Sunday, February 28, 2010

Wisdom Keeper

I'm writing a story that incorporates much of the ancient wisdom so prevalent in my part of the world. Ancient Native American, Celtic, African and other teachings came together here and worked to help the people survive. More than religion, these ancient customs joined people not just to one another, but to all of their ancestors through time immemorial.

I read and collected the wonderful Foxfire books produced by students in the 1970s. I still feel a sadness to know now the price so many of the children paid in the production. The teacher was honored with much recognition for his achievements, but ultimately spends the remainder of his life isolated alone in a prison cell for crimes he committed against his students. He is but one of the many sad reminders of other legacies this land of isolation and poverty foments.

For that reason, my research strayed away from those reliable sources of the old ways. Besides, I wanted older, weirder ways for my stories. I wandered into several local libraries and started conversations with the ladies there. Having been directed to a particular area with a number of potential references, I settled at a desk and began perusing.

"Excuse me," a tiny little voice whispered. I looked up, shaking myself from the delight of the reading material. It seems someone in Gilmer County once upon a time found half of a petrified woman's body. I was eager to learn what became of it, where was the other half, which half was it? I was riveted and a bit consternatious for having been interrupted.

A small, well aged woman stood before me. She had sparkling eyes. She could have passed for Betty White. In a look alike contest, I would have picked her.

"Are you the lady looking for the old stories," she asked?

"I am."

"I have some you might want. I've been collecting them my whole life and just haven't really known what to do with them. My children could care less."

As it turns out, she is what she calls the local Wisdom Keeper. Her mothers before her were the healers, the story tellers, the conjure women of days of old. From the time she could read and write, she followed her mother, grandmother and great grandmother around the mountains while they gathered, prepared, healed and conjured. Whatever they did, she wrote down in her little book. Whenever she could get them to explain the logic behind it, she wrote that down too.

"Would you like to have them?"

Holy hallelujah, would I? Shezam! I just hit the mother lode. The next day, I followed her carefully written directions to a quaint cabin. Her notebooks had been kept safe and tidy, if not a little faded and damp in placed. I am only now taking a break from my reading. Now I know what to do just in case a haint follows me home. I can call the wind. Dance in the rain and smoke it away any time I like. I know what the birds really mean when they appear to just be doing ordinary every day bird things.

For the honor of this gift, I had to agree to certain things. I am not allowed to reveal the identity of this woman to anyone ever. "Lord, God, the folks at my church would burn me at the stake if they knew I was an old conjure woman!" I can do that. I am not allowed to use any of the spells to harm any living thing - only to heal. I doubt I'll use the spells at all, since they seem primarily silly to me so far, except for the ones about sending away death and ending floods, droughts and tornadoes, which still seem a little silly, but what the hey. Also, I must find some young girl to whom I must pass on the ancient wisdom (I'm taking nominations). Finally, I must visit my new friend to let her know how my learning is going and to let her answer any questions I may have. Consider it done.

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