The next week was to be a big week for my family. My sister was chosen to play the part of Queen Sophia in a local play. It was not just “a” play to be honest. It was “the” play which told about the history of Receding and highlighted the beliefs of most of Receding. She was chosen to play the lead role at the Lake Amphitheater in the play “Return to the Source.” It is a big deal each year. Yes, I was proud of her. Blah blah blah.
“Return to the Source” is an ongoing play in Receding and the cast renews twice a year. It is a presentation through the financial sponsorship of the Receding business community to all who shop and get their necessities from the Market. Some people do not shop at the Market, and it is an annual reminder to not meet physical needs in alternative ways (like wells and ponds and the black market). Our family would never support the black market, so we come to the play. I have been every year as long as I can remember.
To be honest, I am a little confused by the play with all its twists and turns in the story it tells. It is a very attractive alteration of the story of the founding of Receding. By “alteration,” I mean it is different than what my family has always said. So, to be honest, I don’t know what to believe. Do I believe like most people? Do I believe what my grandmother’s father told us?
I told you that my grandmother’s father was a sorta-believer and told our family all about the founding of Receding. His story goes that the Ancient of Days created everything in and around our world. He told us that people wanted to live their lives the way they wanted and in so doing left the Ancient of Days behind and founded Receding. That is the basic story I remember.
My grandmother’s father told our family that the Ancient of Days is to be respected and feared. I think it was he who put the “Water Hymn” on the wall in our home so that we would always remember that the Ancient of Days was merciful and good and full of wonder and powerful. He told us that the Ancient of Days is good and true and merciful. He told us that Prince-Nachash is exactly the opposite and is bad and untrue and unforgiving.
Ancient of Days good.
In the story at the Lake Amphitheater, “Return to the Source,” a different story is told about the founding of Receding. The Ancient of Days is not the hero. Prince-Nachash is the hero. The way they tell it is that there was a source before the Ancient of Days a non-personal intelligence if you will. Just an all-knowing, all-powerful spiritual intellect of “something” I guess. That intelligent something became personalized only after it fragmented into deities. Two of those fragments became beings that stand out in the play.
The Face of the Source is one.
Queen Sophia is another.
My sister plays the being named Queen Sophia who is said to be the very wise feminine fragmentation of the Source. She is the goddess of wisdom, and the play emphasizes her so that we all look up to her. Most people have a statue of Sophia in their home. We do. Actually, there is a statue in each room. The story in the play goes that Sophia adores the Source (which she calls Father) so much that she uses her great wisdom to create a being similarly as he created her and the other spiritual deities. She forms the Maker of Days. The Maker of Days makes the world we live in and turns out to be an evil bad guy. Sophia feels terrible that her creation turns out evil and imparts some of her divine essence into humanity. She does this to save us. She does this so we can eventually escape the physical world of the Maker of Days. I told you it was confusing.
The first showing was that night, and of course, I needed to be there. I wanted to be there. I wanted to want to be there. It is going to be three hours of dialogue and pomp and utter boringness. I suppose I should have been grateful that my sister had the honor. Blah blah blah.
We arrived at the two-story stone amphitheater. I had forgotten how large it was. It is not a place that our family often went, just once a year. It was a two-storied circular arena with rounded arches on each level. At the top of each arch was a keystone, which bore a carving of some kind of animal bearing teeth or a menacing look. Some of the animals were real. Some looked as though they could not have been real, but came from the artisan’s imagination. It might be the tallest structure in Receding. I tried to ask my father if that was true, but he could not hear me over the crowd. I suppose I could not have heard his answer anyway.
We took our seats on the lower level as we had preferred seating because of my sister’s role in the play. As people took their seats, the excitement in the amphitheater grew. People from all over Receding were there dressed in their finest garments. I noted some scarves from the vendor in the market I had seen the other week. Soon it came time for the play, and the whole audience moved to a hush.
The announcer’s voice boomed out: “The unknowable Source was before the beginning and in fullness was as one. From the Source came lesser divinities of both masculine and feminine. One of these deities is Queen Sophia. Another of these deities is the Face.” Drums and other percussion instruments blared loudly and accompanied the announcer. I looked at my parents to see if they had a questioning look, but they did not.
With the mention of Queen Sophia, my sister strutted out on stage in full regalia as a goddess. My sister’s outfit was designed to look like it was see thru but covered her properly in certain areas. Her headdress was made of large blue bird plumes which moved gently in the air as she did. Her outfit was long and trailed behind her majestically. When she made it to mid-stage, she curtsied. The drums and percussion instruments gave way to stringed instruments in the background. The crowd stood and clapped. After a moment, we sat and the play began again.
