How Temples Were Invented
A Maybe So Story
(With A Tip Of The Cap To Rudyard Kipling)
by Ramón Sender Barayón (1979)
Once upon a time, oh dearly beloveds, when our planet was but a downy chick and humankind had just swung down from the trees, an ancestor of ours named Ugoo headed home to his tribal cave. A lengthy hunt had delayed him beyond nightfall and he slouched through the forest primeval expecting the worst because, more often than not, the worst was what happened. After all, his particular genus of Homo Erectus - and not too erect at that -- was considered quite tasty by some of the toothier inhabitants of the Pleistocene era. A sudden wind whipped up a rain song to the roiling thunderheads and dark things bestirred themselves in a manner Ugoo found most unsettling. When he passed a particular tree that had grown a particular way, two of its limbs rubbed one against the other and gave a most peculiar ejaculatory squeak. Or squeal, if you prefer. Now, although Ugoo had not progressed very far up the evolutionary ladder, he did know that trees sang in the wind. But they certainly did not squeak or squeal midway in-between out of nowhere!
To put it mildly, Ugoo was terrified. He stopped short, his eye teeth bared, snarling to keep up his courage while the hairs on his neck -- and very plentiful they were -- stood straight up. 'Squealk!' went the tree again. It was a dark, dark, moonless night and the forest primeval abounded in precursors of lions and tigers and apes of all shapes and snakes that ate babies -- and you name it and its more gruesome older brother lived just over the hill! Trembling in every limb, Ugoo tightened his sphincter so as not to lose every vestige of control (a recent human discovery) and grabbed a rock in each hand. 'Squealk!' He heaved both rocks at the sound and lit out for home with nary a backward glance. Into the men's cave he scrambled and shook one of his older brothers awake.
"Ooh-ooh!" he panted, pointing over his shoulder. "Ooh-ooh-ooh!"
Everyone sprang to their feet, very suddenly and thoroughly awake, because 'ooh-ooh!' had been agreed upon as the alarm sound whenever dire events threatened. 'Ooh-ooh!' They peered fearfully out the door. But nothing dire happened and Ogoo had to act out his story in great and wondrous detail. If he ornamented it a bit we shouldn't wonder because of his limited gestures and sounds. He pantomimed a frightful apparition with long bloody fangs. Only by his quick thinking and a few well-aimed blows had he survived to tell the tale! Meanwhile the frowns on his rudely awakened kinsmen's very pronounced prefrontal arches grew deeper and deeper. Finally his oldest brother shut him up with a good thud on the cranium and they all went back to sleep.
When the tribe gathered in the morning for a breakfast of gamey Hypohippus and waterlily roots, Ugoo told his story again. By now the ogre had grown taller than the tree itself with heads that grew back faster than Ugoo could pound them to pulp with his stone adz. His kinsmen actually made an appreciative audience when not awakened unnecessarily. Had not they themselves experienced many inexplicable, strange events in the forest? They were ready to believe everything Ugoo said -- and then some!
And so it became the custom, oh dearest of hearts, whenever one of them passed the 'Ooh' tree, to shout 'Ooh!' and throw a rock or two, even if it did not go 'squealk.'
Now as you all know, if you put a great deal of energy into a spooky place it gets spookier. That is one of the facts of life every child learns. After a year or two of this particular nonsense, quite a pile of rocks had accumulated under the Ooh Tree and many stories had grown up about the numerous close calls and heroic battles with the tree monster. By the time a few more years passed, all the stones in the vicinity had been thrown, and the tribe had to remember to bring rocks from the river to have something on hand. A young man who forgot his rocks threw a stick one day and invented spears but that's another story entirely.
One night, there occurred a horripilatingly stupendous thunderstorm of the sort quite frequent in those times and a bolt of lightning shattered the Ooh tree into splinters, leaving only a scorched stump. Do you think this ended these odd goings-on? Definitely not! The squealk disappeared with the tree, but now the tribe provided the sound themselves.
"Ook! Squealk!" they would hoot, throw a rock or two and then run for their silly lives.
