Mythology: Paths to Divinity

Section 3: Myths and Religions of other Peoples

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Table of Contents


Section I: Gods and Goddesses

Section III: Myths and Religions of other Peoples


The Sandmen of the Elfadil Desert

(also known as the Gerouad) - Page 2 -

The Ritual of Death's Journey

“I had not expected Hrashun to remember me. Seven years had passed since we had met for only a day and a nightly conversation (chronicled in the book “Of Distant Lands and Peoples”, which can be found in the library of the larger Darawk temples). It had been that long also since my last journey to the Elfadil Desert, and only the chance mention of a Gerouad shaman named Hrashun tempted me to brave the arid heat once more. Indeed it turned out that this Hrashun was the same I had spoken with seven years before – and the moment I rode up to his tribe, the shaman’s face lit up in sudden cheer. ‘My friend Nemodûg, you have returned!’ he called out happily.

“I would quickly learn that this Nemodûg was actually me, the name by which the tribe had come to speak of me. My intuition during our first meeting had been right, Hrashun had considered me a good omen. (That is what Nemodûg means, ‘good omen’.) It took him only a few heartbeats to tell me that his hunt for the desert dragon had been successful, and that the whole of the following half-year had been extraordinarily good. ‘Nemodûg,’ he said to me when I was riding next to him, ‘the gods have sent you to us, as they did the first time. You are good luck, which our chief will need in his great journey. Now, with you here, I am sure that he will find his way to Emor, the next higher plane!’

“From his words I deduced that the tribe’s chief – Alachenah – had died the day before. Later I would be told that he had died in an accident when he fell down a dune of sand and impaled himself on his own dagger. Such an ignoble death had raised fear that the gods had punished the chief. But when I – their Nemodûg – appeared, Hrashun decided that it had been only the Alachenah’s time to die after all, no matter the manner of his demise. With great cheer he proceeded to tell me that the following day they would perform a ritual to send his soul on to the next world. For the chief of a tribe, he said, it was customary to wait three days, so that all members of the tribe could join in the mourning and take their leave of the soul still at rest within the skull, the ‘cage of bones’. ‘You will be our guest of honor, Nemodûg,’ Hrashun said. ‘The chief’s soul will be glad to have you in our midst upon his departure.’

[Note by G.A.Q.: The following paragraphs tell in great detail how Vivont accompanied the tribe back to their current home base, an oasis named Chiaresh in the north of the Elfadil, where they stayed for the winter months. After that, Vivont describes the tribe’s social structure and records the minutiae of their daily routine, continuing with the events of the next day. Clearly he did not suffer any of the distrust of his first visit but was free to go where he wanted and ask whichever questions came to his mind. None of these have any bearing on the belief of the Gerouad wherefore I have taken the liberty of excluding them from this book. Although I will admit that it hurt me not to use Vivont’s tale of the tribe’s hunt the next day, a very vivacious and captivating story. I recommend that you seek out his work and read it, it is well worth the effort.]

“The evening of the second day, the tribe gathered around their fire earlier than on the previous day. It was a strangely cheerful mood, despite the fact that this was their chief’s funeral. Yet death, as I have explained on other occasion, does not hold the same dread for the Gerouad as it does for us. We had eaten of the crustmaw slain that day, a meal that for me seemed apt. Its meat is very bitter, and the taste lingers on long in the mouth, sometimes for more than two days, a proper reminder of the somber occasion. My Gerouad friends did not share in this feeling, though.

“I was given a place next to the chief’s bier, a simple barrow of palm wood, decked out with the blanket of the Alachenah’s horse. Curiously, his body was not there; instead it lay on the opposite site of the camp, the upper body leaned against a seat fashioned from a clouder’s tusks, his head proudly raised as if he were observing the celebration. The space between the body and the bier had been cleared. A slender, rectangular form was marked in the sand by spears.

