Clans and Societies

(An excerpt from Ancestral Airs: The Seedbearers)

I am Moondog, Clan Greihound and kin to the Twilight Women. I am a Prayer Runner and the Twin Dreamer for my clan. I have traveled the spiral, the Infinite Present and have seen the passing of our people. Born of the Ancient Ones and destroyed at the hands of strangers, I proclaim the rebirth of my kind somewhere along the whirling arm of Forever Now. I am your progenitor and this is the story of the Human Beings.

The people were a paronym of the Earth Mother and our day began at sunset. We lived our lives by two calendars, the women observing the moon and the men the sun. The Twilight Women every 37th moon and the Bards every 19th year put to rest the irreconcilable differences in the disparaging cycles when the moon returned to the beginning of its journey.

Each of the lunar and solar months was marked with wooden posts or stones on the great wheel in the meadowlands and named for a clan. The nineteen years were called by the epithets of the elemental societies.

I'm not permitted to speak of women's secrets but I understood their position on the calendar. Eighteen women's clans named for the species from which they had descended, honored their moon twice during each three-year cycle. The leagues of Clan Female were called Oak, Holly, Birch, Pine, Apple, Hawthorn, Willow, Dogwood, Bearberry, Ash, Poplar, Blackthorn, Currant, Linden, Elm, Maple, Alder and Hazelnut.

There were nine societies of women as well. Some took care of the forests in Old Granite Range and the Chalky Mountains. Others guarded the wisdom of the heaths and grasslands or handled the medicine from bogs and moors or the fens and marshy meadows. Included in their care were the springs, streams and rivers, the great salt marshes, and the vast ocean. All of these bands knew by heart the lotions, potions, teas and decoctions rendered from the species unique to each of those habitats. Many of their prayers were made in the steam of their sweathouses.

The women of the moon and stars read the signs needed for rituals. No journey to any world could commence until they had divined their consent.

The other women's societies saturated every day things with magic. Baskets, tanning, weaving, pottery and gathering brought comfort to our lives daily with food, clothing, and vessels. Every woman in our tribe knew how to manage their skills beautifully and the societies handled the spirits of that medicine for ceremonies.

It was understood that earth and water and therefore the plant kingdom composed the world of women's medicine. A woman had only loaned any plant handled by a man to him. Medicine men endured long apprenticeships with women for the privilege of that knowledge and it could be stripped from them if he neglected or misused it.

But most importantly was the appreciation that men and women were wholly interwoven. The women of the grasslands, the mountains and the marshy meadows studied with the men who took care of the sun or the clouds. The astronomers of Clan Male apprenticed with the moon and stars. As vitally divided as male and female medicine had become each was dependent on the wisdom taken care of by the other.

The solar annum was divided into twelve months and each was honored by a particular sect of men. They were recognized as the clans of Turtle, Moose, Antelope, Roebuck, Beaver, Sheep, Dog, Elk, Bison, Wildcat, Otter, and Salmon.

Twelve additional facets further divided the world of men's medicine. The seedbearers who took care of the summer season emulated the Ram, Hare, Stag, Boar, Bear and Bull. They were eminent clans, great in number and impressively virile.

The Death Clans of Raven, Lynx, Owl, Badger, Eagle and Wolf were old clans. Once boasting many members they had dwindled to few in numbers. Their prayers protected the people during the Winter Wait with ceremonies that were as formidable as the elements to which they sacrificed.

Animal clans were not difficult to understand. They lived, ate, hunted, sired, prayed and died according to the dictates of their animal ancestors. Every part of an animal held a secret teaching. Skins, bones, organs, teeth, hooves and antlers had been given to our people for food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Rituals were born out of the intimate knowledge of these things. Spirit Handlers dressed in their relatives' skins and antlers, and prophesied from their bones or made them into whistles. They wore their claws and teeth, and sang with hoof rattles. From the organs came medicine bags and divination. An animal's hide was tanned with its own brain, kidney or liver. A creature could be watched and the observer could learn the workings of the world by how an animal moved or in what direction. The flick of an ear held inestimable wisdom or that of a tail might hold the privity of Creation.

When our Ancestors stepped out of the ice with their dogs they followed the herds back and forth across what was once a vast land. The creatures that they hunted and those great predators that hunted them as well taught men how to live with strength and confidence. Nine elemental societies of men remembered the ancient knowledge.

Spirit Fletchers took care of bows, arrows, spears, knives, and fishing gear. Each weapon could be enchanted with the magic needed for powerful hunts and safe returns. If the medicine became tired Spirit Fletchers knew how to re-empower it. They blessed the hunters, their arms, and doctored their dogs. Yew was given to them for their badge.

The Stone Society handled the spirits that would be reborn into points, axes and blades. They could doctor with crystals and powdered minerals, and carried the glowing, red rocks into the women's sweathouses.

The Sun Society took care of the four seasons distinguished by the four directions. Every village, home and lodge was set to those markers. They understood all the signs and could predict and interpret everything from forthcoming weather to eclipses. They set the dates for the men's ceremonies including the Showoff Dance.

The men of the sun worked their magic alongside the Society of Clouds. They divined from the events that took place between the sun and Earth Mother. Every cloud contained a message that could be delivered to the people by rain or snow, or the lack of it. Mist, wind, thunder and lightning were harbingers as well. The Society of Clouds could read each of these secrets and knew every possible response to them.

The Rainbow Society had the wisdom of changing ordinary things into rich, ceremonial expression. They knew the pigments and how to prepare them. This was powerful transformation medicine. Some were employed to color arrows for spirit hunts, others went to face and body-paint so men could step into the world of their ancestors and be recognized by them. Colorants imbued hides, drums, flutes and rattles with certain spirits that would help the practitioners achieve their purposes. But the most formidable Rainbow knowledge was that of the species whose charcoal was used for tattooing. Each had a unique application. All of the men's clans displayed sacred signs, some extensively, as did some of the women's clans. Tattoos were records of journeys, badges of affiliation and accomplishment, and the intimate histories of lives. This was true of scarifying as well.

No ceremony could succeed without the help of songs kept vigorous and strong by the instruments that accompanied them. The Drum Makers, whose badge was juniper, knew every suitable species, plant or animal, for any drum, drumstick or rattle appropriate to any possible ritual.

The Flutemakers brought us flutes and whistles from a pallet as impressive as that of the Drum. Their badge was the elder. They could make instruments for calling game or spirits, and knew the secrets of pitch. When placed in whistles of bone or wood it could modulate the sounds sweet to the Ancestors. Flutemakers would fashion wood chimes that were good medicine for new lovers. Astoundingly they had isolated hundreds of tones for doctoring and had a whistle for each of them. Different bundles could be combined and the practitioners could play a divination or a remedy. Each note was further identified with a particular plant. Spirit Handlers from other groups used these tubes as prayer sticks and containers for their medicine. They were often painted up and dressed with plumes and other beautiful things.

I think there were as many varieties of fires as there were plants springing from the Earth and there existed a male society who knew them all. They understood the fires for cooking and warmth, and took care of the perpetual fires that burned in every village. The Fire Society kept the secrets needed to select the wood and manage its burn for every ceremony. They took care of all the smudging herbs that blessed and protected the people, their homes, and their weapons. This sect of Spirit Handlers knew all the varieties of sacred smoke that could purify or cure, and the invocations that went with them.

The last elemental society of the men was the Greihound Prayer Runners, my clan. We carried messages from one faction to another. Older runners became escorts for the shades of death, and elders shot the void to bring back answers for the people. Clan Greihound was the only elemental society regarded as a Death Clan as well.