The Sacrifice

This is a draft of an excerpt from “Echoes Of The Lost Cantos”

“Tell me the story again!” said the soul, resting from his exhausting life, to the butterfly. “Tell me again!”

“Ok, sweet one,” said the butterfly, spiraling his proboscis with silken ease,

“I will tell it to you again, but then you must truly relax, let the swaying Spanish Moss breath for you, and recuperate in the protection of the wood pecker’s nest in the great oak. For what you have done takes more energy than you know and you need to regain your strength so that your wings do not become ragged and worn.

Off every blade of grass, in the most coveted crevices of even the smallest pinecones, in the lilt of the honeysuckle and the tilt of the cat’s eyes, we are reflected. Each thing may exist for itself; it is true (it is a silly mistake to believe that simply because each thing and each creature can offer us meaning that that is its purpose!). Each thing has its own purpose, but the sun and the moon, the stars and wind, and the screaming of the hawks at midday allow us to see our own reflections in even that which will never bother to notice our existence–it is no mind to the ant whether it is a human foot, the pressing of an angel’s wing, or the belly of a pig that crushes the shell that protects it. But often, we look only where we are accustomed to looking, see only the reflections we already recognize, and therefore, stop seeing anything at all. Remember, Sight, the owl eventually told the wizard, is a form of locomotion, not of thought. And locomotion-whispered the snake-is a form of perception, not of travel. And travel, added the goose, is a form of being. And being, counseled the eagle, is a form learning. And learning, mentioned the coyote before he darted back in the hills, is not about a thought at all.”

“Yes, I know that part! But tell about the wizard again, about how I came to have the breath of an angel and about why!”

“Ok. But, I will start near the end, the part you best remember, and work backward until we come to see how you ended up here now, nestled in a bed lined with cinnamon, sage, and copal powder,” said the butterfly, shaking cinnamon, sage and copal dust from his wings and onto the sweet one, who smiled and raised his face to the falling dust like a toddler to his first flakes of snow.

“The Wizard had grown complacent, for he had allowed The Waiting to invade Time so that the mountains and valleys bloomed between minutes, and each day was a never-ending maiden’s yawn between dawn and dusk. Time itself had begun to crawl like a weed between truth, essence, and what the Wizard saw or felt. And so, no matter where he looked, it always seemed as though he were rounding the same bends, seeing the same leaves flirting with the same birds, hearing the same toads belting the same songs at the same time in the same places. For Time, like Space, Fear and Love, is a plumed weed that if left untended, will overtake all in its path.

And Time, though it has no malintent of its own, was beginning to leave blisters on the wizard’s heart and pustules on his thoughts, which his mind began to worry and scratch like the rash of a poison sumac. And so when he sensed his purpose, it festered under the film of what the purpose of purpose had been before and what it might become in the future. When he felt fear, it became viscous with all that Could-Be and Might-Be and then, the more he worried, it became a boil in which his failures or potential failures festered and took hold like maggots. The rituals he had been taught to perform, the ones he was charged with performing in his duty as the Wizard, had become mirrors in which not the beauty of souls were reflected–as they were meant to be–or as the beacon in a self-imposed darkness–as they were also meant to be–but rather, they became mirrors of what he had seen and done, where he had been before. And therefore, they lost the power of ritual. For a ritual, or a tradition, is how one traces a doorway into the unknown from the known. It is how one sneaks through time without disrupting space and how one travels vast distances without alerting time at all.

He had been born with the medicine. When he was an infant, he looked at those who stood over him, his emerald eyes locked onto someplace deep in their souls that only the clean, only the healthy, and only the strong find celebratory. The rest–the ill, the mean, the weak–found his gaze disconcerting, frightening, even, as though his lock on the spirit might wrench them off balance. The infant-wizard never knew the difference of course. He perceived only that some large peopled moved towards him, some away, and some smiled, staying very still as though he and they might be about to engage in an epic game of tickle.

