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CHAPTER XIV

 

AN INFORMATIVE DISCOURSE UPON THE OCCULT CHARACTER OF THE MOON, HER THREEFOLD NATURE, HER FOURFOLD PHASES, AND HER EIGHT-AND-TWENTY MANSIONS; WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE EVENTS THAT PRECEDED THE CLIMAX OF THE GREAT EXPERIMENT, BUT ESPECIALLY OF THE VISION OF ILIEL

 

     THE Ancients, whose wisdom is so much despised by those who have never studied it, but content themselves with a pretence of understanding modern science which deceives nobody, would have smiled to observe how often the "latest discoveries" are equivalent to some fancy of Aristotle, or some speculation of Heracleitus. The remoter Picay-universities of America, which teach farming or mining, with a little "useless" knowledge as a side-course, for show, are full of bumptious little professors who would not be allowed to sweep out a laboratory in London or Berlin. The ambition of such persons is to obtain an illustrated interview in a Sunday supplement, with a full account of their wonderful discoveries, which have revolutionized the art of sucking eggs. They are peculiarly severe upon back numbers like Charles Darwin. Their ignorance leads them to believe the bombast of democracy-flatterers, who scream weekly of Progress, and it really appears to them that anything more than six months old is out-of-date. They do not know that this is only true of loud-shouted mushroom rubbish such as they call truth. [185]

     The fundamental difference between ancient and modern science is not at all in the field of theory. Sir William Thomson was just as metaphysical as Pythagoras or Raymond Lully, and Lucretius quite as materialistic as Ernst Haeckel or Buchner.

     But we have devised means of accurate measurement which they had not, and in consequence of this our methods of classification are more quantitative than qualitative. The result has been to make much of their science unintelligible; we no longer know exactly what they meant by the four elements, or by the three active principles, sulphur, mercury, and salt. Some tradition has been preserved by societies of wise men, who, because of the persecutions, when to possess any other book than a missal might be construed as heresy, concealed themselves and whispered the old teaching one to another.

     The nineteenth century saw the overthrow of most of the old ecclesiastical tyranny, and in the beginning of the twentieth it was found once more possible to make public the knowledge. The wise men gathered together, discovered a student who was trustworthy and possessed of the requisite literary ability; and by him the old knowledge was revised and made secure; it was finally published in a sort of periodical encyclopedia (already almost impossible to find, such was the demand for it) entitled The Equinox.

     Now in the science of antiquity, much classification depended upon the planets. Those things which were hot and fiery in their nature, lions, and pepper, and fevers, were classed under the Sun or Jupiter or Mars; things swift and subtle under Mercury; things cold and heavy under Saturn, and so forth.

     Yet the principles of most of the planets appeared in varying proportions in almost everything; and the more equally these proportions were balanced and combined, the more complete was anything supposed to be, the nearer modelled on the divine perfection. Man himself was called a microcosm, a little universe, an image of the Creator. In him all the planets and elements had course, and even the Signs of the Zodiac were represented in his nature. The energy of the ram was in his head; the bull gave the laborious endurance to his shoulders; the lion represented the courage of his heart, and the fire of his temper; his knees, which help him to spring, are under the goat -- all works in, and is divided and subdivided in, beauty and harmony.

     In this curious language the moon signifies primarily all receptive things, because moonlight is only reflected sunlight. Hence "lunar" is almost a synonym of "feminine." Woman changes; all depends upon the influence of the man; and she is now fertile, now barren, according to her phase. But on each day of her course she passes through a certain section of the Zodiac; and according to the supposed nature of the stars beyond her was her influence in that phase, or, as they called it, mansion. It was in order to bring Iliel into harmony with every quality of the moon that her daily routine was ordered.

     But beyond such minuteness of detail is the grand character of the Moon, which is threefold. For she is Artemis or Diana, sister of the Sun, a shining Virgin Goddess; then Isis-initiatrix, who brings to man all light and purity, and is the link of his animal soul with his eternal self; and she is Persephone or Proserpine, a soul of double nature, living half upon earth and half in Hades, because, having eaten the pomegranate offered her by its lord, her mother could not bring her wholly back to earth; and thirdly, she is Hecate, a thing altogether of Hell, barren, hideous and malicious, the queen of death and evil witchcraft. [187]

     All these natures are combined in woman. Artemis is unassailable, a being fine and radiant; Hecate is the crone, the woman past all hope of motherhood, her soul black with envy and hatred of happier mortals; the woman in the fullness of life is the sublime Persephone, for whose sake Demeter cursed the fields that they brought forth no more corn, until Hades consented to restore her to earth for half the year. So this "moon" of the ancients has a true psychological meaning, as sound to-day as when the priest of Mithras slew the bull; she is the soul, not the eternal and undying sun of the true soul, but the animal soul which is a projection of it, and is subject to change and sorrow, to the play of all the forces of the universe, and whose "redemption" is the solution of the cosmic problem. For it is the seed of the woman that shall bruise the serpent's head; and this is done symbolically by every woman who wins to motherhood.

