Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.
A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.
Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.
A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.
As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.
Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.
Several influences molded me as a writer over the years: A fascination with classical history and mythology, a love of science fiction and fantasy, years of world travel laden with ample adventures of my own, and a deep sense of wonder about the systems of Nature, most particularly (though by no means exclusively) about the human sphere of Nature, fed by a highly analytical and imaginative mind and abundant sources on which to draw.
At around the age of 18 (in 1977 or 1978), I wrote a short psychedelic vignette called “River Palace” which was the first seed of what would later become A Conspiracy of Wizards. A couple of years later, while living in Berkeley, I started an unrelated novel in which crystalized talismans of the five elements of classical natural philosophy had magical properties that were amplified when brought together, an idea that found its way into A Conspiracy of Wizards.
Most of my 20s was dedicated to world travels and adventures and the keeping of journals laden with descriptions and contemplations. Many of the real-world, visceral descriptive passages from those journals found their way into A Conspiracy of Wizards. During this time I also read prolifically and broadly, trying to catch up on as many classics of literature and of more recent intellectual discovery as I possibly could.
One year into my career as a sociology grad student in Connecticut, having become an aficionado of Chaos Theory in the late 1980s and believing it to be a critical piece of the puzzle of the story of our existence, I wrote a vignette about Chaos and Order being the parents of the universe, and immediately knew that this would be the nucleus of the novel I had always dreamed of writing.
During my grad student career in Connecticut, I was working on my novel at the same time that I was soaking up the spectrum of social theory, designing my world and weaving bits and pieces of my gradually emerging synthesis of the social theoretical landscape into it and the story-line. I incorporated into the novel a variety of epistemological theories (including, for instance, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” most visibly in the scene of Algonion in the ice sphere), Marxist theory, microeconomic and game theory, and network analysis and epidemiology. I also incorporated my previously acquired knowledge of international relations and world history to create a more complex and in many ways “realistic” world than is found in most novels of any kind, let alone fantasy fiction. The geopolitics and geopolitical and military strategies found in the novel are, I think, particularly elaborate and faithful to the forms found in the real world.
Two years into my status as “All-But Dissertation,” not actually writing my dissertation, I left the program and my position as a college lecturer to work full time on my novel. In many ways, I realized, I had been in the Ph.D. program primarily to inform my novel. Before moving out west, I took a couple of months to do a car trip around New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada, during which, while camping and hiking in beautiful Acadia National Park in Maine, I fully fleshed out the story of Cholumga (derived from “Chomo Lungma,” Tibetan for “Earth Mother” and the Tibetan name for Mount Everest), the giantess trapped in the hollow mountain. I did this in part by telling the story to a young girl and her mother who I ran into while hiking, as we sat on a bluff overlooking the gorgeous autumn colors. (Also from Acadia comes the imagery of Algonion arriving at the sea as he is escaping Lokewood.)
In late 1996, I moved to a cabin in the mountains of Northern New Mexico for a year (in Cabresto Canyon, between Questa and Red River, north of Taos) to write the first draft of the novel, simultaneously focusing my informal studies more on World Mythology and World History (both long-time interests of mine, along with International Relations), including studying Joseph Campbell’s analyses of mythological motifs. The multi-hued beauty of Northern New Mexico and the Four Corners region, around which I took frequent car-and-camping trips, filtered into the imagery of the novel. I then finished the millennium in Albuquerque, teaching and taking classes, working through some of the issues and challenges with my novel, developing it further, and developing other ideas as well (such as a series of vignettes about the institutionalization of time travel, including reunions of multiple selves across time, branching historical trajectories, and the colonization of the past). I began to submit excerpts of the novel to agents and publishers, trying to line up a publication deal, but without success.
While living in the cabin in the mountains of northern New Mexico, I used to wander into the forest and visualize various characters in particular locations dedicated to each, having conversations with them to flesh out who they were. It was a form of intentional, self-induced semi-hallucination, powerful enough that occasionally a character would “say” something that would surprise me! This was a technique for discovering each character’s own authenticity rather than populating my world with contrived characters with less of a life of their own.
I believe it was also while I was in New Mexico that I saw (on video tape borrowed from the Taos library, since I had no television reception in my cabin) a National Geographic special on the rain forest canopy ecosystem, the imagery of which inspired the imagery of Algonion’s largely airborne trek through Lokewood in search of the Loci imps, one of my descriptively favorite passages.
Also while in New Mexico, I further developed my sociological paradigm, focusing it more on Richard Dawkins’ “Meme Theory,” which provided a lynchpin to the synthesis I had been developing. This has since found its way into the novel, particularly in the Kindle e-book version, in my newly rewritten description of the Vaznallam mindscape and the fractal geometry of their mental representation of the Sadache cognitive landscape, which is the imagery presented in a series of expository essays I’ve written on the fractal geometry and evolutionary ecology of our shared human cognitive landscape (and, along with it, our social institutional and technological landscape).
In December of 1999, I set out for Mexico to find a spot in which to continue to work on the novel, living modestly off investments, which were doing well at the time. I ended up in Mazatlan, where I developed the routine of waking up before dawn to write from my balcony, watching the morning light spread over the city and the bay while I was writing. I stayed in Mazatlan for over two years, taking several car trips to various regions of Mexico while there, all of which also contributed something to the imagery of the novel. During that time I got married and toward the end of my time in Mazatlan finished the current hard copy version of the novel and began seeking unsuccessfully to publish it.
We moved up to the Denver area in the summer of 2002 (and had our wonderful daughter, Scheherazade, in 2003), and I embarked on a combination of teaching, law school, a run for the state legislature, public policy research and analysis, and a variety of civic engagement, not touching the novel other than to self-publish it in 2005. The combination of my failure to do anything to market the novel and my realization that I had not, in fact, finished refining it prior to publishing it, that I had not ironed out all of the rough spots, that I had not perfected my own vision of what the novel should be, culminated in my decision in the summer of 2013 to do one more set of revisions and refinements, and to republish it as an e-book.
The ebook version of the novel is now available, via the links provided at the top and bottom of this narrative.
Sarena watched a bird of golden light with silver wings circling overhead. In broad, sweeping curves it descended toward her until she recognized that the bird was in fact an Ilyarian woman, her perfect form accentuated by a thin veil of mist draped across her body. Alighting as lightly as a fallen feather, she gazed at Sarena through wide-set indigo eyes, windswept sky-blue hair framing the golden sun of her face.
Azhanli’s voice was musical, rich with harmonized tones, a symphony of speech. “Sarena of Ashra,” she chimed, curtsying with the grace of a dancer, delicately collapsing her body, arching her wings outward and upward. “Yours is the story I am sworn to bear, a song of she who shall come to share the fables we tell, where muses dwell, strolling among the colonnades and courtyards of our cathedral in the clouds!”
Before Sarena could react, Azhanli pivoted to stand beside her, swinging her arm around Sarena’s waist in a single swift motion and rising into the air on outstretched and powerful wings.
They passed through trailers of mist high above the earthly sphere, and into a thickening bank of fog, soaring through a gossamer sea, vapors streaking past like the weird wayside of some ethereal highway. Then they emerged into the sunlight once again, and beheld the glorious cloudscape of Ilyaria.
