We resume Chauncey’s tale of his experience in a spiritual ceremony in Cheskam, high in the foothills of the Himalayas. Where we last left off, the elder shaman has just read the divining rice and is looking directly at Chauncey. (Return to the beginning of the ceremony here).
This was it, my future was about to be unearthed unto me, high in the foothills of the Himalayas. . . .
My eyes locked in an embrace with the shaman’s, pupil to pupil, iris to iris, as the smoke swirled around us. He was sitting far across from me, on the other edge of the fire, yet it felt as if we were nose to nose as I could see mountainous ridges in the few lines that adorned his eyes. “I see a massive river,” he started off, spreading his arms, staring into me and beyond. “Water is a big part of your life… but it has scared you many times.”
This shook me. Yes, water was and is an integral part of my life, it is to all human beings, but having been born and raised on an island on the Atlantic Ocean it has played an unparalleled role in my life thus far. I have sought out its sweet and salty embrace the world over, but has it scared me? Yes. I have had far too many close calls with water, and bodies of water have almost taken my life one too many times.
“You must respect water. You need to pay your respects to your gods, to the spirits, and to the water before you enter or..”
My mind was reeling, waves of memories washed over me, tides of time seemed to pass. Eddies of eternity, foolishly floating in and amongst it for a lifetime without respecting the dangerous power that water possesses and presents.
“Make frequent offerings to the water spirits, and you will live 80 years or more.”
That was a heavy blow, and this weight is the reason that I have artfully evaded all forms of mysticism, fortune telling, and futuristic speculation that I have been offered. But here, now, in the Nepali year 2073, high in the mountains in a village whose culture and practices reflect its ancient surroundings, here I’ve been offered it, and I took it. I couldn’t think of a more apt place to have my future told by a shaman who has no conception of a body of water larger than a river, the only one that he has known.
The “massive river” in my life will continue to take many forms, from glacial pools, to onsens, to unfathomable ocean depths, but one thing that I know is that I will hone and practice my respect of and for this water.
The only grain of salt to be taken is a future offering to a mountain lake before I plunge in. Is it true? Only time will tell.
The roxy is doled out into tin mugs and passed around. A strong spirit, roxy is distilled from mountain grains in households all over Nepal, warms our bellies and loosens our tongues. It is the perfect libation to imbibe in a charred smoky room high in the Himalayas on a crisp starry night, illuminated by firelight. In the background the previously docile chickens start to squawk, maybe howling at the rising moon, or maybe they can feel that it is time for a sacrifice. . . .
We are gently shuffled outside where we are basked in the moon’s rays that illuminate the distant mountain peaks ringing the valley. The elder, the community leader, the shaman, is assembling a shrine in the moonlight whilst chanting rhythmically, imperceptibly. Stones matched and stacked, side by side, creating two towers by a stone wall. Water is splashed on us, the stones, and finally on the chickens that have silently accepted their fate, their bulging eyes telling all. [WARNING graphic depiction to follow]
A variety of plants are picked from the surrounding scrub and the bouquet of flora is pressed first to our foreheads and then to the beaks of the chickens before being purposefully placed on top of the two shrines. The two chickens are passed around and touched by all, the chanting increases, the first sacrificee is held aloft in the moonlight, and the silver blade of the gurkha knife glints as it is masterfully unsheathed.
A second later, as if in a dream, the headless chicken is squirting its blood all over the left shrine, an offering to a faceless ancient Kulung Rai god unknown to us newcomers. As the spurts slow the dismembered body is hurled into the terraces below, out of sight but not out of mind as its wings beat a slowing rhythm. The process is repeated, both shrines are glistening metallic red in the moonlight and the sounds of four weakly flapping wings blend in with the distant roosters’ crows. Dinner is about to be served.
Return to earlier days of the trek here.
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