In ancient times, when humanity was young and many of the People were already old, a great council was called to discuss what to do about the young humans.
The People turned out for the council in great multitudes, for they were diverse in kind and number. Tall and strong were the Oak People, and the Ant People had to be careful under foot. The Salmon people swam up the rivers, and the Wolf People appeared in their packs. It was a sight like none that had been seen before, so great were the multitudes that were in attendance.
Yet, it would have been impossible to talk in such a great host, and so small groups of People broke off so that they could discuss the matter easily. So it was that the land, sky, and water was filled with countless circles of speaking
Upon the land, one such group was headed by one of the White Oak People, who towered above all the others. His silvery bark was old and scaly, and his leaves were green in their full summer bloom. His low rumbling voice was the first to be heard in the speaking circle.
“I have seen the humans, and they are an interesting people. Unlike all that I have seen, they move about on two legs, not four. Nor do they have wings like the Bird People, nor fins like the fish and whales.” The White Oak said.
“Some of my people have said that they were once like us, before their arms grew short and their legs grow long.” Another said, a member of the Ape People.
“Yet they are not like you at all. They are hairless and odd in other ways.” Gray Wolf said.
“At least they don’t eat your kind. They have chased us long across the plains and the woods.” Red Deer said.
“They still kill us, and use our skins to keep warm.” Gray Wolf added with a snarl. Red Deer jumped to alert, as if ready to run. White Oak intervened.
“This is not a place for hunting, nor a place to bring out all our various differences. Is it not true Gray Wolf that you also hunt Red Deer?” White Oak said.
“It is true. But for meat, not for her fur.” Gray Wolf said.
“Yet the humans too hunt Red Deer for meat. And as you have said, they are naked and so must get cold easily.” White Oak said.
“Maybe they should have kept their hair?” Ape said.
“It is not only their nakedness that makes them odd. They have learned from other People who have not taught us their ways.” Gary Wolf said.
It was at that time that two new People joined the circle, and they were very different from those that were already gathered there. Still, all were welcome in the circle to have their say.
White Oak flinched back as one of the Fire People joined the circle, as the people of Wood were not always on friendly terms with Fire.
“What you say is true. We have entered into an alliance with the humans, and we have found it good for both of us. They benefit from our heat and our light, and we are well fed.” Fire said.
White Oak shuddered slightly.
“And what do you have to say about the humans?” White Oak said, directing his attention towards the Stone People that had joined the circle. Several different voices tried to speak all at once, as the rock people came in groups. Several smaller pebbles tried to speak over larger boulders, and the voices made no sense at all to those present.
“One at a time if you please.” White Oak said. All the stone people went silent for a moment, and then one sole boulder spoke.
“Some of our kin have also entered into.. connections with the humans. They have a knack of working with us that we have not seen before.” The Boulder said.
“We have worked with stones for longer than humans.” The Ape countered.
“Yet, it is not quite the same. Their hands are different than yours, as is their… vision. They shape us, and turn us into new forms, for skinning and hunting, and all matter of things.” The Boulder said.
“And this is acceptable to you?” The White Oak said.
“We find it benefits us as well. We are a slow moving people, and the humans take us when they move. It is nice to see our relations in other lands.” The Boulder said.
“But that is not the relation all of us have with them. They kill my kin without any thought, and our dead are left angry and confused. This is hard on our people.” Red Deer said.
“As it is on ours. They kill our mates and our friends, are packs are broken and our families scattered. And to what purpose? Because the humans lack fang, claw or fur?” Gray Wolf said.
“Perhaps you should rethink your relations to the humans? Perhaps you could benefit in the same way that we have?” Fire said.
For a long moment the circle was silent.
“Perhaps it would be well to reach out to the humans? We could form bonds with them just as the Fire People have, and the stone people too?” White Oak said.
“But will they listen? Can they be taught?” Gray Wolf said.
“We have to hope that they can be.” White Oak said.
No story should be taken without a grain a salt. Obviously, I had to take some liberties with this one, not only with time, but with conception as well. Honestly, I struggled with it for several reasons. Edward Tylor proposed animism as a theory of the origin of religion. But we cannot say for sure exactly how religion came into being, partly for a lack of definitive evidence, but partly because it is a complex process which no one theory really grasps entirely. In addition, there may be limits of biology. Over the long course of human evolution, our brains have increased in size and our minds have expanded. There is great a deal of debate concerning the nature of “awakening”, and the question at what point did humans become capable of “conceptualizing” something like religion? Or is it something that we have “always had?” I certainly can’t answer this question, and I am not certain any one really can. It might just be one of those Big Questions, that really never gets answered.
Given my animistic inclination; that is why I finally choose this kind of form for this story. Much of my understanding of the spirits come from working with them as well as my ancestors. I ran with the idea that maybe it was the spirits that first introduced them to humans, and the process of learning began. From my own work, I have been given individual taboos, and methods to interact with the spirits, and what is good to offer them, and so on. Maybe one of the reasons religion came about was that people started getting messages from other People, as a kind of “teaching.”
It is damn near impossible to say for sure.
Thanks for reading!