The Black Serpent
The Autumn Sun burns weakly through grey haze not far above the treetops. You walk through the forest, but
the trees are bare and the leaf fall has carpeted the floor with a new golden-red layer of leaf litter that gives off a
sweat oaky odour, mingled with the smell of rotting apples. This is not an unpleasant smell, but a natural
fragrance full of earthy aromas. Bacteria and fungi in the soil contribute to this aroma as they set to work on
decomposing the leaf fall. So nothing is wasted, as Nature continues its cycles. You come across burnt wood
beside a hollow ash tree whose trunk has been blazed black by fire, probably from a lightning strike. Even this
dead wood is being recycled, and the tree itself is still very much alive as its black buds lie dormant.

You climb a steep bank. If you reach the hilltop and climb a tree perhaps you can see what lies beyond the wood.
Suddenly your gaze is entranced, by a large hawk moth that settles upon the back of your hand. Its large wings
are like dry leaves and beautiful black and pink partial stripes adorn its abdomen. It is a glorious sight in this
lifeless wood. You gaze at its intricate antennae as they waver in the breeze. Inside its head is a very powerful
computer and its anatomy, you know, though much miniaturised, is that of an intricate machine - a masterpiece of
natural engineering, refined by evolution through the ages, according to cosmic laws. Like you, it is a child of star
dust.

'Now that's real magic!' Contributes the voice of an old man who you had not noticed sat on a tree stump just off
the path. His brown robes are old and tattered, and his long grey beard betrays his great age, and his eyes, his
eyes have clearly witnessed many things that few have seen. He struggles to his feet, leaning upon his staff for
support, a staff which is an old oak branch, as battered and gnarled as he is. You lend him a hand and he gets
to his feet, though he does not stand straight. The moth, of course has gone, but you witnessed the magical
creature.

You ask the old man if he has seen the serpent that you seek. He laughs, 'I have, but to see it you need a little
magic!' Have you been made to feel uneasy by this suggestion? The old man explains:

'Magic, yes real magic you shall need! Now many would say that all magic is ill, for they say it belongs to the Old
Serpent. Curse he who does magic they say, but I say that magic is not something you do, but something you
are! Magic there is in all things, so curse this not! If only they knew the Spirit whose works they criticised! Verily I
say, if you have but a little Faith, why, you could walk on water! Is that not magic enough for you? Indeed, you
could have anything that you want. Many would abuse such power and try to own everything they see, or they
would perform miracles to earn worldly glory in the eyes of men, but is that what they need?'

You help the old man continue his climb up the rugged slope, assisted by roots and branches that seem to
stretch out to the path, as if purposefully lending a helping hand. A great sage of old once wrote that nothing, in
of itself, is good or evil, but that thinking makes it so. Or is it what you feel that matters?

At last you reach the summit. The old man faired better than you would have thought possible. He has clearly
travelled a lot and must have been a hard man to better for resilience in his prime. He points through a gap in the
trees, at the town down on the valley slope. It is really a small city, by the standards of these parts, and being
close to the sea it has clearly prospered from the trade of merchants. One day it will be a great complex, and part
of a great kingdom, perhaps even an empire!

'I knew a magician once who thought he could lead those people, as their king. He intended well, to lead them out
of darkness, but I warned him not to impose his will upon them, even if he thought he knew best, for power
corrupts even the strongest hearts. I tell you, the serpent to whom that city belongs is a very venomous serpent
indeed! Do not think, magic or not, that you could resist its venom; for even Thor, it is said, in the end of days,
will slay the Midgarth Serpent, Jormungandr, but then he will walk only nine more paces before collapsing from
the serpent's venom. Thus, he too shall die. However, I suppose somebody has got to do it!'

He laughs to himself and then continues,

'Still, mock them not! For everything has its place and purpose, but be it well, that if you can chose, to chose
your destiny well!'

He leads you to an old shrine set in a clearing amidst the trees on the hilltop. Nearby an evergreen holly grows,
just a small tree, but in these grey woods it is the sovereign now that the oak has lost his crown. Beautiful red
berries add bright colour to the grey.

'See, more magic! If you could see through my eyes, then you would see this Light in all things, for it is all part of
the Dragon.' The old man talks, as if staring at things you cannot yet see. 'But be warned! For there comes a
time when the stone appears in a garb defiled. Do not dismay.'

He stands at the entrance to the shrine, which contains an altar and a flight of stairs descending into darkness
beneath the ground. He looks up at the trees, at the crows in the sky, the clouds, and the fading Sun. It is now
that you see the glimmer of a light in his eyes, as he draws in a deep breath to sample the sweet air caught on a
light breeze. At the same time, you see a certain sadness. 'Come! I will show you that which you seek! But be
warned,' he says turning to catch your gaze with stern eyes, 'You do not have to follow.' He walks down the steps,
disappearing into the darkness below. You follow him.

