Dancing in the Vermilion Place

By Jack Wolf

I sat in the position which has been called the Warrior’s Wait by those who taught me. This position is also known as the Seiza position in Japanese martial arts. It is a position in which a Warrior may mediate or otherwise deepen oneself yet from this position many variations of action may be initiated should the need arise.

I wore garb suitable for meditation and before me my Frith knife, with its 14 inch razored blade, lay edge-facing-away upon the Harrow-stone.

The sacred smoke surrounded me and filled me with its power.

I felt the ordinary states dissolve and I was swept to the borders of the other places…

In the Other-Place I immediately heard the sound of drumming, accompanied by the ‘swish-swish-swish’ of feet shuffling the sand – for indeed this aspect of the Other worlds was sandy and dry – and very deeply colored in a beautiful orange-red. It was as though the desert landscape of worn rock and spiny plants was caught perpetually in the intense chromatic glow of a particularly beautiful sunset.

I smelled the smoke of mesquite and some other, exotic, spiced wood filled the air, as did the distinctive scent of sweet grass, mugwort and sage.

I was drawn to the sound of the drumming and like the deep colored light I flowed across the land to where the sound was emerging.

There I saw a lone figure dancing in time to a drum around a small, glowing fire-pit.  He was a wildly painted figure wearing a breechclout and leggings and a ceremonial fur headdress-cape: Beneath the obvious coyote-skin cape, and beneath the long flowing locks of dark color, much like Rastafari dreadlocks, the figure’s skin was covered in deep, black tribal markings which flowed along his body like the tendrils of a sable-toned thorn-bush; sharp and curving at many different angles over the yellow-tan base color that covered the entirety of his skin. The contrast was impressive and in the reddish orange light the black upon the yellow was most stark and impressive at the same time.

The figure was barefoot and he held in his hand a pair of gourd rattles which he shook as he danced.

Behind the dancing figure were three cloaked figures seated on the ground. They were all deeply silhouetted in dark shapes and I could make little of them out save for the fact that one was drumming, another was playing a low toned flute of some kind. The third was shaking a rattle in time to the rattle-work of the dancer.

Behind them, much taller and obscured by a flowing cloak – also completely blackened in silhouette- was a mysterious figure who watched the whole scene as if from the point of an observer rather than a participant.

The dancer saw me: I could feel his gaze from the horizontal strip of black paint that covered the entirety of his face from the nose upward. From beneath the coyote-headed pelt I could somehow feel his almost feral, yet friendly grin as he saw me approach the perimeter.

“Come, come!” He said in a voice that was more of a whisper than anything else and I realized that the words had not passed through the air to my ears but rather had been delivered directly to my brain.

And so I approached until I stood at the edge of the circle.

Suddenly the shape of the dancer changed somewhat and for a moment, though I had detected the change I was not at first sure of what the change had actually been.

And then I realized what the change had been: The lower torso of the dancer had changed: The knees had extended backward and the feet adjusted forward so that the torso became very much like the back legs of a canine. The feet were now clawed paws and a fur covered tan colored tail had appeared in the rear of the dancer.

It was a Coyote-man; a messenger of the Other-Places, who was dancing before me.

“Come, come!” said the voice again, inviting me to join him in the dance.

But I had not journeyed to this place to dance: I had come with questions. Indeed as I thought upon this the dancer seemed to know my desires.

He suddenly stopped in his dance. His companions stopped their playing and for a moment there was silence.

“You have come to know about your friend the Keeper-of-Lore.” He said in that whispery voice of his. “You have come to find out what will become of him and if you can help him in some way.”

“Yes.” I said.

For a moment the dancer stood there looking at me, with a crafty half-smile on his face.

Then he gestured behind him with one hand, toward the silent, standing figure in the background. As he did so the rattle in his hand shook once, rapidly and was again silent.

“He knows.” The dancer said somewhat sorrowfully. “He will not dance either. Did you know that much can be learned from the dance, just as much can be learned from the act of play? When we cease to play we open doors for bad Medicine to enter. When we refuse to dance we practically invite bad things to come in to our hearts.”

“To heal is to open the hall to oneself.” Said the figure in the background, suddenly. This voice was different and carried wisdom, age and authority within its baritone form. This voice came to my mind through my ears and not through the means that the dancer had used. This was no ordinary voice and when it was heard the dancer stopped moving as if startled: I felt a chill run down my spine as I realized the intensity of the power behind the voice. It was the voice of a tribal Chieftain or a King.

“One must see the hall and fare towards it; towards the hale firelight that is seen flowing from within.” The figure continued. “Though the way may be difficult one must journey to the hall-of-the-self and there offer oneself long overdue hospitality. The self must cleave to the self as a well trusted war-brother. Only then will the way be seen and the fires of understanding show the way.”

“He speaks but does not dance.” Said the Coyote-man, his head down slightly in disappointment. “When one dances his spirit-helpers; his animal-helpers, within or without much healing can take place for when one does this then they are as a brother to their deepest spirit.”

“Tell him to fare to the halls of self and there take hospitality from within.” Said the tall figure.

And suddenly the scene began to dissolve…I began to return to the haunts of the normal places of Midgard.

I heard the Coyote-man one more time before the transition was complete and I was gone completely from the red-glow of that mystical place.

“The dance is the Medicine.” He said. “The dance is the Power.”

And I found myself again before my small Harrowstone, pondering the dancer of the vermillion place – and the words of the mysterious cloaked one as well.

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About Jack Wolf

Canadian author Jack Wolf has been a practicing Pagan for over 30 years, walking a path that encompasses both his Northern European and Native American heritage. He counts the late Heathen Goði and writer E. Max Hyatt, Professor Mark Mirabello, Dakota tribal Chief William Hoff and American author Allan Cole among his mentors. An avid outdoorsman, Jack has spent a considerable portion of his life exploring the deep wilds of British Columbia, a vast province on Canada’s west coast. He brings a great deal of his wilderness experience to his spiritual path. Over the past 15 years Jack has studied and written about a number of northern pagan traditions, having published for the most part independently or in small journals, blogs or websites. His recent works for Mandrake of Oxford Have certainly opened up his writing to a larger audience. Jack is also the author of several other books, including Circle of Bones (2012), The Way of the Odin Brotherhood (2013), Blood and Stone (2014) co-author of Tales from the Red Moon Lodge (2014) and co-editor of A Voice from the Thornwood (winter 2014). Forthcoming works include The Thornish Path, Ullr’s Road and The Urban Tribalist, all of which are planned for a mid-2015 and early 2016 release respectively. Spiritually, Jack identifies himself generally as a Deep Tribalist and more specifically as Thornish. He is a member of a primal pagan tradition whose spiritual path involves questing for the First Knowledge – that held by our most ancient ancestors whose hearts and spirits were deeply connected to the land. The Thornish path is the way of the warrior-steward; a Deep Tribal tradition which Jack has practiced since the late 1980’s Jack holds a degree in anthropology from the world renowned University of British Columbia and has long held an avid interest in history, tribal peoples, spirituality and the reawakening of pagan peoples worldwide. He currently resides with his wife and co-author Cassandra Wolf and their daughter, in Squamish, British Columbia.
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