At this time last year, I offered up a little something in celebration of the Halloween holiday and in reflection of the various traditions around the world that take place from this time and into winter which celebrates the dead and those who have gone before us. This is another offering in the same manner. I hope you enjoy it. (The piece below was edited and cleaned up for continuity on 04/07/2021)~Tom
Through the mists of the early morning and into a clearing, a man walked, followed by a train of four large oxen carrying burdens of wood. He somberly led them to the sacred burial mounds near the far side of the clearing. The man was nearing middle-age, shirtless, wearing pants and boots made of animal skins. As the sun rose, one could see a multitude of scars: battle scars and ritual cuts found various places on his forearms, biceps and shoulders. Crusted and dried lightning bolt-like trails of blood, cascading down his chest and abdomen came from ritual cuts to his pecs the night before. His face had been painted by one of the elder warriors to resemble a skull – a mixture of fresh blood and ash had been used for the paint. Small rune-like symbols, painted with the same mixture, had been placed near particularly significant scars. On his back was a large tribal tattoo of a black crane – a bird his ancestors revered, the tattoo was only broken by the scars he had taken in battles.
A warrior, father, and respected tribesman – this was his personal sojourn to sacrifice, meditate, to seek guidance; purpose. It had been a journey through the night to this, one of the most sacred places of his people – the place where they were all destined to be, and the gateway between the worlds. Four large burial mounds were before him in a semi circle, said to hold the two original patriarchs and matriarchs of their tribe, it was forbidden to venture inside. Beyond was a large hill with a great wooden entrance. That hill was the burial place of his people. Mined, excavated and fortified internally for as long as his people had occupied this land. His people had dug and built and buried those who had past on for centuries. He, too, had partaken of carving out tombs deep within its earth. The veil between the land of the living and the dead was palpable here.
Calmly, he led each of the oxen to posts that were erected a few meters in front of each of the burial mounds and lashed them one by one. He took the wood and constructed altars in between the mounds and the posts. It was a design that had been refined and passed down through the ages to ensure a good burning of whatever sacrifices were made. The sun was reaching its zenith by the time the final altar had been constructed. And now he must wait, he must meditate, wander the sacred grounds, visit ancestors deep within the catacombs of the hill. A few hours later, he slit the throats of each of the oxen. Taking in turn from each of them a handful of blood and running it through his short hair, his beard, on his arms, chest. He also filled a small bowl with each of the oxen’s blood and poured it on each of the altars. Once the blood had sufficiently drained from the sacrifices, he then set to the work of butchering each for the choicest, most prized cuts, fat and innards.
The sun had begun to set as he was finishing the last of the oxen. Blood soaked the ground around each of the sacrificial posts and carcass remnants. Having not slept for well over two days and one night, he could feel exhaustion clawing at him. His sweat had sufficiently mixed with the dried blood of his cuts and the ritualistic markings, making their own unique trails down his body. He lit the fires of each altar and made ready to lift up his final prayers to the Gods and ancestors whose very blood coursed through his veins. He threw the sacred offerings onto the top each of the altars, their flames growing hotter and larger, and came to the center of the semi-circle of burial mounds and looked up towards the Hill. Night had fallen and though the smaller mounds were in between the fires and the Hill, it was illuminated up to the sacred entrance.
Out of the night sky, a large black crane swooped down a few feet above him and then ascended to perch on the great entrance to the Hill. He stood there frozen, not by fear, but by a mix of disbelief due to his exhaustion as well as serendipitous awe and anger welling up from the recesses of his soul.
The Black Crane had not been seen in years.
It must be a sign.
“What do you want from me?!”
The large bird just stood there, pivoting its head so each eye could take in the curious scene before it.
“I’ve followed the Path as best as I could! I’ve sacrificed not just mere animals, but my own desires, wants and needs… all in pursuit of understanding what you want! What is my purpose here?! Am I just a vessel to continue pouring out to you until there is nothing left and you discard me?!”
The bird remained silent.
“Behold the scars on my flesh, the wounds I’ve received. Take into account also, the scars on my mind; in my heart and soul! Does it mean nothing to you?!”
The altars were at full blaze, consuming the sacrifices laid at the feet of the ancestral burial mounds. The fires roared, wood crackling, fat and meat sizzling and burning in the fire. He threw the other sacrifices on the altars, eyeing the sacred bird, curious as to why it still stayed witnessing the scene before it. He came back to the center.
“What say you?! What is my purpose?! Why am I here?!”
The only sounds came from the burning offerings.
“I strive to do right: by You, by my House, by the people of my tribe, and follow my heart… why does it seem like decisions I make for what is right and good are thwarted, resisted, treated like they are mistakes and sins against the gods?! I have even sacrificed love, and for what?! For what purpose and to what end have I done these things?!”
The great bird flapped its large wings as if it were preparing to fly away and then settled back down, shaking its head.
“Why do You ignore me, elude me and taunt me like this?!”
“Speak to me!”
“SPEAK! TO! ME!”
The bird remained silent. The man unsheathed his sword, took out his axe and stuck them in the ground, falling to his knees and bowed his head. He stayed there letting the anger die down as the fires began to grow tired. The Crane flew away and it was just him and the dying fires.
Exhausted. Though he couldn’t see, he felt a presence, a multitude around him. There was an energetic pull coming from the presence. His eyes open only in slits, almost trance like, he looked up.
Before unconsciousness took him, he swore he saw figures coming out of the four mounds and down from the sacred entrance.
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