Monday 19 March 2012

Radiance 7 - Blessings of heaven above

From Arthur Koopmans -
    “Wow,” was all Asher could say, reduced to near-meaninglessness in the face of what he could not comprehend.
    “Wow?” Virgo said, raising an eyebrow and twitching a faint smile.
    “Definitely. Wow.”
    “Well if you’ve wowed yourself out, perhaps you’d like me to show you around.”
    Virgo gestured down the crystal hall and up the spiralling staircases that snaked around the walls.
    “So where are we exactly?”
    “Further up, deeper in,” Virgo answered. “The Palace of Understanding isn’t really a place, not in any normal sense of the word, but it is a space, a safe space for the Seven to meet, recoup and plan our next steps. Once you are one of us, you too will be able to bring yourself here, as I did.”
    “Uh huh,” Asher nodded, barely listening as he tried to absorb the wonders around him. The castle seemed to have been designed by M. C. Escher in one of his more psychedelic moods, all shining light and twisting stairways.
    “This represents the third of the ten sefirot, the realm of Binah, pure understanding. The light that shines is the light of Chochmah, wisdom itself, shedding its impenetrable sparks on reality.”
    “Hey, wait a minute. If there are ten sefirot, why are we only Seven?”
    “The higher three sefirot are beyond human comprehension; only the lower seven can be knowingly approximated and manifested. We’re here.”
    They crossed a threshold and emerged into a vast crystalline chamber, whose roof was hidden behind clouds and mist. A bright light seemed to shine everywhere but come from nowhere, and Asher was surprised that it didn’t pain his eyes at all. This was true seeing, sight as it had been intended.
    In the centre of the chamber stood a marble fountain, spraying water in an unceasing cascade - from there it trickled into channels and pools, spreading and dividing across the floor. There were chairs and couches, all made from crystal, though they seemed soft as feathers.
    “Wow again? And I was worried you’d be lost for words.” Virgo laughed for the first time since they met, a beautiful sound, that mirrored the fountain in its trickle.
    “Now Asher,” Virgo said, suddenly serious again, “it is time for you to meet the Seven.”
    Virgo paused, holding out her wooden staff and declaring in a loud voice: “First is Rahko, the embodiment of Chessed, divine compassion.”
    With those words, Rahko appeared, forming out of the water like an icicle, until he stood before Asher fully formed. His eyes burned with blue sparks, his face seemed both old and ageless; the grey robes he wore rolled and streamed around him, never settling, totally unconstrained. Rahko smiled broadly and shook Asher’s hand.
    “Rahko manifests the highest power in the seven, and it is he who brings down the wisdom and power from the three upper sefirot.”
    Asher nodded his head and returned the smile.
    “Then there is Li, the power of Gevurah, divine strength.”
    With a burst of flame, a woman suddenly appeared, all in red, sleeves taut and sharply defined against the clear crystal. “This is a waste of time,” she announced. “He will never measure up.”
    “Patience, Li, time will tell” said Rahko. “And I think he shows great promise.” He smiled again, showing perfect white teeth.
    Virgo continued, ignoring the interruption.
    “Next would be me, representing the power of Tiferet, the balance of power between strength and compassion. Then finally, we come to Ostar and Mercury, the powers of Netzach and Hod, victory and splendour.”
    The two warriors Asher had seen fight Ashmedai appeared beside him. Ostar, in his enormous golden armour, immediately gave Asher a huge bear hug, crushing him against the metal plate.
    “Goddamn it’s good to see you in one piece,” Ostar said.
    “I concur,” said Mercury, remaining at a distance with one hand never far from the hilt of her sword.
    When Ostar released him, Asher smiled at the two of them and waited for his breath to return to his body. “Good to see you both too, and thanks, by the way, I think you probably saved my life.”
    “Indeed,” said Mercury.
    “It was nothing at all,” said Ostar, thumping him hard on the back.
    “But aren’t there supposed to be seven? Who’s missing?”
    “The seventh is not a who but a what,” answered Virgo. “This,” she brandished her staff before her, “is the staff that Aaron used to turn the River Nile to blood, the staff that Moses held when he split the Reed Sea. Passed on to King David and hidden away by Elijah the prophet, waiting for centuries until its time came. The staff represents Yesod, Foundation, and it is the symbol of my power, the essence of my will. And so the Seven are assembled.”
    “We are only six,” cut in Li, “this one is untested.”
    “Yes,” said Virgo, “but not for long. The time is fast approaching.”
    “And will he be ready?” asked Mercury.
    “Excuse me, but he is right here,” cut in Asher.
    “My apologies, Asher,” said Mercury, “we have been planning this all for so long, sometimes I forget.”
    “What she means is that she can’t keep her eyes on the present,” laughed Ostar. “Come my new friend, let me get you a drink. One sip of this and you’ll never want another!”
    Ostar led Asher towards the grand fountain and together they knelt and drank the clear water. Flavours of whisky and lemonade, sugar and cinnamon, honey and wine, all burst on Asher’s tongue. He smiled delightedly and drank with great thirst.
    “Sometimes I have my doubts about you,” whispered Li to Virgo. “I wonder if you are truly leading us for the sake of heaven.”
    “It’s your job to doubt people, I don’t hold it against you.”
    “Yes, it is,” Li answered, eyes narrowing, brow knitting together. “But you have had your eye on this boy for too long. Perhaps you have lost your sense of equilibrium?”
