The Shaman

EXTRACT FOR
The Shaman's Quest

(Norman W. Wilson)


The Shaman's Quest

THE SHAMAN’S QUEST

 

CHAPTER ONE

THE SEEKER

 

The nature of the sacred quest is such that you may have a word, name, or concept of what it is you are looking for, some idea of what it is, how and where it may be found.

 

Tau Malachi

(The Gnostic Gospel of St. Thomas)

 

Often, as it was in my case, I couldn’t put a handle on what I was looking for. For me, the mystery began when I was a kid traveling into the backcountry of the Eastern Canadian bush with my parents.

My father, actually I don’t remember of ever calling him that or calling him pop or dad or anything, would pack a large trailer full of supplies, including two toys and two of my favorite books for me. I was also allowed a note book and a couple of pencils and a sharpener. I could have one book  in the Buick.

Fishing gear, life jackets, boat cushions, a twenty-five horse Johnson outboard motor, cans for gasoline, and cans for kerosene got stashed along the sides of a gigantic ice chest that sat over the middle axel of the trailer. He’d had it made special as well as the trailer.

Everything had to be balanced just so. I guess he viewed life that way. There had to be meat, potatoes even though he did not view potatoes as a vegetable, and two vegetables on his plate. Balanced. A fishing lure had to have two sets of hooks, no singles, or threes; one set in front and one at the rear of the lure. Spinners were the exception. The three pronged hook was always at the rear. His office desk was balanced: telephone on the right, a family photo on the left, pen set in the center.

The ice chest which held such a prestigious position was packed with food: flour, salt, pepper, sugar, coffee, pasta, and dozens of other consumable items. Fresh stuff was bought at the last small town some fifty miles before hitting the off road to the lake and our camp. A pillow, blanket, snacks, and a thermos of coffee went in the car. Clothes were packed in the trunk, enough for two to three months.

We headed out at about three in the morning because my father liked to get an early start. We were heading into northwestern Quebec Province where we would spend the summer on a large lake with a group Indians who camped there. It was a sixteen hour trip, with stops only to gas up, and to eat one meal while on the road. If I had to pee he pulled off to the side of the road. As soon as we got there, he would nap for an hour and then unload the trailer, and go fishing. He seemed drawn to the water, needing it to nourish him. Strange I never thought of it that way then, but now is now and things are different.

It was his way of getting away from it all. No telephones ringing, no radios. No one at the office to pester him with questions about commodities. No parties and dinners with insufferable people. Whatever it was, that attracted him to the lake it seemed to pull him further into himself. It was during those times that my mother would take long walks into the woods and sometimes the two of us would visit one of the teepees. Much of the time I was left to explore my version of the world.

Living in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor, a legless cast-iron pot-bellied stove, and one window covered with cheese-cloth was just the right setting for an adventurous seven year old, well to be seven in a couple of months. Two beds, actually wooden poles driven into the earthen floor with scrapped moose skin drawn tight for the mattresses, lined up against the two side walls of the cabin. The stove sat in the middle of the room, a small handmade wooden table sat beneath the lone window. An old wooden chair sat at each end. In the middle was a cut log, about 24 inches high when standing on its end. That was for me to sit on. An old rocking chair was near the stove. My mother called it a Boston rocker.

Since there was no electricity, kerosene lamps were lit when it got dark. It was my job to go into the woods to a natural spring with a tin bucket for our drinking water. Once the water bugs and mosquitoes were dispensed with, I would scoop up the water, and slosh it back to the cabin. That was my daily chore. And since there was no running water, there was no inside toilet. There was the “out house.” Fortunately one of the items packed was toilet paper.

Besides hearing the wolves running during the night, the occasional bear using the side of the cabin as a back-scratcher, and the grunts and heavy breathing that sometimes came from my parents' bed, a few other things still remain clear in my mind. One was the fact that the Indians had no children. I suppose that made me a curiosity. Another was the whispering among the squaws who pretended I wasn’t there whenever I ventured up to one of their teepees. And finally, there was an episode involving my father that particularly stands out in memory.

