For three days Aké had seen nothing but a sea of dunes, featureless and seemingly endless under the searing sun. He was becoming weary and very low on water, but, on this morning something had caught his attention. He was standing atop a high crest and through eyes half closed against the light and distance was watching an area of turbulence on the horizon, far off to the north and east. He was seeing something moving, rippling in and out of vision. Around it the desert was a blur, the boundary between sky and land become smudged and flattened into a single darkening tone. But, as curious as it appeared to him, Aké felt this mystery to be the least of his troubles. Having no choice but to find the oasis that he and his mentor Pemba had set out for, his initiation had thrown him into a struggle for survival.
He had taken to walking between first and last light for only as long as he dared, stopping to rest and sheltering as best he could at the height of the day. He knew to use the sun and stars to navigate, and he knew how to move silently and quickly at night, Pemba had instructed him in these things, but, to Aké it was impossible to tell if he was nearer his goal or not. He might as well have been going round in circles. In fact Aké had come face to face with the true nature of his challenge – only through fully opening up and using the connection between his personal medicine and the beings of the otherworlds would he survive. This is how it was with initiation, and with good reason.
Just how close Aké was to his goal only the hawk hovering far above him could see. But, the desert can be full of deceptions and, at any moment, even an experienced traveller can be led astray by the forces at large in that vast wilderness……
……Pemba heared soft footsteps approaching. Pulling his mind’s eye from the burning sky he looked up in time to see Tuq stepping into the shade of the ancient palms. He squatted beside Pemba, an expectant look on his travel worn face.
“Ahhh, I knew you would not disappoint Pemba….you never do…”, said Tuq turning to survey the oasis with a satisfied smile.
It was not enough to fool Pemba – he could sense the tension in the tall northerner. “You make me sound like a horse trader Tuq”, he said, needling his old friend.
Tuq made a sour face and gestured over his shoulder. “Did he see you?”
Pemba considered a moment.
“My shadow crossed his path, briefly, but….”
“……ahahhh! So, you are losing your touch old man!”, said Tuq slapping the sand with a laugh.
“Then again, he might be exceptional…”, Pemba continued. The laughter fell from from Tuq’s face and he gave Pemba a sharp look. His piercing blue eyes cut like a laser, but, Pemba smiled and placed his hand on Tuq’s shoulder.
“I promise, he is….”, he added.
Tuq unconsciously stroked the long straggley hair of his sunbleached beard.
“Then we had better make ready for the young master…..he’ll have to be exceptional if he’s going to fulfill your promise”, he said, fixing Pemba with his stare again, “we are all relying on it”. He was right to be nervous. Much would be determined with Aké’s arrival and the moment he and Tuq finally confronted each other. But, the north-man smiled ruefully and with a shrug rose to his feet, seemingly putting his concerns to one side.
“Come on, old man, you’ll ferment under this sun if you sit here much longer”, and, offering him his hand, he pulled Pemba to his feet.
For all his abrupt manners and hidden thinking Pemba liked Tuq. It was true, he could be as hard to read as the sea of mysterious symbols that covered his body. As they walked back towards the circle of tents Pemba remembered how they had met. It had been further north, up by the Plateau of the Painted Rocks, the people’s old meeting place. Arune the Far-Seer, Pemba’s own teacher, had brought him there to learn of their deep past……on their arrival they had found Tuq, tending mint tea over a fire, as if he had been waiting for them. Arune saw it as a sign that the spirits were intervening, but, to what ends neither the old seer nor his ward were able to foretell. However, in the course of time Tuq’s appearance had taken on a deeper significance.
Having come into our midst out of nowhere, so many seasons ago, the mystery surrounding old Tuq was more than skin deep. He was both familiar and alien, recognised now as one of the far-seers, but, one whose skills and gifts were rooted in a very different soil. And, in the course of time, it was this crucial fact that helped us understand how lucky we were to have such a shrewd ally amongst us, for Tuq brought one factor into our midst that mattered above all others now – he knew the ways of the People of the Dead.
Now, the future and the past were pulling together on all our paths and this place, the hidden oasis, was the crossroads at which they would finally converge. It would be Aké’s task to remember not only his own path to the oasis, but, that of Tuq as well, for their fates had long been tied unto each other.
Aké felt the soft sand beneath him shift as he came to the crest of yet another dune. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow and stung his eyes. The horizon shimmered with seductive visions rippling at the edge of sight. He strained to see through the illusion, unsure of what was real. The eastern horizon looked for all the world as if it were moving towards him. And, were those trees, or some whim of the light and heat, a trick of the Djinn?
He had heard the elders talk of those powerful spirit beings who inhabited the wild places. In their knowledge the Djinn were older than the Earth and had come to this place with the Ancients, the life-bringers and first colonisers of this planet. But, the Djinn were also known as demanding teachers, impartial to the ways of humans, giving favour according to laws known only to themselves. The elders had sung of such things.
As he gazed into the distance a memory arose in Aké’s mind of a song he had once heard his mother singing, an origins song. It was through the gift of the Djinn, the song related, that the people learned to travel beyond the known. Since the beginning it had been the challenge of initiates to follow the ghost paths laid by the Djinn through the mirages that haunted this endlessly shifting and trackless land. As the words of the song came back to him they also reminded Aké of their darker side, of how the Djinn spoke in riddles and that, in this place, the sun’s fingers would try to find their way into the traveller’s mind and ply it away from the body and its senses. He began to understand why this song was associated with initiation – it was itself a riddle, filled with riddles.
However, as Aké remembered the voice of his mother he began to feel as though the memory held an important message, a vital piece of information, a key. He wondered if it was something that would help him find his way to the oasis.
In that moment Aké was rocked by a sharp jolt beneath his feet, followed by another and another, and a sound, so deep it was more felt than heard. It felt like a movement in the belly of the great earth spirit. A violent kick took Aké’s feet from beneath him and he fell, tumbling down the face of the dune.
He slid slowly to a halt and lay clutching at the fragile stillness, waiting…..and then he tasted it, a faint vibration at back of his throat. It was an unmistakable earthy taste that seemed to register in his very bones as its subtle musky scent played with his senses. Water.
Pemba stopped midstep, a look of puzzlement on his face.
“What is it old man, spirits got your back again….” Tuq teased his friend, giving Pemba a knowing smile.
But, Tuq quickly put his joking aside when he saw that Pemba’s face was a study of concentration.
“Did you feel it” Pemba said meeting Tuq’s eyes. He turned again to survey the sky beyond the palms. “I could have sworn…..”
Tuq’s eyes narrowed as he followed Pemba’s gaze. At that moment Demuz, the chief seer of the Blue Desert Tribe came out of the low entrance to her tent and called Pemba’s name. She strode purposefully towards them, her long indigo robe swirling behind her. She was quickly followed by a much younger woman, Demuz’ protégé Sapha. She joined her mentor just in time to hear the old woman begin speaking to the two men.
“Well, it appears your apprentice has company Pemba”, the old woman said, raising an eyebrow. Pemba looked from Demuz to Tuq and turned once again to look beyond the palm trees.
“Earth spirit….by the feel of it” he said under his breath.
“Mmmm…perhaps”, said Demuz, giving her apprentice a conspiratorial smile, “and then again….”
Pemba dropped his gaze. “Strange, the sky shows no signs and the trees remain still” he said, voicing his thoughts.
“Sapha, show our brothers what you saw in your dreaming just now”, the old woman said, giving her protégé a nod of encouragement.
Tuq and Pemba turned to look at the young woman. Sapha returned their gaze and then, squatting to smooth out an area of sand, drew a series of signs with her finger, finishing it off by enclosing the design within a circle. She looked up briefly and then began adding a second set of heiroglyphs, this time enclosing the pattern in a tent shape. Dividing the two designs she drew a deep line. She paused and, satisfied with her work, raised her eyes to look at Tuq…..by his expression he obviously knew what some of the signs meant.
Slowly squatting down to examine the patterns more closely, Tuq glanced at Sapha then pulled back his sleeve to reveal his right arm. One of the signs in the circle was identical to marks tattooed just below his elbow. Sapha nodded and pointed with her chin to the marks on his arm and then to the desert beyond the palm trees.
The young mute seer suddenly swept her hand across the design enclosed by the circle, scooped up a handful of the sand and threw it skywards with a look of alarm. Tuq’s face became grave with concern.
“We must send him warning”, he said, “he’s walking into a trap”.
“But, we cannot interfere Tuq”, Pemba said as he dropped to one knee, looking intently at the remaining design. “The spirits will either help Aké, or…..”
“…or our fate will be decided for us,” broke in the old woman, her face inscrutible and stern, “along with his!”
She had spoken the truth, and the two men knew it. Pemba, however, touched one of the designs in the tent shape and looked to Sapha.
“This is the sign of the water spirit, is it not, according to the language of the Blue tribes, and this….” he pointed at the design next to it, “….what is this?”
“It is the sign of the unkown Pemba…that which can neither be seen nor be foreseen. Your ward has company….but, we cannot tell if it is benevolent or not. It seems to be leading him both to the safety of the oasis and directly into the heart of danger. An unexpected challenge has been set for him…..” Demuz said, driving home the point.
Pemba stood and took a few steps towards the palms. His eyes half closed he scanned the sky and reached out with his mind. Far off beyond the trees the plaintive cry of a hawk was barely audible, but, it was enough for Pemba to relax his shoulders slightly and let out a sigh. Silently he returned the call to his spirit ally and waited.
Aké was sure that he was being watched. He looked around, quickly surveying the valley and the crests of the dunes above. There was no-one in sight, but, the feeling would not go away. He rose from his haunches and, dusting himself off from the fall, suddenly felt the bulge of the water gourd beneath Pembas blanket. A strange thought entered his mind and he quickly took out the gourd. It did not make any sense, as he would be literally pouring away the precious liquid, but, he had the strongest urge to make an offering of water to the spirit in this place. He took the stopper from the gourd and hesitated, searching for words to accompany the offering.
He poured a little water from the gourd into his cupped hand and, with eyes closed, spoke his thoughts into the clear cool liquid. Then, after offering the water his breath, he let it trickle between his fingers. A nebula of small craters appeared at Aké’s feet as the water seeped quickly into the soft sand. Gazing at the pattern as he returned the stopper to the gourd he began to realise – there was something in that pattern.
He reached behind his back for the divining bag and unwound the thong that bound its neck. Reaching in, Aké’s fingers touched upon something hard and spherical. He carefully eased it out of the bag. It was a seed pod, of the kind used by the dancers in his village as a rattle. With a swift flick of his wrist it released a crisp sigh. The sound brought an indistinct image briefly into Aké’s mind. He gave the pod another shake, and another, and as he listened each shake of the rattle began to merge into one flowing sound. In his mind he saw a dancing ribbon of dark energy, sparkling like water as it moved, but, through it he could see the pattern made by the water he had offered. The sound of the rattle swirled about him and the image began to shimmer, just like the mirages at the desert’s far edge. Aké increased the rhythm and within the vision a turquoise pool emerged, surrounded by swaying trees. He could see low dark tents and something indistinct that was moving towards him very quickly. Before he knew it a strange looking face thrust itself before him in the vision. He fell backwards, dropping the rattle and divining bag, and lay on his back gasping.
The face had not just startled him, there was something about it that was unusual, alien, but more than that…..he felt he knew it. No, that was not it – it knew him. A knot of fear pulled at his stomach and, with it, the feeling of being watched returned. He knew that he was not alone.
A shout rang out from the far edge of the oasis quickly followed by a gust of warm wind that set the palms swaying. Another gust sent them dancing, their long leaves hissing, as if shaken by an invisible hand.
“Habūb!” came the cry again.
“By the spirits”, said Tuq under his breath. He glanced at Pemba, but, the old diviner was still and silent, looking to the west in the direction of Aké.
“Your ward will have his mettle tested”, said Demuz, coming to his side.
But, Pemba said nothing, his gaze focused on something far above the horizon.
After a moment he turned to Demuz, a resigned look cast upon his face. He breathed in, his lips pursed, and gave a slow nod. He knew full well what this would mean for Aké.
“We shall see”, was all he said, “we shall see…”
The shadows began to soften and melt into the sand as Aké picked himself up and quickly gathered the diviner’s bag and rattle. The air began to shift, a fine veil of dust washing over the water marks at his feet. But, Aké’s attention was now fixed on the eastern horizon. Beyond the dunes the air was becoming dull and heavy, an opaque blanket obscuring the skies. He had never seen its like, but, it told him enough – he must find shelter. A strong gust of wind stung his face as the desert around him began to shift and scurry.
Then he saw it. A great wall of billowing sand was rushing towards him, rising up into the sky beyond the dunes. He turned to run, searching for a place to hide. Just as he came to a bend in the dunes he heard the roar of the wind at his back. Aké’s instincts took over and he sprinted as he had never done before. Then something snagged his foot and he went flying, tumbling over a hard and unforgiving shape buried in the sand. He had dropped the diviner’s bag and, turning to look over his shoulder, a sharp pain shot through his ribs. The wall of sand was nearly upon him, but, it was then that he saw what had tripped him up. A thin sinuous tendril covered in barbs snaked up out of the sand, like one of the forest vines on which the seed pod rattles grew, and beneath it was an unatural shadow. The divining bag sat at its edge. He scrambled back towards it and, just as his hands reached the bag, he felt the sand beneath him give way. The sky disappeared and a chaotic maelstrom of howling wind and dust swallowed the desert and Aké whole.
