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When the full moon rose after the hottest days of summer had passed, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives summoned the Eight-Who-Feel-Another’s-Hunger to a great council fire at their customary places. “You have served your tribe well and each of you has grown even since the first such trial. A new challenge awaits you. At your place, you will find a small piece of deerskin and upon that deerskin the picture of an animal. That animal you will observe, copy, learn from, speak too, listen too, come to love as one of your very own family. I want all those who live near you to understand your tasks as well so that they may not impede your study. 

“The full moon is here. There shall be another. And another. But on the third next full moon, we will reconvene our council fire. You shall indeed share your knowledge with all the tribe. And, then, I will question you separately to determine who shall win the Third Ring of Empathy and be so invited to the next trial.” The entire council including the Eight-Who-Feel-Another’s-Hunger left as well, all save Pond Mud, who politely asked the favor of a question. 

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“Oh, She-Who-Saves-Many, I fear that though my muscles may be strongest among my peers, my powers of perception are yet weak, for I looked upon this deerskin and it appears that it may be an elk, that it may be a deer, it may be bison, but it most looks to me like…like an ant.”

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives laughed, “It is not your perception, my young friend; it is my lack of artistic skill, though you are indeed correct. It is an ant. Now, go forth and study her for three moons.” 

“But, but, they have nothing to teach; they have no power; they have no thinking; they are teeny insignificant things that are simply a pest.”

“My decision is final, Pond Mud. I only sought to aid you in removing your uncertainty. If you become Shaman, you may devise tests as you see fit.”

Pond Mud bit his lip and turned away though a slight shake of the head did not go unnoticed. 

The Shaman therefore spoke once more: “You are judging the ant, though you have not studied them. You know almost nothing about them. Spend three moons watching and then we will see whether I have given you something unworthy of study.” 

So it was that the Eight-Who-Can-Feel-Another’s-Hunger began their various studies of Ant, Eagle, Possum, Tiger, Snake, Squirrel, Horse, and Wolf. On the moonrise of the next month, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives bestowed on each of the eight a mask suited for the animal that they were studying. She suggested that they may want to spend some time each day trying to imagine what life was like through the skin, nose, ears, and eyes of that creature and the using the mask might help in this endeavor. 

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So it was that on the third full moon, each of the eight was ready to give an account of what they had learned before the entire tribe. And, it was so. 

{Translator’s Note}: The actual legend is filled with minutia for every single one of the eight animals. It’s not surprising that such detail would be included for these specific details about each of these other creatures could spell the difference between life and death for themselves or possibly even the entire Veritas people. They took the time to find out about the world and pass on every detail they could to their offspring. Education was a serious business that everyone respected as crucial to their very survival. We live in a different world, however, and therefore I am only translating the first and most obvious thing or two about each animal. 

First to speak was Alt-R who spoke of some of the cleverness of the opossum such as keeping their unprotected ones close by, of hunting at night when they had less worry about those who might harm them, although on balance, they seemed quite stupid, concluded Alt-R. 

Next to speak was She-of-Many-Paths. She spoke with such passion and in such vivid detail that the children, and the youth, and the married, and the old of the tribe all listened in fascination and learned much about Wolf. Not just the Shaman but all could feel that indeed, she had come to love the wolves. She spoke of they way they hunted together and took turns chasing down prey until that prey was exhausted. She spoke of their social order and how they communicated and how they kept the peace among themselves. “And,” she concluded, “I’m just getting started! There is so much more to learn!” 

Eyes-of-Eagle had been assigned the Eagle. She spoke of how the eagle changed it very shape according to the task at hand. 

“When an Eagle wished to soar on the winds it spread its wings as far as possible and flattened its chest and tailfeathers. When it spotted prey below, after a few strong thrusts of its wings, it folded them tightly and made itself nearly into a teardrop. It fell like a rock, only shooting out its wings at the very last possible moment to arrest its fall and save its life and at the same time twisting just so onto the back of rabbit or squirrel or mouse!” This much was known by the adults of the tribe, but Eyes-of-Eagle had many more  details to share on the subject. It was clear to all in the council that she had been aptly named. 

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Shade-Walker spoke next of his observations of snakes. Like he himself, he had noted, the activity of a snake is much determined by the heat of the sun. But Shade-Walker then said, quite unexpectedly, that he believed that snakes could feel the heat of their prey just as we can feel the heat of a fire or the heat of another’s skin if it’s quite close. Shade-Walker noted that a snake too can change its shape. Some can unhinge their jaw and some who swallow their prey whole change from that large swallowing. 

