A Swirling Story

Don’t ever underestimate
The power of stories small and great
For tales of fairies, kings and queens
Are echoes of our human dreams

We’d sooner dance than tick and tock
We’d rather sing than punch a clock
For we’re not made of cog and wheel
But minds that flash and hearts that feel

We’d sooner hear a myth or rhyme
We’d rather watch a film sublime
For we’re not digits writ in code
But lilting lines within an ode

The way we live, the brands we choose
Are mirrors of our inner muse
They tell us who we’d like to be
Behind our masked identity

The way we work, the things we buy
Are answers to the question why
They draw a map to hidden gold
To buried fears and wishes bold

Each battling hero on a quest
Beseeches us to do our best
Each star-crossed lover’s tender kiss
Evokes the call to find our bliss

Your life’s a yarn that you must spin
With woven plots, you lose and win
Each tale’s a spark that fuels the fire
A swirling story to inspire.

Wayne Visser © 2021


String, Donuts, Bubbles and Me: Favourite Philosophical Poems

This creative collection, now in its 3rd edition, brings together philosophical poems by Wayne Visser. In this anthology, he muses on subjects ranging from space, angels and destiny to time, science and meaning in life. According to scientists / The world’s made of string / That buzzes and fuzzes / Or some such strange thing / It’s also a donut / That curls round a hole / With middles and riddles / Just like a fish bowl / And there’s no mistaking / It’s more than 3-D / With twenty or plenty / Dimensions unseen / Still others insist / It’s really a bubble / That’s popping and bopping / Through the lenses of Hubble. Buy the paper book / Buy the e-book.


Wisdom of the Drum – Chapter 1

Wisdom of the Drum

Chapter 1

This is a story about Mduduzi, a young man whose destiny conspired to cross his path with mine. Our meeting was inevitable from the instant that Mduduzi began to beat the drum, and something shifted deep inside of him. Unbeknown to him, in that profound moment of clarity, he set foot on a sacred path of knowledge known to the initiated as The Wisdom of the Drum. At the time, however, nothing could have been further from his mind. The whole experience was not only unexpected, it was uncalled for. So let me start the story at the beginning.

It was a cool autumn afternoon in the big African city. Mduduzi, or Dudu as his friends called him, was sitting in a circle with his work colleagues on the garden terrace of a luxury hotel, gathered for yet another team building exercise. To say that Dudu was sceptical would be an understatement. Surely their time could be far more productively spent, he muttered under his breath, as he thought of his desk piled high with paper and his email in-box jammed with unread messages. The fact that the exercise was drumming (it had been paintball and abseiling on two previous occasions) just added to his impatience – what could be more irrelevant?

Dudu was proud to be counted among the new generation of African executives – riding the wave of empowerment that followed political transformation in his country, and no longer shackled by what he regarded as the backward and superstitious ways of his ancestors. After generations of subservience by his people, he saw himself as a role model for Africa’s future – a leader in the race by a continent to catch up with the rest of the world. He was confident in his abilities and comfortable with his new-world identity.

Not everyone shared his triumph. His parents seemed singularly unimpressed by his meteoric rise through the corporate ranks. They expressed their disapproval by endlessly repeating irritating proverbs, like “a tree without strong roots will not survive the storm” and “only an arrow launched by a sturdy bow flies straight and true”. It was their way of chastising his casual dismissal of African cultural traditions. And though he found their lack of support and understanding hurtful, he would never admit it, nor would he let their antiquated attitudes hold him back. After all, what they regarded as a supportive web of ancient beliefs and rituals, he saw only as an outdated net of entangling taboos and restrictive rules. In a high speed world of cutthroat global competition and 24-7 business trading, there was little time or use for role-playing quaint practices reminiscent of the very tribal customs that had kept his people in the dark for so long, while the rest of the world strode ahead into the age of enlightened progress and the information revolution.