As he grew, many came to him to help him with his craft, to heal, to see, to hear. Kittens trapped in wells mewed to him from miles away, and so he learned to hear echoes of the sirens’ songs underwater and the trumpeting of those buried under the earth whose souls could not yet claw their way free. Dogs chased down by large creatures with hooves and those with wheels cried to him, and he comforted them as they lay with their innards emblazoned on the green grass until they felt no more pain. And so he learned that sometimes, the passing from Here to There can be confusing or lonely and some need a sweeper, a cleaner to clear the way and some just need company, and some need a guide (by the way, a Guide’s job is the most wearying). And he did not worry about them, nor about himself.

He did what his nature required of him and tucked the bright colored innards back into their sacks as best he could–placement is important in death. Even unseeing humans know this–he stroked their muzzles, no matter how battered or crushed, as a mother would have, and he looked at the sky, as if–even when he was a little boy–he knew that the next part of their journey was that way. And he was right. And they often smiled back at him weeks or months or years later, once they had reached the place from which they could see the sun make rainbows out of the reliefs of their previous embodiments left behind. And he was proud. And he was satisfied. When he was still very young, a litter of kittens was born between brother and sister. His mother—wise witch that she was–laid them all out on a quilt with fastidious gentleness, but no pity, knowing that had emerged here on earth only as a layover on their passage elsewhere. He and she tucked them in, folding the worn quilt over their tiny struggling bodies and behind the round of their heads in the only moment of comfort and love they would ever know in that life. Their kitten spirits saw themselves reflected in the gentle love and felt no pain, though they saw it. For the young Wizard, and perhaps for kittens, that was enough. The kittens relaxed into sleep with slight and rattling purrs, and they awoke in a new world. In their new world, and alluring, golden peace peeked behind every shadow; the wind seemed not the unpredictable shifting of the gods’ skirts, but rather, the breath of two souls who could smile in thunder and hopscotch between the bright fingers of gods as they shot through the dark night sky. In their new world, the souls that had been kittens, wandered in awe, for it felt as though there were always something watching out for them, always a soft place for them to land.

The boy-Wizard also went to sleep the night the kittens moved from this world to another, and he took woke in a new world–but in the world to which he awoke, there was a black wall between living and dying and being reborn. It was a world in which one can’t see life from death, or death from life. It was very different from the world he had come from. Sometimes, the hummingbirds mistook molded sap for nectar there, and were confused, and then died, but he couldn’t see quite where they went or why they did that. Sometimes people mistook pain for love, and they were confused. Sometimes animals mistook eating as only for survival, and they, too, were confused. And sometimes all living things mistook their lives for their souls, and so even the souls became confused at times. The creatures in this world seemed to be all infected with a sickness the Wizard was unsure how to cure. And it took you, my little one, to remind him that the greatest sickness is not the one that causes the body to weaken. The greatest sickness is the one that causes the soul to be blind to its self, which means, to also be blind to most everything.

At first the Wizard was shocked because the sick, in this new world to which he had awoken, –when they didn’t see–were like something rabid, and they lashed out first, even against that which was meant to heal them, and then to anything in their paths. He was struck over and over. Fire shot out at him from eyes still damp with despair, despite the fact that he was there to dry and cool them. As he bent to tend to the weak, their fists hammered him like iron mallets. The unsure pelted him with the hail of their false certainty like a plague of falling angels. And he did as his medicine instructed–he dried the damp, stood for the weak, tried to guide the unsure and scrubbed those made dirty by life. He tried to see love where there was none and strength beneath weakness, and to pull enlightenment from pain–as was written in the blueprint of his wizardly soul, but at the end of each day, he looked in the mirror and saw only where he, himself, had been burned, beaten, bruised and muddied. But he continued practicing the old medicine, for the old sickness, believing that that was what he had worked before and so should work again.

And, let’s remember, it wasn’t entirely his fault.

The animals and the people knew he had the medicine–it was evident in his eyes, in the trace in sounds or air the movements of his fingers made, and in the unique angle of his heart. So, they would come to him, and they would ask for his magic. And after they came to him over and over, he became more and more confident in himself as one who wields the medicine too-despite the fact that it often seemed not to work as it should’ve. And so he began to feel as though he owed them the medicine, as though he were the one who could either save or damn those who came to him. His anxiety, then, about his failures became a personal, nagging, grating thing. A thing that wound around him like barbed binding.

Something strange began to happen to him, then. The medicine, which he had used in his other world used to feel so good to him when he used it, as though he too were being cured as he cured others. But in this new world it came to feel like something that was making him weaker, something that was making him ill, something that left puncture wounds in his skin out of which his heart leaked little by little. Instead of the Healing moving through him like the honeyed tongue of the sun, it felt as though the sicknesses of those who came to him were pocking him with darkness, weakness and ignorance, making him, himself, brittle and unsure. Confused. But he knew he had the medicine, he had to have the medicine. That is what he was made of and for. And so he kept using it, becoming lost in the petrified rituals until he no longer even breathed with whoever was in front of him but turned his mouth upwards and inhaled the ritual for its own sake–for what he also hoped, was his own sake.”

“And why?” asked the Angel.

“Well,” said the butterfly with sage and cinnamon wings, “I think you already know that, right?”

“Yes, yes, but tell me anyway.”

“Ok. Well, One cannot tend to time without being in it, but one also must be very careful never to be consumed by it. The Wizard must tend time, that is part of what he does–for if he does it right, he can make space between pain and real injury; he can put a wedge in between suffering and panic, and sickness and death, and death and life so that golden light can pour in and heal what is unwell. He can hold open the moment between anger, fear, and aggression so that what is natural—for each–can enter and take hold. And so, the wizard must tend time. Only humans need to attend to time–no other animals really need to the way we do, but sometimes they, like us, need others to help us tend to it. Humans don’t arrive in the world understanding time, or timing, rather, they arrive into time-already-made.  If humans who attend to it are not careful, they can become infected by it and they can infect other creatures as well. It is a transmissible disease. For extraordinary humans, and there are a few, handling time is like handling dark magic, or an owl’s wing feather: it must be dealt with unceasing respect, care, subtly, and caution.

The Wizard had become so sick with time, he could no longer see past it. And so, those who he went to heal, instead of becoming freed from the illnesses, became also sick with time. And nothing will kill one faster than time.

But this is not just the story of the Wizard; it is also the story of the Angel who wiped the film from his eyes with his wings.”

“And what was the Wizard able to see, then?” Asked the soul, now swaying in and out of sleep.

“Well, we must remember, he was most frightened at this point. And not well.

By the time I found the Wizard, he was knocking about in an abscess of reality that was crusty and stiff as rice that has been left in the rain and then abandoned to the unforgiving midday sun. And so, when one of his charges grew ill and called on him to help, he went and he performed the duties he was used to performing, but the creature only grew worse. When he reflected on what he had done, on what had happened, he saw burnt edges around empty holes. He saw no gods, no godliness, no truth, no essence. He went over the rituals of healing in his mind, the acts he had been taught to do and charged with performing because of his role. And he caressed them harder and harder as though trying to wring from them the grace that they had used to bring. But the harder he caressed them, the more rigid they became, until, like fortified steel, their formerly subtle feathers and iridescence became immovable, insensitive, and slick. No matter how intently he performed his rituals, it was as though he, himself, slipped through every step and was just out of his own reach. He could not see himself in them.

The creatures, at this point, of course, did not want to  doubt him. They could not afford–to after all, who else would heal them if he could not? But his emptiness mushroomed in The-Between of Rituals, and the boil of his patients’ doubts, too, made them awkward in their visits with him as they tried to skirt it. The sick and the healer bumped and stumbled uncomfortably against one another, trying to avoid each other’s wounds.”

“And so, what happened?” Asked the newly debrided soul.

“Me, of course,” answered the butterfly, golden pride flickering through his cinnamon, sage and copal wings like electricity. “Me.”

