So between the day job, family obligations and martial arts training I’ve decided I don’t have enough to do, so I started a video blog at Vid.me.
It’s only been up for a few days but I plan on making at least 5-6 short new videos a week. Follow me here, if you’re so inclined: https://vid.me/Brendan831
A friend wrote me last week asking for some advice. While not an orthodox Taoist he has been studying the tradition for many years, and finding himself in a difficult living situation, turned to the I-Ching oracle for assistance. He found the response puzzling and had difficulty reconciling it with his understanding of the Taoist philosophy. He wrote:
“The Zang Zi seems to advise that rulership as such is a lost cause, one should aspire to the nature of the sage, and then without doing, the kingdom will be in order. It cautions against differentiating between that which is good and that which is bad.
the 44th hexagram in the Yi, encourages a ruler to weed out the evil influence in his court.
How are these reconciled?”
While I have great deal of positive regard for Taoism, I’m not a Taoist, so I don’t think I can resolve this issue from inside a Taoist perspective. There are, however, some points of contact here with the classical Greek tradition that might prove helpful.
First, perhaps we should examine the question of good and evil. The injunction to avoid distinctions of good and evil strikes many as hard to reconcile with our moral intuitions. Yet there are several mystics and philosophers who have denied the validity of these intuitions: from Protagoras to Thrasymachus to Nietzsche to Crowley. Furthermore, in the age of modern relativism, we shy away from any claim to absolute moral authority. It is attractive therefore to try and toss the whole question of ethics overboard and be done with it, even if we still feel uncomfortable affirming the moral neutrality of such practices as rape, murder, torture, theft and genocide. This leads us to a difficult and philosophically untenable position. As a result we usually end up just avoiding the question. But since we have no choice, let us take it up here, if only provisionally and in brief.
How can we understand the injunction to avoid distinctions of good and evil? One way is with the emphasis on the idea of distinction. Here the issue is not so much moral ideology per se, but our human preferences. Following this interpretation we read the injunction as saying that we should not attempt to reach good or bad results, but simply resign ourselves to the working out of fate. After all, the final outcome of events is not up to us. The Stoics compared man to a dog chained to a cart. The dog may pull this way or that, but in the end he will go where the cart goes. He can do so willingly and enjoy the ride, running and sniffing within the boundary the chain gives him, or he can refuse to cooperate, fight the cart, choke himself on the lead and be dragged. This is perhaps the most mystical of the interpretations.
There is, however, a problem here, because without valuation of some kind, we cannot act. The world does not provide us with a fixed direction, but a field of many possible directions and interpretations. While we might ultimately be dragged by fate, the workings of fate are not immediately apparent to us. We must use our reason to determine what is most likely to be beneficial and attainable, and this is an act of valuation. Valuation presuppose a desired and undesired outcome and here we have returned to the question of preference. If we take the injunction to avoid valuation merely at face value the it is grossly nihilistic and must end in either slavery to some directing agent who holds a different philosophy, or in a chaos of moment to moment impulses, or to a wasting catatonia. We must therefore reject this perspective and unhelpful.
There is, however, another option which is to look deeper into the philosophical system and see what rhetorical purpose the injunction serves. For example, there is a sophisticated solution in Stoicism for this problem, which hinges on the concepts of divine providence, duty, the nature of happiness, and the distinction between simply fated and dependently fated events. An important point here is that the Stoics do not deny the validity of ethics, only change its emphasis from the common view of external events as good if pleasant and evil if harmful to one of human character. External events in Stoicism are viewed as neither good nor evil, but indifferent. If we choose to interpret the original injunction in this light, we see it as not so much a definitive an universal axiom, but an attempt to redirect the reader to a different standard of evaluation – one looking not to results but to personal behavior. The form this takes depends on larger metaphysical conceptions. A practitioner of this interpretation might take up Christian quietism, or Roman heroism, or a Taoist amused wandering. That will depend on the rest of the philosophical system and how it puts forward a view of human nature, and therefore an ideal.