     Others may indeed be chaste unto Artemis, priestesses of a holy and ineffable rite; but with this exception, failure to attain the appointed goal brings them into the dark side of the moon, the cold and barren house of Hecate the accursed.

     It will be seen how wide is the range of these ideas, how sensitive is the formula of woman, that can touch such extremes, springing often from one to the other in a moment -- according to the nature of the influence then at work upon her.

     Cyril Grey had once said, speaking at a Woman's Suffrage Meeting:

     "Woman has no soul, only sex; no morals, only moods; her mind is mob-rule; therefore she, and she only, ought to Vote."

     He had sat down amid a storm of hisses; and received fourteen proposals of marriage within the next twenty-four hours. [188]

     Ever since the beginning of the second stage of the Great Experiment, Iliel had become deffinitely a Spirit of the Moon While Cyril was with her, she reflected him, she clung to him, she was one with him, Isis to his Osiris, sister as well as spouse; and every thought of her mind being but the harmonic of his, there was no possibility of any internal disturbance.

     But now she was torn suddenly from her support; she could not even speak to her man; and she discovered her own position as the mere centre of an Experiment.

     She knew now that she was not of scientific mind; that her aspirations to the Unknown had been fully satisfied by mere love; and that she would have been much happier in a commonplace cottage. It says much for the personality of Sister Clara, and the force of her invocations, that this first impulse never came to so much as a word. But the priestess of Artemis took hold of her almost with the violence of a lover, and whisked her away into a languid ecstasy of reverie. She communicated her own enthusiasm to the girl, and kept her mind occupied with dreams, faery-fervid, of uncharted seas of glory on which her galleon might sail, undiscovered countries of spice and sweetness, Eldorado and Utopia and the City of God.

     The hour of the rising of the moon was always celebrated by an invocation upon the terrace consecrated to that planet. A few minutes earlier Iliel rose and bathed, then dressed herself in the robes, and placed upon her head the crescent-shaped tiara, with its nine great moonstones. In this the younger girls took turns to assist her. When she was ready, she joined the other girl, and together they went down to the terrace, where Sister Clara would be ready to begin the invocations. [189]

     Of course, owing to the nature of the ceremony, it took place an hour later every day; and at first Iliel found a difficulty in accommodating herself to the ritual. The setting of the moon witnessed a second ceremony, directly from which she retired to her bed. It was part of the general theory of the operation thus to keep her concealed and recumbent for the greater part of the day; which, as has been seen, really lasted nearer 25 hours than 24.

     But with soft singing and music, or with the recital of slow voluptuous poetry, her natural disinclination to sleep was overcome, and she began to enjoy the delicious laziness of her existence, and to sleep the clock round without turning in her bed. She lived almost entirely upon milk, and cream, and cheese soft-curded and mild, with little crescent cakes made of rye with white of egg and cane sugar; as for meat, venison, as sacred to the huntress Artemis, was her only dish. But certain shell-fish were permitted, and all soft and succulent vegetables and fruits.

     She put on flesh rapidly; the fierce, active, impetuous girl of October, with taut muscles and dark-flushed mobile face, had become pale, heavy, languid, and indifferent to events, all before the beginning of February.

     And it was early in this month that she was encouraged by her first waking vision of the Moon. Naturally her sleep had already been haunted by this idea from the beginning; it could hardly have been otherwise with the inveterate persistence of the ceremonies. The three women always chanted a sacred sentence, Epelthon  Epelthon  Artemis[1] continuously for an hour after her couching; and then one of them went on while the others slept. They would each take a shift of three hours. The words were rather droned than sung, to an old magical chant, which Sister  Clara, who was half Greek, half [190] Italian, born of a noble family of Mitylene, had inherited from some of the women of the island at her initiation as a young girl into some of their mysteries. They claimed that it had come down unaltered from the great singers of history. It was a drowsy lilt, yet in it was a current of fierce heat like that of the sun, and an undertone of sobbing like the sea.

