Madness, Shapechanging, and Art (Continued) 2

by Niko Silvester

with art by Brian Froud

Shaman by Personal Quest

Neither Tomás nor Fox show the usual signs of solitariness, absentmindedness or violence. In fact, they are both quiet and well–grounded people throughout the novel. When we first meet Tomás, he is already apparent as a shaman:

Tomás stared into the fire, aware of the other fire that burned that night several miles away [Fox’s fire]. The flames leapt high in the dark. The mesquite wood burned quick and hot. He could feel a rhythm, a pulse, a drum, sounding deep in the rock below.

He poured kinnikinnick from a pouch into the scarred palm of one hand, then tossed a mixture of herbs and tobacco into the dancing flames. The voice of the fire spoke to him. And the voice of the wind in the mesquite wood. Of the stone people, and of the water flowing there at the canyon’s heart.

It has ended, these voices told him. It has ended and it has just begun. (12) (3)

When Tomás takes Maggie to Red Springs to see the white stag, he treats the fact of the stag leaving behind turquoise where its hoofs strike the ground as an everyday occurrence; this is a man used to interacting with the supernatural (124).

Tomás is so much the shaman that he is able to call Crow, the infamous trickster spirit who also appears as a coyote, and gain a copper bracelet by guessing the spirit’s name:

Crow grew annoyed. "You must guess," he growled. "It’s a riddle. You must guess my name."

Tomás stirred the embers of the fire with his usual careful, unhurried movements. "Brother," he named the other at last.

"Wrong." Crow laughed. "I’m no relative of yours."

"The fire is my brother. And the stones below, and the trees and the cactus on this hill. You’ve entered the circle. You’ve smoked the tobacco. And I name you Brother," Tomás said.

Crow’s laughter stopped. His smile died. He looked at the other uneasily. He rose, took off a copper band, and flung it down before the other man. Then he disappeared, melting into the dark of the night and the mountainside. (145)

Quiet, unassuming Tomás is better equipped than any other character in the novel to deal with the land spirits, though he remains in the background most of the time. He is also the one who taught both Fox and Davis Cooper to listen to the land (219, 279).

Fox, or Johnny Foxxe, is in the process of training himself, partly under Tomás’s guidance, but he is not really a shaman yet. When we first encounter Fox, he is returning to his beloved mountains after a time away, and is camping outdoors to properly greet the place he loves. He prepares to attempt to hear the land speak as the scene ends:

He sat down by the fire and arranged his tools beside him. A copal flute, a deerskin drum. A hunting knife and a sharpening stone. He sat and bided his time until the water trapped the image of the moon. He fed live oak branches into the fire, waiting, preparing himself. (10)

But Fox cannot yet hear the spirits or the land. In a later scene, he builds a sweatlodge and tries to hear spirits while he is waiting for the stones to heat:

As the fire grew, he stopped talking and he listened, the way Tomás had taught him. He heard only the crackle of the fire, the snap of the dry wood, the hiss of the green. The music of the water. The whisper of the wind. A single coyote in the hills. He frowned, knowing that if Tomбs had been there, the other man would have heard more. (219)

Even this late in the novel, it almost seems that Fox will never achieve his goal to hear the land. But when Maggie comes across the sweatlodge and Fox emerges, Maggie "could see pale figures crowding the doorway behind him." Fox has had his encounter at last, and we know that it is not just Maggie who sees the beings because Fox asks her "Did you see?" (226).

Shapechanging

One of the magical abilities possessed by shamans in many cultures is that of shapechanging. Jones mentions that both Eliade and Carlo Ginzburg saw "a connection between the practice of shamanism and the adoption of an animal guise on the part of the practitioner"(86). Cooper recognizes that Anna is changing shape. "Our Anna has become a different creature out here," he wrote in a letter. And later in the same letter he said, "She is a wonder to me, brown as the stones,fierce as a she–wolf, graceful as the deer. She is something other than woman in this place, she is earth and fire and sky as well" (50).

Other of our shamans and potential shamans are also connected to shapeshifting. Cooper "was a different man" after Anna left and he began to see the spirits (100). Juan becomes animal–like in his initiatory madness; he is described as howling with a "strange, feral, ferocious sound, neither quite human nor animal" (10). He sees in his reflection that he is not the same man, that "He had changed. Was changing. Shedding one snake skin and finding another skin beneath" (63).And he is associated early on with the spiral symbols that characterize the non–otherworldly shapechangers (11, 49). Though Fox is not directly associated with shapechanging, he does have two sisters who are coyote shapechangers, and they both have the spiral tattoos that mark their shifting ability (103). Tomás is only very tentatively connected to shapechanging, when Maggie thinks at first that Crow is Tomás. Otherwise, he is never directly or in any other way associated with shapechanging, and when Maggie asks him if he is a shapeshifter, he says, "I’m just a man.And I’m partial to this old shape I wear" (257). The tiny connection to Crow fits Tomás’s later role as "Spiritmage," but it is his very contentment with his own shape that gives him stability and power as a shaman.

Maggie is closely associated with shapechanging through her connection with Crow, the trickster, who is the first spirit she meets and who ultimately teaches her to walk the spiral path (discussed below). Crow’s "body was marked with spiral tattoos" (222), and the fact that he has many tattoos presumably indicates his greater shapechanging abilities compared to lesser shifters like Pepe, Fox’s sisters, and Thumper, who each have only a single tattoo and a single other shape. Maggie also describes herself as a shapeshifter of sorts:

"I’m many different people," she said. "So I guess I’m a bit of a shape–shifter too. In West Virginia, I’m Emil Black’s granddaughter. In L.A., I’m Nigel Vanderlin’s ex–wife; in London, I’m Tatiana Ludvik’s crazy friend. I’m a vagabond writer to my friends in Holland; a sweet summer affair to a sculptor in Florence; a hopeless klutz to every gym teacher I’ve ever had — do you want me to go on?"

"Those are just shapes [said Crow]. What’s underneath? The essence, that doesn’t change from shape to shape? That’s what a shape–shifter has to know, or you lose yourself. You can’t get back. You’re trapped in one shape, and you can’t get out." (223)