Monday, January 11, 2010

The First Test

With a sharp intake of breath, the young girl recognized the signs painted on the rock at her feet. The told her she had come to the hunting area of a fierce tribe, long hated by her people. She remembered stories at her mother’s knee when she was a babe, stories of warriors who ate children, stories that made sure she did not wander far from camp.

What was she to do now? The sun had begun to sink behind the stark rocks to the west, turning the earth to fire for a moment and soon the darkness would claim its right. The girl shivered and finally moved to squat herself in the bushes, seeking their protective graces. The moon had completed one cycle since she had left the old Spirit Woman’s fire, on her quest for the crystal flower. In that time, Nature had been the teacher, heightening her senses. She had learned to take from the earth for her survival and to pay the proper honour and respect for the Mother’s gifts.

The time had been lonely for her and she had longed to come upon a camp of the People, just not this one! She wondered with a shudder if she would still be considered small and tender to a warrior’s eye. The night seemed to menace her with tricks of the moonlight but she could not risk a fire, lest she lead the enemy to her. Tears began to slide down the young girl’s face.

“Spirit-Mother, have you then sent me here to die as my lesson? I cannot believe that and I beg you to help me now.”

No sooner did she say those words, than she felt the warmth begin in the center of her being. The air became charged with magic and the smell of sweet herbs soothed her mind.

“Greetings child. I have been waiting for you to call upon me.”

The girl turned in astonishment to see Woman of the Desert come from the other side of the bushes. Astonishment did not hold her long though, and relief sent her running from her hiding spot to the arms of her beloved teacher. The old woman’s white, ankle-length braids seemed to cast an aura of protective light around them both and a new strength filled the young girl. Staying in her warm embrace, the girl asked her teacher how she should pass through this area without falling captive to the warriors.

“Daughter, I have brought you here to learn a great lesson. You are to walk into the camp of these people, live with them for the turning of the seasons, and when I return it will be time for you to continue your quest.”

At the suggestion of living with her enemies, the young girl again became frightened and she moved away slightly from the old woman’s embrace.

“Do not be afraid child. Trust me and you will be protected,” said Woman of the Desert. She reached into the folds of her robe with her tiny talon hands and brought out an exquisite necklace of turquoise and silver, which she fastened around the young girl’s neck. As she did so, she began to give instructions to the child and, when she was content that she had been fully understood, she stroked the girl’s hair and sang to her soothing songs of the Medicine Wheel.

Daylight tickled its way into the girl’s eyes and she awoke from a peaceful night’s sleep, to find herself curled up in the bushes, alone. She sat up, rubbing the night’s magic from her eyes, wondering if it had all been a dream. The weight of the turquoise at her throat assured her that the visit from her teacher had been real. On the ground in front of her was a bag made from deerskin full, upon opening, of fry-bread and tart berries to nourish and give her strength for the task ahead.

After greeting the Seven Directions and breaking her fast, she tied the bag around her shoulders and began to walk in the direction she had been told, her heart beating quickly but steady, with sense of purpose. She remembered her teacher’s instructions and straightened her shoulders.

The morning sun was already warm and turned the horizon into shimmering visions of water, a deadly vision to believe in and follow when in the desert. When she thirsted, the girl cut a piece from a cactus with her knife and chewed the heart for its life-giving moisture. A rattlesnake slithered across her path, paying her no mind as it searched for the coolness of a rock to escape the heat, building as the sun rose to its seat of power.

She turned back to the path…and gasped with fright as she came face-to-face with three young braves, their knives drawn. Summoning all her will to keep her hands from trembling, she signed to them that she came in peace and wanted to be taken to their tribe. The tallest of the young men bared his teeth in a half smile, half snarl and gestured for the frightened girl to come with them. They flanked her with their knives still drawn and in silence the four walked on.

As they entered the camp, they became surrounded by what seemed to be the entire village. She shrank back from their hostile stares. Men, women and children closed in around this strange girl who had dared to come into their midst. A shout came from the back of the crowd and the sea of people opened to allow their chief to step forward. He was a large, powerful warrior, with eyes as piercing as stabs of sunlight. The young girl took a deep breath, held her head high and forced herself to look steadily ahead.

With a sign language common to all the People of the Medicine Wheel, she told the chief that she had been sent to this camp by Woman of the Desert, as the first test in her quest for the crystal flower. Remembering her instructions clearly, though her heart pounded with fear, she asked to be taken to Woman Who Heals and held forward the turquoise necklace as her proof of purpose.

The chief stared at the central turquoise stone in silence for what seemed like an eternity to the girl. He then turned to one of the braves who had brought her to the camp, spoke a few words to him in the Apache tongue, and walked away with no backward glance.

The brave gestured that she was to follow him, leading her to a wickiup on the edge of camp. As she walked she felt the stares of the people and in her thoughts, hated them. She entered the wickiup, thankful to be away from all those eyes and grim faces. She was alone.

“I am a prisoner of my enemies. I saw the hatred and suspicion in their eyes. Oh Spirit-Mother, why have you sent me here?” With a sob she sank to the ground and hid her face in her hands. In seeking to outwit Death, she had been delivered to the Grim One’s door.

So absorbed was she in her fear, she did not hear the woman enter. She felt a gentle touch on her arm and parted her hands to see. Her eyes became locked in the warm brown welcome of the eyes of Woman Who Heals. She was a tall, muscular woman who carried an air of capability and strength. Her only signs of age were lines of laughter around her mouth and eyes and, here and there, strands of silver danced their way through tightly woven braids. She wore a white buckskin robe, decorated with elaborate beadwork and, around her neck hung a silver and turquoise necklace, sister to the one given to the young girl by Woman of the Desert. The girl sat up and with trembling hands took the turquoise from her throat, handing it to the older woman.

“I bring you greetings from Woman of the Desert,” recited the girl, as per her instructions, “She has sent me here to you, with her own necklace as token, to study the art of healing under your guidance.”

The older woman leaned back on her heels and listened patiently to the young girl’s story of her relationship with Woman of the Desert…and her quest for the crystal flower, immortality. Every once in a while she smiled as she fingered the turquoise in her hand, but not once did she interrupt the child. When the tale was finished, Woman Who Heals leaned forward, embraced the girl and once again fastened the necklace at her throat.

“You are the daughter of my sister and, for the turning of the seasons, you will share my wickiup as the daughter of my heart,” said Woman Who Heals, in a voice deep and rich, “Come.”

The young girl obediently followed and for a full cycle of the seasons lived as an Apache daughter. She learned much from Woman Who Heals. In time, she became accepted by the tribe as one of their own. As she settled into the life of these people, she began to shed her own prejudice, seeing the similarities of all the People, instead of their differences.

When the season of Little Eagles again returned, a feast was held to celebrate. She was dressed by Woman Who Heals in a new buckskin robe and her hair was carefully braided. She joined with other girls in the rites of womanhood. Babies were brought to them to be blessed and the sick were brought to be healed.

After the festivities, the young woman and Woman Who Heals walked into the desert together. The older woman drew a Medicine Wheel in the sand and began to chant in her rich, deep voice. The young woman felt the familiar warmth begin at the centre of her being. She was not surprised to hear a voice like the wind over sand join in, as Woman of the Desert walked to her place in the Circle. The three women came together to embrace and it was as if life became suspended in that moment of loving magic.

“Daughter, I am pleased that you have passed this first test. My sister, Woman Who Heals, tells me you have learned well, the art of healing and, more importantly, you have overcome your feelings of prejudice.”

The young woman smiled, remembering her hatred of the Apache people, born out of the fear of not knowing their ways.

“I know now that we are all the same children of our Mother Earth and Father Sky. Prejudice and hate come from a fear that we ourselves create,” she said softly.

The two older women smiled and nodded their heads in accord. They came close to the young woman and both placed their hands on the center of her being. She gasped with the love and strength that flowed anew within her. In her mind’s eye she saw again the crystal flower, with its rainbows of light shooting out into the darkness and she did not doubt that she would fulfill her quest. As she opened her eyes, light from the new day began to creep over the horizon and she discovered that she was alone. The wind caressed her…and she heard the parting words of Woman of the Desert carried within it.

“Daughter, we am always with you. You have but to turn within to find us. Your walk will take you through many lands and to many relations as you seek the path to the Creator. You have requested the greatest teaching of the Medicine Wheel. For this, you are named, Walking Wolf Woman.”

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