Steeds 36

31 05 2017

“One day in the unknown distant past Catamount came upon the sleeping Trickster. The Trickster had earlier duped some of the Squirrel people into roasting themselves by a fire used in a game they had been playing. Trickster had eaten some of the Squirrels and had saved some of them on a willow plate. Catamount was hungry, too, so he stole the remaining Squirrels from the dozing Trickster.

“Upon awakening, Trickster became angry at learning his snacks had been filched. He tracked Catamount and found him well-fed and sleeping comfortably on a stone. Trickster awakened Catamount by seizing his stubby tail and lifting him upside down. ‘I’ll teach you not to steal from me, your better,’ Trickster said. He put a foot on Catamount’s head and pulled and pulled, stretching Catamount into a caricature of himself. Then Trickster put a foot on Catamount’s rump and pulled and pulled, stretching his tale nearly to match the length of his body. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘No matter how well you eat, from now on you’ll always look lean.’

“And then Trickster dragged Catamount all the way back to what remained of the Squirrels’ fire. Trickster threw Catamount into the smoldering ashes. Catamount jumped out as quickly as he could, his red fur singed and tinged gray … as it is to this day. His vindictiveness not yet satiated, Trickster grabbed Catamount and shoved his snout into a burnt log and blackened part of his face … as it is to this day. ‘There!’ said Trickster. ‘You will remember what you did to me every time you see yourself in a pool of water.’ And so it was.”

“You mentioned a pool of water,” Lee said. “Does that somehow relate to this concept of Panther being a Water Spirit? I thought cats generally don’t like water.”

“If you had been thrown into a fire pit, perhaps you would thereafter like having a closer association with water.”

“Ah. That is a story you heard from Indian elders?”

“It is,” said Richard. “We traded stories. I listened to as many of theirs as they would tell, and they listened to stories I told from the Bible.”

“What did they think?”

“In my experience, they were quite fond of the story of Samson. They appreciate his warrior skills, his strength, and especially his power. They also see him as a kind of trickster. They were impressed with how he as a trickster was himself tricked.

“They like the story of Balaam and his donkey. They have no trouble believing, you see, that a donkey can speak like a man and to a man. Donkeys, like men and all living creatures, have spirits.”

Lee said, “I have thought that the donkey did not actually speak, since it doesn’t have the physiological equipment to do so. Rather, I have thought that God gave Balaam the ability to understand what the donkey was thinking as it was braying.”

“If the Spirit of God is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the human heart, He can also discern the thoughts and intents of a donkey’s mind. If the Word of the Lord can come to one prophet after another, so the Lord can bring the word of a donkey to a prophet, such as he was. Is that it?”


Richard continued, “The Indians have no problem accepting the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, as written. Serpent spirits, like all animal spirits, can act and speak exactly as described. By contrast, Indians have had little or no concept of Satan … not prior to the ministry of Jesuit, Franciscan, and Dominican missionaries, that is. A being totally depraved is incomprehensible. A being who can even dare contest the Lord God Almighty―Manitou is the rarely spoken name known by the Indians I know―a being who is willing and able to rebel against Him is unbelievable. That seems as absurd as a house cat going into combat against Panther, or a puppy dog going against Wolf.

“Particularly intriguing to them were the stories of Ezekiel’s vision of the Lord God Almighty as attended by the four spirit creatures, of John’s similar vision, and of Isaiah’s encounter with and calling by the Lord God Almighty to be a prophet. Indians have high regard for prophets. That a prophet can engage with God without intermediaries is striking. Angel spirits standing between God and man makes sense, as do animal spirits such as Thunderbirds.”

“And what of Christ Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah and the Lamb of God? What of His mediation?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” said Richard. “That was the focus of my missionary endeavor. The serpent, that old dragon, the Devil: he has been able repeatedly to thwart such endeavors through the deceptions and depravations he has wrought on Europeans who profess Christianity. My parents were missionaries before me. They accompanied the Eeyamquittoowauconnuck, Christian Indians otherwise known as the Brotherton, in their migration to Wisconsin from persecution and expulsion from their ancestral lands back east by nominal Christians.”

Both men sat silent for a time. They looked at the peony flowers they smelled. They watched the robins as they sang.

“What shall I say to Quentin?” Lee eventually asked.

“Have you noticed this in our own myths and legends and folklore?” Richard asked. “The farther back in time you look, the bigger such beings as elves and fairies become. That is a backward way of noticing this: as time has gone by, such beings as elves and fairies have become smaller and smaller. Today, they can’t be seen at all. So it goes with Indian animal spirits. Perhaps not in my lifetime yet, but I suspect by the end of yours, they won’t be seen at all.”

Richard then asked, “Do you remember the story of what happened when Jesus visited the country of the Gergesenes?”

“Yes, sir. Jesus cast demons out of two savage men who lived amid tombs.”

“And what happened to those demons?”

“They pleaded not to be judged and executed before their time was up. They asked indulgence to enter a herd of swine.”

“And then what happened?”

“The demons entered the swine. My reading of the story suggests that those unclean pigs had more goodness than the humans who had earlier entertained the demons. The pigs would not allow themselves to become porcine demon-spirits. After the demons entered them, the pigs entered the Sea of Galilee, drowning themselves.”

“Whether the pigs did that at the behest of the demons, or in resistance, they were destroyed. Demons do that: they induce destruction. Did the demons drown?”

“I doubt it.”

“Where did they go next?”

“Do we know?”

“We know only that they did not go to the Abyss. They probably went on to make trouble elsewhere. So I fear it is among the American Indians. Animal spirits are being replaced by distilled spirits, among others on their way. As for Panther, tell Quentin you are looking for him in any number of diabolical disguises.”




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