Over the next three hours, a story unfolded. The Maker of Days has a good side which he shows to the world and a dark side that he hides from the world. There were two songs. One highlighted the good. One highlighted the bad. At the end of the second song, Prince-Nachash, the hero of “Return to the Source,” comes into the play.
He is a being created by the Maker of Days who gave him the job to keep us in the dark to the fact that there are divine beings and a realm beyond and more real than the one he made. Prince-Nachash, however, under the influence of Sophia (who regrets creating the Maker of Days) tells the humans they can have life and become one at death with the Source. This is possible due to the intervention of Sophia on our world by first imparting some of her divine essence into humanity.
Prince-Nachash arrived in the play on stage with the words: “Did the Maker of Days really keep his divine nature from the humans? He did, and the Queen offered of herself and her wisdom to make them whole!” Apparently, this is a very famous line from the play. One year an actor messed up the line in the very first show, and he was fired at the end of the night.
Interesting thought. The play was saying that the Creator lied to his creation on purpose and with ill-intent. This is why Prince-Nachash is the hero of this story because he uncovers this plot and shares it with humanity. That seems inconsistent with what my family had always been told. This seems to be a completely different explanation on life and meaning and truth.
The actor who plays Prince-Nachash had perhaps the most substantial nose of anyone I had ever seen. It struck out from his face like a tall mountain. I mentioned this to my cousin sitting next to me. She replied in a hushed voice that it was make-up and stage-craft. I was not so sure.
After the actor’s initial line, the narrator’s voice came over the amphitheater. People danced while he talked:
“Prince-Nachash is a being formed by the Maker of Days who is given the job to keep human beings ignorant of the fact that there are divine beings and a realm beyond us. Prince-Nachash, under the influence and wisdom of Queen Sophia, tells the humans the forbidden secret that they can have life and become one with of the Father at death.”
To be honest, my mind started to wander as did my eyes. I noticed that two of the Rurigena girls were a few rows beside us. I tried to get their attention, but they kept their eyes on the large-beaked actor on stage. Puella Rurigena was there. I could not get her attention no matter how hard I tried. I wondered if she had gotten a new job and new responsibilities as I had. As my mind and attention were wandering, I noticed that all of the audience members were paying attention to the play in a solemn manner. The entertainment had their rapt attention. The playwrights could have told the people that the world was made of cheese and they would have believed it.
All of a sudden, my attention was wrapped back to the stage with the mention of someone called the Face. This actor came out with a very stylized wooden mask. It was a large piece that had small mirrors all over it. It gleamed and shone in the stage light. The Face, as the play went on, sounded a lot like the Traveler from the Map Society Lecture the other week. The Face arrives in the world and seeks to help Sophia by sharing a story about the Maker of Days to help set humanity free from enslavement. He taught things about love and forgiveness and paths of goodness. This sounds a lot like the Traveler from the Map Society indeed! I listened intently and watched the dance to see if they would introduce the Traveler… or mention a Map… but it never happened.
After the dance, my sister began her dialogue by saying, “I seek to help humanity break free from the Maker of Days and any other influences that would keep them away from the truth.” She tapped Prince-Nachash with a long beautiful wand.
I heard someone behind us whisper, “watch this.”
Once Queen Sophia tapped Prince-Nachash I saw phenomenal stagecraft. Somehow the young man playing Prince-Nachash had stilts or something because the character grew and grew and was taller than all the other actors or dancers on stage. He was the main attraction! He was the hero! People stood and cheered. From behind me, someone whistled. To my left, someone shouted “Hail Prince-Nachash Lord of Receding!” Many clapped. My family stood and applauded. I did as well.
Once the initial cacophony died down, Queen Sophia announced (as Prince-Nachash danced around on stage): “Prince-Nachash is now aware to impart the knowledge that can bring each person into the fullness of the Source.” The Face has aided us! The Face went away in what was a victory dance as all the dancers and characters threw bright yellow flowers at him. The Face was an honored one. Prince-Nachash then went on to sing a song about how he was the only way humanity had of escaping the plans of the Maker of Days.
Well, that is the way the play went. To be honest, it is full of songs I half listen to and dialogue that is very boring. I did catch some things that have confused me more this year than in other years. Maybe I am older now and understand more. Perhaps the lecture in the Market the other week had more of an effect on me than I realized. The Map Society Lecturer seemed quite firm in his beliefs about the Traveler and the Map as did his daughter. It did not seem like fiction even though some of it seemed unbelievable to me.
After the play was over, our family waited for my sister to change clothes. It was opening night, and we were to go celebrate. We would not celebrate at home, but we would go to a local inn close to our house. Not a shine root tavern, but a more dignified place. We walked to the inn with a celebratory mood. I made sure I complimented my sister about every aspect of the play. She beamed with pride. My father and mother also beamed with pride. We got to the inn and had a table prepared for us. I noticed on the sign out front that my favorite meal was the special of the day. My mouth watered as I imagined the stew.
