Author: STEPHANIE PUI-MUN LAW & BARBARA MOORE
There is a little problem with those who read this story by cellphone. Please roll to the end of this page and read with PDF version.
IT BEGINS WITH a whispered voice. The serpentine song threads through her days and her thoughts. It beckons: Come… Come … Come … “Where?” She asks, curious, but there is no response.
She ignores the summons, until one day that siren song unexpectedly explodes and fills her to brim. Its pulse is undeniable. “Where?” She asks again, and this time the steady beat of her heart is the response.
The Fool has come a long way, traveled from far beyond to come this pinnacle that rise up upon the edge of the world and yet her journey is just about to begin. She senses this with instinctive perception a she rises up on her toes, caught up in the breathless embrace of the wind in the moment before the plunge. Her heart pounds and flutters in her chest with the force of a hundred beating wings struggling to break free of the cage of her being, until she feels she must be sprouting wings from her shoulders to glide forth from that place, transformed.
Wait! Don’t! cries a thin, trailing voice from within. Caution! Fear! It rails. Hold back!
Unheeding, she steps forward, and…
THE FOOL DRIFTS past as a seed in the wind, as a twirling feather, as a crystal mote of condensation, and she sees the Magician. She watches the boy who is initiated into the mysteries of the elements. He is taught and masters conjurings, summonings, bindings.
One day she cannot resist, and she trails fingers of wind across his eyes: he opens them with a start, seeing for a moment. “Who are you?” he demands, but oh so quickly the spirit transforms into a stag and bounds away
He chases the stag into the woods. Always the stag is just out of reach. His bare feet press into the earth. The air rushes through his hair. The sun beats upon his shoulders. The tantalizing flash of white from the stag darting through the verdure taunts him unbearably until suddenly …
It is gone, and he is alone.
Upon a rock, he sees the gifts that have been left for him. The relics of the elements glint in the sunlight, and as his hands close upon the offerings, a smile touches his lips at the power that surges through them.
THE HIGH PRIESTESS opens herself to the sky. She basks in the radiance the stars cast upon her upturned cheeks. She soaks in that tremulous, incandescent light, feeling it glow within her mind, opening corridors and dancing into filigree patterns.
The stars chant:
We were here when the mountains were young and the sea was only a dream…
we’ve seen the hills bloom with countless millions of seasons…
we’ve watched the clouds paint their visions
in a slow language across the centuries…
let us speak.
The owl hoots in the darkness, calling out to his mistress with the music of the night. His white feathers gleam in the moonlight, as if with a light from within. He glides through the darkness to come to rest near her.
In the gloam, the night is full of whispers-the secret knowledge of the stars, of the trees, and of the earth. The spirits of each murmur their collected stories and their wisdom in a sibilant descant.
She weaves those sounds through her fingers, drawing the voices into physical being, and in her fingers, a filigree key coalesces. She calls the owl to her. “Take this, and be the bearer of secrets”, she tells him.
LADY-MOTHER CALL THE wandering souls “We bring you gifts!” They fly near the Empress, dancing in the sky. They paint synchronized kaleidoscope choreographies for her pleasure, and she smiles as she takes it in. Her mind and her thoughts are the conductor to this visual symphony
Gently they lay a crown woven of the first buds of spring across her brow “Jasmine and Lily of the Valley have graciously donated their first buds for your coronet”, the spirits sign.
“The Apple Tree Man has gifted you with his fruit, and the Lady of the fields, her grains”. These they lay in her basket.
With a sudden flourish, the spirits whirl together, then spin explosion of light and music “Farewell, dear Lady” they call.
THE EMPEROR REMEMBERS …
He remembers when once there was another man. Was it his father? A mentor? Or was it a vanquished king? His mind arcs back, grasping. Once … there was another, and he relinquished the dragon orb.
He remembers his own fascination with the orb upon first lay ing eyes on it-how as he touched it, the strength of the creature within surged through his arms and possessed his senses. You are now the lord of these mortal realms. Was it the other who had said that? Or was it the dragon? He was now the dragon!
“Yessss,” he said, and knew it was so.
“I WOULD LIKE A story”, says the salamander to the Hierophant.
