Once upon a time there were four villages, but we’ll set the fourth village aside for now, because that one was very far away from the others. The three villages we’re interested in just now each had a wise healer. The healer in the first village was called Elspeth and the healer in the second village was called Manni and the healer in the third village was called Sue.
Every year, a particularly bad cold would move through the villages. The three healers met one day to discuss the best way to keep their villages healthy. Manni, who was always very intuitive and observant, mentioned that she’d noticed over the years that the people in her village that grew the sacred echo plant in their gardens and enjoyed drinking echo tea seemed to get fewer colds.
Sue got very excited. “What an amazing insight, Manni!” she cried. “Let us tell all the people in our villages to drink echo tea! Clearly the earth spirits are pleased when we grow echo and drink its tea.”
Manni was very pleased with this idea, for she’d had a hunch about echo tea for a quite some time. But Elspeth was worried. “Manni, in thinking back, I’ve seen the same thing among my people. But let us make sure. We should create a test, so we know for certain that it is the echo, and so that we know how best to use it if it is. This will require that some of our people be given echo while some are not.”
Manni was fairly sure it was the echo that was helping her villagers, but she always wanted what was best for them, so she listened to Elspeth’s suggestion.
“Nonsense!” cried Sue. She loved her villagers very much and only wanted what was best for them. “It’s so obvious, now that Manni has pointed it out, that drinking echo pleases the spirits. Can’t you feel it Elspeth? It feels right. I’m certain of it. I will require all my village to drink echo. I cannot deprive any of them of its benefits.”
So the three healers returned to their villages and as the cold season approached, Sue called a meeting of her villagers and told everyone that the spirits would protect them from colds if they drank echo tea, and anyone who didn’t have echo plants in their gardens should ask a neighbor to share their tea with them.
Manni went to her village and called a meeting, and told them she thought that it was possible that the echo tea that some of the villagers drank protected them from colds. She told her village that she wanted to test this, and asked that half of them volunteer not to drink echo tea for two moons, while the other half would drink echo tea daily. It was not easy to get volunteers not to drink echo tea, but eventually, Manni succeeded in getting enough that she was pleased.
Elspeth returned to her village and said nothing about the echo tea. She went to her neighbor, who had many echo plants growing in her garden. “Good neighbor, may I dig up some of your echo plants for my garden?” Elspeth said. “I’ve always loved their flowers.”
So she brought home fifty echo plants and put them in pots. Their leaves got her hands quite sticky as she worked with them, so when she was done, she used the sacred soap and water ritual that was so good at removing sticky things from skin (but which usually was reserved for animal sacrifice rituals). Then she went to her other neighbor, who grew lots of plabo plants, which looked quite a lot like echo plants, but were otherwise quite different besides also making a tasty tea. “Good neighbor, may I dig up some of your plabo plants for my garden?” Elspeth said. “I’ve always loved their flowers.”
So she brought home fifty plabo plants and put them in pots. The next day she was very busy delivering plants with the aid of one of village children. She had to choose only homes that didn’t already have plabo or echo growing, and she had to make sure that if she gave a plabo plant to a house with a big family, that she also gave an echo plant to another house with a big family. It was a lot of work and very tiring, making sure that there weren’t more village elders that received plabo than echo, or vice versa, and that there weren’t more families with babies that received one or the other. Even harder was making sure that she didn’t know which plant each house got, because she was afraid that her hope for the echo plant might make her think it was doing more than it was. So once she found a pair of houses that matched well, she would have her helper randomly pick which house got which plant, make a note on his tablet, then deliver the plant. Hard work indeed, but at the end of a very long day, she felt she’d done as fair a job as she could have, randomly distributing the plants among all household types.
When she gave each home a plant, she was very careful to say the same thing. “I have this plant,” she said. “I want you to make tea from its leaves every day for the next four moons. I think it may be good for your health if you do.” She didn’t want to bias the people she gave plants to, but she had to convince them to make the tea somehow.