Returning to your dilemma and viewing it through this lens, aspiring to the ideal of the sage means viewing external occurrences as indifferent, and focusing on the improvement and satisfaction of your own character. You should not run around trying to “fix” the world, because the state of the world is an indifferent. It will be what it will be. Rather, you should focus on yourself. The advice that the ruler should remove ill influences from his court, that is to say his intimate surroundings, influences that are likely to affect his character for the worse, is rendered rather straightforward and practical. I may be biased, but I see this as perfectly compatible with Taoist precepts.
Another possible interpretation is to place the emphasis not on the act of valuation, but on the distinction of moral worth. Here moral imperatives are viewed as nothing more than human imaginary constructs. Individuals are still however free to regard particular outcomes as good or “evil” for them personally or for their group. Under this interpretation, there are no ideals, but there are desirable and undesirable outcomes. The attractiveness of this view is that it seems to promise us the ability to “eat our cake, and still have it too”. We can still hold to some kind of moral intuition, and avoid all the messy questions of ultimate right or wrong. There are still aspects of our conventional morality we will have to jettison. For example, while we might not wish to be robbed, or live in a society full of robbers, we can’t say there is anything necessarily wrong with our stealing from someone else – provided we think we can get away with it, for instance if we are in another country and unlikely to ever return.
The problem with this view is two-fold. As pointed out earlier, final outcomes are rarely up to us. We can aim for a particular outcome but we cannot guarantee we will achieve it. Therefore this philosophy depends a great deal on “luck” and we are just as likely to be frustrated as to be satisfied. The second problem is that absent an ideal, there is often a great deal of conflicting possibilities, none of which present themselves as the most obviously satisfactory. Some courses of action are immediately unpleasant, but result in a more satisfactory existence in the long term, or at least are more likely to do so. For example, indiscriminate sexual gratification is very pleasant but can result in numerous interpersonal complications, financial obligations or even catastrophic disease. Sexual fidelity is often difficult, but can result in long last satisfying relationships and more stable life over all. Working hard to gain a good career is unpleasant but results in more resources for satisfaction later in life.
It remains an open question whether or not we can maximize the utility of our actions through pure calculation, absent some kind of organizing ideal. Furthermore, what human capacity should we use to make this calculation? If we deny the validity of all ideals, we also deny the validity of the rational ideal. There is therefore no imperative to act rationally. We can pursue power or pleasure, but even here the question jumps out at us: “How? How should we pursue pleasure or power? In what field? In what manner?” We are thrown back on our ability to think strategically and that means to reason, and it is always easier to reason in pursuit of some goal than to try and determine one’s optimal behavior moment to moment. So we arrive at the strange position that even if holding an ethical ideal might not be defensible from all skeptical attacks, it may be more practical to hold one even provisionally, because it focuses one’s energies and simplifies one’s calculations.
Putting these doubts aside for the moment, if we return to the original dilemma posed, a denial not of choice but of morality qua morality would argue that the ruler should avoid distinctions of good and evil simply because these are meaningless distinctions. He should rather pursue a practical course of “power politics”. He should root out the evil influences in his court, taking evil to mean here not immoral per se, but threatening to his rule. While coherent I tend to shy away from this interpretation as it would argue for a ruler more like Machiavelli’s Prince than Lao Tzu’s Sage, and that seems counter to the larger Taoist tradition, but I am admittedly not an expert.
Finally, one could simply toss the whole argument as wrong or incoherent. From a Judaeo-Christian perspective the argument is a non-starter.
I’ll never be Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury leapt up from sleep with a story running electric through his body, racing to the typewriter just in time to let the sparks discharge onto the page, grounding the story out into this world. Ray Bradbury wrote every day of his life for over seventy years, never once uncertain of his way, or doubting that he was a writer. Ray Bradbury was in love with life and people and all the things of the world, dark and light, without stopping once to sneer cynically or wallow in self- doubt and pity. I’m not Ray Bradbury, and I probably never will be, and that’s okay.
