The Island of the Blessed – or the Hunter’s Dream

There was once a beautiful girl, who died suddenly on the day she was to have been married to a handsome young hunter. He had also proved his bravery in war, so that he enjoyed the praises of his tribe, but his heart was not proof against this loss. From the hour she was buried, there was no more joy or peace for him. He went often to visit the spot where the women had buried her, and sat musing there, when, it was thought by some of his friends, he would have done better to try and amuse himself in the chase, or by diverting his thoughts in the warpath. But war and hunting had lost their charms for him. His heart was already dead within him. He wholly neglected both his war-club and his bows and arrows.

He had heard the old people say that there was a path that led to the land of souls, and he determined to follow it. He accordingly set out one morning, after having completed his preparations for the journey. At first he hardly knew which way to go. He was only guided by the tradition that he must go south. For a while he could see no change in the face of the country. Forests, and hills, and valleys, and streams, had the same looks which they wore in his native place. There was snow on the ground, when he set out, and it was sometimes seen to be piled and matted on the thick trees and bushes. At length it began to diminish, and, as he walked on, finally disappeared. The forest assumed a more cheerful appearance, the leaves put forth their buds, and before he was aware of the completeness of the change, he found he had left behind him the land of snow and ice. The air became pure and mild; the dark clouds had rolled away from the sky; a pure field of blue was above him; and, as he went forward in his journey, he saw flowers beside his path, and heard the song of birds. By these signs he knew that he was going the right way, for they agreed with the traditions of his tribe. At length he spied a path. It took him through a grove, then up a long and elevated ridge, on the very top of which he came to a lodge. At the door stood an old man with white hair, whose eyes, though deeply sunk, had a fiery brilliancy. He had a long robe of skins thrown loosely around his shoulders, and a staff in his hands.

The young man began to tell his story; but the venerable chief arrested him before he had proceeded to speak ten words. “I have expected you,” he replied, “and had just risen to bid you welcome to my abode. She whom you seek passed here but a short time since, and being fatigued with her journey rested herself here. Enter my lodge and be seated, and I will then satisfy your inquiries, and give you directions for your journey from this point.” Having done this, and refreshed himself by rest, they both issued forth from the lodge door. “You see yonder gulf,” said the old man, “and the wide-stretching plain beyond: it is the land of souls. You stand upon its borders, and my lodge is the gate of entrance. But you cannot take your body along.

Leave it here with your bow and arrows, your bundle and your dog. You will find them safe upon your return. “So saying he re-entered the lodge, and the freed traveler bounded forward as if his feet had suddenly been endowed with the power of wings. But all things retained their natural colors and shapes. The woods and leaves, and streams and lakes, were only more bright and comely than he had ever witnessed. Animals bounded across his path with a freedom and confidence which seemed to tell him, there was no blood shed there. Birds of beautiful plumage inhabited the groves, and sported in the waters. There was but one thing in which he saw a very unusual effect. He noticed that his passage was not stopped by trees or other objects. He appeared to walk directly through them: they were, in fact, but the images or shadows of material forms. He became sensible that he was in the land of souls.

When he had traveled half a day s journey, through a country which was continually becoming more attractive, he came to the banks of a broad lake, in the centre of which was a large and beautiful island. He found a canoe of white shining stone, tied to the shore. He was now sure that he had come the right path, for the aged man had told him of this. There were also shining paddles. He immediately entered the canoe, and took the paddles in his hands, when, to his joy and surprise, on turning round he beheld the object of his search in another canoe, exactly its counterpart in everything. It seemed to be the shadow of his own. She had exactly imitated his motions, and they were side by side. They at once pushed out from the shore, and began to cross the lake. Its waves seemed to be rising, and, at a distance, looked ready to swallow them up; but just as they entered the whitened edge of them, they seemed to melt away, as if they were but the images of waves. But no sooner was one wreath of foam passed, than another, more threatening still, rose up. Thus they were in perpetual fear; but what added to it was the clearness of the water, through which they could see heaps of the bones of beings who had perished before.

The Master of Life had, however, decreed to let them pass, for the thoughts and acts of neither of them had been bad. But they saw many others struggling and sinking in the waves. Old men and young men, males and females, of all ages and ranks were there: some passed and some sunk. It was only the little children, whose canoes seemed to meet no waves. At length every difficulty was gone, as in a moment, and they both leaped out on the happy island. They felt that the very air was food. It strengthened and nourished them. They wandered together over the blissful fields, where everything was formed to please the eye and the ear. There were no tempests; there was no ice, nor chilly winds; no one shivered for the want of warm clothes; no one suffered for hunger; no one mourned for the dead. They saw no graves. They heard of no wars. Animals ran freely about, but there was no blood spilled in hunting them: for the air itself nourished them. Gladly would the young warrior have remained there for ever, but he was obliged to go back for his body. He did not see the Master of Life, but he heard his voice, as if it were a soft breeze. “Go back,” said this voice, “to the land from whence you came. Your time has not yet come. The duties for which I made you, and which you are to perform, are not yet finished. Return to your people, and accomplish the acts of a good man. You will be the ruler of your tribe for many days. The rules you will observe will be told you by my messenger, who keeps the gate. When he surrenders back your body, he will tell you what to do. Listen to him, and you shall afterwards rejoin the spirit which you have followed, but whom you must now leave behind. She is accepted, and will be ever here, as young and as happy as she was when I first called her from the land of snows.”

When this voice ceased, the narrator awoke. It was the fancy work of a dream, and he was still in the bitter land of snows and hunger, death and tears.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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