BAPHOMET XI;ql The Stone of Cybele From Golden Twigs, Aleister Crowley's collection of sho
From Golden Twigs, Aleister Crowley's collection of short stories based on
Frazer's Golden Bough, this wonderful tale is the first of the series, which
will appear in future issues. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or
dead, is purely coincidental. H.B.
Crowned with ivy upon a turreted fillet of gold that bound her wine-dark
hair, the girl Cotys fixed her violet eyes upon the restless sea, that heaved
with slow and oily prescience of storm. On the horizon all was deep orange;
above, the clouds were uniform in blue-black darkness, pregnant with water
and with thunder.
Cotys was tall and straight and slender, a young arrow from a rainbow; for
there was in her something utterly remote from the life of the world. Her
robe was of fine silk, sap-green with purple reflections; and on it, in dull
gold, were broidered lions. The colour melted imperceptibly into her skin;
for that too was like the ivy itself, flushing into amethyst, and paling into
amber. In her eyes the light of the whole night of heaven burned in majesty;
there were pride, and subtle joy, and the anguish of an infinite longing,
wrought to a single gem of inscrutable Will. But in that Will one read no
hope, not even desire.
The autumnal day suited her nature; she loved to dream deciduous things.
She stood upon the edge of the tall cliff, her slim fingers loving the wind
that poured between them. But her thoughts were far beyond the horizon; they
saw a field hospital on the veldt, and a man dying. She had come out from the
great lonely house of Polpenning, that crowned the black headland, to realize
her loss. The words of her father's last letter were sobbing in her brain.
On the oak table of the refectory she had left the large official envelope,
with the formal notification of Colonel Flack's death, the letters of
sympathy from the General and other of his fellow officers, her father's
letter, and a key.
"The surgeon tells me I have few hours to live," he had written. "Dennes has
everything in order; you will have about 3000 a year; 10000 cash to Claude,
for Marcia's sake; the rest in trust for Regulus. You are 24; I have made you
sole executrix. I know you worthy of all trust. You have been everything to
me since your mother died.
"I also give you charge of more than money. The key enclosed unlocks a safe
hidden beneath the big table in my library in the Paris house. There is the
heirloom of the world. You know we are of the Flacci; Horace himself was of
our kin. One of us, C. Valerius, at the sack of Rome by Genseric, took the
sacred stone of Cybele from the temple of Victory on the Mons Palatinus.
Never till now has our race failed of an adult male heir. The stone goes to
Regulus when he is 21. And now farewell; I am glad I died fighting."
The General's letter added to her pride; at the critical moment of the day,
Colonel Flack had led his hussars in a mad charge against intrenched
positions. It had succeeded, broken the enemy's centre and their commander's
nerve at the same moment; it had won the field. The Victoria Cross had been
pinned to that gallant breast before it breathed its last.
The storm broke heavily; Cotys was recalled to herself by heavy drops on her
bare head; she turned and walked to the house. Here she changed her dress for
black; as she came down into the hall she found her betrothed, the Hon. and
Rev. Joseph Randolph Fortescue, a stalwart clergyman of thirty years of age.
He took her in his arms in silence; her dress told him that she knew already
what he had come to break to her. He honoured her for her steel strength, the
Roman spirit yet alive and vigorous. She did not even show him the General's
letter; she handed him her father's only. When he gave it back, she simply
said, "I must go to Eton and see Regulus, to London and transact what is
necessary with Dennes, then to Paris to take charge there. I shall be back
in a month or six weeks." The clergyman began to talk of their wedding; the
idea had been to wait for Colonel Flack's return, which had been expected,
with the happy turn of the campaign, in another six months' time. Fortescue
reminded the girl that she was young and an orphan; a husband seemed
obviously expedient. She asked him to defer the discussion until her return
from Paris. Presently the vicar took his leave; he kissed her several times
farewell, for she was going to start very early in the morning, and
Fortescue, who lived ten miles away, had an early celebration. As he went,
he wondered in himself a little. She is marvellous, he thought, the beauty
of Spring itself, the dignity and distinction and reserve of the ideal
chatelaine of a great house; butis she capable of passion? She had accepted
him at once, yielded spontaneously to his first masterful caress; and yetand
yetit seemed but a duty perfectly fulfilled. He thought of Tennyson's
line"Icily perfect, faultily faultless, splendidly null"and then he smiled;
she was one of those womenthe best kind, that awaken only on marriage. They
flower late, then once for all, a crimson bloom of glory, herald of the
fairest fruit of what he called "God's orchard."
