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Masks of the Sacred Clown

An Interview with Marnie Macdonald & Victoria Lashley

Marnie Macdonald of Montreal has been leading clowning workshops since the 1980s, and is involved in the Vermont Witchcamp community. RQ interviewed her for our Art and Magic theme pages.

RQ: How did you get started with clowning?

I attended a workshop where masks were made “blind” to find a clown. I was making heads blind and having students do that in my sculpture class following my own intuition at the time, and I thought, here’s someone doing the same thing I am — only they know what they are doing! It wasn’t clowning per se that drew me.

Actually, I hate clowns. You can’t trust them and I’d never go up on stage as an audience member. But I love the process. It strips off all the outer layers and leads you into working with your soul right off.

RQ: What are your goals with the workshop?

My goals in the workshop are parallel to my goals in this life. It is to work in a process that frees the original self (the spirit, the soul) in movement, colour, form and expression, and to guide others in this process so that they find an inner clown — a place of honesty, open heart, and outrageousness on a personal level. This is linked with the dream life of this planet on a universal level, or myth.

RQ: What have you learned about yourself and/or your relationship to magic and spirituality via clowning?

Mask-Clown was an immense opening, a pivotal point in my life, a natural coming home. I learned to channel energies physically. I felt masks coming through me without direction from my mind. In wearing my mask and feeling the colours of the mask shining out from my transformed face behind the mask, images would come thick and fast and build the story of the mask. I acted out these images as they came to mind, and the acting out would lead me to new discoveries about the mask. I knew that this came from a place where I could find thousands of masks just like that.

(I’ve also learned from) putting on a nose and a hat and standing there on stage, just as I am with no act or script, making contact with every audience member. It’s like standing naked before the universe, feeling my body transform and letting it lead me to discover who my clown is.

All these parts of the process give me a place to live in the middle of intersecting energies. I have always taken one art-form into another automatically, like drawing lines to jazz, dancing to a picture, moving to tell a story. [The mask-clown] process put it all together . It gives full expression to the myth that lives within, beneath the conscious mind. It is an ever-rich well to draw on. I’ve been doing it myself and leading workshops since 1984 (interesting year!) and it is still rich and alive for me. I feel like I use my whole self. Because the conscious mind only has a small defined role, parts of me that are unknown get to communicate. I often feel challenged putting deep things into words, but in mask clown everything comes out automatically. Energies are freed up and work through the body.

Mask-clown is as strong as the work we do at Witchcamp when everything is flowing. It’s a different part of that magic world. Clown is opening a door with pure energy and being willing to experience what comes through. Witch work that I have participated in is more directive, working with a myth already in mind, or a structure of a journey to lead us. Mask-clown is like experiencing an unknown myth through your body — always a surprise.

RQ: What other work/play do you do with clowning? How do you use these skills in the wider world?

I think on a day-to-day level I have always used clowning intuitively as a way of survival, as a relief, a way of getting enormous feelings out, a way of tricking enemies into being friends when I was younger, and now as a way of building a safe place for deep work to be done, of allowing the “stuff that shouldn’t be talked about” to air in a way that is not threatening, as a way of “dancing with the gods” in trance.

I think this process of mask-clown has given me a form to give to others, an already-manifested form that people can follow step-by-step. I am very grateful for it, as I am forever grateful to Richard Pochinco, the genius who invented this process (after working with Le Coq in Paris and shamans of a British Columbia tribe), dear teacher and friend, who died in 1989 , and whose ashes we buried along with a nose.

RQ: Any other thoughts on the workshop or on clowning that you want to share?

More gratitude. It is such an honour to witness people in a clown turn sharing their heart and their vulnerability, through the heart of their clown. It touches a sacred place, brings us to tears or to the edge of laughter or to a sense of outrage. “Oh NO! don’t do that!” — and at the same time wanting them to go further. I think clowning is imperfectly, outrageously, shockingly, surprisingly sacred, where Innocence finally gets a chance to teach Experience. As Richard used to say, “it is that connection — that feeling of peace between the heaves, that is the heart of clowning.”

For more information on Marnie’s workshops, contact (514) 271-2132,

Victoria Lashley (aka Sequoia) of Red Hook, New York, participated in one of Marnie Macdonald’s workshops.

RQ: What drew you to clowning? Have you done it before?

I have never done clowning before. I wanted to have a Reclaiming event here in my home to try to bring an awareness of the community here, the community in which I reside. So I was not drawn to clowning as much as I was to Marnie and to the desire to hold an event here. But as I thought about it I realized it was perfect for me, since the clown side of myself is very timid. I didn’t have much idea what that part of myself looked or acted like.

RQ: What was a highlight of this workshop?

To get in touch with the above in a safe environment. But even more than that was the camraderie, the closeness that resulted from eating, working and sleeping together. It was marvelous — my clown family. And for me personally, it was having this event and the energy that arose from it permeating my dwelling. I delighted in hosting something so marvelous and so well-intended.

RQ: What did you learn about yourself and/or your relationship to magic and spirituality?

Well, magic is defined as “the art of changing consciousness at will,” or “the act of choosing consciousness at will.” After finding our clown, we looked deeper at the expression of innocence and also the stage of maturity. As we got more in touch with the different manifestations, we practiced moving quickly from one to the other. I realized that we were practicing magic. We changed/chose a manifestation of consciousness at will. It was excellent practice with some of the tools that assist in getting into the space where one can make the desired transitions.

RQ: What will you do with the skills and knowledge you gained at the workshop? What’s next for you?

I am using them in my day to day life. If I am in a mode that I don’t like or in a situation that I need to adapt to, I am using what I learned to adapt/change/adjust to what might be more pleasant for me. And I can do that in an instant if I but remember that I can!!!!

What’s next for me? Well, Marnie and I are talking about putting on a mask workshop here. Mask-making, Marnie style. I watched her lead a path that used the technique at Witchcamp a couple of years back.

I am also working toward a solo show of my work in October. I will be using some of what I learned and experienced in my actual artwork and in the presentation of it. There are going to be parts that offer participation. I don’t want to give too much away — but if anyone is in the area of Tivoli, New York during that time - stop in!

RQ: Any other thoughts on the workshop or on clowning that you want to share?

Clowning is not what I thought it was. We did actually put on little red noses. Beforehand, I thought to myself — oh no! I hope we are not going to wear those stupid those red noses. But when we did — it was powerful and profound. The smallest mask. It was amazing to see how my perception of myself and of the world before me changed. How I felt. For me, it was so shy. For others I think it might have been bold.