Friday, September 21, 2012

Ember Days

[Day of Venus + Hour of Venus: Ember Days]

(Promises are promises, you know? This is not a "channeled" piece. I retrofitted scenes in Wagner's operas to suit my needs and added in details from Carlo Ginsburg's The Night Battles to supply the individuals who supposedly visited the Venusberg. I always imagine that at the end of this, Tannhauser would either end up gutted or running off with Elisabeth to hang with Venus/The Queen and her serpent-women friends. Because the ideal romantic relationships during that era kinda sucked, you know?)

The Fairy Queen by Marjorie Cameron

A Pagan Hero in Christian Europe*

The tale has been told – and sung, more importantly – before. A story of a man, who estranges himself from the highest companies of men: the Minnesinger. Having been estranged, this fellow takes to wondering and isn't seen for ten years. But – we would have the tale differently. Out of order, disconnected from the flow of the whole. And then we would wish to diverge...

The year is 1207 of the common era; and we find ourselves in the grand Hall of the Wartburg amongst a company of Knights. The castle was established just over a century and a half ago, when Ludwig the Springer passed by the mountain it now sits atop. He is reported to have stopped, glared upward for a moment and then shouted the words: “Warte, Berg – du sollst mir eine Burg werden!”

This translates to something like: “wait, mountain! You shall become a castle for me!” All this proves is that the pun (like Eros) is as old as time itself...

It is just past noon, and the light of the sun is cascading brilliantly through the stained glass widows of the Hall; depictions of Martyrs, and of Saints (their heads crowned with the Light of God, their hands wrapped around bound books – fingers lifted exalting heaven, even as the pretty childlike face of the Saint gazes unthinkingly upward), of knights and near the end of the Hall, nativity scenes of Jesus Christ's birth. The hue is almost unmistakable, and the light wholesome and full but not oppressive. To gaze at the scenes is to become enraptured with blues as wondrous as the ocean, yellow that glimmers like the sun, and what of rose? Ah, the rose light of a is something to behold...


The Hall is held aloft by six beautifully sculpted columns, which hold up the domed ceiling. Along the length of the hall and at its center is a long table, around which are nobles and aristocrats of the court. Hermann, the Landgrave of Thuringia, has called them together for a contest of Minnesingers. There is a blast of a trumpet from the courtyard beside the Hall; a signal that the last of the nobles have arrived.

Silence descends as the Landgrave approaches the edge of his balcony above the Hall, where seated just behind him is the saintly seeming Elisabeth. Hermann's words, selected carefully, have caught the attention of those beneath. His deep, and bass resonate voice shivers through the hall as he speaks: “My people, today is a day of celebration! In our time, we have driven blood-thirsty invaders from our land; we have taken areas of land we thought lost forever back into our ancestral hands, and returned to the greatness of our forebears! And having done all this, we have abandoned our swords and taken up our pens and harps so that those same swords would not be at some turned against our people.”

His fleshy cheeks flush a bit as he speaks; a side-effect of the wine in his cup. But then – no one's perfect, right? He pauses for a moment and glances back at Elisabeth, clad in a stunning white and blue gown which reveals almost nothing of her figure and yet seems to amplify her charm. His gaze turns from his niece back to the nobles and Knights seated beneath and he speaks again. “Having accomplished so much, it is now time for a contest – a contest of song. Those who sing the song which most truly involves the virtues, the perfection, of love... Let them sing now, and we will award to the winner any request he would make of Elisabeth.”

Applause cascades through the hall, and then there is silence again as the feasting begins and the first of the Minnesingers approaches the end of the banquet table. Harp in hands, Biterolf begins his song. One might say that the song reflects his nature; for it is vicious, and unsound of heart. His fingers seem to tremble at times, and there is something off to his voice; as if the pitch isn't quite right. Hardly fitting for one of the great singers of the 13th century, is it?

And something is wrong. It's hard to detect but if one relaxes, passes their gaze down the table toward the end, nearly enshadowed in the back is the figure of a man who doesn't quite fit in. He seems neither knight nor noble, and is wearing a green cloak that appears to have the dress of a grey friar beneath it. And is it..? Why, yes! It is Hienrich Tannhauser!

And – none of those around him know. None of them realizing that dozing amongst them is a representative of the past. And he's sleeping, his hands filled comfortably with his harp. One need not wonder what it is that he dreams of, not now:

He is moving through a vast chamber, deep in the earth. Beneath the Monte della Sibilla, near Narnia, Italy – a torch is in his hands as he looks up at the chamber, seeing the bones of dragons that have petrified with age. All around him are the bones of the Jurassic, forgotten. Does a chill enter his heart, then?

He had stopped in Narnia briefly and heard the tales of the mountain, ruled by the Lady. And of a cave in which one had before tried to venture, but none could find the end of it. It had sparked upon his mind that attempting to traverse that dark territory would make an excellent song; perhaps even a few poems, and so Hienrich had begun the trek down the summit of the mount.

Now, as he descends deeper into darkness and the light of day is long forgotten, he knows that the Lady is not – and never was – human. But he has no idea of what is is that she actually might be. A fairy, perhaps? One of the few surviving nymphs from the classical times?

Hienrich Tannhauser has no idea that he's about to meet the Goddess deep beneath the mountain that she rules. And it is perhaps fitting that we leave him anxiously testing his fate as he descends, ever deeper into the labyrinth without time and the bowels of the earth.

Not knowing of what his friend dreams, it is now Wolfram's turn to sing for the audience. Slowly, the great minstrel approaches the head of that great table, and he begins to sing a sweet, sweet melody. His voice harmonizes with the jubilation of those gathered perfectly; it amplifies and intoxicates them. To them does Wolfram sing of the sweet, chaste love that Tannhauser – the dozing, poor looking wanderer far in the back – and Elisabeth had before their friend departed. He dedicates the song to them in verse, even as he lifts his praises to Elisabeth, who had at that time been torn between mysticism and her higher callings and the world of men and the joys of marriage. He goes on; he compares this higher, chaste love with that of the great lovers – of Anthony and Cleopatara, of Helen and Paris, and of those who have soared in the literature of their times... And he finds them all lacking. None of them have cultivated virtue as well as has Elisabeth. You might even say he's buttering the girl and her uncle up.

And all this time, no one realizes what it is that has descended into their midst. What it has that has journeyed back from the far, and the dark, and the dank underground... None of them realizing that it is Tannhauser who is about to rule the day.

For as he dreams, he has returned to the abode of the Goddess. She had warned him that this would happen; that he would be discontent with the world of his peers, and that he would never find satiety amongst them.

It was the Goddess, Venus, that ruled the mountain. Not the seer or oracle of folklore that many suspected; but something else entirely has come to rule this place. Gods don't die easily, you see. And she had simply retreated to the last space left to her. Here, in the twilight grotto, his mind rests with her. Roseate light, as bright and bold as the light from those stained glass windows that filter the light of the dayside world he is not presently inhabiting, fills the garden of Un-Earthly Delights. Both night and day blooming flowers rise around an underground stream that seems to stretch into the eternity of darkness beyond the twilight, in which the dryad and naiads of old bath themselves, chattering away.

Eros has slunk away, surrounded by a cadre of unearthly females and is dozing with some of the other sorts that have made it to the deep, forgotten abode. Oh, our boy Tannhauser is not by any means alone.

Within the giant alcove are many, many of the others that have made their way from afar. Some by land, some by sea (sailing accidentally outside time), and some by air – riding the astral waves, as it were. There are the Clerici Vagantes, who would later appear in Germany claiming to have ridden the “air ship of the Goddess,” as it were. They had, they would tell any who would listen, found themselves on the Vernusberg during the course of their wanderings, and now they had a sacred duty to fight for fertility!

That they were mad did not necessarily detract from such statements, but instead prompted most to ignore them.

And in the corner, sitting above a pool of water and gazing deep within like Narcissus is the figure of Diel Breull. The poor bastard doesn't even know how he got there, but he'll have trouble when he returns to the world of daylight in about 400 years later. The poor bastard of a sorcerer was just scrying – looking out at what there is to look at, if you will – when he found himself here in the Garden of the Vernusberg. He'd timidly asked the Lady if she was 'Frau Holte', considered in his time – and we are timeless here, you see – and she had agreed. Panicked, Diel Breull had suddenly realized he'd met the goddess and become part of a “nachtfahr:” a nocturnal band of warrior men-folk. There was no going back at that point, you see. He'd ceased to be a sorcerer and, under the influence of the Goddess, simply become something else. Something that Tannhauser already knows he is. And something that in 1630, Diel Breull will be put on trial for. There is no place, presently, in the world for such men it would seem. Which is perhaps why they are here, and not with their daylight living brethren.

He remembers well the moments before he'd left this place: the fight with Venus. He'd found himself wishing for the company of men, and she'd retorted that there were “plenty here already.”

That is not what I meant,” he'd said angrily. “You cannot just have endless contentment! Inspiration doesn't just dawn on men.”

