THE LAST SHAMAN
LAZY RIDER AND NAVAJO
Ravenhawk looked around the clearing as Liam's small group left with a roar of engines. As he stood and watched the new visitors begin checking their meagre belongings for their departure next day; he first heard, and then saw a pair of black Ravens diving towards where he stood; it was another sign from his old Clan Totem as well as his Grandfather.
There was little doubt now that he had to take action; to this end he called for Robert to join him. When Robert stood beside him, Ravenhawk began to outline what he needed; it was time to go to the sweat lodge and ask for guidance.
This was not to be a traditional sweat but to ask the Ancestors for their protection and guidance in the days to come. He would also have to send prayers to the four directions and the guardians that stood watch under the desires of The Creator.
After Robert left Ravenhawk to get everything ready as he had been asked; Ravenhawk then walked away to the cabin, he had much to prepare for the upcoming twenty four hours. Robert was going to see to the wood needed for the sacred fire; as he prepared to go for the wood, Lazy Rider appeared and asked him what he was doing? Robert told him about Ravenhawk's need to go to the sweat lodge; Lazy Rider immediately asked to help with the fire keeping.
After some discussion; Robert understood that Lazy Rider was quite familiar with the working of a Fire Keeper and was willing to work with him in watching over the ceremony for the next twenty four hours.
Being a small community, it did not take long for word to spread that Ravenhawk was going to be in the sweat lodge and then leave for a vision quest. There was suddenly a lot more activity around the clearing; everyone wanted to help in some small way.
For the next twenty four hours, Ravenhawk would only be allowed to have water. If there was an occasion that he had to leave the sweat lodge to relieve himself, no one was to speak to him. During the twenty four hours, Ravenhawk was to send prayers to Creator as well as the four directions. Once that was completed, he would then begin the prayers for the ancestors which would be represented by the hot stones in the sacred circle inside the sweat lodge.
It was a few hours before midday when Ravenhawk appeared from the main cabin; he was wearing his breech cloth, long moccasins and carried his well worn medicine bag. From the top of the bag could be seen the stems of a bundle of fresh dried wild tobacco leaves; there was also the rough stems of a bundle of ghost sage.
Ravenhawk remembered that this was his last bundle of ghost sage, either he or one of the others would soon have to go to the high mesa in search of more. Ghost sage was far too important in all ceremonies to be without it
In his left hand, Ravenhawk also carried his calumet, although it was covered by the hide pouch that was its normal way of being transported. Ravenhawk wore no feathers and only his beads were worn as any form of decoration. It was plain to see that this time it was even more serious than at any other time.
Ravenhawk stepped into the sacred circle where he saw both Robert and Lazy Rider tending the fire and the ancestor stones. Ravenhawk said his first prayer to Wakan Tanka as he stood by the sacred fire. His next move was to go to the small alter to greet the ancestors before he ducked and entered the sweat lodge.
After first checking to see the sweat lodge was properly clean and the fire pit was ready, Ravenhawk signalled for the first of the ancestor stones to be brought to the doorway of the lodge; as Lazy Rider carried each stone to the door, Ravenhawk would lift the deer antlers that held the stones and carefully place the hot stone into the centre of the fire pit as he said a welcome prayer to each one.
When there were enough stones to warm the lodge, Ravenhawk indicated a halt to Lazy Rider bringing more until he signalled for them. When this was done; Ravenhawk first poured water over the new stones and then began the song of Pipe Lighting; in this way he would be able to welcome all the guardians and acknowledge the four directions.
As was normal, Ravenhawk sat at the Western Direction just inside the small doorway; this allowed him to make the first offering and prayers to his left, which was the North Direction and the one that all Raven Clan people would start their prayers with.
From this first offering of prayers, tobacco and ghost sage; Ravenhawk worked in a clockwise direction so that the circle was opened. When the time came to finish his sweat and leave the lodge, he would send his thanks in the opposite direction so that the circle was closed safely.
