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Myth of the Veritas: The First Ring of Empathy. 


In the heyday of the Veritas, when the people had prospered and spread far beyond the lake of reeds and bubbling streams, yet long before they forgot the field of flowers, there lived among them many who dedicated their lives to learning and teaching. The people of the Veritas sometimes variously called them “Shaman,” or “Wise One,” or “Great Leader.” And among these, one in particular they called, “She Who Saves Many Lives.” They devised this name because of many wise insights she had but also because she literally saved individual lives with her knowledge of healing herbs and ways but also because she helped to save even the lowliest creatures in the forest, field, and stream. Of course, none of the Veritas chose to kill any of the creatures wantonly but only for need. For all of the Veritas saw that the lives of the Veritas all depended on the prosperity of all of life. “She Who Saves Many Lives” went beyond this and developed ways to encourage many of the creatures of forest, field, and stream to be healthy and fruitful. In this way, the Veritas themselves were also healthy and fruitful. 

{Translator’s Note}: Try as I might, I find this part difficult to translate into modern English. I seem hamstrung by our modern notions of “agency” and “responsibility” and “choice.” It wasn’t that the Veritas “decided” it would be in their “long term interests” not to kill creatures for no purpose other than to show that they could. Such actions were out of harmony and out of character with their very existence. Consider the following modern metaphor. People who are gifted musically spend much of their lives improving their skill. The very best of them may be able to play in a symphony orchestra. The whole point of their playing is to be part of the creation/recreation of beautiful music. A flautist in such an orchestra does not “decide” not to make horrid screeching noises rather than participate in making beauty. Theoretically, of course, they could. Or, they could bring fire-crackers and set them off in the middle of the symphony. But why would a person who dedicates their life to making beautiful music do such a thing? In a similar way, insofar as I can tell from artifacts, scholarship, and the entire mythic structure of the Veritas, these people did not consciously “decide” not to wantonly kill their cousins in other parts of the Great Tree of Life for no reason. Any person of the Veritas would gladly want to help the forests, fields, and streams to flourish. However, one of the talents of “She Who Saves Many Lives” was that she apparently saw many new ways to facilitate such flourishing. 

sparks of firecracker

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The other phrase I’m not entirely satisfied with is the name of the Shaman herself. A more literal and more accurate translation of her name would be: “She Who Fosters the Entire Tree of Life with a Focus on Her People but Who is Ever Mindful of the Music of the Entire Tree” I think you can see why I chose the shorter name!

“She Who Saves Many Lives,” though strong and healthy and young, yet foresaw that while the Great Tree of Life would grow and prosper for many, many moons, her individual life would, at some point, come to that same end that awaits all individual lives. Thus it was that she wished to help choose and prepare the next Great Shaman. And thus it was that she devised a series of seven tests. The tests would be carried out in public and any who thought they would like to dedicate their lives to learning and teaching and healing could try their hand at these tests. 

“She Who Saves Many Lives” crafted seven types of beautiful rings. Each type of ring was studded with a different type of beautiful polished stone. Each such ring would be given as a prize to those who passed the tests she devised. Each such type of ring, “She Who Saves Many Lives” called a “Ring of Empathy.” The first type of such rings were known to be made of bronze and each bronze ring sported a crystal of clear calcite. These she made openly and all could see her exquisite craftsmanship. Those who wished to try their skill at the trials came to her before the spring rains began and let her know their intention. Each time another initiate wished to be admitted to the trials, she made another ring. However, she said nothing whatever about the nature of the first trial, nor indeed any of the trials. She created them all in her own mind. When various would-be contestants came to her to watch her work, they tried a number of clever ploys to try to learn the nature of the trial so that they might better prepare themselves. “She Who Saves Many Lives” merely smiled at each such person and wished them good luck. 


