Hermes Beckons: All Creatures Have Their Spirit Guardians
Shasta was putting the finishing touches on the table setting when Ralph entered the dining room, carrying a cup of coffee and a plate of sourdough toast smeared with hummus. She frequently changed the setting, replacing pieces with others: an ongoing process that would eventually exhibit all of nature’s gifts she had collected.
“What you’re doing with the beach treasures seems to reflect what the day will be. It’s almost ceremonial.”
She laughed. “Art and ceremony blending together. Now that I’ve gotten into the routine, I feel an aura of sacredness in my movements. Like an invisible hand is guiding my choice of objects and their placement. The activity is silent; inner talking is absent.”
Studying the arrangement, he remarked, “I can understand how a grouping of objects might become a symbolic design conveying special, hidden meaning.”
“Ah, you magicians with your secrets. For me it’s mainly creative and aesthetic. There is a kind of energy in the doing that is enjoyable and calming.”
“It’s more my philosophic nature.” Ralph paused, an insight emerging. “The blending of the two, magic and philosophy, probably underlies my alchemical quest.”
She observed him with inquiring eyes and then embraced him. He responded with his gentle bear hug, and, sighing deeply, she rested her head against his shoulder.
“I love you, Shasta,” he whispered into her ear. “I know I haven’t been too communicative recently but . . .”
“I’m aware of your love.” She touched his lips with her finger. “It’s part of the healing process, and you’re getting better.”
They kissed and stood apart, tenderness flowing between their eyes.
“Would you go to the produce store later this morning? I need some things for lunch.”
“That’s right. Rafé will be over. How soon do you want it?”
“I’ll start preparing around eleven, and we’ll eat around noon.”
“I’ve a few things to do in the studio after breakfast, and then I’ll head over to the store.” ***
“How did you met?” Rafé looked at Shasta and then to Ralph.
Seated in the dining room, they had been savoring a pasta-fruit salad that Shasta had prepared for lunch. She had always enjoyed cooking, but once she had discovered the many web sites that offered recipes, she had transformed into a gourmet chef who loved to experiment. So far Ralph was holding up his end by being an honest and appreciative critic.
“At Papa Pizza’s beer and pizza parlor on Stanyan Street.” Shasta grinned, the memories flooding her mind. “I shared an apartment with Nancy Burke, who has since become my second best friend. Ralph’s my very best.” Shasta patted him on the arm. His face shone, and he started to reply, but she continued. “Papa Pizza was a neighborhood meeting place, after work, later in the evening, and on weekends. Nancy and I lived on Beulah Street a few houses from the intersection with Stanyan.” She winked at him.
Ralph had his opportunity. “As my best friend has stated,” and he gently touched her hand, “it was the watering hole for many of us in the neighborhood. The draft beer was cheap and drinkable, and it was a congenial place to hang out. We could sit and chat without buying anything.”
“We did some readings and played some music. There was a guy who played the flute and another the guitar. Friday or Saturday night we’d often adjourn to someone’s apartment,” Shasta remarked.
“Hardly ever mine. It was only one room on the third floor in this house on Shrader Street. The rent was low. I was thankful for that.” Ralph was enjoying the nostalgic remembrances.
“We were living a bohemian life style as artists. I was taking creative writing at SF State—laboring on my first novel, a romance of love lost and regained, set in the countryside of northern California. Rather autobiographical as first novels are. Those were the days and nights, burning the candle at both ends.” She paused, her eyes sparkling. “Ralph suggested I should write a detective mystery story. After several rejections of my romance, I wrote the first Peaches Peoples story. Was I amazed when Della Borden, an agent who had rejected my juvenilia, thought the manuscript was good enough to submit to publishers she had contacts with. She’s been my agent ever since.”
Rafé looked over at Ralph, her eyes thoughtful. “So you were the inspiration. That’s cool. Music has always been my spiritual source of inspiration. It’s healing for my soul. When I was very young, my parents took me to powwows where I watched and imitated the dancers. Have you seen any Native American dancing?”
