CHAPTER  LX 

At Crossroads Arrive a Sum of Things


Hecate poked at the burning wood, turning it to encourage flame. The old man, her votary and pleading servant could be relied upon to bring fresh logs from the supply deep in the cavern. As with the resources of earth, heat and woman, there was no limit of these apparent. The woodpile pile was at the rear neck (L: cervix) of the cavern. On each side of it, extending behind dark and deep, was a tunnel. No man was allowed to know their depth, but the old man took them to be infinitely deep. Such was his understanding of the awesome. 


He had come down, as nightly his mission, by those steep steps, that long climb, carved of well worn uneven stone. At a landing he heard authoritative voices of women he did not recognize.  High on the rock wall rising from the sanctuary chamber were flickering shadows of forms below. The chamber was that place of fire and offerings, of primitive paintings on the wall of pregnant women, the paint always menstrual blood.  From the landing where he had stopped his descent, the chamber itself was out of sight.  His heart beat fast, for no spirit gathering such as this one, had occurred on his earlier tending, beseeching, visits. The shadows must be the fire forms of those speaking below. 


He knew that Hecate was never a material presence, immortals rarely were.  Her presence in her sanctuary was signified by two idols, statues, one looming taller than any woman, a smaller other of the same unmistakable form around its base. Old they were and crude, some earlier race had carved them with giant breasts, disproportionate buttocks, and much enlarged below, the woman’s slit, her deep tunnel, with the double external lips of these carved overwhelming large. 


The old man knew Hecate was glad enough to have his service, for when he arrived there might be food set out for him, and wine, although she had yet to grant his powering requests. No matter what gifts he brought her on behalf of his two married, still barren daughters, his girls could not bear children. Nothing was more important in his life, or theirs. Ash, his name, must have grandsons to continue his line. The daughters best bring forth many male babes for some would early die. Their husbands, denied offspring, would desert them soon.  Where would old man Ash find money for food for them, or means ever to erase the family shame?  Barren daughters, despised and poor, they would shrivel and die. His line would die. The old man must prevail on Hecate of fertility. A goddess who gives no service, gets no offerings, no worship.  It might soon come to that. Might he learn something by overhearing Hecate herself, seemingly truly present tonight?


Three other voices, women at ease, no supplicants these,  seemed to come rising from beside the renewing flame. Or from within the flame perhaps, such were the mysteries here. The old man was in a tremor now, nothing would make him take a step lower.  He would eavesdrop, remain unseen, respectful, and in a mighty fear, yes also, hope. 


“Cassandra”  Hecate was calling to one companion,  “There is an important Roman in Antioch above us deliberating over serious matters. It is our crossroads at which he arrives, W know him. That acquaintance was through hiss wife, that legend and  woman of her granting storied immortality. No mother this Helen, for she was cursed to infertility by her own long ago too great beauty and ambition. And perhaps as well too many princes and warriors long ago invited to intimacy, not all of them clean.  Helen had taken irreversible measures which she regrets, as does her new husband. You know the man as once powerful, but now foolish, a gambler even, the one who chose himself Bishop for the new religion.”


“Oh yes: said, Cassandra,  “A real dolt. Self important.  His new religion has no understanding that it is barren,  cannot beget of itself new generations, for no mother of us is yet elevated to the sacred and accessible”


“But she, the ourselves of the so many names awaits and soon again will reign, eh?  Hecate turned to the other woman, 


“Mary, what do you foretell? “The other woman was young, full breasted, nubile. She was seated on a moonsickle chair.


Mary answered easily, “Wisdom as to life itself will come about soon enough. What conceives and bears prevails. This new religion will come to no  crossroads requiring decision.  All that is fruition is predestined. Its gestation does not wait.”


“As for Helen’s husband, and the farmer-soldier who advises him on this matter, one consequential for it determines the course and rule of the new religion, and of Helen’s husband himself. And even that centurion peasant.  Are these, their crossroads,  within our domain?”  It was Hecate again setting the question, prompting  prophecy.


