The God of the Rocks

They said of him that he would be watching.   They said that from his mountain throne he would see the last of them to their graves, and the world itself would spiral down into infinity, before his eyes could rest.  He brought to them seasons, sun and the rain, and he taught them dread.  Where he wept new waters sprang, and where he vented his fury he sent fire into the sky.  Only in their terror would they pray.  Only when faced with the evidence of his wrath had they reason to fear him.  

They said he was a god.

They worshipped him, beseeched him often, in their times of peril or of pain; sought in vain for his solace, begged fruitlessly before him that he might forgive their sins, even though they could not explain the meaning of sin.  And although they believed they heard his voice, he never answered their prayers.

From his great height among the frozen rocks, his immortal flesh scoured by wind and ice, he was king, at least, of all he surveyed:  his eyes ever open, his ears filled by the knowledge of man; unsleeping, watching the ages pass.   

In his time he was accused of many things, at once feared and admired for his indiscretions.   He took the innocence of a king’s beautiful daughter, they said; came to her disguised by the night in a cloak of swan-down to give her a son who  she would raise to be his intermediary with the people – but no-one saw, or had word of the child.  Time brought rumours of many sons, to whom were accorded the powers of minor gods, and daughters too.   He divided his responsibilities among them, his subjects claimed – for childbirth, for death, for fire and fertility – children unseen, with powers never proved.

Centuries passed and the people prospered.  Their numbers grew.  They lost their fear of their god, spurning the myths of his children and proclaiming their faith to the mountain less often, while they committed greater and greater crimes in his name, and had no understanding of their wrongs.

There were a few, still, who pretended knowledge of him.   They made effigies they insisted were true to his mortal form, they issued decrees they said he had written, and words they said he had spoken. 

Those bold feet that first ascended the high watchtower they believed was his found no trace of his presence among those merciless rocks; so they allowed themselves to laugh, perhaps a little nervously, at their primitive notions of his existence.  The final knell.  But he was watching, just as before.  

 Some claimed He lived within each one of them, others believed Him to rule from somewhere beyond the sky.  Few knew the truth; that his home was where it had always been, beneath their feet – that he was the ground whereon they walked.

Very few truly understood this relationship to man.   They sought his guidance when he had none; prayed for his favour when he could give none, but because they had shaped him into a loving and compassionate image in their own minds they were sure, despite all evidence, he must have an entity that was righteous and just.   

With time he grew tired of the imperfect mortals that moved about him. Their treatment of fauna and flora that served him, the barbs they plunged ever deeper in his flesh, their unnatural agriculture which used chemicals to burn his skin (for his skin was the land).  He recognised signs of diminution in himself; for though with a shrug of his shoulders he might still  send their dwellings tumbling, or charge the air with fire, or foment oceans to tempest, ice into rain,  no-one came to pray to him. 

He was forgotten.

One final card was yet to be played that would prove his power and send  these creatures who could never be true custodians of his world to their destruction.  Why did he withhold?. His impatience with them grew yet he shrugged his shoulders: he did not dispatch them.  They vexed, but they did not infuriate.  Why?   Well, there was still something in his aged world to give him hope.

He had known her presence as she walked by this river before, a girl with pale cheeks and features of untainted innocence; one whose dark blue eyes were filled by the mystery of the waters and whose soul was clear of mortal sin.   She walked with a man, another human, but this did not deter him, for no mortal could withstand the will of a god.   In this girl, his ancient wisdom made him believe, there was a better future for his world; but as  no-one now believed in him, and nor, at first, would she, he must show her the pathway back to truth; she must become mother to the family of a god which, this time, would make itself known.  By an old and tried device of the gods, he reasoned to himself, he might make her his.  He was unaware how his strength had ebbed – without belief a god has no power.  In too many ways as he appeared to this girl and her man who had never prayed, he was almost mortal.   

“I think,”  Nadja said, as she crouched on her heels by the riverbank, reaching to dabble her fingers in the water;  “You should leave the poor fish alone.”

“Do you?”  the young man laughed.  “So you would consign man’s most popularhobby to the dustbin of incorrectness at a stroke, would you?”  He had set himself upon a tussock of grass beside her, his rods and creel clasped between his knees as he baited his hook.

“No, Ben, but I don’t see the point.  You entice them to bite on those horrible barbed things of yours, terrify them by plucking them from their natural element, then rip their mouths apart before you toss them back.  Why?” 

“Fish can’t feel pain.”  Ben shaped to cast his line.

“Are you sure of that?”

“It’s been proven.”

