On the Shoulders of Giants

Shaman Healer of the Lame Caribou Clan

(After years of research, French anthropologists have managed to translate the famous cave paintings of Lascaux. The full translation will appear in next month’s “Journal of Linguistic Anthropology” but I thought I’d publish a sneak preview. -PB)

Me. Tharg. Shaman Healer of the Lame Caribou clan. Master of the Elk. Spirit-Hunter of the Sky Bison who is called Tharg-Who-Outran-Cave-Bear. I paint this in the Cold Time after the rains when the moon shines like new flint by glow of Brother Flame deep in the caves of our ancestors.

Troubled times. Like mastadon balancing on ice floe is to be Shaman of clan. Precarious, like squirrel caught between tree and wolverine. Like seal pup in path of charging walrus. You get picture.

“New magic salve,” say Olerg, wandering master of lore,”much better old salve. From dung snow fox.”

“Ward off tiger?” Olerg smile too much. Like crazed hyena.

“Tiger? New salve ward off even charging musk oxen. Know Tholar and Gronak?”

“My two brother shaman whose eyes dark from spell at birth?”

“Yes. Salve save them from musk ox. I Swear by Otter spirit. Study was double-blinded.”

Roll eyes. Old salve plenty good.

“Here, have spear with fox totem,” say Olerg offering crappy Neandrathal spear.

“I thank you, oh Olerg, my brother. Have plenty from last visit. But great joy have I for haunch of elk.”

“Oh wonderous spear!” say Otter-spawn, Shaman-to-be, resides-in-cave lo these past winters, “I take?”

Otter-spawn Chief of those-who-reside-in-cave and from me learn dark arts of shaman. Good boy but lazy.

“I go my fire, Otter-spawn. Keep the long watches of the night. Othar has demon of pestilent bowel and need sacred smoke when Sister Moon dips to embrace of far hills. Trulak need horn of great elk when Sister Owl return to tree. Sound ram horn if not work.”

“I abase myself oh Tharg-Who-Outran-Cave-Bear but I, too, go to my fire now,” Say Otter-spawn.

“Who will keep watches of night?”

“Is wonderous puzzlement,” say Otter-spawn, “But great hearth-fire in sky has passed in number like petals of tundra blossom and great spirit commands that He-Who-resides-in-Cave also lie by fire, gnawing rib of great sloth.”

“Does not Cougar-paw reside-in-cave?”

“He reside-in-cave of Bone Diviner in valley of snow hare. Not return for many moons.”


“In service of Painted Eagle clan.”

“Go then,” I irritated, “But when Tharg reside-in-cave, took night watches in number like bison on plain.”

“Fetid Badger,” I call. Him best Shaman-pupil.

“I grovel oh Tharg-Who-Outran-Cave bear,” say Fetid Badger. Other pupils cower behind.

“If sky-wolf eat sister moon and woman yet bleed, what cause?” Simple question. They third winter pupils.

“Curse of Otah, the Cave Demon?” Ask Fetid Badger, like tremulous new-born caribou.

“Bah. Laughing Brook?”

Laughing Brook knit sloping brow. “Spell of Wola, the Womb Blighter?”

“Not see picture-on-rock? Not listen song of ancestors?” I irritated again, “Come pupils, hear thunder of hoofs, think bison, not cave yak. Go prepare magic wall picture of many cause womb bleeding.”

Ragrak, Chief of Lame Caribou clan stride into cave. Pupils cower, urinate submissively.

“Tharg Who-Outran-Cave-Bear!” growl Chief, “Ill tidings I bring.”

“What is problem?”

“Know you new female stolen before rains from Clan of Painted Eagle?” Ask Chief.

“Female with hair like mane of horse?”

“That her. And haunches like snow leopard, hips like fertile hills, heavy with promise of many fine sons.” Chief kick last of pupils out cave. Chief old, hair like snow of many winters. See where this going.

“Sometimes brother ferret not want come out of den.” say chief.

“Not understand.”

“No longer rampant stallion but seal pup, soft and helpless.” Chief annoyed.

“Have new salve. Dung of snow fox. You try.”

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