by Tala Bar
|Table of Contents|
Chapter 1: Encounter
Earth is all, Asherat is Earth.
All beings belong to Earth,
All beings are Earth’s children.
The Mountain is Earth, is Asherat,
The Mountain is Asherat, pregnant.
From the Mountain, from Earth, from Asherat
Come out plants, come out animals, come out people.
The Rocks are Earth’s bones, Asherat’s bones.
The Cave is Asherat’s mouth,
Entrance into Earth’s belly,
Where Earth’s dying people go,
From where Earth’s people are born again,
All peoples, all plants, all animals.
The tune came from nowhere, played in her mind as it coiled around her body, the words penetrating into her very being. Tamar shook her head. ‘The Watcher is waiting,’ she thought as she climbed the mountain, walking with a sure, measured step. Her body was erect and she carried the water skin easily on her head, her hips swaying rhythmically, the sweat gleaming on her bare golden body, her feet recognizing every crevasse, every loose stone or thornbush. Tamar’s face turned constantly toward the cave above, as if guided by it physically as well as spiritually.
She reached the ledge in front of the cave, took the load off her head, put it on the ground and straightened, stretching to relieve the strain. She looked down at the plain below, with the hilly, undulating landscape beyond, stretching white and desolate west, south and north; in the east, the misty range of the Mo’av mountains stretched, stained mauve and pink under the rising sun. Below them meandered the silver-gray strip of river Yarden — ‘the one going down’ — snaking its way from Mount Hermon down to the gray-blue spread of the Salt Sea. Above Tamar’s head, facing east toward the rising sun, the black cliffs rose like erect, smooth walls, impossible to climb; the black hole of the entrance to the cave was the only break in their continuity.
Tamar lifted the water skin and entered the cave. Dazzled by the sunlight, the interior seemed pitch black. Then a golden ray peeped in, and the blackness was diffused to become dark gray. Light, reflected from the walls, played on endless rows of shining white skulls, their shell-eyes gleaming in variety of colors, their black mouths open in a terrible silent shriek. Tamar, though, felt no terror; not only was she used to the sight, she was also full of confidence in the protection of the Goddess. There was no question to her own importance in the scheme of things, in which she was Water Maiden carrying water to the Watcher in the cave.
The Watcher, an old woman clad in black, was sitting on a low stone seat leaning against a stone column whose flat top was covered with remnants of burning offerings; her unseeing eyes were open, her mouth chewing constantly, she was muttering an incessant, soft humming. On one side of her on the floor lay a stone bowl, which Tamar now filled with water; on the other side was a stone dish full of smoldering dry leaves, whose heavy scent filled the cave.
The Watcher paid no attention to the Water Maiden. Having accomplished her task, the girl stood before the old woman, bending her head in a silent prayer; she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the thick air as if inhaling some of the Watcher’s wisdom. Then she turned and went out. Something fluttered under her feet — a large bird flew away.
“A white dove,” she murmured, astonished, “an omen!”
With a pounding heart Tamar started on her way down the slope, walking briskly through thorny shrubs and strewn rocks; it was a place where people seldom came, being holy and intended only for the specially chosen. After a while, she reached a point halfway down the mountain; a well-bitten track appeared at that spot, used by the villagers for foraging. There they came to gather roots and berries, to hunt for eggs and small birds and animals. She stopped and sat down on a flat slab of rock, looking down at the Village of the Three Faces of the Moon, which was the place of her birth.
It was early autumn, the sun still hot at midday and the plain was drenched in bright light. Tamar looked lovingly at the round, thatched huts encircling the spacious village square, with the enormous terebinth tree growing in its center. Behind the large tree sprouted a group of tall palms half-surrounding it in a crescent, swaying like a huge fan in the light wind. In the shade of the trees sat on a stone seat what looked at that distance like a tiny figure; in her mind’s eye Tamar could visualize it as Devora, Lady Mother of her village.
The thought of Devora always filled the girl with a sense of warm love and admiration. Devora was motherly not only in her attitude toward the villagers but also to look at; she was tall and full of figure, her large, rounded breasts falling on her fruitful belly. By nature, she was a very warm person, full of love to all the Goddess’ creatures. She was a naturally wise person, acting as a good guide to her people, her words always spoken with both love and firmness. In her wisdom she never scoffed at a good advice from others — people who were clever in their own line like Eyal the Chief Hunter, Asaf the aged sage, or Ya’el the old healer. Devora would even listen to young people like Tamar or her own son Amnon, never silencing her granddaughter Shoshana or even her two-year old great-granddaughter.
Although Tamar loved Devora in the way a daughter would love a good mother, it was not Devora who had given birth to her but Devora’s sister Ayala, who had died in childbirth. Tamar recalled the story of her birth, which was connected with the birth of Devora’s own son Amnon. Tales had been told in the village about a strange man who had wandered there and stayed for a while. He was so different in his looks from the villagers’ usual appearance: tall and slim, his skin as white as the lily flower, his translucent eyes sky blue and the hair on his head white gold. The sisters Devora and Ayala, daughters to the Lady Mother of the day, had taken the stranger together to a leafy bed, as was their wont with most men of their choice; there had not been a man alive who would hinder himself from entertaining them both.
