On Saturday, I arrived in Sedona, a town in the mountains of Arizona, where Starry Song lived. It was the day of the week when he would gather several families in the garden of his house to tell ancestral stories that held the philosophy of his people. This had been happening for some years, since he was prevented from teaching in the local school by a court order. The shaman didn’t have a diploma; but he had wisdom. To avoid the disappearance of this knowledge, he opened the gates of his house to share this precious gift; all were welcome. Like everything that brings value to the heart, we multiply it by sharing. It became a much-attended magical ceremony. Even the school headmaster attended it with his family. Sitting in his rocking chair under the leafy oak tree in the middle of the lawn, the shaman waited for people to settle down on the blankets spread out in the garden before beginning to tell one of the innumerable stories he had heard from his ancestors. Everyone put effort on the snacks they brought and shared them with everyone; a common-union. That’s why it was a ceremonial. The stories had the power to transform the way of looking and thinking of those who heard them. That’s why it was magic.
When I got out of the car, Starry Song was making a short and sincere prayer, asking the guardians of the invisible spheres to protect everyone during the small but significant sacred ritual, to maintain the harmony of the environment and the balance of people, not allowing the influence of dense and intrusive energies in the place. He also asked the enlightened spirits that were present to guide him with good words, so that everyone could leave the place better than they arrived. I left my backpack in the living room of the house and sat at the porch. Before the shaman began the story of that day, a boy, about eight years old, raised his hand. Starry Song smiled at him and asked him to speak. The boy asked why that meeting was a sacred ritual. The shaman explained: “Ritual is any ceremony in which there is a specific way to achieve a specific objective. Every Saturday, I sit under this tree to tell stories to whoever wants to listen. People spread out into the yard. We share not only stories and snacks, but also the joy of shared experiences.” He paused briefly before continuing: “Sacred is everything that makes us better. I think everyone feels that way when they return home”. The intrepid boy raised his arm again. Everyone laughed. Allowed to continue, the boy showed a book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a classic of literature written by the writer Mark Twain. He wanted to know if that book was sacred, because he felt like a better person as he followed the saga of the young protagonist. Starry Song smiled sincerely again, nodded and said: “No doubt about it. The sacred dwells in ordinary things. This is so that it may be easily accessible and within everyone’s reach”.
The shaman began the narrative: “A long time ago, at a time when there were no cars or telephones, there was a prosperous and peaceful tribe governed by a very generous and wise leader. He had the respect and affection of all in the village for the fair manner in which he decided issues and ended disputes. This leader had acquired the ability to give each person the exact measure: what belonged to a person by merit, he did not allow anyone to take it; on the other hand, he did not give anything to a person if he or she did not deserve it. This created tranquillity and well-being among all”.
“However, he knew that the days of continuing to walk upon the earth were coming to an end. The time to travel to meet the Great Mystery was fast approaching”. The restless boy raised his arm again. Starry Song smiled and gestured with his head for him to speak. The boy wanted to know why good people die. The shaman explained: “We all die because we need to be reborn. Renewed and in a better condition to continue where we left off. Believe me, even the good ones have much to learn. Understanding the process allows us to realize that death is an act of love from the Great Spirit towards us”.
The boy thanked him and said he understood. Starry Song continued the narrative: “The chief thought it best that his replacement should be chosen while he was still able to help in the process so as to avoid conflict and unpleasantness in the tribe after his departure. Everyone was asked who would like to become the next leader of the village. Three people applied. The bravest of the warriors was the first to come forward. He was a man who carried many achievements and victories in his history. Next came a young farmer who had lost his children and his wife at an early age, without anyone knowing the cause of their deaths. The third was the tribe’s blacksmith. Besides being an excellent craftsman, he was a very calm man. So quiet that people only remembered him when they needed the artefacts he made.
“Soon the village became very busy. People voiced their opinions and support groups formed. Those who understood that, among the three, the warrior would be the best chief, claimed that he was feared by the neighbouring tribes, as everyone knew his courage on the battlefields. They also said that he was used to commanding. With him at the head, they would continue to be an orderly people. Without a doubt, he was the tribe’s favourite.”
