You are Ishi; they stand apart
In the dream I walk the heartlands of Africa. Two elders approach. They’re dark, small; like Bushmen. I understand they’re ‘discerning the tribes.’ They ask if I want my tribe discerned. I say ‘yes.’ The elders place two small wand-like sticks on my chest. ‘You are Ishi’ they say; ‘they stand apart.’ I wake stunned.
It’s my first encounter with the World Soul. The World Soul is the primordial life and memory of Nature. All life is united within the World Soul. The World Soul is reaching out and interacting with me. What the elders say is vital. But who is ‘Ishi?’ What does it mean ‘to stand apart?’ 1
My encounter with the World Soul opens a new world. Like Ishi I’m to stand apart from the dominant culture. I’m to hold true to the sacred lore of the human tribe. This lore includes honouring the fragile web of life within the World Soul and opposing all that would desecrate it.
From Urizen I step apart 2
To live within the human art
To walk upon the memoried shore
& guard the tribe’s forsaken lore
For Ishi was as Ishi is
Wherever human freedom lives
Wherever tribe and spirit meet
I lift the lamp & hear it speak
1 ‘Ishi’ was the name given to the last of the Mill Creek Indians; who lived east of the Sacramento River, in California. For years Ishi lived with a small remnant of his tribe. The group concealed themselves from the whites. Slowly the tribe died out until only Ishi was left. Ishi struggled on alone for a time until finally, on August the 29th, 1911, he surrendered to the whites. He fully expected to be killed. However a professor at Berkley heard about him and had him released from jail. Ishi then spent the rest of his life in the anthropology department at Berkley University in San Francisco sharing his language and culture. He was known as the last ‘wild’ American Indian. He never disclosed his tribal name. The white people called him Ishi. In his Native American language ‘Ishi means ‘man’ (or human). Adapted from ‘Ishi means man:’ by Thomas Merton.
2 In the poet William Blake’s mythology, Urizen is the embodiment of conventional law and reason. He is often portrayed as a bearded old man. Urizen carries architects tools, or nets which he uses to ensnare people in the webs of convention.
Meditation: reflect on the words ‘to stand apart.’ Do they speak to your life in any way? Is there some way you need to ‘stand apart’ from the rules of convention? What is it? How could it be done?