Over the next few hours, Ravenhawk made prayers to the four guardians and sang the songs to, and about the ancestors; when the stones lost some of their heat he would place the new hot ones over them so that all the Ancestors stayed to hear his prayers. Outside the doorway Lazy Rider would place new hot ones as Ravenhawk required them. Each time new stones were placed in the sacred fire pit, Ravenhawk would say prayers over them using either ghost sage or tobacco; sometimes even using both, he would then return to singing songs about their lives.
Twice during the night Ravenhawk left the lodge to empty his bladder. Regardless of the people around at that hour everyone seemed to know not to speak to him; Robert had put the word out. The second time Ravenhawk went out, he saw on the stoop of the cabin; Antonio with Little Bear wrapped tightly in a blanket in his arms, both of them were asleep but it made him feel good that they would sit out and wait for him.
As the night progressed, Ravenhawk's songs would sometimes echo in the stillness. When there was a particular song that Robert recognised, he would take up his new large spirit drum and accompany Ravenhawk's song with the very old but familiar beats.
The night passed in prayer and deep thought. Ravenhawk was looking for the rightness of any decision he would make; he was positive that his Grandfather had sent the Raven he first saw in the woods. For Ravenhawk it was a sign of the old Medicine Elders spiritual agreement that Ravenhawk should take up the mantle that had been offered to him.
For Ravenhawk it was not as easy as the others might assume. If he returned from the vision quest with the visions given to him, he did not have an Elder to go and ask for the interpretations of that vision. This again created a problem. If Ravenhawk was to dare to interpret his own dreams, would he be favouring his own desires? Or perhaps even going against what he was meant to do by making the wrong interpretation.
Even with the little knowledge he had been given by his Grandfather, there was still much he did not know and nowadays there was no one to show him the way. So much filled his thoughts as he sat in the sweat lodge. There was however one undeniable fact; he had to do the vision quest and believe in what he was given by Wakan Tanka and the spirits of his ancestors when and if the vision arrived.
It was almost time for him to leave the sweat lodge. The sun was high in the sky and his mind had been made up; for the next hour he worked on closing the sacred circle and thanking the guardians and ancestors for their help. At least now he had a certain direction to follow.
For the rest of the day he would join the others in a feast and celebration, the next morning he would leave on his own to find a place to wait for his vision.
After the closing of the lodge and the sacred fire outside; Ravenhawk left the circle after thanking the dedication of Lazy Rider and Robert, he then presented them with a leaf of cured tobacco as it was the traditional gift for their help. Next he went to the cabin and held Antonio tightly with one arm while doing the same to Little Bear with the other, both were happy to see him even though he looked tired and hungry.
Ravenhawk followed the two new family members into the cabin. Once inside he stripped off and went to shower and have something to drink; he knew Consuela along with Samuel, was working hard in the kitchen to prepare a great feast for him. It was a day when no one wanted to work; even the three teens from the newly burgeoning farm were at the clearing.
Ravenhawk did notice that Silas had led his small band away some time during the morning while Ravenhawk was still inside the sweat lodge; he hoped they would see the man and his young friends again.
The celebration started about two hours after Ravenhawk had exited the lodge. They continued on into the late evening, it appeared no one wanted the celebrations to end. Even the very young ones like Maria, Gorge and Little Bear, seemed to have energy to spare as they ran about.
Lazy Rider and Navajo were convinced to tell their story as well as others telling them of events and happenings that they had been through.
It was close to midnight when Ravenhawk said he would have to sleep. He would have to leave on his quest at first light and would need his rest for the journey ahead; both physically and spiritually. Slowly the celebration wound down as people began to think about their own beds.
Even though Ravenhawk was up before the sun rose; Antonio and Little Bear were up even earlier. Ravenhawk was taking almost nothing with him for the vision quest; there would not be need for much.
When he came out of the bedroom dressed just in his breech cloth and long leggings, he saw Antonio standing in the main room holding his medicine bag; beside him stood Little Bear with Ravenhawk's bow and a quiver of sharp hunting arrows; also in Little Bears hands was a new necklace.