They glided effortlessly over a frothing carpet punctuated by random curls and ragged holes. Massive floating platforms with tapered turnip-root bases hovered at various heights above and below. Huge foamy crescents stood like frozen waves forever poised on the verge of breaking, wisps of spray suspended motionless beside them. Azure-haired and golden-skinned Ilyarians reclined in clusters on the platforms, gowns of spun mist refracting the white brilliance of Ilyaria in sparkles of bright color.
They came to a quiet place, where the laughter and music had faded to a distant whisper, and the fibrous sea stretched unbroken in all directions. Azhanli dove toward it, wings spread wide, leveling off at the last instant, skimming the surface, sweeping upward to a stall and setting down so gently that Sarena could not feel the moment of their landing. She knew that she was standing on her own only when she saw Azhanli an arm’s length away, no longer holding her aloft.
Together they strolled astride the airy earth toward a distant glint of light in the sky, which resolved itself into a rapidly approaching Ilyarian. “Azhanli!” he called, as he descended in a graceful arc to the ground. “Come to join me in a bit of gardening?”
Azhanli laughed almost inaudibly. “No, Zaliya, just to observe. There is time yet before the Chorus convenes. I thought our guest might enjoy watching you at work.”
Zaliya’s eyes sparkled approval. Then he glanced about, moving his hands as if taking the measure of the land, at first quite casually. But gradually his movements became more pronounced, taking on, not a formal air, but an intentional one. The gestures were graceful and fluid, progressing from the careless motions of one musing to himself to an elaborate dance, as though he were trying to extract something from the vapors around him. He became emersed in a kind of moving trance, with long, smooth sweeps of his arms, pivots upon one foot, arches and flutters of his wings.
Even as Zaliya began, the cloudscape began to change, subtly at first, then more noticeably. The white froth parted like morning mist in the heat of day, unveiling a carpet of moss beneath. Low hills rose in the distance, obscured by the thinning haze, slowly drawing closer, reaching higher, becoming more diverse. Rock formations appeared, varieties of shades and shapes and textures. A fog-filled basin cleared to reveal a cool blue pond, its placid surface steaming with the last wisps of evaporating mist.
Zaliya submerged himself in his art, making bolder, sharper, more violent gestures. His hands struck the air, his arms ripped at unseen fabrics. In his enthusiasm he drifted upward, hovering above the turf, conducting his symphony with hands and feet and wings flailing rapturously. His face, serene at the outset, now revealed inner-torments, conflicting emotions, unyoked and explosive passions. His chiseled features took on the fierceness of a warrior, the ecstacy of a lover, the fear of a man before the infinite. The calm mountain had become an erupting volcano, its lava hardening into a complex and beautiful landscape.
As Zaliya’s gestures grew sharper and more dramatic, so too did the changes he wrought. Small shrubs and bold branching trees grew around the banks of the pond, exploding from nothingness into being with startling suddenness. Strokes like the dabbing of brush on canvas, only in reverse, coaxed color from his canvas, invoking bright blossoms on a gently inclined flower bed: Out they popped and bloomed, as though too eager to wait nature’s course. He carved from the desolation an elaborate panorama, every twig and leaf carefully in place. Water lilies sprang from the surface of the pond; frogs and birds and squirrels began to make their presence known. Scents and sounds filled the air. The sun burned away the last of the mist, and the blank slate to which they had come was transformed into a joyful collage of living things.
Zaliya lowered himself onto the newly groomed earth, relaxing with a deep sigh, inviting his guests to join him with a silent gesture. Sarena strolled along the immaculate paths as the two Ilyarians accompanied her in low, looping flight, a tableau of exquisite treats for all the senses arrayed with an artist’s precision and flair. They picked plump berries from drooping clusters, and let the sweet juice caress them, inhaling the fragrant air, serenaded by the music of life.
At last, with a lackadaisical sweep of the arm, the vista evaporated as though it had never been. The trees and flowers shimmered and blurred, details growing indistinct, engulfed by a white haze emanating from the pores of the formerly bright-hued scene, until all again was uncarved mist and dull desolation. But now, the desolation no longer felt so desolate. Now, it seemed more a mirror of the mind waiting to reflect a glancing imagination. “Beautiful things are ephemeral,” Zaliya said in a voice rich with sentiment, “but their beauty itself can never be destroyed. The moment was, is, and forever will be.”
(For other excerpts from “A Conspiracy of Wizards,” see The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”. and Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”. Also see The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.
The cloudscape glowed in the streaming light of the sun, whorls and tufts poised in a floating dance of fluid form. Strains of ethereal music drifted with strands of luminous mist among hovering puffs and whimsical foam behemoths.
Draped only in these wafting wisps, dazzling muses lounged on the tiers of a fountain carved from the froth. Feathered wings unfurled with an occasional flourish. Cerulean locks swirled in the gusty breeze. The spray of light laughter laced the air. Whether basking in a rain of radiance, or beneath the celestial canopy sparkling with thickly sprinkled specks of fire, there was always a gathering on the cloud-paved plaza, a mingling of sounds rising and falling like distant waves caressing a rocky shore.
“Welcome, Lord Evenstar!” the Chorus sang in unison, as Azhanli, alighting on the lip of the fountain, lowered her passenger onto the tier just below her own. Azhanli had asked the ancient wizard to join them, and ferried him there herself, for he had shared in the story to be told today, and would tell it again in the tongues of men when the world of Sarena’s vision had come to pass.
Azhanli was to conduct this day’s Chorus, for she too had been a part of the tale about to be told. Perched on the fountain’s edge like a sphinx posing her riddle to those gathered round, she orchestrated the various voices chiming in. Mellifluous chatter coalesced into a symphony of nuanced tones and gestures.
The whirling mists responded. At first, mere shadows of shapes emerged, and windswept whispers barely heard. The skin tingled with hints of crisp morning air. Twilit tints peeked through the veil of shifting vapors. Then a salty spray could be discerned, and hollow, echoing calls.
Plumes hardened into rugged cliffs, their heights haloed by dawn’s first blush. The cloud-carpet before them melted into a dull tide clad in tatters of fog, paying ceaseless homage to the chiseled sentinels of the land, salaaming in furies of foam at their feet. Gulls glided above the roiling surf, screeching a forlorn and ominous ode to the mysteries of sea and shore. The dark shroud of night had been just cast aside, revealing the naked spirit of day.
But brilliance blossomed without delay, clothing that spirit in splendor. The Ilyarian plaza became a shimmering panorama, flowing by as if seen through eyes aloft on the wind. Islands and coastal palisades rose starkly from the ocean waves like monuments to the gods. The sun-flecked sea danced in ecstasy below. Nestled within the land’s lush folds life sprouted and throve, rivers plummeted from mountain springs, leaves quivered on swaying boughs. And people strove, weaving tales of Nature’s own.
The soaring overture dove toward a sunbaked country far from the rolling swells, to a wedge of red rock overlooking a small village. A lone figure stood there, cleaving the warm dusty wind like a figurehead maiden mounted on a stone prow. Long black hair fluttered, a banner on the battlements, a sail in search of distant shores. And eyes dark and bright as starlit skies gazed into the golden haze of the horizon, reaching out across the vast expanse before them….
(For more vignettes excerpted or derived from my novel, “A Conspiracy of Wizards,” please see The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”, and The Cloud Gardener. Also see The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”. To purchase an electronic copy of the novel, click the link below.)