“Oh, yes, we have and enjoyed it very much.” Shasta replied.
“The yearly powwow at Stanford University in Palo Alto is the biggest in the Bay Area. We’ve been several times.” Ralph added.
“I’ve heard about it and also the one at Cupertino, but I haven’t had the opportunity to attend yet. If you ever get the chance, go to the Red Earth Powwow held in Oklahoma City every spring. It’s huge. Thousands of people attend. Artists display their works, and awards are given for the best in many categories. My people put on their annual Heritage Festival in June. The ceremonies are very spiritual and uplifting. I’m in contact with my roots on those occasions.” Rafé paused, thinking, and then continued. “Shasta, what is your religious and spiritual background.”
“Well, my folks never went to church much. They weren’t members of any denomination but were more in tune with new age beliefs, a mixture of back-to-nature and the occult. We went hiking, picnicking, and exploring around the Sierras, especially Mount Shasta. I learned early about the features of nature. Ideas from the occult percolated through their social circle, so I was always hearing bits and pieces about the mysteries. Dad dabbled some in astrology. He did charts for friends and relatives. Mom played around with the tarot.
“I was more interested in poetry and stories and soon became entranced by the British romantics. When I was a teen, Shelley was my hero.”
“‘Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! / I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!’” Ralph intoned lines from Percy Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.” “The crucified poet. Such emotive sentiment.” An ironic smirk lit his face.
“‘If Winter comes, Spring be far behind?’ I know, but for a teenager these are profound thoughts. Later I decided that Shelley’s imagery was too contrived, and I could agree with you. But guess what? After a reconsideration at my advancing age, I find much to appreciate in his poetry. Perhaps his greatest strength is the ability to release his feelings and thrust them into the reader’s face.”
“I have a hard time with that public display. I guess I want more control.” Ralph responded.
“Like Keats? ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty.’” Shasta retorted.
“Ah, yes. ‘What men or gods are these . . . Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter,’” he answered with more lines from John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
“Dear, what about ‘But when the melancholy fit shall fall / Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud’?” She smiled, knowing that he would recognize Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy.”
“Ahh, you hit the mark, Shasta. When I’m feeling the blues, I wail like those poets Shelley and Keats.”
Rafé looked at Ralph quizzically. A hidden aspect of his personality had now revealed itself. Her images of them were undergoing radical transformation. Her upbringing had taught her to be a keen observer.
“It wasn’t only the British romantics. I also favored American writers such as Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Rachel Carson, and Wendell Berry. My family was very concerned about protecting the environment and finding ways to halt America’s mad dash to ecological chaos. The best statement of my religious beliefs is that nature is my church, sacrament, and holy text. My greatest fear is that we humans are so arrogant that we’ll continue trying to dominate nature rather than following her guidance.”
“Not everyone is that foolish.” Rafé replied. “Many Native Americans are still very close to their traditional values and customs. The basic beliefs of my people are rooted in nature and the spirit world. The two are actually one. Manitos can appear to us, and they frequently influence our daily lives.”
“That’s a more realistic view of the world,” Shasta affirmed.
“Many scientists would say that your new age parents had corrupted you with superstitions.” Ralph winked at Shasta.
“And what’s their authority? I was taught that people’s beliefs should grow from their experiences. Native Americans know about the government’s attempts to destroy our culture and language by forcing children to forget their traditions and take on the dominant society’s beliefs.” Rafé paused, her anger showing. “Many of my relatives were forcibly taken from their families and placed into government approved schools where they were instilled with English, Christianity, and the image that they were inferior and needed to be civilized. Many were punished when they spoke their native language or behaved as they were taught by their family.” Rafé’s posture was defiant.
“Ah, so much for family values that our politicians, religious leaders, and educators frequently praise.” Ralph’s irony had increased.
Sensing an emotional eruption, Shasta moved swiftly to exert a calming influence. “I heard stories about spirit powers around Mount Shasta when I was young. Raven, coyote, and hummingbird were recurring characters. What are the beliefs of the Potawatomi, Rafé?”