By all the rules that Ravenhawk knew, the necklace should not be worn before it had passed through the four sweats and offered up to the ancestors. For some reason, Little Bear thought to offer it to him now; Ravenhawk shook his head, there were rules to follow for such a powerful gift.
Little Bear smiled as he saw Ravenhawk refuse the offered gift. Ravenhawk suddenly wondered if it had been offered by such a special person to see if Ravenhawk would break the rules of tradition; by the smile on Little Bears face he had made the right choice. How Little Bear knew to make the offer was beyond Ravenhawk's desire to know.
Ravenhawk gathered his few possessions and silently went to the door. It did not surprise him to see his Pinto waiting for him; the Appaloosa was nearby but did not seem ready to leave with the pair.
Ravenhawk smiled back at Antonio once more then leapt up on the Pinto. As he was about to tell the horse to go; Joseph walked up and looked at him.
"If one was going on a vision quest, it might be better for him to ride east. I have seen a place where one could watch the lands and feel the spirits."
Ravenhawk nodded his understanding and without further delay urged the small Pinto to the east. It would be up through the woods for a while and then he would have to climb a far ridge; after that he did not know what he would see, the ridge line was as far as he had been in this direction.
Ravenhawk rode for nearly an hour before he topped the far ridge line; below him he saw a vast expanse of open prairie. In the distance he could just make out the misty outline of a single butte standing alone; it was towards this far off mark that he set his course.
It was mid afternoon by the time he came close to the huge stand alone butte. Its rugged sides towering above him and around the base were jumbled piles of fallen rocks and stones interspersed with tough small bushes and sparse brown grasses. There was little here that would make someone welcome and yet: Ravenhawk knew this was the place for his vision quest.
Ravenhawk rode around the base following its contours. He had not eaten all day and only taken a few sips of water. As he came to the eastern side of the butte; about one hour after finding it, he saw a place that felt right.
Ravenhawk looked closer, it was a short climb to the overhang and just along from where he sat was a small dribble of water coming from the rocks; it would be enough for his horse while he was having his vision quest.
Ravenhawk made a small sling for his bow and quiver, he fitted it snugly on the Pinto and took his medicine bag with him as he started the short climb to the place he had selected.
It took only twenty minutes to make the short climb. As he looked around he was pleased to see that he had a wide field of vision from the small overhang in the dry dust of the small flat area he had selected. He saw enough small stones to make his circle; there were enough small rough dry bushes for him to make a small fire so he could send his prayers and thanks to Creator and the ancestors. Once he was fully into his vision state, he would not be able to watch over the small fire but it also would not be needed then.
Ravenhawk set about readying his place of vision; the circle of stones were placed with prayers and the small fire circle followed quickly. Once the circle had been blessed with tobacco and ghost sage; Ravenhawk laid aside his medicine bag and took his place sitting cross legged so he could see out over the wide vista before him.
He was lucky to have found this place as his face would greet the sunrise each day; for Ravenhawk it was a good omen. He settled down to wait for the ancestral spirits to find him and answer his questions if they thought he was fit enough to receive them.
Ravenhawk took from his bag the small spirit flute. He would play this to awaken the spirits to his presence. Ravenhawk played on through the hot hours of the day and into the first greyness of dusk.
The first of the night time darkness crept over the vista before him. Ravenhawk continued to sing the songs and play the spirit flute to the Earth Mother, Sky Father and all of the Guardians and Ancestors as he sat and waited. It was late into the night before he heard the first yipping sound which was soon followed by a high pitched howl; the sound was far off and to his front.
Some little time passed before a second yipping started off to his right; not long after that a third joined in the chorus. The Coyote were calling; within an hour it was as though the Coyote were all over the wild land below him. It was like a thousand voices talking to the spirits and Ravenhawk felt satisfied; he had chosen his place well and was now a little more confident that this was his place of visions.
During the full darkness, the Coyote called and counter called; the wide open plains below him seemed to teem with the small animals. Ravenhawk answered them with the song of the spirit flute. As the sun rose for his first day of the quest; the Coyote slowly disappeared. When the sun was high all he saw were the normal animals going about their business; Ravenhawk continued with his many songs and prayers as the sun rose higher.
After the first three hours, Ravenhawk's little place was out of the sun and he sat immobile in the shade of the overhang; the first stirring of need for water and food was pushed aside as he continued to pray, sing and make music with the small flute.
It was late in the afternoon before he spied his next sign of acceptance. High above and far out over the prairie he saw the faint black figure of an Eagle as it circled in a clockwise direction high up on the thermals; it did not approached his place but he liked that he saw, it meant that as normal; Creator was always close.
The second night of the quest started much like before. As it got darker and darker and the land below him grew silent; there seemed to be a faint whisper in the air. It was not like any animal he had ever heard and, as he listened; it became more like faint voices whispering to him with different dialects.
Ravenhawk sat and waited. While he knew the basics of a vision quest, this one was not like the first one he had taken while under the eyes of his Grandfather. This time he had no one to help if things went wrong. Ravenhawk sat, watched and waited; slowly the whispers got a little louder and clearer. Occasionally he would understand a word here or there; these were the first presentation of his ancestor's spirits.
Ravenhawk sat and listened, it was not his place to speak while the ancestral spirits were talking. Hunger and thirst were no longer a part of him; only his need for council drove him to sit and wait. If he was to be whom the others wanted him to be then he would have to show patience and wisdom.
Antonio stirred in his sleep; like last night his sleep was broken and disturbed. It was the first time he had gone to sleep without the warm body of his warrior beside him. In the very early hours of the morning, Antonio thought he heard a faint noise; thinking it was nothing but his own need for sleep, he turned over and returned to the land of nod.
It was not until everyone was leaving after breakfast that Antonio realised something was not right. Looking around he tried to put his finger on what was missing. Suddenly he gasped loudly. Where Was Little Bear?
Antonio looked everywhere; the little boy's room was empty, at first he could see nothing wrong. Running outside he began to ask if anyone had seen the small boy; no one had. Finally it then dawned on everyone that Little Bear had not been at breakfast, something that would never happen if there was food in the offering.
For the next hour, everyone searched high and low for Little Bear; by mid morning there had been no sight or sound of him. Antonio began to panic; what had happened to the little boy? Finally it was Joseph that came up with an answer.
"You all stay here in case he comes back; I'll go and look for him, if he has left a trail I'll find it."
Joseph ran off to get his rifle and a small bag of food and a flask of water; he doubted the little boy could go far in the short time since he had left. At most the boy was only five or six hours away and with his shorter legs that would not be all that far. Joseph set out to circumnavigate the clearing in search for any sign of the boys trail. It took him nearly a half hour before he saw the faint small foot print in a patch of long grass inside the trees.
Joseph set out to follow the faint sign; it was heading in a westerly direction so it was evident the little boy was not trying to find his Poppa. Joseph kept his eyes on the ground as well as watching for any disturbed branches on any bush. There was not a lot to go on but he also relied on his innate instincts; Joseph was in tracking mode.
Ravenhawk had no idea how long he had been in his place except that the sun rose and the voices disappeared into silence. The daylight continued until it grew closer to his third night. As the darkness surrounded him the voices returned but this time they were stronger; Ravenhawk sat and listened.
All through that third night the voices grew in strength; he was now able to hear them better and their stories of the past began to fill his mind. Battles long gone were fought, won or lost, victories were celebrated and losses were paid for in the blood of the young warriors.
All night and right through the following daylight; the spirits regaled Ravenhawk with the past. Sometimes they would sing old songs that today were never heard; other times they would tell him secrets that others thought long buried. Of them all, the most disturbing was the picture he got of each spirit that rose from the horrors of the Trail of Tears.
As the fourth night came upon him; the spirits began to take their leave. They did not disappear altogether but instead seemed to just fade into the background as another stronger spirit took their place.
The new spirit need no introduction for Ravenhawk. Although the spirit was that of a young man; Ravenhawk could never mistake his Grandfather. There were others with him. To his Grandfathers right stood his uncles as well as his Father; all were younger and smiled widely at him. To his Grandfather's left were faces of spirits he did not recognise, not until he saw their stature and form of dress; those on the left were his Apache ancestors. He then saw the spirit of his Mother standing with them.
