Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Shaman

For the past several years, I've been working on writing a history of the town I live in. As I've been researching and working on this, I've occasionally experimented with writing a second, parallel book, which is a fictionalized version, where I can be more creative and poetic than I would in a straightforward history.  I wrote this piece the other night, after doing some research on the local native American tribe, specifically the importance and function of shamans.  Here it is.

The Shaman

The shaman stood alone in the dark wilderness, surrounded by prickly pear cactus, low sage, the occasional sound of a howling coyote, an owl hooting.

He was praying.

Slowly, he lifted a stone cup containing the sacred drink Maanet to his lips and drank of the bitter earthy tea. Then he sat down and waited.

His heart began to beat fast, faster until he thought it would burst. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly, deeply several times until the beating of his heart slowed to a steady rhythm, like a drum.

He waited as time began to disappear, and the world around him was revealed as it really is. He rose above the wilderness into the upper world where dwell the gods who had made everything—Brother Sun and Sister Earth and above them the One whose name may not be spoken, enfolding the three worlds with a canopy of spirit like the wings of Eagle.

Wewyoot, the first Captain, danced in a robe of feathers across the sky.

“Peace to you, Great Captain.”

The shaman transformed himself into an eagle and flew across the Great Water which led to the end of the world. He flew over the edge down to the place where the Seven Giants dwell whose are blessed and cursed to hold up the world.

“Peace to you, Ancient Ones.”

He flew farther down into the lower world where dwell the darker spirits. Here he transformed into a stone and fell and fell deeper as darkness enfolded him.

Here there was no time, no dancing, no sun—only a kind of icy death.

Here he could feel his heart slowing, slowing to a weak rattle, until his heart beat once every thousand years and all was dark and he could hear the deathly spirits whispering “Nonexistence” and he reached the bottom of everything. Here he sat and waited.

Here at the bottom of everything he changed back into a man. He opened his mouth and the words came out as fire.

“Peace to you, dark spirits of the lower world.”

And with those words he began to rise, as if carried by the hand of the One whose name may not be spoken, all the way back up to the Earth.

Now he sat inside the Yovaar, the sacred enclosure in the center of the village, where few were permitted to enter.

Alone in the Yovaar, he began to sing the song of creation—of Brother Sun and Sister Earth and the time when animals could talk and old Captain Wewyoot, and then the first people, made from mud found beside a lake.

Outside, he could hear the sound of dancing and drums and singing. It was the dance of the summer solstice.

Smiling, he emerged wearing eagle feathers and joined the dance, spinning and chanting with the men, women, and children of the village. As he sang and danced, he knew there would be food for the next season.

Here, in this middle world, he danced and sang a song of blessing.

“Peace to you, people of the middle world.”

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