Into the Circle

“Are you on your moon time?” the young woman asks.

I overhear the private conversation even though I’m not supposed to. Sylvie mouths the words back to her slowly before the meaning makes sense.

“Uh, no,” she whispers back, a little ashamed, not for the invasiveness of the question, but the ignorance of its implication.

“Sorry but I have to ask all the women. If you’re on your moon time you’re not supposed to be in the circle. They say it weakens the men,” the blonde haired woman says before shuffling along. Taking up the question with other women.

Her walk is deliberate. Her cause noble.

The man in question grimaces under the burden. His pain shared by all of us in the circle.

He is to ‘break free’ only his skin isn’t co-operating.

In two locations, under the man’s skin, through an incision, rests a short wooden stick. The stick protrudes in the middle of the shoulder blades. Attached to each stick is a rope. They connect in a ‘V’ shape to a larger rope. That larger rope is harnessed to a harrow of bison skulls.

With the jaw bone removed, the teeth of the skulls dig into the raw grass. The warrior must drag the harrow around the circle until his skin, weakened from tension, breaks.

On the first pass helpers pull the man along. The resilient skin taught but firm. As the man stops to catch his breath after the first pass, flags are draped for extra pressure. The march commences. The same result.

On the third pass the team makes sure the warrior breaks free. Each takes up a seat on top of a skull. The harrow of skulls will not move.

To release the energy; the burden of prayer, or disease of whatever dispensation the warrior has chosen to dedicate his performance in the ceremony, cannot be achieved until the skin has been broken.

Intensifying matters are challenging conditions: no food or water and a now smoldering atmosphere. The clouds, and more favourable temperate conditions, have given way to an unforgiving sun. Its relentless heat another element to overcome.

The man backs slowly to the skulls. He prepares to run. The sudden jolt an incentive to bust through the skin and release his prayer. The rope snaps! The man staggers to the ground. A grimace emanates through the crowd. We’re with him now, feeling every twinge of energy.

The others help him to his feet. The drumming intensifies. In a circle, attached to their own ropes are the dancers. Instead of an incision through the skin of the shoulder blade, they are pierced in the chest above the nipple. Their ropes are connected to the sacred tree in the middle of the open circle. This is not their time. It will come later.

All eyes turn to the man desperate to break free. He backs up to hitch himself again. We cringe. The shared pain reverberates through the entire circle.

Did we think we would be passive witnesses?

As we doused ourselves in smoke before joining the crowd under the covered boughs of leaves I felt my participation would end there. Cloaked amongst the branches I could watch. Observe. The moment the ceremony intensified those thoughts dashed.

It’s impossible not to feel moved. Feel the drum beat picking up your feet. Your body swaying to the rhythm. Energy releasing out into the collective circle.

It’s nothing like I anticipated.

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