Sheridan, Clare - Shouting their war-like praise to the Great Spirit
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Sheridan, Clare – Redskin Interlude - Shouting their war-like praise to the Great Spirit
Night fell. A drum throbbed somewhere in the direction of a camp fire. We stumbled over the rough uneven ground and made our way towards it.
Eight men were sitting round a great drum. Presently they were ten, finally they were twelve. It is impossible to convey the music of those voices, the alternating rhythm, slow at first, restrained, growing louder and faster-working up to a great crescendo.
Indians on horseback stood motionless, black silhouettes against the sky. Hans sat on a boulder, and I, huddled in my burnous, sat in the grass close by. The women came one by one and squatted all round us, they too sang and waved green branches in time to the drum-beats. These branches were part of the rite, emblems of spring. One woman leaned towards me and in English asked :
"Do you like the Indians ? " I explained I had come from England to see them.
She repeated: " England-England," slowly, as if trying to remember, and then – “Ah – over the seas -the land of the King”- Clearly the Declaration of Independence had escaped her! She broke off a piece of her branch and gave it to me saying: "you sing too-"
She had learnt English in a Mission school.
Against a white canvas awning stood the Medicineman; his bare naked legs were painted saffron, he wore a short shift, his hair hung loose, his face was painted in a strange terrifying way. He kept a bone whistle in his mouth and shrilly punctuated the drum-beats.
For two hours or more we remained there, and but for Hans I could have stayed the whole night through. At intervals men threw more logs upon the fire and the flames leapt up, revealing the players’ features.
I felt as though I were doped and dreaming, as if everything were slipping away, growing small and distant and unreal; then suddenly the rhythm changed, one was stirred into a desire for action, one’s heart beat was savagely accelerated – only to be lulled back into a deep, soothing melancholy.
The moon rose full and golden, and the faces of the old men, and the young men, with their heads thrown back, shouting their war-like praise to the Great Spirit, were outlined with light