    “I do not believe so,” said Virgo, eyes never leaving Asher, “he has already shown great promise.”
    “Yet he profanes the sabbath, he eats impure food, he does not pray. His father passed away and he did not sit shiva or recite kaddish. His father’s soul burns in the purifying flames of Gehinnom because his son does not know how to read Hebrew!”
    “I know, Li, I know. But he stood up to Ashmedai, found the space between worlds. And yet there is something about him that I do not understand…”
    “Plotting without me, are you?” interrupted Rahko, smiling so they would know it was a joke.
    “Yes, do we not have business to attend to?” said Mercury.
    “Indeed,” agreed Virgo. “Gentlemen, if you are quite finished?”
    Asher rose, clapping hands firmly with Ostar. He felt refreshed like never before, his mind was clear and alert.
    “So, the Sitra Achra,” Asher said, “they’re our enemies, right? What are they up to and what are we doing about them?”
    “It’s a bit more complicated than that, Asher, the Other Side are just a parallel manifestation of God’s will, they draw their power from the same place we do,” said Rahko, conjuring a chair out of water and sitting carefully upon it.
    “No, it is not complicated. We are the side of holiness, they are the other side, and we should be out there destroying them,” said Li, beginning to pace around the chamber, leaving footprints of fire as she went.
    “Virgo, have you got an update for us?” asked Mercury.
    “Indeed I do. Asher, just after you encountered our friend Ashmedai, I tracked down down an errant Golem in Jerusalem.”
    “As in a man made of clay? Like in Prague?”
    “In a manner of speaking, though the Maharal never actually made a golem himself.”
    “He could have,” cut in Ostar, “but he was worried about getting stoned. Get it? Stoned?”
    Rahko chuckled, Mercury raised an eyebrow.
    “Get on with it, Virgo,” said Li, “my time is valuable”.
    “So, I tracked down the golem, destroyed it, and recovered a scrap of parchment from its mouth.”
    “The secret forty-two letter name of God is written on parchment and used in a ritual to give life to the lifeless,” explained Mercury.
    Asher nodded, his father had read him a book about the golem of Old Prague. In his younger days it had been a favourite of his - he’d asked his father to read it over and over again. How Rabbi Loewe shaped the clay into the form of a man to protect the Jews from pogroms and antisemitic attacks. How the letters that spelled ‘truth’ were carved into its forehead, giving it a kind of life.
    His father’s voice drifted back to him, reading the familiar words. The thought did not upset him, just a strange feeling of emptiness.
    “We’ve been trying to track down the scribe who wrote the scroll for some time but without much success - until now,” Virgo continued.
    “We sent it to a crime lab,” whispered Ostar conspiratorially.
    “The ink used is mainly in the north-west of Israel, around the city of Netanya. Before I met with Asher, I visited the area but detected nothing unusual. Still, it is our best lead. Now we need to decide how to serve our Creator. Do we go in full force or wait, watch, and build our strength?”
    “We strike,” said Li, “let the fire of God bring the rats from their holes.”
    “For once, I agree with Li,” said Rahko, “the time for waiting may well have passed. Perhaps it is time to see what we are up against.”
    “I believe we should wait,” said Mercury, the light caress she gave to the handle of her sword somewhat belying her spoken words.
    “You know me, I’m game for anything,” said Ostar cheerfully. “If the majority are in favour, I’m in as well.”
    They all turned to Asher. He did not speak for a moment - his mother lived in Netanya. When he found his voice, Asher was free from hesitation.
    “We wait,” he said, “we need more information. I need to understand what we’re doing before I can agree to a course of action that might lead to people’s deaths.”
    Virgo raised an eyebrow, surprised. She clenched her jaw, seemed to think for a moment, and decided against her own judgment.
    “Okay, we wait. Rahko, seek any word from beyond the curtain. Li, investigate the area, see what you can…”
    “Fine but this is a mistake - your new Malchut is a coward and a fool. Let us pray his error does not lead to greater calamity,” in a burst of black flame Li was gone.
    Virgo sighed. “Mercury, Ostar, you are to assist Li as you can, and in between you are to aid in Asher’s studies. Stay in touch.”
    “Of course,” said Ostar, still smiling.
    The world began to dissolve around them, crystals fading into nothing, water turning to mist.
    “Good luck Asher,” said Rahko, smiling quietly as if to himself. Rahko’s eyes overflowed with blue energy and disappeared.
    Mercury nodded at Asher, as she and Rahko both faded away.
    The Palace of Understanding was gone, leaving Asher and Virgo standing in once more in Grand Central Station. In Virgo’s worn palm was a shrinking golden key, and then only a speck of glitter. She closed her hand.
    “I suppose this is where the hard work begins,” Asher said.
    “You are correct in a sense,” Virgo said, “but in a sense there is nothing easier - your soul is yearning for it. Come Asher, time for you to start your education.”


  1. Love the descriptions of the Sefirot. However, I think I would prefer more description of the Palace of Understanding (even if it makes no literal sense!) and less explaining what's going on: we've had that chapter already, I feel. I would like to see the reader uncover these things.

    1. This is a really good point and definitely something to look at in rewrites. I don't think I had quite a clear picture of the Palace of Understanding when I wrote this and was still in a bit of an explanatory mood. Thanks for the comment.