Heyoka - my experience with a modern trickster

"It’s over now. You’re finished. Your work together is done.” The face of a grandmother floated in front of my older sister’s as she spoke these words. I listened hearing the double voice and seeing the Grandmother clearly. This was the third person to say these exact words to me. Finally, I listened but it was hard to let go. I’d been so enmeshed in the mystery of the man who was a modern day heyokah. 

I recognized him at once, the first time I saw him. I’d come into the lodge to hear an Elder and there was a small wiry man, white skinned though leathery, long-haired and tattooed over most of his body. He moved busily, quickly assessing the Elder’s needs and going ahead to make things ready. Smoothing a path. He moved comfortably like he had done this awhile. He knew the drill and yet was quiet, disappearing when necessary into the background. As soon as the ceremony was over, he sprang into action, on to the next function, bringing the Elder’s car around. 

That first day, I recognized in him something mysterious and something that I’d seen before: one soul recognizing the signature of another from the past. I knew I would seek him out again. Was it the tattoos? The bad-boy image juxtapositioned against the quiet servitude that said “I serve the people?” Sometimes it took years before I understood these connections or the reason for them so I would be patient. Our paths would cross eventually to explain the purpose of that acknowledgement. 

I didn’t have to wait long before I bumped into him right in my own neighbourhood. He was at the library, the lodge and on the street. We exchanged numbers. His cell phone was his office. Telling jokes, doting on children, singing women’s drum songs, and answering the phone with “Hi! Anna, How are you doing today?!! 

We met at a park for coffee to exchange stories. How did you come into the community? He told a long elaborate tale of life with a dark past: drugs, violence and loss. The worst loss was that of his wife and daughter both dead before him. It wound around to a chance meeting with the Dalai Lama. The Lama had given him the hope to change, move on and now he served. He worked for the Grandmothers who had taken him in, feeding and nurturing his wounded soul. He gave the appearance of one recovered but his energy belied him. I asked if he could ever really leave that old life behind. I think that was the defining moment of our relationship. He realized that with me he could not hide everything. 

Still, he kept up a good front and I saw what I wanted to see. My story was filled with visions, messages and voices that had guided me to the community. 

I was eager to learn the aboriginal ways, to seek out other healers and wise women and to be healed on my own path. 

Time passed, we became what I thought was friends but there was always a distance. He would behave one way with me in private and another way if someone came along. Abruptly stopping talking until the person left and then continuing the conversation as if the interruption had never happened when we got far enough away. Sometimes I happened upon him with others. When I asked to be introduced he would steer me away protecting me. The mystery grew. I saw different behaviors and I wondered if I could trust this person. I struggled with it. Was I prejudiced or was my alarm monitor going? 

One day I left my purse in the mall where we’d been together. I immediately assumed that he had stolen it. When it was recovered by security I felt very bad. I told him all this and asked his forgiveness. He never confronted my lack of trust but after that he seemed happier in my presence like some cloud had lifted. 

Behind the scenes he worked endlessly for the Elders: sixteen, eighteen hours of fire-keeping, security or grounds keeping for days in a row. He volunteered at primary schools in their early morning reading programs. He brought children from the children’s hospital to the Children’s Powwow so they could enjoy the music and vibration. It appeared that he was on a fasttrack to spiritual higher living. 

He would also disappear for long stretches of time to fast or work on projects. In between, he’d scramble for a carpentry job here or there. He often mentioned a lack of money or food. My own progress went along. I did my own fasts, circles and followed the teachings. We talked a lot about energy, medicines and healing. He helped me by providing a gateway to other healers – pushing me along. 

Whenever I would talk about his progress as a healer he would say, “I have enough being me. I can’t do it for other people.” Yet I knew he was strong in the lodge and he had helped people with his hands. His knowledge of plants was more than most and his connection to energy was keen. Still he seemed overwhelmed with the thought of being responsible for someone else. I knew that some of the elders had recommended he spend a year in the woods. He talked of going away and this made me nervous. 

I think I was being selfish really. My attachment to him had grown pretty strong. I didn’t like the idea of losing that. I struggled with what this meant for my own relationship. I prayed – hard. I often saw him with other women. He seemed joyfully fascinated with the opposite sex. Every moment he could get was spent with women: old, young, any woman. But he was not lascivious or inappropriate - at least not with me. I realized that women were attracted to him in an uncanny way but it was the medicine and not the man that drew them. Many of them didn’t understand that lesson until it was too late. 

When I was invited into a healing & drum circle I didn’t have a drum. He offered to help me make one. He went into the woods and asked which cedar tree would give itself for the nine drums he was going to make. They were all drums for the grandmothers. He sweated with the wood and shaped it into frames. I asked him how he knew which one was for me. He said he had run his hand over each one and asked. Mine is egg shaped. My father thought I should “fix it” but the shape of the egg of creation is just fine. I didn’t realize at the time what an honor it was to have this drum: that the intention was to make drums for wise women. Now I know and appreciate the significance of this gift. 

When one of the grandmothers died and I needed a beater for my drum, he went to a tree in my backyard and cut down a branch. Five minutes later I had a “helper”. I also used my drum to sing at my mother’s funeral. I used it to sing for myself and for other women who needed support. I’ve used my drum to sing for mother earth to purify her waters and call in the spirits. My relationship to that drum is very strong. I use it to pray. 

So what are the attributes of the Heyokah? The Heyokah is mysterious, a trickster, mischievious, lascivious, a teacher of lessons, invisible, a traveler between two worlds, making fun of ceremony and the traditional ways. He teaches through humor and opposite behavior. He helps you laugh and cry at yourself while growing your spirit. 

Did I know he was a Heyokah? Well, I knew he entered the sweat lodge backwards on occasion, he joked constantly and he had a pretty good hand with the women. But what of traveling between worlds, a teacher? 

I knew he fasted often and took his role of fire keeper very seriously. He carried two pipes: one was for the feminine energy (a rare honor). He certainly was a teacher for me both in the overt obvious sense and in the not so obvious sense. What lessons did he teach me when he left this world, when I learned of the other realms he traveled, when he tricked me to protect me and others? 

Perhaps I’ll never know why he came to me in a vision the night he died. Why he entered my life. But still, I’m glad to have known a modern day Heyokah and grateful for the teachings I received.