< Shrinelands
Azkabh of the winds

A legend

Written: 04/25/2019

On this spot in the deserts of the valley — fourteen thousand, seven hundred and thirty two years ago — a young hawk was laid weak with hunger and disabled by a broken wing. For days he hopped over the cheat-grass and under the cholla-cactus, until finally he spied a fat kangaroo-rat engorged with seeds. It lazed at the base of a particularly rich creosote bush, and due to its greed for the bounty of this most exceptional shrub, the rat was too slow to avoid a desperate pounce.

This particular creosote, a waxy, twiggy shrub with tiny green leaves and beautiful yellow flowers, owed its extraordinary productivity to an underground spring. Born of an auspicious crack in an impermeable layer of rock, the spring offered its life-giving seepage to the deepest of her roots. It in turn owed this ability to the supplying waters of an ancient lake, locked away during the time when large reptiles roamed the lands. Whether the lake or the spring or the creosote could appreciate the nature of their relationship, no one can know.

The hawk ate well that night, and for many nights after, as more rodents came to feast upon the bounty of the creosote. Wing mended, the hawk was able to return to his normal hunting grounds, and eventually found a mate. Each year, during the summer rains when the creosote fruits swelled and attracted the minor beasts of the desert, the hawk returned to the site of the life-giving bush and enjoyed the easy bounty of fat rodents.

The hawk had strewn the remains of each meal around the base of the bush, and over the years a ring of tiny bones began to accumulate. When the time came for him to rest for the last time, he returned to the center of his ring and laid at the base of Mother Creosote. Each generation of his descendants, who had been shown the bounty of this bush, returned and enjoyed the favor of their lucky ancestor, and the ring of bones grew and grew.

With each meal and each new generation, the importance of Mother Creosote increased amongst the hawks.

Some millennia before today, a lone traveller between two villages strayed from the paths of his ancestors and became lost amongst the saguaro of this valley. As night of the second day approached, he climbed the bank of a dry bajada wash and stopped, transfixed.

Now, as you well know, Creosote often grow as clones from their mother plant, with the runners of their roots emerging at the edges of their mothers' shadows and thus moving slightly farther away. Over generations, this behavior forms great rings as the current generation stands guard around the slowly-decaying remains of their ancestor plants.

The traveller had stepped into one such ring; the largest he had ever seen. The cleared area inside it was white with the sun-bleached bones of millions of tiny rodents, birds, lizards, and all the other small, tasty denizens of the desert. In the center of the ring loomed a nest made only of hawk bones, measuring many arm-lengths across. Atop the nest and among its composite were such things as bright rocks of all description, colorful fibers of agave and fur, pilfered baubles from nearby villages, particularly interesting sticks, and exceptionally sized seeds.

The traveller could see this was a sacred place among the hawks; and felt unease at his own trespass. Upon returning to his village, he relayed the legend of his find and cautioned his children never to intrude upon the Hawk-Shrine to Mother Creosote and her tributary, First-Hawk.

The spirit of First-Hawk grew in power with the belief of the people as the memory and spirit of Mother Creosote waned.

Over generations, as the story of Hawk-Shrine was told and retold, First-Hawk took on a name and personality. Azkabh-of-the-winds became a patron god of the village, and the site of Hawk-Shrine expanded with offerings of shaped bone and rock.

The increasing attentions of the villagers scared away the descendants of First-Hawk, and they did not return.

The spirit of Azkabh-of-the-winds grew in power with the belief of the people as the memory and spirit of First-Hawk waned.

The people believed prayers to Azkabh-of-the-winds would grant wishes and assist in the location of easy food and lost objects. The whistling of bone at Hawk-Shrine would warn of approaching Monsoon storms and so help to protect the people from harm.

Hawk-Shrine was improved by the people, and eventually became the Temple of Azkabh. The memory of Hawk-Shrine waned.

Much time has passed, and today the location of the human Temple of Azkabh, avian Hawk-Shrine to First-Hawk, and verdant Mother Creosote herself have been lost to memory. These lesser gods, at one time so vital and real to their followers, when separated from belief and relevance, ceased to be.

The spirit of Azkabh-of-the-winds has lost its believers, and thus has lost its ability to manifest its mundane miracles.

The spirit of First-Hawk has lost its story-tellers, and does not answer calls for help.

The spirit of Mother Creosote does not offer bounty to the creatures of her clone-ring.

But the spirit of the underground spring lives on, worshipped more directly than ever.

A new people inhabit the land where Mother Creosote first stood. The village and its temple to some nameless god was carefully catalogued, collected and sealed away piece-by-piece in various musea.

A church to a new god of bounty stands on this spot in the deserts of the Valley, the temple walls bear its god's name in the form of bright signage. It is but one of many temples to this god here, who is but one of many gods so worshipped in this Valley. The patrons of the Temple of Fry's tribute with bits of paper and plastic so as to receive the blessings of Grocery. The paved parking lot overlays the plowed bones of First-Hawk and the patrons tread with ignorant impunity across the ring of Mother Creosote.

The spring has been tapped, pumped, and its waters nourish the Palo Verde trees which shade the patron's vehicles. It is pumped throughout the walls of the church of Grocery and acts as the life-blood of the surrounding towns and cities. It is so important it marshals entire wings of government for its management.

It enables the patrons to live in greater numbers than this Valley could ever before support. Every sip and flush is a prayer to the aquifer though few think of their relationship to it.

Such is the way of these things. Countless gods are created, live, and cease to be in every place and every time in this universe. All they require is an effect and an observer to believe — some gain and lose prominence over time. Some never gain more than a single observer. A cairn of rocks erected in rememberance of a fatal fall warns future travellers to take care along the mountain path. Tokens are left for favor along the journey by passers-by, and the cairn becomes a shrine, then a waystation, then a small temple, then a monastery. Stories are told of the spirit who guards the mountain pass, offerings are made, tithes are taken, and theologies are written about the motivations and manifestations of Mountain-Pass-God. Pantheons are constructed of this and other gods, the worship becomes important for its own sake and the original spirit wanes and is forgotten.

It is worth examining your place in this cycle, and venerating the spirits to which you owe some measure of gratitude. Go forth, and build your cairns to mundane spirits amongst the curbs and lawns; wherever you have cause to draw the attention of or thank the efforts of a small god.