“Yes indeed, ”  Cassandra was thoughtful.  “They come to our crossroads, and as rational men are, are ignorant. That Roman and his deputy are too much the children of Apollo, of reason, of Seneca, Zeno, others who think the mind is god. It is the illusion of the rational which rules them.


A third voice now was heard, “That reason rules is a delusion which amuses me.  Earth yet rules, and the serpent brain, and, how well I know it, passion as insane hatred, insane love  thus insane jealousy, yielding deeds, oh yes such deeds that we become legions and lessons, such deeds do women do”


Mary responded, “Medea, you are the lesson of your truth. Children murdered by your own hand, by no means innocent since they carried their father’s blood. As for other children, I know well of these, are killed because they are holy. There are so many condemning marks of Cain, is that not so?


Media nodded the yes of it, the inescapable yet of it.


Hecate, wise over millennia, wise enough to speak softly when with her special servants, nodded her special knowledge, for she, if it pleased her, might serve as Cain’s instrument.  “Enough of truths she gently said, let us return to this moment, this place, and that Roman who nears us on his jounnreyh.  That Helen’s husband of him has interesting views come to him as reason and mystery. He holds that a reformed god orders his new life course. His new god is that sky god once Hebrew but softened” She smiled a wise olf smile, Gods come and go as I watch. This new or not so new one,  I hear that God’s too soft voice. I know he cried after condemning his own son to a Roman crucifix, that out of hope that the fact and story of it would make men better. So yes, , as Cassandra you might say, another dolt.  Oh yes, I know him for a passionate fellow, offering love and goodness, so inevitably appealing. But other and earlier Hebrew, East Indian, even savage rivers flow within him. He is not so new to me. He is not beyond disappointment, and the the storms and plagues,  the betrayal that brings.


We timeless girls know these proclaiming men. My bet, if you will allow there is risk in prophecy, is that there will be little change. Men easily become cruel, , the world is a dangerous place, changing.  We who are mothering fertility are the constants.  This posturing newcomer is composed of clouds, one sacrificial lamb-I say poor sweet fool that fellow  was- and weighty appended attesting texts. Little changes. When it does it is a lucky god who gets the credit for any good in it. And even men, noisy in their mindless pride, will take credit for it. 


“And so, about the other one soon to be with S. Cornelius, that once Praetor, the reasoning peasant?  Cassandra, obviously her gift of prophecy was limited. asked..


“He is foolish. He trusts his own reason, but when unsure, he is the sort who will retreat to the primitive of his own land, and in those demons there isruthlessness. It makes him ever so fit for Rome. A reasoning mind is a sometimes thing. His own brain serpent powers him more than he knows. His serpent is especially attuned to the smell of things, and violence. Balthus misleads himself with too much reading, thinking, and planning come of it.” 


 It was ever-fertile Mary who spoke. She was wise well beyond the obvious of her womanhood,  inviting hips, how she held her legs to show the path to her, those melon bosoms, and a remarkable, inscrutable smile. She adjusted her inviting thighs on her moonsickle, so doing spreading her waiting legs, so easing access to their fulcrum, as any anticipating woman confidently ready, knowing her power, will do. The other women, knowing their own sex well, hardly noticed.  Mary went on, 


“Both men carry to this crossroad all that was potent before and in them, They have much unacknowledged company in their life’s space.” 


Hecate nodded. She knew all but each time acknowledged it for the sake of her guests, as new. She said,


“The rational brain is a child given permission to exercise freely, but it is carefully watched. Its freedom is in a small space. The serpent, its beady eyes, its so sensitive nostrils, is always sniffing, ever alert.”  Hecate knew the serpent, just as she knew the egg.


 “There in those, they think Apollonian brains, the serpent overrules. He is at the center,. He is intuition. He attends to fragrance, desire, anger and fear. He is panic. He is fury. He strikes without constraint, He is instinct with a tail.. Apollo, high falluting, hardly remembers his own serpent, so much earlier his double on the Acropolis, a large and sinewy reptile prone to wrapping around other god’s temple pillars, as if he were a Delilah to the temple god’s Samson. Silly. We women who are this earth, we know all that well. We know the snake particularly well, for we are creatures of the same origin”


“ And so? ”  Cassandra knew the pleasing lines to feed Hecate, the washing out old crone, but here accepting hostess. Cassandra was too polite to tell Hecate’s fortune, and sensible. People hate bad news  “And so, who else will be present as one great man and his hanger-on friend, decide words to decide the fate of their world. So they think!”. 