“Actually, Potawatomi is not our real name. It’s what the Europeans called us, but we acknowledge it as the name recognized by the government. In our language we are Neshnabek, meaning the people.”
“That’s true for most Native Americans. Their official English name is not what they call themselves in their language.” Ralph showed his understanding of the situation.
“Yes, the Ojibwe are Anishinaabe in their language.” Rafé concurred. “We’re related to them linguistically and culturally. The word Potawatomi is a translation of the Anishinaabe word bode’-wadmink, which means People of the Place of the Fire. That is our cultural role.”
She paused, gathering her thoughts. “The whole universe is a community. Everything is linked together. People are connected to nonhumans through their similar humanlike traits. For example, our clan names are those of animals, which have played an important role in the origin of the world and of our ceremonies. The great spirit power, kshe’mnIto, the maker of the world, is called in English Manito. But there are many particular manitos.” She waited, seeking their understanding.
“Like a rainbow with many colors or a waterfall with millions of individual drops.” Shasta responded.
Ralph nodded in agreement, thinking to himself that this idea was the classic one-and-many puzzle. If all is one (unity), then where does multiplicity come from? Or is there any principle unifying all the separate, individual pieces of the universe?
Recognizing their comprehension, she continued. “All creatures have their spirit guardians. Nature is infused with spirit power that occurs in many forms. We are encouraged, at least traditionally, to seek our personal power from spiritual sources. In the old way, everyone had a vision quest at the onset of puberty. The quest at this time was a very important one. I was fortunate because when I reached that age, my parents sent me to live with my grandparents in Kansas, who still walked the traditional path. They’re members of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.” She paused again.
Shasta smiled at her, noticing that Rafé had drawn inward for the moment, probably deciding on which details to relate.
“Afterwards, I sat with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and I described my vision. They helped me understand it and the direction my life should follow.” She paused, vividly remembering the discussion.
After several moments of silence, Ralph asked, “I’ve read about such spirit beings as Thunderbirds and Underwater Panthers. What are they?” Rafé was obviously not going to relate her personal vision to them, so he moved the discussion back to general beliefs.
Rafé returned from her reverie. “Well, they form the two main groupings of manitos. The Thunderbirds are those inhabiting the upperworld, and the Underwater Panthers the underworld. The panthers are often pictured as cat-like with horns and a very long tail, sometimes covered with scales. They often cause trouble for people. The Thunderbirds are very powerful and can bestow sacred power on people. Some of my relatives have gained power from the manitos. I have an aunt who can find things that are hidden or lost. She also can peer into the future.” Rafé became quiet.
Shasta, realizing that she had finished, broke the silence. “That’s amazing. Those ideas corroborate the stories I’ve heard. I remember a Wintu gentleman who talked about the beliefs of his people at the community center in Dunsmuir’s city park. His stories centered on Mount Shasta, which is a very sacred mountain. There are special places where one can go for healing or to get answers to personal problems. The mountain is the location where the soul passes over to the other side. According to Wintu beliefs, the spirit trail, sometimes called the flower trail, that the soul travels after death is the Milky Way. Of course, the mountain is also a place where one can tap into another reality for spiritual quests.”
After several moments of silence, Shasta asked, “Would anyone like some cookies? Chocolate chip and lemon are available.” She stood up and looked expectantly at them. They muttered, “Okay.” She entered the kitchen and quickly returned with a plate of cookies. “Dear, it’s time for your story.”
Ralph munched on a chocolate chip, deciding on his beginning. “When I was young and in my twenties, I used to think about leaving this world. Ivan K and I, sitting on the train, pondered the cruelty and meanness of existence. We were headed toward the east coast.”
“Ivan K?” Shasta inquired.
“Yes, Ivan was a close buddy when I was in college. We spent a lot of time imbibing cheap red wine and beer, contemplating the nature of existence, attending poetry readings and other avant garde happenings. Guess I’ve never mentioned him.”
“No, I can’t recall him. What does ‘K’ stand for?” Shasta asked.
