The Mystic Nights’ Entertainment by George William Russell

Story type: Essay

We went forth gay in the twilight’s cover;
The dragon Day with his ruddy crest
Blazed on the shadowy hills hung over
The still grey fields in their dewy rest.

We went forth gay, for all ancient stories
Were told again in our hearts as we trod;
Above were the mountain’s dawn-white glories;
We climbed to it as the throne of God.

We pitched our tents in a sheltered nook on the mountain side. We were great with glee during the day, forecasting happy holidays remote from the crowded city. But now as we sat round the camp fire at dusk silence fell upon us. What were we to do in the long evenings? I could see Willie’s jolly face on the other side of the fire trying to smother a yawn as he refilled his pipe. Bryan was watching the stars dropping into their places one by one. I turned to Robert and directed the general attention to him as a proper object for scorn. He had drawn a pamphlet on some scientific subject from his breast-pocket and was trying to read it by the flickering light.

“Did you come up to the mountains for this,” I asked, “to increase your knowledge of the Eocene age? Put it by, or–we will send it up as a burnt offering to the stars.”

“Well,” he said, looking rather ashamed, “one must do something, you know. Willie has his pipe, Bryan is holding some mysterious intercourse with the planets, and you have the fire to take care of. What is one to do?”

This went to the root of the matter. I pondered over it awhile, until an idea struck me.

“There is Bryan. Let him tell us a story. He was flung into life with a bundle of old legends. He knows all mystery and enchantment since the days of the Rishees, and has imagined more behind them. He has tales of a thousand incarnations hidden away in secretness. He believes that everything that happened lives still in the memory of Nature, and that he can call up out of the cycles of the past heroic figures and forgotten history, simply by his will, as a magician draws the elemental hordes together.”

“Have a dragon and a princess in it,” said Willie, settling himself into an attitude of listening.

“Or authentic information about Eocene man,” suggested Robert.

“I could not tell a story that way,” said Bryan simply. “I could never invent a story, though all the characters, heroes and princess, were to come and sit beside me so that I could describe them as they really were. My stories come like living creatures into my mind; and I can only tell them as they tell themselves to me. Today, as I lay in the sunlight with closed eyes, I saw a haze of golden light, then twilight trees appeared and moving figures and voices speaking; it shaped itself into what is hardly a story, but only an evening in some legendary existence.”

We waited while Bryan tried to recall his misty figures. We were already in sympathy with his phantasmal world, for the valleys below us were dim-coloured and quiet, and we heard but rarely and far away the noises of the village; the creatures of the mountain moved about in secretness, seeking their own peculiar joys in stillness amid dews and darkness. After a little Bryan began.

The Gardens of Twilight

I saw in my vision one of the heroes of the antique world. He rode for many, many days, yet saw no kindly human face. After long wanderings and toils he came to the Gardens of Twilight, the rich and rare gardens of the primeval world, known by rumour to the ancient Greeks as the Hesperides. He looked around with wonder; the place was all a misty dazzle with light, a level light as of evening that flowed everywhere about; the air was rich with the scent of many blossoms; from each flower rose an odour that hovered about it as a delicate vapour. While he gazed, one of the spirits of the garden came nigh him in the guise of a beautiful human child.

“How came you here?”

“I wandered for many years,” he said, “I fought with the dragons that lie coiled in citron scales on the highways; I warred against oppression; I made justice to prevail, and now that peace is on the land I might have rested with peace in mine own heart, but I could not yet. So I left behind the happy hearths and homes of men and rode onward, a secret fire burning ceaselessly within me; I know not in what strange home it will be still. But what gardens are these?”

“They are the Gardens of Twilight,” answered the child.

“How beautiful then must be the Gardens of Day! How like a faint fine dust of amethyst and gold the mist arises from the enchanted odorous flowers! Surely some spirit things must dwell within the air that breaks so perpetually into hues of pearl and shell!”