“Not, I take it, by a fish.”  Nadja sighed, because Ben’s blindness to all that was beautiful in the world made her sad.  “Oh, look at the swan, isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s a bird, a very big one, for a swan.”  The young man’s baited hook zipped over Nadja’s head on its way out into the current.  “If you don’t like fishing, why did you come?”

“I like the river, and I like you.  Is it me, or is he swimming towards us?”

“Maybe it thinks you’ve got some bread for it.  Give it a sandwich.”

“I’m sure you shouldn’t….”   Nadja’s voice faded into silence as she found herself gazing into the eyes of the swan, which were the most thoughtful and visionary eyes she had ever seen.  They were eyes  of intimate knowledge, bearing a message for her alone.   It was all she could do to refrain from walking out into the water to meet it, because the bird’s stare was mesmerising her.  It wanted her to join it, to nestle in the white down of its feathers, to ride upon its snowy back.  Reflected in shimmering perfection upon the water, the noble creature was drifting ever nearer.

“Oh, Ben!”  It was so close to Nadja now she might only stretch a little to touch its head.

“Careful!   It’s certainly hungry,” Ben warned.  “They can attack you for food sometimes.”

Yet Nadja saw no aggression in those eyes, only invitation.  Somehow it was no surprise to her that the swan should lower its noble head and  extend its neck to lie against the length of her thigh.  It breathed its contentment as, with nervous, uncertain hands she stroked feathers so close they were almost velvet.     Nor was she shocked when it raised itself, its wings arching slowly, very gently moving forward.  She rose to her feet, yielding to the persuasion that coaxed her into the warmth of that embrace.  For one moment it seemed she might be completely engulfed in the cloak of those powerful wings.

Only for a moment…

The great bird shuddered as Ben’s creel, swung with all the force he could muster, struck it upon its back.  It turned instantly, hissing anger as Nadja staggered aside.  It swept those wings with no hint of their former gentleness, scything into Ben’s ribs so hard the wind was knocked from his lungs.  Reared upon its grey legs, drawn to its full height the swan loomed over Ben like a white cloud  and eyes which just a moment before were blinded by love were twin orbs of lightning, afire with fury.   Injured and in pain, Ben almost fell as the swan, far from retreating to the river as he expected, advanced upon him.  Clear of the water its body was exposed and Ben, alarmed as he was by its aggression, was not done yet.     Stepping inside those flailing wings he delivered a blow to the creature’s body so fierce it was thrown backward into the water – so fierce as to sink deep into feathers and flesh and bone beneath.  With that single blow the god of the rocks discovered a dreadful truth:  that a god devoid of veneration is no god at all.   His transformation into this great bird had been his final miracle.  He was mortal.

In its panic at that discovery and with its dream of love reduced to a sad fantasy  the bird plunged back into the river, scrabbling through the shallows in search of deeper water, finding depth, swimming fast with no sense of direction.  In its distraction it ran its beak through the healing stream to deaden the hurt in its body.  A temptation, a mere scrap, skipped by on the current.  The swan took it in. 

“It’s taken my hook.”  Ben cried, regaining his balance.   “The bloody thing’s taken my hook!”

“Oh no!  No!  Do something!” Nadja rushed forward, plunging to her waist into the river to reach for the swan.   For a few dreadful seconds the bird churned the water as it discovered its plight and thrashed wildly against the line, then as suddenly as it had been taken it was gone.  Running on the surface on desperate feet it gained the air.   Graceful even when so wounded, its neck crooking as it tried to shake the metal hook free, it ascended,  and all Nadja could do was watch it depart.  She rounded on Ben.  “I could have got to it.  Why didn’t you wait?”

“I cut the line.   I couldn’t hold it, I’d have lost the rod and everything if I’d tried.”

“You let it go.”  Nadja wept bitterly, for she had seen in the space of a second everything the world had missed.  “You condemned it.”

Ben pleaded with her.  He’d had to do something, he told her – he was being attacked.  “It wasn’t my fault it took the line!”

“it was your fault the hook was in the water in the first place.  Your hobby!”  Nadja exclaimed scornfully,  “Don’t follow me!”

She turned from Ben to walk home alone.  As she walked the grass around her feet turned to brown, and young though the year might have been, leaves cascaded from the trees.  The wind grew stronger as a different darkness fell.

#

“Another one?”    Baldai asked.

“The third in this cycle.”  Procator affirmed, as they watched the screen.  “Most regrettable.  It seems this is the critical evolutionary phase.  Statistics for this galaxy are quite damning, I’m afraid.  We’re having some success, but almost entirely with aquatic solutions.  Land-based life forms are simply too fallible.  It’s almost as though the stock is corrupt.”

“That is possible, of course.”  Baldai admitted.  “However, there’s nothing to be done.  Is he recovering?”

