How the Village Was Saved from the Wrath of the Spirits, and Came to Have Two Shamans

Posted Mon 05 September 2016 Author The Gazeboist  | Category : Fiction

Tags : fiction / folk tale / short fiction / draft /


Once, near the river, there was a village. In this village, there lived a boy. Perhaps he was twelve or so. He may have been older, or maybe a bit younger; I'm not certain. In any case, he was apprenticed to the shaman of that village, and hence tasked with learning to talk to spirits; to beg and cajole and convince them and to threaten and bully and force them (the boy's master never seemed to do that, but he was told it would be part of the job) and generally make these spirits do what the village wanted. The boy, though, had a great problem, as most boys his age do.

You see, he was named for his grandfather. In this village, that meant that (as his grandfather was a great hero) he was expected to do just as his grandfather had. For the people of the village by the river kept in their memories a list of all the names that had come to the village. And on this list were a number of heroes, and also a few ne'er-do-wells who had been mischievous in their lives. When the people of the village gave their children names, it was expected that they would be like the person they were named for (though of course it was always hoped that the child would be better). In difficult times, more children were named for heroes, so that the village might find succor, and in prosperous years more were named for the scoundrels and rapscallions, so that their names might be redeemed. Much to the boy's misfortune, his grandfather had been one of the great heroes of the village, and so the boy was expected to be a hero in a similar manner.

The grandfather's story begins a while before the boy's, of course. In that time, the village had been quite prosperous for many years and had expanded its trade to other villages, some a great distance away. Since the village traded with all its neighbors and was always kind to guests, no warriors were ever trained. Still, some of those far villages were beginning to grow jealous of the one by the river. One day, a young woman from far away came through the valley of the river and found this peaceful and prosperous village. Here, she decided, she would settle. And here she did, and she eventually fell in love with a young man of the village and, a while later, had a son. She was from a far away place where they do not have the same names as the people in the village by the river, and her lover (for he did love her dearly) said that she could name their son for one of her people, rather than his. So the son was given a name new to the village, and a far away ancestor (who, indeed, no one in the village had ever heard of, though he was quite important) to admire.

Now when the son was mostly grown, rumors began to spread in the valley of the river, that one of the jealous villages would soon attack the village by the river. The elders of the village were quite frightened by this, for the village had not had warriors in quite some time. But the son, who had heard of the coming attack, went to a place in the forest far from the village. There he took a stick and a stone and he made himself a spear, which he taught himself to use. He then took his friends to his spot in the forest, and he taught them what he had learned, and they practiced and practiced and practiced, so that they were ready when the attack came. The son, now a great warrior, led his friends in their defense of the village, and with them defended the village from all the attacks that followed, until none of the jealous villages would stand against the one by the river. In this way, the warrior saved the village from its peril and brought peace and happiness for a long while. It happens, of course, that this warrior was the grandfather of the boy we are concerned with.

Now there was no war, for all the village's enemies had been brought low by the warrior all that time ago and had decided, quite sensibly, to stay away from a village that produced such excellent warriors. So the boy clearly could not be expected to save his village from war (for which he was somewhat grateful, as he could not hold a spear in any case), and was cursed with a name that he could not live up to. Still, he had been found to have some talent at summoning spirits, and so was taken as an apprentice to the shaman.

Of course this story is not just the story of the boy; it is also the story of his master, and I would be remiss if I did not tell you a little about her. She was named for someone from quite some time ago, perhaps eight generations back, before the time before the warrior's time (this means, of course, that when the boy's grandfather was himself a boy and he asked the elders of the village about this hero, they told stories they had been told by the elders when they were boys). In this time, the village had a number of enemy villages, for it had been prosperous for a great while and had not yet begun to trade with towns nearby. However, there was no great fighter to save the village.

