The Knowing that Burns Like Fire and The Torch Test

The Knowing That Burns Like Fire
by John Baker
Choloka took her son out of the circle of huts and onto the savanna. The day was bright, the wind brisk, and the grasses eaten low by antelope. The savanna stretched so far, yet seemed to Choloka‚Äôs sight that she could almost see the other side. “Chakan,” she cried. “Look across the land! See how much there is, and how much can be shared with everyone and everything. Tell me, if you had to hide, where would you hide?”
Chakan beamed with pride. Though scarcely 14 years, he had already played many a game of thoughts with his mother and saw this as another challenge. He scanned the horizon, looking for any place that might suggest more cover than a few low grasses. After a time, he grew frustrated as he tried to find a suitable spot.
Choloka sensed her son’s trouble. “You cannot find one, can you? That is right. However, we, the Wise Ones, do not need to hide. We are not bothered by the fact that our enemies can see us, for our friends can see us, too. If we can be seen, we can be helped.” Choloka paused while her son considered what she had said, then continued, “I have another question for you, Chakan. If I give you a fire, must I lose my fire?”
Chakan grinned. This one was easy, and was commonly spoken among the tribe. “No, if I first give you a torch. As long as I give you a torch, then we can both have fire.”
Choloka nodded solemnly. “Yes, fire can be given without loss. I have brought you out here to tell you about our people. It is time you learned about the most important taboo of the Wise Ones, Chakan. It is about a thing that others call a ‘secret.’ Have you ever heard of a secret?”
Chakan looked excited. Another chance to learn! “No. What is a secret?”
Choloka looked grimly into Chakan’s face. “A secret is a very bad thing. It is knowledge that one person knows that another does not.”
“But,” protested Chakan, “that cannot be so bad. I do not know how to make medicine, but Arkala does, and that is good.”
Choloka chuckled. Her son is very quick with his mind. “Yes, but if you ask Arkala, you would learn from him. A secret is kept hidden from others, so that one person makes sure that others do not know it.”
Choloka raised her hand to stop the questions that she knew would come. She wanted to ask them, herself, when she was her son’s age. “I must tell you a story from long ago. Long before now, long before the Ancients, there once was a time when the Wise Ones were not so wise. We did not know many things, even how to make a fire. We would try to stay together, and hope that nights would not become too cold.”
“There was once a man whose name we have chosen to forget. He was one of the very first to show the strength of the Wise Ones, and yet he was one of the most foolish of us. He discovered how to make fire. This was good for him, because he was able to rest in the nights and stay warm. He could cook his food and eat more than the others. Because he rested and ate better, he could work better and fight better. But he kept his fire a secret. He only kept a small fire, and he kept it inside his hut. The others in his tribe did not know why he became stronger while the others became weaker. While the others starved and became chilled in the night, he stayed warm and well-fed.”
“Soon they started to notice his strange behavior. He would bring sticks and grasses from outside and bring them into the hut, but never take them out. He kept his hut closed, afraid that the smoke would reveal his secret. He dug a tunnel in the ground to try to get rid of the smoke when it became too much inside his hut. He stayed away from the others, afraid they would notice the burns he got from trying to keep his fire a secret.”
“We all know,” Choloka said, “that you cannot keep a fire hidden, or else it will die or escape. And escape it did. Because he kept the fire in his hut, his hut caught fire. The strange light and heat were very frightening to the others, and soon the fire spread through the rest of the tribe. Homes burned down. People burned to death. It was a single night of great loss, but the Wise Ones learned about fire.”
“Knowledge is like a fire. If I give you knowledge, I do not lose it myself. However, if I try to keep knowledge inside myself, it burns like a fire. I would have to try to hide my knowledge, hide myself, and do even stranger things to keep the knowledge a secret. Yet here, there is no place to hide. And if you try to hide a fire, it must either die or escape. The same is true with knowledge.”
“The Wise Ones never keep knowledge a secret from each other. A Wise One must give knowledge whenever another Wise One asks for it. This way, we will never suffer as we once have. Remember this, Chakan, as you cannot truly find a place to hide here, so we have learned to show everything.”
Chakan brightened. “And this is why there are more shaman among the Wise Ones than anywhere else! We will teach each other, and we understand that knowledge should be free to grow, like a fire, only that knowledge does not burn! I will never keep a secret from the other Wise Ones! Never, ever!”
Choloka looked down at her son, both gladdened by his intelligence, yet saddened by his innocence. “Yes, my son. Come, there is much more that you must learn, and I have taught you what I can here and today.”

THE TORCH TEST IN PRACTICE
Aantylla returned to the tribe with a sullen look. The other members gathered around, eager to hear tales about what had transpired, and about the recent decisions of the Council. However, they grew concerned as they observed Aantylla’s dark face.
Arkahua, as the leader and in accordance with custom, asked the first question. “What would the Council have us do?”
Aantylla looked into the faces of every member of the tribe, especially into the face of the warrior Makocho. “The council would have us avoid the Rudra for a season.”
“What?” Makocho shouted. It was common knowledge that Makocho had shown affection for Kura of the Rudra tribe. “There is no reason for this! Why does the Council tell us what to do? What is the wisdom in this decision?”
Aantylla faced Makocho, and fixed his attention with a gaze. “There is much wisdom in the Council’s decision. I will tell you what the wisdom is. However, first, you must give me your torch while I teach you the value of keeping silent. A fire can be freely given, as long as the receiver has a torch, else the receiver can only
be burned. Similarly, knowledge can only be freely given when the receiver is prepared to receive it, else the knowledge can only hurt the receiver. There would be a great panic if the wisdom of the Council’s decision was known to everyone. We cannot let the wisdom spread throughout the jungle, because it is knowledge that burns, and many have no torch. Are you ready for the lesson of silence?”
Makocho growled. “There is no need for that! Tell me what I ask! Why should we avoid the Rudra?”
Aantylla looked at Makocho and scowled. “If you cannot be trusted to remain silent when things hurt you, then you do not want to know.”

The Knowing that Burns Like Fire and The Torch Test

Malatra Redux apotheot