“And what would you like to hear little one? The words come slowly Each syllable seems to be drawn from deep within, pulled up from an individual rootlet. The salamander is used to it patient.
“I want to hear how I may fly I was content. And then one day, my friend Caterpillar said he was sleepy. He slept for a long time, until I nearly forgot him-until yesterday. A moth came to laugh at me. He laughed with Caterpillar’s laugh, and with Caterpillar’s voice he said he had had a dream of wings.”
“Ah.” The sonorous exhalation seems to go on forever. “Ah, little one: I am sorry. Caterpillar has that blessing. He may sleep and dream of flight. He weaves a silken ritual around his body and then comes the day when that vision transforms him. You …”
“I wish to dream of flight too!” says Salamander very seriously.
“You may dream of it,” says his friend and teacher “I will not be the one to deny you divinity. But just know that your own divinity shall be attained along a different path than Caterpillar’s. Do not relinquish your dream, Salamander.”
IN ONE OF the oldest tales, there is the Choice: knowledge and fulfillment of worldly senses, or the simplicity of ever-present now
To be drawn into an embrace, to seek that union that all souls ache for and desire, to know the oneness of passion and love and revel in it. Their eyes are open, but they gaze only at each other, oblivious to the sun that goes on turning above them and the gaze of the heavens. Neither gold and gem-encrusted crown of kings nor grapevine and flower twined crown of peasants grace their brows for the forces gathering around them make no such distinctions, indeed, their own senses have no awareness of such either
“Take this seed,” he says to her, placing an acorn in her palm. “Water it with the fount of your spirit and your intentions.”
“And we shall see what grows of that,” she replies.
SHE IS WINGED Victory the goddess Nike, or Maeve. She comes sweeping from the skies, confident and sure of herself. She has summoned the unicorns of the sea out from the foamy depths. They serve her willingly, bowing as is ever in their nature to such purity of intent. The ocean swells themselves are tamed beneath the enchanted wheels of her chariot. The glittering waves crash and roar with the strength of the sea, but as she guides her unicorns across the glistening track, the waves fall still before her and into a quiescent and shining mirror path.
This stillness in what is in eternal motion stirs awareness in the denizens of the deep. From underneath, the spirits of the ocean whisper to the sea god, and in a swirl of aquatic color they dance to the surface to greet one whose willpower and mastery is so undeniable as to be capable of overcoming even the wild natural fury of the seas.
THE LION ROARS. The earth trembles and the clouds skitter nervously. The bamboo sways gently. The Chinese know the hidden strength of bamboo: so fragile and delicate seeming but flexible and strong. It is a strength that does not need to shout of its power to the world but sways and bows to the wind, then springs gracefully forward again with a melodious rustle of leaves.
He roars again, and a flock of birds jolt from their perches to take flight at the sound. The maiden steps forward. She is as willowy as the stalks of the bamboo grove she emerges from. Step by step, unafraid, she approaches the beast. This king of the wilds watches her and she meets him eye to eye.
A third time his mighty challenge echoes to the skies, in a claim of mastery and ownership and dominion to any who hear it. She smiles as she comes within arm’s length, and at her touch the great golden head bows.
HE IS THE seeker who has turned his back to the noise and light and distractions of the world. In the city, the fragile light of the stars is drowned by the glare and the haze of life.
He takes his lantern. He was told by the wise woman that it was a bit of a captured star and it knows its way home. The lonely beam of light pulls him clear of the valleys and high above a glittering lake whose surface is a liquid mirror. His star lantern marks the path, and he does not know where he goes but each step lights the next, and the next, and the next.
He climbs to a distant pinnacle that is clear of the smog of humanity, and as he retreats, the air attains a spicy fragrance. It is a purity he does not know he has missed until he breathes it for the first time and then it is as if the body aches for and cannot live without that breath of life. Others have been here before him, but the steps are pristine and there is no indication of their passage. It is the nature of the place that to each who comes, they are the first and the only, and no other will tread there until the present visitor is forgotten.
It is a long journey, and during the course of the trek, his eyes finally become accustomed to the darkness of the wild. He leaves behind his memory of the city. The star in this lantern burns hot and bright, and her sisters in the heavens swirl in a joyous dance.
