The Sacred Shrine

The day is carved into my life as a lightning flash might, that unexpectedly in the night, stabs fire into a nearby tree.  The eyes see it, and the heart feels it.  Just so, that day has left a wound of wonder in me, and images that are as bright to me as the light that cleaves the sky.

I am a man of the North people; a hunter in my tribe.  Our land is rocky and hard; dark and frozen for much of the year’s cycle.  But we are a strong people, and proud of our ways and skills in living with this land.

On that grey day five of us men went to the hunt.  The dogs were already in full energy even before we left, knowing our purpose.  But they were quiet as we called upon our gods for help.  They too knew they would go hungry if the gods did not guide our footsteps.

Ogdir had dreamt of the rising sun that night so we headed East, walking slowly with little sound through the forested mountains.  It was good to feel the manhood in me, as rugged as the rocks and trees around us, as alive as the creatures whose skins I wore to keep me dry.  The misty lakes we walked by, the weathered trees, were as much in me as outside.

Then, as one, we stopped.  The dogs too, still, silently looking at our faces to read our intention.  For there, partly hidden through the trees, standing in a small clearing, was a magnificent antlered male stag.

Slowly, creeping behind trees for cover, dogs warned to stand until called, we moved toward that wonderful beast.  We felt the strength in it, and saw its agitation.  It knew something was approaching, but did not know from where, and so hesitated from flight. Poised, some small sound as we notched our arrows, some odour of us in the still air, sent it flying away.  Even so, an arrow caught it in the flank as it ran.  And then the dogs were after it with us running too.

It climbed a rocky crag, up and up away from us. Through trees, over rocks, across streams we ran. And when we came upon it the dogs had backed it against a tall rock on the edge of a precipitous drop. It stood, fiery, intensely alive despite its oozing blood, fighting the dogs off.

But as we neared enough to fire an arrow it paused and looked on us, proud and uncowed, its head erect and eyes blazing. Then, with a bellowing challenge, as if daring us to follow, it reared and leaped full into the void, falling down and down out of our sight to its death.

We stood completely still and silent, the dogs also, staring into the void. It was a tremendous silence; our hearts had felt its challenge to follow it into death. We had heard its huge and wonderful defiance of us, understandable even to the dogs. It had leapt to break itself, rather than be broken.

We left the body of the creature where it lay, to honour its life and death, only covering it with rocks to mark it as a shrine to that great beast. And without words we walked back to our dwellings, feeling as if we had seen a god who had spoken a great truth to us. A god in the body of that beast, fearless in the face of death.


-history of religion in america 2016-11-02 16:31:51

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