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A Futurist Fantasy
A. E. (George W. Russell)
The Avatars, A.E.
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
The Light is the real person in the picture. (Claude Monet)
THERE is no imagination of mine about Avatars in this book. No more than an artist could paint the sun at noon could I imagine so great beings. But as a painter may suggest the light on hill or wood, so in this fantasy I tried to imagine the spiritual excitement created by two people who pass dimly through the narrative, spoken of by others but not speaking themselves. I have, I fear, delayed too long the writing of this, for as I grow old the moon of fantasy begins to set confusedly with me. The Avatars has not the spiritual gaiety I desired for it. The friends with whom I once spoke of such things are dead or gone far from me. If they were with me, out of dream, vision and intuition shared between us, I might have made the narrative to glow. As it is, I have only been able to light my way with my own flickering lantern.
IN the winter twilight a young man was flying from civilization. His way lay between many snow-covered hills. Why was he flying from city to mountain? On the morning of that wintry day his city had appeared to him to be an evil wrought by sorcerers, who, at the close of their labors, had summoned fog, gloom and cold, a grey consistory, to intervene between the heart and heaven. He had watched from his window dejected figures looming and vanishing in the fog, their world a blur of grey mist above, a blur of murky brown underfoot. He had thought for an instant a picture might be made of these sad shadows darkling and fading in the cloudy air, but shrank from the idea of giving permanence to what was not in itself desirable life. A wind had swept the fog from the street, but the thinning mist revealed only the dull darkness of the houses opposite, in bleak unlikeness to the City the artist imagination would build on earth.
“It must be sorcery keeps the world as it is,” he had thought. And fancy had created a vivid grotesque, a council of wizards riding high on the steely air, monstrous shapes with eyes opaque as stone, like to that fabled Balor of the Evil Eye, but petrifying hearts, not bodies, with a glance. If not like these in body, like these in soul must have been the creators of that dark industrial architecture which made a gloom in the air. He thought of the minds darkened in those mills, face and form losing comeliness, the mechanical eliminating use of the joyous creative faculty. He had himself been manacled to the mechanical world when a boy. He recalled his agony at the dimming of imaginative life in dull labors; an agony which one day grew unendurable, and impelled him there and then to escape, prepared to let body starve rather than soul. The exaltation of revolt carried him far from the city, a vagabond truly, but happy, restored to the everlasting companions, air and light, who flung their arms about him. He had journeyed on and on over an earth rich with lakes and woods, with noons misty with light, and mountains that in the evening seemed to ascend in flame. They were all calling him to be of their brotherhood. It was then he first felt their beauty was transparent. Some being, remote yet intimate, peered at him from the deeps of air. The apparitions of light, cloud, mountain and wood underwent a transfiguration into life, a vaster remoter self or oversoul to his own being. So, spell-stricken, he had passed from wonder to wonder, until at last the western sea stayed his travelling. There he met Michael Conaire, who became to him an elder brother; and, by his help, Paul came to be the artist which was nature’s intent for him. The thought of that old friend had come to him in his despondency as light draws the lost traveler in some midnight valley. With an impetuous obedience to impulse in which he never failed, he had hastened to pack up the materials of his art. In his hurrying mind the air was shining, the foam was leaping, the snow was pure on mountain and field, the fire was on the hearth and the whimsical elder was beside it, all that would meet him at the end of his journey. So he started on his second flight from civilization. An hour after the dull city and its melancholy slaves were behind him. He wondered if time would ever come when they would revolt as he had done, return to nature and let that mother restore their lost likeness in soul and body to the ancestral beauty. Only a god, he thought, could arouse them from their stupor. As he drew nigh at twilight to that western land he loved, half in a dream he watched from the silently running car the fields white without a gleam; the hills a chilly violet against a sky of lemon light; the cottages on the hillside; tall smoke rising up through stillest air; here and there a glint of gold from door or window. It was all so pure and cold and lovely that he closed his eyes to lay it reverently in the chamber of beautiful memories. Then his mood of half dream became wholly dream, and passed into trance, and vision came strangely to him with power and the sense of purpose.