(The following fictional vignette explores some aspects of “mental diversity,” a term I coined while helping a friend start up a non-profit dedicated to a more holistic approach to mental illness. For some expository discussion related to it, see, e.g., Individual & Society: Conformity v. Accommodation, The Variable Malleability of Reality and The Fractal Geometry of Social Change. For related fictional narratives, see The Wizards’ Eye and “Flesh Around A Whim”.)
My parents began to worry when I first started speaking. Initially, everyone thought it was cute, the way I spoke only in verbs and adjectives and adverbs and prepositions and conjunctions. But when I turned three and still hadn’t uttered a noun, the visits to doctors began, specialists of all kinds poring over me to find and fix whatever was broken.
I didn’t perceive them as others do, of course. I didn’t perceive them as distinct things, but rather as swirls in the stream, thoughts and beliefs and routines and even the physical stuff through which they flowed itself flowing, coming into this eddy or that and out again to enter another. I couldn’t express all of this, of course, at least not in words. I could only see it and feel it and know that it not only was real but was more real than what others perceived. And that’s why they were so intent on curing me!
Many of the experts I was sent to at first believed that I was suffering from developmental retardation, because I had not developed any sense of “self” and “other,” or any ability to identify discrete objects or people around me. All I saw were colored streams and rivulets flowing in unbelievably complex patterns and sub-patterns, similar yet different, across endless scales and creating endless ephemeral forms.
I sensed that these patterns could be tweaked and altered by acts of will, by undulating frequencies of vibrations launched into them, by complex sequences of movements in response to combinations of localized and dispersed messages flickering across chains of internal and external pathways, the whole reconfiguring around every new variation injected into it, and every new variation emanating from the coherence of the whole. I wanted to reach out and pluck the polychromatic threads dancing around me, but to do so required my will in interaction with the will of others and the will of nature itself; I could not do it alone.
But I could see that a single will, channeled through the right vibrations and mobilized by the right cascades of signals within and without, could affect other wills, could mobilize them in desired ways, or cause unintended and undesired reactions; and that, by doing so, this moving tapestry surrounding and permeating me could be altered in varying ways and to varying degrees, requiring varying amounts and kinds of force, using varying types of tools (themselves the product of previous pluckings of these threads); changing the trajectories of these interwoven threads and the patterns they formed, altering history on scales large and small, sometimes rippling outward in cascades of accelerating change, sometimes petering out as a small detour into oblivion.
I learned to write but initially used little punctuation, and when I did only commas, semi-colons and question marks. Obviously, since then, I’ve learned to conform to accepted modalities, using nouns in both speech and writing, using periods and exclamation points. I even have come to appreciate their convenience, enabling me to say little inadequately in abbreviated and easily digested form, rather than anything truly meaningful which requires at least a lifetime to utter.
For instance, it’s so much easier to say “people,” one word for all occasions, than ”interconnected by talking and writing and mimicking and imagining,” or “passionately striving, exploiting, and manipulating” or “fearful and hopeful and feeling and yearning,” along with all of the other various ways to express that moment of energy, that swathe of the cosmic dance as it manifests in various contexts and circumstances.
I’ve always understood why people become angry with me when I try to speak their language (they just are uncomfortable and walk a wide arc around me when I speak my own): I offend them by saying something rather than nothing, opening the mind to the torrent of reality rather than helping to stack the verbal sandbags against it. I’ve always understood but lamented it, because that torrent liberates rather than harms. Fortifying against it is the construction of one’s own prison from within, and yet that is exactly what we generally use our words to do.
Though the world and I danced in ways that sustained me on multiple dimensions, that fed my physical and spiritual whirlpools, I could not tweak the fabric of reality alone, at least not as substantially, and certainly not enough to truly thrive. Very few can; none, if by “alone” we mean not just without human cooperation, but also without nature’s cooperation. And I could not control the torrents of human emotions and their physical expressions that swirled around me in response to my strangeness, that swept me up and whisked me away. So, without others accepting what I had to offer, and offering what they had in return, my insights meant nothing, and my survival was always tenuous.
My teachers, for instance, were beside themselves (or, as I saw it, made more turbulent by my presence). I was quickly diagnosed as ADHD, psychotic, and just plain nuts, put on an “individualized education plan,” and assigned a special education teacher who slowed things down so I could keep up. Unfortunately, that just made it even harder for them to keep up with me.
Soon, certain kinds of swirls (tight, contained, buffered) were causing things to be introduced into the swirls that comprised me, things that were supposed to make me vibrate and flow in more manageable ways, to help me “focus” and then sleep, to “stabilize my mood,” and, I suspect, to just make me as much like everyone else as possible. In our society, people preach tolerance for others of different ancestry, religion, color of skin, and sexual orientation…, just as long as they, as individuals, don’t dare actually be different in any less superficial way.
What we as a society don’t tolerate, are unwilling to tolerate, is any actual variation of perception and understanding. That is a threat that must be squashed.
Now, I’ve been cured. I see the world as others do, speak and write as others do, am dulled and reduced even more than others are. The pills I must take keep me up at night, cause me all sorts of physical problems, have made it hard for me to think and function at all, though to the extent that I do, I do as others expect me to. Yes, now I’m cured….
I was an eddy in the stream, unique and beautiful, interesting and integral, but they’ve removed everything that distinguished me from the undifferentiated flow, everything that made me who and what I am. Now, I use nouns and periods, and say little in inoffensive ways. Now, I have been reduced to the blandness that others demand, in service to their convenience or their fears, and that impoverishes us all. That is the triumph of civilization, conquering me rather than flowing around and through me as I am, as I was, preserving the treasure of my individuality and, by doing so, enriching the mind and soul that we share.
The following is a cumulative list, to which I will add as the inspiration strikes, of all wise, witty, or worthless phrases and slogans that come to mind from time to time. One or two of them, I suspect, are inadvertently plagiarized –and some are “advertent” variations on existing sayings– but, as Pete Seeger once said in concert with Arlo Guthrie, “all culture is plagiarism, so if the next song sounds a bit like the last, you know why….”):
All culture is plagiarism, so if this saying sounds a bit like the last, you know why…. ;)
The next page of the story is always a page-turn away.
The difference between a scholar and an ideologue is that a scholar seeks out the truth while an ideologue is certain he is already in possession of it.
Powerpoint is generally used neither to supplement nor complement what is being said, but rather only to distract from what is being said.
Politics is the art of convincing others that you are not a politician.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with being cleared for take-off.
It’s not who you know that counts, but rather what you know about them.
Those who are certain are almost certainly wrong.
Humility is wisdom.
Liberty is a collective enterprise.
Beans and beer is not an aphrodisiac.
The genius of the many is a captive giant, whose freedom is the ends and the means of all other things.
Let our disputes be increasingly defined by the limits of our reason rather than by the extent of our bigotry.
We’re all in this story together: Let’s write it well.
There’s only one political ideology to which any of us should adhere, that of striving to be rational and humane people.
The ultimate goal of all politics should be to lift one another up rather than knock one another down.
We are facing a fire-breathing dragon of blind ideology.
I’m stuck in the mud on the road less traveled, hauling a cartload of rare intangible wares.