All three healers were very close to their people, and loved them and cared greatly for their health, so all three healers spent the next two moons carefully noting how many of their villagers got colds that year.
Sue was very excited at first, as she was sure that her villagers had fewer colds than the year before. There was a terrible burst of colds among the people in her village that year, but overall there were fewer total, so she decided that her gut feeling was right, and that maybe some of the things she thought were colds weren’t actually colds. So at the end of the season, she declared that she would begin growing echo in her garden for her whole village, and distributing its leaves for tea.
Manni was also very pleased with her results. She noted that there were far fewer colds among the villagers that she’d asked to drink the echo tea daily than among the villagers that had volunteered to drink no echo tea. She felt very confident in recommending that everyone drink echo tea, and also started her own garden to help those who could not grow the plant in their own.
Elspeth was quite surprised by the results of her experiment. It was very clear that among those she’d given an echo plant to, she saw far fewer colds. Much to her surprise, however, the people she gave plabo plants to had fewer colds than the people in her village that she given no plant to at all. It was as if just believing that they were protected had protected them. She had divided the village evenly into three groups, and all in all, forty people who were given no plant, and had not plabo or echo growing in their gardens, got a cold that year. Only twenty people who were given a plabo plant got a cold. But still, it seemed that Manni’s gut instinct was right, because only ten people that received an echo plant got colds!
When the wise healers met again that year, they each discussed their results. All three were very excited. Sue and Manni shared their plans to grow a huge garden of echo to make tea for the whole village. But Elspeth was still concerned.
“This is a wonderful discovery,” she said. “But I’m not convinced yet that it is the echo tea. How does it work?”
“Clearly, the earth spirits are pleased by echo plant,” Sue said.
“Or there is something in the tea that strengthens the body,” Manni suggested.
“But what if it’s not the tea?”
“Don’t blaspheme the spirits!” Sue gasped.
Manni rolled her eyes.
“Of course, I’m not saying it’s not the tea, I just feel like we should make sure. What if it’s something associated with the tea, but just not the tea itself?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s the tea,” Manni said. “The villagers drinking the tea did much better. And it can’t just be drinking any tea, because as you showed, the plabo tea didn’t do as well as the echo tea. Besides, does it matter now that we know the echo tea protects from colds?”
But this time, Elspeth had had a hunch. It was far fetched, but she suggested it anyway. “Do you know, when I picked all those echo plants, I had to do the sacred soap and water ritual afterward, because I was covered in stickiness. Most of us only do the sacred soap and water ritual after an animal’s life is taken to feed us, and during holy festivals. But I asked the people with echo in their gardens, and they all said that they must do the sacred soap and water ritual every time they handle the plants, because it is so sticky. The do the ritual every time they make tea!”
Sue was outraged. “They abuse the spirits by doing so! The resin of the echo plant is sacred to the spirits. You must stop them.”
“That is a very strange idea, Elspeth,” Manni said. “How could it possibly protect someone from colds, when it doesn’t even enter the body? No, I’m sure it is the tea, and I will proceed as planned.” For Manni cared deeply about her people and wanted all of them to have the best protection.
“As will I,” declared Sue. “And I will be sure to tell my people not to perform the soap and water ritual outside of the sacred designated times.” For Sue was very afraid for her people, and loved them and the earth spirits more than her own life. The idea of angering the spirits frightened her deeply.
And so Elspeth departed, saddened that her idea was scorned, but she decided that next cold season, she would test her idea anyway. So the next cold season, she again divided her villagers up so that some were not told to change anything, some were asked to put their hands under water three times daily, and some were asked to perform the soap and water ritual three times daily. To Elspeth’s surprise, at the end of the season, she saw an amazing decrease in the number of colds in the whole village. But the fewest colds were in the villagers that performed the sacred soap and water ritual three times daily, even if they had no echo plants and drank no tea. Putting the hands in water offered some protection, but not nearly as much. Therefore Elspeth recommended that all her people perform the soap and water ritual three times daily. Every cold season, she kept careful records, performed more trials, and tried very hard to make sure there wasn’t anything she was missing–no hidden threats from the ritual that might mean the spirits were angered, no possibility that it wasn’t again something else related to the soap and water ritual, but not the ritual itself.
