The Night I Danced With Shamans
From the five layers of creation,
The six layers of creation,
From the depths of the belly,
From the root of my tongue,
From the depths of my being,
From the crown of the head:
Behold, that which is from the depth of the earth,
Which begins to grow, putting forth its shoots,
Yet is still unrevealed, like an unopened flower.
~from the festival of Lai Haraoba, the Possession Ritual
A time ago, my sister traveled far to the
Tom and his wife, LaDonna, lived in a most rustic irregularly shaped log cabin set on 30 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in
June had arrived with little fanfare. School was wrapping up, my first year teaching. Just as kids celebrate the last day, I was really looking forward to that day as well. Tom taught fourth grade at the time in the room next to mine, and, although he was seven years older than I was, we became good friends. He came to
Tom invited me to his end of the school year gathering at his cabin the evening after the last day. That night, I would dance with shamans.
We gathered around a crackling fire and settled in for an evening under the stars outside the cabin. The last traces of day turned from orange to purple before giving way to dancing sparks. I sat on a stump and sipped my Miller as friends who would become central fixtures in my life for the next fifteen years rolled in.
Scotty was there with his girlfriend. Teresa and her boyfriend Nolan were there. Teresa taught fourth grade with us and Nolan was the PE teacher. Joan was there along with Janice, Senna, and Mark. Nancy and Rick came.
I sat on my stump and watched the fire sparkle. Sometimes smoke would drift into my eyes, and I’d turn away. The evening was humid, remnants of a late day thunderstorm. I’d light a cigarette and puff away, helping the fire keep the mosquitoes at bay. More stars than I ever remember seeing danced with the embers from the fire as hesitant guitars stroked quiet melodies.
The high entertainment rolled out slowly. Guitars. Tom’s banjo. Rick’s fiddle, and Mark’s bass fiddle. Before I knew what was happening, the woods exploded with thumping, driving old time music. Together these guys were magic. Mark’s driving rhythm punctuated with Tom’s clawing banjo supported Rick’s unhinged fiddle. The trees swayed and the smoke drifted around us as we launched from stumps and danced with the embers. Cigarettes in one hand. Beers in the other. We danced and shouted. Screamed and hooted. An orgy of sound knifing through the blackness of night.
As the music pressed on, I began to see my future juxtaposed against my past. Fears of growing up melted away. Worries about career and about love life eased away. I existed in that moment and found solitude in the night’s sweat.
We danced with shamans through that night, unrepressed.
Eventually, my friends filed away into the predawn sky and into the depths of the season. I wouldn’t see them again until the next school year.
As the summer progressed, I danced several more times. Each time as fantastical as before. Each time refreshing and joyful. The midnight pool at the foot of the mountains. The shine run in the back of the apple orchard pickup. Farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
I've grown older now and haven’t danced with shamans in many years. Instead, I mark my time dancing with the genie, which is an altogether darker and more somber ritual.