It was in this belligerent frame of mind that Dudu sat in the drum circle that fateful afternoon, surrounded by his more gullible and eager contemporaries, all looking ridiculous dressed in suits while animal-skin drums were wedged awkwardly between their knees. His tepid expectations did not improve when a sloppily dressed man walked into the middle of the circle, wearing ripped jeans and a threadbare T-shirt. No wonder they don’t take us blacks seriously, Dudu thought irritably. The man was cradling a drum that was suspended from his shoulders by two reggae-coloured nylon straps. This was obviously the person his company had hired to lead the drumming workshop – the circus ringmaster, Dudu mused wryly. What a waste of time and money! Dudu sighed heavily, waiting for the inevitable verbose self-adulating introductions he had become all too used to at these teambuilding events. He expected that it would be followed by a romanticised lecture about the importance of cultural heritage, or something similar.

What happened instead took him completely by surprise. It was the first of many surprises that would confound him that day and ultimately lead him to question so many beliefs he thought were unshakeable, not least his attitude towards his own culture, the nature of progress and what makes life worthwhile…

Boom. Boom. Boom. The hub-bub of the assembled group faded to silence. The steady base pulse continued. Boom. Boom. Boom. Smiles crept onto the expectant faces of the onlookers. A few uncertain twitters of laughter escaped. Boom. Boom. Boom. The sound was not loud, but Dudu felt it reverberate against his solar plexes. Boom. Boom. Boom. Looking at each other for support, first one, then more, and eventually the whole group, joined in, beating their drums in time to the simple rhythm. Boom. Boom. Boom.

At first, Dudu resisted joining in. He hated blind conformity. But as the sound enveloped him, he relaxed a little. The image of a moist, moss-covered rock dripping water floated into his consciousness. He closed his eyes and beat in time to the drip-drip-drip of the water. Softly at first. The beat was getting louder and the tempo quickening. In his mind’s eye, the dripping water became a tumbling trickle. The rhythm changed, adding a lighter off-beat. The trickle cascaded to a bubbling stream. A dominant beat began to throb above the pitter-patter of syncopated secondary rhythms. The stream swelled to a raging torrent. Without warning, a rising crescendo of emotion was coursing through Dudu’s body and gushing out through his hands. The division between sound and motion melted away. Gradually, he and the drum became one. Until, momentarily, the music transported him to a place of knowing, a state of being, that he could only describe feebly afterwards as the core of his soul.

Like a thunderstorm that has spent its fury, the experience ended as quickly as it had begun, petering out to a gentle tap-tap-tapping with a few fingers lightly on the rim of the drum. Then silence.

When Dudu opened his eyes, the sun’s bright rays, sparkling rainbow-tinted through his misty gaze, seemed entirely appropriate, even numinous. As his focus returned to the physical world around him, he saw the drum leader looking directly at him, into him, and nodding a reassuring half-smile, as if he knew exactly what Dudu had just experienced; as if he wanted to let him know that it was alright, that although everything had changed in an instant, it was precisely how it should be.



Dreams of Gold II – Miners of Gold

Dreams of Gold – Chapter 2

The Second Dream – Miners of Gold

Langa grew up as most any African village-boy would. Days were spent on the grassy hill-slopes tending cattle and playing stick fights with the other boys. Nights, everyone gathered around the communal fire to share food, beat the drums, sing, dance and tell stories. Langa loved the stories best of all – tales of great gods and monsters, ancient battles, heroes’ journeys and loves lost and found. His favourite was the one about the Golden Age of his ancestors, long before the white man invaded this part of Africa; long before this continent was even called Africa. In those, days, its name was Tangawatu, which means “the vine upon which humans grow”. The elders, with fiery shadows flickering across their animated, wrinkled faces, would tell the tale something like this:

“As the story goes, our ancestors, with their great skills in stone masonry, iron smelting, cattle rearing and food production, had built a magnificent empire in which many tribes lived peacefully united. At the heart of this ancient civilization were caves stretching deep into the Earth’s belly, in which they had discovered the golden dust of creation. This sun-kissed metal was softer than iron, but of great shining beauty. Treating it with fire, the ancestors soon learned to fashion it into many magnificent shapes, which henceforth adorned the great kings and their palaces of that age.

“So precious was the gold that in trade with distance tribes, one tiny nugget exchanged for hundreds of cattle; and later, in trade with the white people from the Waterland, the same transaction bought thousands of beads made from the rainbow itself. All this made the Great Golden Village (as it became known far and wide) more prosperous and famous still. According some storytellers, for those who were initiated into its secrets, the gold also had magical powers of transformation.”