Little is accomplished without imagination, yet time and again those who exist to challenge a stagnant status quo fail by clinging to a stagnant status quo of their own.
We all need to do more to take responsibility for our OWN failings, and less to convince ourselves that the world’s woes are defined by everyone else’s.
There’s something about American political discourse that’s like trying to piss with the wind in a sandstorm.
American political discourse has become a Monty Python skit with an American accent.
People who manage to pull you down to their level win the argument, despite the fact that they permanently reside there and you’re just visiting.
People who pull you down to their level have the home court advantage.
Somehow, we’ve managed to become the laggard of the free world….
Success is the continuing realization and implementation of human consciousness for the material and spiritual benefit of both self and others.
If President Obama is proof that race is no longer any impediment to success, does Frederick Douglas prove that slavery wasn’t either?
The welfare of all depends on the welfare of each.
I believe in a God who is rational enough to be amused by people who are irrational enough to believe in Him.It’s discouraging when, in the midst of a Quixotic life, you realize that the windmill is kicking your ass.
Hatred and violence (implicit or explicit) are particularly virulent pathologies, because they are too often opposed by being replicated..Many people are offended by many things, but nothing offends more people more certainly than the truth.
“Bathtub” is a palindrome with a speech impediment…
It takes a village to fix a village.
The world does not reduce to the caricatures on which you rely, but it does suffer from the caricature that you choose to be.
“Hash tag” is a game in which participants run around blowing the smoke of a combustible opiate in one another’s face.
While a healthy polity speaks with many voices and enjoys a varied diet of multiple perspectives, if it consumes too much processed news chock-full of artificial ingredients, it is likely to suffer from chronic flatulence.
The reduction of the world to a small set of competing caricatures of reality, with one’s own being right and holy and the others being terrible abominations, is one of the most pernicious and persistent of all human follies.
The range of your vision is impaired by the location of your head.
Those who can’t prevail on substance focus on form, patting themselves on the back for saying nothing in few words rather than much in many.
Our lives are the dancing tips of an eternal blaze, casting sparks into the dark unknown of what is yet to be.
Like a monkey hammering away at the keyboard for all eternity, mindless probability occasionally comes to my aid….
You’re not raining on my parade; you’re pissing into the wind. Completely different outcome.
Knowing that we don’t know is relief from the burden of false certainties, both lightening our load and spreading wings of humble wisdom on which to soar.
What could possibly be more inauthentic than proving my authenticity by pretending to be someone other than who I am?
Mathematics is god’s own soliloquy echoing within our minds.
The real political divide is between those more committed to Simianism and those more committed to Sentience.
Trump makes America great again in the same way that long, rumbling farts make the air fresh again.
You didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid; you snorted cubic meters of the raw powder while jerking off with a plastic bag tied over your head.
(The following is a modified excerpt from my novel A Conspiracy of Wizards; see An epic mythology).
As Algonion descended into Lokewood from the foothills of the Thresian Mountains, he could feel the nature of the forest begin to change. He was leaving the height of autumn behind, and entering a realm shrouded in a season of its own, unlike any that ever visited the lands of men. The trees became squat, stark, and twisted; the ground an uneven bed of bulging and pitted stone, acrid fumes seeping from frequent fissures. Electricity crackled in the air and, as he pushed on, small bolts of lightening sparked and stabbed arbitrarily. An eerie mist wafted among the trunks and charred stumps, and only a diffuse gray light filtered through the haze. Unseen wooden chimes rattled frantically wherever he approached, though the air was perfectly still.
All around him, as the lightening grew larger and brighter, tortured limbs flashed in silhouette, reaching for him like a thousand desperate arms frozen in a thousand separate poses, threatening, terrifying, beseeching. The path dwindled and disappeared. The branches closed in on him, grabbing at him, buffeting him, clutching him, obstructing his forward progress. Wherever he turned, many-fingered boughs assaulted him, as though intentionally slung. Jagged bolts struck ever nearer, forcing him to dodge their deadly thrusts. His body began to move as it had in the ice sphere in Vaznalla (see The Wizards’ Eye), dancing among these hazards with liquid grace, anticipating them, flowing between them. But here, the first mistake could be a fatal one.
Avoiding the bright javelins of fire, leaping and tumbling over and under the encroaching limbs, he gave himself over to the movements, freed from all other thoughts, a wild thing at home in the woods. Vaznalla, though an incubator of perfection, was an incubator none the less. Here, he moved as if born anew, challenged by the random rather than contrived. It was as if he were Evenstar’s crystal statue unfrozen into vivid life.
The trees gradually became taller, though no less twisted, rising in a tangle of bare branches. Small fires burned and smoldered wherever lightening had struck dead wood. Lokewood was a simmering maelstrom of sizzling air and boiling earth, pools of mud and lava bubbling all about. Rancid steam rose from cracks in the earth like the flatulence of an ailing giant. Sinkholes sucked at Algono’s feet. Though there wasn’t the slightest breeze, the sound of howling wind was everywhere, of mocking laughter, of ominous hoots and caws. Eyes peered out from every shadow. Wafting tendrils of smoke closed around Algonion like a spectral hand. At last, he discerned Loci faces peering out from among the trees.
(The Loci imps, capable of setting off cascades of chaos by making tiny manipulations both in Nature and in people’s minds and bodies, stood a couple of feet tall, with twisted, gibbous bodies, lopsided faces and crag-toothed grins, protruding eyes glaring with hideous intensity….)
Soon he came upon a group of the imps gathered around a pet of some kind, tormenting it with their blowdarts. Through the throng, he saw what kind of animal it was: A young man, naked and wild-eyed, cringing and curling into a fetal ball, shrieking and crying, robbed of any last vestige of dignity. Algonion recognized him. It was one of the Champions he had seen on the road from Boalus to Ogaropol, years ago. Apparently, the Contest had not gone well for him.
The forest grew thicker around Algonion, complicating his advance, though he never faltered nor slowed. The openings left few choices, channeling him where they would. Sometimes he had to dive up and over branches, sometimes to climb higher still in search of a gap. Eventually he found himself steadily ascending, swinging around one branch, hands and feet coming together to lithely catapult off another. Unfurling like a sail, arms and legs flung wide, he would glide down and grab a limb around which to pivot, using the moment of his fall to launch himself upward again. He could almost feel his body stretching, arms elongating as he swung, spreading out as he soared, wearing the world like a glove.
At last he saw below him, in the depths and in the heights, a thousand flickering lights. As he descended toward them, he reached the threshold of a Locu city of sorts, a city that could only be called “Pandemonium.” Devoid of straight lines and parallel planes, it was made rather of sinuous surfaces coaxed from the fabric of nature, woven-vine sacks and meshed-branch enclosures, large holes pocking hollow trees, portals to havens of Loca life. Everywhere, bursts of lightening ignited charred stumps, as old flames sputtered and died.
Around these many fires, the ongoing orgy of Loca life was in full bloom. Brawls and assaults erupted as readily as the smoldering woods and belching ground. A Loca who was being dragged by her ear grabbed hold of her assailant’s leg and sunk her jagged teeth into his calf. He released her to attend to the wound, and in that moment she raised him up on her shoulders and tossed him into the nearest blaze, which flared to consume his resinous body. The piercing scream was quickly drowned by the cheers and laughter of the crowd, some of whom gathered to savor the smell of burning flesh, inhaling it as though it were an aphrodisiac.