“To a point, I suppose.  Avian disguises are particularly difficult to treat, and he had been entombed in river mud for three weeks before we could bring him up.  The physical recovery is good, but…”  Prokator made a gesture of futility;  “his psychological makeup has completely burned out.  He has expressed a wish to retire to his galaxy of origin and I think that is probably best.”

“And that?”  Baldai waved at the image on their screen of the bereft planet:  “What shall we do with that?”

“Oh, dispose of it.  There’s another eligible candidate closer to this sun-star, if you think we should have another try – but I would be inclined to emphasise the oceans, this time.”

© Frederick Anderson 2020.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content

Photo credits: Swan, by Balog from Pixabay, Featured image:

Mountain, by David Mark from Pixabay

It’s no use calling, Pandora – they won’t come back

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Inappropriate Touching? And who da kid in da Tree?

It was at Sunday School that someone told me either Adam or Eve (I don’t remember which) invented Original Sin, which I eventually understood to mean anything involving two bodies getting within touching distance of one another; especially if a certain kind of touching was involved. Superficially, I took in old, cracked oil paintings of unclothed Eve chastely holding hands with unclothed Adam, or of the chilly pair an olive tree’s width apart, their dignity preserved by gravity-defying fig leaves.  I didn’t really absorb the lessons of those early days, so I did not question them – only later, when things were beginning to happen to my own body, did I pause to wonder why my school lessons in Religious Instruction slipped deftly past the ‘virgin birth’ – ‘Jesus Bar Joseph’? – and wonder why an elderly Jewish carpenter would give his only son a Greek name?  Original Sin.   Ah, yes, of course!

I came late to my sex education, partly because I was shy as a child and did not share in some of my less inhibited friends’ experiments, and partly because my angelic pipes were insufficiently tuneful to place me in the church choir, so I never got to wear one of those convenient cassocks wherewith Father Flannigan demonstrated his personal immunity to Sin.  Weekday school playground was rich in anecdotes of choristers, both boys and girls, who learned to hit the especially high notes with the good Father’s able help, while those with artistic flair illustrated his endeavours on the school toilet walls. I had to make do with hearsay.

This is not to suggest I missed out on that essential ingredient of childhood in any way.  I had my share of experiences with ‘kiddy fiddlers’, from the sad, bent little man in the public toilets to the frustrated, lonely mother of one of my friends in my teenage years.  I will not elaborate too much, other than to say I was exposed to minor encounters in which neither birds nor bees played any poetic part, long before I became ‘of age’; and I gained from those experiences, rather than anything I was taught in a classroom.

In more adult years I would all too briefly brush with actors and actresses, an altogether more sensitized and tactile world of shared art and shared misfortune.  There is a phrase from the conclusion of Arthur Wing Pinero’s play ‘Trelawney of the Wells’ when Rose Trelawney realizes that, as an actor, her lifestyle sets her apart:   she describes her Company as “Splendid gipsies.”  Despite the play’s undeniable vintage, that description remains steadfastly true.   Joining a community of artists, as I was privileged to do, is gaining membership of a society with limitless generosity and untrammelled freedom of expression.  It also possesses an extremely healthy Bush Telegraph impregnated with a wealth of tales.  You could not pass a single beer-sodden Green Room evening without learning who was ‘a bit strange’ and who was not; whom to love, whom to indulge for their eccentricities, and whom to avoid.   The director who was ‘a bit affectionate, but an absolute darling to work with’, or the famous and immensely talented female singer with a very aggressive sexuality:  ‘don’t get caught backstage with her, sweetie’.  (A warning to other females, not males, BTW).

There were no victims in those Green Room discussions.  A fairly balanced distribution of ages and members of both sexes, yes, and true, there was always alcohol and usually an element of fatigue, but if you were seeking an ingénue, you were in the wrong place.  All were professionals, and I would say all knew exactly how far they would be prepared to go to secure a prestigious role.   I recall particularly an aspiring actress’s assessment of a director with whom she was due to audition:  “Darling, the job’s absolutely mine.  I can play him like a fish!”  (which proved to be right).

For myself, I emerged from those days with a palette rich in colour and a wealth of education about human diversity and resilience.   Experience, that which the academically imbued choose to rather patronizingly label ‘The School of Life’, taught me tolerance of others, their personal tragedies, their insecurities, often, and their perpetual alone-ness.  I learned to be at home with their differences, and where there were lines, personal lines, I needed to draw.  My real qualifications for life were gained in that Green Room, or from Father Flannigan’s choir practice, in that bar, or on that street.

