Encouraging you to dive into Sacred Mounds has me feeling a bit like a carnival barker attempting to entice you inside a side show tent. Well then –
Step right up! Inside the tent we’ll take a journey together back in time, imparting a glimpse of what it was like to be a tribal member of First Nation peoples living not far from the river we know today as the Mississippi. Young men are competing in a game of Tchung-key, played with spear and disc. There’s a counsel meeting in a hut filled with smoke and ghostly figures. Whispers about the Great Sun, a tribal leader who is descended from the sun itself. Rubbing shoulders with high-born folk, bound by tribal law to intermarry with stinkards, who are lower on the social ladder.
Ladies and Gentlemen, all of the above was real, as attested by ten years of research into the diaries of missionaries, who observed “Les Naturels”, the ancestors of today’s Natchez Nation, the last tribe known to live near and interact with the ancient earthworks – the sacred mounds. They are, of course, quite real as well. Perhaps you’ve had the occasion to visit a mound site, like Cahokia or the famous Serpent Mound.
At one time, thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of mound sites proliferated throughout North America and around the world. Most have been destroyed, plowed over. Some were burial mounds, like the one featured on the Netflix film, “The Dig”. These were typically round mounds, “as if a hive queen had stung the earth and this massive lump had spring from the ground to be carved and cultivated by a horde of workers” (from Sacred Mounds, Chapter 21). But there were flat-topped earthworks as well, and these were thought to be ceremonial. Their purpose remains largely unknown. They may be the sites of some of the earliest forms of spiritual practice in our hemisphere.
To me, the mounds represented a starting place from which to launch a novel: a metaphor of something buried, overlooked, mysterious, sacred, and unknown.
Maybe that’s why we are all enticed to take a peek into the virtual tent—attracted by the thrill of uncharted territory. Perhaps each of us is on a quest, venturing into the unknown, searching for the reason why we are here on this planet, enjoying the wonders of life, temporal though they may be, wondering what’s it all about.
Skyfisher, a Native American from pre-colonial times, has found a way to travel to our time with some help for all of us in unraveling the aforementioned question. He’s exchanged bodies with Salvador Samuels, a contemporary American, who—for better or worse, had decided to camp atop a mound site in Mississippi. Skyfisher—now at the helm of Mr. Samuels’s body, must learn our language, enlist allies and somehow convince them of the reality of his lofty purpose (see excerpt below). In the process, we are afforded a glimpse of the miracles and foibles of our own society.
“(In Sacred Mounds)..we have a chance to see our own culture through the eyes of a native of the Natchez civilization, so the view is double—us seen by them, them seen by us. It’s amazing to read something so fresh and vivid tying us back into the roots of this land and the people who knew it first. Orson Scott Card, author “Ender’s Game”
Salvador Samuels wakes up in Skyfisher’s body, circa 1675, without a clue as to why he’s there. Helped by Tell Me A Story, Skyfisher’s wife, he becomes inducted into a secret society whose mission is nothing less than to save our world, with the mounds playing a key role. They encounter many adventures, including confrontations with a telepathic despot, cyclonic hordes of insects, throngs of warriors battle-crazed by the infamous Black Drink, with a bit of body-swapping sex to leaven the mixture.
Here’s a taste of Sacred Mounds: It takes place in our time, where Skyfisher, in the Body of Salvador Samuels, tries to find a way to convince his new-found friends, Inez and Hilton, to help him carry out his mission. “Salvo” is Hilton’s nickname for Salvador.
Skyfisher . . . led them to a clearing, positioned them seated on the ground facing each other in a triangle formation, and waited for them to get comfortable.
“We gonna start singing “Kum Ba Ya” now?” Hilton asked, with a low intensity eye roll.
“One of your songs?” asked Skyfisher.
“It means ‘Come By Here,’” Inez said.
“Good name,” Skyfisher said.
“Please, no, I’ll vomit.” Hilton said, explaining the new vocabulary word with a few graphic gestures.
“One day, I hear this song,” Skyfisher replied. “Now close eyes.” They did as instructed, Hilton wondering anew why he had gotten sucked into this whole scenario.
“Back straight. Your body, friend. Listen body. No think.”
Hilton thought he heard a rattlesnake, but kept his eyes closed for the moment. He was allergic to New Age crapola. Inez seemed to be hanging in there. He would suffer in silence, for the moment.
“Be antenna,” Skyfisher said.
Hilton pictured a huge erector set tower trampled by Godzilla, showering sparks and mayhem.
“No, Hilton. Listen.”
Mind games. A parlor trick.
Hilton remembered doing magic shows as a kid with his Gilbert chemistry set, turning water into wine with the help of phenolphthalein solution and sodium carbonate. Mixing the chemicals, his thoughts swirled like a brew in a witch’s cauldron, his mind’s eye caught in their vortex. After a while, the churning thought-mill started to run out of steam. It wasn’t center stage anymore. It wasn’t him.
