For The Thoroughly Modern Shaman

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    Lightning Rattlesnake rode his horse slowly, leisurely down the trail that meanders past the base of Half Dome. The sun shone clear morning light onto the forest and into the great Ahwahnee Valley, spilling soft, cool radiance out of a pale blue sky. The wind blew a whispery rushing through the trees, a tenderly played undertone upon which the birds and the gurgling brooks painted their delicate melodies while the soft clop-clop-clop of hooves on the parched earth of the trail seemed to mark time.

    The Tahoe Conference had gone well, a week that had flowed smoothly and pleasantly by, one that seemed to end much too soon. He had taught a little and learned much; that always made him feel good. On the journey home the council of his thoughts would gather in his heart and get to know the new thoughts that had come to join them. Now, as he rode down the trail past Half Dome, his thoughts were filled with laughter and merriment, so much so that they tickled him and made him chuckle. A memory had stood up in his heart to dance:

    He had been sitting in on the Star Whispers Council and someone had mentioned the Great Council's proposal that would require all children to learn Anglish. Bison-on-Fire had stood up to offer his thoughts on the proposal. "Their words," he had said, "are made of farts, horse droppings hitting the trail, and bear claws scratching slate. Our words come from the prairie wind, the mountain streams, and the falling rain. If the palefaces want to come to our land and inhale our air, let them come, but let them also exhale our words. This would be a good thing for them. In order to learn our words, they must also learn our ways. Our words shall then blow through their hearts and cleanse them." He had sat down and the others sitting around the stone hearth had grunted in approval.

    Then, accompanied by the soft rattle and clatter of beads and other ornaments settling into new positions, Shadow-Points-at-the-Moon had stood up and sighed with pleasure. "Bison-on-Fire speaks words that blow through my heart like a spring breeze," she had said. "The words of the Anishinaabe are truly good medicine. But the council of my thoughts tells me that the fart-language of the Washichu fills their hearts with a sickness, one that makes them misbehave like naughty children and reject what is good. If we tell them that they must learn to speak in the Anishinaabe way, they will simply spit out our words. But if we teach our children the Anglish and say that our words are not for the Washichu, then the Washichu will become greedy for our words, as they become greedy for all precious and forbidden things, and they shall fill their hearts with our good medicine."

    That happy memory was still dancing in Lightning Rattlesnake's heart and tickling him when he rode into the north part of Ahwahnee Village and came to the corral. Leaving his horse in the care of a robot groom, he slung his saddlebags over his shoulder and walked to his lodge. His saddle and camping equipment would be brought to him later.

    Under the tall pines he came to the log-walled lodge that overlooked the river, one of many built under the trees from logs brought to the valley by the little iron donkey pulling its procession of wheelie travois on the railpath that came up the gorge at the valley's west end. The lodge was so laid out that it bent around the trees, occupying only the land between the trees out of respect for the homes the Great Spirit had grown for the squirrels and the birds. Lightning Rattlesnake walked up the steps to his lodge and greeted several of his small neighbors, who were perched on the porch railing. He lifted the lid of the postal bushel, saw that the bushel was half full of talking leaves, and dug the leaves out.

    There were many personal messages from family, friends, and colleagues. A handcount of monthly wampum callers were mixed among them. And there were the leaf bundles - there was "Playbrave - dreamquests for men" and "Popular Animism", there was "Scientific Anishinaabe", "The Ghost Dance Gazette", and - ah, yes - "Spirits Illustrated". It wasn't the annual, much-awaited fish-dance costume issue - that would come next moon - but it had an interesting cover story: "How the Lizard Giants Became the Birds".

He went into the lodge and dropped the mail onto the ledge under the window. Opening the "Spirits Illustrated", he slid the microfiche from its pocket on the inside of the back cover and fed it into the reader. He touched the "Read and Remember" patch, tossed the leaf bundle onto the carved granite block in front of his seat, and went to put the contents of his saddlebags into their rightful places. The reader tinkled and ejected the microfiche. Carrying a cup of tea, he sat down cross legged on his seat, opened the leaf bundle on the granite block to the title leaf, and read:

Spirits Illustrated

Harvest 196, Picking 5

12.19.3.13.4/5 Ahau 12 Zec

Leaves for the Editor

Lf 3

Conferences

Lf 6

On the Great Stonebones of the Lakota Roughlands - vision

by Orbital Ocelot

 

Lf 8

Climbing the Great Volcano of Mars - dance

by Talking-Drum-Blabs-Too-Much

 

Lf 19

Are Washichu One of the Great Spirit's Little Jokes? - song

by Plastic Porpoise (Floats on Water)

 

Lf 22

What Our Ancestors Learned When They Killed All of the Mammoths - song

by Smoky Meteor (Flies over the Mountains)

 

Lf 24

What the French philosophe Lamarck Has to Say About "Why the Bear Has No Tail" - council talk

by Plutonium Flashbang

 

Lf 28

How the Lizard Giants Became the Birds - story vision

by Too Curious Otter

 

Lf 37

Bred-in-Glass Bacteria Devour Oil Slick - dance (Old Style)

by Roadrunner Vexes Coyote

 

Lf 46

How Burning Coal Makes the Forest Sad - vision

by Drives-the-Iron-Bison

 

Lf 50

Forensic Techniques of the Echicaga Clown Society - council talk

by Pink Puma

 

Lf 56

    Lightning Rattlesnake turned to leaf 37 and tapped several patches on the reader to prompt the reader. Dipping his left hand into the pouch on his belt, he drew out a thick pinch of shredded tobacco and placed it into his right hand. He curled his fingers around the offering and extended his right thumb in the gesture of electromagnetic propagation, then circled that symbol of light over the text before him as he prayed to the Great Spirit to guide him in reading the text in accordance with the author's vision. Finally he sifted the tobacco into the autocenser on top of the reader, tapped the "Sing to Me" patch, and, as the sound of distant drums came from the reader, began to read:

How the Lizard Giants Became the Birds

a vision received by

Too Curious Otter

    (Thunder drums rumbled softly and flutes squealed the Creation theme). When the world was new, before the mountains were wrinkled like old men and old women sitting in council; when the world was new, before sadness washed from the world had made the oceans taste like tears; when the world was still young, the Creator made the plants and the trees to clothe the bare Earth. Like a blanket the grass covered the plains; like a robe the trees covered the mountains. Then the Creator made homes for the various spirits. It made the insects and It made the fish. It made the little furry ones and It made the Lizard Giants. The Creator made them all.

    For many summers the Lizard Giants walked upon the Earth (tom-toms thumped a regal rhythm), for as many summers as it takes mountains to be born, grow old, and die, for that many summers the Lizard Giants walked upon the Earth. In all that time the little furry ones were afraid. They were afraid because the Lizard Giants did not watch where they walked. The Lizard Giants were careless when they walked upon the Earth and sometimes they would step on the homes of the little furry ones. The little furry ones had to scurry to get out of the way lest the Lizard Giants step on them too.

    One day the little furry ones were sitting in council. They were talking about how they were afraid of the Lizard Giants and one of them said, "We are tired now. Because of the Lizard Giants we carry fear in our hearts. It is heavy and we are tired now. We want to put the fear down and not carry it any more. It is too heavy and we do not want to carry it any more." All of the little furry ones spoke words of agreement. All of them said, "We do not want to carry this fear in our hearts any more again forever." The great chief of the little furry ones listened to all that his people had to say and then he went to the Creator.

    He climbed the highest mountain. He climbed to the top, to where the Creator had put Its tipi. He stood outside the Creator's white-as-snow tipi and said, "Someone wants to talk with the Creator." A voice came out of the tipi and invited the great chief of the little furry ones to come inside. When he was inside the Creator's tipi, the great chief of the little furry ones saw the Creator sitting around the hearth and he sat down. He saw an old man whose skin was blue and whose clothes were clouds; he saw an old woman whose skin was black and whose clothes were stars; he saw a young man who shone like the sun; he saw a young woman who shone like the moon: these were all the Creator sitting in council with Itself.

    The great chief of the little furry ones spoke up and said, "O, Great Spirit, my people, the little furry ones, have lived for many summers among the Lizard Giants and for all of those summers we have been afraid that the Lizard Giants might step on us as they sometimes step on our homes. The fear is heavy in our hearts and we are tired of carrying it. We are looking for a land where we do not have to carry fear in our hearts all of the time. We are looking for a land where we do not have to carry fear in our hearts all of the time. We are looking for a land whither we might go and whither the Lizard Giants do not go. If we could find a good land like this, we would go thither and it would be good for us."

    The Creator grunted and spoke up. (Rattles chattered over thunder rolling off the tympani). "Creating a world is a difficult thing," the old man said. "There are many things I did not foresee," the old woman said. "It is a sad thing when any creature must carry fear in its heart all of the time," the young man said. "Sadness has already made the oceans taste too much like tears," the young woman said. "I must think about what to do," all four said.

    Now the Lizard Giants had heard about the little furry ones, about how they sat in council and sent their great chief to talk to the Creator. Now the Lizard Giants came together and sat in council. They were talking about how they were angry at the little furry ones and one of them said, "Let us trample the little furry ones. Let us punish them because they do not want to be afraid of us." All of the Lizard Giants spoke words of agreement, all except the family of the great chief. All of the Lizard Giants, except the family of the great chief, said, "We want the little furry ones to fear us so that all will know that we are the superior ones." The great chief of the Lizard Giants listened to all that her people had to say and then she went to the Creator.

    She climbed the highest mountain. She climbed to the top, to where the Creator had put Its tipi. She stood outside the Creator's white-as-snow tipi and said, "Someone wants to talk with the Creator." A voice came out of the tipi and invited the great chief of the Lizard Giants to come inside. When she went inside, she saw the Creator sitting around the hearth and she sat down.

    She spoke up and said, "When my thoughts were sitting in council in my heart, I danced the little furry ones dance and I felt the weight of the fear that they must carry in their hearts. It is a sad thing when any creature must carry such a heavy burden all of the time. We do not mean to put fear into the little furry ones. We are careless. It is hard for us to see where we walk."

    The Creator grunted and spoke up. "I have heard that the Lizard Giants are angry at the little furry ones," the old man said. "I have heard that the Lizard Giants want to trample the little furry ones," the old woman said. "I have heard that the Lizard Giants want to punish the little furry ones because the little furry ones do not want to be afraid any more again forever," the young man said. "I have heard that the Lizard Giants believe that frightening the little furry ones shows that they are the superior ones," the young woman said. "I do not know why I have heard these things," all four said.

    "I have also heard these things," the great chief of the Lizard Giants said. "My people have said them because they are afraid. They remember a promise that was made. The promise said that the Lizard Giants shall always and forever be able to look down on all of the other creatures on the Earth. My people are afraid that the promise will be broken in order to make the medicine that takes the fear forever out of the furry little ones' hearts. My family and I do not share that fear. We believe that the Creator has many paths that It can follow, many more paths than we can ever know. We believe that the Creator will find a good path to follow."

    The Creator grunted and spoke up. "The little furry ones did not ask that I break the promise that I made to the Lizard Giants," the old man said. "They ask only that the heavy fear be removed from their hearts," the old woman said. "They wish to remain on the peacepath, even if it is difficult," the young man said. "They did not ask to look down on anyone," the young woman said. "I know what I must do," all four said.

    The Creator turned the great chief of the Lizard Giants and all of her family into birds. "Now you will not be a danger to the little furry ones when you walk upon the Earth," the Creator told them. "And now you can float on the sky and still be able to look down on all of my creatures." The birds all thanked the Creator for Its kindness.

    Then the Creator drew Its great bow and shot a fiery arrow at the Earth. The fiery arrow struck the Earth and made smoke cover the whole Earth. All of the land and all of the oceans was hidden from the sun. The whole Earth grew cold and the plants stopped growing. The Lizard Giants, who were trampling the little furry ones all died, all except the ones who had not yet had time to find little furry ones to trample. Those few were saved by the Creator and made to shrink until they became alligators, small lizards, snakes, and turtles. The alligators, small lizards, snakes, and turtles all thanked the Creator for Its mercy.

    When the smoke blew away from the Earth and the Earth was clean again, then the Creator made the little furry ones grow up into new animals - the antelope and the deer, the bear and the wolf, the bison and the wapiti, the coyote and the raccoon, the puma and all of the others. "Now it is your turn to rule the Earth," the Creator told them. And all of the furry animals thanked the Creator for Its generosity.

    Finally the Creator sat in council with Itself and said, "I did not know that the little furry ones were suffering such misery. I did not know all of the bad things that were happening in the world." So It took one of the new animals, the monkey from the forest, and made it stand up straight. It took away the monkey's fur so that the monkey would have to wear clothes and live in houses. Then It made the monkey's teeth and claws small and weak so that the monkey would have to use weapons and tools to get food. And then It put little pieces of Its own spirit into the monkey so that the monkey would watch over the world and make sure that no one suffered too much misery.

    That's how the Creator turned the Lizard Giants into the birds. That's how the Creator came to make all of the animals of our world. That's how the Creator came to make men and women. That's how it is with the world. (Paradiddle! Paradiddle! Bop! Bam! Boom!).

.....

    Lightning Rattlesnake gazed out the window, gazed out over the river flowing smoothly past the trees and through a meadow, and listened to the council of his thoughts. The story had danced well in his heart and his thoughts judged it to be good and true. It would be accepted into that ghost council. The ghost of his grandmother, Copper Owl (Flies to the Stars) of the Animal-Talk Society, rose up in his heart to welcome the story and he was glad.

    But like so many of the new thoughts that had danced in his heart recently, this one seemed to have no ancestors. That fact did not make it a bad thought, but it was strange. Too Curious Otter had not mentioned any of the old stories in the telling of his new one, which meant that the spirits who gave him the vision had not bred it from any stories of this world. As he had done many times before, Lightning Rattlesnake picked up his drum, tapped it rhythmically with its striker, and sang his song, "I Wonder Whether The Spirits Are Sending Us Visions of Their Own World or of Another World Like Ours." He hoped that one day he would receive a vision that would tell him how it is with the world.

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