Courting the Jester
How to summon the Trickster without being tricked?
It’s 11:03 at night. As I sit down to write I have no idea what I’m about to say. I just liked the title ‘Courting the Jester’ which came as if by its own accord, like a robin in winter on the scrounge for crumbs.
Let’s see what we can rustle up.
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The Jester, the Clown, the Holy Fool. I love Tricksters. In a world full of paperwork, we need more mischief.
“Most of the travellers, liars, thieves, and shameless personalities of the twentieth century are not tricksters at all. Their disruptions are not subtle enough, or pitched at a high enough level. Trickster isn’t a run-of-the mill liar and thief. When he lies and steals, it isn’t so much to get away with something or get rich as to disturb the established categories of truth and property and, by so doing, open the road to possible new worlds.”
― Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art
When the creative energies in human beings and human culture get fixed and stagnant, Trickster appears. Loki, Hermes, Raven, Coyote - the way they disturb the boundaries might be uncomfortable or painful or catastrophic, but without them the river turns to ice, the story feels written, and life becomes one long groundhog day.
The world is sick. Laughter is the best medicine. No. The best medicine is a radical reduction in CO2 emissions. No. It’s educational reform. No. It’s penicillin.
But laughter is just one of many things that Trickster brings, and tricksters know a thousand different kinds - highly differentiated qualities of laughter (the best medicine) like a pharmacist with a shop full of pills. Loki likes to dress as women. He also brings on Ragnarök.
Point here being that Trickster needs to be taken seriously. Very seriously indeed. Like my friend Terri says: ‘Be careful what energies you invite into writing. They have a way of escaping the work and getting into your life.’
So how do you court the Jester without falling victim to their wiles? And how do you do it in a piece of writing, sat still at a desk in the dead of night?
There’s an idea in stand-up comedy that what you need to do is find your inner clown. Everyone has one, but they can be hard to bring out, so to help with this I’ve enlisted the assistance of a modern day jester of sorts whose identity will remain secret unless he wants to reveal himself in the comments.
Here’s our Whatsapp exchange:
Me: ‘I’m doing a newsletter thing called ‘Courting the Jester’. The point would be to summon Trickster energy through the writing itself, or that the miniature essay would be a Jester disguised as words on a screen.’
Jester friend: ‘2 secs. Just finishing spag bol.’
Me: ‘No worries.'
Jester friend: ‘Yeh sounds good. Don’t make it too serious.’
Me: ‘I won’t. Here’s a question for you. Back when you were doing stand-up, how did you find your inner clown? And what do you think mine is?’
Jester friend: ‘Hm… I think the trick is you have to be shown your clown by somebody else, because our ego gets in the way. It creates a blind spot and that’s where your clown lives. Often its linked to the person you’re trying to be, but your clown can’t see how ridiculous they are, so if I was think about your inner clown it would be… hmm, well actually you can probably tell from some of the messages I’ve been sending.’
Me: ‘Like where you took the piss out of that post I did - the one riffing on Esther Perel’s infidelity talk?’
Jester friend: ‘Yeh.’
Me: ‘Right. That was good. I liked how you used the BBC News gif. Gave it an air of authority.’
(Here’s the article my friend is talking about - The Dull Flame of Desire)
My Jester friend’s response was as follows, where you can see he compliments me in the first part, then takes the piss in the second bit.
Me: ‘That was funny, but none of it’s true.’
Jester friend: ‘Isn’t it?’
Jester friend: ‘…’
Me: ‘Well I’m definitely not alt-right and I don’t run an infidelity cult. The truest part is the bit about me worshipping a forty foot effigy of Björk, which still isn’t true, but I do like her.’
Jester friend: ‘…’
Me: ‘Screw you and your three dots. I know what facial expression you’re pulling.’
My jester friend uses the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji (and just to be clear, he’s not actually a Jester, like with the hat and motley, but he embodies Jester qualities even when he’s not trying).
Jester friend: ‘Honestly, I’d say your clown means well, but he says and does things you’re not meant to do. Like that infidelity article. There’ll be some people who’ll read that and go ‘Oh, he cheats on his wife then’ or ‘Look at this prick, he’s romanticising adulty.’ I know that’s not what your doing, but I’m exaggerating to find your clown. I’d say your clown wants to create a nice ritual to warm people up, but he accidentally burns down the village.’
Me: ‘Thanks man.’
Jester friend: ‘Rofl. You always want things to be mystical, so maybe your clown takes basic things like taking a shit and sees them as magical and profound. Maybe describes them in over-the-top poetry.’
