Section I: Gods and Goddesses
Section III: Myths and Religions of other Peoples
(also known as the Gerouad) - Page 1 -
“The shaman told me, ‘We are all the dead of another world. You, me, every man and woman and child you see here.’
“We were seated at a fire on the edge of the small lake in the oasis called Resaiwûd by the Gerouad. Except for the women preparing dinner – roasting the carcasses of two young daggerrays over the fire -, the tribe of nomads was settled in a circle around us, watching me closely as I conversed with their shaman, Hrashun. The latter had welcomed me, explaining that it was the way of his people to be hospitable. Despite that I found that his fellow tribesmen were less keen on having me in their midst, although none had said so openly. Nor would I be threatened during my stay with the Gerouad, a people who have been dealt harsh blows by the Tonomai of the south and have a right to their distrust towards foreigners.
“I shook my head at the shaman’s words. ‘We seem to be alive, don’t we?’
“’And alive we are,’ Hrashun confirmed. ‘Yet our souls have lived other lives, in the preceding planes, and upon passage from this world they shall lead other lives. Death is no more than journeying to the next plane, or to be reborn in this one.’
“’You believe in reincarnation, then? That your souls are placed on an eternal wheel of time?’ I asked.
“Hrashun smiled softly. ‘Existence is not a wheel, my friend. It is a set of layers, like an onion. Peel off one, and you find another beneath. Our souls start off on the lowest of planes, the one called Sedah, which is a dark and dreary place, with no light save that of fire. Yet wood is hard to find for the burning, so that excrements must serve in its stead. Animals have little to feed, and so have the tribes herding them. Happy words are never heard in Sedah, the time there is spent in hope of pleasing the gods enough that passage to the second plane is granted after death. You see, each higher plane improves upon the conditions of the previous world, such as our own, the fourth plane named Arret, has a blue sky, fresh air, and plenty of beasts to hunt in our desert. Compared to Aiag below our plane, it is much better, and compared to Sedah, it is a paradise.’
“I frowned. ‘You sound as if you have seen this place yourself.’
“’So I have,’ Hrashun confirmed. ‘My soul is not like yours, or that of my fellow men here. I have journeyed through many lives, and at a time in the past I have pleased the gods with my lives so much that I have reached the final destination, the Divine Harbor, also known as Muisyle. It is the world where wishes come true at the blink of an eye, where water surrounds all, plenty to drink for everyone, as well as food from all corners of that plane. The air is sweet, filled with the peaceful song of happy birds, and there are conveyances for a man to travel the air himself, aflight like a bird. The buildings are tall, higher than a mile, made of metal like a sword, and horses are freed from the need to carry a man or cargo. In the Divine Harbor, my friend, you could be at your distant home, and yet we could speak with each other, as easily as we do now. We commune with the gods, in perfect peace and happiness.’ He smiled. ‘Now you wonder why I would have left such a place.’
“I could not help but agree. I also wondered where his descriptions had come from. Gerouad do not build houses. The majority has never seen a building, only those who have visited towns outside of their home desert. It was quite strange to hear a sandman speak of buildings as tall as a mile, when his own home was a tent that was commonly rolled up in a bag on his horse.
“Hrashun went on with his tale, ‘I felt saddened for the souls who are still on their long trek to the Divine Harbor, burdened as they are with the toil of the lower planes. They need the enlightenment that there is a purpose, a goal to strive for. So I decided to be reborn in one of these lower worlds in order to be a guide for the souls, that they may know which way shall lead to the higher planes and eventually to the Divine Harbor.’
“While he was talking, I was wondering about his fascination with a harbor. His people certainly do not know harbors from their own lives, yet curiously enough there is a word for it in their own tongue, as well as for river and stream and boat. The Gerouad rarely use these words outside of discussions of their belief, for the obvious reason that they have no place in their everyday lives. Yet they exist. Vestigial remains of their distant ancestors who lived outside the desert, perhaps?
“’Are there others like you?’ I asked. ‘Those who remember the other worlds?’
“’All those you call shamans,’ Hrashun nodded. ‘Our proper title is that of Dreamwalker, by the way. Though we are also concerned with medicines and magic, like the simpler shamans of foreign tribes, our most important quality is that we can travel in our dreams to other planes. The soul of every ordinary person can leave its cage of bones during sleep when the breath is even, and it can ride on the breath’s breeze. But only the shamans’ soul can then travel beyond the confines of our world to the planes below, those darker and poorer than our own, or above, to the brighter and more pleasant worlds.’
“My curiosity was awakened by one comment of his, so I interjected, ‘The cage of bones, what do you mean by that?’
“’Ah,’ the shaman smiled widely. ‘So you listen after all. From the look on your face, I had thought that you were about to fall asleep.’ I was properly indignated by the comment since I had noted every word, even though I neither did nor do believe in his explanation. On the other hand I did respect his strong faith which, I fervently hope, will be taken into account by the gods when they judge him after his death. ‘A man’s soul is set in his skull, my friend. That is its cage within which it must stay for the duration of a person’s life. Of course in the night it often escapes. Dreams are only the travels of your soul as it glides through the world, immaterial and invisible to the waking man. The soul does not perceive the world as we do, with eyes and ears. For that reason we cannot clearly recall the soul’s experience, its immaterial senses are not accustomed to our waking mind.’
“I nodded. ‘That does sound credible. What of the nightmare then? When there is a terrible occurrence in your dream and you suddenly wake up? Has the soul then sought refuge back in its cage?’