“Oh, that’s Karamazov. He’s Russian American, from Gary, Indiana. His dad worked in the steel mills until he died at fifty-three from a stroke while on the job. Happened frequently back then. Those open hearths and slag pits were as hot as hell. Ivan had a great intellect, wrote some very profound essays and a few philosophical stories.”
“I don’t think I’ve come across his writings.” Shasta remarked.
“It was the summer after we’d graduated from San Francisco State, and we were going primarily to New York City, but stopping off first in Chicago. Real, authentic, existential bohemians. We spent most of our time in the club car, drinking beer and bantering around ideas. Well, we’d speculate on why God would create such an unjust world. Ivan was a fine scholar, loved history, could recite dates and names right and left. My drinking, philosophizing buddy laid out the history of civilization—greed, murder, torture, and arrogance among humans—and then the merciless violence of natural events—hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, famines, and plagues. Since my interests were centered more in the contemporary world, I was able to add the terrifying examples of twentieth century human affairs—more of the same but escalated by ten to the tenth power. Such human atrocities and heinous crimes have never been witnessed before. At least the historical record shows no such depravity.
“While we were enjoying our disheartening and depressing discussion, this gent came up, introducing himself by saying that we could call him Santa. Asking if he could join us, he sat down in the vacant chair before we could nod our agreement or disapproval. He seemed a pleasant fellow, polite and well-mannered, yet a seriousness pressed hard against his jovial countenance. Other than his good humor and rosy cheeks, he didn’t resemble Santa Claus, and the gifts he brought forth were for the mind and the spirit. Gaining the attention of the waiter, he ordered a round of beers. He’d been all around the world, many times, seen just about everything worth seeing, and even things that weren’t. Before we knew it, all three of us were holding forth with the most profound conceits about existence and being. The most absurd thing in existence is the universe itself. Who could have created such a miserable entity? More importantly, why create it? For what purpose? Existence is absurd. Thinking about its meaninglessness, we started feeling sick and nauseous. But then old Santa, a very friendly, regular guy, ordered another round of beers; and there we sat imbibing, washing away our sorrows. That old guy told us many stories about times past we never heard of. Human cruelty and misery seemed to have run rampant for thousands of years, at least from what the old fellow recounted. After finishing our fifth bottle of beer, we were in a rare mood, feeling good, humor abounding among us; and we laughed, couldn’t stop, until the conductor approached, a frown etched on his face, and asked us to quiet down.
“We had gotten so carried away that our boisterous behavior was disturbing the whole club car. Well, old Santa winked devilishly at the conductor and then waved at the waiter to bring another round of beers and even offered to buy one for the conductor. But our guardian of decorum and propriety, a stern authoritarian, was more concerned about the contentment of the other passengers, so he commanded us in no uncertain words that if we persisted in our rude and rowdy behavior, he would confiscate our tickets and kick us off the train.
“Well, we’re enjoying ourselves and didn’t relish being left in some godforsaken countryside with no accommodations nor transportation. So we agreed to act politely and began speaking in a quieter voice. We spent the remainder of the journey thusly, commenting on the human comedy. How funny we humans must be to space travelers looking down on our little planet as they soar through the universe. They see our suffering as comic as we laugh at a clown when he stumbles and falls. We know he isn’t hurt, that it’s only a joke. If someone really fell, why then that would be serious, and we would try to help, or at least feel sympathy. Those watching us from above just can’t believe that we’re ultimately harmed in any way. Well, it’s as if our actions are too awkward and out of balance. If we were moving with natural rhythm, these events wouldn’t happen.
“You know, at the beginning of that trip I was seriously considering returning my ticket and getting off the train, but that humbug of a conductor changed my mind. When we reached Chicago, Ivan decided to continue home to Gary and visit his mother, brothers, and sisters. We would meet in New York in Greenwich Village. No date was set because we had this romantic notion that philosophers like us would eventually meet again. So we separated and went our own ways. We never found each other, although I did read some of his writings that were published later. I wonder whatever happened to Ivan? It’s been years since I’ve thought of him.”