Claude de Crillon was making tea for Cotys in his studio, which stood on the
very brink of Montmartre. From the window one saw clear over Paris, from
Notre Dame to the Trocadero. Marcia, Colonel Flack's sister, had married for
love into a noble French family of only moderate means. The result had been
unfortunate; love soon cooled, even before the birth of Claude, and a quarrel
had only been averted by the death of the husband. It was said that at a
somewhat wild party he had backed himself to swim the Seine on the first
horse he could pick up in a fiacre. Anyhow, he had been drowned. Marcia died
when Claude, now 28, was ten years old. The boy had been brought up by
Colonel Flack, sent to Winchester and Oxford, but they had never got on well
together. Claude was not really deformed, but he gave that impression; his
head was large, his face abominably ugly in a savage surly fashion, his body
squat, and his limbs too long and strong to harmonize with them. At school
and college he had done only the minimum work necessary to pass examinations;
he toiled incessantly at sculpture, and when his muscles wearied he read the
classics. He could read and speak Latin and Greek more easily than English,
and refused to take classics for his examination on the ground that the
University was totally ignorant of the subject. He played no games; he would
not row; and he avoided the other men. His only friend at Magdalen was a
blind boy, named Hughes, son of a Cabinet minister, whose first pleasure was
the flute. De Crillon called him Marsyas, and bade him play while he
sculpted. On the lad's side his joy was great to run his fingers over
Claude's modellings; he made a master critic.
Cotys had not been encouraged to see much of Claude; she remembered him only
from one Commemoration Week, when she had certainly succumbed to his
extraordinary power and fascination. He knew exactly what all the other
people did not know; and his ignorance of what they did know was almost
So it was with very pleasant anticipations that she went to see him on an
errand that could not fail to pleasethe announcement of a very unexpected
legacy of 10000 to eke out the two or three hundreds a year that his parents
had left him.
Claude was sitting on a divan covered with grey fur, his legs crossed under
him; Cotys sat opposite in an enormous arm chair of grey velvet. Everything
in the studio was grey; the floor, the walls, the hangings, the very plaster
casts had been toned down to harmony.
Only at the end of the room was a great gate of bronze, Claude's own work,
a dark trellis covered with green vines that bore bunches of grapes in purple
patina. Cotys, knowing his taste for classics, recounted her investigations
in her father's library.
The stone of Cybele, she said, was jet black, rather like a sugar-loaf in
shape, set in a plain stand of gold with the words AVE MATER DEORUM deeply
chased. "Cotys," said Claude, "I want you to give me your most serious
attention. You are now the representative of the eldest branch of the FlacciI
should have the stone if Regulus dies or fails of heirs, which he won't, so
never mind thatbut on you at this moment hangs the responsibility of the
family honour. I know that that is more to you than anything on earth." Cotys
nodded gravely. "Now," continued Claude, more seriously still, "I believe
the chance is come for you to do something which has not been thought of for
fifteen centuriesto achieve the end for which our race has been preserved in
honour for so long," The girl was surprised, but deeply impressed; Claude's
eyes sank into hers, and conquered them.
"I will tell you something about that stone," said he "which you know, but
which you do not know you know. Come over here!"
He led her to a bust of grey marble, put her hand upon the head. She stared,
uncomprehending. "Nothing happens?" "Nothing." "Well, this is what happened
yesterday. You told me that you took the stone in your hands, and carried it
to the light to read the inscription." "Yes." "Well, you never told me that
you put down the stone because it became hot." She flushed violently. "I'd
absolutely forgotten; but it's true. Howoh how did you know?" "I know more
than that. For an instant you went giddy; perhaps you even heard or saw
something." "I had a stupid fancy." "Its a long shot; but perhaps you saw a
valley dark with trees, and women with torches, and heard the noises of
cymbals and of drums." He began to recite Swinburne's verses:
"We too have tracked by star-proof trees
The tempest of the Thyiades
Scare the loud night on hills that hid
The blood-feasts of the Bassarid,
Heard their song's iron cadences
Fright the wolf hungering from the kid,
Outroar the lion-throated seas,
Outchide the north-wind if it chid,
And hush the torrent-tongued ravines
With thunders of their tambourines.
