“The Initiation” a short story

“The Initiation” by Sean Boyd

The night began at Randy’s.  It was a cool night in June and the next day would be the first day of summer.  Michael, Jonathon, and I, all in our early teens, had been invited to spend the evening with an eccentric character we had befriended whilst hanging out in Washington Square Park.  He was a Canadian expatriate who had adopted Greenwich Village as his home.  A mysterious character, well-versed in religion and philosophy, his conversation usually went far over our heads.  He could speak of the Kabala, the animism of the Maori tribes, and the subtleties of Christian scripture while tying it all together with quotes from Nietzsche and Gurdjieff.  When he was speaking he could hold our attention for hours and often blew Rorschach smoke rings that somehow became images that illustrated whatever he was discussing.  It was all new to us and he often loaned us books by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and others to help our understanding.  Not sure what to make of him, at times we thought he was crazy and other times believed he must be some sort of wizard or druid.  There was something scary about him, not scary like he might hurt us, but there was a warning bell in our brains alerting us to the fact that he understood more than most about the mysterious workings of the world’s energy.

His physical appearance was also startling.  He stood a lanky six feet two inches tall with straight hair, parted in the middle that hung down around his shoulders.  Though he was only in his late twenties, he had chiseled features and deep, expressive lines engraved in his stony face and his hair had started to gray.  It wasn’t really gray, closer to white or silver which framed his incredible eyes.  His eyes were a translucent azure, like the color of a lake reflecting the blue of a morning sky, and they weren’t just blue they were deep.  Looking into his eyes was like looking down a tunnel of glowing blue crystals that led to some ancient trove of knowledge.  Making his appearance even more remarkable were his clothes.  He made his outfits himself and they always included a vest.  The vests were made of leather, with fringe and engraved and dyed sections that looked like the tattoos of a pre-historic warrior.  They had flanges that stuck up at the shoulders and strange shaped collars.  He looked right out of a Tolkienn story or a Frank Frazetta painting.  He would not have needed any assistance with wardrobe or make-up to step into the leading role of a sci-fi or fantasy movie.

Randy asked us to show up at his apartment on Friday night.  At midnight it would be the 21st, making it the Summer Solstice.  The three of us arrived and left our shoes outside, as was customary at his house, and sat cross-legged on cushions around a low circular table.  We felt so lucky for this invitation and were so taken by this strange character that we mimicked his posture and tried to assume his airs.  The table had a thick finish over inlayed wood of many colors depicting all sorts of strange and wonderful characters.  There was a man with a monkey face and tail holding a scepter, a woman with eight arms, a group of white robed men shouldering a large golden crate, a raven with expressive eyes scratching the earth to reveal a man and a woman, some strange number combinations and many other mysterious images.  Hanging overhead was a round object made of leather stretched between a circular band of thin branches with feathers hanging from it.  On the mantle, there were numerous earthen jars and a velvet lined case holding a silver dagger.  Everywhere one looked in his apartment there were curious objects of obvious spiritual nature.

Although he did most of the talking, our curiosity directed his discourse.  When we would ask about a particular object he would describe its meaning, how and when it was used, and by whom.  Randy was a living reference library of spiritual practice.  As he spoke he brought out his pipe.  Gathering a number of jars from the mantle he proceeded to remove a few pinches of various leafy substances from each.  He said he liked to blend his own smoke as different plants had different qualities and he could vary his mixture depending on his desire or purpose.  As he said ‘purpose’ he paused and looked us each in the eye with those deep blues of his as if trying to hypnotize us or scan the dark and hidden parts of our souls.  He began to explain that it was the Summer Solstice was the shortest night of the year and he had plans for us.  Historically many peoples had attributed special significance to the solstice and held their sacred ceremonies and rituals during it.  Lighting his pipe, he blew smoke images around the room while telling us how various, ancient people celebrated the coming of the summer season.  He explained that spring’s frantic energy was expelled, and with the coming of summer the world settled down into a pattern of steady growth and a patient striving to store the energy of the sun.  This was also a time of rejoicing for the gods.

So much of what he said sounded fantastic yet it was always entwined with knowledge about things we could discern with our own senses.  Gods and growth, spirits and nature, earth energy and human life all blended.  In his understanding of the world, all deities, forces, and practices were amalgamated into a vast philosophy that encompassed all the knowledge we had ever encountered and seeped beyond our imagination.  For him there was no conflict; all science, extra sensory phenomena, cults, and religions of the world held a place in his understanding.