“Close behind, came the blacksmith in the village’s preference. His supporters wanted a person who was peace-loving and not someone used to war as their leader. They held that peace has valuable attributes without which happiness is impossible; war is entirely occasional and, whenever possible, dispensable. Thanks to the blacksmith the tribe had at its disposal important tools that aided the progress and prosperity of the village. They did not need a feared chief. They wanted someone who was admired”.
“Finally, with very little chance, and far behind, came the farmer. He had the support of only a few elders. They thought that the misfortunes of the past had taught him about mercy and compassion. However, the dark situations he had been through, in addition to the bad luck that seemed to keep him company, had made him an outcast, almost a curse to the rest of the tribe. They feared that his energy of suffering was contagious. He didn’t stand a chance in the contest.”
“As the days went by, the debates became more heated and some arguments took place. The chief understood the time had come to end the process of choice, so that by divergence of views friends would not become enemies. He was also willing to offer a wise lesson to all. The good chief called the sorcerer into his tent. When the sorcerer entered there were three cloaks exposed. He asked him to cast the invisibility spell on the cloaks. Whoever was cloaked in any of them would not be seen by anyone. Except by those wearing the Ring of Throne, the one worn by the leader of the tribe. Thus it was done.”
“He then asked the sorcerer to offer a cloak to each candidate, telling them separately about the magic of the gift. He would also explain that the power would come undone if the secret was revealed. He warned the sorcerer that one should not know about the other’s cloak. And, most importantly, the wizard would have to maintain absolute secrecy about the Ring of Throne’s ability to reveal who was hidden beneath the cloak.”
“At first, the three men were surprised by the gift, then they felt involved deep-rooted, never-revealed desires. At that same night, they hid under their cloaks and went out into the village. As one did not see the other also cloaked in the same spell they narrowly missed bumping into each other on their invisible walks.”
“The next morning the village seemed turned upside down. Many people complained about the disappearance of their artefacts and utensils. The most worked up vowed to find the thief and demand an exemplary punishment. Others attributed the disappearance to the fact that the tribe was cursed because of the farmer’s participation in the succession to the most important post in the village”.
“The bard’s young wife talked to her husband about a strange nightmare she had that night. She had dreamt that his brother, the warrior, swore to her that they would soon marry. The girl cried a lot. She said she loved her husband and did not wish to be separated from him, nor to be widowed so young. The bard told the woman not to be frightened. He was in good health. Moreover, his brother was an honourable warrior and would protect her. Later, he commented on the fact with some friends. Soon the version emerged that the nightmare was an omen of bad luck from the farmer, a man without family and without love. They should be careful with him”.
“In the opposite direction of the frightened feeling that had befallen the tribe, the mother of a sick baby celebrated the healing of her son that night, as if by miracle. An old man, also weakened because he no longer felt like eating, spoke of the mystery of seeing his favourite fruit on his bedside table when he woke up. He felt like eating for the first time in a long time and that he felt much better after eating. Everyone attributed this to the generosity of the Great Spirit. Even more, they interpreted it as a warning for the village to define itself between good and evil. Evil was personified in the farmer’s intention to become the chief of the tribe. This, if it happened, would be like handing over the village to the domains of darkness and beginning a cycle of suffering.”
“Late in the afternoon, a huge group of angry villagers went to the tent of the good and wise leader. They demanded that the farmer be removed from the contest for succession, they also wanted a trial and consequent sentencing of that man to banishment. They feared his harmful influence.”
“The chief, calmly and without allowing himself to be influenced by the uncontrolled passions of the tribe, advised them to think without fear. He explained that fear will never be a good teacher. He asked everyone to return to their tents and rest. The following day he would inform his decision to everyone. Although annoyed by not seeing their requests immediately satisfied, they heeded the order. Not without whispering among themselves that the chief was old and weak. It was really time to replace him. Some said they missed the energetic hand of the warrior to organize the tribe; with him there would be order. Others claimed that they understood the indispensable value of a hard-working, quiet and skillful man like the blacksmith, providing better living conditions to the village with the artifacts he produced; with him there would be prosperity”.
