Schalach cast the seed in smooth arcs across the lightly tilled fields as he walked at a steady, measured pace. At every fifth step, he dipped the smooth, well-worn cup into the pouch slung across his shoulder. This was his family’s job for the village, and he was the only member who cast the seed. Only Schalach was allowed to touch the dipping cup.
It took three days to finish the field, then Schalach hung the empty pouch on a peg in the seed hut and carefully placed the dipping cup on a small, wooden table. The hut would not be entered again for another season. Other families would now take over caring for the field.
After four generations, as was tradition, a new dipping cup was fashioned, and the current keeper of the old dipping cup played a major role in the ceremony. His mother knew when Schalach was born that this honor would be bestowed upon him when he was all but grown up. The dipping cup had to be of a certain size.
The village elder paid a visit a few days later and chatted with Schalach’s mother about the upcoming ceremony. She seemed pleased as they chatted away. She motioned Schalach over and patted the seat next to her. Schalach took the seat and smiled at the village elder who smiled back, lightly touching Schalach’s left cheek with his hand.
“You are about to be greatly honored, young Schalach,” said the Elder in a powerful, deep voice.
Schalach nodded and looked at his mother.
“It is true, my son, you were chosen at birth to fulfill this ceremonial task,” she said, her heart welling up with pride.
“Just as your ancestors have done every fourth generation for so many centuries,” added the village elder in hushed tones.
Schalach felt a satisfying warmth overcome him. It wasn’t pride he felt, but a sense of immense worth – usefulness. He didn’t fully understand why this was such an important event; it had never been mentioned to him before, but the elder and his mother seemed so happy with what was about to unfold, he found himself looking forward to it. Schalach was born mute, but his smile told his mother and the elder of his acceptance and willingness to the ceremony.
The ceremony was set to take place the first morning after the next full moon. Only Schalach, the village elder, and his shaman were to attend. Little was said about the ceremony during the time before the next full moon, but Schalach’s mother gave him lots of extra hugs and kisses and fixed his favorite meals during that time.
When the full moon arrived, it hung fat and lazy in the night sky. Schalach and his mother stood arm in arm gazing upward. After some time, she gave him the biggest, warmest hug yet and wished him a good night.
Schalach awoke to his mother and little sister standing by the foot of his bed. They had laid out his best clothes by his feet. They smiled and wished him a good morning. He waved them out, hurriedly got dressed, and went to the breakfast table in the kitchen. After they ate, his mother took him outside where the elder and his shaman were waiting. The elder took his hand while the shaman painted a small symbol on Schalach’s left cheek.
“Ready, Schalach?” said the elder in a joyous, deep tone.
Schalach nodded and looked back at his mother and little sister, giving them a broad smile. The three walked slowly toward a small, stone altar at the edge of the field. Schalach had seen the small altar many times before, but never knew of its significance before now.
As they neared, Schalach saw on the altar a small chalice alongside a long, thin sickle with a serrated blade. The shaman picked up the chalice and offered it to Schalach.
“Please, drink,” said the shaman.
Schalach drank the slightly bitter concoction and gave the chalice back to the shaman.
“Now, Schalach, hear my words as you drift off to sleep,” said the shaman in a soft voice.
“You are about to give us something precious, something only you can give, something your ancestors also have given our people when required since the beginning of our village. It is to assure our survival, to please our Gods and be blessed with healthy crops,” said the shaman as he took a course, ornate cloth from a pocket in his robe and wiped off the symbol on Schalach’s left cheek. As Schalach began to swoon, the elder and his shaman helped him kneel next to the altar.
“Drift off, my son,” said the elder, squatting down beside Schalach.
“You are about to do a great thing,” whispered the shaman.
Schalach closed his eyes, smiled, and fell asleep. He dreamt of his happy mother and little sister, arm in arm, slowly waving at him as he turned to look at the sky.
The next season, Psia, with her mother waiting just outside the seed hut, donned the pouch and picked up the new dipping cup.
Credit: John D. Connelley
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