He told us he had been doing some research and had found a powerful spot in Manhattan where many magnetic lay lines intersected, and he planned to be there at dawn to watch the procession of the gods.  We were welcome to join him.  He explained lay lines as linear veins that wrapped the globe through which the earth’s telluric energy coursed.  Many ancient, sacred places of worship and ritual were located at points of intersection which were believed to be potent with the universal energy.  This energy and the routes it traveled had been rediscovered and exhibited by twentieth century scientists —like Nicola Tesla and Wilhelm Reich—who had been successfully disenfranchised by the ruling elite who depended on the control of energy as a way to control the flow of capital and political power.

We were intrigued and immediately agreed.  He told us first we would have a cleansing ritual.  None of us believed, much less understood, what he was talking about but our interest was piqued and staying up all night was an exotic novelty.  We made quick phone calls to inform our parents that we were staying at each other’s house and as it turned out had our last contact with reality until the following day.

The cleansing ceremony began with gathering the four elements on the table.  A candle, a bowl of water, a bowl of soil, and an empty bowl would represent fire, water, earth, and air.  They were placed around the table in front of us and Randy sat down.  He explained that we were already sitting in the four corners and pointed to the outer detail of the table which denoted compass markings.  Next he produced a clump of twigs about the size of a cucumber that was bound together by copper wire that had been burned at one end.  Striking a match he lit the charred end of the torch, and its burning gave off a pungent piney smell.  He waved it around so the smoke enveloped him and he passed it to his left.  We all mimicked his actions and when it returned to him he tamped it out in a silver bowl in the middle of the table.  Then he took some of the ash and rubbed it on his forehead and mimed for us to do the same.

Nothing more was spoken as he guided us wordlessly through the rest of the ceremony.  He ran his fingers through the flame then stood, and we stood and walked around the table one and one quarter revolutions until the next person was before the flame.  We sat and the next person ran his fingers through the flame.  This was repeated until we all had sat before the flame, which left Randy in front of the bowl of water.  He dipped his fingers and lightly slapped both sides of his face and stood up.  Around and around the table we mimicked the master of ceremonies until he was sitting before the bowl of earth, which he simply scooped up with his fingertips and let sift back into the bowl.  Around again but before he sat down in front of the empty bowl he went to the mantle, made a mixture of leaf and filled the bowl of a different pipe whose stem was two feet long and had a tassel of feathers hanging from it.

It felt good to stretch our legs after so much sitting and we gave each other sidelong glances expressing how strange Randy seemed to us.  He noticed but was not the least bit bothered by our silent discourse.  He came back to the table, we all sat down, and Randy began to sing.  It was more droning than singing as it seemed to have only a two note melody.  We didn’t understand a word.  It could have been Latin, Farsi, or some Indian dialect.  We tried to hold knowing expressions on our faces as he sang on.  When he was done he held the pipe to his forehead, and then to his chest, and then lit it and surprised us by passing it.  We had all experimented with smoking, but only with our peers.  Though we felt uncomfortable smoking with an adult, we didn’t hesitate when the pipe with its sweet fume was passed our way.  We all took one puff and coughed as we passed the pipe.  Randy had a little smile as he watched us and passed the pipe around a second time.  The second time I didn’t cough, as my throat and lungs had relaxed.  In fact my whole body seemed very relaxed.

He then informed us it was time to go to the roof to watch the sunset.  In New York City rooftops are known as ‘Tar Beach’ so we were all accustomed to spending time on rooftops in the summer; in fact they were often considered additional recreation areas for city dwellers.  As we got up I moved slowly.  I didn’t want to push up too hard and hit the ceiling.  Somewhere in my brain I laughed at this thought, but elsewhere I knew it was a possibility.

On the roof we watched a glorious sunset.  There were no clouds, but the prismatic effect of New Jersey’s pollution was intense.  As the sun sank lower and filtered through the haze, the colors changed from pink to deep red.  It seemed as though we were in the sunset, because the air around us was richly saturated with color and every surface reflected the sunset hues.  Few words were spoken as Michael, Jonathon and I were absorbed in our own thoughts, reflecting on all Randy had spoken about and contemplating the strange feeling of elation we felt.  Randy was deep in thought—almost a trance—as if he were storing up energy for the night’s adventure.  We stayed on the roof long after the sun had set and the first stars were showing against the milky blackness of eternity when he said it was time to get ready.  Contrary to the feeling of hours before, my body now felt as if the effect of gravity had strengthened.  I wasn’t tired or sluggish, I was more conscious of the earth’s pull.  Randy explained that the cleansing had made our senses more acute and discerning.  He further explained that humans have seven senses, the five we learn in school plus the ability to sense gravity and to perceive the passing of time.