But the fierce flute whose notes acclaim
Dim goddesses of fiery fame,
Cymbal and clamorous kettledrum,
Timbrels and tabrets, all are dumb
That turned the high chill air to flame;
The singing tongues of fire are numb
That called on Cotys by her name
Edonian, till they felt her come
And maddened, and her mystic face
Lightened along the streams of Thrace."
"You're a thought-reader, Claude!" she laughed. "I do remember something like
that, now you tell me, like a dream that comes back suddenly sometimes in the
afternoon. But it's all absolutely vague; you know, your saying it may have
made me think I remember it. That happens sometimes." "I'm glad you're
sceptical; now I can demand to offer proof." "It's strange; you don't know
how keen I am; you've thoroughly aroused my curiosity." "Then come here
tomorrow afternoon at 5, as soon as my model's gone. I'll have Hughes here;
you met him at Oxford that year; the blind boy, you know; he plays the flute
better than ever. And bring the stone. I needn't tell you to be careful; come
in a car all the way." "So I will. And now: valedo I pronounce it right?"
and she laughed her way into the street.
On her return to the house Cotys found a letter from Fortescue. It was long,
and curiously devotional; it made her rather ashamed; she had been neglecting
the offices of religion in her preoccupation with the details of businessthe
care of great estates thus suddenly thrust on her. She tried to make up for
lost time, but her thoughts kept wandering to the stone of Cybele. Presently
she had an overmastering impulse to take out the stone and handle it, to find
out whether it were truth or imagination or coincidence, the heat, the
giddiness, the half-seen vision. Her feet carried her to the library door,
but her hand refused to open it. The inhibition was absolute. She stayed
there several minutes, incapable of action; then, impatient and disgusted at
her own vacillation, went determinedly to her bedroom, took her hat, and,
summoning her maid, went out into the Champs-Elysees. Half-an-hour's brisk
walk quieted her nerves; she went home, and slept like a child.
The next day she was at the studio with the stone. She had not removed it
from the casket in which it reposed. Claude and Hughes were waiting for her.
They were clad in the costumes of pagan priests of Rome; she had half
expected something of the sort. "Cotys, you know Marsyas," was all her cousin
said. "I am going to be brusque; this is family business. Please sit on this
stool." He indicated one with three legs. In front of it was a square tray,
full of earth. "I want you to do one rather strange thing," he said; "please
take off your shoes and stockings, and put your bare feet on this soil. It
comes from Rome, from the very spot where the Temple of Victory once stood."
She made a little moue, decided that there was no harm in it with her cousin
and a blind man, complied. "Put your right hand on this tree!" he went on.
It was a very young pine, the trunk swathed in wool, and decked with wreaths
of violets; on the stem, about half-way up, the figure of a youth, one of
Claude's own sculptures in wood, was bound by silken cords. "What is your
Christian name?" asked the sculptor. "Cotys," answered the girl; then
hesitatingly added, "well, I'm afraid that isn't a Christian name; it's
pagan!" "Then you have no Christian name?" "I suppose not." "Very good; here
is the stone. Take your hand from the tree; hold the stone in both hands, and
kiss it." "I don't know why I'm doing this; it's silly and unnatural, and yet
it's all familiar." "Familiar is the mot juste," said Hughes, who had till
then been silent; "it is in the family, in the blood of the Flacci!" Cotys
raised the stone to her lips. "Splendid," cried Claude after a moment, "she
has kissed it eleven times. Already she remembers!" "The stone is hot," said
Cotys, "but it will not burn me. I am fire of fire." Claude instantly placed
a wreath of ivy on her head. She did not seem to notice it. "My lions are
slow," she muttered; "they have slept too long." Suddenly she changed her
tone, became abrupt, imperious, angry. "You are no priests of mine!" she
cried; "have I no priest on earth? Open my sanctuary!" Claude shook his head.
"I am the high priest of Dionysus," was his answer. "I am the high priest of
Apollo," said Hughes. Cotys rose, with a fierce and determined look upon her
face. "I am the priestess of Cybele," she said; "and I will open her shrine
and reinstate the sacred stone!" She went down upon her knees, and placed the
stone upon the earth. Then with sudden and utterly virginal ardour, she
stripped off her dress, keeping only the long scarf of silk, purple and
sap-green with its embroidery of dull gold, that she had worn over her
shoulders. This she wrapped about her body, dipped, took up the
stone"Phallophore!" she cried with a spasm that shook her whole body.
