ACROSS THE GULF CHAPTER V Now then the great exhaustion took hold upon me, and I fell at t
ACROSS THE GULF
Now then the great exhaustion took hold upon me, and I fell at the feet
of the Osiris as one dead. All knowledge of terrestrial things was gone
from me; I entered the kingdom of the dead by the gate of the West. For
the worship of Osiris is to join the earth to the West; it is the
cultus of the Setting Sun. Through Isis man obtains strength of nature;
through Osiris he obtains the strength of suffering and ordeal, and as
the trained athlete is superior to the savage, so is the magic of
Osiris stronger than the magic of Isis. So by my secret practices at
night, while my guardians strove to smooth my spirit to a girl's, had
I found the power to bring about that tremendous event, an Equinox of
Just as thousands of years later was my secret revolt against Osiris
-- for the world had suffered long enough! -- destined to bring about
another Equinox in which Horus was to replace the Slain One with his
youth and vigour and victory.
I passed therefore into these glowing abodes of Amennti, clad in
thick darkness, while my body lay entranced at the feet of the Osiris
in the ruined temple.
Now the god Osiris sent forth his strange gloom to cover us, lest the
people should perceive or disturb; Therefore I lay peacefully
entranced, and abode in Amennti. There I confronted the devouring
god, and there was my heart weighed and found perfect; there the two-
and-forty Judges bade me pass through the pylons they guarded; there I
spoke with the Seven, and with the Nine, and with the Thirty-Three;
and at the end I came out into the abode of the Holy Hathor, unto her
mystical mountain, and being there crowned and garlanded I rejoiced
exceedingly, coming out through the gate of the East, the Beautiful
gate, unto the Land of Khemi, and the city of Thebai, and the temple
that had been the temple of the Veiled One. There I rejoined my body,
making the magical links in the prescribed manner, and rose up and did
adoration to the Osiris by the fourfold sign. Therefore the Light of
Osiris began to dawn; it went about the city whirling forth,
abounding, crying aloud; whereat the people worshipped, being abased
with exceeding fear. Moreover, they hearkened unto their wise men and
brought gifts of gold, so that the temple floor was heaped high; and
gifts of oxen, so that the courts of the temple could not contain
them: and gifts of slaves, as it were a mighty army.
Then I withdrew myself; and taking counsel with the wisest of the
priests and of the architects and of the sculptors, I gave out my
orders so that the temple might duly be builded. By the favour of the
god all things went smoothly enough; yet was I conscious of some error
in the working; or if you will, some weakness in myself and my desire.
Look you, I could not forget the Veiled One, my days of silence and
solitude with Her, the slow dawn of our splendid passion, the climax
of all that wonder in her ruin!
So as the day approached for the consecration of the temple I began to
dread some great catastrophe. Yet all went well -- perhaps too well.
The priests and the people knew nothing of this, however. For the
god manifested exceptional favour; as a new god must do, or how shall
he establish his position? The harvest were fourfold, the cattle
eightfold; the women were all fertile -- yea! barren women of sixty
years bore twins! -- there was no disease or sorrow in the city.
Mighty was the concourse of the citizens on the great day of the
Splendid rose the temple, a fortress of black granite. The columns
were carved with wonderful images of all the gods adoring Osiris;
marvels of painting glittered on the walls; they told the story of
Osiris, of his birth, his life, his death at the hands of Typhon, the
search after his scattered members, the birth of Horus and
Harpocrates, the vengeance upon Typhon Seth, the resurrection of
The god himself was seated in a throne set back unto the wall. It was
of lapis-lazuli and amber, it was inlaid with emerald and ruby.
Mirrors of polished gold, of gold burnished with dried poison of asps,
so that the slaves who worked upon it might die. For, it being
unlawful for those mirrors to have ever reflected any mortal
countenance, the slaves were both blinded and veiled; yet even so, it
were best that they should die.
At last the ceremony began. With splendid words, with words that
shone like flames, did I consecrate all that were there present, even
the whole city of Thebai.
And I made the salutation unto the attendant gods, very forcibly, so
that they responded with echoes of my adoration. And Osiris accepted
mine adoration with gladness as I journeyed about at the four quarters
of the temple.
