Café Crem

Art, Music and Words around The Coffee Table

Heyokah Blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start of what I hope will be a very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin. I read the first few pages last night before succumbing to tiredness and conking out.

The recent discussions on the various comment threads, and also Psychscribe’s very moving essay this morning have brought me to try and explore both my disconnectness and quite why this is actually a very valuable function in this world.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals.  I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys.  There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.


February 6, 2009 - Posted by | Cafe Literati, culture, death, friends, God in our life, humor, life, love, personal, psychology, random, Viv's Short Stories, women, writing | , , , , ,


  1. Viv, as a totally non-religious person, I have to ask out of curiousity – how do you reconcile being involved with Native American spirituality, which actively assigns God’s to trees, water, wind etc. with that of being Christian, who believe in the one God forsaking all others?

    I think I must take issue with your contention that disconnectedness is the only way to have independent thought, this is in fact a dangerous path. Likening those of us who choose to operate within society (for want of a better term) as akin to the Third Reich is a little extreme, I think.
    I don’t think loneliness and isolation help anyone, not those who are not lonely, and certainly not those who are.
    An interesting and provocative post, Viv!

    Comment by kevmoore | February 6, 2009

  2. Here, Viv, I deeply disagree with many things, but on the other side, I guess, you were not expecting another reaction. I won’t enter into details, it would be a long and perhaps painful discussion, but one thing I must say:

    I believe that what a society reeds “to remain whole and health” is simply whole and healthy people. And I really can’t see why one should put another name on them, names like “christian” or “heyokah”.

    By the way: I firmly believe that Cafe Crem is something good, and I doubt that it will become evil just because we all might think it is good…

    Comment by Miki | February 6, 2009

  3. First of all, I don’t think I mean to say disconnectedness is the only way to independent thought. I am sorry if that is how it came across. Just that always there needs to be a someone who does not agree, and thinks differently on an issue. any issue be it this post or on football or on literature. It doesn’t mean they are the only ones ever, just that for each set of thoughts, or opinions, there needs to be (for the sake of a kind of balance) opposition. I can’t quite explain exactly what I mean, and I certainly didn’t mean to sound as extreme as I obviously did. If you think about the popular understanding of say yin/yang, it’s a bit like that.
    Concerning the Christian issue, well, I am far from being a conventional Christian and I won’t bore any one by going into the issues of both translation and semantics. even less some of my own theology. Much Native American spirituality varies enormously from one tribe to another, so it’s almost a nonsense to even speak of NA spirituality at all. I veer towards a version of panentheisim, God in everything if you like, that the divine spark is contained within all things living and non living. Most of the NA people(that I have known or read) do not see that the beings in the trees etc are gods exactly and the whole world is peopled with non human beings of all kinds, many of which are godlike in many respects. Many speak of a Great Spirit, akin to the God I believe in. For me, that is enough to be going on with. I seek what we share and try to learn from it.
    I believe I guess that there needs to be a little salt in the sugar, a little sugar in the salt, sweet with the sour, dark with the light, for the world to retain balance, and that people who cannot be a part of society in the tradtional way have as much value as those who can. I can’t pretend I am not sometimes very lonely, but I would say that both isolation and loneliness do have an immense value both to the individual and to the society. When all other voices are stilled, including our own, then can we truly hear. The fact that I have tried for many years to conform to what everyone expects and stil failed inwardly and outwardly tells me that I need to value what I am as I am and not try to be what I am not and never can be.
    Sorry if I caused any offense.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  4. exactly.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  5. I have been confronted in the past with many people who thought they were something very special, something even more special that the special we all are. I must even confess (yes, a painful confession) that I have felt myself that sooooo special at some point. Something like “A Guardian”…
    I have even lived many years with somebody who truly believed he was God. Not only A God, but GOD. He was great, no doubt, but not that great. His interpretation of this holly role in the world was a reflection of the rejection of his person by the world. To make himself bigger and bigger in front of his inner mirror was the only way he had to deal with that rejection. The most he was rejected, the Goddest he was… and yes, he was very lonely up there on his thron…

    Today I believe that we are all the guardians of life… each of us in his own special way. Some might be the guardians of good, some of evil, some of the environment, some of the peace, some of the war, some of the football net, etc etc…

    Comment by Miki | February 6, 2009

  6. Very true indeed, Miki.
    It’s that in part I’m trying to get at, and did it clumsily, to try and express quite what I am guardian of. All these things are personal to each of us and I take and express things very personally.
    To be able to say Yes, you also need to be able to say No. True freedom comes from free choice to say yes or no. In this world, by virtue of many things this kind of freedom is limited, but it’s something I think we should treasure. The ability to disagree with people, and with people you love and care about, is also important.
    I need the right to believe that what I do has value somewhere, and since I cannot change who I am, or the world around, maybe I need to accept that I have limited value.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  7. What a powerful post, Viv! And what powerful responses, Mik & Kevi!