“They are the servants of Zeus,” the child said. “They live within these wandering airs; they go forth into the world and make mystery in the hearts of men.”

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“Was it one such guided me thither?”

“I do not know; but this I know, whether led by the wandering spirits or guided by their own hearts, none can remain here safely and look upon the flowers save those who understand their mystery or those who can create an equal beauty. For all others deadly is the scent of the blossoms; stricken with madness, they are whirled away into the outer world in fever, passion and unending hunger and torment.”

“I do not care if I pass from them,” said the wanderer. “It is not here my heart could be still and its desire cease, but in the first Fount.”

They passed on and went deeper into the Gardens of Twilight, which were ever-changing, opalescent, ever-blushing with new and momentary beauty, ever-vanishing before the steady gaze to reveal beneath more silent worlds of mystic being. Like vapour, now gorgeous and now delicate, they wavered, or as the giant weeds are shadowing around the diver in the Indian wave sun-drenched through all its deeps of green. Sometimes a path would unfold, with a million shining flowers of blue, twinkling like stars in the Wilky Way, beneath their feet, and would wind away delicately into the faery distances.

“Let us rest,” said the child, leaning against a tree. She began swaying a hand to and fro among the flowers; as her fingers touched the bell-like blooms of burning amethyst they became stained with the rich colour; she seemed to lose herself in dreams as one who toils not for delight, living ever amid rich joys. He wondered if she was as unreal as the gardens, and remembering her words, they seemed familiar as if they were but echoes of the unuttered thoughts that welled up as he moved about. While he watched the flitting phantasmagoria with a sense expectant of music which never came, phantasmagoria with a sense expectant of music which never came, there arose before him images of peace, vanishing faster than passion, and forms of steadfast purity came nigh, attired, priestess-like, in white and gold; they laid their heads against his breast; as he looked down, their eyes, eager and flamelike, grew passionate and full of desire. He stretched out his hand to pluck blossoms and twine wreaths for their beautiful heads.

“Do not! Do not!” cried the child. “See how every blossom has its guardian!”

There were serpents coiling about the roots of every flower, or amid the leaves, waiting with undulating head and forked tongue to strike the uncautious hand. He shook off the drowsy influence of the scents and o’er-burdened air; the forms vanished. He remembered the child’s words: “None can remain in safety an equal beauty.” He began to ponder over the meaning of the gardens.

“While we sit here, late lingerers in the glory of twilight, I will tell you a story which my fancy brings me,” he said. “I thought one came here long ago and built himself a mighty world in a dream of many hundred years.”

“He had lived with kings and counselors; he had wrought in magical arts, and the great and wise of the earth were his fellows. When a time came for him to depart he turned away sadly from the towers of men. He passed, without knowing it, through the strange defiles which lead to these gardens; but the light did not break upon him in iridescent waves foamy with flowers and sparkling with vanishing forms; the light was hidden in the bosom of the twilight; it was all-pervading but invisible; the essence of the light bathed his soul; the light was living; the light was exhaustless; by it everything was born; touched by it everything went forth in ecstasy, blind, seeking for realization.

“The magician brought with him the seeds of human desire and wisdom and aspiration. The light broke into his moody forgetfulness and kindled long-forgotten fires. He awoke from his darkness and saw before him in happiest vistas the island city of his lounging. Around him were the men and women he knew; acting on his secret wishes the multitudes hailed him as king, they bowed before him as wise, they worshiped him as all-powerful.. It was not strange to him, and rapt in royal imaginations for countless years he held sway over the island city. He dreamed of it as a poet, and there was no more beautiful city than this city of his dream. There were places that shot up, pinnacle upon pinnacle, amid the jewel- light of the stars; there were courts and porticoes full of mysterious glory and gloom, magnificence and darkness; there were fountains that jetted their pearly mists into the light; around them with summer in their hearts lay the island inhabitants, each one an angel for beauty. As the dream of the magician deepened in rapture, the city wavered and changed more continually; its towers pierced more daringly into the way of the stars; for the darkness below he summoned birds of fire from the aerial deeps; they circled the palaces with flaming wings; they stained the air with richest dyes and rained forth emerald and blue and gold on the streets and sculptured walls and the inhabitants in their strange joys.