Then some of the imps noticed Algonion swinging down into their realm. They began jumping about, shrieking and howling. That cacophony, Algonion realized at once, was their language, the language of the forest itself. And though it lacked any recognizable grammar, or for that very reason, it was the subtlest language Algonion had ever heard, subtler even than the mathematical abstractions of the Vaznallam wizards. For, to his amazement, he understood it as though it were his own native tongue, his mind dancing among the woven sounds much as his body had danced among the forest’s interlaced branches moments before. He felt it rather than merely heard it, felt the primal passions of their voice, the captivity of their mother (see The Hollow Mountain), the defilement of their world, the rage that had been festering ever since, that had twisted them over the ages into what they had now become. They clamored around him, ever closer, demanding to be heard, demanding that he deliver them from the frustration and anger of having been pushed aside.
But Algonion could not give them what they wanted. He chirped and growled like one of them, jumped up and down and pounded this and that, trying to explain things that had no place in that idiom. He cooed that he had not the power to command history, no more than they. He screeched that his people would not, could not, leave, that they had nowhere to go. He squawked that the river of time and events could not flow backwards, that the sea could not be sucked into the high mountain springs. He tried to tell them, as a prelude to discussing what could be done, but their tolerance was short, and they would brook no contention from such as he. He felt them turning hostile, spitting and clawing at him with the fury of slighted beasts, feral shrieks now calling the hordes down upon him.
Loci swarmed, popping out of shadows, swinging toward him on vines and boughs, blowing their darts at the despised intruder. Algonion couldn’t dodge them all. He felt stings, and then emotions flying out of control. Sorrow, remorse, hatred, fear, all welling up at once, vying with one another for dominance. Disoriented though he was, he retained enough presence of mind to flee. He dove and tumbled and rolled back through the forest, with no sense of direction, with only the desire to get away. He was no longer focused enough to avoid the hazards, the grasping branches and stabbing bolts. He was scratched and bruised and burned and shocked a thousand times before he escaped those bewitched woods, finally emerging onto an unfamiliar coast, where shallow tiers of stone descended into the sea.
Cast up on the lowest tiers were all kinds of debris: driftwood and shells and pieces of wreckage. The sky was overcast, and a strong, wet wind blew. The sea churned as though tossed by a storm, thrashing about like a beast with struggling prey clamped in its jaws. Algonion heard a noise rising in the forest behind him: The Loci were still in pursuit! As he saw them emerging from the woodline, he turned and ran in bounding leaps down the broad stone tiers to the water’s edge, loping like a large, gangling bird trying to get itself aloft. There were no branches to grasp, but still his body reached, reached out to the air, trying to swing himself to freedom upon its interlaced limbs. If only I could fold myself into the wind, he thought, desperately, wrap myself around it like flesh around a whim….
And, indeed, as he reached the last tier and landed amid the refuse vomited up by the wrenching sea, his body began stretching and folding, collapsing into a new form, like that of a loon. But it was as much Algonion as it was beast, retaining his shape even while assuming another. His perceptions transformed as well, akin to passing through the threshold between lucidity and dreams. He saw the world as a bird would see it, felt the loss in some parts of his mind and the gain in others. Yet it was still Algonion, taking on some aspect of what he was not, but never quite becoming it.
So he shimmered and transformed in his last strides toward the sea, skimming the surface with his dangling feet, his fallen clothes snatched away by the snapping whitecaps. His large wings flapped, and he slowly rose up into the air and sailed out above the frantic waves, quickly shrinking to a more conventional size for a bird of his kind.
(See also The Hollow Mountain, The Wizards’ Eye, The Cloud Gardener, Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)
(The following is a modified excerpt from my novel A Conspiracy of Wizards; see An epic mythology).
The Vaznallam faces wavered and vanished, like images in a pond dispelled by a pebble. Algonion found himself alone in the spherical chamber, surrounded by diffuse light and geometric symmetry; alone in a sanitized asylum devoid of warmth. He lay there on his back in the hard, cold curve of unmelting ice…, in what he thought may well be his tomb, still weak and starving, not knowing what his fate would be, supposing it would be death. But time dragged on, hours, days, weeks, he couldn’t tell, and instead of dying he grew stronger, until he gradually emerged from his morbid stupor. Still too weak to rise, he gradually realized that, miraculously, he was being nourished by the very air he breathed, as though it were the Earth’s own breath reviving him.
Whether the Vaznallam decided to make a pet of him, or a curiosity for study, or had in fact discarded him from their thoughts altogether, his small enclosure, perhaps merely resounding with residual vibrations, undertook his education. At first he mistook it for torture.
It began when his body was still weak. He noticed, through the throbbing in his head, that the triangular panels were no longer the translucent white of ice, but rather softly violet. Then, gradually, indigo. The headache grew worse. Then blue. Still worse. Then green. He turned away and closed his eyes, trying to understand the relationship between the shifting colors of the panels and his pain, and as he did so, his physical distress lessened. He looked again and saw yellow, and eased his anguish more by trying to guess the next color. Closing his eyes, he considered the sequence, and with a sense of discovery realized the answer was orange, replacing the now mild discomfort with a surge of euphoria. But when he looked, the panels were resolving into differentiated colors, an interspersion of red and violet, and the agony blossomed anew.
Each time he resumed his effort to solve the puzzle of the pattern, the discomfort gradually eased, giving way to pleasure when he succeeded. But when he looked to confirm his success, a more complex pattern than expected appeared, along with the return of pain. And so again and again, always such that the solution logically followed from the entire sequence, from translucent white to the most recent arrangement. But each time, the pattern proved itself to be subtler than expected in the very moment of its resolution.
Meanwhile, sounds filled the air, or his mind, a scale at first, that, like the walls, demanded resolution. He hummed or chanted the solution, the next tones in the sequence, only to reveal that the progression was always more complex than the one he had discerned. This continued as he regained his strength, the only way to relieve the suffering being to solve the patterns, though no solution was sufficient. Thus motivated, he solved them ever more rapidly, heightening their complexity all the while, his mind anticipating the increasingly intricate patterns of light and sound, his body emitting the tones and timbres demanded of him.
These two challenges were all that occupied him. Until he was strong enough to move.
Without ever allowing himself to be distracted from the riddles of sound and sight, he noticed a stiffness gradually growing in his limbs. The cramp eased a little as he rose, balancing himself in the curve of the ball, and a little more as he stretched, but came back more forcefully when he sat, and even more so when he tried to recline. He rose again, and found that certain movements provided more relief than others, some approaching physical gratification. As with the patterns of color and tone, each solution, avoiding streams of pain and encountering those of pleasure, revealed a more complex puzzle, continually refining his movements.
He was soon using the entire inner surface of his cell, stepping and rolling along the curve, turning and twisting in the air, gravity always seeming to migrate toward where he made contact, as though the globe were rotating beneath him, as though it rolled to and fro along a larger curve in which it was lodged. Sometimes he evoked aspects of nature; a stalking cat, a swaying tree, an uncoiling serpent, a blossoming flower. As he perfected the forms, or as they perfected him, he almost began to feel that he was becoming these things, that his limbs were leafy and supple with sap, his body as lithe as a jungle predator’s.
