Forming character through the insights of literature, contemporary culture and Scripture.
by Arthur Paul Patterson
T'WAS A LEAF-FREEZING October eve, the lights of the tavern blurred in the distance as I slipped around the crags to make my way home in the dead of night. I was drunk and disoriented as I blissfully ignored the dangers of those crags. A stupid thing to do, but, I am prone to doing stupid things.
In the Scots highlands there are malignant brownies said to inhabit the crags of my clan's district. These small beasties are nothin' in comparison to what I saw that night. I passed out after slippin' and gashin' my head on a rock. It was not an enormous gash but enough of a bruiser to give my reveled body a reprieve from guzzling. I wanted to sleep anyway, but this was not the place I should have snoozed. I awoke to a sloshing floppy sound, wet upon the rocks. Accompanying the sound was a smell, a stench, pardon the expression, fouler than my worst relief. It was stronger than the rot, gut whiskey I'd been pouring down my gullet only hours before.
Pungently sweet-sour, the smell permeated my senses, transporting me to another world. I swooned not due to liquor but in response to a cramping presence and the reek. I never knew a smell could transport you to regions beyond your ken. It must be a special class of foulness, when the olfactory senses metamorphose into a vision. The hideous results jar your insides, set your mind reeling, as if your organ of cognizance had become a stomach about to wretch.
image by sigmund
The thing before me was a dog-demon, akin to one of Charon's three-headed pets from hell. Its wound-like hide was pinkish, rubbed raw and tremendously irritated. It would be a drunken Scots' underestimate to suggest that it was merely some foul smelling, infected cur that snarled at me. It sweat lust and greed but these vices might be considered virtuous when compared to the depth of shame that permeated the creature. Deep shame, at its needy desire. The creature didn't breathe as much as it swallowed the air. Its eyes and gaping mouth devoured the landscape; yet, at the same time this hideous beast was forever checkin' its back, ensurin' that it was alone. Isolation was its rapture and delight, for only alone could it be itself without the disdain of another. It yearned for aloneness and yet I felt that I was summoned by Moira, goddess of fate, to accompany the damned thing.
I had been the traveling companion of doomed comrades before. I like the damned because at least they don't judge your soul. I have been next to men who urinated themselves to keep warm in the winter and have inhaled the moral stench of hypocrites, and have been cornered by perverts male and female - but this, the beast of shame, transposed all this reprobation into venial petty sin. I recall none more revolting than this devouring, imbecilic dog. Truly the beast was transcendently vile.
"Seumus Farquarson, your words are on that floor and the beast bears the mark of your countenance. He is indeed your soul's double and in him you see your suffering. In order to pity others, you must be taught to have compassion on your soul. In the pity you feel for the beast is your own restoration. You were right that no accomplishment can obscure the great confusion and horrible suffering brought about by shame. Love alone can overcome, love for the broken - love that, if you were honest, includes even the likes of you, Seumus. My name is Cernunnos, guardian of the forest creatures, of the instincts that live in the depths of all."
I was stupefied. "Had I drank myself into the Otherworld?" I conjectured. This was not the time for metaphysics, I felt the need of action. Cernunnus was gone, the beast lay panting on the floor. With every breath it took more runes weakly dribbled from the side of his mouth. I felt compelled to clean up the mess of language there before me. My kilt, the tartan of my family, became a mop for the words. I sopped up each piece as if I were wiping the tears of the dog. I hated that work, the smell, the dampness, but as the floor became less cluttered by language I saw that the dog had awoke and was staring at me.
He no longer spewed his words but through the light in his eye he assured me, "If you do this to the least of these my creatures, you have healed yourself. Go and speak of love alone. A boldness of speech will replace your disgrace. I am no longer the beast of shame but the companion of Seumus Farquarson, go now and wash your kilt clean."
I awoke, a stone's throw from my cottage. I was filthy yet unashamed as I made my way to the washboard.
image by jan segatto