Untamed Thinking: A Short Story in Honor of Anthropologist Robin Fox

The Shaman’s Vision

Copyright George S. Svokos

October 2013

The tall, lean, muscular man strode quickly and purposefully through the late spring landscape. It was still quite cool, though he could feel the sun warming his face. He had a rendezvous with the spirit world, and was moving towards the Great Womb – the crack between the worlds which he would slip through to commune with the spirit beings of the other world. He would be in the company of this land’s powerful and varied bestiary, and with “The Old Ones” who were his and his clan’s ancestors. He needed guidance from The Old Ones about the future, and especially for the next hunt. The big animals would be migrating this way within the week. The man was a hunter, and the shaman of his band, his organic extended kinship group. He was a “man of power” heading for the cave within the familiar rock shelter where he would be utterly alone, for hours and perhaps days to draw power from this sacred space. He knew this land intimately, the various flora, fauna, rivers, forests, glades, and valleys which he and his band had lived in since time immemorial. True, the weather was somewhat unpredictable over the years, but his finely tailored animal fur clothing, worn in layers, kept him from both freezing and overheating from the somewhat unpredictable weather patterns. These changed frequently over the years, and yet the seasons still came and went as they always did. He also had no fear of being intercepted by the “others” – the shorter, very muscular neighbors his band had occasional contact with. The two groups of humans got along amicably enough, trading meat and animal hides on occasion, though their language was difficult to understand. Rumor had it that wives were even exchanged at this time. These contacts had been more frequent in his grandfather’s day, less so now that the hunter-shaman was a mature adult. As he neared the familiar landmarks leading to the cave, he slowed and paused briefly to survey his surroundings. This was always a time of calming serenity for him, and he made his way to the narrow cave entrance.

As he entered the first gallery, he lit his oil lamp in the cool darkness. He could see the work of his uncle, grandfather, and more distant ancestors in his shamanic line painted on the walls of the cave. Great mammoths, aurochs, lions, woolly rhinoceros’, horses, and giant deer peered back at him from the great rocky canvas before him. He would not meditate here, as there were more grottoes deeper inside the cave. It was not until he reached the fourth gallery that he stopped and took his customary meditation position. His “kit” was exactly where he had left it before – his drum, the rattle, mask, and ocher pigments for painting his visions on the rich tapestry of the gallery wall. After clearing and quieting his mind, he began the slow rhythmic breathing that would signal the beginning of his journey to the spirit world. The shaman began the systematic but slow drumming that would ultimately open the crack between this world, and the next. Breathing and drumming, breathing and drumming, soon he was entering into that altered state of consciousness which were the doors of perception to the world of The Old Ones. It did not take long for him to “see” what The Old Ones were communicating to him, in symbolic pictures within his visions. He followed the familiar game trail in his mind’s eye. What he saw next was not at all what he had been expecting, perhaps a “wise old man” communicating a hunting foray, or a lovely young woman leading him further and further into the center of his mind to see the Edenic splendors of “the happy hunting ground.” What manner of vision was this? Nothing at all was familiar; in fact it was a hellish place with hordes of people, no landscape to speak of, no animals for the hunting, only seeming chaos and confusion. The morass of people and the miasma they created were appalling. It was some monstrous caricature of the villages he’d seen to the East, some distance away.

