The Sangoma's Apprentice
Mynah and my grandfather between them taught me how to refine my skill of healing and divination and diagnosis of illness. My grandfather taught me the art of the divining bones—bits of seashell, animal bones and bits of ivory, which an African witch doctor throws in order to foretell the future or to find out what the patient's problem is. My grandfather also taught me how to control my powers of seeing and how to sharpen them and to make them more accurate and efficient. He taught me the art of breathing properly. He taught me the secret art of joining my mind to that of the great gods in the unseen world. He taught me how to sit still—very, very still—and eliminate all the thoughts from my mind and call upon the hidden powers of my soul. . . .
My grandfather taught me that there are many ways by which one can reach the ultimate truth that is at the full extent of one's mental powers. He told me that I could either do it painfully by depriving myself of food and drink and by causing my body to suffer as much as possible, or I could do it through the medium of joy, of happiness and ecstasy. I chose to experiment with both these two ways. Sometimes I fasted and tortured my body until I felt like a prisoner undergoing savage interrogation. Sometimes I used the joyous way, as it is called, in which I sat down and thought only beautiful thoughts and ate pure food sparingly and drank only pure cool water and that also very sparingly.
Strange vistas opened in my mind. I no longer was afraid of the fearsome visions that I saw; rather I worked with them, and saw them as useful guides which greatly strengthened and broadened my perception, not only of the world in which I lived, but also of the entire cosmos.
My grandfather told me that a sangoma must be able to draw knowledge from what he called "the Hidden Lake." There is, he said, a huge unseen lake somewhere in the spirit world where all the knowledge of the universe—past, present, and future—is to be found.
"Knowledge lives in that lake in the form of little silver fishes," my grandfather said. "You must never never again say that you do not know something. You must just ask the lake, the unseen lake, to provide you with the knowledge that you seek. You are a Child of God, you were created by God. Even the Christians tell you, 'All things are possible.' Because you are a tiny tiny fragment of God Almighty, all things are possible to you also." This is what my grandfather taught me. Even so, to my still-Christian mind some things sounded like blasphemy.
One day I very rudely confronted my grandfather with this question: "How could God be almighty and I also be almighty?" My grandfather controlled his fierce Zulu temper and he said to me, "Come out" and immediately I obeyed.
We went out of the grass hut and my grandfather pointed towards the west and said, "Look over there, what do you see?"
I said, "Grandfather, I see mountains."
My grandfather said, "Yes, you see mountains."
And then he took a piece of sandstone and thrust into my hand. He said, "What is this?"
I said, "My grandfather, it is a stone."
My grandfather said, "Look, this stone is a fragment of one of those mountains. This stone contains within it all the characteristics of those mountains over there." My grandfather knocked the stone out of my hands and then he said, "Come on, follow me."
I followed him. He came to his favorite tree, which was a fig tree that he had planted as a young man and which was now tall and producing a lot of beautiful fruit. My grandfather said, "What is this?"
I said, "Grandfather, this is a tree."
My grandfather struck me across the face and said, "Listen you little dog, this is not a tree, this is a person. Do you understand me? In old Africa, in the land of the ancient Zulus, in my time when I was a young man, we never used to call trees 'trees' but rather 'growing people'. This is a person.
"Have you seen me standing next to this tree on certain days?" he demanded.
I said, "Yes, grandfather."
"What have you seen me doing here?" he asked again.
"Grandfather, I have seen you touching the trunk of this tree, and at one time I saw you taking snuff out of your snuff horn with your snuff spoon and pouring it at the foot of this tree."
My grandfather laughed, a gap-toothed, cruel laugh. He said, "Now what did you think I was doing, you little Christian rubbish? Did you think that I was worshipping the tree? Did you think that I thought the tree was my God?"
I said, "No, grandfather."
Another blow flew across my face and snapped my head back.
My grandfather said, "Listen, I was worshipping the tree. I was talking to the tree. I was sharing my snuff with the tree, and I often share any good news that I happen to have with the tree. I sing to it, I praise it, I thank it—and see the fat figs that it produces for us because I talk to the tree and I believe that it is a person. Do you understand?"
I said, "Yes, grandfather."
. . . .There is nothing supernatural, everything is natural.