11 Relationships: Ritual and Worship

The sun drops toward the cleft. To its left, I can see only the shattered end of the ridge that thrusts into this valley and ends abruptly at the deep lake; from here, the ridge seems to rise out of the lake like a volcanic cone. To the right, a more distant fold of mountains rises, outline softened by thick pines. The sun will set almost directly in the notch between the ridge and the mountains in this early autumn season, giving long light and longer shadows.

I stand in the nervous, fluttering cluster of people. They chatter like birds. I’m no less nervous, but nervousness usually makes me quiet, not talkative. Tonight I have a question, for the first time in all the years I’ve sought audience. A cryptic question, but a simple one. A simple yes or no.

I don’t know what answer I will receive: I’ve thought through both answers, what they mean. One answer tastes of sour despair, and leads to more questions: demands even, for explanation and guidance. The other answer is bitter in my mouth: it also leads to questions, but those are questions I will not ask, because I know the answer is to live the questions — not ask them.

I throw the hood of the light wool cloak over my head and face, blocking out the sunlight, the bird-chatter of the other Walkers, the feel of the breeze in my hair. The polypropylene-wool blend of long underwear itches in a familiar way, and it has grown uncomfortably warm under the wool cloak. That will change once the sun sets. I ignore the warmth and the itching.

Stillness. Darkness. Quiet.

Who am I? Let it go.
What do I want? Let it go.
What will happen tonight? Let it go.

Feel the air in my nostrils. Reach for the deep energy of the earth — I envision roots growing from the bottom of my torso, extending into the earth, drawing up energy. I feel each chakra flare as the energy moves up. Weakly at some: my second chakra barely flickers, fourth is guarded and shadowed, fifth is almost dark, sixth is blurry. No surprises there. The past three years have been devastating.

Let it go.

I turn to my partner-Walker. She’s one of the chirping birds. She stops chattering when she sees my face, my eyes.

“I am ready,” I say.

This is, after all, sacred theater. That is its purpose — to draw us out of the mundane world of blunted corners and smoothed paths, into the world of the gods. In the mundane world, I would say, “I’m ready,” or “Let’s go.” Contractions and idioms. Familiar patterns of speech that mask the fearful wonder of the world.

I am ready. Formal words, spoken formally. I am in character, now. Ready to face the gods. To ask my question.

She stumbles a bit, thrust unprepared into her role as guide, but she recovers well. “Then come,” she says soberly, and leads me up the hill.

Her urge to chatter overcomes her halfway up, and she tries to make small talk. I ignore her, as gently as possible, and she flutters back into silence. My mind is on this journey. My body works its way up the slope, but my soul takes a longer path. Each step of the body is a league to the soul.

We approach the tent. She has chosen white, and her long red hair makes a strong contrast. I see but do not see her assistant dressed in black, the one who stands behind her and holds and contains the energy of this place. He is essential, but not important. I approach, and kneel. This is not an act of penitence, but merely of respect: there is a pillow to guard my knees from the hard earth and sharp stones. It is part of the theater. I look up.

The sun has grown lower still and taken on a golden color. A mild breeze passes across the lake below us, and the sunlight glints from the ripples. I see a brood of ducklings follow their mother — they cut a sharp vee in the water, and I hear their broad honks, faintly. Tiny white clouds dot the clear sky, which is pale gold in the west; it shades rapidly to pale blue that deepens to cerulean above my head. The face of the looming peak lies in deep shadow. I smell pine on the breeze, and woodsmoke from the camp.

All this impresses itself on my memory in a timeless instant that stretches to eternity.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

My eyes return to the eyes of the priestess who sits before me. The sunlight flickers through her breeze-stirred hair, lights the diaphanous white of her robes with warmth. Her eyes startle me — I am accustomed to the cornflower blue that makes such a pretty contrast to the red of her hair in the camp below, but here, her eyes are pale, gray-blue, almost white. I can feel the energy of Presence, quivering deep in whatever organ senses such things — it is like the boundless excitement I felt as a small child when Mom agreed to take us to the amusement park.

I draw upon the earth to steady myself. Long ago I followed a god who demanded submission in the pattern of the Roman patronage within which the religion was born. The Great and Mighty would permit certain liberties to those beneath them, but only so much and no more. We had our place, and we were expected to know it and submit to it. There was no greater crime than to seek parity with our betters — for such offense was humankind exiled from Eden and Lucifer cast down from Heaven.

Patterns of subservience are hard to break, but they dishonor the gods I seek now; I struggle for a moment before I feel the answering surge of godhood within myself. I take a deep breath, straighten my back, and look ancient Isis squarely in the eye.

We speak then, in that eternal golden moment. I ask my question, and receive the bitter answer, not the sour. The answer I had already suspected was true. She embraces me — unusual in such settings — and I thank her.

I stand and let the guide take me back down the hill, as my soul follows the longer path. We meet, my soul and I, at the grounding area, and I touch the earth with my fingers to remind myself that I am here, in the real world. But I don’t come all the way back, not yet. I still have my duties as a Walker.

As the sun sets and the night grows dark, I guide dozens of seekers to Isis for their own audience, serving as Walker, as Psychopomp — half in the sacred world, half in the mundane world. A strange feeling grows in me, and at last I recognize it: service given in love.

As the feeling grows, I look within and see that my fourth chakra, the heart, is opening like a flower.

A fresh beginning.

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