Hecate, irritable now and pleased to speak, gave her much worn, opinion. , “Men, these self-congratulating rational men, decide nothing that is not at least partly shaped by invisible casts which alter so also forming each new mold. Causes then, even if not Aristotelian and first, the loads in their dice are corrupted by the great gambler himself. Let me say “Gambler” out of admiration for this newcomer’s  daring, his, or “His” as he likes it, reliance on chance, then rhetoric. He pleases himself with praising autobiography. These sky gods so busy with the cosmos, the new one who ignores us who are mother earth itself. Vanity, the new  Gambler is so much a man.  He is gambling an empire on S.Cornelius. Girls, I ask you why those Gnostic women even bother to protest?  Silly Sophia, the one Helen once played at, not wise enough to know it will always be a man’s world, poor girl.”


Mary, confident, nonchalant, posed herself for that beatific smile, its shape suggestive of her moonsickle perch’s own ends, both pleasingly upturned.  Hecate thought of those many men who had and would again pleasure themselves with her end upturned, but in the end,  Mary all-mother usually saw to it that events turned fertile. Men exhausted themselves. Mary nourished outcomes.


Hecate asked, no real question in it,  “Shall we watch them then, their crossroads, these two men who fancy their reason, yet the deciding one contradictorily defers to his gambling sky god’s rule?  That Bishop trusts his preference determines choice determines weighty futures even unto the tides and fortunes of men.” She smiled where a snear waited underneath. Either would show her jagged, sour brown teeth tearing the air she breathed. 


“Of course, let’s go watch!” And they stirred themselves to go.


And so, overly sure, as woman and gods can also be,  they would soon read and hear words strong in expectation.  Cassandra, withholding prophecy but aware, knew there would be bold words and gentle ones for the folk of the golden city of Antioch proposing deeds, commitments, sentiments to be initiated in it small Christian Assembly there. She knew the Bishop of them relied much on words, and knowing something of the ground upon which they would fall, made such calculations as he could of Empire’s yearnings, its citizens’ fears and hungers, their inner spiritless, anguished spaces. This Bishop had come tunderstand the Good as order and necessity, so then deriving must come beneficial laws newly written by men but God-given as origin and certainty. As mayhap were the words of them themselves. Also considered by this practical once Quaestor, sub governor, once commander of centuries and legions, blessed with favor of the emperor, accompanied words with discrete endeavours.  What potential alliances, patrons were to be cultivated, what hostiles disarmed, how best use the virtue emanating from himself as aristocrat and hero, how to conform to God’s will. These were his tasks.  The new Bishop did not ask whether he himself might be ambitious, have grand and glorious personal dreams, and should that be, hazard the enterprise of the Good. 


Nor would this Roman attend to the risk words forging new ideas might carry. All Cassandra’s see this.  His very being had changed because of the sacred and deciding words he once had read in that Assembly, and now he had written his own pedestrian ones intended commanding to be spoken as in that same hall, perhaps with the same aged and holy Joseph standing  beside him.  S. Cornelius, this resolved citizen, which Athenian, communitarian rank was unknown in Rome, was sure he was in the service of the Good, of the teacher Jesus, of God and Empire. More fool now that he was a Christian, he took these to be his fortress.  And be its walls breached, all enterprise must allow death may be waiting. If so, for this Bishop was no suicide, death would choose its execution.  


The other man the women would see, the Swabian auxiliary centurion,  was skilled in the minor art of governing and, more so, advancement.  Hecate already knew him well, for he had been wise at his crossroads, for his was a scanning mind which also eyed himself. Cassandra, daughter of Troy, who knew all futures but was disbelieved, elevated now to the spirit world of those remembered, no longer bothered to forecast any. Here, this woman, who had prophesied the fate of Paris and of Troy, thereby initially of the legendary Helen herself, had also exactly forecast her own death at jealous, furious, Clytemnestra’s hands Why would she bother now with what would befall minor others?