Initiates also spoke of their many observations of Tiger, Squirrel, and Horse. 

Last to speak was Pond Mud. He still viewed ants as unworthy of study because they were weak enough to be crushed in his fingertips. However, he had noticed a kind of war between black ants and red ants. 

“Somehow, an anteater became aware and filled his belly on the fighting ants. Normally, ants are keen to sense a nearby enemy, but in the heat of battle, they didn’t seem to see the anteater at all! He seemed the only beneficiary of the ant war.” 

Most of the adults in the council were quite convinced that two more would-be inheritors of Shaman-ship would be dropped from consideration and that these would almost certainly be POND MUD and ALT-R. Sadly, they seemed not to understand the value of creature so different from themselves. 

Indeed, it was so ordered and came to pass. 

The next day, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives summoned Alt-R to see her. “I have a game for you to try your luck at. Do you accept this challenge?”

“Is this part of the test? Everyone seems to think I lost. Is this a chance to redeem myself?”

“Do you accept this challenge?” 

Alt-R said, “Yes, I accept. What am I to do?”

“I have three cups. You choose one of the three. You will have 100 chances to guess and we will see how many acorns you acquire,” explained She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives.   

So, the game began, and every time Alt-R thought he had at last figured out the rule, he proved wrong on the next guess or the one after that. At long last, the 100 chances had all been used up. Alt-R had managed to obtain 11 acorns and felt very frustrated. Alt-R searched the face of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives but saw no hint of the rule. 

“Has anyone figured out your rule? Has anyone done better?” asked Alt-R as politely as he could in his state of frustration.

“Yes, indeed, I’m must say, that someone did indeed do much better. In particular, one of my friends was able to gather 34.” 

Alt-R was taken aback, but he was still curious. “But then no-one has gotten all 100? No-one has really figured out the rule?” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives cocked her head to the side and her endless brown eyes looked into the heart of Alt-R. “Who said there was a rule?” 

“Who…? I mean, there has to be a rule, right? How did you know how to switch the acorn each time and mostly fool me?”

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives lowered her voice and looked down. “Who said there was an acorn every time?” 

“But…! You said…I don’t understand? How did someone gather 34 then? Who was this one who outguessed me three to one?”

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives looked at him long and hard watching him go through the possibilities in his head. Some he gave voice to. Was it this young man? Was it this young woman? Was it this elder? At last, he ran out of likely possibilities.

“None of those, Alt-R, it was the very creature I asked you to study. The possum.” 

“WHAT?” shouted Alt-R, against all protocol. “I was outsmarted by a possum? That’s impossible!”

“Not at all impossible, Alt-R. It happened. The reason is quite simple. You looked at this as a test of how smart you were or how much empathy you had. You assumed there was one acorn per trial. You assumed that there was a rule. And then you spent all your time trying to determine the rule. What did possum do?”

Alt-R frowned, “What did possum do? How could I possibly know?”

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“You couldn’t. Because you didn’t follow my advice and learn to know possum and how he felt about things, what he smelled about things, what he saw, how he loved, and feared, and died.”

Alt-R hung his head. This had not really been a test. This had been another teaching – a teaching that taught him that he should have followed the first teaching. “You are right, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, but I still don’t see how possum could have done better than I did.”

The Shaman explained, “You came in here and made assumptions. You were trying to find the acorn each time assuming that there was one. You were trying to figure out the rule. I put one acorn always in the one left-most cup to you and to possum 1/3 of the time not according to any rule. After two acorns from the left cup, the possum always chose the left cup, most often being wrong but 1/3 of the time being right. You came in hungry for rules and assumptions. The possum came in hungry for acorns.” 

“Thank you, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives.”

“Please return tomorrow night, Alt-R, for I have one further lesson.”

The next morning, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives summoned Pond Mud, for Pond Mud, like Alt-R, had another few lessons to learn. 

“Come, Pond Mud, I have a simple task for you. You are one of the strongest young men in the village. Is that not so?”

“Well, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, I do not know but I have overheard some say that, yes.”

“So, Pond Mud, you value physical strength. Is that so?”

“Yes, indeed, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives! That is why the ant…well, we will not speak of that.  Anyway, yes, I am strong and I value physical strength.” 