These pushes and pulls swept him along, as though he were being carried by a current which flowed unseen. At first he resented the manipulations, thinking what a fool he was to let himself be made to dance on Vaznallam strings. But the thought itself provoked unease, as did all thoughts other than the ongoing resolution of the sensory riddles, until his mind was empty but occupied, focused only on the progression of patterns.
At last he accepted the forces that were moving him, for he understood that he had always been moved by such forces. He had always, in a sense, pursued pleasure and avoided pain, even when subtly so, when the pleasure was self-sacrifice in aid of others; when the pain was knowledge that indulgence today would cost too much tomorrow. Whether in mundane or extraordinary circumstances, he had always responded to a world not of his own making, in ultimately predictable ways. But now, mind and body flowing with the deepest and purest of currents, it was not the chimera of freedom that he sought, but rather the grace of surrender….
Algonion’s dance of mind and body melted his own shell of illusions. As he had continued to discern the sequences by which the patterns changed, he began to discover the pattern by which those sequences themselves changed, this subtler pattern evolving as well according to a pattern of its own, and so on, propelling him into ever deeper currents, constantly approaching the essence underlying them all.
The walls of his cell had long since ceased to exist, or ceased to matter. The sounds and patterns and sensually charged air converged, filling the space surrounding and permeating him. He merged with the tiny triangles of swiftly flowing colors, with the tapestry of tones and tendrils of tactility that he emitted and moved to, anticipating them into the limits of complexity, feeling rather than calculating each next instant. He found himself immersed in a blissful space, a woven effervescence of light and sound and sense. He would never have thought of leaving, perhaps never have thought at all, if not for Sarena’s dreams calling him back. For he suddenly felt her more intensely than ever before, felt her amidst the flowing configurations, a presence so compelling that it awoke him from his trance. And as it did so, the Paths opened up to him, the currents that course everywhere, along more dimensions than merely those of time and space.
He perceived surfaces within surfaces, forms within forms, particles in motion and the structures they comprised. He saw beyond his enclosure, saw that his small sphere rested inside a larger one, tracing intricate designs in the shallow bowl of the latter’s base. And he had glimpses of the past and future as well, some of which he knew Sarena would eventually share; currents surging through myriad possibilities, the stronger the possibility, the stronger the current, forming endless variations of the ellipse of life; some spiralling off into extinction, some drawing together into a single point of light.
He saw the streams that had joined to form him…, the trickle of his early life suddenly fed by gushing streams, a confluence of currents….
(See “Flesh Around A Whim” for a later adventure of Algono’s, in which the chaos of nature’s imps puts this training to the test, and takes it to a whole new level. Also: The Hollow Mountain, The Cloud Gardener, and Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)
We can do better. We, the people, can do better. One important step toward doing better is to ask ourselves “how,” and then commit ourselves to implementing it. There are several components to the answer to this question, but I would suggest that one crucial component is letting go of our false certainties, just as I once let go of a fallen tree I was clinging to in the rapids of The Current River in Missouri.
I was on a canoe trip with three college buddies, about 33 years ago. We were drifting down a lazy stretch of the river, holding our two canoes together, sharing a little something now used for medicinal purposes in Colorado. As we floated around a bend in the river, we hit the rapids and, at the same time, saw a tree fallen from the left bank, obstructing about two thirds of the width of the river. Jack and Andy, in the canoe on the right, were able to skirt the tree, but Ed and I, on the left, had to angle more sharply across the current, and were pushed sideways up against the fallen tree. We watched helplessly as our canoe filled with water and disappeared beneath us.
The next thing we knew, we were clinging to the tree on the other side, soaking wet, bumped and bruised by being sucked under the tree, desperately struggling against the torrential current trying to sweep us away. Neither of us could pull ourself up onto the tree trunk against that overwhelming force, and panic began to set in. Until Ed stood up. And the river was mid-thigh deep. So I stood up as well.
Mid-thigh deep rapids are not easy to stand in. The torrent still threatened to sweep us away. But we were able to stand our ground, to wade over to the small island downstream where Jack and Andy had recovered our canoe, to build a fire and warm up and dry off, and then to get back into our canoes and navigate our way downstream.
That tree trunk represents for me false certainty, the false certainty we were clinging to to avoid being swept away by a river we did not really understand. The river bed that we finally realized we can stand on, that is solid and unmoving, are the core values that never change, that are always there and on which you can always depend as the solid foundation on which to pause and reassess. People sometimes mistake the silt stirred up from those values, but carried by the current, for the river bed itself, and try to stand on it. But there is no footing on that silt. You have to plant your feet beneath it, on the core values themselves, the ones that lie even beneath the words we use to describe them, beneath ambiguity. I will refer to them as “reason” and “universal goodwill,” though these words, too, are mere approximations.
The river we are all on together is not The Current River of Missouri, but rather the forever forking river of human history. It does not flow to a single destination, but rather to an almost unlimited array of possible futures determined by the choices we make, the forks we take. Some forks rejoin others, and permit lost opportunities to be regained. Some foreclose certain other possibilities, perhaps forever. The river bed is not always comprised of reason and goodwill, but all too frequently of looser gravel, of less reliable values, sometimes even of muck so deep that there is nothing to stand on, only something to sink into. Our choices are consequential, sometimes momentous. We need to continue to improve our ability to make them wisely.
The river we are on is strewn with fallen trees, with obstacles that do not flow with the current but rather stand against it. These obstacles are our false certainties, our blind ideologies, fresh and alive until they fall across the stream and become something we crash against and cling to rather than admire and use for momentary guidance. Great ideas, like once noble trees lining the banks, becoming rotting trunks that we mistakenly believe mark a point that is as far as we need to go. But those who cling to them will only end up watching history pass them by, and will eventually rush to catch up or languish, because there is no life to be had clinging to a single spot, real or imagined, terrified of the river that we all must continue to navigate.
There is debris floating on the river, ideas we can hold onto and that still help us float downstream. But we must be careful to be ready to let them go when the time comes, to follow the branches of the river with the most solid of river beds, most strongly founded on reason and goodwill. Neither alone is quite enough: Goodwill without reason leads to good intentions poorly executed, which can be as harmful to humanity as malicious intentions rationally executed (i.e., “reason” without goodwill). The two must always be combined: We fare well neither atop the loose gravel of goodwill irrationally expressed, nor atop the thick muck of malice, regardless of how well or poorly executed it may be.
(This is a good place to pause, and make an important distinction between functional and substantive rationality. Functional rationality refers to pursuing a goal in a manner which most effectively achieves it, while substantive rationality refers to selecting goals which are most rational to achieve. There is a bit of a conceptual hierarchy to it, involving more proximate and more ultimate goals, and thus intermediate goals whose substantive rationality depends on how well they serve the ultimate goals beyond them. But it is important to understand that our knowledge of human irrationality, that humans do not make decisions and form opinions primarily through reason, and that recourse to rational arguments are not the best means of persuasion, refers only to functional rationality, to the fact that understanding and working with irrational congitive realities is necessary to functional rationality. It does not refer to substantive rationality, to the challenge facing each and every one of us to pursue those goals which best serve our collective welfare. We may have to appeal to cognitive frames and narratives to convince people to come on board, but we must exercise great discipline while doing so to ensure that we are inviting them aboard a sound vessel bound for a desirable destination.)