Me: ‘Weird you mention that. I was literally just reading an essay on the sixteenth century alchemist Paracelsus where he takes a jar full of shit and says ‘This is God’. He was nearly killed for it.’
Jester friend: ‘See that’s your clown right there.’
Jester friend: ‘Look at what just happened. I suggested that your clown would probably take something as basic as shit - literal shit - and start being all mystical and profound about it. Then you proceeded to do exactly that, referencing Paracelsus, without any self awareness.’
Me: ‘It’s true though. Shit is the basis for Gaia’s life cycles.’
Jester friend: ‘Maybe so, but the point is that your sense of dignity is attached to it. Even now you’re maintaining that shit is something intellectual and mysterious. You’re trying to maintain dignity in the face of the absurd, which is a classic clown move.’
Me: ‘So I’m accidentally doing it right?’
Jester friend: ‘Yes, kind of. It’s something to build on.’
Me: ‘Oh. Cool.’
Jester friend: ‘And you doing it accidentally is more true to the jester achitype than doing it intentionally.’
Me: ‘There’s a problem though.’
Jester friend: ‘What?’
Me: ‘I’m writing your sentences.’
Jester friend: ‘I knew it.’
Me: ‘Yeah. This whole dialogue is an active imagination exercise.’
Jester friend: ‘Like what Carl Yung invented?’
Me: ‘Carl Jung. Yes. There have been some unexpected gems though, so thanks.’
Jester friend: ‘I like how you’ve made me out to be slightly retarded, spelling it Yung instead of Jung.’
Me: ‘Dude, it’s 2023. You can’t say retarded. Anyway, it feels justified - having your character spell things wrong. The words I’m putting in your mouth are based on what I think my real life friend would actually say, and he doesn’t always take the time to spell things properly.’
Jester friend: ‘I got a higher mark than you in GCSE English.’
Me: ‘Because you copied my homework and got Lihou to check it.’
Jester friend: ‘So you’ve deceived your readers.’
Me: ‘It’s the kind of thing I feel you, as a Jester, would encourage.’
Jester friend: ‘True, but how do you know the real me won’t be annoyed by this? The answers he’d have given would have been more insightful, unpredictable, majestic.’
Me: ‘First, I apologise. Second, some of this is taken verbatim from actual Whatsapp conversations, so there’s at least an element of literal truth. Third, I’ve internalised your spirit based on decades of friendship, so I reckon these answers are close enough.’
Jester friend: ‘If I’m such a good friend then why have me eating spag bol at the start? I don’t mind the food itself, but the words ‘spag bol’ are a bit dumb. You could have used a sophisticated dish like spaghetti cabonara.’
Me: ‘Again, I can only apologise.’
Jester friend: ‘Apology not accepted.’
Me: ‘Last question - aren’t Jesters supposed to punch up? Like at the King or the Government?’
Jester friend: ‘Yes, but there is a greater power now. And you, as a misogynistic worshipper of a forty-foot wicker Bjork, need to be extremely careful about it. Ideas you don’t know you have, have you.’
Me: ‘Now who’s being mystical?’
Jester friend: ‘I can’t say it any clearer. Jesters aren’t safe anymore.’
Me: ‘How do you mean?’
Jester friend: ‘I’ve got to go now. My sticky toffee puddings almost ready.’
Me: ‘Wait. I don’t know how to end the post.’
Jester friend: ‘Just stick up a cat pic and crowbar in some Shakespeare.’
Me: ‘Thanks. Did we do a good job of courting the Jester?’
No response. He’s gone.
So we’ve witnessed how an essential element of the Jester archetype requires trickery, but it’s worth taking a moment to ask who has been tricked and who is doing the tricking.
Is it I, with my daring imaginal dialogue, who has deceived you, dear reader? Or, in writing that dialogue, did a greater force slip in, like the scent of jasmine on a pirate’s neck?
Is it true that humans over thirty are laughing 62% less than they did in 2017? If the jesters are in retreat, who will laugh at the King? Is there even a King to laugh at? That ruling power who shapes our thoughts and visions… where is he now? What form has he taken? A man in a suit? An immovable dictator? Could a different kind of ruling power have taken root in the world - one who inhabits the thoughts of the revolutionaries as readily as the bankers? A self-enclosed shadow in enormous labours occupied, setting his compass on the face of the earth and all its divided denizens.
Who are the true unseen? The most repressed? The most in need of Trickster aid?
‘If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended.
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I'm an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call:
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.’
~ Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow, Jester to the True and Noble King