“Hrashun had excused himself right after the meal, while the tribesmen had begun their preparations of the funeral, and gone into his tent, ‘to walk the dream,’ as he told me. ‘I will visit our chief’s soul to inform it that now the time for its journey has come.’ His words could only mean that he intended to sleep, and I was wondering how – or if – he would be woken up for the proper funeral. Perhaps the gathering would remain until Hrashun left his tent of his own accord, after a natural sleep, no matter that this might take until the next morning. I had steeled myself for a long wait, but it proved unnecessary.

“About an hour after he had gone to his tent, the shaman returned, swaying softly from one side to the other, mumbling under his breath. His gait was different, not quite like that of a drunken man, yet reminiscent. His eyes were closed. Most of his face was slack, yet some of the smaller muscles twitched incessantly.

“Although I do not know what exactly he had taken, there was no doubt in my mind that he had drugged himself, to be put in a state of trance. (Several of the lesser civilized tribes of the world use a method of this kind. Indeed, it is not entirely uncommon to find drugs employed in the meditation techniques of even our more enlightened priests. Unfortunately, it also cast a somewhat dubious light on Hrashun’s tale of dreamwalking. Hallucinations account for many strange things.)

“Now Hrashun slowly walked to the corpse of the chief, where he knelt for a moment. Despite his swaying gait, he seemed to be in perfect control of his motions, and when he spoke, his voice was husky yet firm and clear. ‘Good soul of Alachenah who has led our tribe for eighteen-and-two years, your time of toil in Arret has come to a close. Now your journey for the new world is set to begin. Let me be your guide, to show you the way across the sea.’ (I perked up at the mention of a sea. It is quite curious that the Gerouad’s language distinguishes between a pond, a lake, and the sea. Before my study of their people, I would have expected there to be at best a single word for any body of water, since their desert home knows only the small lakes in oases. Of course, as bereft of water as they are, it is logical that their gods are associated with water.)

“Hrashun paused for a moment, then he withdrew from a belt the bone mallet I had seen seven years earlier, with the pointed tip to break a skull. He raised it high above his head, then brought it down with a practiced motion that impacted cleanly on a point slightly above Alachenah’s body’s forehead. The ‘cage of bones’ was opened immediately, a visible gash. Hrashun hastily dropped his mallet, reached out with his hands for the gash, cupped as if to hold a liquid.

“A gasp went through the assembled tribe, followed by relief, when the shaman nodded with a smile. ‘His soul is here in my hands. Come with me now, soul of Alachenah, to the sea.’

“He rose to his feet, carefully cradling his cupped hands to his breast, then began stomping his feet on the ground, as if he were walking. Softly, the tribe started to chant, not in familiar words but simple sounds that reminded me of the wind’s noise during a ride. This continued for a long while. Slowly I came to realize that Hrashun was not actually staying in place, his steps were putting him gradually closer to the slender rectangle of spears, only an inch at a time. When he reached it, he raised his cupped hands and said, ‘See here, it is the sea. This is the edge of Arret, the fourth plane. We have now to set across in this boat, so that you can travel to the world of Emor.’

“He stepped forward into the rectangle – which I now recognized as the symbol of a boat. Four tribesmen rose from the assembled lines, bearing paddles in their hands. I looked closely at them, but the paddles seemed shaped like any I had seen used for true boats. (To make myself better understood: I consider it likely that the Gerouad’s ancestors lived near the ocean or a river, before they were transplaced into the Elfadil desert. Traces of that original lifestyle might easily have survived within their language, albeit distorted into mythology. Yet the design of a paddle might change over the course of many generations when the maker has no way of testing its worth in water.) Hrashun stood hunched over at the bow of his symbolic boat while the four tribesmen stepped into the rectangle behind him, arrayed in a square. ‘Let us now begin the journey,’ the shaman said, and the tribesmen began to put their paddles to the imaginary water around them in motions as fluid as I have seen from fishermen, although they did not seem to have quite the same movement. (Here at least I found the change I had been looking for in the design of the paddles.) Accompanied they were by a drumbeat from two tribeswomen, one of whom I recognized as the chief’s wife. The second was much younger, her face resembling the elder woman enough that she must be her daughter.

