To die… and just let it all go: the struggle for survival, the memories of suffering people, future agonies -- it sounded good. Miserable, he turned back to Sariel. “Can you help me with that?”
“No.” She shook her head. “For those who are too sick, I can do this, yes, but not for you.” She looked up at him, eyes wide with more concern than he had expected. “This is not the way of nature,” she protested. “Not the way of the goddess.”
“What goddess?” Chess asked, the familiar word catching his attention, distracting him.
Sariel raised her eyebrows. “Perhaps you should ask her what to do.”
A vision of the indigo priestess appeared suddenly in his imagination. “Can you speak to a goddess?” he breathed, his heart beginning to pound. The world had lapsed into complete unreality around him, he thought, so why not this, too? “Are you a priestess?” At her confused look, he altered his question so she would understand. “Are you really a witch? I mean, Razor seems to think you are… and his men…,” he stammered, watching her eyes narrow at him. “And the people back there: they think you heal. Those people are crazy about you. Other people fear you. And you seem to know way more about me than I thought possible. So, uh…” Self-consciously, he let his voice trail off.
He watched Sariel close her eyes briefly. “My grandfather was a great healer… a great storyteller, and a great leader. He was the chief of our village. He knew where to dig for water… and when neighboring villages would be agreeable to trade… and when a young couple in the village was just beginning to fall in love.” She looked up at him. “I learned all that I could from him, but… he died, and… my grandfather did not know everything,” she finished enigmatically, and then she grimaced. “He did not know fraud.” Sariel sighed and shook her head. Chess listened in fascinated silence, nearly forgetting his despair of a few moments before.
“And Razor’s men fear me,” Sariel echoed, looking suddenly amused. “You know, in the villages, they call such gangs ‘Tonton Macoutes’ -- the bogeymen. But when the Tonton Macoutes are asleep, here, in their cozy little beds, what do they fear?” She grinned openly and tossed her hair. “Let us go back inside now, and we will talk about your petition to the goddess.”
They were back in Chess’s room, with the shadows thrown by the single light bulb growing deeper as the day faded. Fastidiously, Sariel placed her cloth bag on the dirty cement floor and knelt on it, pulling something from the folds of her skirt as she sank. Chess, watching her intently, also lowered himself to the floor, facing her.
Sariel held up a small glass jar. “With this,” she told him solemnly, “you may see what the goddess wills you to see. And you may ask her what you wish.”
She unscrewed the cap of the jar and carefully removed a pinch of what looked to Chess like some type of herb. For a moment, he felt a stab of doubt and a mild assertion of his survival instinct. After all, if Razor, of all people, feared this woman, well, there must be a reason. And, besides that, she had offered to heal him, and more. He should just take her up on that offer and forget all this.
He watched the way her hair brushed over her shoulder, and the way her thin clothing clung to the outline of her body as she moved, and he inhaled again her incense-like perfume, and wondered how he could possibly have ended up here, alone with her.
But he pushed those thoughts aside. Outside the door of his room was a world that he did not understand and did not want to live in. And this implausible offer had been the only whisper of hope to him, in all this time. Maybe there was a goddess. He took a deep breath. “Okay.”
Sariel held up the herbs in her fingers and gazed at him without any discernable expression. “It is possible, though, that her answer will be that you should die. If this is so, do you accept?”
In that moment, he felt a strong desire to surrender. “May the goddess be merciful,” he said.
Chess opened his mouth and let her brush the herbs across his tongue. And then her hand was on his shoulder, pushing him gently to the floor.
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“Her name is Kashmir, which means soft and expensive.”
“But she’s a prostitute, Biff. … you don’t have any money.”
“I got the feeling she likes me. I think maybe she’ll do me pro bono, if you know what I mean?” I elbowed him in the ribs and winked.
“You mean for the public good. You forget your Latin? ‘Pro bono’ means ‘for the public good.’”
“Oh. I thought it meant something else. She’s not going to do me for that.”
“No, probably not,” said Josh.
-Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
The rabbits of Watership Down tell stories to each other in an effort to understand and explain their world – and, of course, to entertain themselves. By the end of the book, the storytellers are incorporating the heroes and events of the novel into their mythic narrative.
Their story seems meant to represent a primitive culture where some members split off, wander for a while, and end up founding a new population or country with customs and mythologies that both develop from and perpetuate their culture and their ideals. Their belief system is based on that of their original home, but it also develops toward the more progressive ideas of the main characters. This might be how a mythology evolved: continuously and in different regions, the stories interchanging with each other and varying as people moved around and their needs and goals changed with their changing environment. Over time, people added and subtracted things from the set of mythologies. And sometimes perhaps even the point of the allegorical fable was modified over time or by another people, depending on what the particular culture valued most highly at the moment.
Did all mythologies evolve this way? Possibly not, but it seems that some of them did. And it certainly seems more likely for stories to be modified if they are only in oral form. But, as George Orwell tells us in Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is not all that difficult to alter written records, either. Of course, in Orwell’s novel, there is a conscious effort to revise documents in order to change what people believe. For the most part, mythologies likely evolved organically, with the changes being subtle and unconscious. But there are instances that I mentioned, back around the first part of the story, when it seems that things might have been changed deliberately in order to change behavior.
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