Demuz’ tent had become a dark cave, its eastern walls bulging inwards with the force of the wind. The sound was deafening and no-one spoke. Pemba sat with his eyes closed close to the entrance as Demuz and Sapha checked the tent’s inner supports. Tuq had gone to check on the animals and other tents. Pemba was waiting to secure the entrance flap when he returned.
Time stretched out in a seemingly endless moment and in the chaos beyond the walls of the tent everything lost its form. Within, the diviners waited for Tuq, but, he did not come.
Pemba looked to the two women and had to shout to make himself heard. “I am going to look for him”.
“Tuq will be safe, in another tent….” Demuz reassured Pemba, ” he is no stranger to the desert”.
But, Pemba was uncertain. A gut feeling told him that all was not well. Tuq should have returned long before now. He knew that what Sapha had shown them had revealed more to Tuq than he had had time to say. He closed his eyes again and reached out with his mind to his spirit ally.
The desert below the hawk had become a churning mass of clouds, engulfing the oasis and the dunes beyond. Pemba bid the hawk look to the west but his vision revealed no break in the turmoil. Amidst the desert storm there was nothing to be done but to sit it out. But, there was something strange at work here. Within the roar of the wind Pemba thought he could hear voices. The old diviner listened intently, trying to make out what was being said. After a moment he opened his eyes and moved from the entrance to sit with the two women. He leaned in close to Demuz to make his voice heard.
“This is no ordinary storm”, he said, “there is something in its midst, I can hear it”.
Demuz closed her eyes and concentrated her mind on the sounds that surrounded the tent.
“It is how it is sometimes Pemba”, she said, her eyes still closed, “you are right though, I feel it too.” She opened her eyes and looked to her apprentice. “Sapha, was this what you saw in your dreaming?”
Sapha put her hand to her ear and nodded in confirmation. She leant over to retrieve her divining bag and drew a small tablet of stone from it. Reaching into her robe she produced small pouch and pulling a finger of charcoal from it drew two symbols on the stone. They were identical to the symbols that Tuq had recognised, one of which he had tattooed on his arm. This one was shaped like a thin triangular pinnacle with a wavey line emerging vertically from its point, a second horizontal one snaking across the middle of the symbol. She looked intently at the two old diviners.
Both Demuz and Pemba knew what this symbol signified, but, the other was unknown to Pemba. He pointed at it with his chin, an enquiring look on his face.
“That is a symbol that belongs to the People of the Dead, Pemba”, Demuz said with a grave look. “It is old, but not of the age of our own language which we have carried from the beginning. We know that its origins are tied up with the desert, but, its meaning is elusive….save the fact that it has destruction at its heart. There are few that can say more”. The symbol took the form of a central disc with three wide rays radiating from it.
Aké had pulled Pemba’s blanket around him and lay curled up beneath it in a shallow hollow, the storm raging over him. The wind swirled violently around him tugging at the blanket. He was breathing hard, the air above him thick with dust and noise, and the pain in his ribs was beginning to gnaw at his mind. For a brief moment he thought that he could hear someone calling through the storm, but, he reassured himself that it must be another of the desert’s illusions.
For a young boy on his way to becoming a man, being brought up in the savannah and forests, there were no memories to draw upon that would tell him what to do in this situation. It was entirely alien to him. He tried to think but the chaos that surrounded him made it impossible – he could only wait it out and hope. But, as he lay there holding on to the blanket with all his might, another sense within him began to emerge. His mind began to still and a curious calmness enfolded him. Aké listened more deeply and this time he was certain of it – from the heart of the wind a voice was calling him.
He heard his name, as if coming from a great distance, and then it was swallowed up in a multitude of voices that spoke in a tongue he did not recognise. The voices rose and fell, coming in waves, increasing with each pulse until a continuous chant seemed to almost drown out the wind itself. The strange face he had seen in his vision of the oasis appeared briefly in his mind again and immediately the chanting ceased. He could not tell if it was his mind playing a trick but a powerful deep voice suddenly said a single word. “Moqsula!”
And then, as if the word had cast a spell upon the storm the wind began to calm. Within a few minutes all was deathly still and silent.
Aké lay there, motionless, not knowing if he had fallen into a vision or not. He felt Pemba’s blanket resting on his body and slowly released his grip on it. Lifting a corner her peered tentatively from beneath it, his eyes widening at what he saw. Where there had been nothing but soft sand he now saw red earthy ground dappled with patches of gravel and rock streaked with dust. He listened carefully before throwing off the blanket and looking around. The valley was unrecognisable. The dunes around him had now closed off the valley forming an ampitheatre in the shape of a teardrop but at its centre was a flat area of open ground. Then he looked again at what had tripped him up.
A long post was bent over towards him, almost touching the ground. It terminated in a curious flat triangular form, looking for all the world like a totem with a tent shaped head. He could not tell what the post and its head piece were made of, but, it was smooth and shiny at its edges. He noticed that the corners of the head were twisted reminding Aké of a tent flap caught by the wind, as if frozen in time. Around the pole a length of the barbed vine snaked in a loose spiral and reached up over the triangle ending in the snag that had caught his foot. The post was embedded in a hard edged lump of smooth rock, only it was unlike any rock Aké had ever seen before. Whatever it was it had given him crucial protection and where he had huddled the sand still lay. It formed a nest in the shape of his body stretched into a long thin rippling dune by the wind.
He gingerly rose to his feet and found that his ribs had stopped aching, not even a twinge. If that was not curious enough, when Aké saw the other side of the triangle he caught his breath. A very peculiar symbol covered its surface and the sight of it made him feel suddenly anxious…..a central disc in black, three wide rays fanning out from it amidst a bright yellow field, with a black border following the edge of the triangle.
Pemba and Demuz were staring at each other, unsure of what they were hearing. The storm had subsided, but, with a suddenness that defied their senses. Sapha was already rising to open the tent flap before either of the elders spoke. It had become unnaturally quiet.
“Take care now Sapha”, said Demuz slowly rising to her feet, “whatever that was it was not like any habūb I have ever known….”
“I must find Tuq” said Pemba as he came to the tent flap. Sapha lifted it for him and he stepped slowly out. He was greeted by a brilliant light under clear deep blue skies, and the oasis was surprisingly unchanged to his eyes. People were emerging from their tents, the animals were shaking off the dust, and going from tent to tent Pemba asked if Tuq had been with them during the storm. No-one had seen him. Pemba strode to the western edge of the oasis and surveyed the desert, but, there was no sign of Tuq.
Aké ran his hand over the surface of the pole and found it smooth, hard and surpisingly cool under his fingers – and, it shone in the sunlight. He gently touched one of the barbs on the vine, but, this was like no living plant, or, he felt, ever had been living. It was as hard as the pole and wickedly sharp.
At that moment a noise behind him made Aké jump and he spun on his heal to see a tall man dressed in the dark robe of a desert dweller standing at the crest of the dune. The stranger raised his hand and called out.
Aké felt a wave of relief course through him at the sound of his name, but, when the stranger began descending the face of the dune he quickly gathered up his belongings and turned to put the post between himself and the stranger. When he turned back the man was no longer in sight.
Aké blinked and shook his head, but, the valley was deserted.
“I must be dreaming”, he muttered to himself and waited a moment, half expecting the stranger to suddenly rematerialise. But, he was alone again, and, checking to see that he had all his belongings, he began to climb the dune towards the place he had seen the stranger. When he reached the crest his confusion deepened as he could find no tracks in the sand. He glanced around and then looked briefly back at the curious totem. There was no-one to be seen, but, it was then that he saw something that made his heart leap. A green line rippled just beyond the dunes in the middle distance. “Those are treetops….” he exclaimed with sudden surprise. He rubbed his eyes, but, it was no illusion. “The oasis!”
The young initiate now had no doubt about his direction and broke into an urgent stride in the direction of the green streak amidst the dunes. As he walked he began to notice how everything seemed unusually clear, as if radiating with its own light. He stopped momentarily to look down at his feet and saw the sand sliding away, looking for all the world like gold dust. He knelt down and ran his fingers over its surface. It felt like sand, but, he could see every particle with astonishing clarity and for a moment became mesmerised by its beauty.
Something had happened to him and he realised that he was not only seeing things differently but was hearing and feeling all around him in an unusually sensitive way. He could hear the golden grains of sand as he shifted his feet, whispering softly as it fell away. Everything had become so immediate, as if it were all a part of him, intimately connected with him through his feelings. But, when he connected with his feelings they too began to shift, like the golden sand, reforming themselves into a sense of fullness and solidity he had never experienced before. He felt bigger, much bigger than before, as though he had grown beyond his skin and was being touched by all that surrounded him. He almost had a sense of seeing through someone elses eyes….or something elses.
As he moved the world moved with him and flooded his senses with an ecstatic feeling of belonging. Whatever it was that had happened to Aké he found a great joy accompanying each new sensation. Then it occured to him – this joy was not his alone. He felt held, supported by a great energy field that surged through his body and, at the heart of that energy an even stronger sense was beginning to emerge. The sense of belonging was deepening into a sense of knowing. It was almost as if he understood the sand, the clear radiant sky, the rippling shapes within the desert – the world was speaking to him.
Aké picked up his pace and felt a rush of elation as he crested the next dune and saw once again the green ripple of treetops, much closer now. He felt weightless as he rushed down the dune and effortlessly crested the next, and the next. He was sure he must be very close now, that this must be the last ridge of sand before the oasis revealed itself, but, as he was nearing the top he heard a voice, coming from far above….the cry of a hawk.
Aké looked up in time to see a small speck high above the desert moving swiftly away beyond the crest. He scrambled up the steep slope, but, was stopped in his tracks when someone called out. Standing on the crest a short way off to his left was the stranger.
‘Chenge and the Spider’ & ‘Riddles Within Riddles’ © Rob Purday 2013-16
She gathered the night about her as the Sun set. The lodge was wreathed in brilliant light as the solar disc descended, but, within, Her work was just beginning. Stillness wrapped a cloak of darkness around the wise woman as she knelt to speak with the ancestral spirits at the hearth stone. She felt for the warm heart of embers at the core of their shrine, the sacred fire. She listened for the song they were singing……and, slowly kindling the flame, the song began to work its magic and issue from her mouth. The spirits came, luminous orbs of blue and quick-fire red, and Her heart glowed with their presence. As the last rays of daylight died away and cloaked the land in mystery, she let the song fade back into silence and smiled. It was time……
…..many moons ago I had awoken beneath a bower of wysteria to find Magpie Woman, the old mother Aluna, tending this very same fire. It was the beginning of my journey with her, but, how I had come to be there was a mystery ~ all I knew was that, the night before, the spirits of the fire had called me into the heart of their realm as grandmother had opened the ancestral dream path. Our village had been blessed by her coming, but, as we soon found out, she had also given the people fair warning. She had come to us in the midst of a long journey, searching for those who would follow and learn her ways, but, it was fire of a different kind that had set her off on the search. She was carrying a precious treasure to safety and, as the moons passed, she began to tell me the story.
“……we were a peaceful people, carrying a long memory of who we were and where we had come from, my daughter. The first glimmer of news that this was to change had come from the star-dreamers, the spirits of the ancestral sky fires had given them the signs. The Puridai, our tribal great grandmother, who oversaw the affairs of all the clans, called to council all the surrounding settlements and it was decided that together, as a people, we must leave early for our winter strongholds. Each would make their way to the hills above the plains – from there we would be able to keep watch in safety.
“….we knew the world we inhabited was changing, we had seen the stars moving by different paths. It was a subtle thing at first, speaking only to the eyes of the far-seers and star dreamers, but, the omens began to build. It was the time of the Spider Moon and the trees were turning red and gold at the beginning of their own journey to dream with the heart of the Earth Mother. She had been generous to us that year and provided us with food and skins enough to last well beyond our time at the strongholds, but, it was this very generosity that alerted the Alunas. The Mother always provides for what is coming….the Alunas agreed, this would be a long hard winter.”
Magpie Woman’s ways, like all the Alunas, always held the people at their heart, so, I was puzzled and had asked, “why did you leave, grandmother, did something send you out of the village….?” Her eyes looked into the far distance as She recounted Her journey.
“We had seen great flocks of migrating birds travelling south, so many in numbers that the sound of their wings and cries travelled before them. But, we first heard news of other travellers when the far-seers told of people coming over the high passes, many people, they had said, carrying their villages with them…..and, once they began arriving, the seeing of the Aluna’s was confirmed. The northerners told us of dangerous spirits abroad in the land, of a creeping fog, freezing everything in its path, that was spreading across the plains to the north. They had heard strange sounds carried on the wind, groaning and deep drumming, as though the Mother too was pulling Herself up by the roots. Their hunters had met with the people of the far north, people who always came south following the migrating herds as the Moons became brighter than the day, but, they to were travelling much further south than was known within the living memory of the people. And, as their news came to our council fires the dreaming itself began to change, and within this we were gifted with a warning…..the Earth Mother was drawing a mantle about herself, as if preparing to enter the long sleep of the winter dreamers.”
I knew of the winter dreamers, from stories told by our elders that had been passed down from long ago…..but, in our lands the people had seen few signs of such great change; I wanted to know if such change was coming to us all…..Magpie Woman reassured me that such change was not the threat, it had always been known within the traditions carried by the rememberers, but, protecting the dreaming was Her concern. She had made Her journey, following the songs of the land, as her spirits instructed Her….