There was, though, a trader who always liked to come to the village. He came to love a young girl there and after some time settled down with her (though he still went to trade with the other villages). In a very brief while he had adopted and been adopted by the village, and all were quite happy. At least, they were until one of the old men (whose job it was to worry about the current state of affairs when they weren't telling stories of the good old days) reminded them of the trouble that the village faced. The elders, of course, became quite worried, for their warriors were few, and rather mediocre, and they had no one else in the histories of the village that they could look to for an example. The trader, though, had been raised in a far away place where tales and trade and talk were prized, and his was a name new to the village, so he did not need to concern himself with its history. And so the trader decided that he would go to all of the other villages to talk and trade and tell tales, and convince them not to attack his new home. And he did, and the village was safe and prosperous until the time of the warrior, and traded with all the villages around it from then on. And it was for the trader that the girl who would become the shaman was named.

When this girl was young it was a time of peace and prosperity, as it had been in the days of her namesake. In the time before her apprenticeship, she was known to be able to talk any baker out of a pie, any weaver out of a basket, and any carpenter out of a toy, and she was known to do so quite often. And so the shaman of the village decided to take her on as his successor (for in those days, as you may have noticed, the people of the village liked to have a man as their shaman and then a woman, and then repeat the cycle). The old shaman found her to be, generally, a very good apprentice, for although she did not have a great deal of natural talent at summoning the spirits — indeed she had some fear of it — she learned quickly, and could often convince the spirits to perform their tasks faster than the old shaman could. Unfortunately, the shaman at that time had been very slow to take an apprentice, and, about half way through the girl's training, when it came time for her to learn to summon the great spirits, the elder shaman died.

And so the elders of the village declared that this young girl was now the shaman, though she had never really finished her training and was not sure she could summon the great spirits of the sky and the river and the earth, upon whom the village depended. The new shaman, then, set about the ritual of summoning the great spirits so that she might tell them that she was now the shaman of the village, but her old master had only taught her the first part of the ritual before he died, and it was not obvious at all that there was a second part. Thus the great spirits were summoned part way to the appointed meeting-place in the spirit world, but no guide was sent to see them the rest of the way. This greatly insulted these spirits, who, though they are generally kind and certainly willing to help a young girl in need, are rather stuffy old misers who love ritual and tradition. So they began to punish the village: the river ran low, rain came rarely, and much of the village's crop failed. The young shaman, knowing that the great spirits had been insulted, and not wishing to risk another botched summoning on the feeble hope of an appology, set about tasking all the small spirits she could find to help the village stay alive.

The shaman would begin her day by summoning some small spirit to deal with some horrid problem the village faced, such as a patch of dying wheat or a roof falling in faster than it ought. She would spend the day dealing and wheedling, convincing the spirit to fix whatever the day's problem was. And invariably she would succeed, and the problem would be dealt with for a while. But of course the next day there would be something new, for as you know small spirits are impish and tricksome creatures, disinclined to help most anyone for any amount of time, no matter how convinced they may be when they agree to a task. Thus the shaman spent all her time dealing with the small spirits, and never found the time to try to reach the great spirits again, nor to speak to the dead (a task she had dearly enjoyed as an apprentice).

Such was her life until she found a young boy of the village in her summoning hut one day, speaking to a lesser spirit she had not seen in quite some time. The spirit felt insulted by the fact that the boy, not the shaman, had summoned it (and by a great many other things, of course), and the shaman spent a short while calming it down and assuring it that no, of course it was well respected by the villagers and all its great powers and dominions were known and all other things like that. And when she finished with the spirit, she turned to the boy and asked how the spirit had appeared in the hut without being summoned. The boy replied that he had no idea how a spirit might manage that, but that he had summoned the little imp that had just left. And in this boy, with his instinct for summoning, the shaman knew she had a proper solution to the village's troubles. So she took the boy on as an apprentice shaman, though it cost her time that could be spent convincing spirits to solve the village's day-to-day problems. The village's troubles grew steadily worse, and the people grew afraid for the future of their children, and their children's children. This, then, was the situation in the village by the river. It was failing, slowly, as the shaman tried to teach her apprentice enough that he could begin to help her. And the boy spent his days learning to be a shaman, told he must live the legacy of one of the greatest warriors the village had ever known.

So it was until one day, when the boy went to his mother the potter, whose father was the warrior the boy was named for, and asked her why she had given him a name he could not live up to. And she said to him that her father was a great man, and that she had given her son that name because she wanted her son to be as great a man as her father had been, and that while living up to his name was a task he must accomplish alone, it was certainly one he could do. And then she said that she was busy and must to get back to work, and so the boy left.