They were magnificent, each in her own way; Ayala, the older sister, was a little bundle of black fire; her curly black hair, flashing black eyes and glistening red lips would kindle a fire in every man’s loins and heart, young or old, in spite of her girlish appearance. Devora, who at the time was Water Maiden, had had a queenly appearance since her childhood; she was tall and curvaceous, her breasts full and heavy, her brown hair falling in heavy curls on her shoulders; her walk was so majestic that all people, men, women and children, adored her on site; but her brown eyes were so warm and kindly that no one would stay afar if she was beckoning. There was no jealousy between the sisters, each one knowing her own merits.
After a couple of months of lovemaking, both sisters conceived, and let others in the village have their fun with the man; Tamar was not sure what was his fate afterwards. Having begun labor at the same time, it was very soon evident that Ayala’s body was sadly unfit for it; Devora had easily dropped her son when she heard Ayala’s naming her daughter before she died. The surviving mother had no compunction in adopting her niece as her own — she would have done it anyway, as village custom required, even if Ayala had not been her own sister.
Even as Devora was suckling Tamar together with her son Amnon, the two had become the wonder of the village; as much as their mothers looked different, those two looked exactly alike, as if they were twins born to the same mother. Both had long and agile bodies and limbs, golden skin much lighter in hue than the usual brown of most village people, pure green eyes and glowing golden hair, wavy rather than curly or frizzy. Before they had matured to become a woman and a man, the villagers would always confuse between them, addressing Amnon as Tamar and Tamar as Amnon.
The cousins grew to love each other dearly. As children, they had always stayed together, inseparable, whether playing or fulfilling chores, thus initiating the pronunciation of their names together, in one breath, as one entity. They reached puberty at the same time, as Tamar was a little late and Amnon a little early; at that time their innocent childish games had turned into the first, virginal, love games.
Then Devora became Lady Mother of the Village of the Three Faces of the Moon, and Tamar had taken her place as Water Maiden; the girl felt at the time the need to take another look at herself, began a stretch of abstaining, dedicating herself to the service of the Goddess. She felt as if she had put herself in suspended expectation.
Amnon had started his studies of village lore at the same time, under the tutelage of the sage Asaf; he also began taking a wider look at the village girls, following the custom of not limiting himself to one mate. The two then resumed their former relationship of brother and sister.
The sun was sloping in the west, and Tamar rose from her seat to continue on her walk down the hill; but instead of going down to the village, she paused at a fork in the path, her gaze sweeping the plain before her. A barely definable change had occurred, an unusual addition to the landscape. After a moment her eyes discerned some gray-brown lumps slowly moving toward the river. A forgotten tune rose from the depths of her mind:
Here come the gazelle,
Here come the people of the gazelle,
Strange people from the desert...
Without explaining the words to her, Tamar turned away from the path going down to the village, taking instead the route toward a clump of green vegetation lying in a nook of the mountain slope. There, hidden among a blossoming thicket of oleander, burbling under green willow trees dipping their long, delicate fronds in the golden sparkling liquid, a brook of clear water broke from the mountainside running down toward the river.
Reaching the spring, Tamar removed the water skin from her head; without bothering to take off her palm-leaf skirt, she stepped lightly into the water. For a moment she stood there, letting the ripple caress her ankles; then she crouched, using the palms of her hands to drink thirstily. She splashed the fresh stuff on her hot face, neck and shoulders, then she sat down in the water, splashing it all over her naked body, the leaves of her skirt floating around her as a circular fan.
She lay on her back, letting the silky shimmering substance cover her body like a translucent veil, enhancing rather than hiding her beauty. Her skin gleamed in the sun, the hair on her head and between her thighs sparkled gold; her lips shone pink, as did the erect nipples protruding over the ripple of the water. Her eyes closed against the sunlight, absorbing the intense pleasure afforded by the combination of sun and water.
A sense of unity with the whole scheme of things enveloped her; she merged with the stream of flowing water, with the little smooth pebbles under her back, with the sun rays capering on the water, with the bushes rustling in the wind around the brook, with the blowing wind itself...
Her attention was diverted. Something was rustling among the bushes, but it was not the wind. Tamar sat up. A pair of black eyes peeped from inside the clump of green foliage and pink flowers of the oleanders; they peered at her impudently from under a shock of black hair over a large, hooked nose and a curly black beard. The rest of the figure was blurred, hidden behind a body-length cover.
Tamar leapt to her feet, storming out of the water, oblivious of her dripping naked body. “How dare you! To foul the sacred place, to contaminate the sacred soil! Get away from here! Get away! Get away!” She was not afraid, only very angry, and the person seemed to feel it; it vanished among the bushes, and she heard the roll of little stones under hurrying steps as he was getting away.
Suddenly, a weakness overcame her and she sat back on her heels. Those eyes, those piercing black eyes! She had never seen anything like them, and they had pierced her heart! Tamar breathed deeply, calming herself down. ‘He is a stranger,’ she reflected, ‘not just strange in his appearance; he also did not know it’s a sacred place’.
She had never met anyone from her own village or others in the neighborhood who had not known that. With ponderous movements she rinse her body again, rose and shook herself; stepping out of the water, she took the water skin and placed it again on her head, turned and went in the direction of the village.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar