Ritual Clown

sacred clowns

Ritual clowns, also called sacred clowns, are a characteristic feature of the ritual life of many traditional religions, and they typically employ scatology and sexual obscenities. Ritual clowning is where comedy and satire originated; in Ancient Greece, ritual clowning, phallic processions (or penis parades) and aischrologia (ritual insults) found their literary form in the plays of Aristophanes.

Two famous examples of ritual clowns in North America are the Koyemshis (also known as Koyemshi, Koyemci or Mudheads) and the Newekwe (also spelled Ne’wekwe or Neweekwe). French sociologist Jean Cazeneuve is particularly renowned for elucidating the role of ritual clowns; reprising Ruth Benedict’s famous distinction of societies into Apollonian and Dionysian, he said that precisely because of the strictly repressive (apollonian) nature of the Zuñi society, the ritual clowns are needed as a dionysian element, a safety valve through which the community can give symbolic satisfaction to the antisocial tendencies. The Koyemshis clowns are characterized by a saturnalian (riotously merry) symbolism.

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