    What I got out of it, Viv, was your point that when people blindly keep following what starts out as something good, it slowly becomes corrupt because the leaders of the good become corrupted by their own charismatic power…We have seen this throughout history. We have seen this in various religions. Or, per your example of the Third Reich, it didn’t even start out as good, yet no one stood up and said, this is wrong, this is evil. Where were the heyokahs? Were they killed off that fast? No, I think not…they were all working together, connected (!) in the French Resistance….

    By the way, I would love to hang out with someone who says ” “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I confess to having been, all my life, a heyokah myself, though I didn’t know it until reading this. Though I have mellowed with the years.

    I can certainly understand, Miki and Kev, how you might feel hurt in response to this post. In some respects (but not all or Viv would not be so active in the community you created) you are polar opposites to Viv. And that would be good! That’s the balance she speaks of in her post.

    Viv, you seemed to be writing from a place of deep pain, and sometimes our own howl blinds us, momentarily, to its effect on the people around us. People we care about. This has happened to me many times along the way.

    One last thought. There ARE other heyokas we occasionally meet along the way, and we can connect. Kin always recognizes kin.

    Hugs to all, Psych

    Comment by psychscribe | February 6, 2009

  8. Thanks for this long comment, Psych, and your concern, this is very kind of you.

    But don’t worry, we are not hurt at all! I understand Viv’s post much deeper than one can think… I have been there myself, really have, I know what she is talking about. I am not as polar opposite as you think… Kevin is that, yes, I think he is…

    I have a very complex character, which certainly does not come through in our Cafe Crem life… which does not mean that I am hiding it or not standing to myself…
    I believe that many of us here in Cafe Crem come from a place of deep pain… we just deal with it in another way.
    You might not believe it, but I am a lonely rider myself, have always been… but only because I could not find the right persons to ride with me. I found Kevin now, and always hope I will find more…. but this does not mean that I don’t connect to the ones who can’t ride with me. I connect in fact to everybody I see on the side of my path, and I love to wave my hand to each of them when I am passing by.. and sometimes I glance back at some, asking myself if I am perhaps making a mistake not to stop…

    I can certainly say that all of you here in Cafe Crem, are having a ride with me, and I love it. I don’t know if it would be the same if we were living in the same real space, but who cares!

    Hugs to all too!

    Comment by Miki | February 6, 2009

  9. I do believe it, Miki. None of our complex characters can possibly all come out, or want to, in a forum such as this – warm and safe as it may be. Here is what I love most about you, Miki: “

    Comment by psychscribe | February 6, 2009

  10. Oops, submitted too soon. Let me continue:
    Here is what I love most about you, Miki: ” I connect in fact to everybody I see on the ides of my path, and I love to wave my hand to each of them when I am passing by.. and sometimes I glance back at some, asking myself if I am perhaps making a mistake not to stop…”
    I actually have always envied people like you, who possess an innate warmness and such generous love toward your fellow human beings. That is not something that has ever been a part of me. I have always felt “other” – not special, just “other” – I was one of those unfortunate children who really was never a child- I didn’t even know how to play, let alone develop social skills. I was an adult trapped in a child’s body….kids sensed me for the alien I was…Ah…I ramble…sorry….but anyway I HAVE learned to play now and cherish this time – I’m off to make jewelry right now, my sister and I are participating in an art show at the end of the month and I really should not be blogging! So much to do! And when that’s done I will pursue the photography. I want to learn digital art. Creativity is how I play and is my joy!
    By the way, may I ask where you learned such SPLENDID English?

    Comment by psychscribe | February 6, 2009

  11. Thank you Psychscribe. I confess to a little dread of how I might have hurt or upset anyone, so i went away and read in bed, until I could find the courage to turn the pc on again.
    I like the fact that it is possible to disagree. I don’t like being disagreed with, though, because I immediately begin to argue with myself and then convince myself that I was wrong, and then I end up in a truly terrible muddle. In some sense being free to disagree is a freedom we often take for granted.
    I’ve had a rough couple of weeks, to be honest, and it has all shaken me up. I’ve been like a dog with a bone about what happened with my job; I wake sometimes in the night and all I can think of is things I want to say, to point out errors and inconsistencies with what was said, and scream like a teenager, it’s not bloody fair. With what happened with my daughter it goes deeper; I feel powerless to help, to do anything at all. I think in the end it was why I phoned an ambulance rather than doing first aid myself, because I knew at that moment it was beyond me to help her other than stop the bleeding and patch up the wound. The deeper wounds need someone better and more able and infinitely better trained than me to deal with. What hurts most(and I hope Cordie reads this as I did follow her link and read her poem) is that a minute before she did it, we were arguing. She’d been crying and I’d tried to talk and she said, “I don’t want to be a burden to you,” and I was so shocked, instead of saying, “You’re not” all I said was, “Don’t start talking like that!” because I really wanted to say, “yes you are a burden right now but you’re MY burden and I will not put you down till I know you can walk,” and knew I couldn’t say it. What a coward I am. About two minutes later she called me and asked for help and there she was bleeding from her slashed arms.
    And most of my best friends have something of the heyokah about them. And on the odd occasion more than one or two are together in my house, it gets very very weird and we all argue.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  12. Yes, “other” not “special”. I know what you mean. I have never felt special, just alien.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  13. @Psyche
    Thanks for the kind words. So happy to hear about the art exhibition and I hope that you will show us some of the jewellery you do. Kevin and me are very curious about it, we had no idea you do such things.
    My English… oh, I wished it were that splendid… a painful theme for me, in fact, I said it already somewhere, I can’t really express myself how I would like to and it is very frustrating.
    I learnt English at school, but didn’t really used it until I met Kevin. I guess I learned a lot more since I am blogging, especially in Cafe Crem.

    Really, Viv, you don’t need to worry about hurting somebody. We are all very open and tolerant and understanding grown-ups here.
    I think you must learn “not to cut yourself” when somebody disagrees with you. I agree that it is quite unpleasant to be disagreed with. Sometimes he hurts me like hell when Kevin for example disagrees with me. I suppose that it makes me feel worthless, kind of. And of course the closest I stand to somebody, the worst it is!

    Concerning your daughter: can’t you understand her? I mean, have you never thought that you don’t want to be a burden to somebody you love? I can. I feel the same towards Kevin every time I have a down. in fact this is a declaration of love, nothing less. I think we must accept this kind of declarations too…

    Comment by Miki | February 6, 2009

  14. Oh yes, I do understand her. I would say the same myself and often do. At that moment I could see her sliding into a very nasty place and very ineptly tried to “head her off at the pass” and failed rather miserably.
    As for “cutting myself” when someone disagrees, it’s a learned pattern I find hard to break. It goes back to family things from long ago. I end up feeling I will lose the goodwill of the person because I have disagreed with them, and in fact in recent cases this has indeed been the case. The last row I had I refused to back down on my viewpoint at all, and though I said I was happy to agree to disagree and stop the row, the person I was in dispute with would not let be and kept on at me at how I was wrong and attacked me on a very personal and deep level until I severed contact. Then of course she was appointed as my boss. Amusing, hey?
    I simply do not cope well with conflict and need to learn it. I used to just roll over and submit, change my opinion(at least verbally) and give in for the sake of peace.
    Ah well.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  15. I found out that the best way to deal with conflict is to relativise it, at least within oneself. The problem is often that in a severe conflict situation we get more and more focussed on it, until everything else disappears from our consciousness. one must reset, put the conflict at its right place, realise it is just an infinite part of our life on earth. Important is to step back, so far back that one is able to see the conflict from outside. The relativisation comes soon then.
    I often gave in for the sake of peace, and still do. But I don’t do it in things which are important to me. And I don’t do it either towards persons who are important to me. It is a question of respect, towards myself and towards the other. I can’t respect myself for submission, and I can’t respect anybody who forces me to submit…

    I think we all fear to lose the goodwill of the persons with whom we disagree, this is why it is such a delicate matter. But really, those who react like that don’t deserve our attention, I would say… easily said, I know… sometimes it is much more complicated than that, above all when things like bosses are involved!

    Here Viv, you don’t need to roll over and submit! You really don’t!

