Tuesday, October 25, 2011

24: Pantheologia

Eris led Thoki through a natural rock tunnel. The wind picked up and buffeted Thoki against the wall.

“Wait here,” said Eris, looking serious for once.
Thoki nodded and hunched down to receive more warmth from his coat. He looked back to see if the others were following. Lor was keeping good pace, but Slepnir hung back, uneasily.

“Come on!” Thoki said beckoning to his brother.
The grey horse shook his head and champed nervously, his ears flat against his head.

‘”Don’t be such a baby, come on!” said Thoki. He began to walk back towards Slepnir when Slepnir reared and kicked the air. Thoki knew that if he got too close one kick would send his nose into his stomach.
“Alright! Alright! But stay here in the tunnel, okay?”

Slepnir gave a hesitant agreement and lay down on the soft snow in an area of tunnel that was the least gusty.

Eris poked her head back in. “We’re good. Come on!”
Thoki hesitated and Eris turned to regard him.

“It’s alright. C’mon!”
Thoki swallowed the nervous lump in his throat and followed her. He was getting a horrendous sense of déjà vu. The clattering of chains, the dark windy tunnel, the female voice beckoning to him. In a flash he was assaulted by his memory. It was just like when he was seventeen, and visiting his father’s prison for the first… And the last time. His heart gave a sickening shudder as he remembered that horrible day. As he approached the lip of the tunnel, he shook, expecting to see that wizened old bastard again, scarred and burned by the snake venom, with the keen cruel eyes of a sociopathic murderer.

Instead he saw Prometheus’ enormous form kneeling on a rock, worn smooth over the eons.  He was currently bleeding from a nasty gouge in his stomach, the edges were ragged and wrinkled with old scar tissue. The wound was staunching itself and, knowing Prometheus, the copious brown stains on his torso and lower legs were not all from today. Thoki knew his story; it was Trickster legend. Prometheus stole the sacred fire of the gods to give to his own creation, man, so that they could prosper. The gods would have let him off the hook, but then Prometheus got cocky again. He cheated the gods by burning fat and bones in offering to them and letting men keep the good cuts of meat, and for that Zeus chained him to a rock. Every day a giant eagle came to tear out his liver and eat it. Prometheus would heal and it would begin again the next day and every day for eternity. The Greeks didn’t have a Ragnarok so it only made sense that he was still here.

Jeez, thought Thoki. Loki didn’t get chained up even after he killed the sun god. He only got chained up after denying him the chance to come back. What an asshole.

                Thoki looked at the Titan deep in conversation with the giant avian. They seemed to be getting along great despite the fact that The Eagle’s job was to torture him every day.

Maybe it’s some kind of Stokholm Syndrome, thought Thoki with a shrug. Thoki wondered what sort of conversational companion The Eagle was. Did they discuss events on earth? Politics? Philosophy?

                The Eagle was waving his claw in the air, really getting into it, “So then Sheldon rents a karaoke machine and tries to invite other people to his house hoping that Leonard and everyone will come back from Raj’s house and hang out there again.”

                “And how did that work out?” asked Prometheus.

                Thoki listened in somewhat disappointed shock. He then leaned over to Eris, “Big Bang Theory? The Eagle’s relaying an episode of The Big Bang Theory to a millennia-old Titan?”

                “I know. Usually they just talk about how much they miss ‘Friends’. It’s nice to know the Eagle’s moved on.”

                Thoki didn’t get a chance to respond.

                “We’re back!” called Eris tentatively to the two titanic entities above her.

                “I see you brought him. He’s a bit short. Are you sure he’s Loki’s son?”

                “If you could call it that,” said Thoki with a shrug.

                Prometheus gave Eris a tiny (for him) nod.

                “So, you have some questions about the beginnings of days?” asked Prometheus.

                “I don’t suppose there’s any point in my beating about the bush, so I’ll just say that I’m looking for Isfat.”

                “The primordial chaos from which we were formed and which we will one day return to,” replied Prometheus. His voice was sonorous and deep, like a cheesy scifi narrator.

                “Sure, okay,” said Thoki with a shrug. “Know where I can find it?” he asked. “A stone at Heliopolis said it was at the Garden of Eden… I think. Where is that?”

                “What would you do with it if you found it?”

                Thoki scratched his head and rubbed his chapping hands. “I dunno. I don’t think I thought this out very well. I just think it’s important. It might not be the answer I’m looking for, but it might be AN answer, which is more than I got.”

                “What is the question, Thoki?” Asked Prometheus.

                “Why?” answered Thoki.

                “Because in order to receive an answer, you must have a question first.”

                “Are you kidding me with the bumper-sticker truisms here? Do I look like I need a lecture from Obi Wan Kenobi?”

                “Yeah, he’s Loki’s kid alright,” mumbled The Eagle. “He may look like a pussy but I’d know that smart-ass voice anywhere.”

 “Seriously though. I need a question,” said Prometheus, his voice instantly losing that mystical quality.

                “That was my question, stupid! ‘Why!’”

                Prometheus looked relatively interested in Thoki—the nervous smile on his face indicated that he hadn’t expected this much from him. “Why what, kid?”

                “Just WHY! Why was I born? Why was anyone born? Why was the world destined to become one big disappointment after another? Why were the gods just as disappointing? Why did the One God let the pantheons do whatever the hell they wanted while the world turned to crap? Why did it still turn into crap after they disappeared and He showed himself? WHY IS ANYTHING ANYTHING?”

Thoki’s face had been paper white with cold, and was now the color of raw beef as he vented his frustration, asking everything that his mind had been torturing him with. Sweat poured down his back as he ranted, and his face stung as the string of blasphemies against all things unearthly spewed forth like angry hornets. Prometheus felt the venom in those words, the despair, the anger as Thoki let the black rotten pit inside him speak.

                “Why was man made, why was heaven made? Why is everything mixed up? You know, don’t you? You were there when man was made!”

                “Yes and no. I was not in the Garden of Eden, Thoki.  I made man out of river mud. Also, if you recall Coyote made them from mud, or Quetzalcoatl made them from corn, or Odin from two trees. Others share that claim as well—Raven and Brahma and Atum—the list goes on! ”

                “Well yeah…” said Thoki but he could only trail off, uncertainly.

                “And then that’s just the creation of man. If you want the creation of the world, that goes back before my time…”

                “But then… you don’t know about Isfat? When the Chaos was made into Order?”

                “Well, some say it was made when God made the Heavens and Earth, or when Pangu separated the world egg, or when Ymir the giant and Adumla the cow were born from the poison and ice of Nifleheim, or when Erebus and Nix gave birth to Gaea, or when the waters of Nun—“

                “Enough! Enough! I get it! So which is the real creation story?”

                Prometheus gave him a pompous stare, tossing his golden hair over his shoulder in mild disdain.

                “Don’t you know anything, boy? They’re ALL real.”

                Thoki scowled at being called ‘boy’ like he was back in his father’s house. The anger made the answer all the harder to bear, although he’d already guessed the answer.

                “You couldn’t find the source of the true creation because there is no true creation story.”

                Thoki hadn’t thought of this and the idea hit him hard enough to make him sit down hard on the polished rock. “They were all lies?”

                “I didn’t say they were lies, I just said they weren’t true. They’re all a kind of half-truth that goes deeper than mere facts. That makes them real. The kind of solid myth that deep-down you believe. Have you never wondered why all creation stories start out the same? They all start with void. Then the heaven and earth are separated, and then the sun and moon. Always the same. Every history has a great flood. Every History explains the fall of man from grace. Every story explains how fire was stolen or granted from the divine. The same symbols always occur as well: a great tree, serpents, eagles, death, life…”

                “It’s all just nuance,” said Thoki bitterly. “It’s just racial memory of how man rose from slobbering ape to slobbering human. The gods were made by man to explain why water is wet, why fire is hot and why bad things happen to stupid people.”

                “For a god you have very little insight into the divine world, Thoki,” said Prometheus gently. “And there’s one more thing that every mythology has,”

                “The crap is that?”

                “Heroes. Heroes have endured throughout time, within and without pantheons. You don’t have to believe in gods to believe in Heroes. And that makes them just as real and powerful as the old gods.”

                “Phhff!” Thoki made a disgusted face. “It’s all crap. If there’s no true place of the creation, than there’s no true location of Isfat… which means I’ve been wasting my time since I began climbing up that tree from Nifleheim 1000 years ago.” The despair shook him and he held his head in his hands.

                Prometheus sighed.  It made a hot gust of air that fanned Thoki’s face and made water drip down his forehead. It quickly froze again into tiny icicles.

                “Thoki you’re denser than I gave you credit for. Don’t you understand that if there’s no right location of the creation, that there’s no wrong place? Everything is connected.”

                Thoki rose from his seated crouch, looking around him. His eyes fell on the Eagle… then on Prometheus’ chains. He began to pace frantically on the rock face as the wind buffeted his hood around. He no longer felt the cold as he marched in ragged elipses, muttering to himself.

                “Chained to the rock… chained to the rock… there’s a connection there….eagle…” Thoki’s head whipped around towards the eagle. The bird jumped a little and ruffled its wings, startled by the man’s intense stare.

“Eagle,” muttered Thoki. “Eagle at the top of the tree… snake at the bottom…chained to the rock with the snake…snake …snake… snake from the tree tempts Eve…trees…trees. It all comes back to it.”

“Thoki?” asked Eris, looking worried.

                “I know  it! I know where the garden of Eden is! I can’t find Eden or your muddy riverbank, or the waters of Nun or any of that, because it’s not part of my world, but now I know it’s all the same thing! The tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden is the very same tree that Odin hung himself from to gain wisdom!”

“Now you know where you have to look,” said Prometheus with a nod.

 Thoki jumped up and clapped his hand. “Because it’s right where I started from!”

“That’s right,” said Prometheus, a strange smile on his sunburnt lips.

                “EAGLE!” shouted Thoki spinning to face the massive bird again.

                The Eagle flinched. He had just been spreading his wings, and had hoped to take off before Thoki had remembered him.

                “Yes?” asked the raptor timidly. “I suppose you want me to lead you back to Yggdrassil?”

                “It would save us some time, thanks,” said Thoki with a wry smile.

                The eagle sighed and began preening his primary feathers. “Oh fine.”

                “Lor?” called Thoki.  Lor’s head poked out immediately.

                “Are we going home?” he asked brightly.

                “Oh, you bet,” said Thoki. “And this time, I got you a ride.”

                The Eagle looked up suddenly at the frost Giant and they exchanged beady-eyed stares.

                “Oh fuck,” spat the Eagle.