“A man of the plains north of the mountains, one of the spirit seers named Bear Walking, entered our campment at that time and shared his medicines with us….I will never forget the news he brought to us. The land beyond the mountains had fallen out of balance and people were dying, especially the young and old, and some had disappeared altogether, leaving no trace…..he told us that, while his seeing remained strong, his medicines had begun to lose their power and after the advice of his totem, the Great Bear, had decided to follow the birds and leave his lands. He had struck out with only the company of his trusted spirits……in the dreaming, he had discovered, many of the totems had advised the same and he wondered if this might account for some of the missing people…..he suggested I do the same……”
Magpie Woman must have caught my thoughts all too easily for she quickly reached over and took up my hands,
“….do not be affeared my daughter, those people did the very thing they knew would protect the people first, and trusted the spirits to look after themselves….whether their bodies perished or not, they took to the spirit road alive and in full possession of their minds and hearts, and travel there still….such things are in our kenning…..”
She had let her words sink in and waited for my response. I had no inkling of the meaning of these words at that time and soon the questions came. I sensed that this was somehow connected with the treasure she was guarding and pressed her, “but, is that how you came to our village, grandmother?” My question brought a smile to the wisened face of my mentor….
“…..yes, that is why you are here my daughter, you know how to ask the right questions and, at the right time, you too will find your own answers…..”
I felt a pang of disappointment, wanting the answers now, but, it soon passed when she picked up the thread of her story again.
“…..I had taken Bear Walking’s advice and received an answer in kind ~ my path lay south, and, like him, I was to carry the heart of the village to safety. His totem holds council with the Mother through the winter dreaming and She had spoken through the Great Bear. We follow the path of spirit and accepting their guidance is at the core of our ways, my daughter….it is our way.” She let out a deep sigh. “You will learn, it is the very reason I am here, to make sure that you understand…..”
In the months that followed Magpie Woman taught me the ancient ways of healing that the Great Mother had provided for us, the use of plants, preparations and the protocols surrounding them, how the plants and animals each had their own song, and when to use them, and when not….She had instructed me in the art of tracking, both through the reading of worldly signs and through senses that the plants themselves opened up through their use. We walked the land gathering all we needed to feed ourselves, both in kenning and in body, and slowly I began to understand that She was leading me into deeper and more intimate relationships with the world into which I had been born. She had been preparing me, without my knowing it, for our journey. And, She was wily….She had been observing everything, so that, when the time came, She would know which allies could help me on my own path and, through this, when I would be ready…..but, for what? I was about to find out ~ the time had come!
After nine moons the world in which I walked had become very different to the one I had grown up in, amongst the familiar smells, sights and sounds of my village. I had been free to visit with the poeple and bring gifts, healing salves and soft skins, and even talked of the pathway of learning itself. But, one morning I had seen an augery, a host of black Cranes flying south had passed just above the pines that lined the shore where I had been gathering shellfish, and, amidst their cries and the sweeping sound of their wings I had heard the call of grandmother’s own bird, the Magpie, laughing and cackling in the tree-tops, just as I had heard them on the night that Magpie Woman had first come to our village ~ sensing the turn in the road, a more urgent feeling emerged in my heart, that I should visit with my clan once more….on telling of the Cranes and Magpies and hearing my concerns I was surprised to see Magpie Woman smile with delight.
“Well, you are right my daughter, and I am pleased….you are learning fast! You are seeing clearly with your heart, beyond this time and, yes, the moment is upon us….we must leave this land very soon. Go, to your people and give them your leave daughter; neither you nor I can say when you will return and this you must also tell them….ask for their blessings. On dark moon we open a new road…..”
It had been so easy until now, and I had become wrapped in a sense of security as I learned the medicine ways, but, the reality of this journey had suddenly come home….and, I knew this was the end of the beginning. I was now either to follow this path into the unkown or leave it for good. Grandmother’s story had itself been preparation for this moment. She had told me much, but, what had happened after she had left her village, she had never fully disclosed to me.
“Come to the lodge after darkness has fallen, daughter ~ the waning moon is folding her dark robes about her and we must work with her to open a crack in the worlds. Now, go and make peace with those you love.”
It was not until I had entered the village under the midday sun that I knew where my choice would take me ~ and, it came as a surprise to myself to hear the words coming from my lips, but, as I told my family of my intent to follow the path and continue my journey with Magpie Woman, where-ever it may lead, I knew with an uncanny certainty, for all the tears and sadness that our farewells brought, that it was the right choice. As the Sun dipped towards the horizon and I began to leave the village I heard footsteps on the path behind ~ under the bows of the forest at the edge of the village I turned to find the women’s chief elder running to catch up, a bundle in her arms.
“Wait young one….wait….before you make an old woman lose her breath….”
She came to my side and, taking a moment to compose herself, smiled as she held the bundle before me. “It is a part of the path you are upon…..we have been careful to hold it in your stead since Magpie Woman took you under her wing…..we knew this day would come. Now a part of this village must travel with you into the world, an ancient talisman, that came to us as it is now coming to you…..”
I was suddenly filled with questions, but, She bid me not to unwrap the bundle until I had returned to Magpie Woman. As I held the skin-wrapped bundle, darkened with oil and quite damp to the touch, it began to radiate with warmth and for all the world felt as if it were a living being.
I looked from the bundle to the old woman and she nodded, saying….”yes, it is a mystery, but, one the grandmother will know and understand ~ She may well be surprised, however, when she finds out what we have given to you.” And, smiling, she reached into the folds of her wrap and pulled out a small pouch of white fur.
“This, I have been making for you these nine Moons……just as the elder mother of our village made one for me when I was your age…..She will protect you on your journey. Here let me put the pouch safe in your robe….”
The beautiful soft fur pouch tucked safely away, the old woman, leaning in close to kiss my cheeks, raised her eyebrows and said, “….well, go on my girl….you have a date with your destiny……” and, as she turned and walked slowly back down the forest path, called out…..”fair you well, young one…..blessed be, blessed be…..”
As I came to the lodge, the Sun spreading a ruby and emerald blanket across the sky, I found Magpie Woman emerging from the low doorway, singing one of her medicine songs…..She looked me up and down, taking in the bundle with a raised eyebrow, and bid me follow as the night wrapped its dark robe about the land…..
The smell of juniper and sweet resin mingled with the smokey air within the lodge and a feint glow nestled in the hearth at its centre, barely illuminating the smooth river stones that surrounded it. I sat at the hearth side, as grandmother bid me, and watched as She gathered up her own medicine bundle from the back of the lodge.
“I first met with the Puridai of your village when we were both fresh from our initiation path, daughter ~ she is a carrier of women’s medicines that are sacred to all the peoples and is a wise woman in the ways of the Moon. It is good that she gave you her blessing…..”
I had not known that the two old women were kin in spirit, let alone that they knew each other, but, I also wondered how Magpie Woman had known that it was the women’s chief elder who had made her gifting to me, but, coming to the fire and placing her bundle at its side, She continued….
“….yes, I too was surpised when I saw her face in the circle on the night I arrived…..it was a good sign, one I had not foreseen, but, such is the way of things…..”
She had pulled down the flap on the lodge entrance and brought a small clay lamp of tallow and woven nettle wick to the fire side. With a strand of straw She kindled a flame from the fire’s embers and soon the little lamp cast a luminous glow in our midst.
“This gift is precious that you now carry, of that you can be assured….but, before you open it…..”, taking her divination bag from her bundle,“….lets just see who else is with us this night. Once again the spirits will be our guides…..”
She unwound the leather strap and let the fine tanned skin fall away, smoothing it out upon the floor between us. In the midst of the skin was a small mound of strange objects – I gazed in wonder at them as they slowly revealed their shapes. There was an assortment of bones, some bleached and white as the sickle Moon, others blackened by fire and burnished with age, and, amongst these I began to pick out more ambiguous shapes, stones perhaps, shells or polished pieces of wood…..Magpie woman smudged them with juniper smoke and said…..
“Take up the bones, my daughter, and let me remove those you do not gather…..then cast them onto the skin”
She began to hum a simple melody as I placed my hands on the bones and, scooping up a handful, held them above the skin. She swept the remainder up and put them in the folds of her lap. Her song washed over me and small blue iridescent sparks of light flew swiftly around my hands. I let the bones fall…..the old woman leaned in, singing to the bones as she began to search amongst them for signs.
“Ahhh, white deer running…..jumps the waters……keeps her feet dry……finds her clan…..under the sign of the Sky Bear, under cloak of night…..”
Her words enfolded in the melody, the bones shimmered and I felt something move deep within, a memory in the shape of a feeling, as She continued….
“….the fire of the ancestors is guiding you dear, a red bone with a star stone…..a far journey led by starlight……there’s an offering in this, see there….”
Her boney finger pointed at a small bead of polished red wood. The bundle that I had been given flashed into my mind.
“Willow mother…..holds you fair…..ocean brother, brings you there…..a gathering of crows and and ravens, a council fire in the Mother’s haven…..”, and, with this She stopped and gently pushed a stout finger bone aside, and looking up, said….” see this, shoulder blade of the Mole – she sets a seed within your kenning, fireseed, from the Mother’s body – sister Mole is the Bear’s teacher my dear, and she is resting beneath him here…….you are carrying a great responsibility!….perhaps we should see what the Puridai has given you my daughter. I have a feeling there is more to this seed than meets my old eyes!”
I reached for the oiled skin bundle and brought it to my lap. After a moment I felt a warmth radiating from its interior…..the moment felt familiar, like an old, long forgotten memory emerging.
“The augeries are clear”, the grandmother said, “this journey will take you to a very special place, there will be a moot there, under earth and dark sky, many people, keepers of the laws and ways, medicines and spirits….we will journey from the Bay of Willows, following the ocean path……this is a journey that will take us far beyond my own lands, a journey to a land I have known of, but, never undertaken…..something is being returned to the land, held in safety and kept for those who come after us……and, you are blessed by the running deer……”
She held me with a powerful gaze of deep love and I watched as she seemed to settle into her body, as if a thousand Moons of fatigue were being lifted from her shoulders, “….I have heard something of this land, the land of the running deer…..it has roots as old as ours, but, the winds and signs speak another tongue in that place……it is good, it is good…….yes, the land of the White Deer…..now, I am wondering if this gift you have been entrusted with is what I hope it is”
Magpie woman nodded at the bundle in my lap. It had become quite warm and, as I gently unwrapped its leathers, a dry heat began to emerge from its heart…..a layer of compacted wild strawberry leaves concealed an inner wrapping of skin that had been coated with a dark sticky unguent that looked like tar mixed with sand, losely closed about the mystery at its heart. The rich aroma of pitch and charcoal suddenly rose from the bundle as a bright red nugget became visible in its midst.
“Ahhh, yes! This is no small matter my daughter…..and, we must be careful to keep it alive, for you are holding the heart of your village…..”
I gasped at these words, and felt the weight of them settle upon my own heart.
“….by the fires of the ancestors, the spirits have spoken and you are truly blessed ~ do you know what this is child?”
I knew it was hot, that, were I to touch it, it would almost certainly burn my skin, but…..just what in its nature it was, I had no clue.
“Take a good look daughter and then wrap this precious bundle carefully a moment. It must not be allowed to cool too much…”
The glowing light and warmth of the fiery kernel in my hands seemed to whisper, ancient soothing words, and I watched entranced as small bursts of orange light pulsed from beneath its surface. I felt soft waves of sound, words I did not recognise, breathing into me and in that moment saw a circle of people in a great lodge, moving slowly around a mighty Oak that grew at its center. Branches grew around me and tawny feathers covered my hands as I looked down from the crown of the great tree…..then, with the sound of Magpie Woman’s voice, the image receded and we were once again sitting by the hearth of our little lodge….
“Good, it is speaking to you……this my dear is a talisman of the ancient fire, the first fire, and I wouldn’t wonder if your Puridai, waiting for a day such as this, has kept a small part of her in her own keeping, its sister…..she meant you to have it from the first night, I now know……wise old bird!” She nodded gently for me to close up the wrappings again and said, “I will teach you of its nature, for it is unknown to all but those who carry and tend such a talisman, and….”, She reached over to the fire and stirred its embers, “…there, can you see….this is the heart of my own village….she lives on yet, her own sister still kept by our Puridai ~ this is one of the treasures I have been carrying. I too have been entrusted with its well-being…..”
Within the heart of the embers I could see a ball of fierce carnelian light, embedded within the glowing coals. I wondered how this had come to be ~ that we were both carrying these precious things was surely not by any foreseeable design. But, my question was answered almost as I thought it….
“We are guided by the spirits my dear, even though we may not know it…..every turn in the path is known to them, far into time and across the lands….but, this is the medicine of the Great Mother herself at work. She is calling us to bring her inner light to safety.”
I placed the heart of the village at the hearth side and, as I leant over, did not notice as the small white fur pouch tumbled from my wraps. I had forgotten all about it, but, when I looked up Magpie Woman was looking directly at me,
“Well, I think you may have another secret to unfold daughter……”, she said, her eyebrows raised as she dropped her gaze to the ground in front of me. My eyes widened and I caught my tongue as I realised what had happened.
“Oh…yes, this…..the Puridai gave this to me as well….”, I involuntarily picked up the white fur pouch and held it to my chest. “I had almost forgotten…..”
Magpie Woman had a knowing look on her face as she said, “…and….”
I smiled a little sheepishly as I nodded and quickly began to unfasten the bone clasp. A gasp escaped my lips as a gleam of white appeared inside…
“…..grandmother…..its”, but I could not finish as a wave of deep longing suddenly engulfed me and, as I slowly pulled the precious object from its pouch, a tear rolled down my cheek…..in my hand was a perfect carving of the Mother, her rounded belly and swollen breasts beautifully carved in creamy white ivory, her legs coming to a single point beneath her.
