An Experience of the Numinous

     There once was a wanderer, a pilgrim who came from the west to the east in search of spiritual renewal. After a long journey Pilgrim came to a land where a desolate range of bare, rock mountains intertwined with narrow, dry valleys. It was a land of stifling heat by day and freezing cold by night.
     One day Pilgrim was climbing toward the heavens again when a sound was heard. It was like a rumble of thunder, yet there was no cloud in the sky, only the sun bearing down and dissolving all moisture in the air. Pilgrim stopped and listened; then from above, through a pass in the mountain top there appeared an enormous man. Two bull horns rose from his great head that was covered with thick, curly black hair. His broad chest was shielded by chain-mail armor the color of midnight blue. In his right hand he carried a double-bladed axe.
     Pilgrim stood grounded as the bull-man approached. The giant of a man came closer until he stood towering over Pilgrim. Pilgrim looked up from the dark shadow cast by the fearsome creature. Bravely Pilgrim looked into the bull-man’s eyes and was amazed to see a look of expectation instead of belligerence. Slowly Pilgrim dropped down to the ground and spoke: Most honored One, please spare my life and forgive me for lying like a worm in your path.
     The bull-man responded: I do not want your life. Where do you come from?
     Most honored one, said Pilgrim, please forgive me, I come from the west.
     You come from the Western Lands, said the bull-man with a note of anticipation, do you know the place where the sun goes to rest after each day’s work?
     Most honored One, said Pilgrim with carefully measured words, I fear I am the bearer of an unsatisfying truth about the sun. There is no place where the sun goes to rest after each day’s work. The sun follows a path very far from you and I. In truth where we stand is a planet called earth, and it spins on its axis as it circles the sun creating an illusion that the sun sets in the west each day.
     The bull-man’s brow furrowed displaying a look of consternation. He asked another question: then you are telling me that there is no immortal land where the sun goes each night to be reborn for the coming of the next day?
     Pilgrim bent even lower before the bull-man and spoke: Most honored One, again please forgive me for speaking the truth.
     The bull-man stepped closer and raised his double-bladed axe in a threatening gesture and bellowed: damn your truth. You tell me there is no place where I can go to attain immortality, to be born a new as the sun each day!
     Pilgrim expected a blow from the great axe any moment, but again spoke bravely: Most honored One I can do no more than speak the truth as I understand it. I come from the west where this truth is a proven science. Our scholars know through measurements how far the sun is from the earth. The sun is a celestial body that is far out in unending space.
     A look of fear now came across the face of the bull-man as he spoke: unending you say. You tell me that I cannot go there if I keep walking west?
     Now Pilgrim stood up and reached a hand toward the bull-man and said: insofar as part of you is mortal, you cannot reach the sun. I am truly sorry Most honored One.
     The bull-man continued on: I am mortal, and I shall never reach the sun, and never reach immortality. Suddenly the bull-man smashed his axe against a great rock and cried out to the heavens: how can I do battle against unending space! There is no one left for me to conquer! The bull-man slumped down to the ground.
     Pilgrim reach out a comforting hand and touched the bull-man’s midnight blue armor as the sun slowly disappeared over the western mountain. All was quiet until the sun had completely disappeared and only a rosy glow lighted the sky. Slowly the bull-man raised his head and looked to the west. He cried out soulfully: Go! Go damned father of the gods, wrap yourself in your immortality! Your faithful son is left without hope for eternity!
     The chill of coming night stirred Pilgrim from the side of the fallen hero. Pilgrim gathered wood and lighted a fire. Quickly the heat warmed the most unlikely companions.  Then for the first time the bull-man looked directly at Pilgrim and spoke: this truth you speak of, this science, is it a god to replace the immortal sun?
     On, no, said Pilgrim, it is no more than words, ideas about the truth.
     The bull-man continued: then you have nothing to believe in?
     You speak the truth, said Pilgrim, science has taken from us the capacity for belief. It is because of this that I have come to the east, to the land of the rising sun. I have come searching for a source of light, a new understanding.
     Silence descended and two wanderers rested before the coming of a new day and a new beginning.                                                                                                                                               By first morning light Pilgrim rose and built the fire again. The bull-man did not rise up to sit by the fire. The experience of past day had left him in a weaken state and he could not lift his great body from the ground.
     Most honored One, said Pilgrim, I know that I am greatly responsible for your loss of power.
     This poison you call science has cut me down, said the bull-man, let me be, death must come to us all if your science speaks the truth.
     I cannot leave you, said Pilgrim, I feel a great sense of responsibility for your plight my friend. We are both wanderers on this earth. We both seek the truth that will fulfill the lives that we have been given to live.
     I do not blame you, said the bull-man.
     If I could take back to the west, said Pilgrim, perhaps I could find help; but your size makes it impossible for me to carry you.
     Pilgrim got up from the fire and walked away a distance, stopped and called back to the bull-man: I have an idea!
     The bull-man responded: why should I find hope in your idea? Was it not your idea of science that condemned me in the first place?
     Pilgrim came back to the bull-man and said: Please forgive me Most honored One, we in the west understand that ideas can both help and harm us. You have to be objective.
