ACROSS THE GULF CHAPTER V Now then the great exhaustion took hold upon me, and I fell at t

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ACROSS THE GULF CHAPTER V 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 the Gods. 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 consecration. 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 Osiris. 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 demon-shapes.... 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. CHAPTER VI 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 answered him: "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 nine-and-ninety times. 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 my life!" 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 -- CHAPTER VII 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 smoked. 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 ecstasy. 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 the winds! 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 bruised. 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.

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