Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — more on magical worldviews: following hot on the heels of the curative power of saliva, a breathtakingly beautiful tale a wise man told me ]

Wallace Black Elk

Look, you may detest saliva, saintly or otherwise, and I’d prefer not to leave you feeling queasy — so let’s follow the saintly saliva trail just a little further, and I think you’ll find it leads to something quite beautiful.

Susan Bayly continues:

Tamil Sufi texts often assert that the founding pir of a particular cult shrine identified his heir and successor by bequeathing him the twig which he used for tooth-cleaning. Such an object would naturally be impregnated with the saint’s saliva and would therefore serve to pass on the pir’s endowment of power and sanctity without involving him in an act of procreation.“ Fakiruddin is portrayed as having received a tooth-brushing twig as a token of spiritual succession from his murshid or preceptor, the Trichy pir Nathar Wali. According to the texts, it is this twig which grew up into the miraculous staff of the Nandi episode. The wooden staff also becomes imbued with the miraculous transforming barakat of the pir. …

Let’s forget saliva, let’s even forget neem-sticks, the organic Indian equivalent of the toothbrush — and consider the miraculous thorn tree that grows at Glastonbury:

After the crucifixion of Jesus lore has it that Joseph of Arimathea (who according to the Bible donated his own tomb for Christ’s interment after the Crucifixion) came to Britain, bearing the Holy Grail — the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper and later by Joseph to catch his blood at the crucifixion.

When Joseph landed on the island of Avalon, he set foot on Wearyall Hill — just below the Tor. Exhausted, he thrust his staff into the ground, and rested. By morning, his staff had taken root — leaving a strange oriental thorn bush – the sacred Glastonbury Thorn.

Lore has it that the thorn would bloom once a year, at Christmas.


But virtuous trees, like saintly saliva, can be found in more than one tradition. I had the privilege some while ago of spending a good deal of time in the company of the Lakota shaman, Wallace Black Elk, and would like to offer you one of his stories which I noted down pretty close to his own words.

I should perhaps preface this account by telling you that Wallace once told me he had twelve grandfathers — so the words grandpa and grandma don’t imply lineal descent here as they do in common usage, but function more as a term of respect for one’s elders:

I remember my grandfather, Black Elk. One time when I was very young, he came with my
grandfather Eagle Man to visit my grandmas in the tipi. My mother and my aunt were both young, so they let the old people visit together. “We’re good at cooking, so you just sit down and rest, and visit. We’ll look after the cooking.” And my father went off to take care of the horses, and to haul and chop wood, and left the old people to visit with each other.

That was the way it was. Everybody would eat a big meal, and some of those evenings my grandfathers would sit around telling ghost stories, spirit stories, and I’d listen. And while they were talking, they had a pipe. They would smoke the pipe and talk. So I was maybe seven years old, and I was sitting in the middle between grandma and grandpa, I used to sit there and listen, and watch them smoke the pipe.

My grandpa took the pipe-stem and planted it in the ground. He took a piece of charcoal and lit the fire, sprinkled some tobacco on it, and just puffed a little of that smoke. And that pipe-stem, you know, blossomed. Branches bloomed out of it, leaves bloomed out, and there’s a big red plum there. Red.

So my grandpa took the plum and gave it to his brother, and he ate it, and said: “Washtay, that’s really good.” And then he took the pipe and planted the pipe-stem, did the same thing, and put some tobacco over it, and that pipe-stem…that tree just bloomed, leaves just cropped out all over it, and there was a black cherry hanging there, it was a choke cherry. So my grandpa gave that choke cherry to his brother, and he ate it and blew the pit onto the ground. “Aah, very good.”

My grandmas were watching all this, and one of my grandmas picked up her moccasin and said, “Aaah, want some cherries, do you?” as if my grandpas were doing this to show their powers, and she was telling them, don’t do that! She threw her moccasin on the ground and an owl came up. It hopped around and flew in front of them, and started hooting whu whuwhuu, whu whuu.

My grandfathers looked at one another and said: “Hey, almost like our powers!” And they both started laughing, and that owl jumped down, and puffed itself up, and started hooting. So then my other grandma took her cane, she cried “Heeeeeee!” and threw it on the ground and it came out a rattlesnake. And it wasn’t just kind of a rattlesnake almost: boy, it really was a rattlesnake, and it coiled around the place. Boy, we bailed out.

Then my grandma reached over and took hold of that snake, and she took that cane and grabbed a hold of that owl by the neck, and pulled it back to her, and when it flopped down, when it landed, it was her sister’s moccasin, and she gave her sister her moccasin and put away her cane.

So that was my grandmas and grandpas. They had those powers, they knew that power was there. So I learned then there was a power in that pipe we hold, that the pipe could feed us. And he has been feeding us. There is no starvation, and we needn’t fear. That pipe represents the whole universe, and she can continue to multiply trees and plums and cherries.

That power of the Great Spirit is there, and those creatures can come from that pipe. Grandpa Great Spirit can do these things. From out of nowhere, he can do anything. I realized that.

A white man might think it was a bit of hocus pocus. Like a white man’s magician pulls a poor rabbit out of a hat, or a pigeon. But this is real. A tree comes up, and then it blooms, then it flowers, then it bears fruit. It’s a tree. And we are part of that tree. We absorb that fruit in our system, and we bear children, we bear fruit.

So that is an interpretation of the vision of the Tree of Life. That way my grandpa taught me.


Which reminds me (Exodus 7)…

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.