Magpie Woman nodded slowly and drew a deep breath……
“Your task, my daughter, is greater than I thought…..come, bring the Heart of your Village to the fire and let it join with my own…..and, the Mother….keep Her next your skin….one day She will find her Earth, and you will….”, but, Magpie Woman hesitated as a bright blue luminous orb of light hung momentarily in the air between us. Puckering her chin as She considered the spirit’s intervention, she said, “….well, that too, it seems, will be revealed when the time is right!”
…….find out what happens as the journey takes Magpie Woman and her young ward to the Land of the Running Deer, in the third and final part of the story, as the light of the inner Sun, the Heart of the Mother, returns to the world…..
Image of Gaia : Mother Earth Dreaming, Susan Seddon Boulet
The first part of this story, ‘Dancing in the Dark’, can be found here……
“……..I leave no trace…..shadowless, I see all…..I am the eye in the Sun……”
It was the silence that awoke him. There had been voices, rising and falling, reverberating as one sound, but, far off and indistinct, like a crowded market place heard as if from a hill top high above. The sound breathed, rising like a flock of birds on waves of warm air, before sinking back into the earth like rain on parched ground. Then, suddenly, there was silence.
The first thing Ake felt was soft fine sand between his fingers. He opened his eyes and blinked rapidly in the scorching white light. Then he saw it. Resting on the back of his hand, an iridescent blue dragonfly. It was larger than any he had seen before and was so shockingly beautiful that, in that moment, Ake wondered if he was still dreaming….until, the wondrous insect bobbed slightly and, quickly hovering away over his head, was lost to sight.
He turned, craning his neck, trying to follow the dragonfly’s flight, but, it had disappeared over the crest of the dune……then, all at once, it hit Ake. He was surrounded by sand, nestled in a hollow near the top of a sweeping crescent. He leapt to his feet, confused and more than a little frightened.
‘Where am I……..!?’ he spoke out loud. There was no answer……
‘How did I get here?! Where is Pemba…..?’
But, he was alone. And this place, it was so hot……he felt the sun on his back, beginning to burn. His eyes began to smart with salt tears and Ake felt his toes curl as a wave of fear rose up through his body. But, the feeling of something against the side of his foot made him gasp.
He jumped involuntarily and, looking down, saw that his head had been resting on the diviners bag, Pemba’s red woollen blanket folded neatly underneath it. He was momentarily reassured and, shaking his head with a sigh, he bent down to touch the precious talismans. But, the sound from Ake’s dream was still fresh in his mind and, with it, he remembered the dragonfly. It had been there on his hand when he had opened his eyes, he was sure of it, but, for a brief moment he wondered if a part of his dream had leaked into the daylight. The sudden compulsion to follow the insect’s flight pulled him out of his thoughts and he crawled on all fours towards the crest of the dune. When he reached the top the sight that met his young eyes was unlike any Ake had ever seen before.
An ocean of sand stretched as far as he could see, majestic and terrifying. Ake had a sense that it was not too long after sunrise, but, even though the sun was not high in the sky, the light and heat was intense. He’d never before left the savanah and the land surrounding him was completely alien to Ake. He turned slowly, surveying the parched horizon. Rippling away as far as he could see seemingly endless shimmering golden dunes were cut with deep shadows. Off to what he guessed was the north the pattern of the dunes was interrupted by a wider valley, but, Ake could see no trees or shrubs anywhere that might give him shade. There was not a living thing to be seen.
But, the dragonfly……there must be water nearby, and……he struggled with a half forgotten memory that wanted to emerge…..he was sure that he had heard someone talking about dragonflies only a few days ago. Ake shook his head and, confronted with the silence of the vastness surrounding him, suddenly felt the need to call out.
The sound of his voice in the midst of the vast desert only made him feel smaller and more alone. A tear ran down his cheek and he absent mindedly caught it with the tip of his tongue. Suddenly very thirsty, he retraced his steps, knelt by the divining bag and carefully felt beneath the blanket. The sand below was deliciously cool and soon his fingers felt the stone like smoothness of the drinking gourd. ‘Just a sip now, brother Ake…’ he heard Pemba’s voice in his mind.
‘Pemba’, he said softly as he put the stopper back in the gourd and tied it securely.
It may have been the taste of the clear spring water that triggered his memory, or perhaps it was the thought of Pemba’s advice, but, Ake suddenly remembered where he had heard about the dragonflies. It was Pemba himself who had told him. He had been recounting his own journey to the oasis as a young man. This had been a part of Pemba’s own initiation, but, initiation was far from Ake’s mind in that moment – the oasis was the meeting place Pemba had said they must travel to and medicine people from all directions would be gathering there.
The thought of the meeting was curiously re-assuring to Ake. It almost made sense of his being here, surrounded by desert. But, he had no recollection of the journey that had brought him! And, where was he? Was he close to the oasis – he must at least try and find out.
Gathering up the diviner’s bag, shaking out and refolding the blanket, he returned to the top of the dune and tried to decide on the best direction to go in. He looked back at where he had been sleeping. There were no footprints, save his own, but, he could not see a trail telling which direction he might have come from either.
It was instinct that said he must move, and, since it did not look as though Pemba had been there, he felt there was no choice. Ake looked down the face of the dune below. This was the direction he had last seen the dragonfly heading towards, and so, he carefully began to descend into its shadow. The sand was quite cool out of the sunlight, and he relished the feeling of it around his feet as it seemed to freshen his mind. Just as he came to the bottom of the slope he had another realisation. They had been in the Spider Mother’s cave when Pemba had begun talking about the meeting and had told Ake about the magical beauty of the oasis. He stopped in his tracks and thought hard……
….slowly the memory came back to him and, with it, a strong feeling that he should head north.
Just at that moment a movement to his left caught his attention. At first he put it off as a trick of the light, a passing shadow, but, there it was again. Some ten feet away, and running straight towards him, was a beetle. No bigger than his thumb and very dark against the sand, the beetle came to within two feet of Ake and stopped. He leant towards it and, quite naturally, said ‘hello, little one’. A shimmer of dark green iridescence glanced off the beetle’s shell. ‘Do you know where the dragonfly went’ he thought, half to himself, half asking the little creature.
The beetle waved its antennae, seemingly in response, and, after a moment, began digging a hole in the sand. That was it! Images quickly flashed across his mind as Ake felt a wave of recognition and the memory of the day Pemba had talked about the oasis came flooding back…..
……before he knew it, his minds-eye opened wide, Ake was back in the Grandmother Spider’s cave. They had gone to her shrine.
With the spider’s help the night before, Ake had found the secret cave that housed her shrine. It had been the second evening of his grandfather’s funeral and he had been given his true name, as a part of his heritage. The other part of that precious gift was his grandfather’s divining bag. He could not resist opening it, and that was when it had all begun. But, he was sure that it was his grandfather’s doing that he was now on the path of initiation, following the Spider Mother’s path. She had led him to her shrine safely, but, the night had also revealed the great danger now threatening his people. Pemba had revealed the strange object to him that he and his grandfather had found on the edge of the desert and he recalled with a wince Pemba’s description of its owners, the People of the Dead. But, with his mentor close by, high up in the escarpment where the ancestors are buried, he had felt safe and protected from the storm that had raged over the land that night.
Sleep had taken him quickly and, at first light, he had awoken to find the Spider’s Cave still and calm. The storm had passed, erased with the dawning day, but, Pemba was nowhere to be seen. He had left a small pile of freshly picked fruit next to the fire’s simmering ashes. After splashing cool water from the gourd upon his face and hands, he had picked a couple of small green fruit from the pile and made his way to the cave entrance to greet the day.
A subtle mist was rising from the plains as the world emerged from its night journey. Above, in the growing light a pair of cranes flew out of the south and, high above the caves, sent a plaintive cry to the world below. An orange white shaft of light spilled over the horizon, the treetops below Ake’s perch at the cave entrance suddenly becoming adorned with a golden brilliance.
In those first few moments he had sat in awe of the beauty that flooded his senses, oblivious to the events of the previous night. This was the world he knew, comforting in its familiarity. As he heard the calling cranes and watched them fly overhead the thought crossed Ake’s mind that he too would soon be travelling north. Pemba had told him that a meeting of the medicine people had been called at a hidden oasis, deep in the desert, and they were bound to go. The path of Ake’s initiation was inextricably interwoven with the journey. He felt his heart flutter briefly as the memories returned of his grandfather, the dreams that had called him to this place, and the unfathomably strange object that Pemba and Grandfather Ake had found….the day suddenly took on a different dimension, became an horizonless field of uncertainty and questions. The People of the Dead! Who were they, what were they, how had this all come to be – Ake struggled to confront the reality that was now challenging his world. The world he knew was itself being called into question……
“I can see that you are beginning to wake up…..”
The voice came from behind Ake, but, the familiar tones of his guardian and mentor quickly washed away the uneasy feeling that had begun to gnaw at his belly…..and Pemba’s words seemed to be asking for a response. But, Ake could find none, save a smile and outstretched arms as he turned to meet his old friend. A hug when troubled with doubts is always good medicine, but, Pemba could tell that his protege was also beginning to feel the veils of innocence fall away. It was always like this. Initiation was a never ending affair in this world.
Pemba sat beside his young ward and nodded in recognition of the task ahead……
“I took the path into the desert once, when I was, well, not much older than yourself, younger brother…..it was a journey that your grandfather and I had to make, as a part of our own initiation.” He looked off towards the glowing horizon. “There is a place in the heart of that vastness that is filled with birdsong….tall palms line a pool of fresh clear tourquoise water, so sweet and refreshing to taste, and dragonflies hover and dart like mischevious spirits at its heart. Who would believe such beauty could be found in the midst of the desert heat. Being there is like being under a delicious spell within a dream……”
Pemba’s words cast their own magic in Ake’s imagination and seemed to cleanse his heart of its burdens. He began to relax as the world below returned to his sight and added its own beauty to the vision Pemba was spinning.
“We must prepare before we set off to find that place……I’ve made an offering at the Spider’s shrine to open our path, but, you must do the same before we leave. Come….this too is a special place…..”, and Pemba smiled impishly as he rose, offering a hand to Ake…..that smile was infectious and, jumping to his feet, Ake followed his mentor towards the back of the cave and the crack in the rock.
He watched as Pemba picked up a half burned stub of cut wood from the fire-pit, and, briefly stirring the embers with its charcoaled end, let it rest a moment in the glowing ash, then, lifting it close to his mouth, he blew on it. The branch radiated a warm red and orange light and, with a second breath, a small dancing flame emerged from its tip. Pemba tilted the little torch and encouraged the flame to grow slightly. Satisfied with the result, the old diviner turned with a nod to follow and, holding the torch before him, eased into the fissure in the rock…..
“…..this will serve to light the short way to the other side Ake…..its quite easy, c’mon…”, Pemba’s voice echoed uncannily from within the rock.
Ake could see Pemba ahead of him in dark silhouette as he entered the crack. The rock was smooth at his sides, as if an age of watery hands had sculpted it, and the narrow floor of the fissure was softened with a sediment of silt and small stones…..
After following Pemba for a few seconds, his breath held and his heart beating in anticipation, Ake saw his mentors outline merge with the rock off to the right….yet he could still see the soft glow of the torch ahead. Hurrying to catch up he came to the point where the crack in the rock turned a sharp corner and then continued straight for a few steps. He saw Pemba disappear once more as the passage-way turned again, this time to the left. A cool breath of wind brushed Ake’s cheeks as he turned the second corner. The floor of the passage tilted sharply downwards and levelled out about ten steps ahead.
As he approached the bottom of the incline the back of Pemba’s legs became visible ahead, but, Ake had not anticipated what was to meet his eyes once he arrived at his mentor’s side! A ledge that ran off to the left and right formed the lip of an immense chasm echoing with his footfall as Ake came to its edge. A diffuse light radiated down from an invisible source in the roof of the vast chamber giving a soft luminescence to the rocks below. It took Ake’s breath away as he took in the sight. Every few moments a small droplet of water fell from the ceiling of the cave, each a luminous pearl free-falling in space. Ake then became aware of a gentle sussurus in the background. Somewhere, far beneath them, off in an unseen part of the mountain, an underground river was in full speight……
” …..the shrine is down there Ake….” Pemba whispered, taking a step closer to the edge of the ledge, gesturing with his chin for Ake to take a look. Ake tentatively peered into the chasms depths……but, before he could decide what exactly he was supposed to be seeing, by way of a shrine, Pemba turned to face him and, bringing his face closer, looked over Ake’s shoulder and quietly said, “the way down is behind you, along the ledge….let me go first”.
The rock-wall arched overhead and small stones tumbled off the ledge as they picked their way along, gradually descending – Ake caught sight of the twisted shapes of roots hanging from the ceiling of the cave, as if emerging from dark clouds…..then he realised! The whole ceiling was covered in spider’ s webs, waving in diaphanous films, like smoke hanging in night air. The atmosphere closed in and, all around them, Ake felt the presence of a thousand unseen eyes, watching their every move.
“You must be careful here…” Pemba said in hushed tones, turning to face Ake. He had his hand resting on one of the two cut ends of a massive forked branch that rested on the rim of the ledge and disappeared below. It was a ladder, like those that led to the drying and curing platforms in the village, each step a wedge deeply cut into the wood. Pemba let the torch rest on the ground and reached downwards with a foot, facing the rock-wall – he did not look at Ake, or pick up the torch, as his head slowly disappeared below the rim.