STORY BOOKS BEGIN, “ONCE upon a time …” and then, like a neatly wrapped package, they come to “The End.”
But true tales have no beginning or end. They do not exist only when men say “Exist!” but are always there, reverberating through time in a weaving dance. We try to contain it with beginnings and ends, to put boundaries on everything simply because our own lives are bounded by birth and death. And thus we seek to lessen the power of what is immortal. True tales have a power that reaches beyond
The Fates weave the threads of life eternally, one tied to another. Snip this thread here. Weave it into the tapestry there. Slowly, as the cloth rolls away, the images emerge.
Night follows day in the cycle of the heavens. Years bloom with the first fresh buds of spring to the sweltering profusion of long summer days the shower of leaves as autumn sets in, and then the long, dormant wait and sleep of winter… and on it goes, and on.
It is an inexorable and timeless tale.
The walls and beauty that artisans create will one day fall, and new structures will rise up on those remains. And so do the individual fortunes of any one person, on a cycle that may last a day of two, or years on end. Change will come.
TO THE EGYPTIANS, when death claimed a soul, one was brought to be judged by the goddess Ma’at. She weighed the soul on her scales against a feather, and if found wanting that soul was sent to the underworld.
There are those who say Justice is blind, but that is not so. Her eyes blaze white, not with blindness but with the pure white of truth. She sees through mere flesh, peeling aside the layers of emotion, dissemination, illusion, and perception, and into the heart, where the unfettered awareness resides. There is no hiding. She stands for karma. The souls gathered in the butterflies hover near, and she bears the feather close to her heart, like a sword.
She judges not with her own bias or with grays of maybes, but in terms of stark black and white. Things are as they are-fair, impartial, and right. And there is a balance that is achieved when true justice has been meted out, an evening out of what was not settled correctly.
IN THE FOGGY depths of the woods, he dips his fingers into the red clay, and with a careful hand he trails the patterns across his skin, across chest and arms and face. The spirals of red draw his mind into that place of deep meditation where thought becomes action and where the stillness speaks with the voices of god.
When the silence in his soul is absolute, he rises to his feet. The spirits of the forest watch as he passes, in mute witness and respect. They reach out tentatively to touch his hallowed flesh and fall into his footsteps. With solemn dignity, the procession arrives at the great oak.
The Hanged Man makes his choice of self-sacrifice. He goes willingly to his fate, unhinges his grip on control, and endures for the sake of the rewards such knowing sacrifice may bring. Ivy creeps along his body binding and entwining him physically to the tree until they are as one. Ivy, symbol of determination and the unbreakable strength and will of the human spirit.
In an echo of his action of faith and sacrifice, the fey folk back their wings and free fall from their perches in the tree, entrusting themselves to the winds.
IT IS SAID that the swan is mute its entire life. Upon the threshold of death, however, it sings one achingly beautiful song that steals the final breath from its chest, and then it expires upon that ultimate sigh. It is the most heartbreakingly wrenching song of ending
But the song of the phoenix … ah, the song of the swan cannot compare. When the phoenix sees death beckoning, she lifts her voice in a tragic song of pain, of rending, of sorrow … that you cannot mask the most intense joy, for she knows that as the flames lick at her heart, the heat is quickening the egg in which her successor sleeps. Her deathflame is its lifespark; one is linked inextricably to the other. And thus she was tied to her predecessor, and she hers, and she hers, to the beginning of time. She sits in her deathbed, upon her nest, and she submits to the inevitable hand of fate. As the fire burns searing hot and white she spreads her wings and breathes her final song of expiration.
SHE GATHERS HERSELF reaches within for the calm center, that place of balance. From her center, she feels the dragon and phoenix stirring. They twine about one another. They embrace in a sinuous twisting of scale and feather until it seems that one melts into the other. They coil around each other in a timeless battle for supremacy, choreographed in an elegant waltz of give and take, push and pull. They swirl about her in a maelstrom that assaults the senses. Like a maestro, she watches over and reins in one or the other when she senses any imbalance so that harmony is maintained.
Earth and sky fire and water, male and female, summer’s warmth and lush growth and winter’s chill winds bearing down: these opposites flow one into the other in the cyclical and endless push of yin and yang. They are perfectly balanced against one another; in fact, they are given purpose and definition by the existence of diametric opposites.
Without water, fire rages utterly unchecked and all consuming burning itself out eventually in a terrible conflagration. And without fire, the waters are lightless and drowning, flooding until there is only a still, silent mirror of nothing. By defining each other’s limits, they both become imbued with life and become life giving, tempered to coexist in just the right balance, for too much of one, and the other will be smothered.
SHE FEELS THE walls closing in on her, oblivious to the fact that she is not completely surrounded-there is the wide world open to either side! The skies cry with songs of beauty and freedom, but she tucks her head down to hide in fear, bound within walls and shackles, though it is only a thin thread that binds her, red as her heart’s blood, and the key is so close, so close. Look up! you wish to cry at her. Raise your eyes and look around!
But her ears are deaf to any voice but that of the Devil. All she hears and feels is the Devil dancing above her, driving her, goading her, pressing down upon her. Tap tap tap goes the dancing of his hooves in a merry, mocking rhythm. Tap tap tap in the seductive patterns of entrapment of the willing. Tap tap tap he dances, and he laughs with the knowledge that it is with such case he can hold a vibrant spirit captive.
Look up! Faintly, the voice pierces through the stones and seeps up into her body, and she reaches out.
A SEED DRIFTS DOWN on the wind, deposited lightly to the ground. From it a tree takes root. As the years turn, it grows-a slender sapling, glowing with green life. And the years turn-grand and stately, it reaches to the sky, challenges the heavens. And the years turn-it is a mighty giant among giants, lovingly crafted living wood and greenery that is Nature’s masterpiece
Birds come to rest in its glorious limbs, joyous and singing full of songs inspired by the heat of sun and the rush of wind and the endless skies. Men and women come to sleep in its velvety, dappled shade and dream visions of running water and soft, dark loam and home. Even in the depths of winter, so thick and established has its network of branches and foliage become that there is shelter for any traveler, man or beast-a haven for any who should wearily pass by.
And the years turn-and it has been here forever, established and deep-rooted. Its branches touch the vault of the sky, brushing the stars lightly and caressing the moon as she swings past. Its roots reach into the earth to wrap around round the pulsing beat that trembles in the darkness of the deeps.
And then with a fickle turn, as easily as she graced this tree with manifold blessings, Nature rescinds her gift. She throws a terrible spear from the heavens. What has taken centuries to coax forth from a tiny seed is destroyed in an instant, in a deadly arc of blindingly beautiful, blazing lightning.
It sears white-hot.
It shatters to splinters.
The earth shudders at the tremors of the blow.
SILVER GILDED FOOTSTEPS glide on silver flowing streams with the silver glowing starlight etching night in silver seams.
There is no sun. There is no moon. In the hushed stillness of the blackest night, only a trail of stars glitters like a fortune in diamonds upon the velvet carpet of the sky. The river of the Milky Way pours across the heavens in a cascade of starry pinpricks, and she comes dancing down that lane to where the celestial river runs to the silver etched earthly waters.
Water and earth and air become a single element in her presence. Walk on one, swim through the other, it matters not which; they are as she wills them to be.
She dances, and her feet are so light, there is but the barest disturbances of ripples upon her watery dance floor. She dances the dance that the stars have choreographed in their millennia of gazing down on the earth. It is their silent homage to the burning spirit they have witnessed. It is the dance and flow of human life, condensed into a pure essence of painful beauty. It is Hope made into a visual form.
She stretches and strains, sways and arches, leaps to impossible heights in time to a tempo that beats in the silent pulses of the stars above. A cascade of river droplets sprays forth from her swirling form. Where each droplet falls, a flowery tendril slowly sprouts.
She dances tirelessly through the night, inhuman and yet embodying humanity in her very being. When the glow of dawn touches the eastern sky, she clasps her silvery cloak tight. There is a sudden weariness to her eyes, but it is edged with triumph as well. She steps up the slowly furling carpet of the Milky Way, back to her sister stars in the night, where they gleam and wait for the next true night to dance again.