Hilton heard a faint fluttering in the air, barely perceptible. Probably his imagination. His legs and back ached. He waited. No one else was quitting and he wasn’t going to be the wuss. Not yet anyway. In the spirit of the former body-builder governor of California, he tried to make friends with the pain.
“Oh my gosh.” It was Inez who said this, in a child’s voice. Hilton opened his eyes to a mass of fluttering caramel, coalescing into a humanoid shape. Countless butterscotch wings bordered with black and white spots shimmering, quivering to stillness. An organic body suit of living butterflies, clusters of them circling the larger mass and landing on it.
Salvo had transformed into a butterfly man, sheathed in a fairytale membrane of insect life, overwhelming in their numbers.
It was an astonishing sight. Visions of homing trees in Mexico, migration patterns, pheromones, magnetism—a myriad thoughts and theories all dissolved in the pure magic of the miraculous. For once in his life, Hilton was speechless.
It took decades to research and write Sacred Mounds. It would not have been possible without the generous help of Hutke Fields, Principal Chief of the Natchez Nation, who wrote the foreword to the novel and vetted its content.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your brief foray into the tent! Perhaps the image of the butterflies and the taste of the mystery of the mounds will linger. I can promise you this—as you dive into the novel, the question will deepen and possibilities will beckon.
Cyclonic hordes of insects, a telepathic despot, body-swapping sex – just a few of the surprises Salvador Samuels encounters when he finds himself swept back to pre-colonial times walking in the moccasins of a blind Indian – who, in turn, has been transported into Salvador’s body in present day America. Four hundred years apart, they’re bound by a common mission to rescue our world, aided by the mysterious presence of the mounds. Thousands of these ancient earthworks once dotted the landscape of North America. We still don’t know why they were created. Sacred Mounds suggests they are as important today as when they were made over a thousand years ago.
Sacred Mounds, a first novel of magical realism and historical fantasy, weaves the stories of two men, each a stranger in a strange land. With the help of two remarkable women, they must find a way to save our planet and return home.
From Jim Metzner, producer of the Pulse of the Planet series and podcast, with a foreword by Hutke Fields, principal chief of the Natchez Nation.
“This is a rollicking, thought-provoking, rollercoaster of a novel. It’s time traveling on steroids, but it asks big questions. Bravo.” – Ken Burns, filmmaker
“After decades of most American fantasy writers echoing European fantasists and using European myths, it’s refreshing to see an extravagantly imaginative writer go into the history and myths of the Natchez nation… We have a chance to see our own culture through the eyes of a native of the Natchez civilization, so the view is double — us seen by them, them seen by us. It’s amazing to read something so fresh and vivid tying us back into the roots of this land and the people who knew it first.” – Orson Scott Card, author “Ender’s Game”
“Jim Metzner’s Sacred Mounds draws you right into the action with high energy prose, strands of mystery floating in the wind, and lively characters. A great read, with Metzner’s usual deep insights into the amazing workings of the natural world seeping into you while you are caught up in the flow. Enjoy!” – Robert Thurman, President, Tibet House US
“Metzner’s time-bending style is interwoven in a well-researched novel about the great Natchez Nation and the mysterious mounds across the midlands of America. This is a witty and inventive historical fantasy that seduces with twists and turns accompanied by lively street wise contemporary dialogue. It will keep you magnetically amused right up to the surprise ending.” – Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Member, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, MT
“There are not enough words to fully outline the rich, complex and historically and culturally accurate setting of this tale of supernatural heroism. The novel folds ancient traditional wisdom into the seams of its story with the author’s well-honed narrative skills, delivering the tastes and flavors of its mingling times and cultures with ease and aplomb. One ends up feeling not like an onlooker, but an active participant in the events. The book is hard to put down. It’s a page-turner, but an intelligent one; one that asks more questions than it answers and left, for one, this reader hoping for a sequel.” – Lee Van Laer, Senior Editor, Parabola Magazine
“The tribe’s descent from late prehistoric mound builders connects the Natchez people to one of North America’s most intriguing puzzles. Archaeologists know how the earthworks were built, but excavations cannot reveal what these monuments meant to the native people who built them. With Sacred Mounds, Metzner embraces the mystery to weave a story across time and cultural boundaries.” – Jim Barnett, author “The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735”
“Jim Metzner can really spin a yarn. This story is filled with historical reality as well as spectacular descriptions of what could be. Jump into this book. Feel the challenges of the characters. Join with the Shining Ones. The adventure is yours!” – From the foreword by Hutke Fields, Principal Chief of the Natchez Nation
Jim has given presentations around the world as a Fulbright Specialist. For more information visit https://www.jimmetznerproductions.com and https://www.sacredmoundsnovel.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Goodreads.
Wednesday, February 24
Guest Post at Novels Alive
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Feature at The Whispering Bookworm
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Review at 100 Pages a Day
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Review at Passages to the Past
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Interview at Passages to the Past
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Feature at I’m All About Books
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Review at Coffee and Ink
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Interview at American Historical Novels
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Guest Post at American Historical Novels