Red Bird and Sky Woman, Part Three
A Journey Back Through Time
After Moon Dancer told me what she had discovered during her journey, I undertook the healing Red Bird had requested. I was unable to physically walk all the way to the place in the forest where I had once found the burial mounds, so I would seek them out by undertaking a journey back through time.
Following in Moon Dancer’s steps, I journeyed into the shamanic South while she drummed for me, made my way to the base of the great waterfall at its heart, and began climbing the steep red cliff on its eastern side. Once at its top, I stood there panting as I gazed out over the sun-flashed ripples of the Great Marsh.
I waited there for some time, wondering if Cardinal would appear again, but it did not. I then called to Swan, who was floating serenely on the far side of the Marsh. Singing her song in response to my call, Swan slowly approached, growing larger and larger as she came. She stopped several feet from the edge of the marsh where I stood, waiting for me. I waded into the warm water and clambered up onto her back through fractured light created as I entered the marsh, disturbing its surface. As soon as I was settled, Swan began moving toward the center of the marsh, where water had begun to slowly move in circular, clockwise ripples. Seeing this, I knew everything was ready for the journey I was about to undertake. I asked Swan to take me back to the time on my land when I had first discovered the burial mounds.
She swam toward the slow moving vortex forming at the center of the marsh, raising her great wings in front of me as she went. I knew what to do, having undertaken journeys like this before. I leaned forward, encircling the base of Swan’s long neck with my arms, as she lowered her wings to create a feathery mantle over my body. She drifted into the outer edge of the circling water. We were slowly pulled round and round, ever closer to its center. Suddenly we were spiraling down and down, into the depths of the marsh. I clung to Swan as we rapidly descended in watery spirals, her powerful wings stabilizing my precarious position on her back.
After what seemed like a very long time, the downward spiraling movement slowed, then stopped altogether. We briefly hung suspended in time, then began circling upwards on spiraling water that now flowed counterclockwise, emerging into another great marsh. As we floated there, I looked around. Although something felt familiar about this marsh, I couldn’t find any features that might indicate where we were. As I scanned the edges of the marsh, a shadow moved over the surface of the water, and I looked up to see a bald eagle soaring above us. Eagles nested around the marsh on my land, I thought. Is that why this place feels familiar?
While the trees in the forest that bordered the marsh looked huge in comparison to those that bordered it in my own time, I gradually realized that it was indeed the same marsh, as it had existed in a different time. I relaxed. As soon as I did so, the water calmed, the surface of the marsh took on its usual smooth appearance, and Swan moved slowly towards the shore, again stopping a few feet from the marsh’s edge. In my time this marsh was not far from where I had first found the burial mounds. I asked Swan to wait for me, slid down off her back into the water, waded to land, and immediately walked into the forest, heading for the place where I had first seen the burial mounds. The going should have been very rough, for this ancient forest was so dense as to be nearly impenetrable. I would have made no progress at all were it not for the animal trails that had been cut through the forest over time, some of them wide and deep, quite probably made by wood bison. I followed one of them that meandered in the general direction of the mounds.
I knew I had chosen the right path when Red Bird’s grieving song flowed towards me on a sudden breeze. I changed direction to follow the sound, taking another trail that forked off to my right. The sound grew louder as the path opened up into a small clearing. There he stood, transparent, grieving, just as he had first appeared to Moon Dancer. I approached him, softly singing his chant with him. His head lifted, and he stiffened. Then he slowly turned toward the sound of my voice, and we were facing one another.
“Slow Thunder Sky Woman!” he exclaimed, in his own language, which I, too, could somehow understand, “You’ve come!” As he spoke, he grew less and less transparent, until he was standing before me in his full masculine power. As soon as the transformation was complete, I spoke.
“Yes,” I said. “Moon Dancer told me that you sought my help in releasing you and your family from the energetic prison created by the tragedy that befell you. Tell me what you need me to do for you, and if it’s within my power to do it, I will.”
“The healing must begin,” he said, “with my telling you my story, so that you can tell it to others. The trouble began,” he continued, “in this time, when buffalo still roamed these forests, creating the deep paths you followed to find me. It was me that the attackers were after. They were new people, a different kind of people, who had come to this land from far away. At first we thought them to be friends, but in this place unfamiliar to them, their healer had lost his way. He crossed lines that should never be crossed, misusing his power, and began to harm his own people, casting spells that caused them to become violent. I had to stop this. I defeated him in a medicine battle, but it was too late. I couldn’t undo the spells he had cast upon his people. From time to time, the warriors of those people, who still carried violence in their hearts, hunted me, seeking revenge.
“We thought we were safe from them, having traveled to the coast from our winter homes. We had separated from the rest of our people to net fish at the bay below. We set up camp in this field, where we were drying fish and berries. The attackers came just as we were about to make the long walk back down to the sea, for the bay below was churning with fish.
“Some of them came by water from the east. Some came by land from the west. They were the ones you saw. There were too many of them for me to fight on my own. I couldn’t protect my family, and I had to flee as they were attacked. When it was over, and I thought the attackers were gone, I returned, hoping to find my family alive, perhaps wounded but not fatally. I thought I might be able to use my skill to heal them, but they were all dead. There was blood everywhere. I carried their bodies one by one up to this place, away from the place where they were killed, and buried them in our people’s way. Then I hid nearby, not knowing what to do.
“Tears ran from my eyes like raging rivers. I felt I should have been able to foresee what was coming, but I failed to do so. The result was this,” he said, gesturing toward the graves.
“I couldn’t leave them buried there alone in this strange forest, so far from our own lands, so I remained here, grieving, until I grew weak from grief and hunger. As I grieved, the attackers returned, searching for me. When I heard them coming, I fled from the burial mounds, fearing that if they found them, they would damage them. They followed me, and took my life as well. I knew how to make the journey into the spirit world when one’s spirit leaves the body for the last time. But my spirit could not make that journey. It could not leave this place. I could never leave, because the others did not know the path the spirit must walk when the body dies. It was my responsibility to guide souls after the death of their bodies, but I myself had died. I was of no help to them. All I could do was remain here in spirit and grieve for them.
“You fell through the sky to bear witness to what happened to us, and now you have heard my story. If you will help us find our way to the path one walks after death, if you will then tell my story in your time, all will be well. Please tell the story, so that somebody, other people—perhaps descendants of mine—will know what had happened to us.”
Tears had been flowing down Red Bird’s face the entire time he spoke. Now he looked at me, silent, imploring.
“I will do both,” I said, tears now streaming down my face as well. “Tell me how to begin.”
He said that sacred herbs – sweet fern, balsam and cedar, gathered on my land – should be offered at the mounds as he and I sang his grieving song over them, to awaken the sleeping spirits within them.
“Then,” he said, “I need you to bring us forward to your own time, to guide me to the place in your time where one can gain access to the path walked by the dead as they begin their journey towards new life.”
“I will return soon to carry out this healing,” I said, taking his hands in mine, looking deeply into his eyes, which were dull with grief.
Red Bird thanked me, squeezing my hands. “I will await your return,” he said. Then he slowly became transparent again, disappearing altogether, and I was left holding nothing but air.
I made my way back to Swan. As soon as we headed toward the middle of the marsh, the whirlpool began forming. As before, we were swept into its center. Eventually we emerged in the Great Swamp of the shamanic South, where I thanked Swan for her help, hanging a necklace of small river stones around her neck as a gift.
I could hear Moon Dancer’s insistent drumming again, as though from a great distance. I followed the welcome sound of it back into the darkened room from which I had begun this journey, slowly returning to my ordinary state of consciousness.
To read the next installment of their story, check in next Saturday!