At this point, the storyteller would usually pause and sigh deeply, concluding the tale with the haunting words that “no one knows for certain why or how the Golden Age came to an end. But it is said that some of the ancestors abused the power which the gold had unlocked and so unleashed the wrath of the great Sun King, who blazed his fires day and night for twelve long seasons, until nothing was left of the Empire of Gold, or its people, or the secret knowledge.”

The story was especially attractive to Langa because his village was poor in the white man’s money, which made life difficult and shameful for his people. Many had ceased to believe that they were ever capable of having created such a Golden Age, as the story professed, nor that they would ever manage such a feat again in future. The harsh reality of poverty and dependence was reflected in Langa’s own family.

His father often had to travel many days to find work in the cities, sending back what he could of his wages and returning only after the rebirth of countless moon. When a crop failed in the village, his mother too would have to go away in search of a servant job on a white man’s farm, or in a nearby town. There were many days when young Langa and his brothers and sisters would go without food or parental solace, crying themselves to sleep for the aching pain in their stomachs and hearts.

Even when both of his parents were at home, they were often toiling beneath some strange invisible yoke. Although Langa didn’t really understand this ghostly burden, he often heard them whispering in the night about the unjust oppression of the white man’s government, of police raids and brutal beatings, even of his father being locked behind bars for not carrying his dompas identification papers.

But all these hardships simply strengthened Langa’s resolve to one day become clever and rich, like the white man, so that his family would never be in need again. Exactly how he was going to achieve this passionate conviction, he had no idea. Until, that is, he reached the age of Initiation into Manhood.

As was customary for this rite of passage, Langa and the other boys of comparable ages were isolated from the main village and made to build themselves a remote grass shelter. There followed many days of precise instruction on their future rights and responsibilities and the customs and mythology of their tribe. Then came various tests of physical stamina and mental resilience. Finally, when all of these had been accomplished, the Initiation Elder stood solemnly before the boys and briefed them:

“In the past days, like the snake, you have shed the old skin of your childish ways; like the wild hunting dog, you have showed your tenacious endurance; like the lion, you have been courageous in the face of danger; and like the elephant, you have shown your mental savvy. Now, you will need all of these traits, plus the spirit of the eagle, to carry you through your final, most critical challenge. Each of you, alone and without food, will go out into the wilderness in search of a vision of your life’s quest. It may come as a whisper in the wind, a formation of the rocks, a picture in the clouds, a dream or apparition, or a message from an animal. You will know its truth by the liberating flight that it gives to your soul. Go well, and be sure not to return without your gift from the gods.”

Langa was sent off in a westerly direction into the barren bushveld. Immediately, he began to apply his knowledge of bush lore, which he’d been taught since a young child. What was the spoor telling him about animal life in the area? Which edible and medicinal plants grew here? What was the flight of the insects signalling about nearby sources of water? What were the calls of the birds saying about the presence of danger?

By nightfall, he had found a suitable place for building a shelter, raised above the lie of the land, with partial protection from an overhanging rock and close to a trickling stream. The shelter was a simple construction of supple sapling sticks woven together and laced with green leaves, providing adequate relief from the stinging rain and the baking sun that he was likely to encounter in the long days ahead. Alongside, Langa had stacked wood to feed the fire during the night, to keep him warm while warding off unwelcome predators.

The days which followed were a mental battle – to prevent boredom and depression from setting in, to disregard the pangs of hunger and other physical discomforts, and to deal with hurtful and nostalgic memories that seemed to rage like rabid crocodiles within him. Most difficult of all, however, was the anxiety of the vision quest itself, especially the self-doubt that increased with each unyielding passing hour.

Langa tried desperately hard to maintain an attitude of openness to inspiration, to tune his senses to be aware of esoteric subtleties and covert signs, but all seemingly in vain. By the fifth night, feeling weak, tired and defeated, Langa had reached his threshold of tolerance. “At sunrise”, he reasoned with himself, “I will bury my deep shame and return to the Initiation Elder, conceding with whatever dignity I can still muster, that I am not yet ready to pass over this watershed into Manhood.” This resolution being made, he immediately felt great pressure ease from his temples and he drifted easily to sleep. And into a dream:

A dank, earthy smell filled Langa’s nostrils. Crouched in semi-darkness, his hands traced the jagged, cool wetness of underground rock. Great thunder boomed and echoed all around him, shaking the uneven ground beneath his feet. A light from his forehead dimly illuminated the snaking stonewalls of a narrow tunnel. Veins of glittering gold caught in the beam of light and flashed back at him. He caught his breath!