“’Exactly,’ Hrashun said. ‘The soul can also sense when somebody tries to wake us. It then hurries back as fast as it can, though sometimes it may be impeded by demons or other obstacles. That is when a person cannot be woken and continues his slumber. But,’ he smiled, ‘usually the soul finds it way home quickly, or it has already finished its nightly excursion, so the sleeper can wake instantly. It is more difficult for one who dreamwalks, since the call to return has to carry across the planes. There have been times when I could not be woken because my soul had strayed into the Divine Harbor, eight layers above our own lowly plane.’
“It was then that we had to take a break in our conversation. The chief’s woman announced that it was time for the evening’s meal. I must admit to some trepidation over having to eat a daggerray’s meat, even more since Hrashun assured me it was a rare and happy occasion to have slain a daggerray. Moreover, the tribe had killed two this day, the very day that I had arrived. (Most likely, Hrashun thought I was a good omen, a kind of lucky charm for his tribe, which explains why he took to me so quickly, and also why I was offered the third cut from the carcass, after he and the chief took their pieces.) Luckily I found that the meat of a daggerray is rather tasty, although there is a bitter subcurrent to it that one must grow used to.
“After the meal, Hrashun and I resumed our conversation for a short while before retiring to sleep. Around us, the tribesmen were busy with putting together the wooden bases on which their tents would be erected. I started our discussion by saying, ‘So the soul stays in the skull during life, and when a person dies, the soul travels to the next plane, right?’
“Hrashun sighed and shook his head. ‘If it were only that simple, my friend. The soul can only leave its cage with the even breath. Should the breathing be irregular, the soul must stay inside and contain its longing to travel freely. Which, by the way, also accounts for the grumpiness of a person who snores at night; his soul can only escape occasionally.’
“He sighed again, then said, ‘Most people die when their breath is not even – such as happens in combat, or during sickness. Then the soul is trapped, without even the enjoyment of the eyes and ears. It cannot travel to another plane, nor can it even be reborn in the self-same plane. We have to help the soul to leave the skull.’
“With these words he pulled out an instrument that looked like a mallet, with one end sharpened to a point. That end was made of bone, like most of the tools and weapons of the Gerouad. Presumably this was the bone of either a daggerray or a tusk clouder, the most valued beasts that have bones as hard as this. ‘The skull must be cracked open, the bony cage must be broken. That is the only way to ensure that a soul may journey to where the gods deem its proper destination. Of course,’ he grinned darkly, ‘we do not render this service to enemies. Those we slay in battle will stay in their cages, until they are split by a natural occurrence.’ He frowned briefly, then his smile returned to its familiar pleasantness. ‘On the other hand, we would never allow a friend to suffer like that. You, my friend, can always count on me to set your soul free.’
“I was taken aback and could not help but wonder what would happen if a person only appeared to be dead. How quick was the shaman to free the soul from its cage? I did not mention this at that time, planning to inquire at a later time. Instead I asked, ‘You have mentioned that the soul has to please the gods in order to advance to the higher plane. How is that done, and what happens to a soul that has not been good?’
“Hrashun cast a quick glance at the work around us. Soon the tents would be finished, and I understood that he intended to finish our conversation as soon as that happened. It wasn’t a sign of anger with me, or growing tired of speaking; I have found the same habits with other nomads. Sleep is a luxury that needs be treasured. There was time enough in the day to speak, the night was for sleeping.
“But there was still time, and Hrashun said, ‘It is the actions of your current life that are judged at its end. If you have properly followed the edicts and the laws of the gods, then you will be rewarded by elevation to the next plane. But mind you that the demands placed upon a soul increase in each layer. A decent life, filled with little faith, might be sufficient to escape Sedah, the lowest world, but it will not be sufficient in Salleh, the second. Then the person would be reborn in this plane, for another attempt. Only the near-perfect soul, next to the gods in virtue, may reach the Divine Harbor.
“’If a soul has done ill deeds and broken laws, then it will be sent back down, according to the severity of its crimes. Some have lost their faith in the eleventh layer, believing themselves to be exempt from judgment, yet their souls were condemned back to Sedah. That, my friend, is the way of the worlds. Our gods are kind, but their justice is demanding. When your day comes, perhaps they will appreciate that, although you do not believe in them, your soul is a good one. Perhaps you can find your way to the fifth world, to Emor.’
“Those were the last words in our conversation. The tents were finished, and we went to sleep. Hrashun and I did not have the chance to speak again, for the next day the tribe’s hunters found the trails of a desert dragon. The shaman decided that the time was right to essay a hunt on the greatest and most dangerous beast of the Elfadil Desert (perhaps because my presence was seen as a good omen). Hrashun would lead the hunt himself, and I soon learned that there would be no occasions for conversation during that time. To my regret, I had already made arrangements to meet fellow Darawk priests, so that I could not wait for another occasion to come my way. Therefore I took my leave of Hrashun and his tribe, hoping to see them again sometime later.”
“The gruesome sight I shall never forget until my death. Our friends of the preceding caravan had told us by magiscribe that the Sandmen tribe had welcomed them and treated them very well. But when we found them, they were dead, and their heads were split open. The heathen Sandmen had put them on the ground orderly, their hands folded on their chests, almost as if they were asleep. Brutal sarcasm of savages who wanted their bloody deed known to us. They knew that we were to meet at their oasis! They murdered the merchants of the first caravan, put them out in such a sickening manner reminiscent of a decent burial, but the proof of the savages’ cruelty irrefutable with the skulls cracked wide open.
“If that is how the barbarians treat their friends, I’d rather be their enemy!”
Read on in Part Two about the Gerouad "Ritual of Death's Journey"!