Ravenhawk felt his own spirit lift from his body as he sat and watched in one body, he saw his spirit body walk to his Grandfather and hug him tightly. It was an unerring feeling to be in two places at the same time and be able to watch both.
As the many spirits of his Ancestors circled around him, Ravenhawk began to feel a comfort that had not been there for some time. It was not long before they began to give him advice; it was his Grandfather that started first.
"You have lived by the old ways and yet, been able to make a new home in these new times; I am pleased with your efforts. You come to us to ask our help, what is it you need us for?"
"Grandfather, the people that have gathered around me have asked me to lead them as a Chief. I have my doubts that I am the one to lead them as I am too young and do not have the wisdom."
"Grandson, there are many kinds of wisdom. Is it wisdom to fight those who are different, or is it wisdom to offer a hand in peace? Both are right and both are wrong. When the time comes for you to decide which is which, then you will have wisdom. There is one way however to gain wisdom."
"Tell me Grandfather as I have no way to learn now that you have all left me for the spirit world?"
"Over the centuries there have been many great chiefs, some were fine war chiefs, others were great peace keepers however, none of them had wisdom to stop the white man from taking what was not theirs. Did this make them unwise? No, it only showed the greed of the white eyes. This did not mean they did not have wisdom enough to lead; it is the same for you. If you do not feel you have wisdom then why not ask those who have to join you as council. It is not said that a wise one cannot have others to council him."
Ravenhawk thought over the words he had heard; while it seemed and easy answer, there was then the problem of knowing who would be best in those roles.
"Grandfather, how would I know who would be good council?"
"Just look at your people of the new Clan, you have one who is older and very wise in many things; he should sit on your right hand. On the right hand of the old wise one should sit a warrior who can provide for all. On your left hand should sit a peace maker, there is one who's Ancestors have always lived with peace in their hearts and only gone to war as a last resort. On the left hand of your peace keeper should sit the one who is the balance for all; a boy of two spirits that can calm others."
Ravenhawk thought over the descriptions. As he thought about them he had little trouble in seeing who each one should be, as he was about to answer his Grandfathers spirit, the old man spoke again.
"There is one more, he will not be part of the council but he must be taught everything that it is to eventually be an Elder. He is the small one with the mark of the bear. Creator has marked him for great things, your tribe must protect him under any circumstances. Now my Grandson, it is time for you to call Creator and thank him for our time. You have no Elder to call upon so we have told you directly what must be done. Form your council with those you now know; there are many more people to come and you must be ready, your place is at the head of the council fire."
Ravenhawk could feel tears on his cheeks as the Ancestral spirits began to fade and he returned to his waiting body. For his final act just after sun rise and before he collapsed with exhaustion from his vigil; Ravenhawk took out a very old and well used whistle made from the bone of the Eagle. Ravenhawk began to play the whistle with all his might, sending the high pitched call far up into the morning sky.
With the first strong rays of the morning sun, Ravenhawk saw the great Eagle circling above him. Not far away like normal, but no more than fifty or one hundred feet above him; he could almost hear the mighty wings as they strove to keep the great sacred bird aloft.
Ravenhawk called out his thanks and offered up the morning prayer to Creator, with that done he fell over sideways into a deep and much needed sleep; his body had finally given out from the lack of food and water, he was now alone on the barren plateau and far from home.
Joseph stood on the faint path in a quandary, he had lost Little Bears sign just as though it had been wiped clean by some unknown hand.
Looking around, Joseph tried to find the trail again. To his left was a short drop to a small stream below, if Little Bear had fallen down there Joseph would have seen the tracks. To his right, the ground sloped upwards until it became a very steep bank which would have been too high for Little Bear to climb.
Joseph was, for the first time in his life; stumped. Where had the little fellow gone? Joseph stood and listened, after a short time he thought he could hear what sounded like Bull Frogs. Joseph decided he may as well keep going there was no other way for him to find Little Bear.