Now cometh the mysterious ceremony of Assumption. I took upon myself
the form of the god: I strove to put my heart in harmony with his.
Alas! alas! I was in tune with the dead soul of Isis; my heart was
as a flame of elemental lust and beauty; I could not -- I could not.
Then the heavens lowered and black clouds gathered upon the
Firmament of Nu. Dark flames of lightning rent the clouds, giving no
light. The thunder roared; the people were afraid. In his dark
shrine the Osiris gloomed, displeasure on his forehead, insulted
majesty in his eyes. Then a pillar of dust whirled down from the
vault of heaven, even unto me as I stood alone, half-defiant, in the
midst of the temple while the priests and the people cowered and
wailed afar off. It rent the massy roof as it had been a thatch of
straw, whirling the blocks of granite far away into the Nile. It
descended, roaring and twisting, like a wounded serpent demon-king in
his death-agony; it struck me and lifted me from the temple; it bore
me through leagues of air into the desert; then it dissolved and flung
me contemptuously on a hill of sand. Breathless and dazed I lay,
anger and anguish tearing at my heart. I rose to swear a mighty curse;
exhaustion took me, and I fell in a swoon to the earth.
When I came to myself it was nigh dawn. I went to the top of the
hillock and looked about me. Nothing but sand, sand all ways. Just
so was it within my heart!
The only guide for my steps (as the sun rose) was a greener glimpse in
the East, which I thought might be the valley of the Nile reflected.
Thither I bent my steps: all day I struggled with the scorching heat,
the shifting sand.
At night I tried to sleep, for sheer fatigue impelled me. But as
often as I lay down, so often restlessness impelled me forward. I
would stagger on awhile, then stumble and fall. Only at dawn I slept
perhaps for an hour, and woke chilled to death by my own sweat. I was
so weak that I could hardly raise a hand; my tongue was swollen, so
that I could not greet the sun-disk with the accustomed adoration. My
brain had slipped control; I could not longer even think of the
proper spells that might have brought me aid. Instead, dreadful
shapes drew near; one, a hideous camel-demon, an obscene brute of
filth; another, a black ape with a blue muzzle and crimson buttocks,
all his skin hairless and scabby, with his mass of mane oiled and
trimmed like a beautiful courtesans. This fellow mocked me with the
alluring gestures of such an one, and anon voided his excrement upon
me. Moreover there were others, menacing and terrible, vast cloudy
I could not think of the words of power that control them.
Now the sun that warmed my chill bones yet scorched me further. My
tongue so swelled that I could hardly breathe; my face blackened; my
eyes bulged out. The fiends came closer; drew strength from my
weakness, made themselves material bodies, twitched me and spiked me
and bit me. I turned on them and struck feebly again and again; but
they evaded me easily and their yelling laughter rang like bells in
my ears. Howbeit I saw that they attacked me only on one side, as if
to force me to one path. But I was wise enough to keep my shadow
steadily behind me: and they, seeing this, were all the more enraged:
I therefore the more obstinate in my course. Then they changed their
tactics; and made as if to keep me in the course I had chosen; and
seeing this, I was confirmed therein.
Truly with the gods I went! For in a little while I came to a pool of
water and a tall palm standing by.
I plunder in that cool wave; my strength came back, albeit slowly;
yet with one wave of my hand in the due gesture the fiends all
vanished; and in an hour I was sufficiently restored to call forth my
friends from the pool -- the little fishes my playmates -- and the
nymph of the pool came forth and bowed herself before me and cooked me
the fishes with that fire that renders water luminous and sparkling.
Also she plucked me dates from the tree, and I ate thereof. Thus was
I much comforted; and when I had eaten, she took my head upon her lap,
and sang me to sleep; for her voice was like the ripple of the lakes
under the wind of spring and like the bubbling of a well and like the
tinkling of a fountain through a bed of moss. Also she had deep notes
like the sea that booms upon a rocky shore.
So long, long, long I slept.
Now when I awoke the nymph had gone; but I took from my bosom a little
casket of certain sacred herbs; and casting a few grains into the
pool, repaid her for her courtesy. And I blessed her in the name of
our dead lady Isis, and went on in the strength of that delicious meal
for a great way. Yet I wist not what to do; for I was as it were a
dead man, although my age was barely two and twenty years.
What indeed should befall me?
