the world.

Scholars of mythology and some cultures portray the trickster as either a hero or as a destroyer, missing the essential relationship in the two elements.  Change is not evil.  Even the destruction the trickster can bring is often necessary, just as the winter destroys the old so that there is room for the new growth that follows in the spring.  The unity of Trickster with the Benefactor is present in many myths while others emphasize only one part of the duality.   Nevertheless, the duality is not a paradox, but the binding of change.

We often only know the value of a fools actions after the change is complete.  In many myths the trickster brings a treasure to man, but is it really a treasure?  All change has mixed blessings.  When the Raven trickster of the Northwest Indians brings fire to the people is he a destroyer or creator?  Looking back we say he brought a valuable change.  But fire is also dangerous, a change that can and does destroy.

The Norse god Loki is the instigator of conflicts.  The resolution of conflicts brings the new, the better.  Loki is the destroyer of the world, but the world springs new and better out of the ashes.  Like the seasons, it is part of the cycle, not an end forever.  Loki is crude, dangerous, and subversive. We need constancy and aim for a certain amount of repetition.  You don’t want him coming to your cocktail party, or do you?  The fool that would bring out those aspects of ourselves that society doesn't approve of and which it sees as "subversive" or "undesirable" is the one who challenges conformity and spurs us to question and maybe to change.

Jesus was a Trickster.  At the command of God he came to change the world.  He sought to destroy the old structures and bring God’s kingdom, a change of great magnitude.  His methods were subversive to the society in which he lived.  He was viewed as a dangerous fool and like all fools, brought a message of change and hope.

The complex role of the fool.  The fool provides truth, balance, play, recreation, destruction, creation, change.  The fool is the destroyer of our well-ordered world and the creator of the new through play.  It is by change that we are made new. We are all Phoenixes, capable of rising out of the ashes, if only the destroyer will bring us change.  Let the fool lead the way.

Further readings:
Shakespeare, William  Almost all the plays have fools
Moffett , Blair A.  “Mind: Trickster, Transformer”
Sunrise magazine, November 1979
(B. C) Welsford, Enid.  “The Fool, his Social and Literary History London”
Faber & Faber,1968.
Radini ,Paul  “The Trickster, A Study in American Indian Mythology”
 Schocken Books, N.Y., 1972; p. xxiii.)
Luomala , Katharine “Oceanic, American Indian, and African Myths of Snaring the Sun”
Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin 168, Honolulu, 1940;
reprinted by Kraus Reprint Company, N.Y, 1971
Campbell , Joseph “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”
Bollingen Series XVII, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., 1973
Diamond Stanley  “In Search of the Primitive”
Transaction Books, New Brunswick, N.J.
La Barre, Weston  “The Ghost Dance, The Origins of Religion”
Dell Publishing Company, N.Y., 1972; p. 195).

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