Every writer is different. I know, I know, that’s so obvious its banal. I should probably say instead that every writer needs something different. Ray needed Buck Rogers comics and Lon Chaney movies and magicians at the carnival, and a single red gleaming speck in the night sky overhead, and that was enough. I needed Tolkien, and Bradbury and Wolfe and Howard and Gygax and Leiber, and then to be swallowed up by the world and politics philosophy religion drugs madness obsession and 10,000 other things, occasionally peaking my head up, taking a few sweet breaths, and plunging down again, sometimes for years, scouring the depths for something that I didn’t know, and wasn’t sure I’d recognize anyway.
I don’t know why we need things, but it seems like we do. I don’t mean things like air and water and sunlight and love. Those things are obvious. But why do we need special things like carnivals and stories about gods and magic swords and monsters and life on other planets? And we do need them, truly NEED them, or we wither and die. We die by inches, for these are the living things, the magic things, the points of light that break through the gray of our lives like twinkling motes of some other world that is also strangely this world and the real world. It’s the every day world of traffic jams and tax forms and reports and lines – that’s the fake world, the unreal world, the murky mud bottomed underwater world. We forget we’re in that world until we touch one of those magic things that is, for us, a gateway or a transporter – a hand reaching down to us from somewhere unknown, and then we’re in the real world again, the magic world, and we can breathe air and for days or even weeks afterwords we’re our real selves again, until we forget where we came from, and believe in ridiculous things like credit ratings.
Ray Bradbury’s magic things aren’t exactly the same as my magic things, or yours. They’re not even necessarily the things you’d want them to be, but they’re the things you need. They don’t have to make sense. They don’t have to “fit”. You don’t have to understand. The gods understand. You just have to trust them. My wife loves horror movies, monster makeup, gore drenched killers and the whir of chainsaws carving flesh. In her off time she likes to bake. Sometimes she plays bingo with her mother at the church. She’s also fond of Scrabble. Me? It’s swords and sorcery and full moons rising over alien hills, and gateways carved of jade, wizards and barbarians, and civilizations long since forgotten. Anytime a hero overthrows a dark regime, or dies a glorious death fighting for the just cause, the tears well up in my eyes, the hair on the nape of my neck stands up, my heart glows. Maybe my wife loves horror because of those first movies she watched with her high school boyfriend, years before she came into my life. Maybe I love mythic heroes because I read stories of the Greek gods at a young age, or because of Star Wars films, or because of my early love of Dungeons and Dragons. Or maybe our magic things were always ours before we knew they existed. Maybe they were just waiting for us, reaching out to us, and we took them up because we already loved them. Think back on it. The first time you saw one of your magic things, wasn’t it a feeling of recognition? Didn’t you already know what it was, feel what it meant? Wasn’t it a missing piece of yourself falling back into place, like finding something from a past life, and knowing it used to belong to you?
Adolescence is the worst time for magic things. We want to “grow up”. We want to be serious and be taken seriously. We’re still children, and we have a child’s view of what it means to be an adult. Adolescence is a different age for everyone. For me it was my twenties. Adolescence is anytime you want to put your magic things in a box in the attic and pretend you don’t need them anymore. Even Ray Bradbury had an adolescence. He was nine and he ripped up his Buck Rogers comic because his “friends” thought it was dumb. After a few days he realized these people weren’t his friends (they really weren’t), and breathed life back into the corpse of Buck Rogers, and woke him from his slumber; and Ray Bradbury suffered no more and was one with the magic things. We’re not Ray Bradbury, so we have to suffer longer. But everyone has to suffer a little bit in this life. You have to suffer because you have to understand that the magic things are only magic if you breathe life into them. If you give them some of yourself. You have to be strong enough to give. You have to meet them half way.
We do change as we get older, and sometimes the things that were magic for us then aren’t magic in the same way for us now. They’re still magic, but it’s a different kind: the magic of memory. You change as you grow older, and you have to let your magic things grow with you. You have to take them along for the ride and let them change shape as you go. You have to do this because they’re part of you and you’re part of them, and you have to change together – otherwise you’re out of balance and grotesque. Paradoxically this is the only way to keep the magic the same, by letting it change. Magic is like that, paradoxical. We all know someone who never did this, don’t we? Someone who stayed in the nursery, afraid to let his magic things grow, stifling them, smothering them in childhood. Real adulthood comes when we realize we don’t need to try to “grow up” but have already done so and now we’re free to be who we like. We turn then, once again, to find our magic things, the things we truly love that love us in return, like monsters, and Buck Rogers, and gleaming swords, and gateways of jade on moonlit nights.