The few tribespeople who might have retained some doubts about these happenings kept their thoughts to themselves. If nothing else, the children had become remarkably well behaved since the monster appeared. All a parent had to do was go 'Squealk!' and point down the path for all mischief to cease.
Gradually Ook-Squealk the Monster's place became an impressive rockpile, and when Grandma Ha-Ah dropped dead near the spot, a funeral dance had to be held there to convince her spirit to leave well enough alone. The funeral food offerings were donated to the monster in the hope of keeping him preoccupied, and the harvest ceremony to keep the fruit from molding and the waterlilies plentiful began to be danced on that spot. Afterwards, they gathered to stare at the rockpile surrounded with decayed food offerings. However it was tabu to approach any nearer or else you ran the risk of having your insides fall out.
One day a marauding band of bigger and less hairy people came down from the north, as they always seem to do. Their warriors had stone-tipped spears which gave them a tremendous advantage. They killed off most the men including, I'm sorry to report, Ugoo and, as was their disgusting custom, ate his brain along with the others'. They enslaved the women and children, and settled down to enjoy themselves. Also, as so often happens with conquerors, they absorbed the local customs and began throwing rocks and offering food to Ook-Squealk. In fact they adopted him as the guardian spirit of the tribe in spite of his not having provided much protection for the original inhabitants. Their chief once had seen a lovely cairn -- a grave of a famous leader -- over which the rocks had been placed in a symmetrical manner. He decided to please Ook-Squealk -- who now was being referred to as Ook! with a reverential glottal stop suffix -- by putting a group of his slaves to work cleaning up the place.
After two men were excraniated for refusing to have anything to do with the project -- they wanted to keep their insides inside -- everyone else pitched in with remarkable fervor. Two others died of fright in spite of the work being done in broad daylight, but the rest laid a nice mud-and-rock terrace and built an altar at one end. The chief sacrificed a maiden and everyone went home feeling pleased with themselves. It was only a matter of time before an outcast, who had been chased into the forest for laughing during an eclipse, began to live at the site. He had had a dream in which !Ook offered him immunity in return for his services, or at least that's what he told everyone. Often in his crazy fits he became Ook! himself and roared and shrieked all night to the horrified awe of the tribespeople who would then be sure to bring especially tasty tidbits the next morning. The outcast had Ook!'s permission to eat the food offerings and before long he was even giving advice in his more lucid moments to whomever stopped by.
Time passed as time passes, oh beloved and best, and one set of conquerors replaced another. The Place of Ook! grew fancier and fancier. One especially experimental individual -- female, no doubt -- discovered if you hit two flinty rocks together they cracked along a sharp edge. Sharper knives and spear tips were made, skin scrapers, nose piercers, lip gougers and other useful things. Another truly suicidal individual grabbed a burning branch from a forest fire and placed it on Ook!'s altar where it was kept alive by feeding it dry wood. Food offerings smelled so good when they burned! Before long the whole village was enjoying baked waterlily roots and roast lizard and congratulating themselves on how technologically advanced they had become. Ook! became The Fire-Bringer and the chaser of darkness. No longer did they have to go to bed with the sun but instead sat up staring into the campfire while 'The Adventures of Ook!' were recited by a tribal wise woman. Of course there were those who bemoaned the passing of the good old days when everyone turned in at a decent hour. Thus was born the earliest version of Prometheook, I prometh you it may be tho, who brought the heavenly fire to earth.
Ook!'s Place over the millennia became a temple of impressive proportions. If the local volcano had not erupted and covered it with ash, you could see it today. In the center where the original tree had stood, a tall wooden pillar took its place. Upon it were carved a series of pictures that told the whole story of how Ook! brought Agnook (fire) down to mankind at the risk of singing his paws. It was a lovely, lovely spot with dried blood clots on the altar where, during the dark of the moon every month, impressive sacrifices were celebrated.
If it existed today, of course you would find a missionary church built on the temple ruins. Holy places, doviest of loves, have a way of remaining holy, no matter whose spears have the longest shafts -- and the hardest points.