Joseph silently and smoothly moved on, the closer he got to the sound of the Bull Frogs; an animal that should not have been this high up in the hills. Joseph felt as though he was moving into something or somewhere he should not be.
It was as he came to a clearing that Joseph stopped, not of his own volition but by a force that seemed to stretch across his path. Joseph lifted his eyes from the ground and then gasped; below him was something that could not be.
The small clearing was full of thick green grass. At its centre was a thick slab of rock and on the rock was the green and red necklace that Little Bear had offered to Ravenhawk. It was not this that made Joseph gasp, it was the number of animals and birds in the clearing and at their centre was the small figure of Little Bear.
The boy was dressed in his best ceremonial shirt, leggings and moccasins; he also wore his small feathered bonnet. In Little Bear's hand was his small bow, nothing looked out of place except his companions and what the little boy was doing.
From the small pool nearby came the sound of the Bull Frogs which now and then were joined by ordinary Green Frogs. The combined sound of the two different species was like a set of spirit drums.
Joseph could not go further because of some invisible barrier that stopped him, with no other choice he squatted down and watched what was going on down below.
In front of Little Bear was a larger Black Bear, it was not yet fully grown but about 9 months old. As the Frogs made a chorus with their deep throats, the Bear would stamp one paw on the ground; this was followed by Little Bear with one foot.
This was all followed by the other foot and then the Bear would rise up and stand on two legs followed closely by Little Bear, they would then both go back into the form of a crouch for the boy and on four paws for the bear.
It did not take Joseph long to realise the bear was teaching the boy how to dance. It was also obvious it was the Bear dance but not like the one usually done at a Pow-Wow, this was something far older.
Joseph could only sit and watch, time now meant nothing as he saw Little Bear almost seem to change into a little bear himself; his actions and movements were so life like it was hard to tell the difference from one or the other.
When it looked as though the two had finished, Joseph watched as a Coyote left the side of a huge grey Wolf. The smaller Coyote stood in front of Little Bear and began to show him the dance of the Coyote. Again it was the same but different from anything Joseph knew about the dance.
Time seemed to stand still as Joseph could only sit a watch as one after the other, all the birds and animals took their turn to teach Little Bear their own Dance. The first sign of fear came over Joseph when he saw what had to be the largest rattle snake he had ever seen, slither in front of Little Bear.
What happened next not only shocked Joseph but he would never look at a Rattle Snake the same way again.
The snake used every move in its book, it slithered one way but struck another; it raised itself high and struck out left and then right. The snake then turned itself into the familiar coil and again rose up and struck out towards Little Bear.
Although Joseph had been worried when the snake had first struck, he saw that each time it was always just short of the little boy. What was more amazing was how Little Bear interpreted the moves. This snake dance was like nothing he had ever seen and, as the snake was his totem he had seen this dance many times.
Time had passed and Joseph wondered how long before he could go and retrieve the little boy. As this thought came to him, he heard the soft shushing of wings above him. Joseph looked up through the trees, what he saw now really had him in a quandary.
Flying smoothly and then landing next to the stone with the necklace, was a white Heron, the symbol of the Earth Mother. Joseph could not understand why she had appeared, the dance of the Heron was for women; perhaps it was for some other reason.
Joseph could only stand and watch in awe as the Heron began her dance. Little Bear had placed his small bow on the stone and was now dancing in small quick steps while he held his small thin arms wide like a pair of wings.
It took less than ten minutes for Joseph to begin to see the Heron and a smaller White Egret dancing in the clearing together. Joseph had to shake his head to bring it all back into focus.
The final act came when there was a high pitched call from high above the clearing. Glancing upward, Joseph just caught sight of a great eagle flying in circles overhead. When he turned back to the clearing it was empty apart from the small sleeping form of Little Bear.
The Great Eagle flew low and then landed on the rock next to the small sleeping figure. The Eagle seemed to look directly into Joseph's eyes as one of its talons grasped the necklace, it then cried loudly towards where Joseph sat and took to the air; the necklace firmly grasped in its talons.