Whatever it is you love, go do it, and if you lost your magic things go find them. It’s not as hard as you think. You already know what direction to travel, you just have to set off and you’ll find your way. The hardest thing is setting off, letting go of the fear, the fear that you’ll get lost; but listen to Ray Bradbury and you’ll be alright. He said, “Stand at the top of a cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”
I know things have been quiet here since the reboot. Between the day job, a new home – definitely a “fixer-upper”, and the new addition to our family, there hasn’t been much time for blogging.
If you miss my particular brand of pedantry, I’m back with my friends John and Joe from the Logical Anarchy web-cast tomorrow night from 7 till 8 PM PST live. The night’s topic will be “Western Civilization”. See you there!
As a teaser, here are some of my show notes:
Edmund Burke, a compact between the living, the dead, those yet to be born.
Three ways of looking at history: Nietzsche’s Monumental, Antiquarian, Critical
The problem of Culture. Where does culture come from? Geographical, Historical, Ethnic, Philosophical [ Technical, Political, Metaphysical ]
The problem of mere Geography.The problem of Racialism
Carl Schmidt: Politics as the distinction between friend and enemy.
Applied metaphysics – Athens and Jerusalem. The “west” as a child of this union. The terms of the union. The dissolution of the union: Judeo-Christian historical claims, multiculturalism, the scale of values -Nietzsche again..
The rejection of values and post-modernism. Tradition vs “Traditionalism”.
Inertia and “hardening” of positions.
Evola, Guenon, Plato revisited: the map of the decline – from transcendent values to momentary desires.
The way forward: Heidegger, Poesis, a guardian caste, problems for anarchists.
What is the meaning of Initiation? It is the Path to the realization of your Self as the sole, the supreme, the absolute of all Truth, Beauty, Purity, Perfection! What is the artistic sense in you? What but the One Channel always open to you through which this Light flows freely to enkindle you (and the world through you) with flowers of inexhaustible fervour and flame?
-A. Crowley, Magick Without Tears
Contemporary paganism does not consist of erecting altars to Apollo or reviving the worship of Odin. Instead it implies looking behind religion and, according to a now classic itinerary, seeking for the ‘mental equipment’ that produced it, the inner world it reflects, and how the world it depicts is apprehended. In short, it consists of viewing the gods as ‘centers of values’… and the beliefs they generate as value systems: gods and beliefs may pass away, but the values remain.
– Alain de Benoist, On Being a Pagan
Theoretically any culture could be theurgic if its rites and prayers preserve the ‘eternal measures’ of creation…. Neo-platonic theurgy was imagined within a polytheistic and pluralistic cosmos: the varieties of culture and geography corresponding to the diversity of theurgic societies. This was also consistent with Iamblichus’s metaphysics where the utterly ineffable One can only be “known” in the Many, the henophany of each culture both veiling and revealing its ineffable source. To privilege any one of these henophanies over the others, to proclaim that it alone is true, is an assertion that would have been treated with contempt by theurgic Neoplatonists. For such a claim betrays the very principle of theurgy understood as cosmogonic activity rooted in an ineffable source, one that necessarily expresses itself in multiple forms of demiurgic generosity.
Theurgists would find claims to an exclusive possession of truth equivalent to the deranged assertion that the sun shines only in my backyard!
– George Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus
For the Stoics, intentions bear with themselves a value which infinitely transcends all the objects and ‘matters’ to which they are applied, for these objects and matters are themselves indifferent, and only assume a value to the extent that they provide an opportunity for intentions to be applied and become concrete. In sum, there is only one will, profound, constant, and unshakable, and it manifests itself in the most diverse actions, on the most diverse occasions and objects, all the while remaining free and transcendent with regard to the subject matters upon which it is exercised.
– Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel
I wrote an adaptation of Lord Dunsany’s stage-play Gods of the Mountain for the Samuel French short play contest last year. I didn’t win anything (or even place). Perhaps it was because adaptations, even of old and forgotten works, were discarded, or because the subject matter didn’t fit what the judges were looking for. Issues of “social justice” and “current events” seem to be preferred. The winners for my year included a story about a robotic hentai maid, a disabled college student, and a high-school boy who hides in his room covered in blood and eating snack food. It’s also possible that my writing simply wasn’t up to snuff. Regardless of the outcome, it was a lot of fun, if only because it allowed me to stretch out my long dormant dramaturgy muscles, and immerse myself in the imagination of one of the greatest fantasy authors who ever lived.
Since this script has just been sitting on my hard drive for the last year collecting virtual dust, and I don’t have plans to do anything with it in the near future, and a major writing project (notes soon) is taking up the majority of my spare brain cells, precluding me from generating any new blog content, I thought I would share it with you good people. I hope you find it as amusing to read as I did to write.
Act 1 – Homeless Encampment
Two beggars, OOGNA and ULF, warm themselves around a trash-can fire. Oogna is a middle-aged “bag” lady. Ulf, a younger male “crusty punk”. In the background are the silhouettes of others in the encampment. Hiding in the silhouettes is Agmar, an older and archaically dressed hobo.
ULF: The days are bad for beggary.
OOGNA: Some evil has befallen the rich ones of the city.
ULF: It is true. They take no joy any longer in benevolence, but are become sour and miserly.
OOGNAA: sore affliction indeed, and bad for those of our calling.
ULF: What thing, do you think, has befallen them?
OOGNA: There has been a comet come near to the earth of late, and the earth has been parched and sultry so that the gods are drowsy. While the gods sleep all those things that are divine in man: benevolence, drunkenness, extravagance, and song; have faded and died.
ULF: Well, it has indeed been sultry. If things do not change, I will forsake the calling and buy a shop, and sit at ease –
AGMAR: You will keep a shop?!
Ulf and Oogna look over, startled. Agmar leaves his concealment and joins them.
ULF: I spoke but hastily, the times being bad.
AGMAR: Bah! I have been three times knocked down and injured by carriages. Seven times beaten and robbed. I have had nine diseases. One time I was killed!
AGMAR: Apparently. Yet never have I followed a trade, or haggled and bartered and sat in a shop!
OOGNA: Times are bad for the calling here.
AGMAR: They are bad.
ULF: This city is unworthy of our calling! Did you not say the gods are drowsy and all that is divine in man is dead?
OOGNA: They are drowsy in their mountains away at Marma. The green idols are drowsy. Who is this that rebukes us?
AGMAR: I am but an old beggar. One who has known the mystery of roads and felt the wind arising new in the morning. Who has called forth out of the souls of men pity, and benevolence, and the charitable giving of alms! Let us speak no more of any trade or the miserable gains of shops and trading men.
ULF: The times are bad.
AGMAR: Then let us set right the times!
OOGNA: Have you a plan, great master?
AGMAR: Perhaps. Have you any thieves among the calling here?
ULF: We have a few that we call thieves.
OOGNA: But they are not very good ones.
AGMAR: Find one, for we shall need fine raiment, and it must be green. Also, we shall need a corner-preacher to spread a prophecy throughout the city before us.
ULF: We will dress ourselves as lords and impose upon the city?
OOGNA: Yes, yes; we will say we are ambassadors from a far land!
ULF: And there will be good eating!
OOGNA: And wine!
ULF: And perhaps… dancing girls?
AGMAR: Hah! Not as mere ambassadors!
ULF: Then as kings?
AGMAR: Beggars as kings!
OOGNA: Then what, master?
AGMAR: Why, we shall go as gods.
OOGNA and ULR: As gods?!
Act 2: Part 1 – City Hall
Citizens gather in small groups to chat about the business of the day. Among them are LANAN, a city official, RANDER, a guard and KAMOS, a merchant.