The branch held firm against the rock with its own weight and Ake tried to imagine that he was simply climbing down from a drying platform, returning to the ground below – but, he had not expected the ladder to be so long, and to begin flaring out as he descended. He wanted to look around, but, dare not stop……and then his feet touched solid rock.
Still holding the ladder with one hand he turned to find Pemba staring at him with hawk like eyes in the gathering darkness. Without a word or gesture, Pemba turned again and, following an invisible trail, confidently walked away, slowly descending into the half light. They had arrived at a shallow concave plateau that Ake quickly realised was the top of a massive boulder…..hurrying after Pemba he found that there was a path that wound its way amongst a jumble of monolithic slabs of rock, some looking for all the world like the silhouettes of giant sleeping animals. As they descended deeper into the pit of the cave the rocks became smoother, more like river stones…..and Ake became aware of the sound of the underground torrent, rising like the voices and cries of an uncountable host – the memory of his grandfathers dream message, its vision of the ocean of souls flashed across his mind. He felt himself being drawn towards its shores…….
Two strong hands grasped Ake’s shoulders and the obsidian light of two shining eyes peered with a penetrating intensity into his own. Pemba raised a finger to his lips, making a firm sign to remain absolutely quiet, slowly letting his finger fall away – the sight momentarily pulled Ake out of his vision. Pemba nodded briefly and, stepping to one side, gestured to Ake to go first.
Ahead, the pathway levelled out and then seemed to come to a halt against a wall of pitch darkness. This signalled another fissure, a cave entrance within the cave. He heard Pemba following as he slowly entered the subterranean night, his eyes scanning the darkness before him.
The hard rock beneath Ake’s feet gave way to soft fine sand and, stretching out his hands in front of him, he edged slowly forward. He began to make out very feint filaments of colour in the air ahead, but, was it a trick of the dark, a play of some inner vision that he could not put a shape or form to? He paused and strained with all his senses to find some clue as to how to go forward. A fast moving streak of green light cut across his field of vision and he suppressed a gasp as the memory flashed across his mind of the spider’s luminous thread from the previous night. Then all was still.
It was at that moment that Ake realised that he was not only standing in the midst of impenetrable darkness, but, it had become totally silent. The seering doubt of his confusion span him instinctively on his heels, and then he did gasp. He did not see the way back to the chasm as he had expected he would, instead, there was no light, anywhere. For a moment it was as if every external sense of the world, save the feeling of sand beneath his feet, had become extinguished and Ake, his head spinning with disorientation, slumped onto to the soft sand in a faint.
In the moment that he came round, Ake wondered if he was indeed awake. He blinked but there was no change to the darkness. He reached out with his hand to prop himself up, but, instead of finding sand beneath his palm he briefly layed his hand on something soft….his hand recoiled. Then he recognised the feeling that his fingers had registered…it was the divining bag. He had forgotten all about it…..but, how had it gotten here. Pemba. It must have been put there earlier by Pemba…..
He reached for the bag and, sitting up, drew it to his chest and let the comforting feeling of its familiarity fold around his heart.
The voice came like a finely settling rain of dust upon his ears…….
“See…..my little one……”
The rush of doubt that Ake felt on hearing the voice slowly gave way to a rising fire of recognition in his belly…….he knew that voice.
“It has been so long, beautiful child…..my Chenge…..see……”
Ake suddenly felt his throat constrict and he sucked in a breath, holding it as the memory rose upon a tide of emotion…….
A soft shuffling, just a few feet away to his side, pulled his head around……but he could see nothing.
“Mama….is that you….I cant see you…..”
“I am safe little one…….”
Ake hardly dared move, but, this time the voice was infront of him, and closer. The green luminous thread re-emerged before his eyes and began turning about itself, making circles and spirals that left vapour trails of cold mist in the pitch darkness. Slowly they wove a shape in the air and became an oval of softly shimmering light.
Eyes appeared, a nose and mouth, rounded cheeks, forming a face…..and then Ake knew. He was gazing in total disbelief at the face of his mother!
“I have a message for you, my little one……”
Ake was transfixed. He would so have loved to run into his mothers arms, but, there was…..only her face before him.
“Mama…….mama, what has happened…..is it really you?!”
“Listen to the Spider Mother, Chenge…..she is helping you…….I am far away, but…..we will meet again…..follow her thread, little one……”
“We will meet again, Mama? But, when….where are you……what has happened to you?”
“Look for the tall one, the white one, he bears a sign……follow the thread, little one…..”
At the mention of the ‘white one’ Ake’s heart recoiled and a feeling he had never felt before welled up in his belly. It asked him to do something, anything, to bring his mother back.
“The white one mama? Surely you don’t mean one of the people of the dead…..!”
“He bears a sign…..you will know it……follow, little one…..my Chenge….”
And with this the face began to dissolve before Ake’s eyes.
Ake heard his voice echo softly as the face slipped away into darkness. He began to weep and clutched the diviner’s bag as if it were the last memory of a world he had once known. Another soft shuffling sound broke across his grief and, suddenly realising that he could once more hear the sound of the rushing river, he jumped to his feet. But, the darkness remained.
The flash of green light cut swiftly across his eyes and left a single thread of mist suspended in the air. A thin crack of brilliant white emerged from the mist and grew into a vertical fissure in the pitch darkness that surrounded him. The crack widened and Ake could see a movement in its midst…..a figure was walking towards him. He recognised the shoulders and face of his mentor, Pemba.
“This place is the Spider’s shrine, younger brother……Ake?”
Ake was unsure of what he was seeing, he did not know whether to trust his senses.
“Ake?….what have you seen.”
The concern in Pemba’s voice was strangely reassuring and Ake felt his shoulders relax a little, the weight of the diviners bag now helping the world to solidify about him.
Pemba stopped a few steps away and cocked his head, staring at the bag……
“Well……” he seemed lost for words as he stepped closer, raising his hand to point at the diviner’s bag clutched to Ake’s chest.
“The day is full of surprises……this is most unusual….but, a good sign…..heh”
Pemba looked at Ake’s face with a soft concern. Laying his hands on Ake’s shoulders he said, “Come, tell me what happened…..we have an offering to make, but, you look as though…..”
“It was Mama, Pemba….she was here, I saw her and….she spoke to me”
“Spoke to you?!” The surprise in Pembas voice could not be disguised. The old diviner considered a moment and then, reaching behind his back for the drinking gourd he was carrying, he led Ake by the arm to the side of the cave. Ake realised that he could see the interior of the subterranean chamber quite clearly now. They were in a small oval cavity that reminded Ake of the adobe huts in which the families of his village lived. The walls were smooth and appeared to have a coating of fine clay. The back of the chamber was feintly illuminated from its entrance, but, surprisingly, Ake could see that the underground room was entirely empty.
As they rested their backs against the wall, Pemba caught the look of confusion on Ake’s face.
“I will explain…..all in good time, but….what did your mother tell you, younger brother, tell me what you want to”
Ake related everything that had happened from the moment that he had set foot into the darkness and, as his mentor listened, Pemba gave a nod at everything he heard. When Ake had come to the end of his account they sat in silence for a moment and then, offering the gourd to his young ward, Pemba let out a sigh…..
“It seems the Spider Mother has given to you a gift, brother Ake, and a gift of no small importance – I will tell you just why I am saying this after we have made the offering, if you can wait…..” and, at this Pemba rose to his feet.
A tender smile greeted Ake’s eyes as he looked up.
“….and, we must make it a special gift in return for her kindness, eh?”
Ake was surpised in the next moment to see Pemba scooping handfulls of sand to the side from the floor of the subterranian room – he was close to its center and the sand was dry, sliding slowly back in on itself. But, soon, Pemba’s hand scraped against a solid surface. He brushed the sand aside to reveal a large round circle of stone with a wedge shaped notch cut out of its edge. Pemba carefully placed his hand into the gap and with a strong pull lifted the stone away, flipping it onto its back, revealing a smaller perfectly round hole beneath……
“Bring the divining bag over Ake” he said, as he brushed the sand clean from the edge of the hole. “Now…..see what comes out” he said gesturing with his chin towards the bag…..
“…..go on, don’t be afraid…..theres something in there we need”.
Ake unwound the strap from the neck of the bag and cautiously put his hand inside. The feeling of soft fur met Ake’s fingers and, feeling his way down the sides, he found several smaller leather bags nestled together. He looked to Pemba……
Gripping the neck of one of the small bags he slowly eased it out…..it was no bigger than his fist and dyed a very dark blue that reminded Ake of the night sky.
“Ahhh…..now open it”, said Pemba, obviously intrigued at the choice.
The binding was old, but, once Ake had eased it away, a sharp odour emerged instantly from the bag, making Ake’s nose twitch.
“Take one pinch” Pemba instructed, watching carefully as his protege reached in with his thumb and fore-fingers. He pulled out a small quantity of pitch black powder, just like charcoal dust, but, very slightly oily to the touch.
“This is ‘black snuff’, though amongst the Spider people it is known as ‘night medicine’. It is one of the most valuable healing preparations we make, amongst the diviners, that is. It is for use only by those who have knowledge of its effects. Without that knowledge it is simply charcoal, to the unknowing. It seems I’ll be teaching you how to make it very soon,” Pemba said with an approving nod. Ake tried to look more closely, without dropping any of the powder.
“Is this what I am to give to the Spider mother, Pemba?”
“Well, it looks like you are being called upon to make this medicine a sign of gratitude to her, yes, but…..it needs a special song to accompany it……”
Ake looked questioningly at his mentor…….but, Pemba simply raised his eyebrows, smiling with a little nod…..
“But, which song should I sing…..?”
“Think of where we are going….and what has just happened here….then let it come out, sing it……and, remember, say thank-you to the Grandmother Spider”
Ake liked to sing, it came naturally to him, especially when he was busy with something that took time….but, he had never tried to make a song out of things that had not happened yet, or feelings as strong and deep as those that the memory of his mother had brought up in him. Then, without warning, as he was pondering these things, a single syllable of sound escaped his lips…..and before he knew it a melody was springing up in him. It seemed to accompany the images that drifted through his mind.
“Sing it into the ‘night medicine’ Ake, then give the medicine to the hole….but, keep singing until the song has run its course.”
The melody arose with a slow dignity from Ake and into the ‘night medicine’. He felt its power gently flowing through him at first, then he began swaying his body from side to side. For a moment it was as if he was sitting in the middle of a small boat on a rolling expanse of water. Stars appeared above him following the motion of the boat. He closed his eyes and let the melody pour into the night medicine. He felt his hand release the black powder into the darkness at his feet…..the song grew stronger.
A gust of wind swept strands of hair around his cheek and he opened his eyes……the stars above remained, swirling around a tall stout pole that extended above him. There was a triangular sheet of ochre skins attached to its top and bottom and Ake quickly realised he was speeding over the water in a hide covered boat, like the ones he had seen in the Lake People’s village.
“You must listen to the stars, let them give their stories to you, brother Ake,” a powerful voice sounded behind him.
Ake spun round to find his grandfather sitting at the stern, his strong old hands holding the end of a steering paddle, his eyes staring towards the heavens….for a moment Ake was speechless.
“….they will take you beyond the horizon and return you safely home.”
“Look!” And the old man pointed over Ake’s shoulder, his eyes widening.
Ake glanced involuntarily in the direction his grandfather had pointed. In that instant a single star suddenly expanded and sent out a blinding flash that stunned Ake. For a moment he could see nothing but white light. Then shapes slowly began to emerge, blurred and vague at first, and there was a tickling feeling on his cheek.
Ake shook his head and caught site of the small green iridescent beetle just as it disappeared beneath the sand. There was a sound like many voices speaking very fast, as if heard from a long way off……then the dragonfly darted over his head and stopped in mid-air just an arms length in front of Ake.
He had been lying on the cool sand, but, for how long! Where the beetle had been there was now a small conical mound of sand. It must have been only an eyeblink, yet, he felt as though it were an eternity. The dragonfly turned on its centre and a second later sped off down the valley between the dunes.
“I’m not loosing sight of you this time,” Ake said under his breath and, jumping to his feet, he slung Pemba’s blanket and the diviner’s bag over his shoulder and set off after the iridescent blue being………he did not see the swift shadow that darted away across the sand ahead of him……..
Chenge and the Spider © copyright Rob Purday 2013
The Beetle and the Dragonfly © copyright Rob Purday 2013
Look out for the continuing story of Chenge and the Spider at a new dedicated website launching soon!
“They used to say in days of old, the Magpie was a sacred bird,
beloved of the goddess, heeded by all travellers-oh…..
one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy……
…..five for silver, six for gold…..seven for a secret never to be told
the Sun was jealous of her love, and stole Her children from Her nest,
She searches for them to this day, the seeds of star-light from her heart
one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy….
five for silver, six for gold…..seven for a secret never to be told
and, to all but those who honour Her, who wear her colours and and follow her call,
her mysteries will hidden be…………Magpie, keeper of the Magic-Fire.
one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy……
…..five for silver, six for gold…..seven for a secret never to be told
The old woman had turned up unexpectedly, out of the blue, as if she had materialised from the boundaries of day and night itself, and had walked across the edge of dusk unseen to sit at our fire…….she was travel weary, you could tell, but, there was a certain vigour about her, an energy with a strong quiet presence – little did we suspect its source or the gifts she was carrying as she was offered a place and settled herself, gathering her long cape and robes about her…….we all looked to her expectantly, and she, as if gathering us in slowly round the circle, her face a map of weathered journeys, and stories waiting to unfold……
Her eyes – I will not forget those eyes, mysterious pools of tender wisdom, fathomless worlds, thresholds of sky and ocean, and the strange sensation that, as she beheld us we were each being touched by an invisible force, a mystery enfolding itself around us.