In the distance, a strange looking cart was filled with rubble and gliding magically away from him. When he followed the cart, he came to a place where the tunnel was intersected by a vertical bottomless black shaft. Suspended in the shaft was a large box, which apparently took to flight as he stepped into it. When it came to rest again, he stepped out into blinding, brilliant sunlight. Through the glare, he could see a large wheel towering over him against an horizon of strange looking conical hills. As he stared in confusion, the chant of men’s voices drifted up the eerie hole. Langa could just barely make out the words:

“Diggers and dreamers are we
Slaving that we might be free
Meanwhile our Mother Earth bleeds
To satisfy men’s hungry needs
For riches and glory and wealth.”

With the last line of the chorus still echoing in his ears, Langa awoke with a start. He immediately knew that the dream was his gift from the gods, and though he did not understand its meaning, he rose with the sun feeling that his soul had indeed taken flight like the eagle. Without hesitation or delay, he began his journey back to the original grass shelter, where the other boys and the Initiation Elder awaited him expectantly.

That night, around a fire that seemed unusually warm and homely, each boy recounted his vision and the Elder, in consultation with the Diviner, offered an interpretation. When it came to Langa’s turn, he recalled the unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells of his dream world experience and waited in suspense for an explanation of its significance. After protracted whispering and nodding between the sangoma and the elder, the latter said simply:

“We believe this is a literal dream that foretells your destiny amidst the gold mines of South Africa. But it speaks also a warning about the seductive power of wealth and the harmful exploitation of nature. Therefore, you would do well to remember the reverent relationship that our ancestral gold diggers cultivated with our living Ma and her sacred shiny seed. Hamba kahle – go well in your life’s journey!”

Langa could hardly contain the excitement and anticipation that he felt as his dream was being deciphered. In one grand sweep, his escape path from poverty and deprivation had been revealed. Soon, he would be rich! And he would save his family from their embarrassing indignity. As winter turned to spring and the daisies ignited into a blazing carpet of technicolour, Langa turned his back on his birthplace, his youth and his family, as he set out on the long journey to the Highveld, to the place they call iGoli, which means “place of gold”.



Dreams of Gold I – The Gold of Creation

Dreams of Gold – Chapter 1


I am Shado. I am called sangoma and sanusi by my people; shaman and mystic by others. I am the keeper of legends, the healer of disease, the voice of ancestors, the interpreter of dreams, the teller of stories. In days gone by, the people of my tribe – young and old, rich and poor, chief and beggar – would gather around a blazing fire under the star-beaded African sky, and listen to my stories. Today, my people are scattered by the winds, but my stories live on. Through the written word, I speak to a larger tribe, who reside in places and listen at times that are unknown to me. Still, I think of them – of you, the reader – as seated around a common fire, which is the soul’s yearning for meaning in an often-times bewildering world.

The First Dream – The Gold of Creation

This is a true story. I tell it from my own recollections, spanning more than sixty years. It is a life story, but not my own. It began one African summer night. I, a young initiate in the ways of divination, had seen an omen in the sky: bright-crimson blood smeared across the sun-bleached, dusty horizon. This was no ordinary sunset, I could tell. Something significant had happened, or was about to happen. A massacre of sorts. I alerted the village chief of my premonition, and he wisely doubled the number of guards on duty that night.

But, as we were soon to find out, the danger had not been our own. Two days later, the news from the city finally snaked its way across the green hills to our remote, rural location. More of our brothers and sisters had made the ultimate sacrifice in our struggle for freedom. It happened when government police opened fire on an angry crowd, comprised mostly of school children. They were protesting against the racism that grips our troubled land like the icy hand of death. In the wake of this tragedy, outrage spread like a bush-fire throughout the country. Angry youths took to the street, looting shops, petrol-bombing cars and smashing public property.

