Many years ago I wrote a book set in Australia. It was while I was researching Aboriginal religions for this book that I first learned about “pointing the bone.”
“Pointing the bone” is a ritual curse that Aborigine shamans perform which causes the person pointed at – the “pointee,” as it were – to die. The shaman does nothing whatsoever to the pointee other than point the bone at him. And he dies. This is not a rumor or superstition. Over many decades, English observers, including research scientists, were unable to unearth an example whereby a person so cursed did not die. However, when the curse was laid upon a European, the European invariably went about his business in good health. The obvious conclusion to be gained from this example is that human beings create their reality.
Now, I don’t intend to imply in the least that our misfortunes are our own fault or that fortunate people deserve their luck more than the rest of us. It’s way more complicated than that.
A while back, Don and I were having breakfast in a restaurant and being royally entertained by a watching three-year-old girl in the next booth make people and buildings out of condiments and napkins and narrate their lives and histories aloud to herself.
“She’s in another world,” Don said.
I wondered then, as I have many times, if the world a little child inhabits is in fact less real than mine. When a little guy plays with a companion we can’t see, is his friend really imaginary? When a kid says she remembers when she was a cowboy before she was born, does she really?
We shape our children’s attitudes. No one would dispute that. But do we also shape the way they perceive existence? We dismiss their perceptions as unreal if they don’t fit in with how we see things. Slowly, as they grow, the kids begin to fall in line. They believe us when we say they didn’t really see that woman in the corner of their bedroom. And eventually, their vision adjusts itself and they can no longer see her.
A Native American parent confirms her child’s vision of a spirit helper, so the spirit helper really helps him. We 21st Century Westerners teach our children that money has power, so in our world, it truly does.
This niggling feeling that existence is fluid influences my writing a lot. I try very hard to put aside my own beliefs about the way the world works and perceive things as my characters would without judging them. It’s hard. Almost impossible.
My upcoming novel, Return of the Raven Mocker (January 2017), takes place during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The disease is so horrendous that my protagonist, Alafair, is reminded of the Cherokee legend of Raven Mocker, an evil spirit that tortures the dying. She thinks of herself as a modern twentieth century woman, but she is not so arrogant to believe that everything can be logically explained. Therefore, besides utilizing every modern technique to care for her sick charges, she protects the house from Raven Mocker with salt and broomsticks, and purifies sickrooms with raw eggs and onions and burning camphor. Because in that time and place it was common knowledge that these things help the suffering. And perhaps because everyone believed it, they really did help. Who am I to say otherwise?