Chess waved his hand at her in exasperation. “I couldn’t eat another thing,” he answered.
Sariel lowered the container to the floor and continued her story. “The village leader changed his expression into one of comical surprise. ‘Did the oak tree tell you that a storm was coming?’
“This made the girl laugh. ‘No, grandfather, trees don’t speak to me! But they act in certain ways.’ She skipped over to the tree and grabbed one of the smaller branches, holding it out toward him. ‘When I see the leaves turned over like this, I know I will not have all day to gather my herbs. I know that I must get it done and not waste time dancing.’
“The leader nodded solemnly. ‘We do have a little time before the rain comes, though,’ he said, raising his eyes skyward. ‘Sit beside me for a few minutes.’ With a sigh of weariness, he lowered his aging body to sit on the sideways trunk of a fallen tree. The girl quickly seated herself next to him.
“‘When you see those leaves, the insects… and the birds flying low to the ground,’ he said in a quiet voice, ‘they are telling you something that might be useful, without actually speaking to you.’ He turned to look at her, his gaze earnest. ‘People do the same thing. And, although every person is an individual, we all have traits in common.’ He smiled. ‘Would you like to learn what people tell you, without speaking to you?’
“‘Yes!’ the girl replied, nodding vigorously. ‘Please tell me!’
“‘I can do that,’ the leader agreed, ‘but if you really wish to learn all that you can, you must spend more time in the village, among people.’”
“The price of knowledge,” Ileana muttered.
Sariel stopped talking, and gazed around the club with an expression of uncertainty. Her audience waited in expectant silence. Finally, she came to a resolution, and resumed her story.
“And so, her grandfather taught her everything he knew about being a good leader. And she accompanied him everywhere in his duties as village chief: when he talked with his counsel, and when he listened to disputes, and when he traveled to other villages to negotiate trade. But, as time passed, he began to shake his head sadly at her. ‘I don’t know what will happen to you when I am gone,’ he would say. ‘I know you have no wish to be a leader. And you have no wish to marry.’
“And, one rainy day of a very rainy early spring season -- just before the girl would pass her eighteenth birthday -- the leader called his counselors together and informed them that he wanted his granddaughter to inherit all of his property. ‘She has no other family but me, so I need your solemn promises that you will protect her inheritance and protect her,’ he said to them.
“They all swore to him that they would honor his wishes. And, with his aging eyes and fading attention,” Sariel sighed, “he looked hopefully at the blue sky, and did not notice the edges of the oak leaves turning up.” She took a deep breath.
“After his death, I sat there --” She blinked and shook her head. “The girl sat before the counsel, in front of the people that she had known all her life. And they… they declared her to be a witch, a user of illegal magic. And, as such, any rights to property were null and void.” As she talked, a note of anxiety crept into her voice. “They would not even allow her to speak. And they made vague threats, but now with openly dark looks. And the people of the village, whom she had known all her life, kept away from her, stared at her, as if she was a walking ghost.” Sariel gesticulated agitatedly. “She did not go to gather herbs anymore. She did not dance in the woods anymore. The trees may have continued to speak to her, but she ceased to listen.”
Chess stared at her in surprise, more at the unusual amount of emotion she was displaying than at the story she was telling. And there was something else, too, at the very edge of his consciousness, that was bothering him. But Sariel was coming to the end of her story.
“And, on the day, not many weeks later, when the girl saw a crowd of villagers, led by counsel members, moving down the street toward her house, she performed the one last act of magic that she still had the ability to effect.” Sariel bowed her head and murmured, “She disappeared.”
Continued next page...
The moon was full as it hung overhead. Dark clouds covered the rest of the night sky. She brought the whisper of her chant to a scream and colors leapt from her hands, spiraling and sparkling down her arms. Yes, she was a witch, but not because she danced.
- Dance On Kate by Tone Bernard
The story of Eve’s disobedience and the fall from grace has been used over the centuries to justify things like suppressing the rights of women, and also to explain natural occurrences, such as women’s experience of pain during childbirth. One wonders then, how other cultures which do not have a central story like this, deal with what we call “women’s issues.” The following quote might serve to enlighten, just a bit:
In most societies, mythological or theological explanations were devised to explain why women should suffer in childbirth, and they forestalled efforts to make the process safer. When anesthesia was developed, it was for many decades routinely withheld from women giving birth, since women were “supposed” to suffer. One of the few societies to take a contrary view was the Huichol tribe in Mexico. The Huichol believed that the pain of childbirth should be shared, so the mother would hold on to a string tied to her husband’s testicles. With each painful contraction, she would give the string a yank so that the man could share the burden. Surely if such a mechanism were more widespread, injuries in childbirth would garner more attention.
- Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
(Of course, people being what we are, this sort of custom leads to a goofy part of Peter Matthiessen’s novel, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, in which one of the men claims to be experiencing his wife’s labor pains vicariously, and howls for hours.)
However, along that line of thinking, it is very difficult to imagine outside one’s own culture and the norms that one has spent a lifetime soaking up. Because of that, one of my future goals is to research and explore more mythology of the “Eastern” areas of the world.
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