“In the middle of the night the trumpet made of ram’s horn sounded loudly. It was an alarm. Everyone got up in fright and ran out of their tents, where the chief was waiting for them beside the wizard in the central square. Parents carried their babies; sons and daughters helped their elderly parents. Everyone spoke at the same time in search of an explanation for what was happening. The chief raised his hand and asked for silence. Among many good things that the wise chief would leave as a legacy was to have taught the tribe to listen. Listening first, speaking later. There was absolute silence. Even the typical sounds of the night seemed to have obeyed because they understood the importance of the moment.”
“The old chief began to speak: ‘Yesterday I listened to your reasons and wishes. Today I give you my decision, but not without first having the respect to detail my motivations’. The people looked at each other but did not say a word. He continued: ‘The whole tribe is gathered here, in the central square, right?’ The villagers nodded in agreement, except the bard’s wife. Nervous, she said her husband had disappeared.”
“The chief shook his head as if he already knew and continued, ‘Four men are missing. The bard, the warrior, the blacksmith and the farmer. Does anyone know where they are?’ Astonished, in that instant people realised their absences. No one knew about them. The wise chief pointed to the village gate and said, ‘The first one has just entered. Yet no one saw him’.”
“The man, protected by the invisibility of the cloak, kept quiet when he arrived and found the village gathered. He intended to understand what was happening. The chief ordered in a calm but firm voice: ‘Take off your cloak!’. Intrigued because he believed himself hidden from everyone, but not daring to disobey the order, he removed his cloak to reveal himself. It was the warrior”.
“Asked what he had been doing at night in the forest, he claimed that he had gone to reflect on the serious questions that surrounded the village. He said he needed to think to understand the situation, as well as the decisions he would make. Part of the village applauded him satisfied in the certainty that he was the right man to command the tribe.”
“Look now,” said the chief again pointing to the gate. Since the secret had been revealed, the invisibility magic no longer had any effect. Everyone saw when the blacksmith entered the village. Asked where he had come from, the man said he had gone into the forest to look for the missing artifacts. He said that perhaps the thief had hidden the stolen objects in the forest. Another part of the tribe applauded in the belief that the village would not be guided by better hands than that of a person who loses his night’s rest worrying about the welfare of others.”
“The third to arrive was the farmer. Nothing was asked to him. When they saw that he was carrying a bag with the stolen utensils, they surrounded him and arrested him. It was the unmistakable proof of the crime. Before many cries of revolt and shouts for justice, the bard’s wife recognized her husband’s shirt on the farmer’s body. It was torn and bloody. Besides being cursed, he was a thief and a murderer. The dream the young woman had had was a premonition, everyone said”.
“Tied up, the farmer was brought before the old chief under the hysterical cries of ‘justice!’
“The wise chief raised his arm again. This time tempers took a while to calm down. When silence reigned again, he spoke: ‘I promised you a decision. I only waited a little to have all the necessary elements for your better understanding. He paused briefly to ask: ‘Is there on your part any doubt in your interpretation of what happened the last two nights? The enormous majority declared themselves anointed with conviction about the crimes. The good chief warned: ‘Behind the evidences, there are some facts and truths that almost everyone is unaware of'”.
“The wise chief spoke: ‘We will have much more than a trial’. The people looked at each other without understanding. He went on: ‘A few days ago, by my request, the sorcerer gave the three candidates a gift’. He then explained how the invisibility cloak spell and the Ring of Throne worked.”
“The chief continued, ‘Did anyone wonder why the thief returned to the village with the things he stole from us? Has no one wondered why a murderer wears his victim’s dirty shirt instead of keeping his clean clothes?'”
“He pointed at the farmer the shot, ‘This man has been condemned by most of you. Not by virtue of facts, but mere circumstances. Not by virtue of critical thinking and free of emotions, interests or convenience, but at the speed of preconceived ideas. Those who set themselves up as the owners of reason and holders of truth, calm down and have the dignity to listen to his story.”