“That’s an amazing tale. Was Ivan very religious? What kind of a person was he?” Shasta inquired.
“He was Russian Orthodox. His family was, and he was brought up that way. A very serious, intellectual type. He saw the tragic in everyday occurrences. When we were hanging out together, he had given up his childhood beliefs. I suppose he was an agnostic, but not quite an atheist. He had evolved strange, shocking ideas. I loved the mind play—bouncing ideas about with him.”
“What were some of those strange ideas?” Shasta asked. Her interest had been captured.
“The one most intriguing and upsetting centered on the assumption that if God were dead then all was lawful. Without God all behavior would be lawful, acceptable, and moral. Sure, each society would have its own set of customs, beliefs, and moral codes. But this is only cultural relativism, which is what anthropologists assume. The point Ivan was arguing is that without a supreme lawgiver there can’t be any universal laws that are applicable to everyone everywhere.”
“What about physical laws—physics, chemistry, math?” Shasta inquired. A long time interest was searching for moral values in nature.
“Oh yes, they seem to be universal, and some philosophers have tried to base moral principles upon them, but without much success. So far there hasn’t been much of a consensus on what these ethical concepts would be.”
“You might have recalled Ivan because of the recent bouts of melancholy. Have you lately been considering returning your ticket and getting off the train, perhaps in that hidden place where decisions are made?” Shasta appraised him discreetly.
“Well, at the beginning of my heart disease, when I was in the intensive care ward, the thought arose. It was more like a choice between living and dying, staying and going. As you can see, I chose staying.”
“You mentioned that Ivan wrote essays and stories. What were some of them?” Shasta asked.
“One of my two favorites was ‘The Grand Inquisitor.’ The story was set in sixteenth century Spain, in Seville. Ivan was more a romantic of the nineteenth century than a modern. He felt uncomfortable in contemporary society, yet his voice was rooted in the foundation of the modern era. In the nineteenth century the medieval period was being rediscovered and given esteem by many. This praise contradicted the popular philosophy of industrial progress. The paradoxical nature of the nineteenth century has continued its influence into the present. The sixteenth century was a time of religious wars and spiritual quests in Europe. Protestant denominations were springing up, and they fought each other and the Roman Catholics. Each saw the others as disciples of Satan.
“Anyway, the story revolved around the event of Jesus’ returning, but not as the traditional Second Coming that so many Christians have believed in and hoped for with a roar of trumpets and heavenly spectacle. He came back as the man He had been during the three years of His ministry fifteen hundreds earlier, now appearing on the streets of Seville. Everyone knew Him, of course. They flocked after Him, begging for healing and blessings. He stopped at a cathedral where mourners were weeping beside the coffin of a young girl. When the girl’s mother saw Him, she went to Him and asked Him to raise her daughter. He did, indeed, just as the cardinal, the Grand Inquisitor, was passing by. He saw the happening and immediately realized the significance, so he had Jesus arrested and then he blessed the parishioners. Jesus was put into the darkest of the cells deep in the bowels of the dungeon. When the Grand Inquisitor entered, he asked, ‘Is it You? You?’ Jesus was silent for that was His decision on returning at this time. To be silent. But that’s what the cardinal wanted too because he told Him that He hadn’t any right to say anything else because that was the church’s duty and obligation. The Grand Inquisitor ranted and raved, his own personal soliloquy, at Him Who sat quietly listening.
“What was he angry about? What did he say to Jesus?” Rafé broke her silence hardly containing herself.
“His rebuke and tirade centered on Jesus granting and entrusting freedom to humans. The old inquisitor condemned Him for knowing that most humans were unable to cope with freedom and soon gave it away for bread and contentedness. So when the governments and religious institutions comprehended this natural trait of humans, at least according to the inquisitor, they chose the other side, that ruled by the dreaded spirit who had thrice tempted Him.
“Why would people give up their freedom?” Rafé, frowning, was puzzled.