In that illumination of vision he was brought to a cottage on some mountainside. He knew not where. He saw, by a light in himself which made the dusk lucid, the snow pale as pearl lying on rock and ridge and roof with a blue luster taken from a sky with just awakening stars. One window only was aglow piercing the whitewashed walls, and about that homestead a delicate nimbus was spread as if rayed from a lovely life hidden within. Above the cottage rose two watchers, crested with many-colored lights, gigantic forms that seemed shaped from some burnished and exquisite fire. They held swords of wavering flame as if guardians of some precious thing.
There was gentleness amid the awe the vision created: and it was all marvelously clear, clearer than anything imagination had ever beheld and beyond his own imagination beautiful.
Paul opened his eyes and, starting up, he looked wildly about him, but he could see nothing but the dark ridged mountains rising on either side of the valley road. The only lights were the stars and the far lights of homes on the hillside, and he knew not where to search for that cottage of wonder. He sank back, closing his eyes that he might see again, but the vision had vanished, and memory could not recreate it in its first magical luster. He groaned in himself that he should have started up and had lost maybe some further revelation. The car ran on along the snowy road, the driver, unconscious of the mad imaginations of his silent passenger, hurrying him from the valley of vision. At last there came a twist in the road, and then the shadowy shining of a lake below battlements of rock, and beyond that dim sea, and beyond that still dimmer mountains. Paul recalled his thoughts from their wild careering as the car turned into an avenue. In a moment he was before an open door; there was a hall ruddy with light and a figure with arms uplifted in welcome.
“DEAR PAUL, I felt at midday you were coming. You sent your thought flying before you. I have been looking along the road for an hour or more.” Behind Conaire was his wife, kind as himself, the silent and affectionate listener to interminable rhapsody and speculation from the talkative philosopher. Conaire was radiant in the anticipation of a less silent hearer. He foresaw colloquies stretching beyond midnight with the artist he had fostered. That night truly he was stirred as Paul hesitatingly told of the vision in the dark valley. Conaire sat up quivering with excitement.
“There is a prologue in heaven to that,” he began impressively. “I know now why I met you seven years ago. I know why you revolted against the mechanical. I know why you and I are what we are. I know why Lavelle fashioned poetry out of legend and colored it with fairy. I know why Brehon turned to a language which had become almost a tradition, and why the enthusiasts of a rural civilization began their labors. They were all forerunners. Now there will be spiritual adventures, knights-errant, dragons to be slain, black magic and divine enchantments. I would not now exchange this my age for any other; not to sit at the Banquet and hear the wisdom of Socrates: not to be in Babylon with the great king: not to see Solomon bewitch the Queen of Sheba!"
“Incurable romantic! Tell me about the prologue in heaven," said Paul, amused and pleased as all are when thought of theirs is taken by another, and the psychic juggler tosses it in the air, and it breaks out into many shining forms with faces looking in every direction. It was to warm himself at this glow of fancy he had fled from the city. “I came here to have my gloom lit up by the torch of your mind. Begin in heaven, dear friend, and you can descend by way of the half-gods to the hearth where I sit. Make the journey as long as you like. I am excited about that aureoled cottage with its watchers. I never dreamed earth had such fiery gigantic citizens. My being leaped up in light when I saw them. Do you think it more than imagination?”
“It is not imagination. It is seership. Listen, Paul. When I was young the whole world was at war, as you know. You could not remember the agony but you know the black night which settled on men's souls after it. I thought the Iron Age was to be with us for ever, that beauty was to be but a memory, that earth deserted by the gods was to spin desolate in space. You know what infinite sorrow the heart can feel when we are young. In the midnight of my despair I too had a vision. My sleep broke into a dazzle of light, and I was raised above myself to be with the immortals. They glimmered star-like about me, each in the image by which they were fabled. They were gazing silently at a ruddy divinity that was waving his hand from the heaven world at the troubled earth. It was Ares, proud, for he had drawn men in millions to act in his greatest drama. The gentler deities held counsel together. The memory of that tragedy must be obliterated. The curtain of blackness which would fall when it was over must be lifted on a new drama to be enacted, a drama like one of the beautiful plays of antiquity in which gods took part as hero or heroine. Such was the play of Helen which made men realise that beauty was a divinity. Such was the play of Radha and Krishna which taught lovers how to evoke god and goddess in each other. Only a deity could undo what a deity had done. So now there must be born on earth divine shepherds to lead men back to ancient happiness and beauty. The immortals, gazing on earth, communed as to where the incarnation would take place. In the Old World the hearts of men were so heavy that they could not be uplifted even by a god. In the New World the hearts of men were so fierce that not even the power of the immortals could save their avatar if he did not worship the idols men had there set up. There was India always ready to prostrate itself before a divinity. But India had many avatars, and if a new avatar came it would still be prostrate and gentle and would not rise up in pride. Then one pointed to a land where lived a perfectly impossible people with whom anything was possible. And when he had pointed it out, all the immortals turned their eyes and looked on me and I awoke.”
“Your imagination leaps by the tipsiest stepping-stones from darkness to light and with seven-leagued boots,” said Paul, contrary from old custom, yet all the while willing to be convinced life's darkness could be transmuted into precious fires. “But if you took any two dreams by any two other people and made them stepping-stones for your seven-leagued imagination, into what increditable regions in space and time would you not be carried?”
“There are not two stepping-stones only. But by treading on these I can see the stepping-stones behind me and others ahead,” Conaire answered, delighted at an opposition which was a signal to summon up whole legions of theory. “My vision doubtless appears to you more personal fantasy than an image of truth. But truth may be revealed in symbol. When we fall asleep after a day of anxiety our desires often dramatize themselves in dream which is a true symbol of our waking state. The circumstance of the dream may be incredible. What it symbolizes is a truth. In the secrecy of sleep, in that state we call dreamless, we wake to a life of divine reality. When we emerge from that state its realities may dramatize themselves in symbolic dreams, and these realities must drape themselves in whatever shapes they can find. The circumstance of the dream may be incredible and yet the idea symbolized may be worthy philosophic scrutiny. I know,” continued Conaire with a deprecating movement of hands and features, “my mind is encrusted with fantasies. I built them up as a defence against the grey folk who were ever assailing me with the wish that I become as colorless as themselves. For that habit of mind the penalty is, I receive truth only through a mist of fantasy. But I have come to believe my dream, however fantastic, mirrored some reality in divine consciousness brooding on the future, devising religions, philosophies, arts, sciences and civilizations, and breathing forth the moods by which acceptance is made possible. I think your vision was of some reality while mine was symbolic. You must not think of gods or avatars as fountains only of theological piety. In the ancient world any around whom nations pivoted to new destinies were regarded as avatars. So the goddess was surmised in Helen, the god in Alexander or Cuchulain. You must not allow your mind to be dominated by traditions of the avatars of theology. Plato says if there be any gods they certainly do not philosophize, and I am equally certain they are not like even the saintliest of archbishops. They are, I fancy, more like poets who live their own lordly imaginations. It is not an incredible speculation that one of these divine poets has taken a body in this world, and is now as child or man in that aureoled cottage on the mountainside. Are not the greater poets half gods, and why should we shrink from belief in one who is fully conscious of his divinity?”
“I would undertake labors like those of Hercules to learn the truth about my dream,” cried Paul. “But what have the gods been doing since the Council in Heaven? Tell me about the forerunners. You have a segment of the divine circle, and I expect an imagination like yours to complete the full orb for me.”
“It is not as easy as that,” returned the philosopher. “An ancient scripture says, ‘The Wise Ones guard well the home of Nature's order. They assume excellent forms in secret.’ Whatever happens I am sure will be surprising however we speculate. Ares is the only deity who repeats himself. The warrior mind in heaven as on earth is devoid of imagination. Was there ever clearer evidence of flagging invention than in the Russian revolution following the French? The dramatis personae were the same in both dramas. A half-witted king, a haughty queen, angry philosophers, magicians, charlatans, ferocious dictators, jacquerie and peasant wars. But it is a fascinating subject for speculation how, after thought in Heaven on the affairs of Earth, the Divine Will might be transmuted into earthly activities. The ancients spoke of Fountains Welling out of Hecate, by which symbols they expressed their belief that from the heart of divine nature there was a ceaseless flow of spiritual energy on all that live. In many lands there are legends of these sidereal Fountains— in our own country also. It was by breathing the exhalations from mystic nature the Sibyls were inspired to prophecy. This indicated the belief of the ancients that ideas born in the Heaven world descended to the Earth dwellers by these ethereal streams. We can imagine one of these Fountains feeding with spiritual vitality the people among whom the incarnation is to take place, first colored by the presence of the god; and the spiritually sensitive, awakened to a new consciousness by the current laving heart and mind, stirred to give it expression and so becoming forerunners of the Avatar. These naturally would seek symbols and affinities in myth, legend and tradition of ages when this commerce between Heaven and Earth was understood. What is spoken of as the mystic paganism of our poets is not merely a protest against mechanical life, but is the desire of the soul to live amid its spiritual affinities. The very names they use, the names of ancient gods and heroes, have a power of evocation. Those who, allured by the magic of rhythm, murmur these names, whether they know it or not, are weaving spells and incantations. The powers evoked flow to them out of the Ever Living. The earth is changed for them; and all this prepares the way for the Avatar; for, if there were no forerunners, there would be none who could understand his voice. The forerunners arouse ideas latent in the character of the people. The Avatar wakens these to full consciousness and indicates their final goal. The purpose of an Avatar is to reveal the spiritual character of a race to itself.”