“Let me rest here a while and in return I will tell you a story…….”, she had said, brushing the dust of the road from her robes and folding them about her. There was a promise in this, and a balm that eased our surprise at her appearance in our midst, and, instantly you knew – here was the voice of experience, of an elder. She knew how to play this situation, was an old hand with this opening gambit. We are all hungry for the warmth and companionship provided by the sweet medicine of the fire, but, it is also ever the way with humans that we are reluctant to invite the unknown into our midst. So, an exchange of gifts is often the sweetener that encourages us to drop our boundaries, when the fire is ours to give and the unknown comes knocking….but, stories, they are things of power.
If we had known the nature of the story about to be given would we still have opened our circle to its medicines? As the old woman went on to say of the gift she had to offer, once she had found her spot and began unfolding the story-tellers bundle in her lap, “……..it will bring flavour to some and be as salt to the wounds of others, for, on this night will open a portal, a rift in time, a threshold into deeper wisdom, the Ocean Mother’s wisdom….”
…and here she paused, pulling us further in…..the portentious scent of fate and destiny twisting about her as she whispered to the night….
“…….yes, womb-wisdom, crone wisdom; listen, then…..listen with your bones…..from here, within the temple of your heart,” she said, placing the flats of her hands upon her chest and spreading them outwards in a wide all-embracing gesture.
That night, as the calendar makers and star watchers had foretold, the Moon fell into darkening, and, as Her light bled into the night, the ocean hushed as the story-teller invoked the spirit of the moment….beneath the canopy of stars above the southern ocean…….
“Listen to an old woman’s news – it comes from far distant lands, but, heed this message well, for its edge is close at hand………when earthen shadow falls, and the lunar mother removes her mask……we remember her true face once more; her face, so sanguine, as if lit by embers from within….yes, we remember – we remember…….when the moon-light becomes the womb-light…..how it was, before we put up our masks, after our masks fall,”
….her words spun strange and familiar worlds behind our eyes, and her face, like the night, steeped in thought, radiated with the light of another world…..
“It comes around and goes around, this merry dance. It beats its slow steady heart beat to a rhythm ancient with memory, opening the shell of time, the second wound, the wound that receives the golden seed, bleeding fire into the night. Herstory is the history of wounds – She pulses, enchants with luminous dust, and pulls, and pulls, and pulls…She feels, and She heals.” She stooped to scoop a handfull of sand and we watched the grains fall slowly through her fingers, leaving a small shell, a spiral wonder of sacred energy nestling in her palm.
The elders and day-keepers had caught her meaning and sent the whisper around the circle – she was a Moon Mother, an Aluna, holy woman of the Moon, midwife of the mysteries – she had come to give warning of the eclipse, we should listen carefully to her teaching, there may be an initiation afoot, something unforeseen in the darkening of the Moon…….
The Moon Mother let the hum of words that were rippling round the circle settle and, holding the shell between thumb and fore-finger, raised it towards the center of the circle. “There is one present here who carries the mark of this day…..”. She paused and cast her shining eyes around the circle……no-one stirred. “All in good time, all in good time…..you will know who you are before the nights out, and, then……” she offered the shell in outstretched hand…..”this mystery, and all contained within it, shall be yours to hold for this village……this night, She will come amongst us”. A murmur, touched with nervousness, excitement and fore-boding, swept through the circle.
“But, do not be in any hurry to fix meaning to my words…….I give them to you by way of protection, of which I pray you shall need none, but, there is more than one shadow loosed in the world this night…..may the power of the Great Mother be with us……” – her voice dropped off as she delivered the warning, a loud crack and stream of sparks exploding from the fire as she slowly got to her feet.
The old woman stepped into the firelight, her voice returning stronger now…..”Remember her and remember her well. She who wears the three-fold masks, the fertile-scented Flower of Dawn, the swollen-bellied Fruit of Night, the wise-horned Eye of Dusk, shedding and renewing, as skins and veils, as spiralling patterns in the serpentine dance…..She moves, and She moves us.” At that moment, as if summoned, the wind blows the shell from her hand, and a far distant bird calls, cackling laughter carried on the billowing air……..she raised her chin to the horizon and sniffed at the wind as it swirled away, carrying the smells and textures of the forest. We all smelt it, that fresh breath of life and its undertone, the rich hummus of life-giving death, the balance giver. “Pine and Birch,” she said, “the grandmothers and maiden warriors of the deep lands of memory – those forests remember you, you know……..and they have their own memories, ancestors of your own, waiting for you to return, to meet with you once more in your journeys and dreams…..earthen shadows, spectral lights, liminal flames, dancing in the dark, tricky, and…..” her voice now filled with a ripple of dark humour…..”ripe for the picking……”
I notice a few nervous glances passing around the circle – what is this, does anyone understand the meaning of her words? She bows down as if looking directly into the earth and half whispers….
“Remember, She moves us, not onwards, but, inwards and……with every turning, reveals the gateways, thresholds of wonders, guarding the grove of mysteries, woven into concealment……you will meet her first within the serpentine folds of Wysteria, the flower of the ‘womens’ mysteries’….glancing up and casting her gaze around the circle of fire-lit faces, her gaze comes to rest on a young boy, himself at the threshold of adulthood……”of this, men’s knowing shall know nothing……..save his own luminous shadow, dancing in search of himself, his beloved.” A murmur of wry laughter runs amongst the elders present and sets heads wagging and nodding. She has us in the palm of her hand…….
“…how many of you know,” she continues, her gaze still circling on the gathering, “what lies across the threshold of her inner sanctuary……”. It is a direct challenge, no doubt, but, the wiley old crone knows that for those who do know this is and can only be a rhetorical question – this wise old bird is fishing for a different kind of response……”She initiates all who would be re-united within themselves…….from within Her hidden recess, holiest of holies, with every darkening Moon she beats Her signal and calls – ‘have you the mettle’, she asks…….
I had not suspected this night would bring to my own life such a question, such a calling, yet there it was…..and the bone-wise midwife in our midst caught my eye as she said……”wearing her true face, She opens Her oracular eye and sees into the deepest realms of our hearts…..”. She winks at me and then, closing her eyes spreads wide her arms, holding a white skinned frame drum before her, beating a steady heartbeat…..
Suddenly the night feels chill with expectation and a loud crack explodes from the fire – “How would we know her, but, to join the dance…..come to her and remember…….remember, at her bidding, why we came here……and dance…..who we were before we came…..” – the drumbeat has an enticing quality, her voice riding its beats, becoming a chant…..
“…….She is the chanting storyteller of our lives before we lived them…..she rides the Spirit Horse of our Earth’s dreaming back to the beginning……..spiralling around itself upon the axis of the stars…….rising on the swollen tide we journey with Her through the crack in time.” Her chants create waves upon waves…..cross-patterns out of which our very soul stuff rises at the beats. “She weaves the pulse into this world as we are born forgetful of her song……She weaves her song into our soul that we may remember why we came here…….until…….” and she whorls around, sending the tassels from her long cloak and skirts flying in a wave around her…….it is as a signal, and now we are all on our feet….
“…Her call is heeded…..spirit walkers, kith and kindred, Sons and Daughters of Silver and Gold, red-white-black words, songs of memory and possibility, threading soul paths through these worlds…..follow her, follow her…” and now our feet have become infected with her rhythm, our backs twitching and hips swaying, hands rising in gestures on her delicious beat….
“….in another time, another time……once upon a time that is no-time…..time before time….” something is happening, the light of the fire is growing, its flames are expanding and I see figures in their midst, wearing robes of flashing feathers, blue and black and white and green, iridescent with night’s magic…….”She comes, She of many faces, with Her dark green cackling laughter and flashing wings….falling and rising above the churning ocean.” At this point I do not remember if she spoke these words or if it was the voice of the one she had called into our midst, who spoke of the time before time, the beginning, of memory and possibility, who spoke of Aluna…..
…….how long we danced I cannot say, only to say that we found ourselves close in on the fire, or the fire seemed to have grown…..we had entered another space and time and, in that place, the voice pulled me further in…..
“…..She weaves her pathway across the southern seas this night – her flashing wings, her iridescent tail, her coat of tricks….hear this and remember”…..the flames part and the old woman steps into the embers, gesturing me to follow…….as I step upon the radiant bed of dancing liquid light the sparks fly up around me and suddenly I am spinning amongst stars…….her voice leads me on……
I remember one other thing from that journey – I returned momentarily to hear a great roar of thunder issue from her drum, and tailing slowly away, bringing the circle back, ecstatic and breathing hard, slowly to a standstill…….and as the drum wound down I heard her say these words……”know this,” she whispered between her teeth, hoarse and urgent, “Silent Thunder is coming but Her heart beats yet and with the one who follows me will reverberate still…..look for her coming, from beyond the clashing rocks…….when Sun rises and she returns in those stars the world will see its fruit on solstice eve…..on solstice eve, another world will remember this one…..but, in this one she has her gaurdians still, who sing her praises still……” – little did I know that night, that I would be the one to return……
I awoke amongst spiralling branches bedecked with lilac coloured blossoms, the old woman tending a small fire in a stone hearth nearby – a star specked sky was visible through the bower and a feint streak of luminous green and turquoise light was bleeding into the horizon beyond the medicine woman. Long whisps of her hair hung loose from its braids and, without turning, she spoke to me…….
“All the eclipses in the world would not unravel the knots we have become entangled in, knots in time, that breed forgetting……….were it not for the persistance of Her memories…….even when we recognise them not for what they are, even when they hide the truth in plain sight…..but, welcome my daughter, for we have them still, right now, where you are……” and she turned to greet me with a smile of total love that put a feeling in me as if the Sun had just arisen and kissed the full Moon in my heart……that was the beginning of my apprenticeship with Aluna, Magpie Woman as she told me she was known, medicine woman of the Earth and Stars, keeper of the sacred flame of Sweet Medicine………
When I returned and as people asked me what happened on that night, “where did you go, what happened on your journey, did the old woman take you,” and countless other questions, I tell them this – on that night, when we came together around our village fire to listen to the ocean breathing, to soak ourselves in the starlight and let the beauty and wonder of it all wash us clean, I had a dream…..I heard Her voice, Her cackling laughter, singing on the wind, carrying the scent of Pine and Birch, rich earth and mossy leaf-mold, and felt the presence of……magic……once more……
……lest you wish upon Her return, lest you meet her with a kiss
lest you pass through her tenfold gates, her secrets she will show you
…….eights a wish, nines a kiss, ten is the bird you must not miss
sacred keeper of star-lore on Earth,
Sweet Medicine Fire of Wisdom….
one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy,
five for silver six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told….
…eights a wish and nines a kiss, ten is the bird you cannot miss
she dances in the dark and lights the way,
Sweet Medicine Fire of Wisdom
When Lynx comes visiting our neck of the woods we’d best be quiet and listen……..she does not always make an overt appearance, in fact, in spirit as in the wilds she is often felt before seen, if seen at all. Her energy is uncanny – she is coy, wiley and elusive, but, she has real presence. Even when Lynx remains unseen she sets a certain tone – stilling, watchfull, alert to the slightest vibration and movement. Her eye-sight is considered second to none, with a laser like clairvoyant quality that can pierce the veils of material reality and give access to the hidden world that fuels its manifestation. With enhanced awareness Lynx can help us experience the world in all its multi-layered complexity, but, all of these qualities have also made her, like the witches familiar, the target of mistrust and suspicion.
As many of the old stories will tell, when Lynx is about you’d better watch-out. But, it is an ill deserved reputation, born mostly out of fear and the threat of being truly seen that an impure heart will feel in her presence. It is also born out of ignorance, for she brings awareness to the energies that connect us all at the level of the finest vibrations, an area of experience commonly outside the everyday range of humans. This is the zone of interconnectedness through which animals sense apriori physical events in the world. And, if we follow her and allow her to inform our own inner knowing, she will be a powerful and pragmatic ally, especially if we work with her through an awareness centered within the heart. From this place we can both open out, expand and fine tune our awareness while remaining protected within seeming invisibility, seated at the core. For these qualities alone her medicines offer a balm and useful strategy amidst the unrest that is unfolding in the outer world. But, there is much more to her than meets the eye……
Traditionally, Lynx is seen as the guardian of secrets. She knows. This is a role that carries a hefty responsilibilty, that of the protection of power as it resides in the form of hidden knowledge and wisdoms. When she comes into our awareness we know that we are being given notice to look more deeply at our own responsibilities. Active and overt use of those powers is not a part of her medicine, but, for us these are crucial responsibilites which we would do well to pay good attention to in this time, and she can help us here. Through alerting us to them she can help us fine tune our own sensibilities in relation to the innate powers we carry and how we use them. She can give us insight into how others do likewise, and this makes a person with Lynx medicine seem equally uncanny, and, as a result, equally open to projection of those fears that are generated by a heart that is out of balance.