He and I seldom had anything to say to one another. As I said earlier, I never made reference to him as dad or pop. I always remained at a polite and discrete distance both physically and psychologically. I think by the time I was four I stopped wondering about it even though I noticed how other boys and their fathers behaved toward one another. I used to wish he’d pick me up and carry me high up on his shoulders. He never did, of course. When he did speak to me it was always an order, almost barked. Yet, there was a generosity about him. That certainly sounds like a contradiction if I ever heard of one, but that’s what brings me to this other remembrance. It was such a powerful thing, so much so that I can bring it graphically to mind with ease. It became a great object lesson in my life.

It happened on one of the earlier trips we made into the Canadian bush. He had taken me out in the boat fishing. I didn’t catch anything but he had a nice catch of Greathnothern Pike. As I scrambled up the sandy embankment to our little log cabin I saw an old Indian woman standing near the cabin. I had not seen her before and wondered who she was.

She was a mess; her tangled white-streaked hair was full of leaves, and her dress was muddy. She began talking and gesturing. Sounded like gibberish to me so I just stood there, too dumb to say anything. Once my father was up the bank and had spotted her, he spoke to her in the same sort of gibberish. He sure seemed to understand. Anyway, he did the darndest thing. He picked out the largest fish, walked over to her, and gave it to her. Immediately she began to gum it. Even though she had no teeth she somehow was able to tear it open and began eating it, guts, and all.

Seeing my concern my father said, “She’s been left to die. The others of her tribe have moved on. She’s too old and sickly to travel with them.”

“Why?” I whispered.

“It’s her duty to stay behind."

"Why'd you give her food?"

" No more questions!”

Her duty to die? I wondered about that.  I thought everyone was to live life to the fullest, whatever that meant. And from Bible School, I remembered they added the statement, 'to serve others.'

At the time I thought it was the cruelest thing I had ever heard of—not realizing, of course, that I was passing judgment on a culture that had a different set of values than mine. Today I consider such judgment pretentious.

Later that night, after he had had his evening glass of whiskey, I mustered up the courage to dare ask him another question, “What are those Indian women always whispering about? Every time I go near them they start to whisper. Isn’t that rude?”

“Some high mucky muck of a medicine man. Seems he disappeared right in front of their eyes. If you ask me, it was simply too much of that cheap rot gut they drink.”

“Did you ever see him?”

“Enough questions!”

It was always that way. I always had more questions than I had answers. We finally stopped making the sojourn into the backwoods when I was in my late teens but every summer that we were there I asked about the mysterious medicine man the old ones whispered about, the one who could disappear right in front of your eyes. Gradually through the many trips, I picked up bits and pieces of information.

A dropped comment was always fodder for more questions and like precious pieces of gold, they had become something for me to treasure. With meticulous care I jotted these treasures in my note books. Even some of my college texts had little comments in the margins of their pages. Of course, I had no idea at the time that this disappearing Indian medicine man would become the driving force in my existence, the center for my quest. Actually the external representation of my quest.

One thing was for sure, I was battling heavy eyes, and it was a losing battle. Flashes of yellow lightening raced across the darkened sky providing glimpses of strangely shaped clouds. I wondered if I was driving into a twister. The rain finally came. An unbelievable downpour so intense that the headlights of cars on the interstate were nothing more than vague patches of blurred yellow that shot phantom-like off into the night. Catching myself nodding,  I hit the brakes. Fortunately, they were antilock or I would have slid into the guard rail. I realized I was very close to an exit so with a quick jerk on the steering wheel I shot down the off ramp. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was other than somewhere in central Florida.

Creeping along at a snail’s pace I spotted a mom and pop motel and pulled in.

Damn! Wouldn’t you know? Closed.

Anyway, I figured it to be as good a place as any to park and get some much needed sleep. The trip down from northeastern Canada took more out of me than I had figured. My six foot body wedded to the car seat begged for respite.

I had been driving south for what seemed an eternity besides that I was hungry and pissed. No success in finding the ever elusive medicine man.

Man! Most guys my age have married, knocked out a couple of kids, and are working nine to five. And me, well, I guess you could say  I’m still making the chase. What the hell for? Don’t I have a good job in New York? And what about Jacquelyn? I can’t ask for a better woman. She’s always there for me, whenever I need her. Need her? Is that my idea or hers? Saturday morning tennis and Sunday afternoon golf. Early every Wednesday morning it was workout at the gym. Then there were the Sunday dinners, either at her folks or at mine. That’s the problem. Everything was so lack-luster, a smear of one day passing into another. Lack luster is a bit strong. Don't get me wrong. There were good times, fun, laughter, and moments of intimacy. There just wasn't any change in the endless cycle of our daily lives and relationship.