When Mary asked, “What game has the Swabian decided to play?”  Cassandra  tired of questions whose answers of perfect truth would always be disbelieved, for that was the curse upon her, sighed, offering the safe and unrevealing reply, that Balthus had not yet decided. Unless you are gifted with prophecy, as she was and once oracular Helen might yet still be, count on uncertainty. Count on it. The coming words of this Bishop were intended portentious, and so might they be, shaping lives and empires. But they might also be as but a mouse passing wind.  This was no prophecy, it was knowledge of men and their days. 


Above the cavern, on the staircase landing out of sight, Ash, for that was the old man’s name had heard the women saying they would leave.  “Ash” the stone carver, was thin, even though wearing a small pot belly, and stooped. Himself a nothing of worth, bore a name and blood handed down over near millennial chains of  fathers to sons, over more years than even generations know.  Ash, was told his name was an honoring family memory of some great king over a people, once their people, a people once hereabouts but now dust. The “Assi’ perhaps, the “Hit” perhaps, these were names the family handed down, but were otherwise unaccompanied by information except for the deep understanding, as proved in this cavern itself, that all things past continued. That would be so as well of those Christians mentioned tonight, of whom he had earlier heard, for their kindly strangeness was news on the streets of the city. The living legend Helen of whom they spoke, that beauty of Argos and Troy, now married to the Christian’s Caesar, was proof enough time clings to us, not letting go its earlier possessions. 

 
Old legs had Ash, not always responsive, but he was frightened the women in leaving would find him, so old legs were pushed, punished.  He feared there could be his death in being found an eve’s dropper.  He limped upward to the entrance, his exit, that cleft in the great boulder on Mt Silpius rocky slope. He did not hear the women behind him, and so, emerging in the Antiochean night, he hid sheltered in the rocks to watch emerge, the demi-gods or demons of whom the most ancient one had been his daughters’ hope.


“They don’t come our” he said to himself, wondering how they could not. Cold realization, these spirits needed no stairways. Nor, perhaps, did Hecate need, or was it have the capability to serve votaries. For all he thought he had heard in the chambered sanctuary, had never given babes to his daughters, never used her powers. Of were there powers? Were his ears trustworthy—and an old man’s are never that- those women below might have been only shadows painted by a flickering fire. Had he been foolish? 


An old Ash was also at a crossroads, this one in his mind.  The old one, once earth and ur woman,  had failed him. Gifts given but no reciprocity.  Damn her! Where now to turn? They had talked of, he had himself heard, the new all-mother, Mary. Or perhaps a more kindly spirit had come to him to tell him of her, and remind him there was a new god come to Antioch, for he had heard of the new god in street talk. Ash may have heard a supernatural tonight offering better direction. A new all-mother was here in Antioch. He would find and bring her offerings. He knew of her congregation, the Assembly in the rich donor’s house. He would bring his daughters with him. They all would pray. Damn the old gods and dominions, these were new times,  no one hearing the sundry hawkers’ god talk on the streets could doubt it. 


The streets said one new god and great was ‘loving’ a lover as well. Nothing new there,  Zeus was a cocksman of the first order. This new god, the streets said, had made a wondrous child with Mary, half god himself the son was, and there was said of the child that he grew to become a great teacher. Ash would learn. Would it be that his daughter’s husbands were the useless ones? They certainly lounged about complaining, drinking, and casting their seed in whores. Ash was practical. Children were the thing, and any means his barren girls could find for remedy, he, this Ash of some opacque lineage, a lineage that must continue, he would applaud. They would petition the new god, “Christian”, he was called, his followers’ same name given them right here in Antioch. Ash would beg this new-come lover god to lay with Ash’s daughters, insufflate them, bring forth their joint fruit, his grandchildren.. In this Antioch, in this creating time and place, wonders were ever more possible, ever more present. One wonder was hope.  