The reaction in our small community was thankfully less violent, although emotions ran high. It was in the midst of this turmoil that the ancestors delivered a message of hope. It came in the guise of a recently-married woman in our tribe. This young woman (I was scarcely older than her at the time) came to me for a consultation about a disturbing dream she’d had. She described her strange journey across the ethereal night plains as follows:

I came upon a praying mantis in the field. Knowing this to be a sacred sign, I prayed my thanks to the sky gods. Then I noticed a golden thread, which reached up from the thatched roof of my hut to a hole in the clouds. Without hesitation, like a spider, I climbed up into the clouds, where I was met by a hare, who escorted me to the foot of a fertile hill and told me to wait. After a short time, a radiant, golden light appeared at the mountain top and descended slowly toward me. As it approached, the glare was unbearable and I shielded my eyes from its painful brilliance. Suddenly, I realised that this was the mighty Sun King, so I threw myself on the ground in awe and began to worship his glory.

Then, in a voice from nowhere and everywhere, the King said that He had sent for me in order that I might carry a special gift back to the Land People. Whereupon He sprinkled a few grains of golden dust into my hand and said, ‘Swallow these, for they are like the gold dust that I once commanded the mole to bury in the womb of the Great Mother Earth.’

This being said and done, a blinding flash of lightening struck me on the forehead and He was gone. Still dazed and confused, I was led back to the hole in the clouds by a porcupine, who gave me one of her quills, saying, ‘This is for protection in the World of Dust.’ At last, I awoke and told my husband of the dream, but neither of us could decipher its meaning.

Even as a young and relatively inexperienced initiate, it was immediately clear to me that this dream held great significant. The night-land journey that the young woman had described to me was full-to-bursting with sacred symbols, like a rain-pregnant black cloud just before the refreshing thunderstorm breaks. I felt so strongly about the importance of the dream that, before I conveyed its interpretation to my anxious supplicant, I first consulted the senior sangoma of the region, as well as the elders of the tribe. They confirmed my intuition, that this was indeed a timely and potent message from the gods. In the animated dialogue that followed, we debated long into the night, until we reached consensus over its meaning. After informing the chief of our conclusions, I summoned the woman back and proceeded to decode the dream’s contents:

“Two of our greatest deities, Praying Mantis and Sun King, have ordained that you will give birth to a boy child, whose life will be greatly blessed. Our brother, the hare, confirms this message of fertility, but also cautions that this boy’s weakness will be his hasty desire for success and his easy distraction from the true path. Our sister, the porcupine, warns that in order to survive in this hostile land, he will need protection from the forces of evil, but the quill has the power to create a new era of harmony between black and white. He will need to learn the lessons of gold and his mission will be to re-establish the glory of the sun among the peoples of the Earth. In him is the fire of creation, but also the winds of chaos. He will be a blazing star in the world, ever under the watchful care of our ancestors in the sky.”

Tears were streaming down the young woman’s face, as waves of emotion crashed upon the shore of her consciousness – relief, joy, hope and fear, all swirling together in eddying currents that overwhelmed her senses.

By Spring, she was the proud mother of a baby boy and stood beside her husband beaming before the gathered tribe, ready to perform the sunrise ceremony of dedication. I was called upon to exercise my ceremonial duties of consecration (for the first time, if the truth be told). Fixing my gaze on the innocent young couple standing across the crackling fire from me, I began.

“Will the parents please bring the child forward so that we might dedicate him into the care of our ancestors. By what name do you call this boy?”

The father spoke, in deep and measured tones. “Before the child was born, we were given a sign by the Sun god. Therefore, in all humility and respect to the great Giver of Life, we wish to call him Langa, which means ‘sun’”.

Gently, I took the baby from his mother and held him outstretched towards the morning star which shone brightly above, and raised my voice in a song of recognition. As the sun rose on another African dawn, the assembled community joined in singing the chorus of blessing and support:

Oh, Langa, our boy from the sun
From the blessed dust of gold you grew
Like an arrow from the bow of the hunter you flew
May your flight in life be swift and true
Carry this quill every tightly in your hand
And bring light and reconciliation to this shadowed land.