You enter a dark cavern, there is no light, but the old man walks bravely forwards, as your eyes adjust to what
little gloom filters down the stairway. Suddenly a bright light fills the chamber. It is a glorious light, but its
brightness hurts your eyes. A booming voice echoes forth from the light at the end of this great cavern.

'Worship me,' the voice booms, ' and you shall rest forever in the paradise I have prepared for you,' the voice
resounds.

'And if we don't worship you!' The old man speaks with a voice of surprising boldness.

'Then you shall suffer forever,' the voice says in soft soothing tones. Perhaps the voice is the voice of the Light,
telling you that if you do not enter the Light then you will continue to suffer in darkness?

'Why shall we suffer such?' The old man asks.

'Because I shall burn you!' The voice speaks in cruel tones, 'And I shall rightly mock thee and condemn thee with
my wrath that will be so just!' The voice rises in an increasingly angry and hateful crescendo. 'For I demand that
you worship me and no other!'

'Why?' Asks the old man, 'Would it not be more proper to worship the Truth?'

The voice replies in an angry, hissing tone, 'The truth is whatever my glory demands it to be! You will not
question me, you will believe whatever I tell you to believe, and you will not dare to doubt, nor to question, for you
cannot know the truth!'

'Then I refuse...,' the old man's reply chills your heart with dread, as the light darkens to a blood red and the
chamber is filled  with a deafening hissing roar. The old man steps forward as a hideous being materialises from
foul sulphurous smoke that vents from some unseen source. It is a monstrous form. At first appearing as a fiery
black mass of molten lava, snakelike necks form and open up from around its body, as hideous luminous dark
eyes are raised to greet you both. All seven heads of the Beast are hissing and babbling arcane curses that chill
your heart, and yet, somehow you feel sheltered by the humble old man, standing bent-up before you, leaning
upon his staff. The beast strides toward him, it must be some fifteen feet in stature, with terrible claws upon its
feet and a forked tail that undulates with the excitement.

Suddenly the old man straightens up and raises his staff. A youthful energy of strength radiates from him. He
tells you to run, but you do not listen. You feel that he brought you here for a purpose. He cracks his staff and
blazes of lightning dance from his staff onto the hide of the beast, with cracks that resound like thunder! The
ground shakes and it is a wonder that the cavern does not collapse. The beast resists the power of the staff, and
only seems more invigorated. Its fingers multiply and extend into venomous serpents that writhe and snap, and
one of its heads roars forth a blast of fire that strikes the old man. Though clearly in pain, the magician is not
destroyed. With a wave of his staff he creates a wall of water which hisses and fills the cavern with steam as it
quenches the fiery breath. Another serpentine head roars forth a rushing blast of wind, which throws you to the
back of the cavern, but the old man staggers back but one pace. Then he raises his staff and from it sends out a
brilliant light that fills the chamber and pains the eyes of the beast. You seem less effected by this light than it is.

Lunging forward, the snake-headed tendrils of one of the beast's hands try to grapple the old man, as the necks
seem to extend to twice or thrice their original length, snapping and hissing. The magician slams the hilt of his
staff upon the stony floor and vines spring out and entwine the legs of the beast, scratching its metallic scales
with dagger-like thorns. Trapped for a moment, the seven mouths snap at the vines and tear them to shreds. A
wave of darkness then emanates from the creature, dimming the light from the old man's staff. Then it swoops its
great tail, sending forth a hail of fiery stones that splatter the chamber and explode on contact. One strikes the
old man. The beast slams his foot, and the ground heaves and cracks. Stones fall all around you from the roof of
the chamber, but somehow it holds. The old man is caught off balance by this assault, and the beast seizes the
advantage and lunges forth, its snake-headed tendrils extending to a great length and seizing the old man and
lifting him into the air. You cry, and grabbing a boulder you rush forward to help him, 'No!' he cries, as he turns
his gaze toward you and fires a blast of invisible force from his staff that pushes you to the back of the arena.
'This is my battle, you are not ready!' He smites the serpent with his staff, which hisses and burns the creature's
flesh. As the serpentine fingers bite hard against the man's flesh, one of the heads grabs him about his arm and
injects its venom. Any normal man would have perished instantly. The old man blasts the head with his staff,
seemingly destroying it, but within moments another grows back in its place. Another head tries to bite the
magician and he blinds it with a tremendous blast of lightning, then he tries to smite the breast of the beast, but
the heads are too many, one bites his leg, another bites into his waist and a third clamps about his staff-wielding
arm. Protected, as he is, by unseen forces, they are unable to rip the man to pieces, but they inject more venom.
Uttering words of power as he stares at his immobile staff, the man's body begins to glow with a brilliant light. The
serpent tries to dim the light with its own darkness, but after what seems a painfully long struggle, it seems to be
losing and its flesh starts to blister and burst. Hissing with rage, hatred and pain, the beast shakes its coiled
necks, almost tearing the limbs from the magician who is now completely immobilised amidst writhing serpentine
appendages. In pain he cries and drops his staff. The light fades.