Ash, by no means without cleverness, realized the potential advantage, should the new god sire his grandchildren, of a divinity as son-in-law, if not by marriage custom, yet through some obligation. Yes, a very good idea. There could be money in it as well. Ash was the best of stone carvers, he could make Mary images to sell to her worshippers, petitioners like himself and those made thankful. Images for the shrines women set up for her at home, on streets before the dwellings of women whom the Mary had favored with child, marking those hasty country couplings which had turned out bountiful. Each deserved a grateful Mary shrine, her stone image central, these by the side of the road, or on the grass, or in the reeds by the Orontes.  Ash, hopeful stone carver, envisioned his army of the Mary.

_______________

 

Male sky gods, competing with one another and the Chthonic for the loyalty and attention of a needy human constituency, know the importance of crossroads. They have seen that multiple are the dispositive arriving as conditions at Hecate’s domain. These may include ignorance, randomness, or, contrariwise, appreciation of lawful design and use of the intuition of the serpent. Yet the same serpent’s venom may poison the crossings themselves.  What roads will be taken may be predicted by the foresightful knowledge of Cassandras, but forbidden to what the  travele rknows,  is that her hearers share the curse upon her which is that is that she will never be believed. Forgetfulness and vanity are also regnant conditions,  where the first of these mocks history, the second presumes it is irrelevant. But Hecate herself is an imposing condition, as are all architects, and  bewitching observers of crossroads.


Hecate herself, once taught a traveler about the source of decisions. Be assured no traveler knowingly takes the witch as his companion, but it is only a wisely traveler who can spy her out. That wise traveler maps his journey so there are no crossroads. The wisest avoid her, know she awaits and can be fatal in decisions. In this instance she appeared to a young man in the form of a comely woman asking companionship, saying she felt unsafe walking alone, further saying- and this was a kind of test,  “At crossroads we all know Hecate awaits. A smart traveler avoids that risk”  He smiled at her, an idiot’s grin it seemed to Hecate, callow then, already unaware of the gift she had given hm of warning. 


The road they walked was banked on one side by an high steep side cut showing multilayered rock, even a few shells from an ancient sea could be seen, He talked of his plans, the road to achieve them, how clever he had been so far in deciding goals and paths. He allowed, after all a young fellow wants to impress a pretty girls newly his side, that he had many favoring traits, good decisions, “ don’t need much advice, ” being among them.  


“I will give you some advice anyway, she said, taunting a bit, her smile now a bit wicked, Hecate herself delighted in observing, better luring choices,  their outcomes amused her A travelers’ path avoiding doom not chosen was far more amusing to her than one preplanned safe and pedestrian. Even though she was now without pilgrims, acolytes, devotees, those offerings of gifts, the more welcome bloodier sacrifices, indeed with only a few very old still awesome who remember what she had been, she was still the active and malevolent energy of fate at crossroads. Old now, she practiced efficient energies, best exercised by being silent. Waiting as the spider waits, her victims were each their own failing guides, confident cartographers relying on so faulty maps as to which road rightly led to their purpose. 


Rarely now might her malice intervene, troubling to construct theater. Travelers arriving at her consequential crossroads carried their own phantasmagoria, apparitions, of which vanity conjured the worst. Any one eschewing searching doubt invited Hecate to her feast, power, those forces unleashing fate latent in decisions. A pragmatic girl brought up in the old school, too used to struggle and loss, Hecate knew the uses of power. If anyone knew instinct, it was this fecundity witch. She lent herself to the nature of what was. In her imperium, once in her hands, power would be used. Exceptions, offering cautions or a saving grace  were her whim, any woman is allowed these.  Whim might be upon her now, for this young traveler was, after all,  handsome and, no doubt, virile.

. 

