Reflections on the age-old wisdom within the fool’s humor

by Dr Deon van Zyl

In this article Dr Deon van Zyl reflects on the figure of the fool, the jester and the clown and on what advice the archetype might offer us.

Deon van Zyl, Ph.D is a former Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Pretoria, where he worked for 13 years. He is past chairperson of the South African Institute for Clinical Psychology. For the last 20 years he’s been in private practice as a clinical psychologist, management consultant, mediator and group facilitator. He is a member of the International Association for Jungian Studies and the International Association for the Study of Dreams. He has delivered numerous papers at conferences in South Africa, the U.S.A. and Japan. He explores the interface between psychology and spiritual practices.


“If the fool would persist in his folly
he would become wise” – William Blake

As the audience, we experience these extremes in ourselves. We might even briefly re-live similar incidents from our own lives. Actually, on close inspection, these polar themes are also very serious issues in life. But then the clown makes us laugh, and through our release and acceptance during laughter, we neutralize the hurt and change the negativity. The clown helps us to embrace seemingly irreconcilable differences in ourselves and others. Ultimately we end up with a more extended understanding of ourselves and others. Laughter brings perspective and restores balance. By integrating the opposites in and through him/herself, the clown assists us to transcend polarity. The clown is a magician, a transformer of the inner world, an elevator of the human spirit. But who is this person that can integrate opposites in and through himself, and who does it for the sake of others? Doesn’t that take a tremendous amount of wisdom and compassion?