Something seemed to have been let loose in her at the word. Claude took up
the pine-shaft, began to move toward the bronze gates. Marsyas began to play
upon his flute, a low melody, with strange hesitations and dashes, quickening
as it moved. To this danced Cotys, always decorous, always self-contained.
Claude did not move in a straight line. He traced a complex pattern on the
floor. It was a quarter of an hour before he reached the gates. Cotys was
quivering in every limb. "Open the gates!" she gasped. Then Claude lifted his
voice; in resounding Greek he cried aloud, "Lift up your heads, o ye gates,
and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the Queen of Glory shall come
Hughes now pulled back the gates; Cotys entered, and flung herself before the
altar which she found there, placing the sacred stone of Cybele in its
centre. She began to intone strange words in a strange tongue. Her speech was
thick and hissing, charged with lightnings, like the flashes of the head of
a poisonous snake. She rose; she began to dance, no more in stately
reverence, but wildly and indecently. The flute of Marsyas gave the measure;
her cousin struck bronze cymbals, and beat upon a kettledrum. Suddenly she
fell upon her back, her arms stretched out, even as one lies dead. The breath
choked in her throat, then seemed to stop. The music ceased. Claude and his
friend went to the altar; all was silence, all rapt intensity.
Cotys came to herself. She had forgotten everything. When she saw where she
was lying, she thought it was a dream.
The room was small; the altar was a cube supported by four lions rampant. It
was enshrined within a canopy of bronze. Behind it, ruddily gilded, was a
great square with a circle inscribed in it; within the circle, the `man of
Vitruvius', that figure which is called the measure of heaven and earth.
Bending over this, and holding it, were two gigantic goddess-figures wrought
into attitudes the simplicity of whose obscenity was so chaste that Cotys
failed to understand; she only felt the horror. The full tide of the reaction
had set in; she knew that she had been insane, that some far taint in her
blood had mastered her. She looked at the two men with shrinking horror.
Claude looked steadily at her. "Priestess of Cybele," said he, "what
Cotys revolted violently. She sprang to her feet, unsteadily enough. She
appealed to her religion; she made the sign of the cross. It only traced the
figure of the `man of Vitruvius'! "Our Father which art in heaven," she
began, despairing. Again she saw the `man of Vitruvius'; and, in her
hysterical state, thought that he took the phrase to himself, and smiled at
her. She saw that every modern thought was only a copy of some ancient
thought, and she knew herself vowed in her blood to the old gods. "I am
lost," she said quite quietly, "I am Cybele's. Bring me the knife; bring me
the wine." Claude took a gilded silver bowl wide and flat from the
outstretched hand of one of the bronze goddesses; from the other a dagger.
"We do not know," said he,"and I ask pardon of the gods, and pray
enlightenmentwe do not know what was the wine of Cybele; this wine must
serve." It was a clear white liquid that he poured into the bowl, and it
trembled and simmered internally as if it were alive. In its limpidity the
nymphs and satyrs that he had chased upon it seemed to renew their pictured
orgies of drunkenness and lust. Cotys took the dagger, and the wrists of the
two men. She cut her own arm and then theirs, holding their hands so that the
three rivulets of blood were confluent to one. Then she took the ivy from her
brows, and dipped it thrice. She took a leaf and put it in each mouth; then
placed her hands on the two heads, and the three bowed themselves above the
surface of the liquor. She caught her breath, choking; the fumes were
suffocating. She set her teeth upon the ivy, and persisted; presently the
great change began. She grew rosy and brilliant; the whole temple seemed
alive with unearthly beauty; she began to sob in her excitement; stronger and
deeper grew her breath as she inhaled the ether. Soon all three were lying
prone, their faces pressed close to the surface of the liquor of Cybele,
sucking the vapour by great draughts into their lungs with open mouth, their
fingers clenched, their veins boiling with the madness of that supreme
The world was blotted out for her; she knew Nothingness, a vast blind space,
spangled with a few points of brilliant light. She drew the vapour fiercely
through her throat; the rare stars blazed, blasted the blackness out of
being. Raving with the splendour and ecstasy of it, she saw suddenly that she
must go mad, that it was not for mortals to endure such brilliance. She cried
out on Cybele "Let that be which must be!" Instantly a new passion smote her:
what new rite was owed to the infernal, the inexorable goddess? What hideous
parody of the most sacred and mysterious doctrine of the Christian faith was
enacted in that temple of abominations?
