Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores

Two classic subpersonalities that sabotage or attempt to sabotage spiritual progress in spiritual communities are associated with the Addict and Victim archetypes on The Wheel of Babylon. The first, usually manifesting in an addictive personality, is the Cynical Clown, who uses humour to undercut and undermine. This is the joker in the pack, the court jester, whose purported aim is to puncture any signs of puffed-up ego or inflated narcissism.

William Shakespeare makes great use of this archetype, from Feste the fool in Twelfth Night to Falstaff in Henry IV. It seems that he was particularly sensitive to arrogance and hypocrisy and delighted in using his comic characters to pull pretentious Divas from their self-made pedestals. Which is a fine and wondrous thing. The world will always be in need of good satire.

However, although everyone should have a fool to keep their Diva ego in check (as did the medieval kings of England) he should, like Feste, be “wise enough to play the fool”. He should know when to jest, and when to keep silent; and he should be able to tell the difference between a Sir Andrew Aguecheek and a Count Orsino.

Spiritual circles are rife with more or less thinly disguised spiritual narcissists in serious need of a Cynical Clown to bring them down a peg or two. However, the cynicism can get out of hand, finding more and more targets, eventually undermining the whole enterprise. Sometimes, in the case of true cynics, this is the conscious or unconscious intention from the start, but more often than not it is a gradual development, a kind of deformación profesional. Truly bitter, resentful cynics, like envious Iago and inexplicable Judas (Satan entered into him), are not just naughty Addicts, but treacherous Demons.

Why the Cynical Clown should be associated with the Addict is an interesting question. It probably has something to do with the displacement and projection of hedonic motivations (usually some variation of sex, drugs and rock and roll) onto others as a defense mechanism. “Ah yes, I see what you’re up to! (nudge nudge, wink wink)”. It simultaneously acts in two directions: exposing the hypocrisy of the holier than thou in order to prevent hidden bad behaviour, but also encouraging open bad behaviour (such as lewdness and drunkenness). Sir Toby Belch is a good example.

Another, more common, frequenter of spiritual circles are the Fearful Bores. They also has a destabilising effect, but in a diametrically opposed way – instead of witty, cutting jokes, they engage in rambling, confessional anecdotes. Instead of encouraging everyone to be silly, they encourage everyone to be serious, seizing any opportunity to turn a social situation into an earnest group therapy session.

It’s not hard to see how this subpersonality is associated with the Victim. There is, of course, the comfort of receiving understanding and sympathy, and there is also the added comfort of giving it, once you’ve succeeded in drawing out somebody else’s confession of victimhood. There is a peculiar bonding that takes place, particularly among women (in my experience – sorry!) over shared trouble, misfortune and mistreatment, a kind of solidarity of the oppressed.

Men do it too of course. But they tend to intellectualise more, spinning out their misery in seemingly endless trains of thought and levels of analysis. Of course it is vitally important that people feel able to talk openly and freely and feel comfortable enough to share their emotional and psychological difficulties and insights in a safe and welcoming environment. However, as with the Cynical Clown, it can get out of hand and end up derailing the spiritual progress of the community as a whole.

Why are silent retreats so powerful? Because they forcibly put a muzzle on the Divas, Demons, Victims, Addicts, Muppets and Muggles. And they muzzle the Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores. Thus they clear a space for something else to emerge, something mysterious, something miraculous.

There will always be Victims and Addicts in spiritual circles. It’s what drives them to seek help. There will always be Divas, especially among the spiritual leaders. There will occasionally be a Demon or two. And there will always be Muggles and Muppets. What ultimately causes the Cynical Clown and Fearful Bore subpersonalities to raise their heads, however, is the underlying nihilistic belief that this is all there is, that we are inescapably stuck on The Wheel of Babylon, and that to pretend otherwise is a lie. Ye of little faith!

Sometimes we need to have a laugh and take the piss. Sometimes we need to unburden ourselves in a heart to heart. But if a spiritual community is to thrive, we need, as much as humanly possible, to keep our Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores in check and keep the faith.