Yet I went on; and, climbing a ridge, beheld at last the broad Nile,
and a shining city that I knew not.
There on the ridge I stood and gave thanks to the great gods of Heaven,
the Aeons of infinite years, that I had come thus far. For at the
sight of Nilus new life began to dawn in me.
Without any long delay I descended the slopes and entered the city.
Not knowing what might have taken place in Thebai and what news might
have come thither, I did not dare declare myself; but seeking out the
High Priest of Horus I showed him a certain sign, telling him that I
was come from Memphis on a journey, and intended to visit Thebai to
pay homage at the shrine of Isis.
But he, full of the news, told me that the ancient priestess of Isis,
who had become priest of Osiris, had been taken up to heaven as a sign
of the signal favour of the God. Where at I could hardly hold myself
from laughter; yet I controlled myself and answered that I was not
prepared to return to Memphis, for that I was vowed to Isis, and
Osiris could not serve my turn.
At this he begged me to stay as his guest, and to go worship at the
temple of Isis in this city. I agreed thereto, and the good man gave
me new robes and jewels from the treasury of his own temple. There
too I rested sweetly on soft cushions fanned by young boys with broad
leaves of palm. Also he sent me the dancing girl of Sleep. It was
the art of this girl to weave such subtle movements that the sense,
watching her, swooned; and as she swayed she sang, ever lower and
lower as she moved slower and slower, until the looker-listener was
dissolved in bliss of sleep and delicate dream.
Then as he slept she would bend over him even as Nuit the Lady of the
Stars that bendeth over the black earth, and in his ears she would
whisper strange rhythms, secret utterances, whereby his spirit would
be rapt into the realms of Hathor or some other golden goddess, there
in one night to reap an harvest of refreshment such as the fields of
mortal sleep yield never.
So then I woke at dawn, to find her still watching, still looking into
my eyes with a tender smile on her mouth that cooed whispers
infinitely soothing. Indeed with a soft kiss she waked me, for in this
Art there is aright moment to sleep, and another to waken: which she
was well skilled to divine.
I rose then -- she flitted away like a bird -- and robed myself; and,
seeking my host, went forth with him to the Temple of Isis.
Now their ritual (it appeared) differed in one point from that to
which I was accustomed. Thus, it was not death to intrude upon the
ceremony save only for the profane. Priests of a certain rank of
initiation might if they pleased behold it. I, therefore, wishing to
see again that marvellous glowing of the Veil, disclosed a sufficient
sign to the High Priest. Thereat was he mightily amazed; and, from
the foot judging Hercules, began to think that I might be some sacred
envoy to inspector from the Gods themselves. This I allowed him to
think; meanwhile we went forward into the shrines and stood behind the
pillars, unseen, in the prescribed position.
Now it chanced that the High Priestess herself had this day chosen to
perform the rite.
This was a woman tall and black, most majestic, with limbs strong as
a man's. Her gaze was hawk-keen, and her brow commanding. But at the
Assumption of the God-form she went close and whispered into the Veil,
so low that we could not hear it; but as it seemed with fierce
intensity, with some passion that knotted up her muscles, so that her
arms writhed like wounded snakes. Also the veins of her forehead
swelled, and foam came to her lips. We thought that she had died; her
body swelled and shuddered; last of all a terrible cry burst from her
throat, inarticulate, awful.
Yet all this while the Veil glittered, though something sombrely.
Also the air was filled with a wild sweeping music, which rent our
very ears with its uncouth magic. For it was like no music that I had
ever heard before. At last the Priestess tore herself away from the
Veil and reeled -- as one drunken -- down the temple. Sighs and sobs
tore her breast; and her nails made bloody grooves in her wet flanks.
On a sudden she espied me and my companion; with one buffet she smote
him to earth -- it is unlawful to resist the Priestess when she is in
the Ecstasy of Union -- and falling upon me, like a wild beast she
buried her teeth in my neck, bearing me to the ground. Then, loosing
me, while the blood streamed from me, she fixed her glittering eyes
upon it with strange joy, and with her hands she shook me as a lion
shakes a buck. Sinewy were her hands, with big knuckles, and the
strength of her was as cords of iron. Yet her might was but a
mortal's; in a little she gave one gasp like a drowning man's; her
body slackened, and fell with its dead weight on mine, her mouth
glued to mine in one dreadful kiss. Dreadful; for as my mouth
returned it, almost mechanically, the blood gushed from her nostrils
and blinded me. I too, then, more dead that alive, swooned into
bliss, into trance. I was awakened by the High Priest of Horus.
"Come," he said; "she is dead." I disengaged myself from all that
weight of madness -- and the body writhed convulsively as I turned it
over -- I kissed those frothy lips, for in death she was beautiful
beyond belief, joyous beyond description -- thence I staggered to the
Veil, and saluted with all my strength, so that it glittered under the
force of my sheer will. Then I turned me again, and with the High
Priest sought his house.
Strange indeed was I as I went through the city, my new robes dark
with blood of that most holy sorceress.
But no one of the people dared so much as lift his eyes; nor spoke we
together at all. But when we were come into the house of the High
Priest, sternly did he confront me.
"What is this, my son?"
And I weary of the folly of the world and of the uselessness of things
"Father, I go back to Memphis. I am the Magus of the Well."
Now he knew the Magus, and answered me:
"Why liest thou?"
And I said "I am come into the world where all speech is false, and
all speech is true."
Then he did me reverence, abasing himself unto the ground even unto
And I spurned him and said, "Bring forth the dancing girl of Sleep;
for in the morning I will away to Memphis."
And she came forth, and I cursed her and cried: "Be thou the dancing
girl of Love!"
And it was so. And I went in unto her, and knew her; and in the
morning I girded myself, and boarded the state barge of the High
Priest, and pillowed myself upon gold and purple, and disported
myself with lutes and with lyres and with parrots, and with black
slaves, and with wine and with delicious fruits, until I came even
unto the holy city of Memphis.
And there I called soldiers of Pharaoh, and put cruelly to death all
them that had accompanied me; and I burnt the barge, adrift upon the
Nile at sunset, so that the flames alarmed the foolish citizens. All
this I did, and danced naked in my madness through the city, until I
came to the Old Magus of the Well.
And laughing, I threw a stone upon him, crying: "Ree me the riddle of
And he answered naught.
Then I threw a great rock upon him, and I heard his bones crunch, and I
cried in mockery: "Ree me the riddle of thy life!"
But he answered naught.
Then I threw down the wall of the well; and I burned the house with
fire that stood thereby, with the men-servants and the maid-servants.
And none dared stay me; for I laughed and exulted in my madness. Yea,
verily, I laughed, and laughed -- and laughed --
Then being healed of my madness I took all the treasure of that old
Magus which he had laid up for many years -- and none gainsaid me.
Great and splendid was it of gold more than twelve bullocks could
draw, of balassius rubies, and sardonyx, and beryl, and chrysoprase;
of diamond and starry sapphire, of emerald much, very much, of topaz
and of amethyst great and wonderful gems. Also he had a figure of
Nuit greater than a woman, which was made of lapis lazuli specked
with gold, carved with marvellous excellence. And he had the secret
gem of Hadit that is not found on earth, for that it is invisible
save when all else is no more seen.
Then went I into the market and bought slaves. I bought me in
particular a giant, a Nubian blacker than polished granite seen by
starlight, tall as a young palm and straight, yet more hideous than
the Ape of Thoth. Also I bought a young pale stripling from the
North, a silly boy with idle languishing ways. But his mouth burned
like sunset when the dust-storms blow. So pale an weak was he that
all despised him and mocked him for a girl. Then he took a white-hot
iron from the fire and wrote with it my name in hieroglyphics on his
breast; nor did his smile once alter while the flesh hissed and
Thus we went out a great caravan to a rocky islet in the Nile,
difficult of access for that the waters foamed and swirled
dangerously about it. There we builded a little temple shaped like a
beehive; but there was no altar and no shrine therein; for in that
temple should the god be sacrificed unto himself.
Myself I made the god thereof; I powdered my hair with gold, and
inwound it with flowers. I gilded my eyelids, and I stained my lips
with vermilion. I gilded my breasts and my nails, and as God and
Victim in one was I daily sacrificed unto that strange thing that was
none other than myself. I made my giant Nubian high priest; and I
endowed his wand with magic power, so that he might properly perform
my rites. This he did to such purpose that many men from Memphis and
even from more distant towns, leaving their gods, came thither, and
did sacrifice. Then I appointed also the pale boy warder of the
Sanctuary: and he swore unto me to be faithful unto death.