THE WATCHFUL EYE of the sun has closed, and the harshness that day shines upon the world is blurred and erased. The moon rises upon this, her domain, to spy on those of the half world who began to creep forth. A mushroom fairy ring glows bright in those soft, silvery waves. As the moments pass and the gloam closes in, they glow brighter and brighter with their own phosphorescence light the path for the faery queen.
“She comes hither!” cry the sprites on the wind, with voices so lovely they drive mortals mad with longing. “Make way!” call the will-o’-the-wisps, darting through the woods. They spark and glitter to taunt and lead astray any human who might be passing, but there is no human toy for them to catch hold of tonight. The dryads clasp hands from among the gray birches and shed their leaves as they step forward lightly to be handmaids to the approaching queen. As she glides through the forest, anemones spring up beneath her bare feet, and she smiles as she begins the dancing.
Make way! Make way!
The night holds sway;
lead on the dance to fend off day!
With mad delight, come hear us sing
no sorrow here, no pond’rous thought,
no secrets held, no secrets sought,
for all that’s wrought in faery’s ring
is wild abandon
Let sense take wing!
IN A FLARE of liquid gold that pours across the sky, the sun rises. It is the brilliant star of day, banishing the thin and wispy light of his night-bound siblings in the rich glow of dawn.
The King of the Birds emerges from his slumbering roost as the morning mist rises in hazy waves from the dew-dampened ground. His feathers gleam iridescent under dawn’s rosy palette of warmth-tinged light. His companion mounts, and together they set wing across the lands of their domain. They glide across the valleys, hearing the songs rise from workers in the fields. They soar up high and taunt the mountaintops with an elusive brush of wingtips across the upper peaks.
The denizens of the day trail in an entourage of avian delight. They pour across the sky, trailing after the sun in the arc of its journey to the western horizon.
From fallow field and verdant vale,
forms sun bleached shoes with diamond grains,
and moonlit trails that trek like veins
through mountain, river, past the end
where sky is but a ghostly veil
that to Beyond transcends …
I summon all the winged kin
from this horizon to the bounds
of what is dreamt and all surrounds!
The voices of forbidden songs
wil spiral through and center in
to fall where they belong!
UPON THE ARRIVAL of Judgment Day, an angel sounds the horn to send out the Blast of Truth. Let all the souls rise to that call then and lay their deeds out to be seen and judged by all. Let the spirit be cleansed with burning light and fire, to be made pure.
There comes a time for everyone when an accounting must be held. It is time to evaluate the phase of life just past, to recognize and to appraise with an unbiased mind and honesty to oneself. Every action has its result, for good or for ill, to be rewarded or to bear the need for absolution and forgiveness, cleansing and atonement. And beyond that is the transition on to the next phase, a rebirth and a clean slate to begin again.
Red poppies are a symbol of sleep and death, sometimes as an offering for the dead. Like blood, their color stains the fields, brilliant and beautiful. From that life-filled expanse of delicately swaying crimson and gold, butterflies take wing to bear the spirits onward in the metamorphosis of the soul. The wide freedom and endless blue of the beyond awaits.
THE PULSE OF the World ripples in an affirmation of all the life that it holds and all the death that passes. Every leaf and tree, every creature-from the smallest insects to the great singing whales-the patterns that they weave as they are born and die and cycle onward, all tremble in unison with that single heartbeat, brought together by a mighty conductor. It is a wonderfully discordant harmony, the essence of balance, a unity of disparate parts.
She sets the crown of insight lightly on her brow. She wears the girdle of truth. She reaches within and feels the lifeline that she is connected to as well. She touches it, and it is like a tangible presence in her heart, delicate but strong. The shining web of connections stretches from her heart and out into the ether. And then she reaches out with her mind, above, so high! She feels at one with the soaring birds, knows the stretch and strain of wing muscles flexing and balancing on the wind, knows the kiss of sunlight on her outstretched leaves and branches, feels the slow erosion of water on stone over the millennia.
There is no past or present or later, for this heartbeat has pulsed from the first spark of the universe, and it will beat until the end of time. It is an everlasting moment of Now, and the shimmering web of connection thrums gloriously hot in her veins. With a sudden clarity, she knows in that instant that she is blessed.
PDF version: Click here.
Many thanks to my friend Le Quang Trieu who inspirit me with The Fool’s Journey.