Saturday, 20 March 2010

Equinox Rising

There is a stone table to the west, but what was it really used for? Was there a sister table in the east?
Equinox Rising
Prologue: Around 1850.
It was a cold, windy day, and I climbed the hill to where my men were waiting for me. There it was, a stone table. It looked exactly the same as the table they had found in the West.
The local name for that was "La Table des Marthes", the witness table, where people would come to sign important documents, as was the custom as far as living memory could tell.
It was a large flat granite slab supported at each end by pillars of stones and earth, and no one really knew what its purpose was. And now my workmen had unearthed an Eastern table, the twin of the Western one. No one else had seen it, and it was here for the taking; material for building dry stone walls. I lit the fuse, and retired.
Around 4,000 BC
My sister had always been special. In the speech of our tribe, her name was Sulis, the wise one, and she was born one night when the moon had turned red.
Sulis was a quiet young woman, but sometimes we would catch a glimpse of her dancing in the groves, delighting in the songs of the birds; more often, she would wander off, by herself, and come back with leaves and berries. Healing was a gift with her, and she could reach out and take the pain, gather herbs, and apply a salve of her own making upon sores and wounds. She would intone softly, and charm away the wart, and make a brew of leaves to ease those troubled and unable to sleep. Her face shone with joy, and we loved her dearly.
One day, Sulis gathered the young and the wise of the tribe, and she went up on the mound above the tomb of stones, and opened her mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed is the earth, for she is our mother, and she shall take away your hunger. From her womb shall come forth food in abundance. The cattle that graze on her shall bring forth sweet milk for us to drink.
Blessed is the sun, for he brings us warmth and life to our seed, and makes fields white for harvest. And the flowers reflect his joy in the beauty of our world.
Blessed are those that weep, for your tears shall water the earth, and it shall bring forth fruit.
And blessed are those who are least in the tribe, for the mighty will fall, and their names will be lost, but your children will endure for ever on this island home.
But woe to you that take most, and leave others hungry, because only your bones will endure.
Woe to the leaders of the tribe, for you take the paths of darkness, and close your eyes to injustice, and you will never see the light.
Woe to you that sacrifice to the old gods of blood and soil, for those gods are dead, and your prayers go unheard, and the land will be barren.
Now the chieftains of the tribe heard what Sulis was saying, and they were angered, for they saw a threat to their rule. And so they decided to make a lesson of her, to teach others the laws of the tribe, and bided their time.
We had survived the winter, but it was another year of hardship, of poor and failing crops. Sacrifices had been made to the gods, burnt animals, but it had been in vain. And last year, when the sun god was at his weakest, the elders had decided that animals were not enough.
There had been sacrifices before to the old gods when times were bad. And the elders spoke of how the dark gods reached out and took life from the earth, when they were angered, and how their fell breath caused a blight upon the harvest. Then the shaman scattered powders on the fire, and the flames burned green and blue.

And the shaman told of how Sulis had mocked the old gods, and caused the harvest to fail. This was a sign that the old ways should not be neglected, and animals had not been enough; only the death of one of the tribe would appease them, and stay their hand. Only blood would appease them, so that they would return to their slumbers, satisfied, their hunger fulfilled.
So they bound Sulis, and took her to the stone of sacrifice in the East. There they bound her with chords. And the shaman took a stone knife, and as the sun set on the shortest day, they ended her young life, and took her deep within the passage of the ancestors, and laid her there to appease the gods. Then they sealed the entrance with large boulders, and we who loved her so dearly wept bitter tears.
Now three full moons had passed, and the time had come when night and day are as one, equal partners in the dance of the heavens. We came to the threshold of the stone passage, and the chieftains called forth strong men, and they rolled back the stones. The sun began to rise, and a thin beam, like a spear drawn along the ground, white and gleaming, moved softly down the dark passage, towards where Sulis had been placed, their sacrifice to the gods. Her skins lay there, but they were empty, and the light struck the back stone, and it was not hindered because she was not there. And the chieftains were afraid, and the shaman confounded, and all was in disarray.
We heard the wind passing through in the trees, the branches swaying, and we saw the grass move gently as if someone was dancing lightly. And in the whispers in the wind, as dawn was breaking, Sulis spoke to us, and told us to leave the paths of the dead; and we left the tribe with their gods of blood and soil, never to return.
Many years later, a traveller passing by told us that the shaman had sealed the tomb, but the tribe was no more, and all that remained was the tomb, now covered in earth and grass; it would be forgotten and become even less than a distant memory, with no songs of the cruel tribe, but only with the spirit of Sulis, ready to awaken again one bright clear morning.
Epilogue: Spring 2010
It was a cold March day, and fifty of us were waiting in the darkness, as the light changed from the black of night to the orange shadows that foretold the break of day. And then, at first a speck of brightness, and gradually a growing circle, was the rising sun. As it rose higher, the light travelled down the empty passage, lighting the darkness, until it touched the far upright stone.
The air was alive with the sound of birds, the wind was rustling in the trees, and it seemed to me that it was whispering, with the soft voice of a young woman. Rejoice, rejoice, the wind said, for the light has come, and the tomb is empty, and the goddess of spring is awake once more.

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