“The silence was sepulchral, as if something had died. At that moment perhaps the impatience and intolerance of many came to an end. Impatience in thinking; intolerance towards the differences we have in relation to other people. Free from the arms that bounded him and the coercion that silenced him, the farmer explained that he had gone into the forest in search of some medicinal herbs to treat the sick, when he saw the warrior beat his brother and take him to the bottom of a cave. A place where no one usually went and screams were not heard. The bard would soon die from his injuries, from the cold and from starvation. Hidden, he waited for the warrior to leave and helped the young poet. He soothed his wounds with poultices made from herbs, changed his shirt with him so that he would feel warm and, as the bard was unable to walk, he returned to the tribe in search of help. On his return, however, he saw the blacksmith hiding the objects in the woods. This explained the disappearance the night before. He collected the objects from the hiding place and brought them back. This was the explanation he had; this was the truth, he claimed. He asked, however, that someone should run to the cave to rescue the bard while they proceeded with the trial. The old chief nodded, and ordered some men to go immediately to the rescue.”
“A huge commotion was made. The village was divided. Astonished, some people believed the statement. Others, still sceptical, questioned whether that speech was nothing more than a huge lie told by a man trying to escape conviction”.
“To end any discussion, the old village chief showed the Ring of Throne as a reminder that he could see what the cloak of invisibility hid. He then revealed the warrior’s visit to his brother’s tent; he also spoke of the theft perpetrated by the blacksmith. Not satisfied he told the tribe of the help that the farmer had given both the baby and the old man. All these facts had happened the night before.”
“He then asked if the warrior and the blacksmith would like to explain the motivations for their actions. He clarified, “saying the truth does not exempt from responsibility. However, it rescues forgotten dignity and brings us closer to the light.”
“The warrior asked to speak. He confessed that he had always been in love with his younger brother’s wife. Despite all the feats and victories in the wars he fought, the fact that that woman preferred the poetry of song to the protection of the sword had been his greatest defeat. Dissatisfied, he swore that one day he would marry her. For this, his sister-in-law would have to become widowed. He believed that the invisibility of the cloak offered him the much-desired opportunity.”
“Next, the blacksmith said that he had always had a huge resentment towards the village. He was a quiet and cordial man, he never picked fights or got into arguments. However, people only came to him when they were interested in the artifacts and utensils that he made. Other than that, no one seemed to care about him. He took advantage of the invisibility of the cloak to hide the objects he had produced, for he wished that the tribe, in the absence of the objects, would give him the value he deserved.”
“When they had finished, the chief granted the word to the farmer. The man revealed feeling a great emptiness within himself after his wife and children left to meet the Great Spirit. He had difficulty approaching people due to the fact that a huge part of the tribe believed he was a cursed person. Even some elders, who thought differently from the other villagers, had difficulty approaching him because their families prevented it. Every day, very early in the morning, he would set out alone to the wheat and corn fields, only to return at dusk, very tired, to give himself up to sleep. Sometimes he went into the forest to gather fruit and herbs, which people refused in order not to be infected by his bad luck. His harvest of corn and wheat he could only trade with the neighbouring villages. Except in the case of shortages, when his own tribe seemed to forget the bad omen related to him. Yet he did not resent them; on the contrary, he was happy to feel useful.”
“That night, since it was possible to enter the tents, he gave preference to those in which there were sick people. He took a baby burning with fever and nestled her in his arms. He macerated some healing herbs and mixed them with the milk in the bottle. He wrapped the baby for a long time until the temperature cooled down and a peaceful sleep enveloped the child. Then he went to the tent of an old man who was very weakened by age. He hardly felt hungry. The farmer knew what his favourite fruit was. It was a hard fruit to get. As he had gone into the forest the day before, not by chance, he had brought some. He placed them beside the man’s bed as he slept and left quietly. The old man, having recovered from the surprise of seeing his favourite fruit on his bedside when he woke up, fed himself with gusto and soon felt better”.
“One of the villagers questioned how the tribe could be so wrong. The old chief explained, ‘On the one hand, each person sees only what he or she can see; on the other, sees only what he or she wishes to see.”
“‘When a person speaks, there is always more content about him in the silence than in the words spoken. There is more than one individual within each person: there is the one everyone knows and there is the one no one has ever seen. This goes for you and me’.”