     Then speak your idea, said the bull-man.
     In the west we have what is called myth, said Pilgrim, a myth tells a story that is true in the inner world of the imagination. Please understand me Most honored One, you are a character in an ancient myth. If I remember Mesopotamian mythology correctly, you are Izdubar, a demigod or superhuman in these ancient stories.
      Pilgrim looked down to the place where the bull-man lay helpless on the ground. Pilgrim knelt down and said: please understand Most honored One, I do not wish to offend you, but you are not real in the western, scientific sense of reality. If you can accept this truth, that you are the imaginative creation an ancient storyteller, then I am sure I will be able to carry you back to the west where you might be restored to health and find immortality through your story.
     The bull-man, Izdubar, sighed and spoke: damn your science, I say again, but I have no other choice. Life changes and new realities appear whether we choose them or not. I accept this truth.
     In a magical instant, the sinew, muscle and bone of the bull-man was metamorphosed into a figment of imagination, a fantasy that was lighter than a feather. The bull-man floated effortlessly up from his prone position and into the arms of Pilgrim. Holding tight to the now god-man, Izdubar, Pilgrim turned to the west and started the journey toward home.
     As you might guess Pilgrim had not considered all of the results of this magical conversion. As with all brilliant ideas that produce positive results, there is always an attendant amount of negative that follows along. It was true that Pilgrim could now carry the god-man Izdubar. It was also true that the first strong wind they encountered made the burden impossible to control. Pilgrim was lifted into the air and carried along without a choice in the direction they journeyed. Luckily the thermals that rose from the bare mountains and dry, hot valleys quickly and quietly carried them to the west, but Pilgrim could not control their destination.
     Pilgrim considered the welcome they might receive among humans who did not understand myth. Though Izdubar was a figment of imagination, Pilgrim knew how some humans respond to strange gods. At best, Pilgrim could expect skepticism and disbelief as a first response: worse would be humans that responded with violence and a wish to control or eliminate anything they did not understand. It would require a certain amount of faith for Pilgrim to discover a community of humans who could help nurse this shattered god back to health.
     It was the working of Izdubar’s beloved sun that determined their destination. As afternoon shadows lengthened the winds diminished, and the two intrepid wanderers descended toward a clearing near a woods. Izdubar floated gently down until Pilgrim’s feet touched the ground safely. Here was a place for Pilgrim to rest and consider the necessary decisions needed to reintroduce this ancient god to the modern world of humans.
     Pilgrim secured a hold of the fanciful god and carried him into the woods where they would not be disturbed. Placing Izdubar so that his back rested against the trunk of a tree, Pilgrim set about collecting fire wood to warm the night. When the fire was crackling merrily, Pilgrim settled on the opposite side from the ancient god, Izdubar.
     How do you come to terms with responsibility for the death of a god and the promise to resurrect him? Pilgrim watched as the shadows of trees surrounding the fire dissolved into a ring of black. Pilgrim looked to Izdubar, motionless, speechless across the fire. Pilgrim thought back to the moment when they first met on the mountaintop, back to the fear felt before such a force of nature: and now Izdubar was silent.
     Izdubar, said Pilgrim, you gave me life. I have never felt as alive as I did when first we met. I did not want to harm you by sharing my truth. I said what I was taught, not what I know from living. Forgive my ignorance of your way of living. With a sense of remorse Pilgrim fell into a deep sleep and dream time came as a vision.
     Pilgrim saw in the vision the tree of life, rooted deep in the earth and rising up to the heavens. Pilgrim knew that this tree of life provided an avenue for journeying from the world of humans to the world of the gods. Pilgrim saw that each branch provided shelter to a different family of humans. Pilgrim saw that some humans chose to stay close to the earth, close to the root that sustains life. Others chose a place high on the tree, on branches that twisted and turned in the unstable airs that continually circle the earth. It seemed to Pilgrim that the branches nearest to the heavens barely retained substance of the earth.
     Pilgrim’s gaze then dropped back to the earth. There Pilgrim saw the great massive trunk of the world tree open up; and within Pilgrim saw where the sapling tree first emerge from mother earth, there lay an egg- a harbinger of new life. Suddenly the vision changed. Pilgrim saw the egg split open and on a column of fire and smoke Izdubar came to life again: Pilgrim saw the mighty bull-man with his horns, his great head covered with thick, curly black hair, and his is broad chest shielded by chain-mail armor the color of midnight blue. In his right hand this reborn Izdubar carried a double-bladed axe. At that moment the vision ended and Pilgrim woke from a deep sleep.
     It was morning. By first light of day Pilgrim looked across the gray ashes of the fire to see Izdubar sitting perfectly against the trunk of the tree-still a fearsome figment of Pilgrim’s imagination. A smile spread over the face of Pilgrim as the dream vision was remembered. Pilgrim had a new idea, one hopefully with the potential to resurrect this beloved god. Pilgrim stood up and went to Izdubar. Carefully, with great and loving gentleness, Pilgrim grasped this fantasy, this figment of imagination that was lighter than air: slowly, gently Pilgrim began to squeeze Izdubar, shaping him, working him until he was the size of egg that could fit easily into the pocket of any human. With Izdubar secure in a pocket, Pilgrim turned to face the west and search for the road home.

Copyright, November 9, 2010, Ray Gray

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