Today’s tale, “The Story of a Female Shaman,” is from the Reindeer Chukchee people of northeastern Siberia. It was retold in Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from around the World edited by Kathleen Ragan.
A female shaman had an only son who was sick, but she had to leave to visit other people who lived at the end of the sea. Her husband complained, calling her a bad mother for leaving her sick child. She said she understood his concern, but that other people needed her, as they too had a son who was suffering.
When she got to the other people, they told her the boy was dead. She asked what payment they were going to give her and they told her two reindeer teams. She told them she would try to bring the boy back. She hit her drum and restored the boy to life. She spent a year there.
When she returned home, she learned her son had died. The woman said she needed a rest, but her husband said she was a shaman, she didn’t need sleep. She hit her drum but couldn’t find the boy. She told her husband to kill her. At first he refused but she told him she would take the reindeer. He killed her and the reindeer. That night she departed to the sky. She met a raven and eagle who both admire her reindeer. The eagle told her that a female monster carried off her boy. I love animal helpers in stories.
She rescued the boy’s soul from the monster, had her assistant spirits kill the monster, and returned home. She called for everyone to awake. She beat on her drum and eventually both the raven and eagle came. She drummed on. The boy’s body became like a living body and she put the soul in the body and told the boy to waken. The boy awoke, alive again.
Then, and only then, did the mother sleep, but first she ordered the reindeer teams to be slaughtered, one for the raven and one for the eagle.
I love the commentary that goes with this story. “The is a story about being a mother and having a second job as well. Not only is the heroine overloaded with work, every step she takes receives a critique from society. Her child is sick, but she has to go to work. ‘You are a bad mother.’ She comes home tired, ‘I want to have a rest.’ ‘You don’t need rest,’ the husband says. The mother / shaman even lets herself be killed to bring her son back to life. (Death is obviously not much of a barrier in this culture!) Only after she has snatched her son’s soul and returned it to his refurbished body, ‘Then only, the mother went to sleep.’ Like so many working women, this woman is the farthest thing from a bad mother – she is Supermom.” It just shows how much we can still relate to the old stories.
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Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all. Feel free to join in.
Stop by and visit Melissa at Mommy Wants to Read. Today she’s featuring an Incan tale.