At last the spring rains came and spring flowers bloomed all around the end of the lake of reeds where “She Who Saves Many Lives” made her home when she was not traveling amongst the many villages of the Veritas. At last, the spring rains gave way to the hot dry period. When the new moon first began to show its crescent, it signaled the appointed day of the trial. A dozen came to try their skill in the trial but many more from all the lands of the Veritas came as well in order to see who would prevail. “She Who Saves Many Lives” gave each contestant a small piece of deer hide with a rough map of the area. On each map, the symbol of each of the contestants was designated at a particular nearby and noteworthy place. Each of the participants knew each of these symbols and recognized the places as well, for all people in those days made it their business to know the location of every tree, path, stream, and boulder. 

{Translator’s Note}: The Veritas, so far as I can tell, did not at this point have what we would call a “written language” but they did make maps, some of which have survived to this day. Many (but by no means all) of the symbols on these maps would be interpretable by modern humans of most cultures. In addition, everyone not only had one or more spoken names, but also had at least one unique symbol. Such symbols typically reflected something of the physical or behavioral aspects of that person and were therefore much easier to remember than most modern names are for us to remember. 

Each contestant was well aware of the symbol for each of the others. Each of the twelve maps were identical and showed the location that each of the twelve contestants was to go to as quickly as possible. Once there, further instructions would be sent by drumbeat. Having the final instructions sent in this way was not only the most practical method of distant communication; it also increased the drama for everyone. 

brown wooden percussion instruments

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{Translator’s Note}: No-one knows the precise coding for the drumbeat language of the Veritas. I can, however, say with a high degree of certainty that it was nothing like Morse Code. The drumbeats were more like a hierarchical description of the instructions and each series of beats further refined the instructions. In what follows, I try to give some sense of that, but it’s largely a guess as to specifics though the details are unimportant as to the outcome for the participants. The only necessary point is that each contestant understood what the instructions meant.   

Welcome. Contest. Be smart. Be accurate. Be quick. Mark on the map. Numbers. How many do you see? How many do each of you see? Mountaintops. Begin! Run back with your map. Filled with 12 sets of marks. 

In this way, the first contest of the Veritas began. As you can see, although “She Who Saves Many Lives” called this an empathy test, it really required a number of skills in addition to empathy. It required a knowledge of the terrain, good eyesight, the ability to understand a new task quickly, good spatial visualization, and good foot speed. Within ten minutes of the end of the drumbeats, some of the contestants could be seen entering the outermost ring of the sacred circle, running swiftly with their maps. Soon, all twelve of the contestants had breathlessly handed their maps to “She Who Saves Many Lives” who had so far given no hint as to how many contestants would be entered into the next phase of the contest. All the contestants gathered in a semi-circle around “She Who Saves Many Lives” and at her instruction, everyone in the crowd sang a song of praise for all who had attempted the task. Then, without a word, “She Who Saves Many Lives” bestowed bronze rings adorned with a calcite crystal on the ring fingers of those she deemed worthy to continue on to the next contest. There were ten, who collectively came to be known by the Veritas as “Those Who May See Through the Eyes of Others.” All ten had correctly and perfectly counted, not only the mountaintops that they themselves could see from their own assigned positions, but had also accurately counted how many each of the others could see.

landscape nature night relaxation

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“She Who Saves Many Lives” did not herself use that designation for the ten. For this had only been the first, and easiest of all the tasks she had devised for being able to see through the eyes of others. When she thought of them collectively, she privately called them, “The Ten Who Can Count Mountaintops with the Eyes of Others.”  


Now, dear reader, you may now see that I have included these translations of the Myths of the Veritas because they very much relate to the fields of “User Experience”, “Human Factors,” or “Human-Computer Interaction” despite the fact that these tales greatly predate modern technology! To the Veritas, choosing a new leader for their people was never a matter to be left to chance, or visions, or a contest to see who could lift the most or lie the most. A leader of all the people should be able to see the world through the eyes of any of the people. How else might such a leader help insure a decision was for all the people and not just a few? 


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