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“His dream changed; he went forth no more but shut himself up in his palace with his wisest princes, and as he took counsel with them, the phantasmal and brilliant towers without faded and fell away as a butterfly droops its wings. For countless years he lived in the intoxication of thought; around him were sages who propounded wisest laws, and poets who sang of love, humanity and destiny. As his dream deepened still more in its rapture, they sang of mightier themes; there was continual music and light; there was no limit of glory or dominion which the human soul might not aspire to; his warriors stepped from star to star in dreams of conquest, and would have stayed the seraph princess of the wind and wave and fire, to make more radiant the retinue of this magician of the Beautiful.

“Again his desire changed. He sought to hold no further sway over these wide realms beyond him; he shut himself up in an inner chamber in lonely meditation, and as he entered into a deeper being the sages and poets, who were with him at his royal feasts, vanished and were no more. He, the wise mind, pondered within himself, finding joy in the continual inward birth of thought following thought, as in lonely seas wave rolls upon wave. From all things he had known or experienced he drew forth their essence and hidden meaning, and he found that he had been no less a king in his old unconsciousness than he now was, and that at all times nature had been obeisant and whatever had happened had still been by his own will. Through the light, thin fretted by the fire of his aspirations, he sometimes seemed to see the shining Law in all things and the movement through the thought-swept fields of heaven of the universal imagination. He saw that this, too, had been a minister to him. He drew nigh to himself–divinity. The last rapture of his soul was his radiant self-conception. Save for this vesture the light of illusion fell from him. He was now in a circle of whitest fire, that girdled and looked in upon the movements of worlds within its breast. He tried to expand and enter this flaming circle; myriads of beings on its verges watched him with pity; I felt their thought thrilling within me.

“He will never attain it!”

“Ah, the Beautiful Bird, his plumage is stained!”

“His glory will drag him down!”

“Only in invisible whiteness can he pass!”

“How he floats upwards, the Beautiful Bird!”

“These voices of universal compassion did not reach him, rapt in aspiration and imperious will. For an instant–an eternity–the infinitudes thrilled him, those infinitudes which in that instant he knew he could never enter but as one with all on the days of the great return. All that longed, all that aspired and dared, all but the immortal were in that movement destroyed, and hurled downwards from the highest heaven of life, the pilgrim spark began once more as a child to live over again the round of human days.”

“The spirit of the place o’ermastered you,” said the child. “Here may come and dream; and their dream of joy ended, out of each dreaming sphere comes forth again in pain the infant spirit of man.”

“But beyond this illusive light and these ever-changing vistas– what lies? I am weary of their vanishing glories. I would not wish to mount up through dreams to behold the true and fall away powerlessly, but would rather return to earth, though in pain, still eager to take up and renew the cyclic labours.”

“I belong to the gardens,” said the child; “I do not know what lies beyond. But there are many paths leading far away.”

Before them where they stood branched out paths of rich flowers. Here a region of pinks lured on to vistas of delicate glory; there ideal violet hues led to a more solemn beauty; here the eyes were dazzled by avenues of rich, radiant, and sunny green; another in beautiful golden colours seemed to invite to the land of the sun, and yet another winded away through soft and shadowy blues to remote spiritual distances. There was one, a path of white flowers ending in light no eye could pierce.

“I will choose this–the path of white flower,” he said, waving farewell to the child. I watched the antique hero in my vision as he passed into the light; he seemed to shine, to grow larger; as he vanished from my eyes he was transfigured, entering as a god the region of gods.”

