The Book of Voices

Biblical Microfictions by Joseph Zitt

Asherah

(This is the final story for the Book of Voices, at least for the book itself. I might write more stories in the Book of Voices universe sometime in the future, but this is the last for the book itself, as it will appear in its new edition, due later this year)

Asherah was worshipped by many as a goddess alongside God in the Biblical era, until the people who believed in only one god caused her worship to disappear. Memories of her remain in the Biblical text mostly as derogatory references. Belief in her eventually shifted into belief in more abstracted female figurs, such as Wisdom. As the Bible says,

“Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?
 At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand.”

Proverbs 8:1-2

Asherah speaks just before the dedication of the Second Temple.)

I come into being in the gentle rain. I step forth from the embrace of the Tree of Life, guided by this pair of angels, one female, one male.

“We have waited for you,” they say.

“Have you waited long?”

In unison, they shrug. “All time is the same here. But anticipation preceded you.”

I look around. “So this is Eden.”

“That is what the people call it. Had you never been here before?”

I look through my memories of past and future times. “My stories begin after  the people left the garden. None of the stories remember my having been in it. Why have you called me here?”

They gesture to the space behind me. I turn. There, not far away, sits a woman, human, ancient in years as measured by people. She is huddled, sitting on the ground, leaning against the base of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Her knees are drawn up toward her, her hands resting on them. She looks steadily toward me, a stone-like visage not of defiance but of certainty.

“A person in the garden?” I ask. “Are we at the end of days?”

“No,” they say. “Some get to visit, but only a few, and only for a short time. This one is here by permission of the archangels above us. She, and especially her sacred sisters, prayed for her to be allowed to come here. And they especially prayed that she might meet you.”

I walk toward the woman and offer her my hand. “Asherah?” she asks.

“Yes, I have been called Asherah,” I reply.

“You look–”

“Exactly as you imagined?”

“Yes. But how?”

“I exist outside of space,” I say, “outside of material form. I have no body, most of the time. When someone needs to see me, a temporary body forms, built from the story that the person has told herself of how I must appear.”

“This would lead to problems,” she says, “if two people were to see you. If one would see you as tall and the other as short, and both were to embrace –” She stops herself and laughs. “Forgive me. I am too practical. I’m worrying about measures and paradoxes in the presence of a goddess.”

I laugh with her. “I enjoy hearing you think like this. I have never figured out how it works, myself. I do not remember the creation of the world, but assume that God, and whoever else might have been with him, worked out the rules of science, magic, and all that lies between them, at the start.”

“The world would be an easier place if he would just tell us what the rules are.”

I nod. “There is so much that people do not know. I have appeared, at times, to help them learn. But God has never been particularly interested in making things easy for you. He challenges you to work your way through the world. That is his way as your Father.”

“And you, as our Mother?” she asks.

“I bring you what you need to survive the learning. I catch you when you fall, heal your wounds, and support you in your path.”

“But now…” she says, then pauses. “So few… only I know you now.”

“When is ‘now’? From what time have you come here?”

“I have lived a long time with my sisters, where conventional time does not work as it does outside. As far as saying when this is in the history of our people, I can say that we have lived for a long time in the land of our Fathers. We were once driven from this land, and the Temple — the place where most worshiped the Father God, but where we once had a tree, a space, sacred to you — was destroyed. But now, after a long enough time has passed that almost all who remembered that Temple are gone, we have returned, and the men are raising a new Temple in its place.”

“The men?” I ask. “Are there no women involved?”

The woman sighs and looks down. “In my day, in the time that I was queen, so many lifetimes ago, we had powerful women, the finest architects of whom one could dream. Now, they are gone. As people say, those who have the power over others get to write the stories. And the men have taken the power and told the official stories for generations. So women are seen as less than men, destined only to serve them.”

I look into the stories in my memory. There are so many — tales of people calling on me, praying to me, of my helping them, nurturing them, strengthening them. But the stories become thinner over time, until after a while time seems to break.

“I see no stories of that age,” I say. “Where are they? Where am I in them?”

“Few speak of you anymore, and fewer know your name. The men, when they wrote the stories down, removed all mentions of your worship other than as folly or a curse to be removed. Houses no longer contain the figurines by which we remembered you. Your presence, your memory, your stories — all are gone.”

I sigh and sit down next to her, resting my back against the broad trunk of the tree. “And all my physical children are gone, long gone, since God’s vengeful flood wiped out the last of the children of Cain.”

“How can we survive?” the woman cries out. “How can we carry on without your memory? Do your stories ever return?”

