Weird & Güd - No Horror, No Comedy

Everyone's least favorite genre is the core of life.

A life well-lived is a life well-examined. A life well-examined always has a little weird and güd within it. This newsletter is an examination of our weird and güd world.


Heyoka spirit in his lodge. A flute hangs around his neck and he holds a deer-hoof rattle in one hand. His pet bird leaps from his headdress. He hangs elk and bird ornaments near the doorway. The wavy lines around the lodge represent lightning.
Drawn in 1840 by White Deer.

Weird

A clown society might sound like something you’d call a culture with one too many influencers, but it’s actually a compliment. Traditional clowns show up mostly in our horror movies today, but humor itself has been with us far longer than movies have.

The role of comic relief in society goes as far back as the ancient Greeks in the form of comedic plays, but the clown himself stands apart from comedy as a whole.

Several Native American tribes held well-defined social roles for clowns, with requirements for who could be a clown and what that clown looked like.

For Pueblo Natives in the southwestern U.S., clowns were sacred, often taking part in fertility rituals.

Even native tribes knew the date was over if you couldn’t make her laugh.

Considering that this is what the sacred clowns of the Sioux tribes looked like, maybe clown fear is universal.

Sacred clowns aren’t specific to the southwest. The Sioux tribes of the Great Plains understood the role of comedians in society better than today’s late-night show hosts. The heyokha is another kind of sacred clown that holds an integral role in Sioux society.

These sacred clowns skipped across the boundaries of social custom, embodying everything that was opposite of acceptable. Whether wearing their clothing backward, feigning heat in the cold and cold in the heat, or saying what no one else dares to say, these sacred clowns performed the same time-honored tradition comedians do today: questioning the norm.

Granted the freedom to act in unusual and offensive ways, the sacred clown balances power and releases tension by ensuring no one rule, custom, or ideology becomes unquestionable and no one person takes themselves too seriously.

The treatment of a society’s sacred clowns is a barometer of the society’s stability. The leader who can’t laugh at themselves is also unlikely to admit their errors until the damage is irreversible.

Stańczyk, 1862

The heyokha were known to live on the outskirts of Sioux society. Like the jesters that existed from ancient Egypt into the Renaissance, the sacred clown holds a special role in their society, allowing them to break social customs and live contrary to all that’s normal and nice.

Taking the opposite approach to even the most mundane things, like feigning struggle when carrying a light object and effortlessness when carrying a heavy object as the Arapaho’s sacred clowns did, shows the value of contrarianism as a tool of curiosity and creativity.

It’s the role of the contrarian that makes the sacred clown so sacred. Entertainment alone doesn’t require breaking social rules and mocking power.

It’s the sacred clown, not the entertainer, that tests the stability of their society and helps define what’s moral and immoral by daring to show us what it looks like to live outside the lines.

Güd

Humans have made themselves master of nature in many ways, but when it comes to horror, though we might win the sprint, nature dominates the marathon.

We think of ourselves as nature lovers, enjoying hikes on manicured trails, taking trips to well-traveled scenic spots, and spending time with tame animals or donating from afar to the wild animals now living off welfare.

I love “nature” too, but only with the implication that “nature” is a narrowly defined place and thus deserving of those quotation marks to indicate that “nature” isn’t the same as Nature.

The nature that exists outside those quotation marks also exists outside the boundaries we’ve placed upon it.

This is the nature where no tended trails or enclosure walls exist. This is the nature where your 911 call or political connections won’t save you.

Whether in the form of a natural disaster, roving predators, or simply a place far outside civilization, when nature gets to play a home game, the results are often hard to watch.

Wait, I thought people loved photos of nature? Or was that, “nature”?
Photo by Lekanyane Photo Safaris

The scenes in nature that make us turn away with eyes covered aren’t in the cartoons with charismatic animals and friendly forests we grew up on. Nature isn’t a kid’s show, a drama, or even an action movie—nature is horror.

We have the luxury of civilization to enable our fantasies about a return to Paradise. Whether in the form of some hippie commune or a humble hobby farm, even our desire to be closer to nature only imagines an incremental move away from civilization.

We are playing on the precipice of becoming a people that forget where they came from, but nature remembers us well.

Little love notes from nature in the form of pandemics and insatiable wildfires remind us to respect the mother whose home we only left a short few millennia ago.

You never forget your mother, even if your only memory of her exists embedded into your biology rather than your memory. The genre of film poetically named natural horror is proof that even those whose feet have never stepped off cement still carry anxiety over mother’s wrath.

Natural horror is a genre of film that goes as far back as the silent movie era. The icons of natural horror are movies that have never expired even after several decades and an influx of CGI that makes past movie monsters look like badly made dolls.

While fears of nuclear annihilation or foreign spies come and go, our fear of capital “N” Nature is as entwined with our existence as the air and water are in our blood.

Movies like Jaws and The Birds are the epitome of natural horror, playing out a simple question that all those in power quietly fear: What if they fought back?

Whether it’s the spiders we squish, the primates we cage, or the dogs we own, humans can’t help but wonder what the world would look like if Nature ever escaped our control.

Marc Burckhardt

It’s hard not to see horror in nature. Once you step off the Pinterest board of cottage-core and quaint landscape photos, you’re faced with all the parts of Nature we’ve labored our entire existence to escape.

You only need to slow down and look around to find the signs of struggle that prove horror is the core of life; a puff of ownerless feathers, the miniature mummies waiting in a spider’s web, the ants marching a writhing caterpillar toward the dark hole he’ll be passed around in, piece by piece.

Cover your eyes if you like; nature is the one horror movie that plays on whether you watch it or not.

I’ll concede that as much as nature is a horror, it may also be a comedy, mainly owing to the dark humor of a fungus known as Dead Man’s Fingers (xylaria polymorpha).
Kind of harsh to mock a death-aware species with the fungus that will one day consume it, Nature!


I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.


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