The height of the Clan Gathering was the Bear Ceremony, during which a captive cave bear that had been raised like a well-loved child by the host clan was returned to the world of Spirits to intercede on behalf of the Clan. Every member of the clan drank the bear's blood -- even babies were given a few drops. Then the Feast of Ursus was held. At the feast, the choicest morsels of every dish (except the meat) were selected for the bear and placed before its skin, which was mounted in the mouth of the cave so that its unseeing eyes could watch the festivities. Clan tradition dictated that all of the bear meat must be eaten on the night of the feast.
After the feast, the men and women went their separate ways. The highest-ranking medicine woman prepared a special drink that enhanced the mog-urs' ability to link minds and trace their evolution from the beginning of life. In exchange for the drink, the mog-urs gave the medicine women bowls of datura tea, which was for the women's dance. (The women danced all night to release the tension of their controlled lives.)
After the mog-urs began the ceremony for all men, they handed control of the ceremony over to their acolytes. The mog-urs retreated to their own sanctum to perform rites that were too secret even for acolytes. During these rites, the mog-urs consumed the brains of the man who was killed by the cave bear during the Bear Ceremony. This act of ritual cannibalism allowed the mog-urs (and by extension the entire Clan) to absorb the courage of the man who was chosen to accompany the Spirit of Ursus to the world of Spirits.
Determination and Effects of Clan StatusEdit
The clans' relative status had no effect on relationships outside of Clan Gatherings. At home, each clan was fully autonomous. However, while the clans were gathered, their relative status determined the hierarchy of each person. Status dictated which clans got the most favorable locations, who led the hunts, who received prominent roles in the Bear Ceremony, and who was served first. The leader of the highest-ranked clan became, in effect, the leader of the entire Clan, because he was the highest-ranking member. However, as a practical matter, clans were left to govern themselves even during the Clan Gathering.
A clan's status was determined at the end of the Clan Gathering by several factors: the clan's performance in the men's and women's competitions, the relative positions of its mog-ur and medicine woman, the capability of its leader, and the history of the clan's status.
The men's competitions consisted of the following events: wrestling, sling-hurling, bola-throwing, arm strength with the use of a club, running, more complicated running-and-spear-stabbing races, toolmaking, dancing, storytelling, and the combination of both in dramatic hunt reenactments.
The women's competitions carried less weight than the men's competitions and were more subtle. The women's competitions were less about performance and more about showing off what they could make. Status was awarded to those clans whose women cooked the best meals and made the best crafts. Even their babies were compared.
The factor that tied all other factors together, and was therefore the most important, was the skill of the leader. Performance in the men's competitions showed how well the leader had trained and motivated them. How hard the women worked and how well they behaved showed how well the leader guided them. Part was based on adherence to Clan tradition. However, the most important was the leader's strength of character: the knowledge of when to hold to a decision and when to yield, when to be forceful and when to be conciliatory, and when to stand alone and when to call for consensus.
Ayla's Clan GatheringEdit
The Clan Gathering that Ayla attended was hosted by Norg's clan, which lived almost 300 miles (as the crow flies) east of Brun's clan. Norg's cave was located in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in present-day Russia.
Brun's clan had ranked first for several generations, which contributed to its status. It had also had the highest-ranking mog-ur and medicine woman. However, Brun knew that Ayla's presence would put him at a disadvantage, and he had to work extra hard to compensate.
Brun's clan performed well at the men's competitions, placing first in the hunt reenactment and toolmaking. Broud, the leader's son, won the wrestling and running-and-spear-stabbing events and placed second in the running event. Brun had won the bola event in the past, but he was getting older, and that year, he placed second to Norg's clan.
However, Brun made up for that loss by his show of good sportsmanship: when it was time for the final round of the running-and-spear-stabbing race, Brun suggested that they wait to give Gorn (the son of Norg's second) a chance to rest. Brun realized that it would not have been fair to make Gorn, who had run four races, compete with two men who had only run two races. This put Brun's clan in a less competitive position and angered Broud, who accused Brun of not caring whether his clan was first.
Although Ayla's unusual appearance (and the presence of her "deformed" son, Durc) initially jeopardized the clan's status, she ultimately enhanced it. Ayla's behavior was impeccable, and her gifts were well-made. Her bravery and skill were admired when she fearlessly faced a cave bear to rescue a hunter who had been mauled (and ultimately saved his leg). By the end of the festival, the other nine mog-urs had accepted her as a medicine woman of Iza's line, and she was allowed to make the special drink for their ritual.
At the Clan Gathering, Ayla met a woman named Oda whose baby girl, Ura, had the same deformities as Ayla's son, Durc. Oda worried that no man would want to mate her daughter and asked if she could be mated to Durc, who was also deformed and unlikely to find a mate. Ayla agreed that they would be a good match, and the leaders of their clans made arrangements for Ura to return with Brun's clan after the next Clan Gathering. (Brun and Ebra agreed to allow Ura to live at their hearth until she was old enough to mate.) Oda's tale of her encounter with a man of the Others heightened Ayla's suspicion that pregnancy was the result of sexual intercourse and that the spirits of both parents mixed to create a baby, a theme that recurs throughout the series.