Monday 12 March 2012

Radiance 6 - Whose branches climb over a wall

The second section of Radiance begins today. I would love some comments as to whether I've explained the background well enough - I'm aiming for brief but comprehensible. More details will emerge as the story continues but I want this to feel satisfying.

Yesod - Foundation
22 Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring.
Whose branches climb over a wall…
25 The God of your father who helps you
And Shaddai who blesses you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that crouches below,
Blessings of the breast and womb.
26 Your father’s blessings are greater
than the blessings of the ancient mountains,
than the bounty of the age-old hills.
Let all these rest on the head of Joseph,
   on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
    -Genesis, Chapter 49

15th Shevat 5776
    They sat below Grand Central, in seats arranged to resemble a train carriage, passing through every major destination at once. This was the gate to everywhere.
    Asher sipped a hot chocolate, while Virgo was tucking in to large, violet cupcake.
    “Do you want some?” she asked, spotting him eyeing it.
    “No thanks,” he mumbled.
    “It’s good - and hechshered” Virgo added, as if Asher had been holding back wondering whether the cake was kosher enough for him or not.
    He shifted in his seat. He wasn’t really sure what he was doing here and this strange meeting wasn’t really helping. His drink had already been there when they got downstairs, as had Virgo’s coffee and the cupcake. She had seemed a bit put out when he hadn’t wanted it.
    In two more mouthfuls the cake disappeared and Virgo looked up at him with her bright eyes, a perfect balance of black and white. Her face was striking - angular but absolutely symmetrical, everything in its proper proportion.
    “And so to the matter at hand,” she wiped her mouth. “First I must apologise that it has taken this long to find you. After Ashmedai’s attack you became rather difficult to locate. A nice trick you pulled by the way.”
    “Trick? What trick?”
    “That thing you did, burying yourself within Malchut so deep that the demon king couldn’t find you. Of course, it meant we found it rather hard as well. I guess we kind of expected you to dig yourself. Oh well, small disappointments are natural along the way.”
    “Wait, wait, wait. Slow down. Let’s start over. So I really was attacked by a demon?”
    “Because evil is real, and there are those who are its agents, those who had hoped that you and I would never meet.”
    “Why not?”
    “Because I have something to offer you, Asher, a role you were born to fill, so that you and I can save the world.”
    “Yes, so you said. Okay, let’s say that I believe you for a minute, there’s still a lot I don’t understand. Who were those two guys that fought the demon? Why has my life been feeling empty? What is Mal-hut?”
    “Malchut,” Virgo corrected, a little sternly, “looks like we’re going to need to add some serious Hebrew into the programme.” She paused and sighed.
    “I’m going to explain this as briefly and as simply as I can. I don’t expect you to understand everything all at once, and it’s all far more complex than you’re really ready for, but you need to start somewhere and now’s as good a time as any.
    “The world is an unbelievable place, fantastically beautiful, complex, with love and life and dirt and death. Have you ever wondered what’s behind it? What links it all together?”
    Asher shook his head.
    “There is a great pattern,” Virgo continued, “a single pattern that repeats throughout everything, over and over. The same pattern followed by everything - every tree, every leaf, the forests, the seas, the mountains, human love and society, your body, your soul, the entire universe together and God Himself. The same structure of power and energy manifesting in every object, every thought, every abstract concept. Look as deep as you like and the pattern is there, down to the very cells and atoms that compose matter, and as big as a galaxy or the multiplicity of universes - all following the same basic structure and pattern.”
    Asher nodded slowly, it reminded him of some of the new age, hippy books his mother had leant him a couple of years earlier. The deep connection between people and the natural world. At the time, it had resonated with him. He’d written a song about it.
    “This structure is mainly built around ten different aspects of reality,” said Virgo, “ten different sources of energy, known as the Ten Sefirot sometimes shown as a tree, or in concentric circles. The Sefirot are ordered from high to low, as well as from left to right. Now the lowest of these Sefirot, the aspect most closely grounded in physical reality, is Malchut, which means kingship.”
    Asher nodded, not quite certain that he understood.
    “Now this is the important part. Remember all that stuff you learnt in Hebrew school? It’s all true. God and the angels, the creation of the world, Abraham, Moses, Jonah and the whale. It’s all true. Granted, some of it never happened, but it’s all true nonetheless.”
    “What? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make sense.”
    “Not yet but it will. There are spirits and necromancers, legions of demons - like Ashmedai, their king - servants of the side of evil. This is called the Sitra Achra, the other side, and they seek to destroy the world, burying it beneath a mound of filth and wretchedness. Every mitzvah, every commandment, that you fulfil in this world strengthens the side of order and life, every evil deed breaks the connection between God and the world, giving power to the side of chaos and death.”
    “So where do you fit in?”
    “Sometimes,” Virgo paused and smiled, “more direct action is necessary. I am the leader of a group known as the Seven, representing the seven lower Sefirot, fighting back the darkness. You’ve already met two of my associates.”