Over the years, Elspeth’s village remained healthy. Manni’s village also remained healthy, although perhaps not as healthy as Elspeth’s. Sue, who had become convinced that the tea was most effective when grown in her own garden, claimed her village was very healthy, but Elspeth was not convinced. Still, it was only a cold, so she wasn’t going to argue.
Then, one year, rumor came down the river that a very terrible cold indeed was coming, that several people in distant villages had even died the cold was so bad. Elspeth reminded her people to be diligent in performing the sacred soap and water ritual. Manni insisted everyone try to grow echo plant, to be sure there was enough for all. Sue doubled the size of her harvest and distributed as much tea as possible. When the deadly cold came to the villages, only two people died in Elspeth’s village. Twenty people died in Manni’s–many of whom had been drinking tea prepared for them by a neighbor. Fifty people died in Sue’s village, including Sue herself, who had been working very hard day and night to the point of exhaustion, growing and harvesting and preparing tea for her village.
When Manni and Elspeth met that year, they were very sad and missed Sue greatly, and mourned for the deaths among their people. Manni, however, still could not be convinced that it was the soap and water ritual and not the plants themselves that protected against the deadly cold. She did, however, agree that Elspeth could tell her people what she thought, but that Manni would not advise for or against it. So Elspeth met with Manni’s village, and told them how few had died in her village, and what trials she’d done before that, and why she thought it was the soap and water ritual. But Manni’s village had been given good advise and care by Manni for years, because she was a good healer, and so most of them trusted her and followed her advise instead.
Elspeth also went to Sue’s village, to offer her condolences and make suggestions for the next cold season. She was very surprised when she arrived to find that enormous fields where food had once been grown were not growing with echo plant, and that another healer had already taken over Sue’s home. Her name was Kat. She would not allow Elspeth to speak to the village, declaring that she angered the spirits with her misuse of the soap and water ritual, and what was worse, that she only recommended the ritual because her father had been a soap maker and her brother was also a soap maker, and she only wanted to make them wealthy. Kat insisted that she grew a very special echo plant, and that the only reason it hadn’t worked for people before was because it hadn’t been specially prepared by her. She offered to trade with Elspeth’s village, if the wanted some of the tea from her special echo plants. Elspeth asked if she could test these special echo plant as she’d done before, but this made Kat very angry, and she declared that Elspeth was filled with deceptive spirits and banished her from the village.
When Elspeth returned home, saddened and worried, she found an emissary from a distant village. He had heard of the great healers of the three villages down the river, and worried about the next season’s colds, worried they might again be very deadly, he’d come to ask the advice of these wise healers. Elspeth told him about what she’d found and how she’d found it, and why she believed that the soap and water ritual was good for preventing colds.
The emissary thanked her and moved down river to Manni’s village. She also told him what she knew–that she’d noticed long ago that those that drank the echo tea had fewer colds, and that over the years she’d convinced almost the entire village to drink echo tea, and that they were now much better off. She was warm and excited and shared heroic stories of from her village. He thanked her and moved down river to Sue’s village. There Kat took him into her home and showed him her fields of echo plant. She told him inspiring stories about how well her echo plants worked, how every death in Manni’s and Elspeth’s village came from their misuse of the echo plant, and worse, that the deadly cold was the result of Elspeth’s spread of the irreligious use of the sacred soap and water ritual for her own profit, because it made her father and brother rich from making soap.
This was frightening. Kat was passionate, her arguments seemed sound and were in tune with what Manni said about the echo plant. The emissary decided to establish trade with Kat to bring back as much echo tea as his village would need for the coming cold season.
And can we guess how the story ended?