We ordered our meals. Everyone laughed as I ordered predictably. They had all seen the sign as well. The meals came, and we continued to share memories of the evening. I must have looked strange while we were eating and congratulating my sister, my father questioned me.
“You seem to be distracted tonight,” he stated implied with a question. “Your eyes are somewhere else, and your face is long.”
“Well,” I said in between bites of the pecora stew. “I heard some things tonight that don’t make much sense. Some things in the play were opposite some of the stories our family has told over the years. Some things were the opposite of what I heard at the Market the other day. I don’t know. I guess I just don’t know what to think. I don’t know what the truth is. I am so confused. I have to be honest. I heard a lecture by the Map Society in the Market the other day, and I really want to know all I can about what I heard.”
My mother looked at my father, and my father looked at her. “Well,” he said with a sigh, “your mother and I have found spiritual things confusing, and we have chosen to leave them behind. That would not make any of our grandparents happy, but it is the decision we have made.”
“We are glad you are looking into such things,” my mother said, “but we really cannot help you find answers.” She laughed as she sipped her drink. “I have watched the ‘Return to the Source’ play for my whole life, and I do not understand all it. I have read the ‘Water Hymn’ on the wall of our house, and I don’t understand all of it either.”
“I can prepare you for business and other things,” my father said agreeing with my mother, “but in terms of spiritual things, we just don’t know. You will have to find your own way. Maybe you should go to the Map Society and ask questions.”
“I did that,” I said to my parents. “I ended up with more questions.”
I heard what they were saying, and I understood. My parents were born in Receding just like me. They did not understand spiritual things. They did not know anything about the Source or the Maker of Days or the Face or the Ancient of Days or the Traveler who is the Host of the Ancient of Days.
Were they all the same thing?
Were these different names for the same beings?
Are we talking about different beings?
They didn’t know. My family also didn’t seem to care that they didn’t know. I found that completely strange. How could they have just removed wanting to know what life was all about? How could they just give up on figuring out what the Ancient of Days wanted from us? How could the people of Receding put forth a play about Sophia and Prince-Nachash knowing that it contradicted the stories of the founders of Receding?
Again, all I had was questions.
The next day I went to the Market as was now my usual custom and put in our family’s order. I noticed as I was leaving the general store, that a new merchant had set up a booth. He sold mossis beads. Ossis beads are round beads made of different animal bones, usually white in color that can be fashioned into bracelets or necklaces of any length.
I walked up to the booth. My mother came to mind. My sister came to mind. Puella Rurigena came to mind. Cleric Koritsi von Sollemne from South Rim Neighborhood definitely came to mind. I was definitely getting the cart before the horse. I had to first ask Puella or Cleric Koritsi for an evening stroll before I even considered a gift. My heart swelled with delight… I was a young man with options!
As I was browsing, the merchant began his salesman’s ways, “Here we have the finest genuine ossis beads. The best in Receding.” He said this with a loud voice so that not only could I hear him, but others passing by and he trained his salesman’s eye on me.
“What makes them genuine?” I asked.
“Because I only sell genuine ossis beads. I promise,” he said without even a pause.
“Well, how would I know a genuine ossis bead from a fake one? How do you know a genuine ossis bead from a fake one? How do I know that your source of ossis did not just sell you a bag of fake junk? You and I know that school kids make fake junk all the time.” I smiled after my barrage of questions. I knew I had this salesman stumped.
“Well young man,” he said with confidence that startled me, “I trained under my father to make and sell ossis beads. Been doing it for years now at a shop in southeast Receding. I know real ossis from fake ossis because I have studied the real genuine article. Once you have seen the real genuine article, it is easy to spot a fake. No fakes here.”
The man held out an ossis bracelet and raised his eyebrows over and over in a playful manner. I put my hands up in a “no-thank-you manner” and said as I left, “I will keep you in mind if I need gifts.”
The salesman gave one last good effort when he said as I was walking, “She will want an ossis bracelet!”
With that, I turned and went back to the vendor. He had me. I don’t know how he had me, but there was a lady in my life that was getting one of these genuine bracelets. He smiled wide, and his smile reached his eyes. I paid. As I walked away out of the market, what the man said stuck in my head. Not about a girl wanting a bracelet, but about everything else. He was speaking about ossis beads, but the truth underlying his statement nevertheless rang true for many things. If one can identify Truth and study it, then the false notions or pretend-truths will be more evident.
Halfway home it struck me.
I must find the Truth. I must find the Truth so that when I hear something that is not the Truth, I can identify it and toss it out of my life. I must become a searcher of the Truth. I need to find out the Truth about the Ancient of Days so that when I find something that pretends to be the truth, I will know.