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We are in the second half of October and it’s high time to reveal Ferrebeekeeper’s Halloween theme for 2019!  Past years have featured themes like Flowers of the Underworld, The Mother of Monsters, Flaying, Necropolises, and, my personal favorite, The Undead.  A cursory glance at the top-selling masks at the giant costume shop on Broadway has made me realize that this year can only have one choice.  For mysterious reasons which probably have half to do with contemporary American politics and half to do with winding up an accursed jack-in-the-box found at the annex of Hell (insomuch as those two things are different), this is the year of scary clowns.  Who is Ferrebeekeeper to stand in the way of this tiny car filled with quasi-infinite dark pranksters?

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In 2019 Joker, Harley Quinn, and Pennywise rule the box office,  Pagliacci rules the opera house, and “Clown Girl” rules the Barnes and Noble (ok, actually, maybe I am the only person who read Monica Drake’s perplexing 2007 down-and-out in Baloneytown novel, but it has certainly stayed with me).

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Clowns are hardly a modern or even a western phenomena.  They stretch through almost every culture and, as we shall see, they trace their roots to the beginning of civilization (and probably beyond).  Carl Jung, who has many strange and interesting things to say, sees teh trickster as one of the oldest and most fundamental archetypes which humans recreate again and again.  On one hand the trickster is a figure of buffoonish comic fun, and yet,  the trickster’s nature has always been dual.  Let’s hear a quote from Jung himself (from Four Archetypes: Mother Rebirth Spirit Trickster):

In picaresque tales, in carnivals and revels, in magic rites of healing, in man’s religious fears and exaltations, this phantom of the trickster haunts the mythology of all ages, sometimes in quite unmistakable form, sometimes in strangely modulated guise.n He is obviously a “psychologem,” an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity. In his clearest manifestations he is a faithful reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness, corresponding to a psyche that has hardly left the animal level. That this is how the trickster figure originated can hardly be contested if we look at it from the causal and historical angle. In psychology as in biology we cannot afford to overlook or underestimate this question of origins, although the answer usually tells us nothing about the functional meaning. For this reason biology should never forget the question of purpose, for only by answering that can we get at the meaning of a phenomenon. Even in pathology, where we are concerned with lesions which have no meaning in themselves, the exclusively causal approach proves to be inadequate, since there are a number of pathological phenomena which only give up their meaning when we inquire into their purpose. And where we are concerned with the normal phenomena of life, this question of purpose takes undisputed precedence.

Wow! Brother Carl really did have some peculiar things to say.  What on Earth is he talking about?  Join me in the days leading up to Halloween and we will see if we can make sense of what he is talking about by looking at clowns in history and art, and running the trickster back to his/her ancient roots.

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Of course, trying to trap and analyze the ancient spirit of dark mischief doesn’t sound like a venture which is going to work, but at least there should be some spine-tingling surprises and some hair raising mishief (and maybe some funny pratfalls).  Anyway, it’s all in good seasonal fun.  What is the worst that could happen?

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Oh…

Harlequin (as an antique French paper doll)

Harlequin (as an antique French paper doll)

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we try and try to explain things coherently, but, alas, some things just refuse to be contained into coherent categories. One of those things appropriately is “harlequin” a word which has come to mean all sorts of contradictory things—particularly when it is used to describe color.

A Scene from the Commedia dell'Arte with Harlequin and Punchinello (Nicolas Lancret, 1734, oil on canvas)

A Scene from the Commedia dell’Arte with Harlequin and Punchinello (Nicolas Lancret, 1734, oil on canvas)

Harlequin was a main character from the Italian Commedia dell arte, a form of masked farcical theater popular from the 16th through the 18th century. Commedia dell arte emphasized certain humorous stock characters (like the stingy master, the coquettish daughter, the cowardly suitor, and so forth). Harlequin was one of the most cunning and ingenious masked servants–a character so crafty that he frequently outsmarted himself. The character evolved directly from the cunning devil character of medieval pageant plays (with a bit of the king’s fool thrown in). Just as the harlequin predated Italian farcical comedy, he (and she) outlasted the form and became an integral part of circuses, burlesque shows, advertising, cartoons, and so forth, right up until the present.

Pinup Harlequin

Pinup Harlequin

Aside from their puckish wit and masks, harlequins were famed for their mottled garb of many colored diamonds or triangles. These spangled parti-colored outfits were one of the crowning glories of Commedia dell arte, and the look quickly became a part of show culture throughout the western world. Many artists, poets, and marketers were inspired by the bold & brassy look of harlequins and the word became used to describe colors and patterns.

Harlequin (yellow-green)

Harlequin (yellow-green)

Frustratingly, the word is used by different sources to describe completely different colors and patterns. Among the classically minded it still describes a triangular or diamond pattern of many different colors. To the British, from the nineteen-twenties onward, “harlequin has been the name for a bright shade of yellow-green (inclining towards green).