There are no flies on Lynx and very little escapes her attention – in fact she, not so much demands honesty as, requires that we and others face our own dis-honesties – sooner or later they will come out anyway as a result of her presence! She can however also help us find balanced empowerment through admitting them, one of her healing gifts. Elusive and hidden as she often-times is, Lynx can deliver the gift of responsibility without ego investment. In this she is a clarifier of the heart, a wonderous magical being bearing great gifts. And those very gifts, by their active and true nature, help us to source and generate the heart’s true power in the form of courage. It is a special kind of courage that cuts through the spells and illusions cast by the allies of the dark side, that bind us to their will. With Lynx as our ally we can free ourselves from their machinations. The knack with her medicine is to learn to ‘listen with the eyes’ as things unfold in their dance – with this kind of seeing our eyes touch the world with hidden power. She helps us cut through the fog of deception, get our feet back on our path and feel the magic again. If we are to become guardians of the earth garden this gift will be essential to us.
Lynx is also an initiator here as she can also help us evolve our own powers in relationship with those present within the natural environment, and develop our responsibilities around how we work with them. In this Lynx is also an archetype for the spiritual and ethical practice of ‘deep ecology’.
The message Lynx is delivering is always best treated with the utmost respect. She offers us an early warning system for upcoming changes, and often these turn out to be radical. If we are alert to her warnings we can take steps that keep us one step ahead, much as animals do when an earthquake is about to arrive – we too can sense intensities, microcosmic disturbances that threaten to manifest challenging changes at a macrocosmic level. With so many rapid and challenging events now occuring in our world across the board her medicine exemplifies the innate qualities and abilities that can help us begin to bring into the world, and through which we can embody, the emergent shamanic paradigm.
The drawing within the image shown here came through after my first encounter with Lynx some years back – I had been in the high mid-Pyrenean Mountains searching out the lessons of the wilds. This area borders the National Park south of the French Spanish border, one of the last remaining natural habitats in which the Iberian Lynx is found within Europe. With her formidable ability to remain unseen, we can never be entirely certain how many of her numbers, if any, remain in the wild in that part of the world. The Iberian Lynx population has been under increasing threat over much of the last century, mostly from disease and hunting, as well as encroaching human settlement and her presence has dwindled to the very brink of extinction – it is thought that at the most only a handful of breeding pairs remain in the wild, in fact, many conservationists believe the only chance for their survival may now rest with those protected within captivity in breeding programmes. Our relationship with the natural world, the fine balance in nature that our own presence can tip so easily one way or another, is exemplified by the delicate care which we must bring to the Iberian Lynx back from the edge and into the wild. We can learn from her how to be wise and sensitive as guardians of Nature.
A friend, whose partner had a shepherds hut up in the high mountains, told me that his mountain dogs often found Lynx spore, but, the presence of his hounds ensured that he himself had never seen one….I was captivated by the thought of this beautiful wild spirit and felt her presence in the forests, everything became infused with hightened sensitivity. I too never saw Lynx in the flesh while in the mountains, but, there was always the feeling of having been seen and since that time she has emerged out of the dreamtime with uncanny timing, especially in advance of threshold moments. She remains an elusive and yet powerful ally whom we can count on to connect us with the unseen when we most need it. If sylvan darkness, the inner light of the forest, be the place of mystery she is one of its prime guardians and gatekeepers. As a wise man once said ‘When life becomes darkest the eye of the soul begins to see’.
Lynx leaves the signs of her elusive presence as magical markers and, in this, she is also a reader and maker of signs, a way shower and pathfinder. Folklore tells us that where she leaves her spore we may find a hidden message. Her urine is said to turn into pearls of garnet – her whiskers, antennae of great sensitivity, are woven into medicine hats, attached to wands and fetishes, as a direct link to the subtle energies that ebb and flow around and through us. She connects us with the spirit worlds. She is an edge dweller, her spirit seeing both ways, seated always just beyond our physical sensibilities, but, calling us over into the other worlds. Her initiatic presence brings us to the inner circle of the initiation grounds, the place where we come alive with the life-force and learn of our own soul presence. Here Life, no matter where we are, can assume the shape and form of this sacred space. If we let ourselves be guided by her beyond the known and into this place of deepened learning she can energise and weave together the subtle strands of our souls innate predilictions, the talents and abilities that belong to our hidden gifts, and help us see how we can make of them a braid, our soul path. These are the very gifts that we have come here to remember and bring into the world. And, if we let ourselves be guided by her we also discover that it is those very gifts through which she speaks – hers is a mythical tongue, a language that has its roots in nature. She helps us find answers that are resisitant to the abstract and rational mentality, answers that are living, open ended and magnetic, funded with an electric current of life-force that connects us with all things in the moment. She connects us with the vast mutable everchanging network of life through which all levels and dimensions are simultaneously interrelated. Lynx sacralises our vision and brings enchantment back into a jaded world. When we learn from her how to listen with our inner eyes and discern, the world comes alive with inner meaning…..Lynx is the diviner’s ally par excellence. In a divination kit, a garnet might be the perfect signifier for her presence, symbolising the ‘eye of the soul’…..
It seems that Lynx is bringing new shoots out of the cinders of recent times….events at this end knocked Owlmirror out of action for a whole lunation, but, she did give fair warning! However, I’m happy to say that we are up and running again and Owlmirror is growing and evolving too….over the coming months we will be bringing in articles about working with and making divination kits, so, look out for garnets!
You may also have noticed that there is a new category in the offing here in the sidebar ~ “Natural Medicines” ~ this article opens a new look at the spirit medicines in nature with the animal power of Lynx, and upcoming articles will include old and new stories that will both honour and remember our invaluable and indispensible allies in the realms of Nature, especially as they pop up and help us transit our times of global transformation. Talking of stories, Lynx has a sister ally who figures strongly in both spirit and body in this path, and that is Stryx Occidentalis, the Northern Spotted Owl. You may remember her as the storyteller who brought out the tale of ‘Storyteller and the Spirit Horse’, as well as being enshrined in the ‘Owlwoman’ carving……she too is a symbol for deep ecology, and the protection of the old-growth Redwood forests…..but, we’ll catch some more of her magic next time when we look into the planetary patterns and their messages for the upcoming 10 Million Beats global healing event! In the meantime, Spotted Owl has a story to relate about Lynx and how she came to be the keeper of secrets……
“Now! There are some who believe that Lynx has a bad reputation…heh heh….isn’t that always the way of things when people let their supsicions get the better of them and start throwing their fears around…..look out when that happens, illusion is the name of the game and Mother! Lynx sure has become marked with that kind of nonsense – just like the spotted coat she wears just so, every dark spot is a place where someones pointing finger has burned its accusations into her fur. Well, there you have it, when the fingers are pointing and the tongues are wagging nobody can see whats before their very eyes or hear what the world is saying to them. But, in the old traditions those creatures who are marked with spots are connected with the star nations, the ancestral fires that fund us with the personal powers we keep in our medicine bags – dappling, like starlight and the blue sparks of spirit are a sign of magic….so, put down those fingers, quieten down those wagging tongues and listen up – heres a tale that puts that little conundrum to rights…….
Well….you see….It was once upon a time that was outside of time that everything was frozen and bound in darkness – seems like everything was standing on its head, just when it should have been warm and sunny there was snow and ice laying everywhere and nobody knew where the Summer had gone and, without the Summer, nothing would grow – everyone was starving…….Jeesh! it was madness in the forests, everyone chasing each other around and trying to eat each other, just to stay alive!! Well, there are some creatures more secretive than others and they have a knack of knowing how to survive that crucial little bit longer……some of them are well nigh invisible amongst the leaves and foliage, know how to blend in well, some of them only come out at night, have keen sight and wear a cloak of silence, and then there are others who stay underground, maybe for long time, sleeping and dreaming of better times, who knows….
….one of those dreamers, maybe the best of ‘em all, was Bear, and Bear always hibernated through Winter, as that was her chief dreaming time…..huh, but, there are Winters and there are Winters, and even a Bear must wake up sometime…..
Well, this time it was a long long long Winter, the longest anyone had ever known, and Bear had just about exhausted her supply of Winter fat – she’d run out of dreaming juice! But, nevertheless, old Bear was still asleep, that was, until Cougar, Bull-Moose, Badger, Rabbit, Mouse, Squirrel, and a whole host of animals all came scumbling by, running circles around each other, trying to evade each others teeth or escape from being trampled underfoot….and up in the air was no different. Eagle, Crow, Heron, Hawk, Goose, and a million little birds were all sweeping and swooping around in the dark grey light screeching and hollering for all they were worth, even Owl was running the gauntlet from Blackbird and Woodpecker, hooting loudly……infact, the racket was so loud, it woke up old Bear…and my, she was none to pleased…..waking up real hungry was one thing, but, being woken up by an unholy racket was another thing entirely….up she got and, pulling herself up to her full height, she let out an almighty roar…….”SHUUUUUTTTTTT UUUUUUUPPPP!!!!!!”
….it was one of those moments, when man, you wish you had a picture….heh heh heh
Everyone froze, just like magic, as if they’d been turned to stone, their medicine bags swinging against their hearts….you can see it now! All heads slowly turned in Bear’s direction…..
“Can’t a Bear have a decent sleep without the whole world going CRAZY?!….and WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE??!! MMMMmmmm????”
Down swooped Eagle and landed between the animals and Bear……”well, Bear, its Summer, or rather it should be – it has gone and we are all getting very very hungry, so…..well, were very sorry for waking you up and all that but……we are desperate!”
Bear was a little taken back, not only by the fact that Summer had disappeared, but, that even someone as lofty as Eagle could have descended into this madness….wooooo, it must be BAD!! She thought a little and then a little more….until a flash caught the corner of her eye….even Bear was a little spooked and swivelled on her heels.
There was Lynx, perched on a rock, fixing Bear with that inscrutible flashing stare…….
“Oh, its you Lynx”, said Bear, relaxing, just a little….it was those eyes….
“Yes, and the one thing nobody has bothered to ask is where has Summer gone…mmmm?” said Lynx.
Bear nodded and turned to the animals, who all shrugged their shoulders and began looking to each other for an answer……but, Bear, being full of dreams from the long long Winter, simply said
“Right….this madness has to stop, we’re going to search for Summer right now……Eagle?!”
Eagle knew right away what to do and up he flew, as high as he could above them and slowly circled round surveying the land for miles and miles around……everyone was watching from below holding tight to their medicine bags, until, that is, Bear’s voice broke them out of their trance….
“Well?! What are you lot waiting for, you all know different places to look…..off you go and don’t come back until you’ve found out where Summer has gone!
There was a flurry of fur and claws, and a cloud of snowy fog rose up – when it settled, there was Lynx still perched on her rock watching Bear with that uncanny eye…….
“Perhaps you should ask the Ancestors”, Lynx said, and, at that moment a sudden gust of wind blew by and Lynx dissolved within another cloud of snowy fog leaving only her enigmatic smile – bear watched as even this disappeared, and, when the snow had settled once again, Lynx was gone…
Bear shuddered…..phew! spooky!!
But, Lynx had a point, if anyone would know, the Ancestors up in the star nation would, but, then, did Lynx know something that everyone else didn’t, was she keeping something to her-self – Man, it was hard to trust that one…..nevertheless……
Bear set about putting her den in order and slowly headed down the valley to see if any fish or berries could be found to quell her terrible hunger……and off she set with a grumble and a rumble of her empty stomach…you know how she is!
Well now, time passed and more time passed and eventually Bear came back to her den….and as she came into the clearing she saw Cougar, Badger, Squirrel and Rabbit waiting there…..
“Any news?” asked Bear…..the animals all looked at each other and then Badger spoke up….
“I don’t know where summer has gone”, he said, “but, I did see Lynx heading up to the ridge after I left….and, she wouldn’t say where she was going”
Then Rabbit added, “y-yes, and she came padding by me…silent as a leaf, but, s-she was definitely heading up to the ridge below the p-pass”
Squirrel was next to speak up
“I was heading that way myself across the tree tops and when I got to the ridge there was Lynx heading down the valley on the other side of the pass”
everyone looked at Cougar
….”she’s heading for the mountains,” Cougar said – “she looked like she knew where she was going, so, I followed her, as far as I could….but……I lost her at the foot of the Great Mountain”
“The Great Mountain ehh?” said Bear scratching her chin and looking towards the ridge above – “come on, that Lynx knows something we don’t…..’ask the ancestors’ she said, mmmmmm….”
Suddenly Rabbit looked nervous and started busying herself with her medicine bag……”er, I-I’ve just remembered that I m-must……” and with that she turned on her heal and shot like a bolt into a hole beneath the nearest tree……Bear sighed, “Come on, we’d better get going”
…..and so, off the four of them set, up and over the ridge through the pass, down into the next valley and off into the foothills beneath the mountains, until, they all stood at the foot of the Great Mountain. Foggy clouds swirled around its peak and shrouded it in mystery, sending fingers of mist reaching down through the forest towards them…..
….”she’s up there, I know it,” said Bear gazing into the mists……”well, theres nothing for it,” and off she strode, the three companions following on behind.
Up and up and up they went until the mist started rolling around them…..but, there was no sign of Lynx, not even a paw-print…..but, on they went…..until they broke above the tree line….still no sign of Lynx, so, on they went in the swirling mist……until, Squirrel stopped all of a sudden….
“Listen,” she said, “there, someones snoring”…..
Cougar took a couple of steps forward….”its…coming from up there,” she whispered, and they all went on tipi-toes getting nearer to the snorry sound, with Bear leading the way…
suddenly Bear froze….just ahead she could see a familiar shape, an oval head with two tufted points sprouting from the top….at that moment a flash cut through the mists as an eye opened….and the snorry sound became louder!
