It is a new moon; the mountain landscape is completely shrouded in black. Only with various dark nuances do the mountains distinguish themselves - above them the star-covered sky. The lake lies still, not a sound is stirring. A groaning, shrill sound breaks the silence at this moment. After a short pause, this almost warning, plaintive sound is heard again. Then there is silence again. Now muffled drumbeats resound through the night, lost in the darkness. A procession emerges from the valley floor. Two flag bearers lead the way, accompanied by six luren players, followed by just as many drummers. Again, the musicians bring these long, man-high, twisted old bronze wind instruments to their mouths, and again the deafening, tinny sound from these horns pierces the silence. The darkness is illuminated by torchbearers. In swaying, uniform steps, six people clad in black robes carry a dead man to the shore of the lake. A long funeral procession follows the dead man.
Arriving at the lake, the torchbearers line the shore. The torches illuminate it only sparsely, and to the beat of drums and the sound of lures the dead man is carried by the bearers to a boat lying on the shore. The stretcher is placed in the boat on a large layered wooden plank.
The corpse is wrapped in the hide of a freshly slaughtered cow and tied up. Servants bring a drum, knives, arrows and bows, as well as various ornaments, and cover the surface of his body with them.
A birch resin torch is lit at the side of each boat. The ferryman boards the ship of the dead and waits until everyone has boarded the boats. Now he starts to row and places his oar strokes carefully. The lures sound again, they sound even more
more powerful than before. The high rock walls throw back the echo, and it takes some time before the ear perceives the silence again.
Unaffected by this, the ferryman does his work. One after the other, the boats follow him silently through the water. They accompany their spiritual guide on his last journey. He was their companion and a good healer in a time of upheaval, in a time when the old values no longer count for anything. He knew what to do when the winter was too long and the summer too wet, he knew the secret spells and understood the signs in the mountains. He was there when their animals or they themselves were sick.
But new religious ideas are now spreading. Some from their village are already no longer there. The old traditions are being questioned more and more. Nevertheless, they hold on to the tradition. They go to the lake and bury their priest as he had taught them.
In a long line, ship after ship, the torches shine across the lake. During the crossing, silence alternates with the rhythmic sound of drums and the blaring cues of the luren. They sail along the steep rock faces almost to the far end of the lake. The ferryman now lets the boat slip out. The barge drifts a little longer, then the last bow wave disappears. The first two boats of the procession speed up the stroke of the oars and approach the ship of the dead. The now almost deafening sound of luras and drums comes closer and closer.
It takes a while for the two following boats to dock to the left and right of the barge. The new shaman, dressed in a long white robe, steps out of the musicians' boat. He wears a cattle-head mask covered with feathers. Now he enters the ship of the dead with deliberation and dignity. The ferryman receives a ritual ablution and is then allowed to enter the opposite boat. As soon as he has taken his seat, the barge sets sail and joins the circle of boats that have gathered in the meantime in a wide circle around the ship of the dead. Only the resin torches show the position of the ships in the night.
The lures and drums have finished their cultic music. The shaman hands over the gifts of the dead to the water. He opens the cattle-skin coffin, raises his two hands and begins his religious ceremony. His rough voice resounds over the lake with the incomprehensible mystical verses that are supposed to facilitate the dead person's return home to the eternal realm. His monotonous chants break off, he anoints the body of the dead with beef butter and then leaves the ship of the dead. The ship of the wind players sets sail and rows a little away from the ship of the dead.
An archer on the bow takes a burning arrow, draws his bow, takes aim, and lets the whirring arrow fly safely in a bright red-yellow trail of light in a shallow round onto the ship of the dead. There, in a flash, the flames seek their way. The pile of wood ignites, becomes a great fire that consumes the corpse. The crackling can be heard as far as the boats.
Meanwhile, the shaman returns to the circle of boats. High flames rise up. Little by little they engulf the entire boat. A huge flame rises up to the sky and consumes the dead body. In their belief, this frees his soul for the journey to the ancestors. Slowly the fire goes out, it becomes smaller, whitish smoke rises. The fire had only briefly dominated the night. The water extinguishes the remaining residue, a long hiss can be heard as the glowing wood brings the water to a boil for a short time, then a white cloud of smoke, after which it is dark and deadly quiet again, only the torches of the boats can be seen in the round. These people here have brought their priest home. The water deity has taken him back. The shaman's successor will climb up into the mountains the next morning on uncertain paths. He will spend several days there fasting in solitude and, via signs that he will carve into the rock and via trance and song, he will begin a long journey into the realm of the dead. There he will receive final instructions from the deceased.
Without a sound, the ships start moving again almost simultaneously, gliding calmly back. The bow waves brush the burnt area in the water, where charred wooden parts of the boat bobble. Nothing else reminds us of tonight. What remains is the smooth surface of the lake.
The lights of the returning boats disappear one by one behind a bend in the rocks of this elongated lake. Everything is as if nothing had happened. On the horizon, the first harbingers of the next morning are already very perceptible.
Venet - a book about a funeral of a mountain people whose existence has long been forgotten.
Perhaps the people of this story once lived in this way or something similar. What has remained of them are their signs and symbols, which they have left us in our Bavarian mountains and in beautiful, perhaps for them even magical places in the rock.
Some of these rock images have been transferred to the text pages and mixed with modern signs. The story is fiction, it is very doubtful whether it could ever have taken place in the form described. Nevertheless, I took it with me on my journey back to a time and culture long gone.
Gerd J. Wunderer