I guess what really bothered me was the fact that no one in my family or Jacquelyn, or friends were sincerely interested in my questions or even concerned that I had them. And they weren’t all about my mysterious medicine man. No one seemed to be able to answer my most basic questions and believe me, I had a lot of them. Why do we hate? How’s that one? Oh, man, I got a real pile of shit handed down on that one, but no real answer. Priests, rabbis, gurus, or university philosophy and psychology professors could not provide the answers I so desperately wanted—no— needed!

I felt that somehow since I wasn’t’ getting answers, I had to find a cure for this damnable everlasting gnawing in my gut. I was sure that there was something more, that there was some secret that I should know, some eternal, pregnant secret. I felt I was being haunted. And I was just as sure, if I didn’t find answers, I would go insane.

 Oh sure, as a kid I always had to know, but that was typical kid behavior. Unfortunately, it carried over into my adult life. I remember my old man used to say, “That boy needs to know the ass-hole of everything.” It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I understood the full intent of his comment. Dogs sniff one another's butts. Had he been near me when I realized that, I’m sure I would have punched him out.

I had been in Canada doing research for a piece I was doing for one of the New York magazines that specialized in alternative medicine. I’m what you call a freelancer; selling research and sometimes actual articles to magazines. Often I complied data for insurance companies, stock brokers, and investment companies. I had not forgotten my Indian medicine man and I had hoped that I could find him, do a piece on native medicine, and get some answers to my questions along the way.

A nagging suspicion that he was more than a medicine man was reinforced by some of the indications that I had had from the Mik’Maq. Perhaps my mysterious medicine man was the god, Glooscap in human form. That would surely be splashed as the headlines of the New York Times. Anyway, my research had not gone well. Whoever or whatever he was, leads about him disappeared. Any discussion of a Mik’Maq shaman just dried up. Sure wasn’t much different than when I was a kid, and like then, I wasn’t sure why people wouldn’t talk to me about him. By now he had become my shaman and it was very personal.

It was my understanding that a rare few of the Mik’Maq developed certain innate abilities that allowed them to surpass all others in their perceptions, skills, and talents. I suspect they had been able to fine tune their ability to tie into the nonlocal mind. Such persons, as do people do today, had to pay a high price for being different. Those that were power-given were separated from the rest of the village, often living in deep forested areas, isolated and feared. They came back into the village to seek a mate or for sacred rituals they were expected to perform or to provide some of their ‘magic’ to heal a sick person. The medicine man, renamed by others as shaman, despite being shunned and forced to live outside of the village’s daily social activities, was a very important person to the tribe. The one I have been looking for was said to be the last of the most powerful of the shaman— one who knows all things, capable of making miracles—the seventh of the seventh of the seventh.

Rumor had it that this man could come and go at will; that he traveled in a different dimension in different times. If all of this was true, perhaps he really was Glooscap. Christians don’t have a lock on the idea of a divinity coming to earth in human form. Okay, I admit I had gone to northeastern Canada in search of this last shaman hoping against hope to be able to spend time with him, that is, if he would let me. I had heard talk that he was antisocial and had a deep distrust of whites. My information, scarce as it was, was that he had gone to Florida to meet with some of the Creeks. No one seemed to know why. They just indicated that I should go south. And here I am.


 

CHAPTER TWO

THE OLD MAN

 

Follow toward whom your thoughts bend, with your thoughts following them, this you shall always live.

Zuni prayer

 

I wasn’t sure of the exact time when I became aware that someone was knocking on my car window. My eyes struggled to open as my brain groped to identify some sense of my bearings. As difficult as it was I finally realized that I was staring into the most extraordinary pair of eyes that I had ever seen—penetrating Aryan blue eyes. And my god, I felt their gaze deep into my soul. A shiver played tag along my spine; yet, I had sensed no immediate danger despite the feeling of having been scanned. Forcing myself into wakefulness, a quick survey told me I was still at the mom and pop motel and that those extraordinary blue eyes belonged to an old man with long flowing shimmering white hair.

“Breakfast’s ready.”

That was all he said. My hunger from the night before reared its head and reminded me that it was still there and was badly in need of appeasement. I heaved myself out of the rental, my nose telling me the direction to go. Inside, a small seven stool counter, steaming coffee, and a mile high stack of cakes waited for me and the smells of bacon and eggs drifted in from the grill. No doubt about it. I was hungry.