Harlequin car (it's a hard effect to photograph)

Harlequin car (it’s a hard effect to photograph)

To make matters even worse, in the early 21st century, paint manufacturers created a metallic paint which changes color depending on the viewing angle. This unearthly effect is accomplished by the reflection/refraction of light upon tiny aluminum chips coated with magnesium fluoride (all embedded within chromium). Naturally one of the marketing names the paint makers chose for their product was “harlequin”.

Royal Doulton Harlequin rack plate After an original work by LeRoy Neiman

Royal Doulton Harlequin rack plate
After an original work by LeRoy Neiman

Harlequin is even used to describe a garish mélange of many crazy colors with virtually no discernible pattern!  So if you are reading a contemporary work and a color is described as “harlequin” you will have to work out for yourself what it means. The whole mess makes me feel like I have been tricked by a masked fraudster from Baroque Italy. Quite possibly we all have been.

default-ehow-images-a05-4j-6b-did-harlequin-come-800x800Postscript:  As a special bonus, I am also mentioning harrlequin colored Great Danes (as suggested by bmellor2013 in her comment below.  Apparently the pattern (or at least the name for it) is unique to certain Great Danes.  Wikipedia defines the Harlequin coat as follows:

The base color is pure white with black torn patches irregularly and well distributed over the entire body; a pure white neck is preferred. The black patches should never be large enough to give the appearance of a blanket, nor so small as to give a stippled or dappled effect. Eligible, but less desirable, are a few small grey patches (this grey is consistent with a Merle marking) or a white base with single black hairs showing through, which tend to give a salt and pepper or dirty effect.

Wow! Dog coats are serious business–especially for the Great Dane, the princely “Apollo of Dogs”.  Here is a harlequin Dane relaxing with his human companion.

Harlequin Great Dane

Harlequin Great Dane

As mentioned in last year’s post concerning pumpkins, the original Irish jack o’lanterns were not carved from the familiar orange gourds (which only made their way to Europe after the discovery of the Americas), but rather were cut from turnips, swedes, or mangelwurzels.   I have illustrated this post with a little gallery of turnip lanterns.   I was hoping to find a mangelwurzel to carve up for an original photo, but it seems like the hurricane has prevented adequate supplies of these medieval vegetables from reaching the city—so that will have to wait till next year.  In the meantime, here is a folktale about how jack o’lanterns originated.

The story of the origin of the jack o’lantern is a stirring tale of greed, guile, and the restless undead.  Jack was a trickster, a fraud, and an unrepentant sinner who roamed around Ireland scamming honest folks and selling mortgage-backed securities & other poorly structured equities.  One day, Jack was running from a mob of creditors (which should immediately recommend the story to contemporary American mores) when he encountered the devil traveling along the bog road.  Jack convinced Satan that it would be to the latter’s advantage to infiltrate society in a more subtle form than that of scary red guy with horns.

Jack’s plan was that the devil should pretend to be a golden coin.  Jack could present this to the angry mob, who would then begin to argue and fight over the coin thus leading them inexorably into the devil’s clutches.  The devil shapeshifted into coin form and presto, Jack grabbed him and stuffed him into a purse with a cross sewn on it (which he had probably stolen from a clergyman or a church-run orphanage).  The devil was unable to escape Jack’s clutches. In order to get out of this predicament, Lucifer had to promise Jack never to collect his soul and take it to hell.

After many financial shenanigans and dodgy schemes, Jack eventually died–as all men must.  His spirit wandered the gray earth in a dark fog, unable to find any succor or happiness in the lands of the living.  At length he made his way to the gates of heaven but he was not wanted there and was chased off by saints and angels.  Jack drifted through different realms but could never escape the chill of death and the inchoate miseries of the grave.  Finally, defeated, he went to hell and begged for entrance.

Turnip lantern by Nathan deGargoyle.

But the devil remembered his promise (and was pleased by Jack’s misery).  Satan barred Jack from hell and sent him on his way, but first he mockingly threw the specter a blazing coal from the inferno–which can never be extinguished.   Jack tried to clutch the red ember and it burned and seared his flesh even though that flesh was ghostly and insubstantial.  Yet the coal was better than nothing, so Jack carried it in his hands even though it caused him agony. Finally in a flash of inspiration, the con-man snatched a turnip from a garden and carved it into a little lamp to hold the coal.

Jack never could find peace–his spirit still roams to this day, but over the different eras his lamp has become an enduring symbol of the Halloween season.  The devil, however, greatly appreciated Jack’s plan to infiltrate society in the form of money and he made many bold innovations in this direction (while being always watchful to steer clear of churches and cleric’s purses).  He’s probably lurking somewhere in my bank balance and in yours too.

Happy Halloween!

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