A Tragedy in the Temple
George William Russell - A.E.

I have often thought with sadness over the fate of that comrade. That so ardent and heroic a spirit, so much chivalry and generosity should meet such a horrible fate, has often made me wonder if there is any purpose in this tangled being of ours; I have hated life and the gods as I thought of it.  What brought him out of those great deserts where his youth was spent, where his soul grew vast knowing only of two changes, the blaze of day and night the purifier, blue, mysterious, ecstatic with starry being  Were not these enough for him? Could the fire of the altar inspire more?  Could he be initiated deeper in the chambers of the temple than in those great and lonely places where God and man are alone together? This was my doing; resting in his tent when I crossed the desert, I had spoken to him of that old wisdom which the priests of the inner temple keep and hand down from one to the other; I blew to flame the mystic fire which already smouldered within him, and filled with the vast ambition of God, he left his tribe and entered the priesthood as neophyte in the Temple of Isthar, below Ninevah.

I had sometimes to journey thither bearing messages from our high priest, and so as time passed my friendship with Asur grew deep. That last evening when I sat with him on the terrace that roofed the temple, he was more silent than I had known him before to be; we had generally so many things to speak of; for he told me all his dreams, such vague titanic impulses as the soul has in the fresh first years of its awakening, when no experience hinders with memory its flights of aspiration, and no anguish has made it wise. But that evening there was, I thought, something missing; a curious feverishness seemed to have replaced the cool and hardy purity of manner which was natural to him; his eyes had a strange glow, fitful and eager; I saw by the starlight how restless his fingers were, they intertwined, twisted, and writhed in and out.

We sat long in the rich night together; then he drew nearer to me and leaned his head near my shoulder; he began to whisper incoherently a wild and passionate tale; the man's soul was being tempted.

"Brother" he said, "I am haunted by a vision, by a child of the stars as lovely as Isthar's self; she visits my dreaming hours, she dazzles me with strange graces, she bewilders with unspeakable longing. Sometime, I know, I must go to her, though I perish. When I see her I forget all else and I have will to resist no longer. The vast and lonely inspiration of the desert departs from my thought; she and the jewel-light she lives in blot it out. The thought of her thrills me like fire. Brother give me help, ere I go mad or die; she draws me away from earth and I shall end my days amid strange things, a starry destiny amid starry races."

I was not then wise in these things, I did not know the terrible dangers that lurk in the hidden ways in which the soul travels. "This" I said" is some delusion. You have brooded over a fancy until it has become living; you have filled your creation with your own passion and it lingers and tempts you; even if it were real, it is folly to think of it, we must close our hearts to passion if we would attain the power and wisdom of Gods."

He shook his head, I could not realize or understand him. Perhaps if I had known all and could have warned him, it would have been in vain; perhaps the soul must work out its own purification in experience and learn truth and wisdom through being. Once more he became silent and restless. I had to bid him farewell as I was to depart on the morrow, but he was present in my thoughts and I could not sleep because of him; I felt oppressed with the weight of some doom about to fall.  To escape from this feeling I rose in adoration to Hea; I tried to enter into the light of that Wisdom; a sudden heart-throb of warning drew me back; I thought of Asur instinctively, and thinking of him his image flashed on me. He moved as if in trance through the glassy waves of those cosmic waters which everywhere lave and permeate the worlds, and in which our earth is but a subaqueous mound. His head was bowed, his form dilated to heroic stature, as if he conceived of himself as some great thing or as moving to some high destiny; and this shadow which was the house of his dreaming soul grew brilliant with the passionate hues of his thought; some power beyond him drew him forth. I felt the fever and heat of this inner sphere like a delirious breath blow fiercely about me; there was a phosphorescence of hot and lurid colours. The form of Asur moved towards a light streaming from a grotto, I could see within it burning gigantic flowers. On one, as on a throne, a figure of weird and wonderful beauty was seated.  I was thrilled with a dreadful horror, I thought of the race of Liliths, and some long forgotten and tragic legends rose up in my memory of these beings whose soul is but a single and terrible passion; whose love too fierce for feebler lives to endure, brings death or madness to men. I tried to warn, to awaken him from the spell; my will-call aroused him; he turned, recognized me and hesitated; then this figure that lured him rose to her full height; I saw her in all her plume of a peacock, it was spotted with gold and green and citron dyes, she raised her arms upwards, her robe, semi-transparent, purple and starred over with a jewel lustre, fell in vaporous folds to her feet like the drift over a waterfall.  She turned her head with a sudden bird-like movement, her strange eyes looked into mine with a prolonged and snaky glance; I saw her move her arms hither and thither, and the waves of this inner ocean began to darken and gather about me, to ripple through me with feverish motion. I fell into a swoon and remembered nothing more.

I was awakened before dawn, those with whom I was to cross the desert were about to start and I could remain no longer. I wrote hurriedly to Asur a message full of warning and entreaty and set out on my return journey full of evil forebodings. Some months after I had again to visit the temple; it was evening when I arrived; after I had delivered the message with which I was charged, I asked for Asur. The priest to whom I spoke did not answer me. He led me in silence up to the terrace that overlooked the desolate eastern desert. The moon was looming white upon the verge, the world was trembling with heat, the winged bulls along the walls shone with a dull glow through the sultry air. The priest pointed to the far end of the terrace. A figure was seated looking out over the desert, his robes were motionless as if their wrinkles were carved of stone, his hands lay on his knees, I walked up to him; I called his name; he did not stir. I came nearer and put my face close to his, it was as white as the moon, his eyes only reflected the light. I turned away from him sick to the very heart.

Irish Theosophist, September 15, 1893

Present article was scanned and proofread and made available for publication by Mr. Jake Jaqua.

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