Now there arose a great strife in Memphis, and many foolish and lewd
women cried out against us. So fierce was the uproar that a great
company of women issued forth from the city and came into the island.
They slew my pale boy at the gate, though sword in hand he fought
against them. Then they frothed on, and I confronted them in my
glory. They hesitated, and in that moment I smote them with a deadly
itching, so that running forth they tore off their clothes and set
themselves to scratching, while my people laughed until they ached.
At the term, indeed, with exhaustion and with loss of blood they died
all; four hundred and two women perished in that great day's
slaughter. So that the people of Memphis had peace for awhile.
But as for me, I mourned the loss of that young slave. I had his body
embalmed as is not fitting for other than a king. And at the door of
the temple I placed his sarcophagus beneath a hedge of knives and
spears, so that there was no other access to my glory.
Like honour hath no slave had ever.
Thus then I abode three cycles of the season; and at the end of that
time the high Priest died.
For mine was a strange and dreadful rite to do; none other, and none
unfortified by magic power, could have done this thing.
Yet I too sickened of that everlasting sacrifice. I was become worn
and wan; there was no blood but ice in my veins. I had indeed become
all but a god ...
Therefore I took the body of my Nubian, and slew four young girls,
and filled all the hollow spaces of his body with their blood. Then
too I sealed up his body with eight seals; and the ninth seal was
mine own, the centre of my godhead.
Then he rose slowly and staggeringly as I uttered the dreadful words:
A ka dua
Tuf ur biu
Bi aa chefu
Dudu ner af an nuteru!
Then I touched him with my wand and he rose into full power of his
being; and we entered in, and for the last time did he perform (though
silent) the ceremony. At whose end he lay shrivelled and collapsed,
shrunken like an old wineskin; yet his blood availed me nothing. I
was icier than before. Yet now indeed was I Osiris, for I sent out
flames of cold gray glory from my skin, and mine eyes were rigid with
Yea, by Osiris himself, I swear it! Even as the eyes of all living
men revolve ceaselessly, so were mine fixed!
Then I shook myself and went forth into the city of Memphis, my face
being veiled and my steps led by slaves.
And there I went into the temples one by one; and I twitched aside my
veil, whereat all men fell dead on the instant, and the gods tumbled
from their places, and broke in pieces upon the floor.
And I veiled myself, and went into the market-place and lifted up my
voice in a chant and cried:
Death, and desolation, and despair!
I lift up my voice, and all the gods are dumb.
I unveil my face, and all that liveth is no more,
I sniff up life, and breathe forth destruction.
I hear the music of the world, and its echo is Silence.
Death, and desolation, and despair!
The parting of the ways is come: the Equinox of the Gods is past.
Another day: another way.
Let them that hear me be abased before me!
Death, and desolation, and despair!
Then I pulled away my veil, and the cold lightnings of death shot
forth, and the people of the city fell dead where they stood.
Save only one, a young boy, a flute-player, that was blind, and,
seeing not those eyes of mine, died not.
Then to him I spake, saying:
"Arise, summon the priests and the people, all that remain. And let
them build a temple unto Osiris the God of the dead, and let the dead
be worshipped for ever and ever."
This I said, and went out from the city with the two slaves that I had
left in the gate, and we went unto Nile, unto a cave by the bank of
the river; and there I abode for many months, weeping for Isis my
Lady. For though I had avenged her in many dreadful deeds, yet I
brought her not back unto life. Moreover the lover of her was as it
were dead in me, so that my heart stirred not at the thought of her.
Say that my love wandered like a ghost unburied, frozen, adrift upon
Now of my deeds at this period it is almost too horrible to tell. For
I performed great penance, in the hope of vitalizing that dead
principle in me which men call the soul.
I starved myself shamefully, in this manner. First surrounding myself
with all possible luxuries of food, brought in steaming and savoury
from hour to hour, I yet condemned myself to subsist upon a little
garlic and a little salt, with a little water in which oats had been
Then if any wish arose in me to eat of the dainties around me I gashed
myself with a sharp stone.
