Most of us rely on the visual or audial for validation of the existence of other worlds. Eastern European, Asian and First Nations mysticism gained traction in our society because of the pump and circumstances displayed for all to see. Smudging, ceremony, dance and drumming give us the authenticity we require to know that god exists. We have a visual expectation of how a shaman should appear and sound and accept the authenticity of the individual’s gifts based on their appearance. My great grandmother, Muma Gayle looked like an ordinary person. She had her head wrapped in a red and white, stiffly starched, plaid cotton headdress, like the senior women in the village. She dressed in layers of clothing in the heat of the day but all the other women did the same. She had a clay pipe which she smoked up until her one hundred and seventh year when she decided to take her leave from this state of existence. Many of the elder women in the village and the villages around smoked a clay or corncob pipe.
Her daughter, my grandmother (granny) Emma Haynes, nee Gayle did the same. Both were powerful medicine women in our community. Neither tried to convince others of their pedigree or their power. I remember Muma calling me from inside her house, even though I tried to hide from her, which left me wondering how she knew I was there. Emma Haynes was the same. One Sunday, my sister and I were home alone, we might have been sick, when we decide to pick tangerines from the tree that grew along the path that lead to and from our wattle adobe house. The tangerine tree was very tall and gave fruit as big as a grown person’s hand. We had taken all the fruit from the lower branches and the sweetest and biggest fruit were high up on the top branches, out of reach.
Granny was called to go see someone who was dealing with an impending difficult birth leaving us to cool our heels at home. We were bored. Conversation turned to the tangerine tree and how we would get the fruit from so high up. A pole did not work so my sister decided to climb partway up the tree to improve her reach. Before she left, granny had told us to stay away from the tree, as if she knew what was on our minds.
My sister climb the trunk of the tree and was half the way up, about ten feet off the ground when I saw a large green lizard on the branch below her. It was angrily shifting from red to green to black, flicking its tongue, snapping its jaw and slowly stalking her. She looked down saw the lizard and freaked out.
“I am going to get the ladder.” I yelled.
As I turned to run for the ladder, she let go of her hold of the tree trunk, falling onto the rocks at the base of the tree. She hit her head and passed out. Boy, I was worried. I brought her to and helped her into the kitchen where I mixed up my grandmother’s trauma brew and gave it to her. She recovered with time to spare before our grandmother returned home. We agreed not to keep our adventure to ourselves.
“I told you not to climb that tree!” She screamed at us as she walked into the yard.
We were in shock. How did she know? We tried to see if she might have observed us from where she was, but we could not prove if she was a witch or just clever. That was my childhood. Strange and sometimes crazy mystical experiences without fanfare or labels.