“Then he taught: ‘Everyone has received the same power. Each has used it according to his conscience. A quiet fellow does not mean a man at peace; a brave individual does not necessarily create a safe environment. We believe we know people through their social behaviour, the way they behave, the glories they achieve. All this has value, but it is still very little. We also tend to think that we recognise ourselves through these same lenses, which blur, reduce and deceive our perceptions in order to falsify the truth'”.
“However, before judging others, everyone should imagine themselves under a cloak of invisibility, with which they could do anything without anyone knowing. A sincere analysis will teach a lot about oneself, as well as showing the need to be kinder, more patient and delicate with others.”
Starry Song fell silent and the people nestled in his garden became quiet. The shaman asked everyone to imagine themselves under the invisibility cloak. A valuable and extremely difficult exercise if practised with sincerity. The silence was broken once more by the same boy. He wanted to know how the story ended.
The shaman concluded: “Soon after the bard’s rescue, the old chief sentenced the warrior and the blacksmith to banishment. They would have to leave the village and never return. He asked if everyone agreed. There was no dissenting voice, save from the farmer.”
“He asked the chief to review the verdict. He claimed there had already been too much suffering. It was not a time to punish, it was a good time to forgive or at least mitigate the penalty. He said that they had shown their repentance. He also asked that he take into consideration the good things that these men had done for the tribe in the past. Moreover, he reminded them that the two were not the only ones to make mistakes in that case. At that moment the villagers lowered their eyes.”
“He also said that they were all part of the same village and should see each other as one huge family. He emphasised that all that had happened had brought a lot of learning to the tribe. Everyone would become better after the lesson. After all, the primary goal of justice was education.”
“The chief looked at the sorcerer. The good witch arched his lips in a slight smile. Despite his suffering, the farmer had not lost the ability to love and believe in the beauty of life. The last test had been won.”
“The chief converted the penalty from banishment to works done for the common good of the village for the period of twelve moons. Then, emotional, he declared he knew who was ready to take charge of the tribe after he left. He pointed to the farmer. They would be led by a wise, just and good-hearted man. The whole village approved and felt satisfied. As tradition dictated, that night there would be a great feast to celebrate the choice”.
“That very night, while everyone was eating, dancing and singing the future of the village under a sky sprinkled with stars, the old chief spoke only to the sorcerer. Without anyone else noticing, he grabbed a blanket and set off alone to the top of a nearby mountain. He went to meet the Great Mystery. He was at peace with himself”.
Silence reigned again, this time in the garden of Starry Song’s house. The people were moved; some had tears in their eyes. Then they applauded. The intrepid boy took the blanket he was sitting on, put it over his head as if he were invisible, went to the shaman and gave him a loud kiss on the cheek. Even more emotional clapping.
People chatted, shared their snacks and slowly returned to their homes. Alone with Starry Song, I said that I had been lucky, for I had arrived on the day I got to know one of the most beautiful stories I had ever heard. The shaman smiled in gratitude and reminded me again: “A large part of our misunderstandings and closeness to personal shadows is due to our frustrations. We resent ourselves when we do not think we are loved as we would like to be; we hurt ourselves when we think that the world does not recognize the value we believe we have. A huge nonsense. None of this has any importance for the conquest of plenitudes. So life grants us a invisibility cloak disguised in some situation so that we can reveal ourselves. Not to others, but to ourselves. Thus, we can understand who we are. If we know how to take advantage of it, it will be the initial step towards transformation and healing.”
Yes, part of me reveals itself when I am invisible: every time I do something that nobody is seeing me do. I said that it was a good exercise to imagine yourself wearing a invisibility cloak. The shaman agreed, but made a reservation: “The practice of the cloak is excellent, but it is complemented by the exercise of the ring. Today’s story speaks not only of the power of the cloak, but also of the spell of the ring. Strive to see in others what no one else sees. I speak not only about the evil, but above all about the good.
In the afternoon it was cold. Starry Song took a blanket to wrap himself in. I showed him my ring. We laughed. He sat in front of me, lit his pipe with a red stone stummel, puffed a few times and finished: “Free is the individual who does not need to hide his will nor be ashamed of his choices. He can manifest the truth in himself. This is pure light”.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic