A lion found a young man sleeping by a water hole. He took hold of him and lifted him up onto the branches of a yellow-flowered zwart-storm tree. There he wedged him in between the branches while he went back to the water hole to drink. The young man woke and tried to move but found that he was held fast. The lion returned and pushed his head more firmly between the branches. Noticing that there were tears running down the cheeks of his prey, the lion licked them away and then returned to the water hole to drink, for he was very thirsty.
While he was drinking the young man managed to escape and ran away. He made sure not to run directly to his home but disguised his spoor by running first this way, then that.
When he reached his home he told everyone what had happened to him, and the whole village worked to disguise his scent by wrapping him around with hartebeest skins, for they knew it was in the nature of the lion not to let its prey go.
The lion appeared near the village. The people shot him again and again, but he would not die. They threw children at him, but he ignored them and would not eat. They threw women at him, but again he ignored them and would not eat. They kept shooting with arrows and with spears, but he remained unhurt. He kept sniffing for the young man. The lion wanted the young man for it had licked his tears. It wanted no one else but that young man.
The lion attacked the houses and knocked them down. The people pleaded with the mother to give him her son. At last she said she would, but insisted the lion must die.
“Let the lion die and lie upon my son,” she said.
The people gave the young man to the lion, and the lion killed the young man. The people shot at the lion once more, and the lion said, “Now I am ready to die. For I have the young man that I put in the yellow-flowered zwart-storm tree, the young man whose tears I licked, the young man that I have all this time been seeking. Now I have hold of him, for I am his.”
And so the lion died and the people laid his body on the body of the young man.
The young man is sleeping by the water hole. That is, he is in a state of non-awareness right beside a life-giving source of spiritual nourishment.
The lion (his spiritual guide, his god, his destiny) sees him and puts him in the tree (the cosmic tree of life). He is off the ground (the mundane world) and is waiting for his entrance into the higher world-the world of the higher consciousness.
The lion delays, knowing that the young man cannot be rushed but must go through certain phrases. The lion sees the first stirrings of awareness in the man. The young man’s first reaction to his awakening in the tree is despair, sorrow, fear. He weeps. The lion licks away his tears. He tries to comfort him and goes away again, giving him more time to come to terms with his situation. The man does not want the fearful agony of awakening to the higher self. He runs back to his old ways, cunning enough to do everything in his power to avoid pursuit.
But he cannot escape his destiny. The lion will not take a substitute. It is that particular young man who marked, and only he will the lion take.
In the lion’s final words we find the key to the whole story.
The lion and the young man are one. The flight and the chase are within the one soul.
Have we not all feared the awakening in the yellow-flowered zwart-storm tree, knowing that our lives will never be the same again and there is no way out but complete death to the world?
Some years ago I wrote a poem about the fearsomeness of the spiritual call that has helped me to understand this story.
He will not come
as you expect,
and a Bible…
He will come
like a tiger from a field of daisies…
from the familiar
to the divine.
Incidentally, I’m not at all sure what a yellow-flowered zwart-storm tree looks like or even whether it exists in Africa, but the name works very well symbolically in this story. The yellow flowers suggest the golden brilliance of light-the fertile flowering of spiritual experience. “Zwart” is the Dutch word for “black,” and “zwart-storm” conjures up for me images of those fearsome black storms that terrified me as a child in Africa. Those storms cleared the air after days and weeks, sometimes months, of sultry brooding weather that made it hard to breathe and dried the veld so thoroughly that it appeared parched and dead, only to spring alive again as soon as the storm broke.
The tree is a combination of light and dark-of gentle flowers and fierce and driving storm.
This tree is life.
Source of myth
Alan Garner, The Guizer: A Book of Fools, reprinted in Parabola XI(4) 1986: 82-84.
Story and commentary excerpted with permission from Myths of the Sacred Tree by Moyra Caldecott, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vt., 1993. Purchasing information available at www.mushroompublishing.com/bladud/caldyweb
Moyra Caldecott is a prolific writer with more than twenty titles to her name. She lives in Bath, England and can be reached on her website: www.moyracaldecott.co.uk