     So Iliel's dreams were always of the moon. If the watcher beheld trouble upon her face, as if disturbing influences were upon her, she would breathe softly in her ear, and bring her thoughts back to the infinite calm which was desired for her.

     For Cyril Grey in devising the operation had by no means been blind to the dangers involved in choosing a symbol so sensitive as Luna. There is all the universe between her good and evil sides; in the case of a comparatively simple and straightforward planet like Saturn, this is not the case. And the planets with a backbone are far easier to control. If you once get Mars going, so to speak, it is easy to make him comply with Queensberry rules; but the moon is so passive that the slightest new influence throws her entirely out.

     And, of course, the calmer the pool the bigger the splash! Hence, in order to draw down to Iliel only the holiest and serenest of the lunar souls, no precaution could be too great, no assiduity too intense.

     The waking vision which came to her after about a month of the changed routine was of good cheer and great encouragement.

     It was an hour after sunset; the night was curiously warm, and a soft breeze blew from the sea. It was part of the duty of Iliel to remain in the moonlight, with her gaze and her desire fixed upon the orb, whenever possible. From her room a stairway led [191] to a tall turret, circular, with a glass dome, so as to favour all such observations. But on this night the garden tempted her. Nox erat et caelo fulgebat Luna sereno inter minora  sidera. The moon hung above Capri, two hours from her setting. Iliel held her vigil upon the terrace, by the side of the basin of the fountain. When the moon was not visible, she would always replace her by looking upon the sea, or upon still water, for these have much in common with the lunar influence.

     Something -- she never knew what -- drew her eyes from the moon to the water. She was so placed that the reflexion appeared in the basin, at the very edge of the marble, where the water flowed over into the little rivulets that coursed the terrace. There was a tremulous movement, almost like a timid kiss, as the water touched the edge.

     And, to the eye of Iliel, it seemed as if the trembling of the moon's image were a stirring of vitality.

     The thought that followed was a mystery. She said that she looked up, as if recalled to her vigil, and found that the moon was no longer in the sky. Nor indeed was there any sky; she was in a grotto whose walls, fantastically draped with stalactites, glimmered a faint purplish blue -- very much the effect, she explained, of luminous paint. She looked down again; the basin was gone; at her feet was a young fawn, snow-white, with a collar of silver. She was impelled to read the engraving upon the collar, and was able to make out these words:

 

Siderum regina bicornis audi,

Luna, puellas.

 

     Iliel had learnt no Latin. But these words were not only Latin, but the Latin of Horace; and they were exactly appropriate to the nature of the Great [192] Experiment, "Luna" she had heard, and "regina";  and she might have guessed "puellas" and even "siderum"; but that is one thing, and an accurate quotation from the Carmen Saeculare is another. Yet they stood in her mind as if she had always known them, perhaps even as if they were innate in her. She repeated aloud:

 

                 "Siderum regina bicornis audi,

                           Luna, puellas.

 

                "List, o moon, o queen of the stars, two-horned,

                           List to the maidens!"

 

     At the time, she had, of course, no idea of the meaning of the words.

     When she had read the inscription, she stroked the fawn gently; and, looking up, perceived that a child, clad in a kirtle, with a bow and quiver slung from her shoulders, was standing by her.

     But the vision passed in a flash; she drew her hand across her brow, as if to auscultate her mental condition, for she had a slight feeling of bewilderment. No, she was awake; for she recognized the sacred oak under which she was standing. It was only a few paces from the door of the temple where she was priestess. She remembered perfectly now: she had come out to bid the herald blow his horn. And at that moment its mountainous music greeted her.

     But what was this? From every tree in the wood, from every blade of grass, from under every stone, came running little creatures in answer to the summons. They were pale, semi-transparent, with oval (but rather flattened) heads quite disproportionately large, thin, match-like bodies and limbs, and snake-like tails attached to the base of their skulls. They were extraordinarily light and active on their feet, [193] and the tails kept up a lashing movement. The whole effect was comic, at the first sight; one might have said tadpoles on stilts.

     But a closer inspection stayed her laughter. Each of these creatures had a single eye, and in this eye was expressed such force and energy that it was terrifying. The effect was heightened by the sagacity, the occult and profound knowledge of all possible things, which dwelt behind those fiery wills. In the carriage of the head was something leonine as well as serpentine; there was extraordinary pride and courage to match the fierce persistency.