“Over easy, right and no lace?”

“Uh, sure. That’s great,” I said, wondering how he knew I liked my eggs over easy and no lace.

What the hell! I polished off the whole stack of cakes, three eggs, a double rasher of bacon, and four cups of coffee. During my eating frenzy, the old man said nothing,

Strange, I thought, usually, these old farts have—,  

“You’ve come far,” he said.

It wasn’t’ a question; just a statement.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Guess you’ll want a place to stay. Take the second cabin on the left. Number four. The key’s on the peg by the door. Help yourself to the coffee.”

With that said, he disappeared through a faded blue-curtained doorway. How’d he know I’d want to stay here? Did I show the need for rest that much? His eyes unnerved me a little. I guess the fact that they weren’t threatening threatened me. Yet I was drawn to him, magnet like.

“Guess I better ask him about—,”

“The room’s forty a night. Breakfast’s three,” he said, sticking his head back through the curtained doorway. Particles of dust floated lazily around the curtain as the morning sunlight came in through the one open window. It was obvious that it had been a long time since things had been really cleaned. As with the old places in Florida, there was a musty smell.

After signing in, I picked up the key to cabin number four. It was a short walk down a grassy path that was generously sprinkled with sand spurs, and some kind of multi-colored flower. I let myself in, too tired to unpack, I flopped down on the bed. Its musty smell seemed to penetrate my whole body. Like the place, I suddenly felt very old.

Trying to follow-up the leads about the shaman left me exhausted. The backpacking was bad enough, but portage with the canoe through dense woods from one stream to another and then from lake to lake took its toll. Despite my tiredness, sleep was fitful. Strange swirling images, flashes of intense light intermingled with dark shadows haunted my being. At some point, I remember rolling over and groaning. A knock and his voice wakened me from my uncomfortable slumber. As I rolled off the smelly bed I realized I was soaking wet.

“Man! What the hell’s wrong with me?”

“You figure on sleeping your life away? It’s past twelve,” he said.

“Noon already?”

“No. Midnight,” his voice seemed to be an echo. “If you want, come by and I’ll feed you even if the grill’s closed. Say, you all right in there?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.”

As I heard him begin to shuffle away I called out, “Hey! Thanks. Sorry about the hour. Sure would appreciate some food if it’s not a problem.”

“Come along when you’re ready.”

I couldn’t believe I had slept the whole damn day and half the night. Wasn’t like me. True I had been on the road for nearly forty hours, but hell, that was no big deal. A couple hours of sleep always revved up my motor. I don’t get it. I’m in good shape, best shape I’ve been in since my days as a hot athlete in high school. Now wonder what made me think of that? My old man never came to a game. Damn, I’m sure being weird.

A warm breeze blew in from the Gulf. It picked up the smell of sweet Jasmine and I felt better. A couple of possums scurried across the path as I strolled along to the little café that was part of the motel office. I suspected he lived in a back room. Anyway, he watched me devour a 14 ounce steak, the most fabulous steak I had ever eaten in my life, a life of restaurant steaks burnt, raw or dripping in grease, tough, old, or smelly. You name it, I’ve eaten it. When I finished he shoved a snifter of brandy in front of me.

“Good for what ails you,” he said. And that was the first he had spoken since I came in to eat.

He pulled out an old hand made clay pipe, packed it, lit it and eased a draw. He leveled those blue eyes at me as small circles, slowly growing larger, spiraled toward the ceiling. Its aroma was very pleasant. He took no food or drink. He waited for me to take my first sip of the brandy. Its nutty flavor was most enjoyable as I rolled it over my tongue.

“So you have questions,” he said.

Again it was a statement.

“Questions you want answered,” he continued.

“Well, sure. Doesn’t everybody?”

“No. Fools don’t. Those who claim wisdom, prophets, and fakirs don’t. They pretend to have all the answers. They don’t even know the right questions to ask. Do you? Do you know what it is that gnaws at your gut? You don’t do you? What a shame because what you seek you already have, you already are. You young ones are never satisfied, are you? One day you wake up and realize all that you had is gone. Gone! And then it’s too late.”

More smoke rings unfurled from his clay pipe. I was unaware he had taken another puff. I would learn that those smoke rings would signal agitation among other things.