Section I: Gods and Goddesses
Section III: Myths and Religions of other Peoples
How curious it is that the Gushémal pantheon is led by this deity, who
has taken charge of both death and justice. In all the texts and teachings
of the religion of this world, there is no sign that Dicerius is older
than the other prime gods; he is not their father, as our Roman Jupiter
has sired the other high beings.
what has made Dicerius the leader of the pantheon, the primus inter
pares, the first among his peers? I have no good answer for that. There
are aspects of his being that remind me strongly of our Dis, whom the
Greeks called Pluto, the ruler of the underworld. Although there is no
real analogue to the underworld in the Gushémal belief, Dicerius is still
a dour figure much like Dis.
like Janus, there is his bright aspect, that he is the supreme judge. His
commandments are not questioned, since they are expected to be just and
fair. Does that fit with his taking lives? Perhaps it does. “Is not
death the final judgement?” That is what a Dicerius priest once asked
me. It is a valid explanation. Nonetheless, to a Roman, the dual nature of
Dicerius sits uneasily in my mind.
proof of this is another curiosity: Whereas the other gods’ names are
almost universally pronounced the same in the civilized portions of Gushémal,
it is the chief god who is known both as Dicerius and Decirius. The latter
appears to be a colloquialized form, easier on the tongue, but it is fully
accepted by everyone, including the priest I mentioned above. In more
recent texts – written within the last century – I have found that the
form of Decirius has become more frequent than Dicerius. If only one of
them were correct, why has the god himself not made it clear? It seems
that the chief god himself appreciates to be known by two names,
representative of his twofolded nature.
“The old man dropped his spoon on the table as he looked up and snarled, ‘You insult me, Messenger.’
“’It is your allotted time,’ the dark figure said, beckoning with its long fingers that reminded the old man of claws. ‘Come with me, Oleyv. The journey will be long –‘
“’And I won’t move an inch,’ replied the old man, while he picked up his spoon, calmly filled it with his evening broth. ‘What have I done to merit your visit? Where is the justice in this? I filled my life with good deeds, so there’s no reason to end it. Unless my fault has been that I was born.’
“The messenger beckoned again. ‘It is your time.’
“The old man shook his head and sighed, then took a spoonful of his broth, which he downed noisily. ‘Seems that you haven’t got a lot of words. Why don’t you sit down and eat something? Speaking and thinking go better with a full stomach.’
“’Do not tax my patience, mortal,’ the messenger insisted. ‘Your regrets are irrelevant. Your life’s bowl has emptied, there is no time left for you, not even to finish your soup.’
“’Then you haven’t tasted it,’ the old man said inbetween spoonfuls. ‘You have probably never eaten soup in your entire existence. What a waste of immortality that is. To spend your time going to places where you are not welcome, to be despised by each and all. You have my sympathy.’
“The messenger’s hood sank forward a bit as the harbinger spoke with determination, ‘I do not need your sympathy. Nor do I need your patronizing me on my existence. You will now leave that soup, and you will take my hand, and you will come with me.’
“’I have known people like you,’ the old man pondered, then pushed his plate of soup across the table towards the messenger. ‘Never stopped to smell a flower, never thought about what they do. Did you know that a moorflower looks wilted for most of the year, but on one single day, it will blossom magnificently and smell as richly as the perfume of a queen?’ He shook his head. ‘Didn’t think so. Now do something good with what you have. Sit down and have some soup.’
“For a moment the messenger stood still, his hand stretched out. Then, with a shiver of his hood, he seemed about to speak, when the old man held up his hand and said, ‘Ah, don’t repeat your tired lines. I might think you are an actor on a stage who has forgotten what follows after the few he remembers. You do know what an actor is?’
“’Mortal,’ the messenger said dangerously, ‘you are toying with fate.’
“’But how can I worsen my lot? Death is visiting my home already.’
“’Mortal –‘ The harbinger cut his own words short. Slowly his arm sank down, and he stood watching the old man. After a while he moved forward, towards the chair.
“’The soup is getting cold,’ the old man noted.
“’I do not eat.’
“’Well, that explains a lot. Thinking and a well filled stomach go together best. No wonder you have never pondered your own existence.’
“There was a noise coming from the hood that might have been a sigh. ‘There is no reason for any pondering. My task is divine, and it is just.’
“’It’s that simple?’ the old man asked. ‘You spend all your days and nights watching the lifebowls, how their water drips and drips away through the gem-lined opening, until one is drained all the way. Then you fly, snatch the poor soul to carry it onward. My friend, that may be divine and just, but it’s also boring.’
“The messenger gave no reply. After a short while the old man rose, with a painful sigh putting his hand on his spine for a moment before he walked around the table to get the plate. When he stood closest to the messenger, the harbinger said, ‘You have pain. Coming with me would remove your pain.’
“With a wry smile, the old man shook his head. ‘Pain comes with living, as joy does. Take one away, and the other follows. No, my friend, I won’t fall for your trap that quickly.’
“’I have no need to trap you. It is you who wishes to avoid the inevitable.’
“The old man took the plate, carried it to a bucket of water where he cleaned it. All the while, the messenger kept observing him, not saying a word. Finally the old man returned to his chair and sat down. ‘I wish justice. That is what your master represents. In my opinion, it is not just that I should suffer a fate decided long before I was born. That is an insult – though perhaps not to me, but to your master.’
“The messenger’s hood quivered again, as if about to speak. No words escaped the confines of his shadowed head.
“The old man shrugged. ‘Justice. A beautiful word. Even more beautiful is the idea. To weigh the good and the bad, to decide on reward and punishment, aptly doled out for what has been done. If a man steals a pig from a farmer, that is bad. The farmer loses not only the meat he would have cut from the carcass and eaten or sold, he also loses the time invested in the pig, the cost of feeding and housing it, perhaps the hiring of a priest to cure its ills. On the other hand, it might be that the thief has been starving before, and only with the stolen pig will he survive. Perhaps injustice has been done to him before. Does that make his own injustice less of a bad weight on the scales, or must the act of stealing be seen as a single occurrence?’
“He fell silent and folded his hands on the table before him.
“His hood shivering, the messenger gradually sat down on the chair, his movements unlike those of a mortal being, but more of a gentle flow, seeping into a new position. ‘Justice encompasses all. To view only one aspect would be injust.’
“The old man smiled, leaning forward. ‘Which would you then include, and which would you leave out?’
“’No aspects may be ignored that are relevant to the case. The relevance itself has to be judged the same way, to decide which criteria to allow and to disallow.’
“’Yes,’ the old man nodded, ‘that is how I see it. You have learned well from your master, my friend.’
“The messenger leaned forward, its blackness directed at the old man, then raised his hands and pushed the hood back from his head. White skin appeared, clinging tightly to bones. Fading hair that yet appeared thick and black covered the skull’s top, while the eyes were like dark bloodstones set deeply. ‘I am like my master in every way,’ the messenger said. ‘His nature is mine, his justice is mine. Speak to me as you would speak to the divine.’
“’That I will do. At length. Let us discuss the justice of the case I bring before you, as we both view it.’”
Melt the Divine, Playwright,
stand over my brother’s grave,
I have strewn on the fresh ground,
I have placed, to keep remembrance bright,
him who shared with me his all,
him who stood tall and bowed low,
him who laughed loud and cried silent.
I stand, over leaves and wreaths,
ask that his soul shall journey to peace,
the place intended when his life’s bowl was full,
the place achieved when his life’s bowl had grown dry.
just Lord, grant my plea,
over leaves and wreaths.
“My father’s funeral was over. The priestess had finished the Leaves and Wreaths, then she looked at me and asked, ‘How do you feel, Yekata?’
“I didn’t quite know how to answer. I was only twelve years old, a young girl who had barely come to know the world. Much of my time I had spent at the Darawk temple, or so it seemed back then, leaving me so little opportunity to play with my friends. An hour or two in the early afternoon, then I had to hurry back home to clean the house, look after my younger siblings, and prepare the evening meal for my family. My mother had died a year before, giving birth to my brother Naviov. Poor Naviov. We had to give him to a Maidoyú shelter, since I could not take care of him as he needed. The matron of the shelter allowed us to eat our noon meal there, after the Darawk temple’s lessons had concluded. I cherished that, because it was my only chance to see little Naviov. Only once a day could I hold him in my arms; I felt that I was betraying my mother’s trust in me.
“How did I feel? My father was dead. He had been working at a paper manufactury in town, from the earliest light of dawn until dusk relieved him. A few coins he was given each day, meager pay for his toil. The money had been barely enough to feed and clothe us. There was a garden behind our house, a tiny plot, where we grew some vegetables. My mother had been tending it so beautifully, but under my hands it seemed to wither. I had to buy much more from the grocer than my mother had needed. Already I was in debt, although I hadn’t confessed that to my father. The grocer had been patient, but what would he now say when there was no more hope that my father would get more money the following month?
“’I am angry,’ I told the priestess. ‘Why did Dicerius take my father? It isn’t fair.’
“The cleric knelt down to look me in the eyes. ‘You are sure of that?’
“’Father says that you should not answer a question with a question,’ I said, prompting a smile on her face.
“’That is true,’ she said. The priestess didn’t mention that I should have spoken of my father in the past tense, which I didn’t notice at the time, but have come to be grateful for since. ‘Then let me say this. He Who Decides, my lord Dicerius, knows more than you do. He can see further than your eyes. His death seems wrong to you, but there is fairness in it that our mortal minds cannot comprehend.’
“I looked at her with an open mouth. How dared she talk to me like that? My father was dead. I had no idea what would now happen to my family and me. There was absolutely no way that this could be fair! ‘You don’t know anything at all,’ I told her and turned to leave.
“The priestess grasped my arm to stop me. ‘Child,’ she said softly, ‘I have seen my lord’s wisdom. It is not pleasant. Truth and justice never are. What they give us is a sense of comfort, that the rights and the wrongs will be judged for what they are, not what we think they should be.’
“’There is no comfort in breaking up my family,’ I replied and shook free from her hand. ‘The Maidoyú shelter will take two of my siblings, but my oldest brother and I are too old for the shelter. How will I feed Gregyov? How shall I pay the grocer? He is looking at me in a way that I don’t like, ever since I started to run a debt. Is that fair? I don’t feel comfortable at all. Your words, priestess, hurt as much as the grocer’s stare.’
“What truly hurt here were my words. The cleric took a deep breath, moving a bit away from me. Perhaps she did know what the grocer meant by his stares. I have never asked.
“After a moment, she reached out her hand towards me, keeping a distance of some inches from my arm. ‘Yekata, I am sorry,’ she said.
“’What do you care about my life? You only care about unpleasantries and the comfort of death.’
“She stayed calm. Looking back I marvel at her patience. ‘You are wrong, child. Justice matters to me. The justice of death, yes, but there needs be justice in life as well. Tell me, have you ever made a wreath?’
“I didn’t answer. Not with words, at least, but I pointed at my father’s grave, where I had laid the wreath.
“The priestess looked over, then nodded and smiled at me. ‘You have done a good job, Yekata. I could use some more as beautiful as that one. My fingers are not as nimble as they used to be. It pains me to make wreaths worthy of the departed.’
“’So?’ I asked cautiously.
“’So,’ she said, ‘I will pay you two copper coins for each wreath you make for me. There are plenty of flowers in my garden, plenty of plants that you can use. Take as many as you need, make the wreaths at home so you can care for your siblings. All of them, not just Gregyov.’
“My eyes widened at the offer. Suddenly hope had returned to my life. I could make three wreaths a day, I was sure of it, in my spare time away from the Darawk temple and the duties to my family. Six coins of copper each day, that was more than my father had brought home. Yet I was still suspicious. ‘You want only the wreaths? Nothing else?’
“’Well,’ she smiled, ‘I would like you to help me in the service to my lord. Two hours every week, that is all. You need to learn the words of prayer, and how to play the lyre. That is my offer. Do you take it?’
“I still suspected that more was to follow, but I had little choice. Suffering her comfortless words was better than the grocer’s gaze. It turned out to be the best choice in my life. My family stayed together, they grew up and soon were old enough to support me with their own work. The younger ones made wreaths as well, although I quickly learned that the priestess had been exaggerating her need – and the pain in her fingers.
“Had she already known that I would be taken so much by the idea of justice? That we would spend hours speaking of what was truly just and right? That I would become an acolyte of Dicerius four years later, and that twelve years after that I would take over the temple from her?
“I will never know. I spoke the Leaves and Wreaths for her before I could ask.”
Simrania, Dicerius priestess,
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