Arriving back in the apartment all the sacred objects and images seemed to have become more vibrant and multi-dimensional.  I thought it must have been caused by staring into the sunset, but the images definitely appeared to have become animated.  Sitting at the table I could see the whole dance routine of the monkey-faced man.  The eight armed woman was waving.  The gold crate emanated heavenly light, and the man and woman being scratched from the earth looked as though they were crawling out of the gouged terrain and would soon be standing on the top of the table.  Randy had been busy in the kitchen and soon appeared with four wooden bowls, or cups without handles, filled with tea.  All three of us agreed we were not tea drinkers, but he said we were being rude and it was all part of the process.  The way he said ‘process’ caught our attention and took on the same resonance that ‘purpose’ had earlier.  Apparently we were engaged in something he didn’t feel the need to explain yet wanted us to understand its importance.

It was after midnight when we left the apartment and headed west towards the Hudson River.  As we walked we were attacked by a serious case of the giggles.  Though nothing was particularly funny, all we had to do was look at each other to unleash the contagion of laughter.  By the time we got to the river my cheeks hurt, as if my smile muscles were about to rip my face off my head.  We laughed and watched the patterns on the river, the late night boat traffic, and all the eccentric characters who gather along the riverside at night in the Village.  Finally we giggled ourselves out.  Sensing this Randy announced we were now ready.

At the time there was an elevated highway along the river on the lower part of Manhattan that was deteriorating and had been closed to vehicular traffic.  Bicyclists, skaters, and pedestrians all used it along with sunbathers and picnickers as a riverside park.  At night it was usually desolate.

Walking south, Randy guided us to the on-ramp at Houston Street that would take us up to the old roadbed.  It was then that I noticed a drastic increase in the acumen of my senses.  I could hear better and more subtly discern the subtle differences in various smells.  The feeling of my clothes against my skin and the wind on my face was as if my sense of touch had been lying dormant my entire life.  But most dramatic was the change in my sight.  I could see the laws of physics at work.  Particles charged by the lights of passing cars maintained their luminosity after the car was gone.  I could see the bonding of molecules and the fuzzy blur of electrons as they busily whizzed through space provoking the illusion of solid reality.  When I noticed some weeds growing through a crack in the concrete I was captivated.  I thought of civilizations long gone whose ruins were covered by dense jungle and saw the same forces at work trying to overtake New York.  I stopped and got on my knees and was overcome by the vibrancy of life.  As I looked at the vegetation, I saw pages of biology texts, understood the role of dark energy in the workings of the universe, and clearly saw the beauty of God.  When my focus caught the attention of Michael and Jonathon they came over and were also ensnared into the power of the vision.  Though we couldn’t articulate the same experience it was clear to all of us that there was a lot more going on in the universe than we had previously noticed.

Pulling ourselves away, we walked up the ramp onto the elevated structure.  Venturing a few blocks north we discovered a giant five pointed star in a circle painted on the pavement.  Though he looked as surprised as us, we later decided that Randy had either painted it himself or at least had known of its existence in advance.  He introduced us to the lore of the pentacle and the concept of sacred geometry.  He started by explaining the meaning of the symbols inside the pentacle and then pointed out the astrological signs around the outside of the circle.

This work of art held our attention as silence blanketed us.  After an unknowable amount of time Randy clapped his hands and announced that the time had come.  His presence became more magnificent.  His eyes and hair seemed phosphorescent.  His movements became unmistakably noble and the air around him became so charged with his energy that it became visible.  He looked like I had always imagined a wizard would look while conducting the heavens, except for the pointed hat.  Clearly under his spell we would certainly obey his every request.  He said he wanted to work with us one at a time and sent two of us down the ramp to wait until we were summoned.  I don’t know how long I waited.  I could feel the present so acutely that even though I knew time was passing it seemed that every nanosecond of NOW opened up so fully I could form no relation to minutes, days, or lifetimes.  I was called up last and when I saw Randy he was beaming.  I would not have been surprised to see him launch lightning bolts across the sky.  My two friends who had wandered in different directions nodded to me and I could see in their faces that they had soared through the Mysterium Tremendum and needed to coast wordlessly back.

