The Mothers - By the World Tree
The great oak towered into the night sky, its branches blocking out the stars in a vast circle overhead, leaving a fringe of speckled light like the lacy border of a skirt. The tree's gnarled roots were only half buried into the soil, rising up like the humped ridges of a snake. The roots drank from a nearby stream, a small river actually, that eventually worked its way across the plain to the Garden.
The three mothers, Gaia, Eve and Erdmuthe, sat at the base of the tree, each looking across the plain in different directions.
"Isn't it pointless, when you come right down to it?" asked Gaia.
Eve and Erdmuthe said nothing.
"This act of creation, of giving birth to something that never existed before? Of creating something from nothing, or from so little you wonder how it could ever become something meaningful at all?
"You bring it forth in pain and agony, and you hold it up in the light, its arms and legs moving slowly, ungainly, and it takes its first gasping, halting breath of life. You dry it off, then hold it in your arms and kiss its forehead, then press it to your breast and feed it from your own body. You love it. You can't help but love it. And you take care of it, protect it, watch it grow and stretch and push until finally it pushes you away, until finally you are no longer needed. It's like a seed that you hope falls into fertile soil so that its roots can sink deep into the earth and its limbs climb high into the sky, refreshed by night rains and nourished by sunshine. And you hope you've done enough. You doubt you've done enough. There must be something more you could do to protect it, to keep it safe and whole. But all you can do is watch it leave, and part of you goes with it to protect it, to shelter it, but you know it's never enough. So all you can do is wait and see, wait and see."
The wind rustled through the leaves of the tree, each shaking and trembling for a moment as though an animal were passing through them and then was gone.
Then Eve spoke into the stillness.
"I had two sons: one dark as night, one light as day. But they loved each other and, oh, I loved them both so much. Then came that day, one was dead and one had fled. And I never saw either of them again.
"If I could just go back to that morning. If only I had known. And not even to change anything, but just to help me remember better. I would have held them more closely when I woke them. I would have remembered their smiles, their eyes, their fresh, young bodies. I would have remembered them better than I do now. I could have laid up stones for my future altar with each act of that morning: the rising and dressing, the eating and working. Each would be a separate rock, contained, distinct, but together they would give me something tangible, something to hold onto . . .
"Afterwards, I pressed their linens to my face. I breathed their scent into me. But it was fleeting and it fled. And I was left so alone. There were actually three deaths that day - two for my sons and then me.
"For years I wanted to ask passersby, 'Have you heard of Cain, my lost son? Have you seen him with his forehead burned with the stamp of guilt? Is he well? Does he think of me? Does he remember me?' But I never asked. I hoped someone would speak, but I never asked.
"In time I even forgave Adam, or I think I did. At least I thought about it," and a fleeting smile crossed her lips.
"I was not the only one to suffer. Even he, in all his stubbornness, came to wonder if he and Yahweh had been correct in their judgment. Even he questioned it and the sentence of exile. But you know, my darlings," she said, "Remorse doesn't mean a thing. It cannot change. It cannot return. It simply eats at your insides like a worm burrowing through your body. And the pain and the ravaging never stop.
"So all I could do was just look on. I couldn't help him. I couldn't lay my hand on Adam's shoulder and say, 'It's all right; I understand.' I did understand, but it was never all right."
She stopped talking and looked across the river. The stars had turned in their transit around the tree as though a great sharpened spike had impaled the very fabric of night, forcing it to circle around the wound in its heart.
"Like you, I had children. A few survived those early years when you're afraid to see that love buried in the soil, but you can't help yourself and you love and love and love and when they die, the love remains like a stream blocked by stones. It wants to flow but can't. It just builds and builds while the stone dam rises higher and higher. Your love needs to nourish something. It must fertilize some flower but the plants have wilted and there is no more seed.
"But at least there was my son and my daughters, for they reached maturity to glow like candles in the night. We were so happy, for a time. The spirit flowed like morning rain. It was the nourishing blood of heaven bathing us in its warmth while cleansing our souls.
"But one day the rain stopped, and my son, my glowing son, was taken from me. There seems to have been a contest between his father and me and I lost. I lost Christian. And then my heart broke. All I had lived for, all I had hoped for, was gone. And so it was time for me to be gone as well. All we had built, all we had planned, the creation of a new order by fulfilling the old one, it all lost its power. Its magic was gone. The light went out from the eyes of that dream, glazed over by a dulling shadow, and so I closed its lids and laid down to die myself.
After a moment, Eve and Erdmuthe looked at Gaia expectantly.
"You know my story," she said. "Both my sons live, for gods cannot die. That is our particular curse and never doubt that it is a curse. For we cannot forget. We cannot escape. We must look clearly and without flinching, without denial. For us there is no place to hide, at least not for long. And so I always see my sons in the brightness of day. And the worst part is that I am helpless . . . I can do nothing. I cannot heal, comfort or confront. For even gods have their limitations. We never told you that," she said, smiling to the other women. "When confronted by the vastness of this, this all-creating spirit, this incarnate force that erupts so blindly, so ceaselessly, we can only stand as though struck speechless. We cannot act. We can barely think. For we are part of that vast unfolding of time and space and can only wait to play our part."
Gaia stopped speaking. There was no other sound. Then she looked at the other two, "We are a work, aren't we?"
They smiled at each other. Gaia held out her arms and Eve and Erdmuthe went to her, each leaning against a shoulder, arms around each other in a binding chain of mourning.
"We weep for our children," said Gaia. "The ones that are gone and the ones still here, for even they are lost and don't even know it."
A dark form flew towards them from across the plain. The sound of its wings came to the women as a rhythmic, soft flapping, slow yet steady, in their pushing up and down, up and down.
The form came closer and landed on a branch of the tree high above them. "Whoooo? Whoooo?" asked the owl.
Gaia started singing a wordless tune, a melody that repeated itself over and over. Eve picked it up, then Erdmuthe joined her, and soon all three were singing the phrases in an ancient mode, a musical scale neither bright major nor dark minor, but that combined elements of both into a melancholy mixture of bitter roots and scented blossoms, of sour apples and sweet oranges all at once.
The sound of the singing rose up through the tree to where the owl was sitting. Its large, open eyes blinked once, twice, then it opened its wings and flew away, across the plain, towards the rising of the crescent moon.