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Ritual clown

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Title: Ritual clown  
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Subject: Satire, Conformity, Ridiculous, Normative social influence, New Man (utopian concept)
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Ritual clown

Ritual clowns, also called sacred clowns,[1] are a characteristic feature of the ritual life of many traditional religions,[2][3][4] and they typically employ scatology and sexual obscenities.[3][5] Ritual clowning is where comedy and satire originated; in Ancient Greece, ritual clowning, phallic processions and ritual aischrologia found their literary form in the plays of Aristophanes.[6][7][8]

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).[9][10] French sociologist Jean Cazeneuve is particularly renowned for elucidating the role of ritual clowns;[11] 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 Zuni 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.[12][13][14][15] The Koyemshis clowns are characterized by a saturnalian symbolism.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Cazeneuve (1957) p.254 quotation:
  2. ^ Jonathan Z. Smith (1995) The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion pp.1093-1094
  3. ^ a b Jones, Lindsay (2005) , Volume 6Encyclopedia of religion, p.1498 quotation:
  4. ^ Cazeneuve (1957) p.242 quotation:
  5. ^ Louis A. Hieb (1972) Meaning and Mismeaning: Toward an Understanding of the Ritual Clown In: Alfonso Ortiz (ed.) (1984) New Perspectives on the Pueblos; pp. 163-195. quotation:
  6. ^ Reckford, Kenneth J. (1987) Aristophanes' Old-and-new Comedy: Six essays in perspective pp.449-51, 461-67 quotation:
  7. ^ Thomas H. Lewis The Medicine Men: Oglala Sioux Ceremony and Healing p.151
  8. ^ Aristotle, in the Poetics, famously mentioned ritual clowning (phallika) and said that it is where comedy and satire originated. Poetics, 1449a-b quotation:
  9. ^ Bonvillain, Nancy (2005)The Zuni pp.24-5
  10. ^ Cazeneuve (1957) p.242 quotation:
  11. ^ Makarius, Laura (1970) Ritual Clowns and Symbolical Behaviour in Diogenes, March 1970 18: 44-73. Also collected in Diogenes Issues 69-72, pp.52-3 quotation:
  12. ^ Revue (1960) p.118 quotation:
  13. ^ Cazeneuve (1957) p.244-5 quotation:
  14. ^ Durand (1960) p.421
  15. ^ a b Durand (1984) p.106 quotation:


  • Jean Cazeneuve (1957) Les dieux dansent à Cibola: le Shalako des indiens zuñis, pp. 242–254. English version translated by Madeleine Turrell Rodack: The gods dance at Cibola.
    • Republished in 1993 as Les Indiens Zunis — Les dieux dansent à Cibola, éditions du Rocher/Nuage Rouge, preface by Olivier Delavault. Excerpts on sacred clowns from the 1993 edition: Quand les Katchinas dansent a Cibola(2). DANSEURS MASQUES ET CLOWNS SACRES DES ZUNIS
  • Gilbert Durand (1960) Les structures anthropologiques de l'imaginaire
  • Gilbert Durand (1984) 1964 L'imagination symbolique also found in SUP.: Initiation philosophique (1954)
  • Revue de métaphysique et de morale: Volume 65 (1960) (Volumes 64-65, Volume 65) Review of Cazeneuve (1957), pp. 117-seq

Further reading

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