I guess my education was no different from those of others, so I wonder at the apparent epidemic of outraged innocence that pervades everything media at this time concerning ‘inappropriate touching’ or minor assault.  We do not arrive at the essential signposts in our lives without having first learned how to read a map.  So ‘the rules have changed’.  No.  ‘Rules’, if we insist upon calling them such, must at least be written down; otherwise they are not rules, they are fashion.  Similarly, offences, if they are to be called such, must be proven.  Otherwise they are hearsay, otherwise they are gossip, otherwise they are anger, or envy, or greed.  If someone’s entire life is to be ruined, their career ended, their achievements set at nought, the very least requirement should be proof.  It should not depend upon an etiquette of constantly-evolving signals that are too easily misunderstood.

The truth?  Most of us, male or female, are touched inappropriately, spoken to suggestively, or affronted clumsily in some way, several times in our lives.  That does not make us victims.  That does not make us lose sleep at nights, throw ourselves into lives of addiction or quake every time a member of the opposite sex comes near us.   If it does, that says more about our own mental stability than anything else and yes, there will be the odd few to whom this will happen.  But most us could – should – simply smile, write it down to experience, and move on.

I used to be an advocate of the world-wide-web.  I gladly espoused its freedoms, joyfully joined in its crusades against corruption and falsehood.  I still do, but my mind is beginning to change.  I see how the distribution of power is beginning to be reversed; how easily those in positions of responsibility can become prey.  In the absence of a moral code, this medium, and its instigator, the gutter press, must exercise restraint or be restrained.   If moral democracy cannot survive, moral dictatorship will take its place.

The corollary to this is, of course, to say that there are a number of genuine cases of assault which are serious in nature, proven and should face a court of law, especially where the offence involves a child.  Whether names should be released before a trial is another issue, but there is a danger that these cases can suffer if a welter of copycat accusations follow each one.

Now, I will conclude with a slightly sideways shift – I ask you to please consider this.

A few years ago the town of Middlesbrough, here in England, was visited by a doctor claiming to have evolved an entirely new way (known as the ‘anal dilation method’ – need I elaborate?) for proving child abuse.   Within a couple of weeks, during which children under scrutiny were hauled about like chickens, two hundred – yes, two hundred – children were adjudged to have been subjected to severe abuse.   Two hundred parents (mostly fathers) were placed under investigation, public hysteria spread and court lists began mounting up, before somebody had the presence of mind to stand back and question this sudden epidemic.  The cases were reviewed and the doctor concerned was ‘moved away’ to a practice where she was not directly involved with children’s backsides.

Shortly afterwards, social services in Scotland tried to prove that an entire Scottish island was a nest of paedophiles.  This was unfounded, too, but not before the island’s people were exposed to the attentions of the media pack.

It does seem to me that quite intelligent people can be subject to zeitgeist in such a way that they lose all sense of proportion; maybe in a hunt for publicity, or reward?  I don’t know.  But that might be food for educators who are ever more intent upon narrowing and focusing the business of learning.  Maybe the fetters of specialisation are not a good thing.  Maybe we should distance ourselves from rampant progress and just take our time.

 

 

 

 

The Moon’s a Balloon

Was it GB Shaw who remarked that the more civilized the society, the more gullible its members?

In GB’s time the Flat Earth Society made hay with its grass roots theorists – today, we have much more meaty matters (or anti-matters) to feast upon.  Our childhood acceptance of the universe as we saw it – remember those summer nights gazing up at the stars? – is lost forever:  lost to a cosmic catalog of the unseen, the obscene and the insubstantial that reads for endless pages of bewilderment.

We are being bombarded:  not just occasionally (duck behind the table and it’ll be all right again after seven o’clock) but all the time.   Quarks, Bosons, Neutrinos are flying about all over the place at impossible speeds going right through everything – including me.  And they are all (nudge nudge, wink wink) invisible!  Is it me or do I look rather more perforated than usual this week?

And now (fanfare) we have Dark Matter.   No, we can’t see that either.  Why?  Because it’s dark.  All those black bits where stars aren’t; those fill-in places that I used to think were just – well, nothing – are actually full.  Of Dark Matter.

So that kicks Star Trek into the long grass.  You can’t do warp factor five if you have to keep shoveling black stuff out of the intakes.  And what is it, anyway?  Jelly?  Cotton wool?  Is it flammable?  Could some astronaut step outside for a cigarette one day and set the universe on fire?

As a lay person I will never see these things, and the proof of their existence is so complex I will never understand them.  All I see is the regiment of physicists whose bulging purses and burgeoning bursaries rely upon their continuing story.  Forgive my incredulity:  discount my suspicions.  For another year at least my membership of the Flat Earth Society is secure.