In idle moments I wonder what other people's memories are like. Do they so flood the person with regret, that while they stand in line at the grocery store, or walk through the library, memory overtakes them? In remembering, do they feel as if time had returned them to the point of origin? If so, they should grind their teeth, faces clenched, until a stranger is moved to ask them, are you alright, sir, madam? Yet I never see that look on the faces of grocery store patrons or library wanderers. Why then do they ask me, am I alright?--I am fine, sir, madam, just a moment of indigestion.
It was one of those teeth-grinding memories that The Turquoise Eye brought back to me. It was the memory of my Lady N, that I might have saved her had I been wiser, older, more attuned to those things underlying the surface of our lives.
So we come to this ceremony of the druids, the looking back. For the most part, I have been unimpressed over the years by what I call ceremonial magick. I remember in my youth that we would bring crosses to one of the priests, and he would bless them three times, swinging like pendulums. That would be called ceremonial magic if a lay person or a druid did the blessing. But if God is going to bless a bit of graven silver on a chain, what mechanism prevents Him from doing so without the help of priests, special prayers, and significant numbers? And if the bearer of the inanimate object is a spite filled wretch, how is that fact circumvented by the worthiness of the priest and the blessedness of the object? What is the whole point of taking objects and making them “holy?” Why the incense, the holy water, the symbols, the long prayers, the chantries that send cards telling you that your dead friends' souls will be prayed for for a millennium thanks to your donation? I think I am closer to an answer, now, ten years later.
And here I am supposed to be talking about druids. Let me start again. Seldom have I been impressed by ceremony, but I am forced to admit that the looking back left me changed.
It started with mead drinking and wassailing, and I know that for some people that makes the memory suspect. But generations of natural selection have guaranteed the hardiness of what we call, in my family, the Scottish liver. If the drink is under 40 proof, it is flavored water. All the mead I could drink would not be enough to make me imagine such an experience.
Ladies and men who had day jobs at the bank or in forestry or the library, but looked for the world, in their robes, like a collage from another century, stood in a great circle with me and Atum-Ra and Osiris in the temple. I wondered what brought them here; was it some aspect of spirituality that they had not found elsewhere?
Atum-Ra was tending braziers. I recognized common mugwort,Artemesia vulgaris, as he laid bundles of it over the coals. Half the acupuncture and Chinese medicine operations in town would stock the same herb, used for moxibustion.
But here the mugwort burned slowly, gushing first yellow, then greenish smoke that drowned all other colors. The scent of the herb was ale and drying wheatgrass.
The druids chanted, and in the smoke I lost sight of the other side of the room. Whorls of yellow, green, picked up suddenly, eddied behind a druid who moved through the haze. Atum-Ra, I thought, maybe. I lost track of sound in the chanting, sight in the smoke, time in the eddies.
In the swirl I saw, or imagined, a lady. Her robes flowed about her, and she carried a sword not unlike the one Osiris had shown me. She dissolved back into the smoke.
A second figure appeared, also in robes, but more menacing. He held scales before him like a statue of Justice, but black scales, shadows in the haze.
For a while, I saw only smoke and shadow. I remembered the chanting, and in remembering, brought the sound closer to the foreground of my experience. But then I fell back to visions in the smoke.
This time the menacing figure carried his scales in one hand and a sword in the other. At the moment he appeared, I jumped to hear Osiris call out, “behold, the demon, Apep!” I squinted, but could not make out the speaker through the room. These visions did not appear to be physical. They were more like illusions built on the coming together of color and shadow and swirls in the thickening air. How I could perceive visual details in this environment I do not know; if I had thought to shut my eyes in refusal of belief, I might have done so.
I wonder, does the mind possesses a mechanism for inventing detail when what the senses perceive is unclear—like shadows imagined in total darkness? Did this trick of the mind save our ancestors from stumbling through the dark, keeping them in their hovels, afraid, with fire against night's scavengers? I pondered the idea then, with a limited palette before my eyes and long chanting in my ears.
And again I was back in the smoke, believing illusions. The lady in robes appeared, sword-less, but she carried a sceptre as long as she was tall, and wore a crown.
Once again a call startled me, “behold, the Lady Wadjet, founder of our order!” The demon Apep was still there, shadowy as ever. Its presence made me feel uncertain.
I watched the demon moving behind her, watched it creep closer, saw the scales raised high.
I watched as it raised the sword up, up above their heads.
The Lady Wadjet turned. The smoke swirled. She turned and raised her head to look down her nose at the enemy, Apep.
Now the smoke tore from a blow of that sword. I heard steel ring, snap, reverberate in the air, and then the sound of tempered metal on the ground.
Apep now held a sword hilt, blade-less. Bowing, he laid it at the Lady Wadjet's feet. If only my many battles had gone like that over the years; but I suppose everyone is here to learn from their experience.
What any of the vision meant I do not know for sure. But I know that night I dreamed of saving my Lady N.
Lady N is among my most beautiful, and most painful memories.