Gather ‘round, children, gather ‘round, and I shall tell you the way of the world and how it came to be.
Once, there were four sisters, and their names were Star Eyes, Moss Heart, Deep Song, and Rot Tongue. Star Eyes lived high among the clouds and the storms, and she knew the language and all the secrets of every star, old and young. Moss Heart lived in a dense green wood thick with sunlight and shadows, and she knew the language and all the secrets of every plant, large and small. Deep Song lived among the coral and fishes far down at the bottom of the sea, and she knew the language and the secrets of every ocean, lake, and stream in the world, salty and sweet. Rot Tongue lived in a dark and quiet cave deep down under the earth, and the secrets she knew were the strangest and most important of all. And the four sisters filled their realms with creatures who were colorful and plain, large and tiny, loud and quiet, and the world was a beautiful place.
The four sisters were not alone, however, for they also had a brother, and their brother was a dragon. He visited his sisters often, traveling easily between their realms. He loved to chase the stars, soar through the trees, swim with the whales, and even sit silently in the dark, listening to the roots and the worms.
Now it happened one day that the dragon was tired, and he laid down to sleep in the shade of a great oak tree where a cold stream splashed down from the heights of a towering mountain. And as he slept, he dreamt of a new creature, one unimagined by any of his sisters. When he awoke, he set about creating this new being. He took wind from the sky, wood from the tree, water from the sea, soil from the earth, and finally the fire that burned within his own heart, and with these he brought the first humans into being.
The humans looked at him with eyes bright with wonder and curiosity, and they asked him, “Who are we? What shall we do? Where shall we go?”
And the dragon answered, “You are my children, born of sky and tree and sea and soil, and the fire that burns within my heart. You shall make of yourselves as you will, remembering always that you are of the world. You may go where you will, remembering always that you are of the world, and so the world is your home.”
The humans thanked the dragon, and said to him, “There are many things that we must know if we are to live, and if our children are to live, and our children’s children. Please teach us these things, that we may not fear and worry, but instead know joy and contentment.”
The dragon was well-pleased, and answered them thus: “I shall choose four from among you. One shall go to my sister Star Eyes, who lives high among the clouds and the storms. If you are respectful and curious, she will teach you the secrets of sun and moon and stars, that you may know when to wake and when to sleep, when to plant and when to reap.
“A second shall go to my sister Moss Heart, who lives in a dense green wood thick with sunlight and shadow. If you are respectful and curious, she will teach you the secrets of tree and herb and flower and grain, that you might eat well and treat your injuries and illnesses.
“A third shall go to my sister Deep Song, who lives among the coral and fishes far down at the bottom of the sea. If you are respectful and curious, she will teach you the secrets of the water and the waves, of how to sail and how to swim, and how to harvest the bounty of ocean and river and lake.
“A fourth shall go to my sister Rot Tongue, who lives in a dark and quiet cave deep down under the earth. If you are respectful and curious, she will teach you the most important secrets of all.”
The humans murmured among themselves. Some were glad, others were anxious, but all agreed to do as the dragon said, for the sake of themselves and their children and their children’s children.
And the dragon selected four from among the humans, each of whom traveled to see one of his sisters. The humans who visited Star Eyes and Moss Heart and Deep Song did as the dragon said; they were respectful and curious, and so they learned the secrets of star and plant and water, and they carried this knowledge back with them.
But the fourth human did not. This human was frightened of the dark and the deep and the quiet, of the worms and the roots. And so this human was rude and angry to Rot Tongue, and would not listen to any of the secrets she whispered. And when the human returned with no knowledge to share, the dragon was disappointed.
“Who among you shall try again?” he asked.
Another human stepped forward, and the dragon was pleased.
But again, the human grew frightened of the dark and the deep and the quiet. And so the human returned without learning Rot Tongue’s secrets.
The dragon sighed and said, “Three chances only, shall you have. Who among you will learn what Rot Tongue has to teach, and bring that knowledge back with you?”
A third human stepped forward and said, “I am frightened, but I shall go.”
The dragon was pleased, and the human set off for the cave of Rot Tongue. Though afraid, the human was respectful and curious, and so came to understand that Rot Tongue’s secrets were the strangest and most important of all. And when the human returned with this knowledge, the dragon was pleased.
But the other humans were not. Some believed that only the secrets of Star Eyes were important, or the secrets of Moss Heart, or the secrets of Deep Song. Others held that the secrets of the first three sisters were what mattered, not those of Rot Tongue. Some forgot about Rot Tongue completely.
But a few listened and understood, and as humanity has continued to spread across the world that is our home, these few carry the strangest and most important knowledge of all: the mystery of death and birth, the revelation that it is all one. Death into birth into life into death again. And with this knowledge we shall not be afraid, but know joy and contentment for ourselves and our children and our children’s children.
And now you know the way of the world, children, and how it came to be.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published poems, stories, and essays can be found there.]