Then In the silence of a moonlit landscape, a dark shape disturbed the peace. The warm night was still, without a whisper of wind in the air. There were no eyes to witness the passing of the lone walker as they moved through the darkness. They moved with a practiced ease that spoke of a long familiarity with their surroundings. The walker paused and listened to the soft sounds of the desert, then looked back over his shoulder. In the distance the lights of the town twinkled, an electric imitation of the stars in the clear night sky. Satisfied they were alone in this place, they began to walk through the scrub once more. They walked slowly and carefully over the uneven terrain, occasionally adjusting the large canvas bag they carried.
Finally the walker reached the destination; rising up out of the night was a ridge of sheer rock face. It cast ever deeper shadows in the pale silver light, showing the graceful curvature of a box canyon and its entrance. This was as far as they would go. This land they stood upon was sacred, but the canyon represented the holiest of places to their people. The walker stopped and placed the bag on the dusty earth. Crouching down by the bag they unzipped it. The walker’s movements were unhurried and patient, there was no need to rush as they knew they would have to be careful. Soon they would be awakening forces that needed to be treated with respect, and appeased with offerings.
A blanket was pulled from the bag and laid upon the ground then a drum followed from the depths of the bag. Finally a fire was prepared, a small pit was dug by hand, and pieces of scrub and bush were gathered. The twigs were laid carefully in place, and at last the walker sat down cross-legged on the blanket and continued their preparations. Several bowls were arranged in front of them; these were filled with herbs, grains and meat. Last of all the bag was placed to one side, everything was ready.
It was time, time to walk the path of the shaman to embrace the spirits of the ancestors, the shaman tilted back their head and checked to see if the full moon had reached its zenith. This was important - the time had to be right. The shaman leaned forward and lit the fire with a lighter. As the fire flickered into life, herbs were thrown into the flames, giving the air a pungent aroma. The lone shaman was at last satisfied that everything was ready. The drum was picked up and a slow steady beat echoed through the night. The drum’s music pulsed with the rhythm of life in time with the heartbeat of the drummer. The drum continued its hypnotic beat and finally a voice began to chant softly, the words ancient, carrying a prayer for help. A call to the ancestors of the tribe, to come and help them in their hour of need, pleading with the fallen warriors to heed the prayer and accept the offerings of meat, grain and blood. To honour a promise made many moons ago.
The drumming quickened its pace as the player called on the ancestors with increasing fervour, allowing the song, the drum and the fire’s flickering light to carry them away, back to the time when the tribes had held dominion over this land, and not the white man. Even now in the twenty-first century, the old ways could still call the shaman back, remind them of the way of the ancestors when the peoples had roamed the plains of America. Before they had been herded onto reservations, pieces of land the white man did not want.
The voice carried further and clearer as the present was stripped away, and the past returned to reclaim them. Finally the drumming and the song ceased, the final offerings were made as the contents of the bowls were tipped into the flames, again filling the air with the smells of herbs and now-cooking meat. There was one final act to complete the ritual. A hand was outstretched over the flames, and a stone blade cut into the palm. A few drops of blood hissed and sizzled as they met the flames then the shaman sagged forward, exhausted, spent from the effort of the ritual.
There had been no clap of thunder, or flash of lightning. Nor had there been loud voices proclaiming the chant had been heard, or the offerings accepted. But still they knew their prayer had been answered, and a smile slowly appeared on their faces as the once still night was disturbed with the gentlest of breezes. It was no more than the slightest touch of breath flowing over them, but the shaman knew even the mightiest of storms began with the softest whisper of the wind.