But it does!” She'd said pleadingly, and he'd rebuked her with a wave of his hand. At that point she'd become angry. “You will find no solace in the world of men! No satiety! It is only here, in this garden hidden in the far, far lands, that you will find it. And you are here because you are a hero; only such a one can venture to this place!”

Heroes aplenty,” he'd snarled. And she'd suddenly realized that she'd pushed the prideful Hienrich too far – for that was the bane of the lovers of Venus. Something of that prideful viper that the Christians are always worried about came upon them. She implored him not to return to the loveless world of men. But it was too late, then. The next stage was at hand, and –

And so Hienrich Tannhauser had shouted the words, “Goddess of all delights, not with thee shall my soul find its peace! My salvation lies in Mary!

There had been an eruption; like the entire world ripped apart, dissolving all around one: his almost juvenile exorcism dragging him from that section of timeless space and back into the world of men. Thus it was that Hienrich Tannhauser been journeying, against the wishes of the Goddess and mostly to spite her, to the Pope to gain absolution for his deeds. Such had he been when the company of men he now sleeps amongst had found him. They had bid him to come with them, but he'd been unwilling. Unwilling, at least, until Wolfram had begged him to come for the sake of his lost and forsaken love: Elisabeth. And so he'd agreed.

And now, dreaming, he remembers it all because it can no longer be suppressed and hidden from his conscious mind. It is not guilt, or shame that he feels now that he understands what has transpired. It was not for the sake of Mary that he has forsaken the company of Venus. It was for Elisabeth. And she is to be wed to the victor of this silly contest, regardless of how she felt about such a person. Suddenly, he understands that he could not have remained in that state forever while someone he loved would be suppressed into a loveless marriage where the highest ideal is frozen alienation from their soul...

And so he suddenly awakens with a start – his eyes opening, body shifting as if possessed. He has suddenly returned to them, even though none in the Hall realized he had ever left. And as he stands, he begins playing his harp. The tune is half-mad, almost disjointed and yet simultaneously harmonious. It represents all that Wolfram's song does not have. And Hienrich begins to sing, a song of bitterness and anger in response to Wolfram's loveless tune.

His song is about something else entirely: Wolfram, he sings, does not know love. He advances triviality before the truth of love. None of them, none standing, know love as he knows it. And he begins to sing to them of the sweetness of love; of the deep, driving power of its influence. His song vibrates through the Hall. It assaults the balcony above. It stirs all that listen. And what they feel is sudden, alien horror, at this afront in a green cloak that is suddenly singing from the far side of the table.

He sings: should not love be full, like the touch of flesh? Do they not realize that the cup they drink from is an endless well, and we are here for the fulfillment of it? And is not love ruled by another, one for whom none of them has spoken? Oh, yes. He sings to them now of the truth of the love he has known. The fullness of it, the heaviness of it that was so pure and true that he could not abide to remain within it forever: such a state is madness for weary men. If they would know of this love, all encompassing, all abiding – without restraint – then he sings to them that they should fly with him to the Hill of Venus.

The hall is in an uproar. Chairs are being upturned. Glorious and eternal, the first God to rule creation, Chaos has re-emerged. The nobles and knights gathered now know that is not a man they have been eating with, but something else entirely. An atavistic throwback to a different time; emergent qualities that cannot be undone, only guarded against. Hienrich Tannhauser has abandoned the law and edicts of another, and returned to the law of Other Times, Other Places. And he would have them do the same.

“Kill him where he stands!” Biterolf shouts as he draws his blade, hurtling down the side of the table toward his opponent. The other knights, all seven of them, draw their swords. The air is pierced and it is hardly silent. The female nobility has had several members faint at this revelation; they shant go to Heaven now, if they abide having eaten with a heathen and a fornicator, now can they?

Elisabeth is in shocked silence, sitting and looking lost high above the balcony. Wolfram is singing, begging those who will listen to calm themselves. Of high ideals. Of holding their tempers for their beloved, and lost friend. And that viper in verdant green, a cloak given to him on the Venusberg, is shifting backwards as he plays his harp still. His legs and posture indicate fierce defiance; pride like a shield, all powerful. You may kill me, his stance says, but you will always remember my song.

The nobles are fleeing out the door; that's the nobility, for you. They'll watch a man hang and make jokes about him, but watching knights cut down an unarmed man? Well. That's just... horrifying. Even if he is a witch. And Tannhauser is singing again, defying them: come with me, he's saying. Come with me. You just might like it.

But, as the seven knights advance upon him, Hienrich Tannhauser is not singing for them. He's singing for Elisabeth. Who cares what the rest of them think, anyway?
 


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