Quem si puellarum insereres choro
Mire sagaceis falleret hospites:
Discrimen obscurum, solutis
Crinibus, ambiguoque vultu.
It is an extraordinary circumstance that the human brain is not impatient of
contradiction. It is capable of carrying on two mutually exclusive trains of
thought, and acting on each, without the slightest suspicion that anything
is wrong with its unity. Each one of us, save the rarestand it must be
confessed, the most impracticalminds, admits of compromise somewhere,
automatically, and when warning is given, the Will as often as not refuses
to discuss the subject. Hence we have contradictions in terms flourishing
gaily without any suspicion of their inherent oxymoron, as for example
Christian Socialism. People claim to believe in destiny, and yet take pains
to decide between divers courses of action; others say that faith moves
mountains, but never think of trying to remove so much as a grain of dust in
the eye by so evidently economical and painless a method. Again, we make
vital changes in our lives, and it takes us years to realize the bearings of
them; and as that great philosopher, Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, has said
"Do any of us understand what we are doing? If we did, would we ever do it?"
Cotys, priestess of Cybele, never thought of interfering with the plans of
Miss Flack of Polpenning; and Miss Flack did not realize that her initiation
into paganism meant more to her than taking up golf might have done. It was
because the violation had been so deep that it showed no wave upon the
surface. But the Hon. and Rev. Joseph Randolph Fortescue saw in her third
letter that something had happened; a fortnight later he became seriously
alarmed. He sent a telegram asking if anything was the matter. Cotys replied
kindly and simply, or so she meant it; but the vicar's suspicions were only
the more violently aroused. The double personality created in Cotys by her
initiation was beginning to show signs of interfiltration. Fortescue was a
man of action; he left his cure to his subordinate, and came over to Paris.
Without warning he called at the house in the rue de Ponthieu. Cotys was at
home; she was just dressing to go to the studio, as she did daily. The stone
of Cybele, the fascination of the ether, the delirium of the savage rites,
the personality of Claude, forceful and hideous, and that of Marsyas,
pathetic and perverse, drew her exultant to their vortex.
Yet when her betrothed was announced, she forgot everything. She was the
maiden of two months ago as she ran into the drawing-room. "Oh Randolph, how
perfectly top-hole of you to come over. I've been dying to see you!"
Fortescue had risen and gone towards her; as she came near he suddenly drew
back. "My dear girl, whatever have you been doing?" "I? Nothing. What's
wrong?" "Why, you've smothered yourself in musk!" "I certainly have not. How
can you say such a thing?" She was perfectly sincere. "My mistake; forgive
me!" answered Randolph, as he took her in his arms. She let herself go in his
embrace; she began to kiss him eagerly. "There, sit down," she said a moment
later, "and tell me all the news!" The vicar began to retail the doings of
the village; Cotys stopped him. "Randolph! what's the matter with your face?"
"Why, nothing! it's imagination, like that horrible smell of musk!" he
laughed. But he went over to the mirror; she followed, her face ashen with
horror. For the clear strong lines of the virile countenance were gone; the
healthy pallor gone; instead, the whole skin was loose and red and bloated;
horrible pimples with angry heads sprouted from it like fungi; the lips were
full and puffed; they began to crack and blacken before their very eyes. "My
God!" cried he. Her mind worked quickly. "The best doctor in Paris lives two
doors down," she gasped; "this is his hour; come, run!" She took his arm; in
three minutes they were in the waiting-room.
The doctor came from his study. "Hullo!" said he, "what's this?" But at that
moment the man choked and died, even as the swelling burst the skin; the
flesh had putrefied completely. Another half-minute, and the bones themselves
yielded to the quintessence of corruption that had devoured them. The doctor
had taken Cotys by the arm, and hurried her from the room.
She could not even think; in the fresh air she began to act, but
automatically. She signalled a taxicab, and bade the man drive to the studio
on the Butte Montmartre.
