Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tales for the journey: Orthan's herd ( scapegoating)

Once there were two goats, Ermey and Orthan. They were brothers. Their master Eblis, looked after them well. Eblis heard that the King needed two goats of purest white for the annual ceremony of atonement. When the spring came and the harvest was gathered, Eblis got his heart's desire: his goats were chosen. One would live and the other would die.

In the palace yard, Ermey and Orthan were standing on a wooden dais, while people scrutinised them from every angle. The King came out of the palace and sat on his throne. He studied them for a long time. The goats held their breath but they knew that they had no need to fear.. The King reached out his hand and touched Ermey. "This goat is without blemish. This goat is chosen." Ermey was lifted down from the dais and lead away. The two goats, who had lived all their lives together until this moment, exchanged glances of farewell.

Orthan was taken out of the city to a clearing, where a few people were gathering. They had pieces of cloth and paper in their hands and some of them were carrying buckets and brushes. There came a great shout from the city centre: "We offer his life in sacrifice of atonement!" And at once Orthan knew, with a great wrench in his heart, that his brother was dead. Orthan wanted to die too, rather than live on without his brother.

Then the people spread some kind of sticky stuff all over his shaggy coat and stick papers and pieces of cloth all over him. Orthan was bewildered. What was to happen to him, the white goat with the blemish on his throat? What punishment was he to endure for not being perfect enough?

They sent him into the desert where there was no grass to eat. Orthan did not understand. He walked on, thirsty and looking for food. He became weaker and weaker. He knew he would soon die. Not the glorious death of his brother but here in the desert, alone.

"Get up, Orthan! Come and drink." There ahead of him was a great herd of goats of all shapes and sizes, calling him. "Come and join us and you will live."

Summoning up all the remaining strength he had, he rose to his feet, sustained by their voices. He drank from a small pool of water and felt his strength return. He looked around him and saw that the goats were of all ages, sizes and colours. Each one had a small blemish. They all showed him their blemish and spoke of it with pride. Every one of these goats had a brother or sister who had been sacrificed. He asked the oldest and wisest goat what it could all mean.

"We are the scapegoats, who bear away the sins of the people," he said. "The papers and cloths represent the sins of the people. They stuck them all over you and sent you out into the desert. It had been the same for everyone.

"But how could the King do this to us?" asked Orthan. "He is a good and kindly man and surely he would not want to hurt us."

The other goats looked sad. "We are the sin bearers. It is our work, our destiny. People cannot carry their own shame so we must do it for them."

Orthan was angry. He wondered for a long time and then he decided. "I want to go back. Who is coming with me? I am going!" There were several goats who wanted to go back. One by one they set off down the desert path. They had made a new herd: Orthan's herd.

They walked for many days across the desert until they saw the city on the hilltop.There were more things to eat now and they were feeling stronger with every step. Orthan's herd went from place to place near that city and everywhere they were shunned. Orthan grew angry. He began to kick at the little fences that the people had built and turn over the stalls in the market place. "We will not be shunned!" cried Orthan's herd.

Eventually the people turned upon them. They were rounded up into a corral. The people stared at this strange, new herd of goats that had come so suddenly out of the desert and were destroying everything in sight. A young boy come to stare at them. He had bright blue eyes, just like the King. 

He pointed at Orthan. "This is the one I want", the boy said. And all at once the King arrived. The boy ran up to him and was gathered up into his arms. This was the King's son. They both looked at each other with a look of perfect love.

"Father, this is the one I want. He has a blemish on his throat. He will be mine."
"My son, you shall have him. Go and get him from the herd."

The people were afraid. "My Lord, do not send your son into this herd! These goats are terrible; they will kill him."
"No they won't," said the King. "Go!" he said to the little Prince.
"Will I be safe, Father?" The boy looked a little frightened by what the people had said.
"You will be safe if you look upon them with kindness," said the King.

And so the prince looked upon the herd with the kindness that he had learned from his father.  He touched Orthan. "Come with me", he said.  Turning, the boy lead the way out of the corral and through the gate without looking back.  Orthan followed him, as he had followed Eblis and would follow any man who had kindness in his eyes.

The King then said, "Release them."

The people removed the wattles and the herd stood in the courtyard, free and un-penned. Then one by one the people came with kindness, each to claim one goat as theirs.  Without laying a hand on them they lead them away to green pastures and clear streams.  

And Orthan lived in the palace of the King for the rest of his days.

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