    Comment by Miki | February 6, 2009

  16. When I was a kid my brother used to bully me. If I didn’t agree with him, he would make me. When we were small this was accomplished with blows; when we were older, by ridicule and insults. My brother has a natural gift for biting satire and he was(when we were tiny) my only friend and therefore as big brothers often are, my hero and my nemesis.
    It feels very weird to even be thinking about this now; I’m almost 43 for God’s sake! But maybe it is time.
    True to say I am glad I didn’t roll over and submit to the woman who became my boss; because I still believe my opinion was of sufficient value to be allowed to stand even if she did disagree. But the consequences have been tough and I still do not know when she will attack again.
    While I am trapped at home by weather and inaction I become the snake devouring my own tail.
    Ah well, Saturday tomorrow, and maybe better days ahead. Hoping to get to Cambridge next Saturday. Ellie starts her next course and she has a tutorial in cambridge that day, so we may meet my parents for a coffee while she’s in her tutorial. She’s a bit better today, got a couple of emails from her new tutor. part of the course allows the students the chance to take part in an archaeological dig at Amesbury near Stonehenge and she mailed her newe tutor to ask if despite her illness she may be of some use and he was delighted to hear from her and assured her that he would be very happy to have her there, and they’d see what could be done to find stuff she can do. It’s given her a focus to divert her a bit and something to work towards.

    Comment by viv66 | February 6, 2009

  17. Oh my goodness Viv, I didn’t know any of this stuff about your daughter. Where is it posted on here? With heartfelt empathy, Psych

    Comment by psychscribe | February 6, 2009

  18. It’s all muddled up on various comment threads, I’m afraid, Psychscribe. Basically she has ME. She got it shortly after we moved here. She left behinda boyfriend where we used to live; they got engaged, and after much soulsearching we said he could come and live with us here. Just before Christmas he went back to his home, because he was homesick. Then last weekend he came up, and they ended it. It was pretty awful and then she managed to cut herself on Monday, so that I had to take her to hospital. She’s seeing the Doctor about the cutting problem on MOnday, so I do hope she’s going to get some help.
    It’s a tough one but today she’s starting a new course on her degree(she’s doing a degree in history via the Open University and doing well despite her illness) and she’s excited about it. Things have shifted a bit and I feel a change in the air.
    thank you!

    Comment by viv66 | February 7, 2009

  19. Oh my goodness! Its tough for all of you. How awful this must have been for you… But the excitement and the looking forward is a good prognosis for her. Please be sure to take care of YOU as well Viv – so often we forget all about that in the crisis of caring for loved ones. m.

    Comment by psychscribe | February 7, 2009

  20. Very big thanks, Psychscribe and Miki. I am much better today. She is much better today too; she started her course so she’s been plugging away for hours and is now watching, “Rome” on dvd. Her two new courses are Reading Classical Latin and Culture, Power and Identity in the Roman Empire, so her choice of dvd is quite apt.
    I also think getting out into the garden and doing something practical helped me to “ground” myself a bit. I even got nettled at few times!

    Comment by viv66 | February 7, 2009

  21. So glad to hear that Viv! Except for “nettled”…what does that mean?

    Comment by psychscribe | February 7, 2009

  22. Ah, we have some nettle plants that are allowed to grow in the garden; I don’t pull them up but I do stop them spreading by cutting them back and removing shoots. They’re just starting early growth and when I went to cut them back, they stung me rather a bit. I assume you do have stinging nettles in the US?
    We deliberately leave some as they are very good for wildlife and I do also use them as a herb, by boiling them up and using the resulting liquid as a hair tonic. This “tea” is also great for plants as a feed too. I even have a shirt made from nettle fibres made into fabric; you can do almost anything with nettles.
    I have just got a bit of a tingle in my fingers now from the stings, nothing worse!

    Comment by viv66 | February 7, 2009

  23. oh…well, maybe we do have them here, one thing I am not is a gardener.. hope your fingers feel better soon!

    Comment by psychscribe | February 8, 2009

  24. My next door neighbor was the Grand Chief of a tribe of Indians. I once asked him about traditions, beliefs, etc., and he smiled at me and said nothing.

    I did not know if he was being rude at the time, but I did have to find out so I asked him about it. He said if I have to talk about it then I lose the connection for awhile.

    He was curious why my people had to always have to ask for the answers.

    I believe that too. In having to ask for the answers one limits and closes off the self from the soul experience each of has be it nature, the cosmos or whatever we think we are connected with larger than ourselves.

    I believe in the experience and the integrity of the energy I receive by practicing what he has taught me that day.

    Comment by Michael Pokocky | February 8, 2009

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