The three beggars: Agmar, Oogna and Ulf enter slowly, swaying back and forth and chanting. Bits of fine green silk can be seen here and there through their ragged clothing. The beggars circle the stage, spiraling towards the center. Slowly all conversation stops. When all is quiet the beggars seat themselves cross-legged, and hold their right hands up, like seated Buddhas.
ULF produces a bell and strikes it once.
SFX: A BELL RINGING
RANDER: What do you do here?
OOGNA: What is it you do, mortal?
RANDER: Who are you, and whence come you?
ULF: Who is to say what we are, or whence we come?
RANDER: Look here! Beggars are not allowed –
OOGNA: Who said we were beggars?
RANDER: You people cannot –
ULF: Who said that we were people?
Rander looks hopelessly at Lanan, who bustles over.
LANAN: To what purpose is this? By the moon, I’ll –
AGMAR: My sister.
AGMAR: The moon is our little sister. She comes to us at evenings away in the mountains of Marma. She trips over the mountains when she is young. When she is beautiful and slender she comes and dances before us, and when she is old and unshapely she hobbles away from the hills. Yet she is young again and forever nimble with youth; yet she comes dancing back. The years are not able to curb her, nor to bring gray hairs to her brethren.
Ulf strikes again on the bell –
The crowd murmurs. Lanan and Rander look at each other helplessly. The merchant Kamos joins them. The beggars sit as if meditating. Lanan, Rander and Kamos huddle together and conspire.
RANDER: This is not wonted.
LANAN: It is not in accordance with custom.
KAMOS: I heard men speak today in the market place. They spoke of a prophecy read somewhere of old. It says the gods shall come down from Marma in the guise of men.
LANAN: Is this a true prophecy?
KAMOS: Who can say?
RANDER: If it is all the prophecy we have, we should heed it. My grandfather told me that man without prophecy is like a sailor going by night over uncharted seas. He knows not where are the rocks nor where the havens. To the man on watch all things ahead are black and the stars guide him not, for he knows not what they are.
KAMOS: Should we not first make inquiries as to this prophecy?
LANAN: Let us accept it. It is the small uncertain light of a lantern, carried it may be by a drunkard or a fool, but perhaps along the shore of some haven. Let us be guided and, discretely, also make the appropriate inquiries.
The three break their huddle and address the Beggar-Gods.
RANDER: We humbly worship you, if you are gods!
LANAN: You are mightier than all men and hold high rank among other gods and are lords of our city. You have the thunder as your plaything and the whirlwind and the eclipse and all the destinies of the human tribes – if, of course, you are gods.
AGMAR: Let the pestilence not fall at once upon this city, as it has indeed designed to; let not the earthquake swallow it all immediately up amidst the howls of the thunder; let not infuriated armies overwhelm those that escape – if we be gods.
The crowd murmurs and chatters. Lanan turns to address them.
LANAN: Come friends! Let us sacrifice! Bring lambs and wine for these very divine gods!
The people shuffle out. As they leave the lights fade, two of them, CITIZEN 1 and CITIZEN 2 linger briefly in the spot-light.
CITIZEN 1: These are most divine and uncommon gods.
CITIZEN 2: Indeed! I heard it said that they have made us and all human beings!
Act 2: Part 2 – Throne Room
The city-hall has been transformed into a throne room. The beggars lounge on great chairs styled like mountains. Agmar sits in the center, on the largest throne, Ulf and Oogna to either side. They have dressed themselves entirely in rich green silk and gold accoutrements. Banners are draped from every possible location.
Rander, dressed in a tabard with three mountains embroidered and carrying a long spear, stands to the side of the dais. Lanan reclines against a pillar next to Rander, watching the proceedings. A line of citizens wait to be received by the three. One, CITIZEN 3, steps forward to address the beggars.
CITIZEN 3: Master, my child was bitten in the throat by a death-adder at noon. Spare him, master; he still breathes, but slowly.
AGMAR: And is he indeed your child?
CITIZEN 3: He is surely my child, master.
AGMAR: Was it your wont to thwart him in his play, while he was strong and well?
CITIZEN 3: I have never thwarted him master.
AGMAR: And whose child is death?
CITIZEN 3: Master?
AGMAR: Who is it that created life and therefore death?
CITIZEN 3: Why, the gods surely, if anyone.
AGMAR: Do you that never thwarted your child in his play ask this of the gods?
CITIZEN 3: (weeping) But! But! Master!
AGMAR: Weep not! For all the houses that men have builded are the play-fields of this child of the gods called death. Now go.
Crying the Citizen 3 leaves, consoled by others. Another steps forward, CITIZEN 4, wringing his hat, but a MESSENGER, shoves Citizen 4 aside, and throws himself on his knees before the beggars.
MESSENGER: Master, it is terrible! It is terrible when you wander in the evening. It is terrible on the edge of the desert! Men die when they see you in the evening!
AGMAR: In the desert? What are you speaking of?
MESSENGER: Last night masters. You were terrible last night. You were terrible in the gloaming. We ask, we beg of you, stay as you are now, in flesh like men!
ULF: You say as we are now. How did we appear in the evening?
MESSENGER: Otherwise master, otherwise.
OOGNA: Be not afraid. How did we appear?
MESSENGER: Masters, we can bear to see you in the flesh like men, but when we see a rock walking it is terrible. It is terrible.
AGMAR: A rock walking?
MESSENGER: Yes master. Green stone should not move. Rock should not walk. When men see you they do not understand, and they die. Green stone should not walk in the evenings. It is terrible! Spare us, masters! Spare us!
The Messenger collapses in fear. The beggars look at each other uncertainly. Rander approaches and helps the Messenger to his feet and off stage. As he leaves, Kamos enters and approaches Lanan, to whisper in her ear.
AGMAR: There… there have been doubters of late, who now should be satisfied. Be faithful, and no harm shall befall you.
Citizen 4 finally bustles forward.
CITIZEN 4: Lords, my wife and I are childless and we –
AGMAR: Enough! Trouble us not now, but tomorrow, for it is the accustomed hour at which the gods speak to the gods in the language of the gods. If Man heard us he would guess at the futility of his destiny, which were not well for Man. Begone.
LANAN: Before you dismiss us, Lord!
Lanan walks to center, followed by Kamos and Rander.
RANDER: (to Lanan) Hush! You anger the gods!
LANAN: (to Rander) I am not sure whom I anger.
LANAN: (to the beggars) Two holy pilgrims have gone to your sacred shrines, wherein you were wont to sit before you left the mountains. They return even now with gifts for you from your homeland.
ULF: (aside to other beggars) They went to Marma!
OOGNA: (aside to other beggars) We are lost! They will have seen the green jade idols sitting against the mountain. They will say, “The Gods are still at Marma!” and we shall be burnt!
Agmar hushes them rapidly, swatting them back into composure. When he addresses the crowd his voice cracks with uncertainty.
AGMAR: They left us here and went to find the gods? A fish once took a journey into a far country to find the sea.
KAMOS: Most revered deity, their piety is so great that they have gone to worship even your empty shrines.
AGMAR: I know these men that have great piety. Such men have often prayed to me before, but their prayers are not acceptable. They little love the gods. Their only care is their piety. I know these pious ones. They will say that the seven gods were still at Marma. They will lie and say that we were still at Marma. So shall they seem more pious to you all, pretending to that they alone have seen the gods. Fools shall believe them and share in their damnation!
The crowd drops back in fear, murmuring.
LANAN: Regardless, most holy master, they are here.
Enter PILGRIM 1 and PILGRIM 2 dressed in travelling clothes. Kamos rushes up to them and they speak whisper briefly together.
OOGNA: (aside) We are doomed!
AGMAR: (to Oogna) Not yet! Not yet!
LANAN: Are these the men that went to the shrines at Marma?
KAMOS: Ah! Yes, yes! They are!
Kamos ushers two Pilgrims forward. The beggars shrink back, fidget and grip their thrones in fear.
LANAN: Did you men see the Gods at Marma?
PILGRAM 1: We… we did not.
LANAN: What? They were not there?
PILGRIM 2: The shrines were present, but empty.
RANDER: Behold the Gods of the Mountain!
The crowd cheers. The beggars look at each other amazed.
KAMOS: Yes… yes, of course. They have indeed come from Marma!
LANAN: Yes… yes… come all! Let us bring to the gods a great sacrifice! A mighty sacrifice to atone for our doubting!
As the lights come down there is a sound of drums, and horns, and dancing and drinks and a great revel.
Act 3- Finale
The throne room lies in disarray. The beggars are draped over their thrones. Agmos and Ulf are drunk. Oogna is snoring. Discarded food and beverages litter the floor. Clothes and other fabrics are strewn about: the end of a great revel.
AGMOS: Never have beggars had such a time!
ULF: Never. And yet… it is strange – the missing idols.
AGMOS: Bah! Someone has stolen them. Who knows when men last visited the mountain shrines? They are remote and difficult. They could have vanished ages ago!
ULF: True. Yet.. there is something –
OOGNA: (waking with a start) I had a dream!
AGMOS: What was your dream?
OOGNA: It…it was nothing. I dreamed that I was thirsty and one gave me wine; yet there was a fear in my dream.
ULF: That man! That man’s face had been near to some fearful thing!
AGMOS: What man?
ULF: The man who – someone was coming this way from the desert he said. He begged us to spare him.
AGMOS: They have seen their own fears dancing in the desert! They have seen something green after the light was gone, and some child has told them a tale that it was us. I do not know what they have seen. What should they have seen? It is… it is only we that have frightened them, and their fears have made them foolish.
There is a booming noise outside, low and distant, but reverberating… boommmm.
AGMOS: Was that? Did you hear?
SFX: Boom. Boom.
ULF: Ah! Dancing girls. I have requested dancing girls. With flutes!
OOGNA: Is it sunset already? We should have good eating.
ULF: They should come in with baskets on upon their heads. With fruits.
AGMOSAll the fruits of the valley.
ULF: There is no sound of flutes. They said they would come with music.
SFX: (louder) BOOM!
Agmos jumps up startled. Ulf and Oogna crowd near him uncertain.
OOGNA: What heavy boots they have. They sound like feet of stone.
SFX: Boom Boom Boom!
The beggars now cower half on and half behind the thrones.
AGMOS: I do not like to hear this heavy tread! Those that would dance for us must be light of foot.
ULF: Yes. They should come more nimbly.
AGMOS: Go out. Go out and tell them that I shall not smile if they are not airy.
Ulf reluctantly moves toward the side of the stage. As he just about reaches the exit, a loud rapid booming cadence breaks out, and he goes flying – half running half crawling, back to the thrones and the other beggars.
SFX: BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM
A cacophony of screams rips through the air. The voice of dozens in mortal terror. The beggars clap their hands over their ears. Suddenly, all is quiet. They sit for a moment, in fear and wonder.
ULF: I have a fear. An old fear and a boding. We have done ill in the sight of the gods. Beggars we were and beggars we should have remained.
AGMOS: What nonsense do you speak?
There is a loud creak, as a door slowly opens. The beggars are bathed in a green light. Agmos and Ooga start and stare, transfixed.
ULF: It is we who have brought the gods down from the mountain. For this doomed city, we have called down an evil thing.
The green light spins and a great rushing noise rises as if from a river. The beggars scream and hide their faces. The noise becomes deafening, drowning out all other sounds.
Dim light falls from off stage into the room, as if the room were in darkness and a door were being opened. Enter Lanan, Rander and Kamos tentatively, carrying lanterns. Three heaps sit where the beggars were previously.
LANAN: Masters? Masters are you here?
Their lanterns illuminate the heaps. They are perfect statues of the beggars, cowering, their faces distorted in terror. The three citizens fall back with gasps.
Kamos approaches and prods them, finding them solid.
KAMOS: They are cold! They have been turned to stone!
RANDER: We have doubted. We have doubted them, and they have turned themselves into stone idols yet again, and left us.
LANAN: Yes. They were the true gods.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little diversion. If you haven’t read Dunsany before, do yourself a favor and bump him up to the top of your book pile.