“Did you really dream all that?” said Willie. “How jolly it must be! It is like stepping from sphere to sphere. Before the night of one day you are in the morning of another. I suppose you have some theory about it all–as wonderful as your gardens?”

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“Yes!” said our sceptic, “I had an uneasy consciousness it was not all pure story. I felt an allegory hiding its leanness somewhere beneath the glow and colour.”

“What I want to know is how these things enter the imagination at all!”

“With what a dreadfully scientific spirit you dissect a fantasy! Perhaps you might understand if you recall what sometimes happens before sleep. At first you see pictures of things, landscapes, people you know; after a time people and places unknown before begin to mingle with them in an ever-widening circle of visions; the light on which these things are pictured is universal, though everyone has around himself his own special sphere of light; this is the mirror of himself–his memory; but as we go deeper into ourselves in introspection we see beyond our special sphere into the great of universal light, the memorial tablet of nature; there lie hidden the secrets of the past; and so, as Felix said a little while ago, we can call up and renew the life of legend and tradition. This is the Astral Light of the mystics. Its deeper and more living aspect seems to inflame the principle of desire in us. All the sweet, seductive, bewitching temptations of sense are inspired by it. After death the soul passing into this living light goes on thinking, thinking, goes on aspiring, aspiring, creating unconsciously around itself its own circumstance in which all sweetest desires are self-fulfilled. When this dream- power is exhausted the soul returns again to earth. With some this return is due to the thirst for existence; with some to a perception of the real needs of soul.”

“Do you really believe all that?”

“Oh, yes! But that is only a general statement.”

“I wonder at your capacity for believing in these invisible spheres. As for me I cannot go beyond the world I live in. When I think of these things some dreadful necessity seems heaped upon me to continue here–or, as you might put it, an angel with a flaming sword keeps everywhere the avenues to the Tree of Life.”

“Oh!” said Willie, “it seems to me a most reasonable theory. After all, what else could the soul do after death but think itself out? It has no body to move about in. I am going to dream over it now. Good-night!”

He turned into the tent and Robert followed him. “Well, I cannot rest yet,” said Bryan, “I am going up for a little to the top of the hill. Come, Felix, these drowsy fellows are going to hide themselves from the face of night.” We went up, and leaning on a boulder of rock looked out together. Away upon the dream-built margin of space a thousand tremors fled and chased each other all along the shadowy night. The human traditions, memories of pain, struggle, hope and desire floated away and melted in the quietude until at last only the elemental consciousness remained at gaze. I felt chilled by the vacancies. I wondered what this void was to Bryan. I wished to see with his eyes. His arm was around my shoulder. How I loved him–my nearest–my brother! The fierce and tender flame, comrade to his spirit, glowed in my heart. I felt a commingling of nature, something moved before my eyes. “Look, Bryan!” I whispered, “this is faery!” A slight upright figure, a child, stood a little apart shedding a delicate radiance upon the dusky air. Curiously innocent, primeval, she moved, withdrawn in a world only half-perceived of gorgeous blossoms and mystic shadows. Through her hair of feathery brown drifting about her the gleam of dust of gold and of rich colour seemed to come from her dress. She raised her finger-tips from the flowers and dashed the bright dew aside. I felt something vaguely familiar about the gesture. Then Bryan said, “It is one of the Children of Twilight.” It was a revelation of his mind. I had entered into the forms of his imagination.

“This is wonderful Bryan! If I can thus share in the thought of one, there can be no limit to the extension of this faculty. It seems at the moment as if I could hope to finally enter the mind of humanity and gaze upon soul, not substance.”

“It would be a great but terrible power. As often as not we imagine ourselves into demons. Space is thronged with these dragon-like forms, chimaeras of the fearful mind. Every thought is an entity. Some time or other I think we will have to slay this brood we have brought forth.”