I close my eyes and look deep into myself, into the stories of past and future that make up my own memory. “Yes, there are stories of people who remember me. They come from your future, as far into the future as humanity has memories of the past. Gradually, my history is revealed. People once again find my figures and my stories, and decode the ways in which the men hid my existence in the texts that they came to call sacred. And they come together, some in your land, some in cities on the far side of the land on the far side of the ocean. They speak and sing of me  in a great, ever-changing text, written on light, which all can read almost instantly, wherever they are, on your world and beyond.”

“And you become the equal of the Father God?” she asks. “And all worship you together?”

“Not all,” I reply. “But many. And it does seem that I survive in other ways.”

“How?”

“Stories are not the only ways for us to carry meaning. While I lose my name for some thousands of years, I take on others. I seem to grow into metaphor.”

The woman looks deeply at me but says nothing.

“Do you hear people among you speak of Wisdom?” I ask her. “What do they say?”

“They say that she is among us, that she speaks to us,” she says.

“And who is this Wisdom?” I ask.

“Is it you?” she cries.

“It is, or it can be, if that is how you wish to see her. And what of the Sabbath?”

“They say that she is a queen who visits us and blesses us each week. Is she also you?”

“She is, if you believe her to be. And don’t the people speak of the Presence of God as if separate from God himself, as female, the one who aids and comforts humanity?”

“This also is you?” she says.

“It is, or it can be. Who I am is whoever I am in your hearts, until the stories and the memories return.”

She sits, again silent. She looks at me, looks down, then looks up again. “But what is there that we can see, now that the figures are gone? You are the light that shines deep within our hearts, but must the light be hidden from our eyes?”

It is my turn to look away and pause. “There is another fire, another light,” I say. “The stories say that a fire burned forever at the original Temple, at the Outer Altar where all could see it. What became of that fire when the Temple fell?”

“We have that fire.” The voices came from the angels. “But like the original Ark of the Covenant, it will remain here until the end of days, to be returned when all souls become one.”

“This is God’s will?” the woman asks.

“This is what we know to happen,” they reply. “It is not within our power to change it.”

“Then I will become that fire for you,” I say to the woman. “When people see the Eternal Flame, they will see the presence of God, and knowing of that presence, of the one who bridges the worlds between the mundane and that which cannot be known, they will know me.”

“You will become flame?” she says. “I would not see you destroy yourself for us!”

I smile and rest my hand on her shoulder. “This body is not my body. It is made of stories and exists only in your mind, in this place where metaphors become real. I will not be destroyed, but will spread out like smoke in gentle wind into the greater stories that people will tell.”

I rise and, stepping over to the two great trees, pick up fallen branches, one from the Tree of Life and, careful not to dislodge its fruit, one from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I stand between the trees and stroke the branches against each other until they begin to smolder.

“Wait!” The woman has stood and called out to me. When she hears her voice, she is suddenly ashamed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound so –”

“So much like a queen calling to servants? I understand. After all, you were a queen for such a long time.”

“I –” She falters. “I have known of you for such a long time,” she says, “and for so many lifetimes, I have longed to meet you, longed for your embrace. And now you are leaving again, and…”

I open my arms, one smoldering branch in each hand. The angels each take a branch from me, moving in perfect unison. “Come to me,” I say.

The woman moves slowly to me, as if she were a child approaching the mother than she had feared that she would never meet. When she reaches me, I wrap my arms around her as her arms embrace me.

We stand for a long time, here where time has no meaning. The body that I wear senses the gradations in color of her hair and of her robe, the sound of her soft breath, the scent and texture of her flowing white hair, and her taste as I kiss her on her brow.

“I will remember you,” she says. “And Mother, dearest Asherah, please remember me in the stories that you know, the stories that you become. Let the stories know that I, your servant Maacah, did everything to honor you, gave up everything to be true to you, and longed to be with you all her life.”

“I will remember,” I say, “and we will come together again at the end of time. And you will be the one to carry my memory. When I become flame, please carry the fire back to the World of Appearances, so that, once again, I might live at the holy Temple.”

“I swear it,” she says.

I kiss her one more time, then she and I end our embrace. Each of us takes a step back. The angels, moving together, return the branches to my outstretched hands.

I touch the branches to each other. Sparks burst out from each and become flame. I raise them into the air then bring them close to me. My hands come together in front of this body’s heart.

The body begins to glow, to emit light, emit heat. It burns, not like wood but like the fire within a gemstone. It becomes a pillar of light, then contracts. The fire catches the branches as they lie on the ground, and they become a slow, steady flame.

I feel myself drifting away, dissipating, back into the stories, back into the hearts of those who, whether or not they know the name that Cain gave me, feel my presence across time. I feel the stories leap across the years, the lifetimes, toward the time that they reemerge, written in fire, written in light, as the world and its people move closer to the joys that await us at the end of time.

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May 18, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | ,

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