“One of the inquisitor’s premises was that only a few humans were strong enough to follow Him and attain the bread of heaven. Most of us were so weak and sinful that we soon sought someone to worship who would give us our daily bread and absolve us of our sins, in other words, keep us happy. Although Jesus had rejected the three temptations, the old man and his crowd realized that humans wanted happiness, not freedom and the divine spirit, and so accepted these temptations to gain the immense power required for world domination and universal contentedness. The essence of his attack against Jesus was that He didn’t seem to care for the common people, who were too corrupt and weak-spirited. For if He did, He would never have given them freedom to love Him or to seek the heavenly kingdom.”
“That’s ridiculous! I don’t understand.” Rafé was very upset.
“The old man told Him that he had been in the wilderness and followed the spiritual path for many years and lived like a true disciple, but finally awakened from this madness and returned to join with those mending His work.”
Ralph halted abruptly, his eyes burning bright like fires in the night. His excitement evoked startled expressions on the faces of his listeners. Rafé was about to speak when he continued the strange narrative.
“And in the end, of course, the Grand Inquisitor planned to put Jesus to death by burning at the stake, a common execution at that time for heretics; for what else could he do; certainly not let Him go. He would denounce Him in the public plaza as the worst heretic ever and command the people to gather fuel for the fire. After the old cardinal had spent his spleen and anger, he waited for Him Who had sat in silence to speak. But Jesus suddenly arose and approached the old man and kissed him ‘on his bloodless aged lips. That was His whole answer. The old man’ was struck deep in his soul and trembled. And he said to Him, ‘Go, leave now and never come back.’ The old man led Him out into the dark plaza next to the prison, and He disappeared into the night.”
“What a strange, mocking story.” Shasta felt a deep uncertainty.
“What does it all mean? I’d like to read and think about it.” Rafé exuded curiosity.
“We might have a copy you could borrow. It’s usually published with my other favorite tale, ‘Underground Sketchbook,’ which is about a weird guy who lived a lonely, miserable life. Ivan wrote the story in first person, and this man isn’t given a name. He was a sick, spiteful fellow, who a lot of his time fantasized revenge for imagined slights.”
They waited as he looked inward. Then abruptly he beamed and said, “Rafé, we should start our practice session. We’ve a lot to do. We can continue this discussion another time.” ***
After entering the studio, the magus and his apprentice discussed their routines for Bayside Software, a company located in the small town of Brisbane, nestled between the slopes of San Bruno Mountain and the bay, a few miles south of San Francisco. The show, occurring in four weeks, had two parts: a walk-around before the corporate dinner and a stage presentation afterwards. Corporate parties and sales conferences had provided him with enough employment to maintain his self-esteem. He planned to wrap Native American stories around the effects for the stage performance with the exception of the finale that would promote the company’s main product Fortify, a firewall software.
He asked her to show him the routines she would do for her walk-around. She had selected four effects. Her favorite was the multiplying rabbits. Starting with one sponge bunny which was placed in the spectator’s hand, she magically caused the rabbit to become many. By performing the routine, she was reminded of Manabozho, Great Rabbit, a manito who brought healing and prosperity to humans. She felt she was honoring Great Rabbit in this way by focusing on the manito’s power.
After watching her performance, Ralph recommended that she improve her misdirection. Actually, he told her, it was the wrong word for an important technique, which involved focusing the audience’s attention. There was no “mis,” but only direction, that is, a pointing, a turning, a guiding. Pointing at the camcorder, he remarked that a camera concentrated attention on one point. It must be moved around or other cameras used to enlarge the area of observance. A film editor likewise shaped the visible action by selecting the frames and sequence most appropriate for the theme. The magician, being a performer, must think like a drama director and actor. The idea of guiding one to experience a specific event went back at least to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, no doubt influenced by his initiation into the Eleusinian mysteries. In his dialogue Republic the main character, who was based upon the historical Socrates, Plato’s friend and mentor, argued that teaching was a method of turning the student to see the truth. No one could implant knowledge into someone else. Knowledge was gained through experience, both external and internal kinds. The teacher was really a guide who directed the attention of the learner. So whenever we read or hear the word misdirection, we should transpose it into redirecting or just plain directing and guiding the audience’s attention to a certain point.