But as we turned backwards I had no dread or thought of this future contest. I felt only gay hopes, saw only ever-widening vistas. The dreams of the Golden Age, of far-off happy times grew full of meaning. I people all the future with their splendour. The air was thronged with bright supernatural beings, they moved in air, in light; and they and we and all together were sustained and thrilled by the breath of the Unknown God.

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As we drew nigh to the tent, the light of the fire still flickering revealed Robert’s face within. He was sleeping. the warmth of the sun had not yet charmed away the signs of study and anxious thought.

“Do you know the old tradition that in the deepest sleep of the body the soul goes into itself. I believe he now knows the truth he feared to face. A little while ago he was here; he was in doubt; now he is gone unto all ancient things. He was in prison; now the Bird of Paradise has wings. We cannot call him by any name, for we do not know what he is. We might indeed cry aloud to his glory, as of old the Indian sage cried to a sleeper, ‘Thou great one, clad in raiment; Soma: King!” But who thinking what he is would call back the titan to this strange and pitiful dream of life? Let us breath softly to do him reverence. It is now the Hour of the King,

“Who would think this quite breather
From the world had taken flight?
Yet within the form we see there
Wakes the Golden King to-night.

“Out upon the face of faces
He looked forth before his sleep;
Now he knows the starry races
Haunters of the ancient deep;

“On the Bird of Diamond Glory
Floats in mystic floods of song;
As he lists, Time’s triple story
Seems but as a day is long.

“When he wakes–the dreamy-hearted–
He will know not whence he came,
And the light from which he parted
Be the seraph’s sword of flame;

“And behind its host supernal
Guarding the lost Paradise,
And the Tree of Life eternal
From the weeping human eyes.”

“You are an enchanter, Bryan. As you speak I half imagine the darkness sparkles with images, with heroes and ancient kings who pass, and jeweled seraphs who move in flame. I feel mad. The distance rushes at me. The night and stars are living, and–speak unknown things! You have made me so restless I will never sleep.”

I lay down. The burden of the wonder and mystery of existence was upon me. Through the opening of the tent the warm night air flowed in; the stars seemed to come near–nearer–full of kindly intent–with familiar whispering; until at last I sank back into the great deep of sleep with a mysterious radiance of dream showering all about me.

Night The Second

The skies were dim and vast and deep
Above the vales of rest;
They seemed to rock the stars asleep
Beyond the mountain’s crest.

Oh, vale and stars and rocks and trees,
He gives to you his rest,
But holds afar from you the peace
Whose home is in His breast!

The massy night, brilliant with golden lights enfolded us. All things were at rest. After a long day’s ramble among the hills, we sat down again before our fire. I felt, perhaps we all felt, a mystic unquiet rebelling against the slumbrous mood of nature rolled round her hills and valleys.

“You must explain to us, Bryan, why it is we can never attain a real quiet, even here where all things seem at peace.”

“We are aliens here, and do not know ourselves. We are always dreaming of some other life. These dreams, if we could only rightly interpret them, would be the doors through which we might pass into a real knowledge of ourselves.”

“I don’t think I would get much wisdom out of my dreams,” said Willie. “I had a dream last night; a lot of little goblin fellows dancing a jig on the plains of twilight. Perhaps you could tell us a real dream?”

“I remember one dream of a kind I mean, which I will tell you. It left a deep impression upon me. I will call it a dream of