“And me?” Drowsed the soul.

“Yes, sweet prince, of course you. You brought him to me.” “Tell that part of the story.”

“Ok,” said the butterfly, who had already intended to tell that part of the story, but one does not need to be proprietary with angels who earned their wings by moving from earth to heaven, as opposed to the other way around.

“When you arrived in this world the first few times, you were, as most human beings are, from a drop of wine spilled by one god or another. If angels are often gods’ sculpted creations, earthly beings–particularly humans–are often their accidents, whom earth eventually enfolds anyway. But we on earth don’t much mind this. The earth has her own creation and if she takes us in, well, all we can be is grateful and careful as an orphaned boy in a nunnery.

As an accident, your emergence was as much a surprise to you as it was to the gods and you did not worry over that any more than the rock over which one trips is concerned with the injury its position may have caused anyone.

As soon as you arrived, you felt as though you had always been here. It was not in your nature to worry about the trajectory of your life, nor its purpose. It was not in your capacity to wonder where you had come from or where you would go. You walked easily, breathed easily, saw clearly and thought nothing of anything.

But then your bliss was perturbed by a creature who limped, cried, and writhed at things you would’ve either ignored or batted about as a cat does the carcass of a roach. This creature bumped into things easily avoided, and it ducked–randomly it seemed to you–as though the ceiling of the world were percussing against its head. It seemed to have great power, but it was as though the power wielded the creature, rather like a child being crazily thrashed by a stick, than the other way around. It whipped the creature here and there and back and forth, battering it until the creature seemed to simply give up, empty his body, and hover resentfully above it.

You wondered, then, for the first time about something: what was wrong with it? It’s obvious suffering, its obvious blindness, it’s inability to wield its own power became like a grain of sand in the smooth muscle that was your mind. And so you took it, tongued it, rolled it, until it formed a pearl–beautiful, glorious, precious. That pearl lodged itself in your membranes, taking up space in you that your own soul could’ve filled. At that moment you had taken on the healing of this other creature, the teaching of it. By wondering, you now became part of it. And, being what you are, you did not flinch at that, you did not worry about that, you did not see that as out of the course of the natural order.

And so you eventually died, as all living do, and were washed and tumbled by the ocean, picked clean by meticulous vultures of the ocean…though, if you were to ask them, you were slim pickings. You had lived such an unadorned life that for the first time, you gave the Preparers little work. All that was left was the little pearl, which was inhaled by the storm clouds and rained down into the wine glasses of the gods. As they stumbled, they spilled their wine. Out of the glass, this time, fell the pearl. That, of course, triggered their aspirational attention for a brief moment, but it was the earth who actually caught you, again. And so she held you between the laces of decomposing leaves, let you root yourself in between, and spread up and out. You grew very tall and still–though inside, you were waiting–and when creatures that bumbled and stumbled about passed, you reached out to them with white petals iridescent with scent, which quivered from you to get their attention. And the creatures stopped–for they couldn’t help it. But you found that they stroked your petals and bruised them. They smelled the flowers and then took them. They bumped into you as they had into everything else, with no awareness of you. And so, your remaining petals dropped off as useless as eyelashes no child has ever wished upon. You crumbled into the earth and she embraced every cell of you. Your pearl turned over and over in her belly and eventually, she came to sneak prideful looks at it when the sun was down, as though it were a secret love-child.

And you returned her affections. You nestled in the earth, deep, deep, in between roots and minerals and fragments of bone. And you and she both felt the vibrations of that creature who crashed and staggered as though he were a giant in a doll’s house. His serrated curiosity destroyed what he did not know instead of revealing it. But he meant well–for your pearl glowed in resonance with his heart, and you were drawn to his image as you had been to him before. You could not quite tell what was the matter with him, but you were still determined to fix it.

After consulting with the Owl, the Eagle, the Snake, the Coyote, and the Fox, it became clear to you what you must do.”