The discussion with Shasta came back to him. So far, today was a prime example of Rafé’s vitality imbuing him with motivation. He could reciprocate by becoming her mentor and teacher, and since she was earning a degree in theatre arts at San Francisco State, he could use examples selected from drama. Now was the moment to show her some movements in the skill of focusing attention.
He went over to the cabinet where props were stored. Removing a box and opening it, he extracted a cluster of chromium plated steel rings eight inches in diameter. Holding them in his left hand, he dropped them one by one into his right hand, counting eight rings. “I’ll demonstrate the art of directing your attention. Here, take these two rings and try to link them together.”
Rafé took the two rings and pressed them against each other to no avail. Ralph smiled at her. “Link them like this.” He linked two rings he was holding. “Perhaps, it’s easier to take them apart once they’re connected.” He passed the two linked rings to her and took back the two she had tried to link. Rafé pulled at the rings, but they would not separate. He took a ring in each hand and then locked them together. “Like this.” He quickly disconnected them. “It’s easy.”
Rafé was fascinated, yet puzzled. She put the rings down.
“I’ll now construct a design formed by several rings.” Picking up a third ring, he connected the three and then added a fourth, making an interesting pattern. He linked two more rings to the four, forming a complex design. From the corner of his eye Ralph saw her as an exuberant child, beaming, clapping her hands, yet when he looked, she was smiling with arms at her sides. He felt an uncanny sensation and wondered how he had gotten this quirky image.
“That’s really cool, Ralph. The patterns you’re making remind me of the hoop dance when the dancer creates many forms that have meaning. It’s weird, but I get this feeling the rings are speaking to me. I’d love learning to do them.”
He disconnected the rings and counted them from left hand to right, six rings. He gathered up the other two. “You watched the performance and, of course, the directing of your attention, so now I’ll show you the moves. Then you can duplicate them.”
Rafé practiced for half hour under his encouraging support. He would point out places for improvement, actually performing the movement. She went through the routine again and again. Finally, he decided that she was ready for a video taping of her performance. She performed on the stage with the mirror behind her so that she could also view herself from the back. First she did the linking rings, and then she went into the four close-up routines she would perform at the Bayside show. After each routine Ralph made suggestions, and as they viewed the tape, she noticed several details to correct.
Her excitement was contagious, and he was invigorated by her energy. He had stepped into this role and felt at home in it. The earlier emptiness had now been filled with firm confidence. The image of teacher held a potential that he was eager to explore. He intuited her readiness and zeal and knew that he had a seedling to care for and nurture, a seedling that would grow into a strong magical tree. In his mind the thoughts of gardening, magic, and alchemy clustered together. His transformation and healing was rooted in the support and encouragement that he could bestow on her. Without striving to dissolve his self-pity, he would never be cured. Being the guidance and sustenance for her growth would aid in his transformation. Memories flooded his mind, memories of times past when he was young and beginning the magical journey. Numerous individuals appeared before his inner eye, magicians and conjurers and sleight-of-hand artists who gave him perceptive comments, shrewd advice, and friendly encouragement. He had selected ideas and techniques from them, weaving together his personal style from the traits that he liked best.
Suggesting to her that they take a break, he pointed out the posters of distinguished magicians hanging on the wall and talked about several of them. They stopped beside an illustration of Harry Kellar, strolling through a wooded park, dressed elegantly with a white flower in the lapel of his coat and wearing a top hat and carrying a cane. Small red devils peek through the foliage and from behind the trees as he enjoys nature’s bounty. Ralph commented, “He instructed us to follow nature’s path by growing real bushes with blooming roses in front of the audience. Even time-frame photography is not as convincing as his magical power. His levitation routine was celebrated, and some practitioners of our art called him, ‘The last of the old school magicians.’”
