When gods sleep


The rain sounds like it’s about to tear the roof off. I can’t hear individual drops, just an incessant deluge hammering the tile. The lights flicker and go out, and Saihun lights a candle so I can continue talking to her grandmother, Cong Rilda, one of the oldest residents of Mawmluh Village, just outside Cherapunjee, the “wettest place on earth.”  

Just a bit over 4 ft. tall, thin and frail, Cong Rilda nearly disappears in the plaid shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Golden hoop earrings scintillate against her aged skin, but her eyes are bright and intelligent.  She becomes emotional as she talks with yearning about the old Khasi gods of the village. “I know those days can’t come back; it’s the nature of things to change,” she says. “But the gods have always been part of our daily life. There is one God for all of us, but there are also many gods for each village. They are all different because we are different. When we go to the river to wash clothes, we call on the water goddess. When we walk, we ask permission of the gods first and promise not to harm anything. The sacred hill, the forest, all have their gods. Some are male. Some are female. We did nothing without prayer. The most important one we prayed to is the god who protects our inheritance. And we had rituals. In Mawmluh, we have four sacred places. The sacred forest. The river. The hill. And the clearing just on the edge of the village. I don’t know what will happen to them.”

“This is true,” says Bansam who is translating. “Even though I am from a Christian family, from the time we are little, all of us, even those who have been converted, are told to not harm these areas. We are to walk softly. We cannot harm even the branches of the trees, or take plants from this area. If we do, something bad will happen. Maybe not right away. Maybe not even in our lifetime, but in our children’s lifetime or our grandchildren’s.”

Cong Rilder agrees. “There are always consequences for our behavior. We must do good in the world. Not lie or steal. Nature is what sustains us, that’s why for us all our gods are of the earth.”

Bansam says, “I believe the old priests–what do you call them? Shaman? They knew these times were coming, things like the greenhouse effect, all this pollution. They could see the future and that’s why they stressed us to care for these places.”

But Cong Rilder is not convinced that the changes are for the good. “The new ways don’t respect the forest, they say it’s superstition. Foolishness.”

Although, she doesn’t mention the church, Bansam tells me, “She doesn’t want to offend anyone, especially if you are Christian.”

I assure her I’m not and that I, also, would like to see the sacred places, all the earth, in fact, cared for better than it has been. She smiles, but sadly, and says, “I just don’t know where our gods will go when there is no longer a place for them.”

When I return to my guesthouse that night, I find the thought also haunts me. Where do the nature gods and goddesses go when the missionaries with their white Christ move in and the sacred hills become decorated with crosses? Do they simply fade into the shadows of the groves, go to sleep in the streams and ancient monoliths waiting for the day when they are called out again? Even now, a few of the younger Khasi are returning to the old faith. But not many. They have a lot of opposition. The Evangelicals call them devil worshippers. Other denominations more subtly try to erase the memory of those who protect the natural places. And so the gods grow silent, their incantations becoming whispers, no longer song.



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3 thoughts on “When gods sleep

  1. It’s so sad to hear that everywhere the old ways are dying out. So many based in prayer and the love and respect of nature. And with this goes the destruction of our natural places, of earth herself. It reminds me of the Grandmothers and what they stand for and how necessary the old gods and goddess are, who protect our earth and keep her healthy.

  2. I have heard, Earth Abides, but is it the verdant, prolific beauty that I love so much or a vast waste land created by greed and and fear and arrogance. Walk softly, live simply that others might simply live. These are the songs of the old ways. I think we will learn them again but unfortunately I think it will be after much suffering and not only the suffering of mankind. Nothing is permanent, everything is in flux and I have to believe we ultimately, just like the flower will turn towards the light, , but it can be a long hard journey. It is our destiny to “get it” and it takes a village to help others to hear but in order for them to hear we have to carry the message. How am I carrying that message each day?

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