For some simple issues, goodwill is nearly enough on its own. Many civil rights issues fall into this category, such as legalizing civil unions and gay marriage. But many issues, particularly economic issues, involve complex dynamical systems, feedback loops, and numerous counterintuitive consequences to particular actions and policies. On such issues, it is critical that people let go of their ideological certainties, and agree instead to try to become part of a process which favors the best analyses, most in service to universal goodwill. There are real challenges to establishing such processes, but they are not insurmountable challenges. They are the kinds of challenges that we are most fundamentally called upon to confront affirmatively and effectively.
I have made some initial efforts in outlining how to pursue this vision, how to concretize a commitment to reason and goodwill, even in an irrational world laden with zealously defended competing interests (see, e.g., A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill, The Politics of Reason & Goodwill, simplified, and How to make a kinder and more reasonable world). I have elaborated on several of the components (see, e.g., Meta-messaging with Frames and Narratives and Community Action Groups (CAGs) & Network (CAN)). I have identified and analyzed several of the challenges involved, several of the underlying concepts and dynamics, including The Signal-To-Noise Ratio, Ideology v. Methodology, Collective Action (and Time Horizon) Problems, The Variable Malleability of Reality, and a whole series of essays on “The evolutionary ecology of natural, human, and technological systems” (see second box at Catalogue of Selected Posts). I am also in the processes of having a page developed dedicated to this project at http://sharedpurpose.net/.
I’m asking people to join me in this effort to reach down to the most fundamental level of our shared existence, to base a movement not merely on the imperfect certainties floating on the surface of our historical stream, but on the rock-solid riverbed beneath. We can build a long-term and powerfully attractive movement based on Reason and Goodwill themselves, not expecting people to be anything other than what we are, but learning how to work with that in the ways which yield the most positive outcomes. It’s time to let our imaginations and our far-sightedness shape for us a methodology, a process, a movement whose purpose is not to triumph on this issue or that, or to win an electoral majority for this party or that, but rather to cultivate the minds and hearts and hands of all of us in ways which favor wiser and more compassionate thought and action, and wiser and more compassionate public policies. Until we consciously undertake that challenge, we have not even truly begun to realize our potential as a people.
In the land of Calambria, southeast of Parygodia, a giantess named Cholumga lived in a wide green valley in the mountains. She was as old as the earth, and as far as she could recall, she had always lived alone. Her only companions were the grass and the trees and the small wild creatures that flourished in the valley without disturbing her in any way.
Cholumga was ten times taller than the tallest tree, with eyes as luminous green as sunlight through summer leaves, and hair as red as tongues of fire dancing in the breeze. Everywhere she went, life flourished; the grass grew greener and bright flowers bloomed, and she was as carefree as the white puffs of cloud afloat in the deep blue sky.
Everything Cholumga did, she did on a grand scale. She ate whole forests and drank rivers dry, but new forests and new rivers sprang up in her wake. She roamed all through the mountains, taking pleasure in everything that she saw, and laughing so loudly that the white peaks laughed along with her. Sometimes she would just sit and watch an acorn grow into a giant oak, serenading it all the while, for her days were longer than other creature’s lives, and to her the span of time from their first to their last breath was but a fleeting moment. But her long days took their toll, and when she grew tired, she grew very tired indeed. Whenever she laid herself down to rest, she would sleep for hundreds of years.
Her bed was at one end of the valley, where she could place her head in a dark, cool cave so as to be undisturbed by the impatient sun, which rose and set to a rhythm no giantess could bear. She would pull back the green mantle of the earth and lay herself down on the smooth stone beneath, drawing the blanket of sod back over her body to stay warm and safe throughout her long night.
Once, not long after she had gone to bed, some of the little people who lived far away in Parygodia began to wander into her valley in search of land, for they had grown too numerous for their own country to support them all. The first adventurers who came over the mountain pass and gazed upon Cholumga’s lush green home rejoiced at what they saw, for they beheld a country that was rich and fertile and would provide many people with abundant food. So these first settlers came down into the valley to build their homes, without knowing that a giantess slept beneath the blanket of the land, and a bustling little village sprouted from the earth right on top of Cholumga’s belly. Fields were tilled and crops grew and sheep grazed and the people prospered. Word reached Parygodia of the rich green land nestled high among the mountain peaks, and more people came, and many children were born and thrived in the colony, and new villages spread throughout Cholumga’s valley and beyond, and a civilization sprang up while Cholumga slept.
It was a rich civilization, for even while she slept Cholumga enriched the land in every way. The crops and livestock grew so eagerly that little work was required, and many people found time to pursue other crafts and to ponder the wonders of their world. Thus they developed new skills and new arts and an ever greater ability to transform the world around them in ways which gave them pleasure and gratified their pride. Villages became cities and paths became roads, and huge monuments of stone rose on every horizon. And people practiced the art of magic, which flourished in Cholumga’s valley as it had never flourished before.
The people established an order of wizards, who were revered above all others, and whose only occupation was to ponder the mysteries of nature and to master its myriad forces. Cholumga’s breath was as fertile for the imagination as it was for maize, and so the wizards came to manipulate the elements in profound new ways. They learned to create illusions with the power of their mind, so that others would see what they chose for them to see rather than what was truly before their eyes. And they learned to cleave matter by a mere force of will, to rend it and mend it as they saw fit. And so wizards were in high demand, the favorites of princes and the true leaders of this brave new world spilling forth from Cholumga’s lush green valley.
And all this happened while Cholumga slept. The people did not know that a giant slept beneath the blanket of the land, though they might have guessed had they not become so self-absorbed. For sometimes Cholumga snored, and they could hear the rumbling of her breath rolling forth from the cave at the end of the valley, and could see its dark mist filling the once clear sky. And though Cholumga usually slept very peacefully, sometimes she would become restless and turn in her sleep, and when she did so, the world would heave and the people and their buildings would be tossed about. But the wizards said that these sounds and sights and upheavals of the earth were omens from the gods, not the indifferent breaths and restless movements of a sleeping giant, for by doing so the wizards could more easily control the people, who were eager to please and appease the heavenly powers, and so to obey the wizards who alone could fathom their will. The wizards felt wise in this deception, though they themselves did not know the truth, for through it they were able to align the disparate wills of the many people as though they were one, and thus to make their civilization ever stronger and ever more formidable, and the people ever richer, especially the richest among them, the wizards themselves. And this progress was the only truth that the wizards allowed.
And so the people called Cholumga’s valley their own, and carefully surveyed its length and breadth so as better to exploit its riches. Had they ever stumbled upon the cave where Cholumga rested her head, they would have in their fear killed her while she slept, unwittingly destroying their own magic and glory along with her. But the blanket of the land was pulled so close to the upper lip of the cave that only a narrow crack was left, and this they never found. However, not far away, at the base of a mountain rising from the boundaries of Cholumga’s valley, a team of explorers discovered another cave whose yawning mouth beckoned them to enter. And as they delved ever deeper, and the cavern opened ever wider, they felt Cholumga’s hot breath growing ever thicker upon them, for hidden passages linked these caves to the one where she rested her head. They did not know what this warm wind was, but their minds reeled from its potency, and they knew they had found a sacred place. So they returned to the capitol sprawled across Cholumga’s belly to tell the Council of Wizards of their discovery.