“Can you say of us that we do not know our own spiritual character?” asked Paul.
“Do you know when you listen to orchestra what next shall follow on the music sounding on the air, whether flute or violin shall most intoxicate the sense? But whatever instrument dominates, if the work be by a great master, we feel the sequence was inevitable even if unforeseen. The master knows the quality of the instrument and its full tones. We do not know until the master has played on the instrument what music it can make. We do not know ourselves but we are known. The spiritual cultures we associate with Greece, Egypt, India, Persia, China or Judea were all in the divine consciousness before they were in the human. I can imagine, before the awakening of Greece, before a poet had sung to a lyre or a statue was carved, the Lords of the world, who know what is within, perceiving the latent instinct for beauty, and that some divine messenger incarnated to be its Avatar. It may have been that being, fabled long after as Apollo, by whom was awakened that consciousness which culminated in epic, drama, statue, temple; and which realized its divine origin in a philosophy which declared that Deity was Beauty in its very essence. Can we say of our own people what one mood is dominant, as we can say in ancient Greece there was the passion for beauty, or in ancient India there was the longing for spiritual truth?”
“But,” said Paul, “you came out of that high conclave with the thought we were an impossible people. Why, if that be so, should everything be possible?”
“The marriage of Heaven and Earth has not taken place here as among the races I have mentioned,” returned the philosopher placidly. “Where it has taken place men can live by reason. We have not that rational life. We live by intuition or instinct. At times our life is golden. At other times we are like demons from Eblis.”
“I am in a mood to believe anything tonight,” said Paul. He moved about the room restless as the orange-glow dancing and dwindling on the wall, an echo in light of the ruddy hearth. Then he went to the window and looked out on a mountainous earth, all blue, fairy and still in its mask of snow. It seemed more imagination than reality. The sky leaning over the lofty crags was like a face all majesty of expression yet without features. The sense of it being living overcame him. It seemed to draw nearer and nearer, to be at the window, intense with spirit being. The window for an instant was a portal into eternity. He came back to Conaire. “I do not understand myself. I know nothing about life. This morning I felt as if iron bars were to close about us for ever and I hurried here like the condemned escaping from a dungeon. Tonight I feel as if I had but to lift my hands and call ‘Be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors,’ and that apparition of earth and sky would be rolled up as a curtain. But,” he said dejectedly, “they would not be lifted up. We are only children tilting at unassailable walls.”
“It is in the awakening of an eye the dead shall be raised,” said Conaire. “Was it with those eyes you saw the fiery watchers on the hillside? I think you are a natural seer, but you have been content as an artist with the images you created for yourself. An Eastern sage said we could climb into Heaven by brooding on knowledge which came in dream. If you brood on your vision it may start you on some marvelous travelling. Remember the Persian poet:
a single Alif were the clue,
Could we but find it, to the Treasure House
And peradventure to the Master too."
A Mood at once gay and solemn is born in the soul when it first discovers a path to light out of the dark cavern of the body, and is made aware of wide realms to travel in with a higher order of beings as companions. Such a mood overwhelmed Paul when he laid his head on a pillow and closed his eyes to sleep. He found, not the accustomed shade into which consciousness fades, but a jewel luster as if whatever being had imparted to him its own vision, by that momentary commerce with him had made everything radiant, leaving behind it shining memories of its own nature and its travel from Heaven to Earth.