“I do not remember much, after that,” said the soul.

“No, no you wouldn’t. At first you tried to come to the Wizard as a chameleon. Your colors shifting to reflect the color of life, healing and health for each creature that came to him, as they had come to The Wizard before. But the Wizard was so concerned with looking for the disease, that that is all he ever saw. he never saw you, in your transcendent iridescence.

And so, at your own death, you did not go to him. Do you remember that?”

“Yes. And I felt him feel my distance even though he had been unable to see my presence–but I had the sense that if he had seen me just then, I would’ve been locked in my own death for eternity.  I could not be with him then. I worried for one instant that I had abandoned him. Did I abandon him?”

“No, dear angel, you made the greatest gift to him after that. You gave yourself–your death apart from him–for him to see himself.

Rainbows streaked around you like a million Mother of Pearls in the light, and this time, the earth recognized you before the tides could lap you up, before the axes could chop you down, and before the bones could be your players in The Symphony. She rocked you under the moon until you knew what do to next.”

“And what did I do next? I don’t remember this part at all!”

“I know sweetheart, you never do.

You became death for The Wizard so that he could see Life, and be Life, again; so that he could evade the thorns of time.

“And how did I do that? How? Tell me slowly.”

“You came to me in life, and gave me your death. That is the simplest way I can say it. You came to me to die, and as I followed you in your death, I felt as though a stint had been inserted between me and time, and I became free again, and I saw sage, cinnamon and copal weaving and breathing and lighting the way to the cycle out of which we had been made: I saw you and the butterfly, and myself (who is clearly not how I appear to you now). And I saw that time needs pruning and shaping, tendering and containing. It needs cycles, which it can only have when we see that. Otherwise, Time itself becomes sick. It runs out of itself or runs into one like the Wizard, when he got sick. Time is its own creature, and when we become drunk on it, we too become sick, and then infectious.

Before you came–and left–and returned again only to leave, I had thought of life lived here on earth as the magnetic center of the compass–as the source from which all things came or went. I came to think of suffering in terms of “how long,” and of death as a blessing in the sense only that it stopped the way that suffering could seem endless. And therefore, I could not heal. I had lost sight of the continuum between body, spirit and soul.”

“And now?”

“Well, and now, have a look around. What color are your wings? Are they not sage, copal and cinnamon colored? Does dust not waft up from them as spores from a puffball mushroom when the Wizard steps carefully in the forest? Does that dust not rise before his eyes, mingle with the dust we shake from our wings, and create a veil through which he can see that disease is a moment between you and me, but is also that healing is an eternal cycle. This, he now remembers is how to be the Wizard. You died at the right time.

Sometimes reincarnation is death, not life. You stopped the forward racing of time for the Wizard, reminded me that it is a useful tool for healers only when its beginning is bound with its end. From the astral perspective, life is nothing to be lost. From the primal, it is everything. As Wizards, butterflies, and angels, we work our magic by holding those two truths together, holding the circle open and complete at the same time.

“Remember, sweet One,” said the Wizard to the creature who had just died in his hands, had just given his death so that the Wizard could feel the pulse of gold, copal and sage colored wings, “The angels are not just the wings of gods or the perspiration that drips off their incarnations. They are not just born from the heavens, but can be the fruit of life on earth. The earth does not give them up immediately. The gestation can last many lives and many deaths. But what of the conception? The oaks’ roots will tell you that it does not happen immediately either, nor even in the courting of a few lives with a few deaths. It happens by languid coincidence–the sort one doesn’t even notice as they are happening–how many seeds do the oaks and pines drop before one takes root? None of them bother to count. It only matters that some do take root.

You, my angel, sprouted. Now rest, so that your wings may become the lace of both the decomposing leaves, the plumes of puffball mushrooms and also the clouds blown through by blasts of sun light. In your rest, my angel, by the closing of your eyes and silencing of your lungs, we will again hold the ends of time together, creating the eternal circuit through which our magic flows.

copyright © 2022 Maggie Schein