Randy mimed me to lie down in the pentacle with my head in the point that faced east, and spread my arms and legs towards the other points.  I felt both vertigo and weightlessness as I thought of the Leonardo da Vinci sketch, “Vitruvian Man,” that illustrated the pose I had assumed.  I looked at the stars and was surprised by how comfortable I found myself lying on the pavement.  After walking around the circle a few times Randy began to sing or chant in some foreign tongue and do a strange dance around me.  It involved a sort of hopping skip which turned him around and around as he circled my body.  Faster and faster he danced and sang until he had reached a feverish pace with his arms swinging wildly about him.  Thinking back it is impressive that he didn’t fall down from dizziness or hyperventilation.

While watching the stars I began to sense the revolution of the earth, then the rotation of the galaxy, and finally the great exhale of the universe that caused all celestial bodies to move away from each other.  These were perceptions that had led to the development of the Buddhist cosmology which modern physics is still trying to catch up with.  The stars were spinning, or I was spinning, and either traveling forwards or backwards through a vortex of time and space.  I started to see colorful images and vivid depictions on the walls of the cyclone that I was riding in.  Some were familiar forms I recognized and others were foreign and totally alien, though I was able to comprehend the essence of the characters and situations.  My analytical mind was reaching for explanations and I thought maybe I was seeing tomorrows or yesterdays or yestermorrows expressed in abstract form and function.  Or perhaps I was seeing past or future incarnations in alternate universes.  It was the point when my analytical faculties shut down that the fireworks really went off in my brain.  I became nothing.  I became everything.  I felt as if every atom from my body was dispersed throughout the cosmos until a state of entropy was achieved and then the whole universe collapsed to a single point to small to imagine.

When I became conscious of my body again the last of the stars were fading and the sky was turning from black to pastel blue.  The others were huddled together, talking quietly, facing west when they heard me stir.  I was helped to my feet and given a few minutes of quiet while they looked into my bewildered face with knowing smiles.  I was reminded that we were here to watch the procession of the gods.  Though it seemed far-fetched in the light of day that we would see a parade of other worldly figures marching across the sky, my confidence in Randy was high.

Randy said we should keep our eyes on the top of the twin towers for the reflection of the Rosy Finger of Dawn, as this first ray of sunlight would indicate the start of the procession.  The sky was completely blue except for a few clouds to the west riding an easterly breeze.  Randy was too excited to speak as he stood in stoic silence waiting for the single pink ray of the sun that would pierce what little remained of night and christen summer.  When the glass on the top floor of the Trade Center reflected the reddish glow of sunrise he directed our attention to the west.  We saw a solitary line of puffy cumulus clouds forming over the mountains to the west being blown across the sky.  They looked like ordinary clouds, but Randy was giddy.

As the clouds came closer the force of the wind and the evaporative effect of the sun caused them to tumble, billow, and constantly change shape.  When the cloud in the lead was over the harbor, Randy shouted out a greeting to Apollo.  As we looked at the cloud, faint silver lines began to appear and the reflection of the sun filled in the spaces with golden color.  At the front of the cloud we began to discern the heads of horses running proudly.  As our eyes traveled down their backs we saw a fair haired charioteer reining his steeds as the wheels churned a cloud of dust behind the cart.  I wondered if it was a passing truck or if I could really hear the pounding of hoofs and grinding of wheels.  When we looked to the next cloud we saw the head of another horse and assumed it was a cart drawn by a single horse.  We looked back to where the driver should be the top of the cloud began to spread, and when the wind turned the cloud we were looking at the side of a winged horse.  “Ho! Pegasus” cried Randy as he soared by without flapping his magnificent wings.  Next was a long, slender cloud that appeared to have scales.  When the wind blew a short gust we were looking into the eyes of The Great Serpent.  After that came a dragon, then a woman with fair hair and a beautiful face who as we watched turned into a hideous demon in the likeness of a witch.  Randy introduced us to each as they passed.

Whether or not it was because of his suggestion I will never know, but we saw what he said was there.  We all stood quietly and gazed in awe as the parade of mythical entities marched, rolled, and flew by.  There were Greek and Norse gods, Royal persons, Biblical characters, beasts of legend, and countless others.  Randy called out creatures and personages from the spirit plane and introduced them to us.

After an hour or more, when the sun had climbed high, the moisture was dispersed and where the mysterious parade had occurred was only the bright blue sky of the first day of summer.