 “Look here” she suggested, guiding the traveler’s arm to the right, facing him to its high bank revealing wall.  “Above us” she looked up,” on top is good thick soil, and right above, growing straight and confident, you see the young fruit tree already bearing. Her flowers have been pollinated, therefore she can be fruitful. See, the tree has almost flat splaying roots in that soil, they stabilize her higher-reaching trunk. She gets water and nutrients there. If you were standing next to the tree to steal one of her applies, you might say she stands, lives, bears because the soil, we know it is only relatively recently made, provides. But now look here at this layered rock and mud which hosts a display of time itself, Coming directly down from the trunk is a deep taproot, which branches into longitudinal parallels of itself, and like its tree above, sends out horizontal limbs which become spidery curlicuing fingers grasping rock, these much more stabilizing than the soft soils above. These are hungry, thirsty fingers able now to absorb long stored treasures of vitality, absorbing, if you will, the very past itself so as to produce the fruit of the present. That is your fruit in your time, for you, if standing above, were about to eat it. 


Young man, I joined you back there at our first crossroad.  Soon we will come to another where you must again decide your way. It is easy for me this coming one, for I know it well, I am its history.. My predisposing habit will be my decision..  But when you reach your new choice point, new-come traveler hereabouts, you will weigh your purposes, the safe and easiest way to reach them, and, in doing that, you will consider yourself a reasoning man.  But think now of this tree above us, and her amazing roots deep-reaching back into time, from which her real strength, and much sustenance is drawn. Like her, young traveler, what you choose will draw from time past as well as present, from deep roots you cannot see “


The young traveler protested, “I am no tree. My sandaled feet support me, I am clear about my goal today, I know the best direction to take. I am not influenced by anything past. I will not even need your experienced advise, so if we part our ways, you are not any partner in my choice Now, further to protest your metaphor, I am young and have not yet plowed to seed a woman so that she might bear the fruit of my loins. That child, the first born, must be a boy. If not I leave her. “


Hecate, smiling winsomely (her masks were also her jokes fairly enough played upon herself as well as other), replied


“Your sandals came from leather from a cobbler you know not where. Your brain and body are the fruit of generations back to Cronos, the Titans, Pelasgians, and earlier..  What directing memories, instincts, those ancestors stocked in you are unexamined but move you. Your father’s farm may grow your food, but water if not from immediate rain is from wells and springs your mother earth provides. You say you know your purposes, but who set them for you, the when and how of them?  If high wind swirling dust devils comes at you from one road, will you suddenly decide to take a different route where the wind is at your back, detouring  for the sake of ease? And as for me not walking with you the next road, well I might have done by way of uncharacteristic solicitousness but for your conceit that your child will be fruit of your loins only ,and the sexing of it the mothers.  So you are right, I will not walk beyond the next crossroads with you.  But, you young fool, you do not even assess your companion, this woman very much in the now of you.  With the example of the tree I sought to teach you, but you are beyond tutoring, being willfully ignorant and vain.


So saying, the maiden of her disappeared. She would be at the crossroads, for annoyed now she would intervene. She drew from the calyx of one of the marsh flowers she bred,  It was a Venus flytrap. Hecate long ago had perfected  the parfumeur’s art; the perfume she drew out now, pheromonic, composed a woman’s inviting heat. From the calyx then:  urine a bit, slippery ointment of vulva and vagina, enticing oil drawn from Bartholin’s gland, add a dram of seasonally sweet, pungent, armpit sweat add the almost maddening inspiration in it, the oestrus moisture an ovulating girl’s licking tongue can place upon her ready lips. With these then on her brush,  Hecate painted the stupid fellow’s mind. 


His inner serpent’s tongue darting, drew it in as smell, modeled the very chemistry of it, and alerting to the fit , found it good. His serpent slithered the boy forward. The serpent, primal colleague to the fecundity witch, would allow no other path. 


The stupid boy, could consciously smell nothing of this alluring scent, whereas the sensing serpent was anciently formed with private appreciation and, when unquestioned by a stronger master,  its command. The stupid boy, knowing not it was all paint of Venus pigments, saw that this road was long-bordered with flowers in its fields, along the way itself tall Oleanders with their dappled leaves stood and, bowing, offered shade from the soon-sideways beating sun  Their leaves spoke to him by their rustling, telling him there was a breeze come this way. Upon this instruction and hurrying, of course the boy took Hecate’s chosen path. She had persuaded him down the waiting lions trail.   



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