The Prime Mage and his ministers themselves went to see this hollow mountain wherein a hot wind which made men’s minds spin blew, and as they entered they could feel the magic of Cholumga’s breath upon them. They continued on, choosing from among the forking passageways, until one finally opened onto a huge chamber in the very center of the mountain, a chamber larger across than their largest city, and more than ten times taller than the tallest of trees. Here Cholumga’s hot, dark breath swirled like a storm captured in a crucible, and its power filled the wizards’ veins with a throbbing excitement such as they had never before known. They threw back their heads and spread open their arms, letting the fertile wind blow through them, letting its power become their own. They felt they had found the very source of the earth’s magic, and now could tap it as never before, and become the gods themselves.
But just then Cholumga’s long night ended. Whether it was that she had felt the presence of intruders too close to her lair, or simply that it was time to arise, she began to stir in her bed beneath the blanket of the land. Slowly she roused herself, her body stretching and flexing in anticipation of another ages-long carefree day. And so the earth heaved, as it sometimes did, and the people ran in all directions, like a colony of ants stirred by a stick. But then panic turned into a terror beyond anything they had known before when they saw in the direction of the cave what appeared at first glance to be an explosion of fire leaping into the sky, but resolved itself, as Cholumga’s flaming locks fell away from her face, into the enormous head of a waking giant! Looming above them like the resurrected wrath of the earth itself, Cholumga sat up in her bed, rising swiftly from prone to upright in a matter of mere hours. And even as the earth was lifted up with her, and fell away in folds upon itself, crushing the capitol and hurling the tiny people and their tiny monuments through the air, the onlookers from all through the valley were frozen in awe. As Cholumga came to her senses, her eyes clearing of their dreamy clouds, some among the people came to their senses as well, and ran in search of places to hide. But many cowered where they stood, and awaited certain doom.
For as Cholumga awoke and gazed upon the world around her, she saw that her sweet, clean home had been infested by a horde of tiny pests while she slept, and that the green carpet of the land that stretched to every mountain wall had been marred by their destructive industry. A large patch on the blanket on her bed had been stripped bare, and horrible barren growths were spreading throughout her once pristine abode. Cholumga grew enraged at this intrusion upon her home, and her shining green eyes turned a fiery red as she let out a scream which shook the mountains to their very roots. Then she cast her burning gaze upon any of the parasites she could see, and upon their towns and their fields, and such was the power of her rage that all upon which she glanced burst into flames. Standing up to her full height, her terrible beauty towering over the valley that was her home, she went on a rampage of frenzied anger, seeking out all the damage that these little bugs had done. Most of the people themselves, being so small, were able to hide, though those that hid in the towns chose poorly. For Cholumga ran about the valley incinerating all the towns and fields with her furious glare. And when she had finished, and had cleansed the valley of its infestation, she went running off over one of the mountain passes to weed out this blight upon her land.
And all this time the Council of Wizards were safe within the hollow mountain. They felt the earth shake and heard Cholumga roar, but knew not what manner of disaster had struck their realm. When they ventured out from the cave and looked across the valley, they saw it in ruins, the towns and cities burnt to the ground, the monuments crushed beneath the giant’s angry strides. People, confused and disoriented, were emerging from their hiding places, and wandering helplessly through the rubble of their once great civilization. The wizards ran to the nearest cluster of such folk and asked what had happened, and when all was told the wizards gave commands and set about spreading word throughout the valley that all survivors should come to the hollow mountain, that there they would regroup and find a way to reclaim their land.
And so the refugees staggered in haggard rivulets in the direction that the messengers had pointed out to them, bringing what stores and livestock they could, and trickled into the cave, gathering together in the great chamber in the center of the hollow mountain. And the wizards stood on a ledge above them all, and looked calm and shouted firm but reassuring slogans rich in the magic which controls men’s minds, and the crowd became subdued gladly awaiting guidance from those upon whom they depended.
At last the flow of refugees came to a halt, and all who had lived in the valley and had survived Cholumga’s first assault stood shoulder to shoulder in this great chamber in the mountain’s heart. The wizards had firm control over their minds, for though Cholumga had left the valley her breath long lingered in these caves, and its magic remained strong. So the people possessed a defiant calm and confidence in the face of this immeasurable holocaust which had befallen them, and listened eagerly to the plan the wizards had devised.
Relying on the horrible hope that Cholumga would be long occupied with the eradication of distant villages and cities, and shored up by the courage the wizards had instilled, teams of workers set out to build a trail of mock villages leading from the pass over which Cholumga had fled the valley to the face of the hollow mountain. When this work was done, all the wizards of the land gathered at the foot of the hollow mountain and cast a concerted spell upon it, such that the thick wall of stone facing the valley fractured along a latticework of cracks but did not fall. Then they moved all the people to distant caves, and told them to wait until word came that it was safe to emerge again.
And then the wizards held their long vigil, neither resting nor taking their eyes off the distant pass over which they knew Cholumga must return. Days and weeks passed, but the wizards stood their watch, until one day they felt the earth tremble, and saw the flaming red hair of the giant rising into the pass. Then, before her head was high enough that she might gaze down into the valley, they joined their forces again and cast another spell, this time creating an illusion before the hollow mountain that there was no mountain there, and that the valley, speckled with the haphazard scattering of villages, sprawled on.
Soon Cholumga’s head stood framed between two mountain peaks, and her anger, which had cooled somewhat in the course of her morning, flared again, for she saw that new sores had sprouted upon the land where she thought she had obliterated them all. Ferociously fuming she strode down into the valley and frantically set about to annihilate the growths that had sprung up in her absence. And so blind with rage was she that she did not notice that they formed a trail, nor that the valley with which she was so familiar was now longer at one end than it had ever been before. No, addled by her own fury she did not see through the wizards’ ruse, and with the full force of her forward stride she crashed into the unseen mountainside. The weakened face fell apart, huge boulders flying in all directions, as Cholumga, stunned and thrown off balance, stumbled into the great cavern within. Before she could turn around and escape, the wizards summoned all their strength, and sent the flying boulders back along their very same arcs, fusing them together again and sealing Cholumga inside the hollow mountain.
Cholumga pounded on the walls from inside her stony cage, but the walls held and she could not escape. She let loose with all of her terrible wrath, shooting fire from her eyes and dark smoke from her nose, but it could not break through the wall of thick rock. Instead it swirled upward and expelled the single boulder with which the wizards had corked the mountaintop, sending burnt rock and fire and black smoke high into the air. But she could not lift herself up through the opening she had made. For countless years she tried unceasingly to escape, pounding relentlessly on the mountainside, spitting fire and smoke through its shattered peak. But it was to no avail. Cholumga was trapped inside the hollow mountain.
So the people rebuilt the civilization on the land that had been her home, and benefitted from her magic even while she stood captured by it. But every now and then Cholumga awoke within her mountain prison, and her heart and soul flared with a giant’s just rage, and she would shake the earth and set the darkened sky ablaze, spitting such fire that it would pour across the land, and the people would tremble, for they knew that Cholumga would one day be free again.
(See also Prelude to “A Conspiracy of Wizards”, The Wizards’ Eye, “Flesh Around A Whim”, The Cloud Gardener, The History of the Writing of “A Conspiracy of Wizards” and About “A Conspiracy of Wizards”.)