Still, with power of his own, the magician resists. The beast sinks to one knee, weakened by the struggle. Now
you try! You lunge for the staff on the floor, but the writhing tail sweeps in front of you, more by chance as the
beast is not concerned with you. You lunge again, rolling across the floor with the staff in hand, just as several
tendrils espy you and snake toward you. You smite them with the staff and severed they fall, writhing to the
ground. You think of passing the staff to the wizard, but he is weak and out of reach. Then your instinct takes
command. With a clear target you throw the staff and, knowing what to do, it pierces the breast of the beast,
breaking through the tough metallic scales and sinking deep. Ripples of electricity spread from the staff. Hissing
in agony the beast drops the old man and grasps the staff with both hands and removes it, but the staff releases
its final charge. With a mighty blast the staff shatters, for no such beast can wield it. For a moment you stare at
the creature, now strangely calm, its heads wavering as if drunk and unable to focus upon you. The beast
struggles to its feet, but staggers back before being consumed by light. The beast fragments and its serpentine
members try to crawl away, desperately, into the darkness, but the light appears to consume them all, before it
fades.

An eerie calmness descends upon the cavern. Now plunged into darkness you can see nothing, apart from a
faint glow emanating from the old man as he lies broken, he is still alive. You rush to him, but it is too late. You
cradle his head in your arms as he speaks his last pearls of wisdom:

'And ... so it is with craft ... that the serpent is slain... . I knew, you would be ... useful. The beast cannot die, it will
assume another form ...  many will face ... alone, alas ... . Remember, nothing is as it first seems, ... open your
eyes, whilst ... World sleeps, awake ....  you will see true magic, is ... the Holy Spirit ... for ... t'is the Spirit of
Truth.' The wizard dies.

It is written, that something is not true because God wills it, but rather that God wills it because it is True.

You bury the old man beneath a great oak tree - he would have liked that, or perhaps he would say, 'Let the
dead bury themselves!'. However, you could not leave him. It seems harsh that he defeated the serpent and
never lived to reap the reward, but then, perhaps he knew what would happen.

Walking down to the valley you suddenly become aware of a glow all around you. It is in the trees, even their
leafless forms. It is in the beautiful colours of autumnal fungi - coral fungi and flame-like forms and toadstools and
earth stars and all manner of things. It is in the holly, in the grass, in the insects and all things that crawl, and it is
in the sky and the clouds and in the waves on the sea. Many people speak of miracles in disbelief. Others seek
carnal miracles, but none compares to the miracle that is Nature. This is real magic, and it is all around you, in
every thing, but few can see it. You feel alone in a World that sleeps. Perhaps the magician is still alive after all,
in spirit, inside you!

You pass a fallen tree, it is hollow, burnt and quite dead. Yet beside it a sapling grows, reaching up into the gap,
seeking the light, where the old tree once stood, and nourished by the decomposing wood of its fallen ancestor.
So it is, that the old trees must fall, to make room for the new.
The Fall
Black Serpent 2
And so at last I saw Satan appear before me - magnificent, fully formed.
Feet first, with shining limbs, he glanced down from above among the bushes,
And stood there erect, dark-skinned, with nostrils dilated with passion;
(In the burning intolerable sunlight he stood, and I in the shade of the bushes);
 Fierce and scathing the effluence of his eyes, and scornful of dreams and
dreamers; (he touched a rock hard by and it split with a sound like thunder);
 Fierce the magnetic influence of his dusky flesh; his great foot, well-formed, was
planted firm in the sand - with spreading toes;
 “Come out” he said with a taunt, “Art though afraid to meet me?”
 And I answered not, but sprang upon him and smote him.
 And he smote me a thousand times, and brashed and scorched and slew me as
with hands of flame;
 And I was glad, for my body lay there dead; and I sprang upon him again with
another body;
 And he turned upon me, and smote me a thousand times and slew that body;
 And I was glad and sprang upon him again with another body -
 And the bodies which I took on yielded before him, and were like cinctures of
flame upon me, but I flung them aside;
 And the pains which I endured in one body were powers which I wielded in the
next; and I grew in strength, till at last I stood before him, and were like him
complete, with a body like his own and equal in might - exultant in pride and joy.
 Then he ceased, and said, “I love thee.”
 And lo! His form changed and he leaned backwards and drew me upon him,
 And bore me up into the air, and floated me over the topmost trees and the
ocean, and round the curve of the earth under the moon -
 Till we stood again in Paradise.


Edward Carpenter, The Secret of Time and Satan.

Surveying the view and unsure where to go, you decide to cross the river and
climb the peak up-ahead. They say that the
mountains contain much wisdom...