Claude was there with a model. "Send her away!" she cried, stamping with
impatience while the girl dressed and went, in answer to his nod. The door
closed; Cotys flung herself on the grey fur of the divan, took Claude's head
in her hands, and poured out her story. Claude listened, his satanic smile
thrilling his every limb. "You didn't know about the musk," he said when she
had done. "That is the sign of a priestess of Cybele. When you become that,
your body begins to secrete that subtle essence of desire. And as for
Fortescue, the ivy of Cybele is poison ivy! The priestess of Cybele is
inviolate; if a baptised Christian touch her withthat kind of touchhe dies
as you have seen. That is, unless he has renounced his baptism." Here he took
Cotys in his arms. Sternly he said to her, every word staccato and tingling
with most general hate, "And I want you to do it. I want you to find these
men and rot their bones, my branch of poison ivy. I want you to be Cotys of
the Flacci, and avenge the old gods on the new." She began to breathe heavily
with the mad excitement of murder-lust; her fearful power made her insane
with pride. She went to the great gates, and cried "Open, it is I, Cotys of
the Flacci, priestess of Cybele!" Claude opened the doors; they sank down
before the altar, their nostrils greedily drinking up the ether of the gilded
It was the second summer of the revival of the worship of Cybele. No longer
was the scene of the revels sacred to those Four Eyes under which the
initiation of Cotys had been made. Artist friends of Claude, their models and
their mistresses, men and women of the fast society of Paris and London, had
joined the company. Cotys had used her house to entertain, as a focus for
gathering men and women into the shrine. Already branches were spreading all
over the world. A Russian Grand Duke had desecrated the chapel of his palace
at Moscow to dedicate it to Dionysus. Germany had taken up the old worship
enthusiastically; Walpurgis Night had come again. Certain professors had been
of great assistance here; they had shown how all the quaint old customs of
Christianity were of Pagan origin, and by simply making the people conscious
of what they had always been doing, had turned their hearts without an
effort. In London various pagan rites had been instituted under the thin veil
of dramatic performances. All this was done stealthily enough; Claude and
Cotys hid their true purpose from all who could not be trusted absolutely.
But at headquarters deep and deadly work was going on. Hughes had brought in
a Cardinal from South Italy, and Cotys, whose brilliant physical and mental
appearance increased by an hundredfold by the extraordinary stimulus of her
enthusiasm, had not only fascinated him to slavery, but shown him how the one
hope for the Church lay in the gradual return to her true character. The
Cardinal had returned to Italy; he had talked over three of his colleagues,
and the General of the Jesuits was wavering. There were hopes of a Pagan Pope
before the century was over.
Into this fierce current of life came Regulus on his summer holidays from
Eton. The boy was tall and strong, already soldierly in bearing at 15 years.
Cotys brought him to the studio on his second day in Paris. His cousin's eyes
devoured him with delight, a strange light kindling in their depths. "Cotys,"
said he, "do you recognize why the stone slept for all those years? It was
because Cybele had no priest to guard it. None of the Flacci were capable of
the holy office. Only when you came the old fires flamed again. But this boy
shall be the Priest of Cybele, and so shall we establish the worship in the
family. For he is the first born male of the main line; him must we
consecrate." Neither of his hearers fully understood the implication; but
pride and enthusiasm lit their faces. The boy had been prepared by his sister
for something wonderful, and his gay adventurous spirit leaped to meet it.
There and then they put him through the preliminary ceremony of the
renunciation of his baptism, necessary because his second name was Paul,
making him walk through the flames of ether, consecrated by a leaf from the
ivy crown of Cotys. Then, as was their custom with a neophyte, the priestess
made him join in libations of ether, and put him to the appalling test of
apostacy. The ceremony had been successful; Regulus was pagan.
Nine days later the rite of his initiation was to take place; a new rite,
devised by Claude in arduous nights. Fifteen men and women of the inner
circle had been invited to attend; for this rite could not be openly
proclaimed. Its existence must be guarded with every precaution that the
infernal ingenuity of the celebrants could devise.
First, in solemn silence, the priestess of Cybele came forth from the shrine.
She was heavily veiled from head to foot, and a lion-skin hung from her slim
shoulders. Taking a drum and a cymbal from two attendants, she gave him to
eat from the one and to drink from the other. Then she took his head between
her hands, and cried: "I consecrate thee to the service of the Mother of the
Gods." At that she dropped her veils and raised her brother from his knees.