“Lynx!” said Bear, and strode forward with the companions close behind……
….there she was curled up on a rock, her uncanny eye fixed on the huddle of animals that were approaching….she yawned and continued her purring…
“well, I’m very glad you could make it,” Lynx said, stretching her back…..that enigmatic smile spreading across her face
Bear looked around, suspiciously…..”so, you didn’t er ‘find’ it…..Summer, that is?”
Lynx’s smile dissolved….”no, but, if we go a little higher”…….
“what was it you said Bear, about Lynx and the Ancest……of course!,” said Squirrel, “we can reach the Ancestors from up there”….and suddenly she was off past Lynx and up towards the top of the mountain
Badger was hard on her tail and suddenly Cougar and Bear were running uphill too…
Lynx watched them and slowly followed…..
….by the time she got to the top of the mountain the four companions were lying on their backs in a circle, looking up at a veiled pool of light above them…….”we found it! I think….,” said Badger, “I can see it through the clouds”…..
Bear sat up – “yes, Badger, but, how are we going to get it back down again?!”
Everyone let out a sigh of disappointment, all except Lynx….
“we can’t stay up here for ever,” said Cougar, “and, besides, theres still nothing to eat”…..they all let out another sigh of dissapointment with this realisation, all except Lynx….
….”we’ll have to light a fire and make the hole bigger,” said Badger – “that will summon a wind and blow these clouds away…”
Suddenly Bear, Cougar and Squirrel were on their feet, running around looking for kindling, but, there was none to be found!
…”what about if we all blow really hard,” said Squirrel, and suddenly everyone was huffing and puffing into the air, all except Lynx….
The four collapsed exhausted – they had made no impression on the clouds…..
“I know how to do it”…said Lynx
The four animals looked at her expectantly….
Lynx lifted a paw and pointed upwards – “you’ll have to jump up and make a hole”
That was it! Suddenly everyone, except Lynx, was jumping up on the spot as high as they could, but, to no avail!
“Me, me!” shouted Squirrel suddenly – “throw me up there, I can make a hole!”
“Ok,” said Bear, “but, its futher than it looks, take off your medicine bag so that you are lighter, and we’ll throw you up….and so Squirrel did, and they did throw her up into the clouds, only, Squirrel was too small to make a hole that stayed open and whats more, she didn’t come down again!
“mmmm,” said Bear, “you’re bigger Badger, lets throw you up”….so, Badger took off his medicine bag and up he went, but, the hole closed over again, and Badger didn’t come down either!
Cougar looked at Bear, “I can do it I’m sure,” she, said, so off came the medicine bag and up went Cougar – the hole was bigger for sure and for a fleeting glimpse Bear thought she could see Squirrel and Badger peering out of the sky…but, the hole close up again!
“well, theres nothing for it” said Bear, “you’ll have to go next Lynx,” but, when she turned around Lynx was nowhere to be seen….
Bear was disconsolate, until she heard voices above her…
“its here, its here, weve found Summer”……it was Squirrel, Badger and Cougar……if we reach down and you jump up we’ll catch you and pull you up!
Bear thought for a moment, and then another moment, but, their seemed to be nothing else to do, so, taking off her medicine bag and putting it on the ground, Bear took two steps back and….
“OOOOAAAAAOOOOOWWW”…….Suddenly there was a piercing screech and a pair of needle encrusted paws pinned themselves to Bear’s behind…..
”YYYEEEEEAAAOOOOWWWWW!!!” Bear yelped and jumped high into the air….through the clouds she disappeared, as Lynx sat on the ground holding her tail…..
Bear had stepped back and trodden on Lynx’s tail, and she was so heavy, she had broken off a piece, which Lynx was now looking at forelornly on the ground……thats why the poor old Lynx has a short tail…but, then….
…..like magic, everything started to glow with a radiant light and the fog started clearing….Lynx looked up to see a huge hole now opening up in the clouds above and the sunlight was streaming through. Everything started to become warmer, and Lynx was a little happier with this….but, where were the four companions?
Lynx waited and waited but, no-one came back down and eventually the whole sky cleared….and night began to fall….Lynx sat and looked into the night sky until the stars came out, shimmering and dancing above……Lynx knew what to do and, picking up the four medicine bags and stringing them next to her own against her heart, she headed back down the mountain.
By the time Lynx reached the clearing where Bear’s den was it was pitch dark with dappled starlight sparkling in the forest, but, she of all creatures, with perhaps the exception of Owl, was best equipped to find her way….she had decided on the way back to bring the medicine bags of each of the four companions to the place where they each had their homes and so, she stealthily crept into Bear’s den….and stopped in her tracks!
There, curled up in a mound of leaves at the back of the cave was Bear, sleeping like a baby! Lynx gently layed Bear’s medicine bag at her side and crept out…….she found all the other animals too, all fast asleep in their beds, and returned their medicine bags to each…..
When they woke up just before dawn the next morning, Bear, Cougar, Badger and Squirrel all met in the clearing – they were all exited and wanted to share their dreams…..they were amazed to discover that they had all dreamt the same thing, about losing Summer, about Lynx and the Ancestors and jumping up from the top of the Great Mountain to make a hole in the sky….but, none of them could remember what happened after that….maybe Lynx would be able to tell them, but, could they find her!?
….maybe she found out what they all have in their medicine bags……..but, she’s keeping that very close to her heart…….heh heh heh……..after all, when we see with the eyes of the heart, we touch all the world with a deeper knowing…….”
This carving in Green New Zealand Soapstone honours the spirit energy and quality that fills all things – the pneuma or breath of Life. Here she takes on singing feminine form, but, it was almost by accident that this came about – as she emerged, working with her brought a diverse array of challenges, responsibilities and gifts. Even in stillness the spirit moves…..and, sometimes, it speaks to us….
When I began shaping this sumptious stone, I simply had it in mind that there was a kind of flowing energy within it, both corporial and ethereal, but, as the work progressed I began to uncover elements of this energy that I could not have fore-seen.
At the outset the image that came up suggested a wind or water being – but I could also see a face, so that is where I began. As the shaping developed I was surprised to find a vein of white and gold quartz crystals emerging from within the matrix, manifesting a lightning streak across her face, one crystal in particular sitting magically within the pupil of her left eye (you can just see it in the pic) – she tested me with this, for, while this particular piece of soapstone is actually quite hard for its type, the quartz was much harder, and brought in a tension that slowed things down – the risk of making a mistake within the process increased significantly – one slip could change everything…..and slip I did!
Being a reductive process, there is no going back in carving and mistakes have to be capitalised upon – this can be a challenge, but, is often very helpful in finding the form that works best – its as though something intervenes, as if to say, “no mate, your going in the wrong direction – try this!”
Nevertheless, the carving of the quartz went well and, perhaps, thinking I had gotten past the challenge, the energy of the process began to build up again – thats when it happened! It was when I came to shape her mouth – the carving tool glanced off a hidden chip of quartz and, unintentionally on my part, her mouth opened – she ended up singing……..but, looking back, I am glad of this…..as it also became very clear that she wanted to be seen in this particular way – through her animated singing expression, her song, the rest of her began to come more into focus.
I’d checked the whole stone closely by this time for colouration that might reveal other hidden surprises. Her flowing energy became more visible and, appearing within the rippled and dappled colouring of the stone, became wind blown hair – within this there were other distinct shapes also visible, feathers on the one side and fingers on the other, and yet she seemed to have no body. This was intriguing. Around that time, I was also given a book on the Inuit carving traditions as part payment for a commission and as I fell under the spell of these wonderfull carvings I came across representations of shamans in spirit flight, bodyless, except for a hand, representing their humanity and sole (or soul) link to the physical worlds as they journey through the spirit realms. This was helpful, but, it was not quite right – I did not want to copy or re-interpret; this carving had an identity of its own. I did however find one carving that spoke louder than the rest – it showed Sedna, her long partly braided hair assuming flowing, rippling forms around her. There was something in this….
I knew of Sedna’s story, filled with a confrontational and difficult energy, tragedy arising from the clash between the young Sedna’s power of choice, paternal will and supernatural power. It is a strong story and there is much sadness in Sedna; having refused to bend to her father’s will in his choice of suitor he takes her out to sea, the supernatural intervenes and she not only becomes the victim of that confrontation, but, is exiled as a result – where have we heard that particular thread before?! However, in some tellings, hers is also a creation story – in the struggle to save herself, she looses her fingers and these become the Whale, Dolphin and Seal families. There is a radical give-away, an exchange at work in this – through it she becomes very powerful, assimilated into the oceanic worlds as a mistress of the sea creatures, protecting their spirits from exploitation. Sedna’s original right to choose her own soul path merges with the world of soul that the ocean represents, but, she looses the ability to use her hands in the process.
There is within many indigenous traditions the understanding that the spirits do not have thumbs! and are reliant upon us humans to work the physical – and while that may be our human power, theirs is in the inspirational and animating force that makes it possible for us to work creatively, through use our hands for example. Within indigenous wisdom it is a symbiotic relationship that requires us to feed the spirits so that they may fund our world with their nourishing and inspirational powers, that the world will remain animated. When we neglect this relationship the world falls into disarray and decay (look around!). The spirits and divinities seem to particularly like it when we make give-aways or offerings to them through our creativity. With Sedna this symbiosis with the spirit worlds also takes shape, but, she must be negotiated with, her hair combed and washed as an offering that is made in the hope that she will release the souls of the animals through the hunt – so that the people may live.
As Sedna’s story came alive in the Inuit carving many things seemed to be speaking together, to be in conversation with the emerging carving – but it was not her story itself, it was an essence within her story, that was coming through – her element is water; the carving continually spoke of the air – so, I decided to dig deeper. I felt that behind Sedna’s story as a creation myth there might be another layer and thats where I found Sila.
Amongst northern peoples of the arctic in particular, Sila has the power to shape the weather, the wind and the sky – along with other traditions, Inuit peoples have portrayed Sila as male, calling this spirit Silap Inua amongst other honorific names – however, Sila is also very ancient, considered formless. While Sedna is sometimes thought of as the daughter of the great spirit who created all Life, Sila is translated as ‘universal’, associated with the great spirit itself, animating all Life. But, the strongest scent came from the fact that Sila is found across the northern latitudes, in the Siberian as well as the northern Canadian and Greenland indigenous traditions. Sedna is considered more contemporary, allied with the animals that provide the Inuit with their primary food sources – Sila too is connected with the hunt, as well as the observance of the customs and rites between the people and the spirits, but, she embraces the animating spirit that fills all, on land, sea and in air – she appears to be an ancestor of Sedna. And like Sedna, Sila’s story has a shadow side too…..
Magical power is not to be toyed with, it demands respect and aquiring it has its risks and responsibilities – we can be very easily overcome by its ‘glamour’. It is one of the traditional dangers of ‘glamour’ that it can entice us into the vast interior of the wilds, perhaps never to be seen again – perhaps this shows a common expression of parental and communal fear, much the same as that associated with the magical enticement of the faerie realms, a place in which a different order of time exists from whose enchantment we may never return. The faerie realms spin their glamour around us continuously, and, for the most part remain hidden behind the appearance of things – once the veil is parted and we are touched by the ‘glamour’ our lives are never the same – Sedna herself has some of this quality – through hard won lessons in survival she is both mediator and protector of this power.
So too, for the shaman – amongst the Copper Inuit of the Northwest territories of Canada, Sila as ‘wind in-dweller’ has the tradition of empowering the shaman with the ability to shamanise on behalf of the community. For the initiate too the challenge is in the return – it is through transformation, burning off the old personality and complete inner re-structuring through initiation, that s/he can deliver the promise of the calling. If the ego or independant personal will are out of balance within, the use of that magical power becomes an issue and potential for ‘shadow’ to manifest remains….perhaps there is a lesson for us all in this.
The more I learned of Sila the more her qualities, the better her story seemed to fit….there was no attempt on my part to portray Sila, but, the story of Sedna and Sila had opened up a deeper resonance within the carving and, working with this, the whole form fell into place and the carving quickly came to completion.
I cannot help wondering how much the usurping of the divine feminine, of her rightful powers, is also present within Sila’s story. There was never any doubt in my mind that the spirit in the stone had a woman’s face and it felt wholly fitting to honour both Sedna and Sila through this….but, it was a difficult journey in many ways, intense, uncertain and mystifying.
Sila’s challenge is not only to pay attention to the calling of spirit – she also requires us to do our inner work and to maintain the balance we find through this, within our personal empowerment – Sila’s challenge also symbolises a return to the original unity of matter and spirit and she reminds us that we have to be willing to enter the wilderness, the wild raw nature of our unknowing, before we can reclaim something of our original state – it is perhaps no wonder that Sila is also regarded as the substance out of which soul is made!
Very soon after she was completed this carving found a new home, also through a chance encounter, but, thats a story for another time. As it happens I am about to embark on a new carving to celebrate this spirit – this time in wood. The piece is Ash wood from a tree that was first struck by lightning and subsequently blown down in a hurricane! I have a seat carved from the same tree – its actually very comfortable….but, I have it in mind to do something with this carving that I have not done before – to record the whole process of its making, and I hope to make this the subject of a future article at ‘owlmirror’……..we will see!
…..a certain magic brings us into the world, often forgotten and overlooked once we begin our adult years – but, it never dies – we only need to keep our hearts open to the messages and signs that it sends us, and Sila exemplifies this magic. Sometimes you may even hear her singing on the wind……