Moreover I kindled a great fire in the cave so that the slaves
tumbled and fainted as they approached. And the smoke choked me so
that I constantly vomited a black and ill-smelling mucus from my
lungs, stained here and there with frothing blood.
Again, I suffered my hair to grow exceeding long, and therein I
harboured vermin. Also, when I lay down to sleep, though this I did
not till with swollen tongue and blackened throat I could no longer
howl the name of my dead Lady, then (I say) did I smear my limbs with
honey, that the rats of the cave might gnaw them as I slept.
Moreover, I pillowed mine head upon a corpse dead of leprosy, and
whenever that dead soul of mine stirred at all with love toward my
Lady, then I caressed and kissed that corpse, and sang soft songs to
it, playing with gracious words and gestures. All this spoke loudly
to my soul, rebuking it for its weakness and corruption. So too the
bitterness and foulness of my life would often overleap the limit of
sensibility; and then for hours together would I be lost in a raging
whirlwind of laughter. At this time my slaves would be afraid to
come anight me, and then darting out of the cave I would catch one by
the hair and dragging him within put him to exquisite torture. This
indeed was of great use to me; for I would devise atrocious things,
and if they served to excite his utmost anguish I would then try them
on myself. Thus I would run needles steeped in Nile mud beneath my
finger-nails, so that the sores festering might produce a sickening
agony. Or again I would cut strips of skin and tear them off; but
this filed, though it acted well enough upon the slave, for my own
skin had become too brittle. Then I would take a piece of hard wood,
and hammer it with a stone against the bones, hurting the membrane
that covers them, and causing it to swell. This too I had to abandon,
but the limb of the slave died, and he swelled up and rotted and
turned green, and in shocking agony he died.
So then I was compelled to cure myself magically, and this was a great
loss of force.
Yet was I "Far form the Happy Ones," although my lips hung on my
fleshless face like bean-pods withered and blackened, and although
there was not one inch of skin upon all my body that was not scarred.
Yet my trial was night its end. For the people of Memphis, wondering
at the frequent purchases of dead lepers made always by the same
slave, began, as is the wont of the ignorant, to spread foolish
rumours. At last they said openly "there is an holy hermit in the old
cave by Nile." The the barren women of the city came out stealthily
to me in the hope that by my sanctity their dry sticks might blossom.
But I showed them my dead leper, and said "Let me first beget children
upon this,and after I will do your business." This liked them not; yet
they left me not alone, for they went home and cried out that I was an
horror, a ghoul, a vampire.... And at that all the young and beautiful
women of the city, leaving their lovers and their husbands, flocked to
me, bringing gifts. But I took them to the dead leper and said, "When
you are beautiful as that is beautiful, and when I am weary of its
beauty and its delight, then will I do your pleasure."
Then they all raged vehemently against me, and stirred up the men of
the city to destroy me. And I, not being minded to display my magic
force, went by night (so soon as I heard of this) and took sanctuary
in the shrine of Osiris that I had caused them to build. And there I
attained felicity; for uniting my consciousness with the gods, I
obtained the expansion of that consciousness. Is not the kingdom of
the dead a mighty kingdom?
So I perceived the universe as it were a single point of infinite
nothingness yet of infinite extension; and becoming this universe, I
became dissolved utterly therein. Moreover, my body lifted itself up
and rose in the air to a great height beyond the shadow of the earth,
and the earth rolled beneath me; yet of all this I knew nothing, for
that I was all these things and none of them. Moreover I was united
with Isis the Mother of Osiris, being yet her brother and her lord.
Woe, woe to me! for all this was but partial and imperfect; nor did I
truly understand that which occurred.
Only this I knew, that I should return to my city of Thebai, and rule
therein as High Priest of Osiris, no longer striving to some end
unheard-of or impossible, but quietly and patiently living in the
enjoyment of my dignities and wealth, even as a man.
Yet one thing I saw also, that as Isis is the Lady of all Nature, the
living; and as Osiris is the Lord of the Dead, so should Horus come,
the Hawk-headed Lord, as a young child, the image of all Nature and
all Man raised above Life and Death, under the supreme rule of Hadit
that is Force and of Nuit that is Matter -- though they are a Matter
and a Force that transcend all our human conceptions of these things.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank