May 21


It is uncanny how a given population can swell so unnoticed that I find myself surprised by how many have come for this ritual. There are many more divine comics, a remarkable number of additional elders, all the previously absent Death Clan members, and others. My guess is that our initial handful has turned into hundreds.

A group of perhaps two dozen Greihound Prayer Runners have gathered too and clan elders have joined them. Once the ceremony is done the runners will be dispatched to all the villages, bringing each the details. Apparently it has been concluded that our people are officially dispersed throughout seven villages now due to the scission between the farming community and the traditional clans that moved farther to the north. Consequently runners will have to be sent to all seven.

The bards are looking their outrageous best. Many have come bedecked like the Shadow People that they emulate with various shades of green, black, and red skin. Some have extravagant claws, others sharp pointed teeth like fish. I can’t imagine how such transformations are even possible. There is a grove of tree spirits painted in such a way as to appear like the shadows of branches moving in the wind as they walk. And there is no possible way to ascertain how many of the women present are actually men. What I can say however is that everyone is dressed in ritual finery the likes of which I have never seen.

I see that our eight emissaries have gathered at the opening of the circle with several medicine people I don’t know. There is a stillness that ripples through the attending crowd; all eyes fall on the assembly of a handful. The two Old Ones are making prayers. Their words are so quiet I can only feel them. Few beyond this ancient age realize that preparation begins months and months before a ritual finally manifests. The ceremony began when we struck out for the Great Circle, six full weeks ahead of summer solstice and won’t conclude until after autumnal equinox. And those of us who will camp here for the summer are almost insignificant in number compared to the uncountable elsewhere preparing.

Everyone will be put to the task of readying inordinate amounts of food that will be hauled this way. Ceremonial clothing for thousands is being mended, beautified, or made from scratch. Every possible need must be anticipated for shelter against unknown weather. It is an incalculable effort when it is considered that thousands of people will be far from home in the fall.

And other provisions must be made for the villages themselves. There are elders and afflicted who can’t make the journey. Attendants must remain with them. Contingencies of men will stay behind to insure that fires remain stoked, fuel stands at a surplus, and unforeseen problems have individuals to meet them. It is simply an extraordinary amount of work for the entire tribe.

There will also be an extravagant number of councils called by village elders or those of clans and societies. It is the season of ultimate assessment, when every issue must be identified and given back to the Earth in the fall. Moondog and I will sorely miss Darkling Light who must attend all of them.

The prayers are done and the group moves slowly around the perimeter of the circle. They are deeply pensive and entirely purged of anxiety, placated by the ritual in the forest. As I understand it they will circumambulate the circle once for each of the eight divinations that will take place before entering and approaching the fire. While they remain at utter peace with their charge the rest of us, although absolutely silent, are in fact anticipatory and excited. Something truly amazing is about to take place. And although much of it will be inexplicable and mysterious to most, we know that what we stand to witness is rare and unprecedented. I can’t know what the others are thinking but I can surely speculate from my own thoughts. When I look at the Old Ones there is sense that they know that they will never see this again in the corporeal world. I see it in their eyes, both the sobriety of this truth and the privilege of having now witnessed three of these long cycles. They are incredibly rare individuals. And one cannot help but reflect on the infinite multitude that didn’t live to witness even one. By contemporary standards the death toll among our people is alarming, great numbers having succumbed to hardships such as starvation and exposure unknown to me although not, sadly, unknown to the modern world. The critical difference here is that everyone alive has been touched by these tragedies personally. More appalling still is the extraordinary loss of infants and young children to the same elements.

They have entered the circle and are approaching the fire. More whispered prayers are being offered. The energy has so concentered I can feel it in my head. I need to sit down and close my eyes for a moment but can’t and I find Longbow immediately behind me with his powerful arms wrapped around my waist. At first one might think our people are stoic but I think the reservoir is far deeper than that. It is an unknown depth of stamina that allows them to transcend their bodies’ responses to the genuine challenge of being without sleep, food, water, or even protection against the elements. Without help I couldn’t last a day in this circumstance. Perhaps it is the essentiality of a people who perceives their tribe as a living, breathing entity unto itself. The unified strength as a whole makes life possible for its many contributors.

The ceremony in the fall requires eight rounds, one for each of eight winds. Each round will take place from sunset to sunrise over the course of eight days. You might wonder why a ritual for the moon is based on the eight winds. It is because the wind conveys the blessing in all directions. Those who stay behind in the villages and the entire cosmos it is believed will be kept abreast of every subtlety that takes place. The staggering significance of releasing nearly two decades of accumulated illness, heartbreak, anger, and tragedy simply can not be described. Our people refuse to carry the burden of an old cycle into the promise held in a new one. It is the most consuming expression of collective death and rebirth that could be imagined. That is why the responsibility of eight rounds is placed in eight pairs of hands with unknown numbers standing in support rather than only one. Even with that it is frightening to consider that this immensity is burdened ultimately by only eight individuals.

I consider as well the interconnectedness of these seemingly unrelated groups. Every woman and man alive is forever bound to his or her mother’s clan. Countless individuals, especially men, become members of fraternities, some of which are clans, others societies, and still others finally into bardic tradition. Beyond the women’s tree clans, the mother clans, there are women’s societies and a miniscule seven become Twilight Women. An intrepid group of seven who are the twins to Death Clan dreamers are intrinsically tied to the bards as well, due to their association with lunar cycles. The significance of the groups present becomes evident, as does the awareness of how this event will ripple through the entire tribe. There are no secrets among our people. Not a single individual alive perceives himself as a satellite. Everything he thinks, breathes, and does is from the perspective of his people first before himself as an individual. The subjective thinking body is the tribe and individuality becomes objective. We haven’t perceived like that in many millennia and I would dare say that we have lost our ability to do so.

Within the larger circle a small ring has been created from white, quartz pebbles. Whenever these were collected, which could have been a hundred years ago or a thousand, they are perfect marbles, identical in shape, size, and shade. They have been polished somehow and have a sheen about them. I wonder who has safekept them and for how long, never lost or misplace. Perhaps there is a shrine in some unsuspecting lodge, maybe one of the Stone Society’s lodges that look merely like any other lodge in any given village. No matter how it is accomplished it is a profoundly ancient tradition of which I have no knowledge. Until this moment I wouldn’t have known to ask, having never seen them before. Similar thoughts come to me with the hunting ritual that takes place up in the gorge in winter. The artifacts placed on the altar are unimaginably old.

Darkling Light has knelt down at the pebble ring and pauses before releasing a handful of small, pale tokens. On each has been carved a symbol. Because I don’t know their meaning I can’t read them but Longbow explains it to me. He says that they are the signs of the northwest wind, the keeper of sacred songs. The tokens are revealing to Darkling Light the subtle details of what has to be address in the first round. Hidden in there are also the whispers of the plant spirits that stand with the northwest wind. The next seven tosses will reveal similar things pertinent to each round.

Rosebay drops an inscribed set of small snow rose rods that reveal the north wind’s secrets of sacred dance. The northeast wind and its breath of reeds are read by Old-Man-Beard-Lichen from an odd collection of woven lichen globes that appear absolutely the same to me. Hides-in-Holes is next dropping a bizarre conglomeration of gnarled old roots in behalf of the east wind. It is the fourth round that is tied to warrior journeys.

According to Longbow the fifth round is the hardest to endure because it opens the gate to the tragedy of truth. Fire Fox is tossing seeds for the southeast wind. Leaps-in-Light is next dropping pebbles for the south wind. This round is called the sacred marriage. Longbow whispers that it is somewhat erotic. The resurrection has been placed in the hands of Burning Grass. How perfectly appropriate. It is the southwest wind attributed with keeping the secrets of the immortality of blood. He is tossing blades of grass. The final round goes to Moondog, the celebratory bardic round on the night of the moon’s perigee, the night She comes home. He is tossing badger teeth, totally unexpected.

Of the larger support group that stands to bear witness I am the least capable of grasping what I have just been shown. I am fortunate to have Longbow to lean against for so many reasons. He insists that when the ritual finally unfolds I will understand in detail everything that seems to elude me at the moment. I can’t possibly know what he means.

Save for the feast this stage has been completed. Everyone who attended carried in a stunning amount of food. It is now spread out beautifully on beds of fresh brush and ferns. Stumps and logs have been borrowed from other camps so that there is no lack of seating for the Old Ones in attendance.

More astounding perhaps is how quickly people break camp and leave. Before sunset Darkling Light, Dancing Grass, Moondog and I will be standing here alone.  Not a single trace will be left to indicate that a multitude was here or anything in particular took place. Even the twelve warrior-hopefuls that are staying the summer have built themselves a bachelor camp back in the woods somewhere and I haven’t seen it yet. Dawn after tomorrow Darkling Light and Dancing Grass will leave on their journey. Moondog and I will be alone, for awhile.

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