And the boy thought on what his mother had told him, and he found that he did not believe in himself as strongly as she did. But then, perhaps that was because she had already done all she needed to. For she had been given the name of a rather infamous and widely disliked woman, and hence the task of restoring the name to the town's good graces. And in that task she had succeeded quite handily simply by being a rather skilled potter. Perhaps, the boy thought, it would be easier to speak to someone who had been given a hero's name to live up to. And then he thought of his uncle, who had been named for a great warrior of long ago and then become a trainer of warriors, a path befitting his name, and still well enough suited to a time without war.

So the boy went then to his uncle, who had been trained by his grandfather after the wars had ended. And he asked his uncle to train him in the ways of the warrior, though he could not hold a spear, so that he might live up to the name of his grandfather. His uncle did not wish to train a boy who could not hold a spear; he asked him who his grandfather had been named for. The boy did not know. His uncle explained; the boy's grandfather had been named for a brilliant farmer who devised a new way to irrigate his village's crops. This man, said the uncle, was certainly a great man worthy of being venerated. But the boy's grandfather had known he was no farmer, and so he had become great in his own right. And besides, the boy was no warrior: he had been apprenticed to the shaman for some time now, and with good reason. To change his apprenticeship now would be to insult his master, and, as she was a shaman, might well be an insult to the great spirits as well. These great spirits, of course, had already been insulted quite thoroughly, as I have said, and such was quite clear to the boy's uncle, but it pays to be safe in such matters.

The boy did not find this talk very helpful, but he did understand his uncle's words, and he rather liked his master and did not want to hurt her. So he went to the shaman's hut for his training, and there he found the shaman sitting and talking with the little spirit of a tree that lived near the fields where crops were grown. The shaman was trying to convince the tree spirit to give up some of its water to the plants in the fields, and she probably would, for she could be very convincing. However, she needed time and quiet, so the boy waited outside the hut. This had happened many times during the boy's apprenticeship, and he was quite used to it. The shaman often took a long time to commune with the spirits, for the spirits with whom she worked were, by this time, often quite unwilling to do what she wanted. But the shaman was a great speaker, and she always took the time she needed to accomplish what the village needed her to.

The shaman often complained to the boy that she never had time to talk to any spirits other than the small ones that attended to things near the village (who always needed to be managed), since the great spirits were no longer willing to help her. And between training the boy and talking to all the little spirits, the shaman had no time to talk to the spirits of the dead, which she had greatly enjoyed while her master had lived. Most often, the shaman told the boy that she wished she could speak to the spirit of her master and receive advice from him. Spirits of the dead are often very helpful, though of course they have no powers that could jave directly helped the village, meaning that the shaman could not afford to spend her time talking to them.

In any case, eventually the shaman finished her talk and the boy went in. He had his lesson for the day, which was concerned with reading the desires of small spirits from the way they refused to receive a task. At all the tasks of summoning, the boy excelled, but he was a poor dealer and speaker, and no spirit would ever listen to him, though all would come at his call. The shaman was rather glad of this, for it meant that there was no need for her to struggle to teach what she had struggled to learn. Indeed, the boy often thought of things no shaman ever had, at least when it came to summoning. This made the shaman rather happy, since it helped her fill the gaps in her training. Of course, neither the shaman nor the boy was really satisfied with this arrangement, since the shaman would vastly prefer that she have the great spirits to help her, rather than run around after all the small ones herself, and the boy could not live up to the name of his grandfather as an apprentice shaman.

That night, the boy thought about all that he had been told by his mother and his uncle, and all that he had learned from the shaman, and all that he knew about the village. And so the next day, as he had done when he was young and unapprenticed, he sneaked his way into the summoning hut before the shaman arrived. When she did, he asked permission to go to the place where the village buried their dead, so that he might speak to them. After all, while the shaman had to manage the small spirits around the village, the boy only had to go to his lessons, which were long after noon and only served to distract the shaman anyway. Thus the boy had decided that he ought to contact the spirits and see if they could help him. The shaman agreed, for she did need to speak to a great many spirits this day and the boy was certainly well enough trained to summon the dead without danger. And perhaps the dead could advise her in making amends with the great spirits and heal the village more permanently.

So, then, the boy went to the place where the dead of the village were buried, and began the ritual for summoning the spirits of the dead. The ritual was not overlong, but he knew that his time among the dead was precious, for the burial place was far from the village. For this reason, the boy decided that he could only summon one spirit this day. He chose to contact his grandfather. Perhaps he chose for selfish reasons, but I like to think that he wanted to let his master be the first to talk to the previous shaman. And anyway, what right did the boy have to bother his teacher's teacher?

To his grandfather, then, the boy spoke. They spoke of much and for quite some time, and the boy learned a great deal that he had never known. Most importantly, though, was what his grandfather told him about the tradition of names, and how the dead thought of it. The dead care not for the specifics of life. They cared only for the fate of the village. And so the boy's grandfather told him that being a warrior had no part in his greatness. What greatness there might be (for his grandfather was very humble, and often said there was no greatness in his own life at all) came from the fact that he had done what the village needed done. And what the village needed now was no great warrior. It needed its shamans. The village needed two full shamans, not a desperate, partially trained young girl and her mud-mouthed apprentice.

And the boy took heart from this, and returned home. There he found the shaman having just concluded her tasks for the day, ready to begin the lessons. But instead of the lesson, the boy and his master talked of what the boy had learned from the dead, and together they decided on a new course of action. The shaman, obviously, needed to speak with her old master, so that she could properly learn the ritual for summoning the great spirits. She would then teach it to the boy, who would perform it. The master would apologize to the great spirits for her missteps and ignorance, and convince them to aid the village once more. But in order for the shaman to speak to her master, the boy would need to take charge of the minor spirits of the village for the day, and for that he would need to be raised to a full shaman.

The next day, then, the two went together to the place where the elders met, and the shaman said to them that she had taught her apprentice all she could, and that he should be acknowledged as a shaman in his own right. Now of course the elders said to her that this was a very unusual thing; after all the boy had not been an apprentice for nearly as long as was traditional. To declare his training complete was to declare him a man, and he was quite young for that. And she replied that she had been made a shaman when she was as young as the boy, and as far along in her training. To this, of course, the elders had nothing to say, as it was quite true. And so the boy was declared a shaman, and certain rites were performed so that the spirits would accept him. Thus the village now had two shamans: an elder and a younger; a woman and a man, a speaker and a caller.

On the day that followed, the elder shaman told her former apprentice which spirits most urgently needed watching, and set out for the place where the dead were buried. The younger shaman summoned the spirits he had been instructed to, and spoke to them for a good while, but he was not as skilled as his elder and could not convince them to help as much as they had in the past. It was a poor day for the village, a poorer day than the village had seen in some time. But it was only a single day, and the village would survive.

While her young partner struggled through his duties in the village, the elder shaman made her way through the forest, and eventually found the place where the dead were buried. In this place, she began the ritual for summoning the spirits of the dead, and was soon speaking to her old master. He apologized for dying when he did, and she forgave him, and agreed to carry his regrets to the council of elders, for he should have been much quicker to choose an apprentice. They talked a while, then, for the two had been dear friends, as well as master and apprentice. The shaman told her former master of life in the village after his death, and he told her of her parents, who had died when she was young. It was a wonderful conversation, and it reminded the shaman why she had loved to be this old man's apprentice. And when they were finished talking, the old master told her of the missing piece of the ritual, though he could not demonstrate it. The shaman did not mind, though, for she knew that her junior partner would be able to perform the ritual as long as he knew where all of the pieces should go.

And so she returned to the village, and told the other shaman about the ritual's missing piece, and he said that he could perform it. So the next day they went early to the summoning hut, and the younger shaman performed the ritual for summoning the great spirits. And when the spirits of the river and the earth and the sky had arrived, the elder shaman spoke to them. She began by apologizing for the errors she had committed in her younger days, and for being unable to correct them for so long. The sky and the river forgave her immediately, and the earth forgave her soon after. And they continued to speak and to plan, so that the shamans would no longer have to meet with all the lesser spirits around the village. And from then on for as long as I know, the village was prosperous and peaceful, and there were always two shamans: one young and one old, one a man and one a woman, one to call the spirits and one to speak with them.