Lopo was old. He felt his years. They were beyond count. His village had little use for an amount that large: They simply called it “many”. He had lived for many years, and he knew it. He squatted before his fire pit, stirring the thin soup he had made with the squirrel Hana had brought him. Poor enough gift it was! He was hungry, and this squirrel was small. Still, it was something. And she was so grateful when he gave her son back to her, fully healed.
He was a Shaman. It had not always been so. Before, he had been one of the Young Men, hunting and chasing girls. That was how he met Lelu, his Other, curse her! She had become his Other, and born him six sons and four daughters. But when the village chose him as the Shaman, she became angry, and she left. She thought the village had little need of two shamans. And so she took her brood, and moved up the hill. She hated him now, may the Goddess curse her!
When he became an older man, but younger than he was now, Lelu and he had been happy together. He had been one of the Elders, and he sat in the Place of Meeting each night. When they could find the Sacred Herb, they burned the flowers and inhaled the smoke. Otherwise, they drank the Water of Life until they became stupid. Sometimes they would laugh so hard! The Water of Life was strong medicine! But not as strong as Sacred Herb. The smoke of the Sacred Herb burned, but it awakened the True Self, and touched the Real World.
And that was how it happened. He was at the tent of meeting, and Ralo had told them that the Water of Life that he was fermenting was ruined. Some monkeys had gotten into it, and broken the skin. Now it would be many days before they could drink the Water of Life again. Lopo had thought hard upon this. He asked this question: “Shouldn’t we then seek the Sacred Herb? Since the Water of Life is denied us, why not inhale the smoke of the Sacred Herb?”
After a shocked silence, the Elders had begun debating this question: Could they actually use the Sacred Herb without the Water of Life? They did not remember any time in the past when they had had one without the other. The Water of Life was such a daily part of their lives, that it was many days since anyone could remember being without it.
In the end, they decided to search for the Sacred Herb. Lopo was proud: His question had led the Elders to a new Path! This was the first time that he could remember them taking anything he had said seriously.
He knew where there was a patch of Sacred Herb, but it was beyond their range, and into the area that was used by their rival village: The Punta. For many days, the People and the Punta had lived in peace, but occasionally Lopo would venture onto the lands blessed by the Spirits of the Puntas and take Sacred Herb, possom, squirrels or some other food. He knew this was wrong, but since no one else knew about what he was doing, he did not care.
He found the patch. The Sacred Herb was there! It was flowering! He began to pick the flowers and stuff them into his loincloth.
He felt the spear hit his head behind his right ear. He did not know it then, but it pierced the hard part of his head, and his True Self began to leak out onto the ground. The Punta hunter who had attacked him ran away. He knew that the Punta would be very afraid of a blood feud if Lopo died. When the People found him, he was senseless and raving.
For weeks he hovered between the Shadow World and the Real World. He wandered on many strange paths and saw many visions. The People were afraid of his strange and delerious cries. After a while, he got better, although his eyes did not work anymore. Instead of seeing the things in the Shadow World, he simply saw a grey mist, and occasionally he had more visions.
Ultimately, the village Elders met and decided that there was nothing to be done except to make him a shaman. He was useless for anything else now. So they threw him out and made him live in the cave in the hillside overlooking their spring campsite. And then they began to bring him patients who they expected him to heal.
At first, he was completely useless: How ashamed he had been when he had failed to heal Shiro! The poor child simply had a case of pox. He knew how to heal that now, but at the time he had been completely stupid. Shiro’s mother Lina had come to him after Shiro died and had thrown dung at him. How his face had burned! She had walked up to him in tears and had struck him across the face. He stood and wept with her, feeling her loss, and knowing that he was the cause of it. He was ashamed.
It took a long time, but finally they had brought more patients, and he had improved. Now he was as good a shaman as Lelu, and maybe better. But Lelu still hated him for taking her place, and he doubted she would ever forgive him.
For now, life was good and the forest gave everything he needed. His People gave him their respect. He knew that he had a place with them, even if he was forever an outcast.