The Northern Lights

I awoke from sleep with a cry. I was hurled up from the great deep and rejected of the darkness. But out of the clouds and dreams I built up a symbol of the going forth of the spirit–a symbol, not a memory–for if I could remember, I could return again at will and be free of the unknown land. But in slumber I was free. I sped forth like an arrow. I followed a secret hope, breasting the currents of life flowing all about me. I tracked these streams winding in secretness far away. I said, “I am going to myself. I will bathe in the Fountain of Life;” and so on and on I sped northwards, with dark waters flowing beneath me and stars companioning my flight. Then a radiance illumined the heavens, the icy peaks and caves, and I saw the Northern Lights. Out of the diamond breast of the air I looked forth. Below the dim world shone all with pale and wintry green; the icy crests flickered with a light reflect from the shadowy auras streaming over the horizon. Then these auras broke out in fire, and the plains of ice were illumined. The light flashed through the goblin caves, and lit up their frosty hearts and the fantastic minarets drooping above them. Light above in solemn array went forth and conquered the night. Light below with a myriad flashing spears pursued the gloom. Its dazzling lances shivered in the heart of the ice: they sped along the ghostly hollows; the hues of the orient seemed to laugh through winter; the peaks blossomed with starry and crystalline flowers, lilac and white and blue; they faded away, pearl, opal and pink in shimmering evanescence; then gleams of rose and amethyst traveled slowly from spar to spar, lightened and departed; there was silence before my eyes; the world once more was all a pale and wintry green. I thought of them no more, but of the mighty and unseen tides going by me with billowy motion. “Oh, Fountain I seek, thy waters are all about me, but where shall I find a path to Thee?” Something answered my cry, “Look in thy heart!” and, obeying the voice, the seer in me looked forth no more through the eyes of the shadowy form, but sank deep within itself. I knew then the nature of these mystic streams; they were life, joy, love, ardour, light. From these came the breath of life which the heart drew in with every beat, and from thence it was flashed up in illumination through the cloudy hollows of the brain. They poured forth unceasingly; they were life in everyone; they were joy in everyone; they stirred an incommunicable love which was fulfilled only in yielding to and adoration of the vast. But the Fountain I could not draw nigh unto; I was borne backwards from its unimaginable centre, then an arm seized me, and I was stayed. I could see no one, but I grew quiet, full of deep quiet, out of which memory breathes only shadowiest symbols, images of power and Holy Sages, their grand faces turned to the world, as if in the benediction of universal love, pity, sympathy, and peace, ordained by Buddha; the faces of the Fathers, ancient with eternal youth, looking forth as in the imagination of the mystic Blake, the Morning Stars looked forth and sang together. A sound as of an “OM” unceasing welled up and made an auriole of peace around them. I would have joined in the song, but could not attain to them. I knew if I had a deeper love I could have entered with them into unending labours amid peace; but I could only stand and gaze; in my heart a longing that was worship, in my thought a wonder that was praise. “Who are these?” I murmured? The Voice answered, “They are the servants of the Nameless One. They do his bidding among men. They awaken the old heroic fire of sacrifice in forgetful hearts.” Then the forms of elder life appeared in my vision. I saw the old earth, a fairy shadow ere it yet had hardened, peopled with ethereal races unknowing of themselves or their destinies and lulled with inward dreams; above and far away I saw how many glittering hosts, their struggle ended, moved onward to the Sabbath of Eternity. Out of these hosts, one dropped as a star from their heart, and overshadowed the olden earth with its love. Where ever it rested I saw each man awakening from his dreams turned away with the thought of sacrifice in his heart, a fire that might be forgotten, but could never die. This was the continual secret whisper of the Fathers in the inmost being of humanity. “Why do they not listen?” I marveled. Then I heard another cry from the lower pole, the pit; a voice of old despair and protest, the appeal of passion seeking its own fulfilment. Alternate with the dawn of Light was the breath of the expanding Dark where powers of evil were gathered together. “It is the strife between light and darkness which are the world’s eternal ways,” said the Voice, “but the light shall overcome and the fire in the heart be rekindled; men shall regain their old angelic being, and though the dark powers may war upon them, the angels with their love shall slay them. Be thou ready for the battle, and see thou use only love in the fight. Then I was hurried backward with swift speed, and awoke. All I knew was but a symbol, but I had the peace of the mystic Fathers in my heart, and the jeweled glory of the Northern Lights all dazzling about my eyes.

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“Well, after a dream like that,” said Willie, “the only thing one can do is to try and dream another like it.”

–Oct. 15, 1894-J
an. 15, 1895

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