Despite the disturbing imagery being projected onto his mind’s eye, the Cro-Magnon hunter-shaman dreamed the dream onwards. What did this mean? What were The Old Ones trying to convey with these unsettling scenes? The shaman was perturbed, but yet, at the same time, could not avert his gaze from the unpleasant events unfolding before him. It was mayhem and madness for certain, he surmised. Seemingly endless numbers of people crowded together in some kind of massive, unnatural village, itself an unrecognizable landscape of colossal proportions. People as thick as an ant colony or a beehive, and just as anonymous. What had this to do with his world, the shaman wondered? In the shimmering haze of his vision, it occurred to him that a rift in time had propelled him into the future (in fact, he did not realize just how far into the future he was seeing – prognosticating some 25,000 years down the ages.) Faces came and went as he tried to look harder at what he was viewing. Eventually, he seemed to lock onto one of the multifarious faces in this unnaturally crowded image – just another low status male amongst the undifferentiated masses. He was a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, though not an unpleasant visage. The closer the shaman looked at this man, the more he could detect… what? Mental anguish? Loss? Loneliness? Hopelessness? Anomie and alienation? It was noticeable particularly in his sad eyes, revealing a tortured soul. But the rest of his face was impassive and as unreadable as the masses surrounding him. His eyes held the shaman’s for a moment, and they seemed to gaze at each other. Was this strange man of the future also “seeing” the entranced shaman? Suddenly, it struck the shaman that this man with the sad eyes resembled someone that he knew – was this some strange mirror image? The uncanny feeling disturbed the shaman even more. Was “sad eyes” a spiritual being of the future that was felt as kin? In a way “sad eyes” seemed to be aware of the shaman, though not directly. Was there some connection between them that spanned the ages? It certainly felt that way. The Old Ones were sending a message to the shaman: that phenomenal and life-way destroying times awaited in a dark future. Major change was in the offing, and the damage would be irreparable. The shaman felt the inner pain residing in “sad eyes” tortured psyche and could barely stand these overwhelming feelings. The shaman, being a lucid dreamer, felt he could no longer tolerate these scenes of destruction and pain. Pleading with The Old Ones, he mentally attempted to change these strange horrors into the successful cooperative hunt which had been his initial desire when visiting The Old Ones. And what of the signs for the upcoming hunt? Mammoths were notoriously cantankerous and aggressive, and the hunting band could not afford the loss of a seasoned hunter. Gradually, the painful and distressing feeling tone of the vision began to shift, as the monstrous village and “sad eyes” faded from view. But the shaman would not forget the sad eyed man from the future. His image and feeling tone were indelibly stamped on the shaman’s mind.

The old hunter who next appeared on a more familiar landscape indicated that this herd of mammoths was particularly wary of predators and likely to offer resistance. He pointed to where the hunters should wait in ambush for the juvenile male of the group, who would likely be a short distance from the rest of the herd. The hunter-shaman saw a young mired mammoth struggling to free itself from the swamp trap that held it fast. Cave hyenas were already gathering, with their high pitched “laughs” in the background. But the hunting band was undeterred, butchering the meat and watching guard over the scavenging predators. The grizzled old hunter chieftain gave the shaman the universal sign of success, which pleased him. It meant he could return to camp with good news for the upcoming hunt. Shimmering in the haze of the vision, the old hunter vanished into thin air, as the shaman felt the stirrings of consciousness returning. Following the trail back to the grotto, the shaman quickened his pace. Upon awakening, he felt a bit groggy from this experience into the other world, and found himself feeling anxious and sweating freely in his clothes, even though it was relatively cool in this part of the cave. He had to strip down briefly so that he would not overheat. Although the visions did not feel like they had taken much time, the shaman realized that in fact, some two days had passed since his arrival at the sacred cave. The shaman was concerned that the first vision, if revealed to the hunting band, might cause disquiet and possibly even a confrontation. The shaman was in no way inclined to paint this first scene on the blank canvas of the nearby gallery. Instead, he drew a mammoth, both to derive power from it, and also to impart the hunting magic needed for the successful hunt. Using damp ocher on his hand, he “stamped” his painting with his “signature,” so that if one day “sad eyes” did see this display by a “man of power” that he too could draw meaning, strength, supreme confidence, and healing energies from this sacred space.

As the hunter-shaman trekked back to camp, he thought about “sad eyes” and the message The Old Ones had conveyed through him. Sometimes, the shaman dared not reveal the contents of his visions, given the discord they could cause. He therefore decided to keep the first part of the vision to himself, while informing the chieftain of the band and the senior hunters of the successful hunting strategy revealed to him by The Old Ones. A loner by nature, the shaman dutifully informed his band of the spirit quest, and then retired to his own tent, where he contemplated the meaning of his disturbing experience in “future” time. Was this a warning from The Old Ones? Was there, in fact, a catastrophe awaiting his clan, entire tribe, even society itself? When would this happen? It seemed that his entire consciousness had gone out of context when confronted by the strange and eerie first vision. It almost made him feel dizzy when recalling the vivid imagery of the trance state. Could altered states of consciousness cause such an intense dislocation of the mind? Or was it really the content of his vision that caused the aberration? A disjunction of consciousness with genetic memory? Would his “kin” of the distant future be sensitive to the destruction of his environment of evolutionary adaptation? Would this sensitivity extend to his consciousness being out of context? Would that be the “normal” state of mind of future humans? The masses in the outrageously grotesque village certainly seemed to have that kind of mental aberration. These thoughts troubled him as his tired mind and body began to finally relax. He needed to sleep, and fell into a deep and thankfully dreamless slumber.


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