He walked over to a poster of Howard Thurston performing the Million Dollar Illusion: a beautiful lady rises from an illuminated box as the magician waves his hands in the air. “Here’s another master of illusions, who received the wizard’s mantle from Kellar. He was also a virtuoso of card manipulation. Often performing with five playing cards, he vanished and produced them in a series of astounding sleights. He sailed individual cards to specific members of the audience, even reaching those in the back rows.”
They ambled to an image of Harry Blackstone, gripping in his right hand a net to catch the birds which are flying about. An assistant on either side of him is holding a box from which a bird is fleeing. Ralph remarked, “Here is the mage that first triggered my enthusiasm for magic. My dad took me to see him when I was seven.”
Noticing the rabbit jumping from the box the assistant on Blackstone’s left is holding, Rafé wondered if Great Rabbit were inspiring the scene. Then she spoke up, “What do you remember most about the performance?”
“The fun and humor of many routines. He enjoyed bringing children onto the stage to participate.”
“Did you have a chance to go on stage?”
“Yes, I was fortunate to be one of those. It was for the Vanishing Bird Cage. We crowded around the cage he held with many of us touching it. I was one of those. Suddenly, the cage vanished.” Ralph was silent, musing about the memory.
“What else do you recall?”
“Oh, the Child and the Rabbit.” His eyes twinkled as he smiled at Rafé. “Blackstone asked a child for assistance, and they would sit on stage as the great magician told a story about a magical rabbit. He produced a live rabbit and promised to give it to the child at the end of the story. Toward the conclusion of the tale the rabbit changed into a box of candy, which was given to the child, who was obviously disappointed. But before the child left the stage, the rabbit returned from the invisible realm and was given to the now happy youngster.”
Rafé exuded an intense inner joy, which caught his attention and encouraged further memories.
“Two other effects I especially liked were the Dancing Handkerchief and Floating Light Bulb. Each expressed an artistic imagination and superb sense of intimate drama. At the time, of course, I didn’t understand the beauty of his performing skill. Then I was enchanted with the playfulness dwelling in his handling and the fantasy world that was created.”
They admired several more posters before Ralph asked, “When did you become fascinated with the magic arts, Rafé?”
“On TV. We watched both national and local channels that had children’s programs. Some of the shows had a magician as a main character. And like your experience of Blackstone, it was filled with fun and games.”
Thoughtful, glancing over at his library, he recognized her singular curiosity, which seemed to be insatiable. The master magician was delighted to indulge her. She was empty too, but it was an emptiness that could be vanished with the wand of knowledge. Suggesting that she investigate the volumes of books and magazines in his library, he left her there and walked over to the stage and, standing in front of the mirror, began his warm-up finger exercise, today with half dollars.
Finishing with the exercise, the magician called to his apprentice that they should begin practicing their stage routines for the Bayside show. There were four routines they would perform after dinner: Raven and Acorn, Coyote and the Stars, Coyote and Gambler, and the Firewall Illusion. First he described each effect and showed her the props. When she learned that each act was wrapped by a story that provided a theme, her eyes twinkled. Stories were the essence and soul of her people, of all people if they would only realize that. Without stories we would not know who we were, she remarked. Stories gave people an identity and a meaning and a place. Important locations on her reservation had their own stories. She remembered hearing about sacred places back in the traditional homeland of the Neshnabek before their removal in the nineteenth century. Many of these had special power and natural magic.
The mage savored an aha awareness and acknowledged the truth of her observation. Shasta had told him that melancholy was his Muse and inspiration. Now the Muse was acting through Rafé. He had told her legends of the great and famous conjurers of the past, and these tales defined their historical identity, the way the future generations would remember them. The stories influenced the essential nature of the magical art, of the way magicians perceived themselves and also of the attitude and image the public had of them. The art had a solid foundation and, thinking of gardening, a rich loam that would fertilize and sustain a variety of talents.
|Hermes Beckons||Chapters||A Mystery Shrouds Life Itself||Accepting What’s Invisible Is Difficult|