Her part was over; Claude had not told her what was to follow, except in
vague terms, that the boy was to be initiated into the sacred dance, and led
before the altar. Now the music began; everyone had drum or flute or horn or
cymbal, and, one calling to another in this mad music, they surrounded the
novice and began to dance. At first he stood bewildered; then the madness
found his feet, and he began to leap and cry like a wild thing. Presently
Hughes, who had slipped out of the throng when the dance beganhis blindness
forbade him to join in that part of the ceremoniesopened the shrine. With
wolfish glee the intoxicated company rushed into the sacred place, crying
aloud like wild beasts. On the altar lay a heap of small sharp knives. The
infuriated worshippers scrambled for these, gashing themselves and each other
in their frenzy. The boy saw red. He too picked up a knife. Claude motioned
back the other worshippers; Regulus was left alone before the altar, facing
Cotys, who was reaching her knotted hands to heaven in a strained and
passionate ecstasy, as though she would drag down the goddess herself from
heaven. Claude began a fierce incantation in Greek; his strong voice rolled
above the rage of the barbaric music. Every now and then leapt the chorus:
SEE COPY - GREEK!
"I will bring thee the offspring of a white goat before the altar." As the
words became familiar by the constant repetition, men and women caught them
up. Regulus, his face flashing, his limbs aching and sweating with the dance,
whose fatigue he did not feel in his excitement, howled out the chorus,
heedless of time, gashing his breast and arms now and again with the
red-running knife. His eyes were fixed in awe and wonder on the stone of
Cybele, drawn to it as a bird to a snake, seeming to communicate occultly
with it, soul to soul. Suddenly his eyes illumined; they grew wilder and
wider and more desperately fixed; his mouth opened in the square of tragedy,
and a long hoarse scream inarticulate burst from his throat. He became still,
rigid; on tiptoe he gazed at the stone of Cybele, his arms raised, seeing
some appalling sight, the scream one harsh and acrid monotone. With a gesture
Claude hushed the cymbals. Even Cotys heard; she dropped her arms, and gazed
upon the altar and her brother, bewildered. She became aware of the imminence
of some climax. The boy's mouth closed, his head drooped; it was as if some
fearful struggle ended in submission. He said in a very slow even voice,
deliberately and religiously: SEE COPY, GREEK!
Instantly his enthusiasm returned; the drums and cymbals clashed and boomed;
the horns blared out, the flutes shrieked passionately; with one shout of
triumph the boy leapt high into the air; when he touched earth again he had
consummated the ineffable sacrifice that made him priest, and flung the
ghastly trophies upon the sacred stone. The deafening music of the dance
redoubled in delirium. Cotys saw herself for a moment, the Cornish heiress,
the delicately-bred English lady; and here she stood; the Roman blood in her
had brought her to this pass. She stood, a Pagan Priestess, witness of the
most tragic and abominable rite of all antiquity. And the victim was her own
brother, that lay there bleeding on the ground, his white face turned to
heaven, with his eyes rolled up so that nothing showed but bloodshot whites.
She staggered and fell; her arms automatically grasped the altar; her
forehead sank upon the sacred stone, wet with her brother's blood. When she
came to herself the dance was over. The reaction had set in. Everyone was
preternaturally quiet and self-possessed, pallid as death, the very breath
subconsciously suppressed. Claude was bidding them farewell. "Dr. Howard and
I will look after the Priest of Cybele," he said. "In a month he shall first
minister in public to the Mother of the Gods." Cotys rose to her full height.
"O priest of Dionysus, hearken! and come hither!" Claude, who was bending
over Regulus, helping the doctor to place the bandages, came to her. She put
an arm about his neck. "I take this man to be my husband," she said quietly
and firmly, "and I here offer to the goddess our first-born son to be priest
of Cybele, that the rite be established in the Flacci, the guardians of the
sacred stone, from generation unto generation, until the Fates weary of
spinning on the Loom of Time, and drop the silk from nerveless hands into the
abyss that lies beyond the stars. Konx Om Pax." With these words, that for
uncounted centuries had closed the greater mysteries, she ceased.
A few weeks later she was married to Claude at the Madeleine by the apostate
Cardinal, who by subtle modifications of gesture and of emphasis and
intonation, imperceptible save to the initiated, had restored the ceremony
to a thin veil of the old rite at which girls sang:
Thus was restored the secret worship of the ancient goddess, re-established
in the world; and thus was restored the glory of the house of Flaccus.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank