Lydia's Recapitulation (7)
Lydia Dzumardjin, Persia-Anatolia-Syria-Egypt-Jordan
I, Lydia of Damascus, continue the ninefold recapitulation of previous lives. I will recount now my "signal incarnation," the one in the sequence from which I draw my nom de plume in the present world, the present life. Any life in a sequence of nine can be the signal incarnation. What makes it so is the choice of the one who recapitulates, but not an arbitrary choice—a choice based on the bias of fate.
In the language of the Sabian diviners of ancient Parthia, the bias of fate is an event in the sky, a striking or unusual sign, but not just any sign. Those who watch the sky continually notice how the planets move against the background of the constellations, huge patterns composed of stars that do not move. Planet, from the Greek word plané, "error, erratic action," means "wanderer." The planets are the members of our solar system that move cyclically across the visible panorama of the zodiac. The 13 constellations of the zodiac run in a right-to-left sequence, forming an immense arch: Ram - Bull - Twins, and so on. The planets move west to east, following the sequence. It is easy to tell a planet from a star by noticing, in a few weeks of observation, how it changes its position against the composite stars of a constellation.
But the planets do not always move in that way, right to left across the sky as one looks south and up. Jupiter and saturn (also mars) in particular display a distinct variation in regular motion. At times, they appear to reverse and move backwards against the zodiacal sequence. This is called retrograde motion. All planets in the solar system have retrograde periods, including mercury and venus which revolve between the earth and the sun. Jupiter and saturn are large and slow-moving orbs, but not too slow, so their retrograde periods are easy to observe. Both planets go retrograde for five months every year. (They do not actually move backwards but appear to do so because the earth on its orbital track overtakes them and makes them shift back, as cars overtaken on a highway seem to drop back relative to the landscape.)
The particular gestures of jupiter and saturn in retrograde show the bias of fate. Only these planets show it. The bias also operates simultaneously in the life-pattern of a person, but not due to "planetary influence." Rather as a signal. The bias can operate in your life-pattern before it is observed in the sky, or vice versa. In my case, the bias emerged through events in May when jupiter went retrograde (May 12 in 292 ECL: 22 Capricorn in the sign zodiac). Soon after that moment, I began tracking the celestial signal closely. In this way, it came about that Lydia of Damascus would be the one of my nine lives that disclosed the entire sequence of nine—the mouthpiece of the sequence, as it were. This choice arose interactively with my observations of the current sky.
The retrograde motion of jupiter is now easily seen each night, all over the world. Over five months, it will reverse to the extent of nine degrees, a clearly discernible shift. These nine degrees complement the nine lives I recount and favor my recapitulation. They show the bias of fate. No act that touches and evokes the emergent mystery of the cosmos is performed without interacting with the cosmos.
Currently, jupiter backshifts from a region relatively devoid of stars, called the "greater void." It lies between the Archer and the Goatfish. As it shifts back into the composite stars of the Archer, jupiter will reach "station direct," the moment when it returns to normal motion and once again advances in the zodiacal sequence (September 9, 2008). At that moment, it will be high in the sky, at zenith, two hours after sunset. Observation with the naked eye will show that jupiter at station direct is very close to a bright star in the Archer called Nunki (283 on the ecliptic: 13 Capricorn in the sign zodiac). Ancient star maps from Mesopotamia designate Nunki as "the star marking the vane of the Archer's arrow," the feathered tip that guides its flight. The string rides in the vane and the Archer pinches the arrow at the vane to sight it. The hold on the vane controls both the direction and thrust of the arrow.
The Sabian star-gazers of my lineage called Nunki "the Proclamation of the Sea." This is one of the most ancient star-names that survives. The "Sea" is the galactic whirlpool, the spiral galaxy we inhabit. This is a four-armed lenticular spiral about 120,000 light-years in diameter and 7,000 thick, composed of 200 billion stars. Our solar system is located in the third arm, counting outward, about 25,000 L-Y from the galactic center. In the graphic display of the zodiac, the tip of the Archer's arrow marks the direction we look toward the galactic core. The Archer sights on the heart of the galaxy. The sighting action depends on how the vane is held. A slight movement of the vane will direct the arrow differently. Nunki, the star in the vane, "proclaims the Sea" because it determines the sightline to the galactic center.
The bias of fate that determined the signal incarnation of this sequence is the the retrograde shift of jupiter toward Nunki. Watch that motion, contemplate that graphic encoding, participate in the omen. Follow the sight of the Archer who shows us how to look at the galactic center, and remember the name of that star, Nunki. This is Lydia's omen, but it is also the calling of humanity to recognize its cosmic source. Jupiter at Nunki signals the confidence to be acquired by aligning human intent to the galactic center, and it invokes the wisdom of a unified field of vision centered on the myth of Sophia who emerged from that center and became this planet.
I, Lydia of Damascus, am the voice of star-gazers who knew this alignment centuries ago, and in the memory of those centuries, in the peerless authority of that memory, I restore it now.
Amber and Stars
As I child, I loved amber before all things. My parents told me that it must be so because I was born during the Feast of Amber in the city of one hundred gates, Hecatombylos. It was rare for a child of the Mardeena, a tribe of Parthian nomads, to be born in a great city, and Hecatombylos was surely great, with a population of 30,000 inhabitants. It was on the Silk Route and, at the same time, it was a point of departure toward the highlands of Lake Urmia, the sacred hearth of the Persian sages called Magians.
Although we were a rough-and-tumble lot, the Mardeena had family ties with the Magians, sophisticated shamans who founded the Gnostic movement. Family legend said that some of our remote ancestors had carried the Avestan title of vaedemna, "wise one." Although we encountered many "Chaldeans" (a later name for the Magians) and Gnostics on our travels, it was rather unlikely that anyone from our rude tribe would join that circle of elitist, high-browed intellectuals. One thing we had in common with them, however, was star-gazing. The fame of Sabian star-gazers was widespread, and emperors consulted the elder seers of the Mardeena. Hadrian's coin with a star enclosed in a lunar crescent depicts an occultation of venus by the moon, an omen of the ill-fated love-life of that late Pagan regent.
In my first memory of this life, I was looking at the stars—probably around the age of three of four. I have a distinct memory of a conversation when I was seven or so. I was wrapped in a woolen shawl, huddled under the knees of my aunt Kamdele, a Sabian star-gazer. We were camped in the foothills of Mount Ararat overlooking Lake Van (modern Armenia). It was a chilly night in spring, the sky brilliant with stars and no moon. I listened to my aunt and others discuss the sky in an animated way. I understand little of what they said, but I was both fascinated and soothed by their voices. In imitation of them, I kept looking up and then down, scanning the sky, then scanning the faces lit by the brushwood fire. When they dispersed to go to sleep, I was still jittery with excitement. Kamdele had noticed how keenly I looked at the skies. She took me on her lap and explained something to me.
"The stars, little pony, are bursting with stories," she said in a hoarse whisper, "but the stories are woven on lines that you cannot see." She had me look at the brushwood fire. The hard, greasy underbrush when it burned down held a steady glow like curled iron rods pulled from a blacksmith's forge. After they stopped blazing, the ropy branches glowed like a heap of red coils. "Look at the glowing wood," my aunt urged me, holding my head steady with my temples between her palms. "Look hard and don't move your eyes." After a moment, she turned my head toward the dark, looming presence of Ararat. "Now what do you see?" I saw the very forms of the incandescent branches floating in the darkness. "This is how to see the lines that weave among the stars, and remember them," she told me with a laugh.
After that, aunt Kamdele taught me the names of the stars and helped me to visualize the starry patterns as if they were after-images like the red coils of brushwood. At the age of eleven, I could recite the names of two hundred stars. I also knew a good many of their stories, but my recall was not complete or consistent. I was an impatient child who wanted to know everything at once. My aunt recognized my frustration, and instilled patience. Not long before she died, Kamdele woke me one dawn to point out the crescent moon beneath Capella, the glittering star of the Kid, high in a bright, pentagonal constellation above the Twins. She told me to picture the Kid perched on the left shoulder of the golden warrior, Auriga, protector of those who learned from the Organic Light. She said the moon beneath the Kid was a death omen for a future life.
I admitted with some shame that I could not retain even half of the stories she told me. I saw tears come to her eyes, and thought I must have disappointed her gravely. Then she reached into my pocket and fished out one of the many chunks of amber I always carried with me. Holding it up close to my eyes, Kamdele said, "You see in this amber a little insect, a tiny gnat." Yes, I said, I could see it pretty well. "Well, the stars hold your memory like this amber holds the gnat." She told me to rely on the power of the stars to gain and retain memory of the stories pictured in the stars.
The Parthian Bandit
Until sixteen, I was something of a tomboy, a rough-mannered and fiercely independent girl who wanted to match everything the boys did. I had some serious throws off horses and cut myself fooling with knives. Then came my transformation into a young woman desired by the boys I tried to imitate. It was a hard, shocking transition, hard for me to handle. At first, I did not want to dress in an alluring fashion, wearing rings and jewelry, using languid perfumes from Shiraz, but that was the way of our tribe. Mardeena women were proud of their beauty and allure. To everyone's amazement, not the least my own, I turned out to be as attractive as I was unruly. I had smoky green Persian eyes set deeply in a face with a dark cast. A strong jaw, but not too strong for a woman. Small ears like sea shells. A straight nose flared at the bridge, with refined nostrils. Full, wide lips and even, squarish teeth. Thick black hair that gathered all by itself in wide plaits on my shoulders. I had a small, sturdy body with ample but compact breasts, the supple, flared hips of a dancer, and unusually strong legs. On the inside of my left thigh, just above the knee joint, was a birthmark of a pale red lemniscate, an elongated spiral with one loop larger than the other.
My view of being a woman changed totally one day when I was idly playing with a snake near a well at a roadside bazaar near Harran. The Mardeena often visited that great city, whose name means "crossroads," on their way to and from Syria, but we stayed outside the vast walls. As I gazed languidly toward the 200 towers of the city, a rider came to the well, the typical Parthian archer on horse. He wore a short cotton tunic and high boots. His hair and eyes were black as obsidian. I put him in his early twenties, five or six years older than me.
We bantered and joked in Farsi. Mardeena women were independent. I was never reticent to talk with men and felt no need of protection. The young man said his name was Jalamesh, Jah-LAH-mesh. He was had just come from the glittering city of Byzantium and was on the way to Anatolia, Hittite land. The names of these places were exotic to me. It seemed like he was telling me a fairy-tale, yet I knew such places really existed. In a bold move, his black eyes flashing, Jalamesh proposed that I come with him to Anatolia, traveling eastward to the headwaters of the river Tigris. He said it would be a gay excursion, a round trip, and he would return me to Harran in ten days. Equally frightened and excited at the chance to see this wild and unknown part of the world, I rashly accepted. I told a cousin what I was doing and left her standing at the well with an incredulous stare, watching me ride away with my arms around this handsome bandit.
We reached the upper Tigris at a sheltered bend where the river was shallow and banked with sinewy willows and tall, rustling reeds. To encamp, we waded to a small island cushioned by deep grass. There I knew for the first time the terrible thrill of sexual intercourse. Jalamesh was rough with me, as if he had to force me, which he didn't. I did not understand this behavior but I adapted to it quickly, thinking it must be normal. I was captivated by his wild, rapacious looks and sullen, quiet moods. Watching the sky that night, I saw the omens of my fate and knew I would stay with this young man for an allotted period of time, written in the stars.
When Jalamesh brought me a horse, I knew instantly that he had stolen it. In his gear, I saw not only the bow and quiver, but knives, a scimitar, a sword, and other weapons I could not name. I realized with alarm that he was a marauder, the kind of man the Mardeena strictly avoided, yet I was now fully under the spell of his feral charm. Jalamesh never mollified his sexual approach, taking me with a violent flare every time. Each month, I resorted to female lore, using fennel, storax and aster to dispel the harsh seed he planted in me. I would not be bound to him in any way, and especially not in that way. Yet I did not see how to break away from him, either. Escape I could not, for he would surely track me down faster than I could flee. Fate would have to intervene.
After thirteen moons with Jalamesh, during which he made sure we would not cross paths with the Mardeena, we came to the town of Orumiyeh on the western shore of Lake Urmia, a site sacred to the Magian Gnostics. Jalamesh was in a odd mood, reckless and exhilarated after barely escaping death in an ill-planned raid. The town was smoky and squalid. There were all kinds of animals about, also prostitutes and much gambling. Jalamesh fell into a game using an hexagonal board and ivory pegs with a notched bone for the die. Smoking voraciously on a hookah, he proceeded to gamble away all the loot he had accumulated in the past month. Then he dragged me into the tent and put me up for a last stake in the game. He did not take much time to lose. When the smelly retainer of the winner hustled me triumphantly out of the tent, Jalamesh did not look up to see me go. I sensed that he was not too ashamed to look me in the eyes one last time: he had no shame at all. It was as good a way as any to be rid of a woman.
Omen or no omen, I was not going to be the chattel of a leering, scar-faced donkey merchant from Tabriz. In anticipation of trouble, I had bound one of Jalamesh's slim knives to my thigh. The moment the retainer turned his back to me, I came over his shoulders and cut his throat, amazed at how soft it was, how the knife went through it as if sliding through warm wax. It was a very sharp knife. I wanted to leave a message that I was dangerous and would not be taken alive. Then I fled on the horse Jalamesh had stolen for me.
I knew not which direction to go. Avoiding recapture by Jalamesh or someone who would turn me over to him, or do worse, was impossible. I rode crazily until dawn when I stopped at a ravine to hide and rest. I dozed off, only to be awakened by a strange drone. Across the ravine I man stood greeting the sun and chanting with a lovely lilt. He saw me and came toward me in a perfectly natural way. His attire told me that he was a sort of holy man, one of the itinerant mystics who moved on the periphery of the Magian Order. He greeted me in Farsi and flashed a beaming smile. "You are the gift of the day," he said. His name was Tamzin, a woman's name. He said that he took that name when he married the woman inside him. He said her name was Zufi'a.
Tamzin was on the way to Antioch and cordially offered me to accompany him. He knew paths that no one would take, secret trails where we could escape detection, and he had friends at kervansarays along the way, so we would have safe passage. It was going to be a long trek. I asked if I had to leave my beloved horse behind. He said, let's hope not, but it might be necessary in the early stages, until we reached the Hittite plateau. And so we set out with extreme caution, heading due west toward Lake Van and then into the central highlands of Anatolia. At the Lake I met some Mardeena who took the story of my disappearance and rescue back to my family.
Tamzin was a fine conversationalist and raconteur with quite an extensive knowledge of the stars. He appreciated my Sabian lore and encouraged me to develop it. I was never bored in his company. After walking and riding for five months, we reached Antioch on the bank of the River Orontes where it flows into the Mediterranean. I found it a beautiful and gracious place, and I was immediately enchanted. On my eighteenth birthday according to the star calendar of the moon god Sin, Tamzin brought me to Daphne, an elegant quarter of Antioch, and into the home of Nawrouz Petali. It was up to that moment the happiest day of my life.
Nawrouz Petali was the overseer of the Magian order in that region of the world—a kind of Gnostic godfather. His prestige was immense and tales of his generosity made legend all the way to Egypt. At first sight, he adopted me as his daughter and student. For the following six years, my first Antioch period, I lived in his home and traveled with him and his entourage to Damascus, Palestine, Rhodes, and Alexandria. In the year I joined his household, the Emperor Constantine made the city of Byzantium the capital of the Eastern Church, and renamed it after himself. It was a grim time for Pagans and Gnostics. Nawrouz Petali was determined to re-organize what remained of the Mysteries and preserve the sacred and secular learning of Pagan culture, as far as that was possible given the repression and hostility he faced. He was a kind and demanding mentor who set the agenda for my education in astronomy, languages, dance, medicine, and jewelry-making.
At Damascus, I entered the academy attached to the local Mystery School, an institution established under the rule of the Nabataeans, and quickly advanced to higher studies. On the island of Rhodes, I studied herbs and medicines related to the properties of the sun, moon, planets and stars. In Palestine, we encountered Gnostic teachers with special knowledge of Archontic demons who, according to those rare detective seers, were liable to deviate humanity from the earth wisdom. They gave us to understand that the brutal enforcement of law and religion under the new faith was the first stage in a battle for the human spirit that would go on for centuries. This knowledge shook me to the core of my being. At Alexandra, where we went for four months each year, I devoured many books and advanced my studies in anstronomy. Over a number of years, I met the last teachers of the Mysteries, including Theon, the father of Hypatia who was born in the year of my death.
The Light at Petra
At the age of twenty-four I completed my apprenticeship with Nawrouz Petali and entered the most elite Gnostic cell in Antioch. The Company of the Eight were four men, Dacius, Darius, Timochares, Nassim Padmani, and three women, Polyxandra, Kleito, Farah Hormazin, and myself. Thus began my initiation into the Mysteries of the Organic Light, a mystical career that led to my taking the vow to be fulfilled in Kali Yuga, sixteen centuries later.
At the age of thirty-five, when I took that vow, the future of our sacred work was uncertain. Almost week by week, suppression and aggression threatened our practices. Most of the cell members lived in Daphne, the Bel Air of Antioch, long a stronghold for Pagan intellectuals. But even this privileged enclave was not immune to the fanatics of the new faith. They would come with a sack of bones and bury them at a street corner or in a tranquil spot beneath some date palms. Then they would declare that because their martyr was buried there, it was holy ground for them, and they could take possession of it and build a church on the site. They spread their influence by contamination, with stinking charnel remains, using death to lay claim on the living. Antioch was the first place that any of the converts openly called themselves "Christians."
My second period in Antioch, during which I remained deeply involved with the Company of the Eight, lasted for twenty years, until I was forty-four. Then, around 350 according to the Julian calendar later to be established, we went into exile...
I lived another twenty years, always in the company of some members of the original cell, but also encountering younger mystics whom we recruited in our attempt to preserve our lineage and transmit the Mysteries. The end of my life came in Petra, in the house of a young woman named Dushara. Petra was the old capital of the Nabataeans who had traditinoally been patrons and protectors of the Gnostic "heretics," as they were now considered by those people who hunted them down like criminals. Dushara was the sole survivor of a respected Nabataean family known for producing many skilled doctors. At a young age she understood medicine quite well, but was not thoroughly trained in the art of healing.
We Pagans are a superstitious lot, seeing signs and omens at every turn in life. When the night omens told me the moment was near, I confided in Dushara my wish to take a potion to die easily, with total assent. I asked her to concoct this drink, the brew of ultimate healing, although I knew that she could not do so, lacking the proper expertise. I suggested some herbs to gather and how to prepare them, knowing full well that they would not work. She followed my instructions, believing that she had done it right and the potion would be effective. I tricked her out of love, for I wanted to make a pact with her that would be uniquely sealed by her assisting me to die. She needed to believe that she could offer me that gift, euthanasia. I wanted her to believe it as well, for in that way we would be bound into a shared fate in lives to come. My death was to be a fiction of sacred intent.
The soft light on the sandstone of Petra reminded me of sunrise on the pillars of the temple of Dendera, far away on the bend of the Nile. I told Dushara about the time we had been there together in the service of Hathor. She could not retrieve these memories, but she received them with a kind of somber delight. I also told her the Egyptian names we bore at the time, in violation of a sacred rule that literal names were not to be disclosed in recounting past lives—there being a definite risk of death involved. But, then, I was the one who would die as the result of this forbidden disclosure.
Dushara's slender hand trembled as he handed me the potion in the brass cup. It was sweet and thick and almost stuck in my throat. I smiled gratefully at her, reaching out to caress her face, pushing some strands of her red-blonde hair back over her forehead. The light through the vertical blind threw a sharp pattern over us, as if we were figures printed on a plaited cloth. The earrings I had made for her tinkled softly as she leaned forward to place her hand on my shoulder. A donkey brayed in the street outside. I drank slowly and died.
14 july 2008 Andalucia
Material by John Lash and Lydia Dzumardjin: Copyright 2002 - 2017 by John Lash.