“Good, Pond Mud, then you will have no trouble with this small task. I would like you push over that old cabin. I wish to build a new one.” 

“Well, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, I am strong but … I mean the cabin is well-built…it is meant to withstand snow and wind and you want me to try to push it down?” queried Pond Mud. 

“No, I want you to actually push it down, not try to push it down. Proceed.” 

Pond Mud walked over the cabin and walked around it looking for a possible flaw or weak point but found nothing. He braced himself and pushed with both hands but nothing moved. He turned his shoulder to the edge and pushed but nothing moved. He lay on his back and pushed with his legs but that slid him backwards. He found two giant boulders and rolled them near the cabin and used the boulders to brace himself and pushed with both legs. He could not budge the cabin. He looked at the boulders and began to hatch an elaborate plan to smash the cabin with the boulders. 

“Pond Mud, you failed to push over the cabin. Please follow me. I want to show you a larger, stronger cabin that someone did push over. It is near. Follow.”

They soon came to a small clearing where the collapsed remains of a large cabin lay scattered about. “Pond Mud, what would you say regarding the strength of the creature who pushed this cabin down?”

“Gigantic. Perhaps a great cave bear. Or perhaps a bison? But it’s in the woods. A giant moose perhaps?”

“Pond Mud, look closely at that log and tell me what you see.” 

Pond Mud strode quickly to the indicated spot. “It’s just a log. I mean it’s filled with … it’s filled with … carpenter ants. It’s filled with carpenter ants.” 

“I see you studied the ants enough at least to recognize one when you see one. Let us return now to my cabin because your friend Alt-R is about to appear.”

They strode in silence back to the cabin of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. Indeed, Alt-R had just arrived. 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives looked at each of them and said quietly, “I am sure by now you both realize that you will not be getting the Third Ring of Empathy. However, I am giving you each two other gifts. And each such gift, I can assure you, is worth far more than a ring with a pretty stone affixed.”

“The first gift is that you now realize not to dismiss a human or any creature because it seems they are not so smart nor so strong as you. And, now that you understand this, you may choose to become better and better at seeing things through another’s eyes. And, if you so choose, you will have a much better life and help those around you to also have a much better life. If you so choose, you can instead ignore this lesson and disdain those who are not like you. It’s your choice.”

“But if I learn the lesson, then why cannot I not be yet in contention to be your replacement?”  wondered Pond Mud & Alt-R aloud and almost in unison.

“Because,” said the Shaman, “it was not your first instinct to do so. Under stress or duress, you will be prone to revert to your first instinct and that is just such a time as when your empathy is most needed. Over time, over many wanderings of the stars back to their homes, your first instinct will change and you will be just as able to see through the eyes of another as any of the initiates. But if I die tomorrow, it would not be well for you or for the tribe or even for all the other creatures that share this world with the Veritas.”

The silence grew at first and the crickets decided it was their turn to talk. And so it was. But after a time, Pond Mud spoke again.

“What was then the second gift?” asked Pond Mud. 

“The second gift is that now you know that you are not always the best at everything though you, Alt-R are well the smartest among all the Veritas. And that knowledge that you are not the most able at everything can save you an ocean of pain if you choose to keep learning from those around you who know things you do not or those who are able to perceive things you cannot. And you, Pond Mud, though you are strong, you are not therefore to demand special privilege because of it. To the sun and the moon and the mountain, your strength is as like to the ants only less so. Keep about you the humility that befits being strongest.” 

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Alt-R spoke then, “Thank you,” She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. “It is well. And, I take your teaching as my learning kept close to heart. I will choose to follow the path of the greater wisdom.” 

Pond Mud spoke next, saying, “Thank you,” She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. I too shall now look at such strength as I may sometimes have as a treasure not for myself alone but for all of the Veritas. 

{Translator’s Note}: The reader may well wonder why so much of this myth revolves around the two who lost the contest rather than those who won. This focus on continually trying to teach the entire tribe to learn from failures rather than simply be shamed by it, is typical of the Veritas. The Veritas, insofar as I can tell from such a distance in time, space, and culture, not only cared for the lessons of those who lost the contest, but also in those who lost the contest, for among the Veritas, every leaf on the tree got sustenance from the rest of the tree and provided loving sustenance from the sun itself to the rest of the tree. 

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Magic Portal to Four Completely Different Universes