“This journey took longer than Hrashun’s walk to the boat, but it also came to an end when the shaman raised his hands again. The drums stopped, the tribesmen put their paddles before their chests. ‘Gentle soul, here is the shore,’ Hrashun said as he carefully stepped out of the symbolic boat, as if he had to climb over its side. With measured steps he strode the few remaining feet to the bier. There he reached out his hands over the barrow and slowly parted them, presumably for the soul to rest on the palm wood. ‘From my soul to yours,’ he said, then took a small statue of wax from within his shirt and placed it under the bier. I could not make out exactly what the statue depicted. In a later conversation I learned that it was a likeness of Hrashun himself, a sign that his soul would continue guiding Alachenah in the next world.

“The shaman stepped aside, to stand beside the bier, his eyes closed once more, his body swaying softly as he was mumbling like he had before the beginning of this journey. One by one, the tribesmen now rose to their feet and marched to the bier, depositing their gifts for the departing soul under the bier, saying, ‘From my soul to yours’. I noted that the gifts were of a varied nature, but they all shared one common element: they provided good fuel for a fire. Most, indeed, were made of wood, carved to represent a tool, weapon, or item of pleasure. They were rather crude, for they had been made in the past three days, after Alachenah’s death, and the tribesmen had little time aside from their daily chores to work on this. Some of the gifts were cloth, personal items like a vest. As I understood this, these were meant to accompany the soul into the next world, so that the chief may arrive well equipped.

“The last to rise were Alachenah’s wife and daughter. His daughter went first, offering as a gift something wrapped in a piece of cloth. ‘From my soul to yours, dear father, your favorite sweetmeat,’ she said, then made room for her mother. The wife knelt before the bier, looking over the assembled gifts with a keen eye (much like the women I know from social gatherings at my home, ascertaining that the presents are suitably costly; very disconcerting since in those gatherings of home, the host is commonly very much alive). After a moment, she said, ‘From my soul to yours, beloved husband.’ She added to the pyre a blanket which she draped over the others. ‘It is the one we lay on, my husband,’ she murmured then hurried to stand beside her daughter and Hrashun. The two women grasped hands quickly, the younger supporting the elder. (Although the Gerouad do not fear death, the wife had still lost her husband. She might believe that he would find a better world in store for him, yet in this world, she was bereft and properly grieving. Strange that I found this comforting.)

“Once she had reached her place, the four tribesmen in the symbolic boat – the only ones who had not offered a gift – walked to the chief’s body, lifted it on their shoulders and carried it over to the bier, smoothly avoiding the speared rectangle. Alachenah’s corpse was placed on the bier, then the tribesmen rejoined their fellows.

“Hrashun now opened his eyes, looked over to me. ‘Nemodûg who was sent by the gods, I ask you to set flame to the fire.’

“He had told me of this before, so I knew what to do. I rose, walked to the fireplace and grasped the stick thrust into the ground. It was made of palm wood, carved to resemble one of the bone spears of the Gerouad, its tip coated with a resin that burned easily. As a torch it would not serve well, for the flames would consume its entirety shortly. For its purpose, it worked well. Moreover it turned into a majestic sight as I lit the resin tip, and I carried a burning spear to the bier.

“’From my soul to yours,’ I said, as Hrashun had instructed me, then I put the stick to the bier. Its bottom was coated with resin as well, so it would catch fire quickly. That it did, and quickly bier, body, and gifts became a bonfire that would carry the chief’s soul on to the next world.

“When the bonfire had died down, Hrashun stepped forward and dipped his hands into the still hot ashes, withdrawing some of them to smear them over his face. ‘From your soul to mine, that I might meet you again in another world.’

“The rest of the tribe did the same, as did I. The earliest all suffered burn marks – curiously, Hrashun was the only one spared -, but by the time I took my share of the ashes, they were merely warm. After that, the funeral was over, and with the speed I had grown accustomed to, the entire tribe retired to their sleep.”

Pyar Vivont
Darawk scholar
(excerpted from the second volume of his work “My Journeys”, 3163 A.E.)