     Yet there seemed no object in the movements of these strange beings; their immense activity was unintelligible. It seemed as if they were going through physical exercises -- yet it was something more than that. At one moment she fancied that she could distinguish leaders, that this was a body of troops being rallied to some assault.

     And then her attention was distracted. From her feet arose a swan, and took wing over the forest. It must have been there for a long time, for it had laid an egg directly between her sandalled feet. She suddenly realized that she was dreadfully hungry. She would go into the temple and have the egg for breakfast. But no sooner had she picked it up than she saw that it, like the collar of the fawn in her dream, was inscribed with a Latin sentence. She read it aloud: the words were absolutely familiar. They were those of the labarum of Constantine "In hoc signo vinces." "In this sign thou shalt conquer." But her,eyes gave the lie to her ears; for the word "signo" was spelt "Cygno"! The phrase was then a pun -- " In this Swan thou shalt conquer." At the time she did not understand; but she was sure of the spelling, when she came afterwards to report her vision to Sister Clara. [194]

     It then came into her mind that this egg was a great treasure, and that it was her duty to guard it against all comers; and at the same moment she saw that the creatures of the wood -- "sons of the oak" she called them instinctively -- were advancing toward her.

     She prepared to fight or fly. But, with a fearful crackling, the lightning -- which was, in the strange way of dreams, identical with the oak -- burst in every direction, enveloping her with its blaze; and the crash of the thunder was the fall of the oak. It struck her to the ground. The world went out before her eyes, dissolved into a rainbow rush of stars; and she heard the shouts of triumph of the "sons of the oak" as they dashed forward upon her ravished treasure. "Mitos ho Theos!" they shouted -- Sister Clara did not know, or would not tell, its meaning.

     As the iridiscent galaxy in which she was floating gradually faded, she became aware that she was no longer in the wood, but in a strange city. It was crowded with men and women, of many a race and colour. In front of her was a small house, very poor and squalid, in whose doorway an old man was sitting. A long staff was by his side, leaning against the door; and at his feet was a lantern -- was it a lantern? It was more like the opposite of one; for in the full daylight it burned, and shed forth rays of darkness. The ancient was dressed in grey rags; his long unkempt hair and beard had lacked a barber for many a day. But his right arm was wholly bare, and around it was coiled a serpent, gold and green, with a triple crown sparkling with ruby, sapphire, and with it he was engraving a great square tablet of emerald. [195]

     She watched him for some time; when he had finished, he went away with the staff, and the lamp, and the tablet, to the sea shore. Along the coast he proceeded for some time, and came at last to a cave. Iliel followed him to its darkest corner; and there she saw a corpse lying. Strangely, it was the body of the old scribe himself. It came to her very intensely that he had two bodies, and that he always kept one of them buried, for safety. The old scribe left the tablet upon the breast of the dead man, and went very quickly out of the cave.

     But Iliel remained to read what was written.

     It was afterwards translated by Cyril Grey, and there is no need to give the original.

 

     "Utter the Word of Majesty and Terror!

     True without lie, and certain without error,

     And of the essence of The Truth. I know

     The things above are as the things below,

     The things below are as the things above,

     To wield the One Thing's Thaumaturgy -- Love.

     As all from one sprang, by one contemplation,

     So all from one were born, by permutation.

     Sun sired, Moon bore, this unique Universe;

     Air was its chariot, and Earth its nurse.

     Here is the root of every talisman

     Of the whole world, since the whole world began.

     Here is the fount and source of every soul.

     Let it be spilt on earth! its strength is whole.

     Now gently, subtly, with thine Art conspire

     To fine the gross, dividing earth and fire.

     Lo! it ascendeth and descendeth, even

     And swift, an endless band of earth and heaven;

     Thus it receiveth might of duplex Love,

     The powers below conjoined with those above,

     So shall the glory of the world be thine

     And darkness flee before thy SOVRAN shrine.

     This is the strong strength of all strength; surpass

     The subtle and subdue it; pierce the crass

     And salve it; so bring all things to their fated

     Perfection: for by this was all created. [196]

     O marvel of miracle! O magic mode!

     All things adapted to one circling code!

     Since three parts of all wisdom I may claim,

     Hermes thrice great, and greatest, is my name.

     What I have written of the one sole Sun,

     His work, is here divined, and dared, and done."

 

     In this obscure and antique oracle, so Simon Iff himself subsequently agreed, the secret of the Universe is revealed to those who are worthy to partake of it.