    “The warriors.”
    “Indeed.” She downed the remainder of her coffee. “And now to the matter of the job. You see the Seven is currently only six. We need you to join us - to become Malchut. You already know that you have the power, now you must learn how to use it.”
    Asher knew he should write this all off like so much bullshit. But he didn’t. It was crazy, absolute nonsense - but it was the most he’d felt anything in the last six months - something about being around Virgo made him feel alive.
    “Okay, let’s say I’m in. What do we do first?”
    “First we bring you up from the depths you’ve sunk to. This facet of reality is getting rather dull.”
    “Okay, how do I do that?”
    “Well, let’s try a verse. Psalm 130 ought to do it.”
    “Okay,” said Asher.
    “You don’t know psalm 130, do you?” Virgo said with a hint of exasperation. “Didn’t they teach you anything? Alright, here you go.”
    Virgo fished in a pocket and brought out a small leather bound volume, quickly flipping the pages. She handed Asher the Hebrew-filled book. He stared at it, desperately trying to remember his Hebrew letters.
    “Sh-ir, uh, Ha-Sa-a-Lom, um…”
    “This is never going to work. Repeat after me - “A song of ascents - out of the depths I have called to you Lord. Lord hear my voice, let your ears listen to the voice of my supplications.
    Slowly, and a little painfully, Asher fitted his tongue around the unfamiliar syllables, repeating each word after Virgo. When he finished, he looked around to see if any change had occurred. It all seemed the same - still grey and lifeless. In the end, what had he been expecting?
    “Damn it, why didn’t that work?” Virgo looked ready to hit the table. She stood up and grasped her wooden staff. “I may need to try something more serious.”
    “Why should it work? They’re just words.”
    “Words have power, Asher, and the words of the Bible contain ultimate power. Words shape reality.”
    “Not all words,” Asher responded, “words need meaning, they need expression, they need… What were those words again?”
    Virgo translated for him, and as she did so Asher began to hum quietly, tapping the table to an improvised rhythm. Out of the depths, he thought, playing with the words, forming an image to fit the melody. Asher was at the bottom of a well, lost in the dark. Cold water clung to his clothes, his skin felt clammy. Then he was rising, water falling away from him and trailing into the darkness below, a bright light shone above him, fracturing into rainbows of rainbows. Out of the depths I have called to you Lord. The drops fell faster leaving him completely dry, the wind began to rush past him as he climbed faster and faster. A song of ascents.
    Asher opened his eyes. The colours burst upon his eyes like a new dawn, clamouring for his attention amid the sounds of life hurrying onto its final destination. A rich smell of coffee and chocolate, human sweat and laundry, burnt sandwiches and melted cheese. Tiny movements of wind and moisture. Joy and wonder fought their way up Asher’s throat.
    Virgo, still standing, had one eyebrow raised. She, alone in Asher’s world, had not changed at all.
    “Interesting, most interesting,” she said. “Okay, so this is the deal. We’ll provide you with money - not much but enough for rent, food, internet, a movie or two. In return you will become one of the Seven - first you must meet them all, then your training can begin.”
    “Training? In what?”
    “Well, ultimately in all the arts of combat - physical and metaphysical. If Ashmedai comes for you again, you must be prepared to fight him.”
    Now that sounded like fun, Asher thought.
    “But first we must begin with the basics,” Virgo said, “a crash course in Hebrew, Aramaic, Tanach, Mishnah, Talmud, Halacha, and Midrash.”
    “That’s it?” Asher said incredulously. Dozens of dreary Sunday mornings bubbled up into his brain, with Mrs Blackstone peering over thick spectacles and trying to teach the Jewish holidays while the kids made faces and threw scrunched paper at each other.
    “Well,” said Virgo, “it’s a start anyway.”
    Asher groaned inwardly. This was preposterous. Utterly and completely ridiculous. And yet, it all fitted together, made the kind of sense that draws one inevitably towards it - the moth and the flame came to mind.
    “Okay, let’s do it.” Asher said, relishing the last lukewarm drops of coffee. He began to head to the stairs.
    Virgo stopped him. “Haven’t you realised yet? Going further up is just another way of saying going further in.”
    She picked up her staff in her left hand, and held out her hand, palm up.
    Asher watched as a speck of glitter appeared, glowed and began to grow exponentially larger. In no more than a second, Virgo held an ornate golden key.
    “Keep close to me,” she said and extended her hand, as if inserting the key into the air itself.
    He took a step closer, feeling something like static electricity in the air around them.
    Then she began to turn the key.
    Reality twisted around them, as tables, chairs and commuters span and blurred together. The key turned faster. A golden keyhole formed around it, faint at first but rapidly becoming more solid. Still Virgo turned - a wooden door unfolded from the keyhole, vast and imposing, towering into an arched doorway. Then walls began to unlock themselves, spinning outwards as the key twisted in the lock, glowing like crystal in the noonday sun. A palace opened out from the walls, emerging like architectural origami, swelling to fill his whole field of vision, and a brilliant light shone from within, radiating to the ends of creation.
    The key clicked in the lock. The door opened, and Asher found they were already standing inside the palace.
    “Welcome, Asher, to the Palace of Understanding.”

1 comment:

  1. The exposition worked for me, enough to explain what's going on while leaving me anticipating later developments.