     Iliel could not understand a word of what was written, but she realized that it must be valuable, and, taking the tablet, she hid it in her robe and came out of the cave. Then she saw that the coast was changed: it was the familiar Posilippo which hung above her, and she could see Vesuvius away to the right. She turned to breast the steep slope between her and the road, when she found herself confronted by something that she could not see. She had only a feeling that it was black, that it was icy cold, and that it wished to take the tablet from her. Her first sentiment was that of acute hatred and repulsion; but the thing, whatever it was, seemed so wretched, that she felt she would like to help it. Then she suddenly glowed hot -- the arms of Abdul Bey were round her, and his face was looking into hers. She dropped the tablet hastily; she was back again in a ball-room somewhere, thousands of miles and thousands of years away. And then she saw the moon, near her setting, over Capri; she was on the terrace, seated on the ground, perfectly awake, but with the silver crescent from her hair lying upon the marble before her.

     Sister Clara, on her knees beside her, was trying to decipher the scratches that she had made.

     "That is the writing on the tablet," said Iliel, as if Sister Clara already knew all about it,  "that the old man hid in the cave." [197]

     It was now the hour for her to cradle her limbs in slumber; but, while the monotonous chant of her hand-maidens wooed the soft air, Cyril Grey and Brother Onofrio were at work upon the inscription.

     Almost until dawn they toiled; and, down in another villa, another labour reached its climax. Arthwait had finished his Grimoire. He was just in time. For the great operation of necromancy should properly begin on the second day of the waning of the moon, and there were nine previous days of most arduous preparation, no longer of the materials, but of the sorcerers themselves.

     They must eat dog's flesh, and black bread baked without salt or leaven, and they must drink unfermented grape-juice -- the vilest of all black magical concoctions, for it implies the denial of the divine beatitude, and affirms God to be a thing of wood. There were many other precautions also to be taken. The atmosphere of the charnel must be created about them; they must abstain from so much as the sight of women; their clothing might not be changed even for an hour, and its texture was to be that of cerements, for, filching the grave-clothes from corpses of the unassoiled, they must wrap themselves closely round in them, with some hideous travesty of the words of the Burial Service.

     A visit to the Jewish graveyard put them in possession of the necessary garments; and Arthwait's palinode upon the "resurrection unto damnation" left in each mind due impression of the ghastliness of their projected rite.

     And, in Paris, Douglas, smashing the neck of a bottle of whisky on the edge of the table, was drinking the good health of his visitor, an American woman of the name of Cremers.

     Her squat stubborn figure was clad in rusty-black clothes, a man's except for the skirt; it was [198] surmounted by a head of unusual size, and still more unusual shape, for the back of the skull was entirely flat, and the left frontal lobe much more developed than the right; one could have thought that it had been deliberately knocked out of shape, since nature, fond, it may be, of freaks, rarely pushes asymmetry to such a point.

     There would have been more than idle speculation in such a theory; for she was the child of hate, and her mother had in vain attempted every violence against her before her birth.

     The face was wrinkled parchment, yellow and hard; it was framed in short, thick hair, dirty white in colour; and her expression denoted that the utmost cunning and capacity were at the command of her rapacious instincts. But her poverty was no indication that they had served her; and those primitive qualities had in fact been swallowed up in the results of their disappointment. For in her eye raved bitter a hate of all things, born of the selfish envy which regarded the happiness of any other person as an outrage and affront upon her. Every thought in her mind was a curse -- against God, against man, against love, or beauty, against life itself. She was a combination of the witch-burner with the witch; an incarnation of the spirit of Puritanism, from its sourness to its sexual degeneracy and perversion.

     Douglas put the broken glass to his mouth, and gulped down a bumper of whisky. Then he offered the bottle to his visitor. She refused by saying that it "played hell with the astral body," and asked her host to give her the price of the drink instead. Douglas laughed like a madman -- a somewhat disgusted madman, for in him was some memory of his former state, and even his fall had been comparatively decent, the floor of his hell a ceiling to her heaven. [199] But he had a use for the hag, and he contemptuously tossed her a franc. She crawled over the floor, like some foul insect, in search of it, for it had rolled to a corner; and, having retrieved it, she forgot her mannish assumptions in her excitement at the touch of silver, and thrust it into her stocking. [200]



[1]  The spelling is in Greek. Translations courtesy of Mbabwa. Italics are mine...

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