Psyche leads her funeral procession from the city walls to the top of the mountain. She is wearing a crème satin wedding gown with an embroidered bodice, puff sleeves, full skirt and long train. Tied to a spruce tree at the peak, the virgin maiden is a human sacrifice to the fire-breathing dragon that lives in the rocky crags.
People bring gifts such as flowers, candles, pictures and statues made in her likeness. Her favorite foods of honey, milk and dates are placed at her feet. One by one, they come to pay their respects with offerings. And one by one, they are sent down the hill on a wave of grief until the bride is left alone to meet the fate decreed by the oracle.
This is her wedding day and Psyche is prepared to die.
January 20, 2000. I am not wearing any underwear. My vulva is an open cavern in the desert. Blood drops to the sand from the river under my skirt, marking my unknown passage through the Mexican desert. Feet bruised from the cobblestones, I turn to the open sky, vulnerable to the elements. The heat burns my flesh. My breath is the wind. Earth. Wind. Fire. Water. Not eating for a week sensitizes the body to every movement, every sensation.
I am on edge, like an animal, intoxicated with the pleasures of the earth. A raven flies overhead. The coiled serpent rises from below the earth to wind through the opening at the base of my spine. It burns. As I dig my feet firmly into the sand, the serpent awakens. My spirit merges with Wind. Breasts like bouncing twin fawns cooled by the air that fills my loose amethyst silk blouse, a spring floral bouquet embroidered by strong matriarchal hands. Inside this blooming desert garden, my flesh is ecstatic with the sensation of aliveness. When the Indian women of Tehuanctepec sold me their native costume in the open market of Oaxaca, they demonstrated how to wrap the skirt three times around the waist and fasten it with a woven serape.
Blown by the Lord of the Four Winds, the rough weave unravels from my hips like an uncoiling snake. Father Wind liberates my body from Earth Mother’s finely crafted cocoon and carries my spirit from her strong nurturing hands to a destination unknown.
Startling. Unpredictable. Wild. I follow the dictate of the wind to a mysterious passage over an incline and through a gully. With an ancient map as guide, my costume bonds me to a beauty as old as creation. Today is the seventh day of my fast.
This purification process will culminate with an immersion in volcanic mud and a mineral bath. Instinct guides me to this ancient power source, to a spring that erupts into pools with regenerating waters. Released from its resting place at the base of the spine, the awakened serpent uncoils through the length of my spinal column, shooting out of my crown as the pure white light of consciousness. Today is the lunar eclipse marking the start of a new millennium. The sacrificial offering to the mystical marriage of Aquarius Sun and Leo Moon is made all the more penetrating with the celestial influence so dangerously close to my birthday. I wear my ritual costume into the desert; it is my sacred rite. The dark moments when the luminaries are blocked by the earth serve as crucial passages of initiation and transition.
One door closes, another door opens. The direction is mapped in the body. Only the body knows which way to go. In illo tempore. The end of Time brings us back to the beginning. Her luxurious satin wedding gown now a rag, Psyche awaits her betrothal to the monster decreed by the oracle. The rainstorm has muddied her golden tresses in a cobweb over her face and shoulders. Her sensitive skin prickles from the heat of the sun. She is wanton, damaged by the wind, the earth, the water, and the fire. Eros arrives to perform the deed that will wed maiden to monster. His mother has commanded him to shoot an arrow into Psyche’s heart so that she will be consumed by a passion for the vile creature that intends to make her his bride.
What Eros can’t possibly know, because he is oblivious to such things, is that the Council of the Gods will be meeting on May 5 in the year 2000, as decreed by the universal cosmology. On that day, there will be seven planets congregating in Taurus, the sign that rules art and the tactile physical expression of love. The message is written across the heavens for those, like the ancient priests, who know how to interpret the movements of the stars: on this day a new culture will be born. In illo tempore. Each beginning, the beginning of Time, is marked by a return to chaos, a primordial condition that is essential.
The eclipse marks the close of my cyclic journey with La Parca, my spirit companion in her faded and torn crème satin wedding gown made ragged through our wanderings. After the solar eclipse, she was with me in Teotihuacan. A fortnight later, she accompanies me to the desert with a single red rose gesturing a bloom in the erotic starved wasteland.
Today marks the last stop on our Mexican passage. There are many cactuses in the desert. I randomly select one to support La Parca with its thorny fingers. I set up my tripod, fasten my camera, focus and make some adjustments to the folds of her skirt. The midday sun is hot and my sweat drips on the fabric. I imagine these are her tears and step back to bring them into focus. Suddenly, a brutal force thrusts me against the prickly thorns.
A shadow jumps on my back, blocking the sun. I fall to the parched earth and the fire-breathing dragon pushes my face into the ground. Tiny pebbles grind into my cheek. I can’t breathe. The monster is on my back, sucking the wind out of me. “Quiero hacer amor contigo!” He wants to make love to me. I scream but there is no sound, for his breath of fire extinguishes my voice. The thorns sting. Blood trickles from my fingers.
The beast intends to penetrate a temple preserved for the Lord of the Four Winds. Body and soul united by wind, and now, dangerously close to being broken by the beast. Is this how my spiritual devotion climaxes? In welcoming the penetration of timeless beauty into the pores of my skin, I end up as raw meat for a monster? The physicality of my attacker is ghastly – his hoary breath, pointed claws and putrid stench.
My revulsion turns to rage as I squirm to throw the beast off my back. One arm is caught under me but the other is free. I blindly grasp the air. My fingers touch something cold and hard. The leg of my tripod is in my hand and I swing it on top of the monster’s head and pound with the force of my body weight. Blood spurts, clouding my vision. I have every intention of killing, utilizing my entire body as a sharp weapon. With the same violent speed as his descent, he departs.
The only sound is a car coming down the road. A shadow moves across the desert and up a hill. Rose petals float in the breeze. The air smells like blood. I wipe my face with my hand and stare at my crimson streaked fingers. The needles sting! My hands feel like paws. I scratch my nails on the dry ground and collapse, closing my eyes to the calling wind. “Psyche. Psyche!” Who am I? Where am I? I am lying in a fetal position, like a newborn.
Stunned, I bolt upright. The voice in the wind is calling me. “What are you doing here Psyche?” asks the Wind. “I’m not Psyche. I’m Lisa! I am reporting!” “Who are you reporting, Psyche?” asks the Wind. “The lost bride,” I reply. “I’m not Psyche!” The attack leaves me physically shaken and mentally befuddled. I have preserved myself in a state of virginity for three years so I might fully unite with the wind.
And just as I offer my body to the Goddess on this parched landscape, a monster swoops down from the sky determined to mock my sacred rituals with an unspeakable act of violence he dares to call love! After collecting myself, my professional attitude rises up to push down my feelings; I am profoundly disappointed that I have no image of my attacker. My camera! I quickly check to see if he made off with my documentation tool, but there it is, still attached to the tripod. “It is fate!” I cry, tearing the ruins of the wedding dress from the cactus.
More thorns penetrate the skin on my fingers. I yelp in pain like a dog, tearing flesh with clumsy paws. I toss my spirit companion into my straw satchel and head towards the parking lot. The only human being in sight is a cab driver. He gives me a curious sidelong glance that brings me back to self-consciousness. I ask if he can take me back to town. He is here to play soccer and says that he will give me a ride when the match is over. I proceed to the bathhouse.
After spreading my towel on the grass, away from the shade of the palm trees, I rummage through my satchel for the bag of volcanic soil. Cupping my hands in the mineral pool, I pour water over the dirt to form mud. Sitting on the towel, I scoop the mixture into both hands and spread it over my body, blackening my skin with earth’s rejuvenating minerals. This is purification. I lay down on the grass and let the mud dry in the sun as I flake off the monster’s hoary breath, along with the excess dirt from my bruised fingers.
The creature’s toxins absorbed by the fallen earth, my palms proceed to rub the remaining clay into my skin until it is black as the moon in the shadow of the eclipse. To die would be so beautiful, but I choose to live. To regenerate! A soccer player wanders over and tries to engage me in conversation. I can’t hear what he is saying. My inner voice takes on both roles — perpetrator and victim. “I want to make love to you!” he commands.
“THIS IS NOT LOVE BUT WAR!” I shout in return. Looking around to the whirlpool, I spot a solitary female, a rubia as the Mexicans refer to female blondes. Even from a distance, I can read the ambiguity in her ethereal beauty.
Is she aloof? I find out by approaching her.
I ask her name. “Elena,” she replies. “And yours?”
I am empty. The wind fills me. I am Psyche. Is this what I tell her?
I gaze at this dazzling woman through a mask of innocence and my name echoes in the wind. “I am Lisa. Could you give me a lift back to the village?” “Yes, of course.” My mud ritual is followed by a dive into the mineral pool. When I come out of the bathhouse after changing, I think Elana has left. I go to the parking lot to look for her.
Safely now, inside her bright yellow Volkswagen, I discover my companion is a Polish immigrant, a violinist who solos for the national orchestra, and has been living alone since separating from her Mexican boyfriend. As we drive across the scene of my attack, I feel comfortable enough in her presence to share the rawness of my emotions.
I tell her about the attack and confess my shame. “I shouldn’t have walked alone in the desert.” She takes her eyes from the road and gazes at me with the warmth of a gentle hug. “Better than walking in fear.” I can’t stop looking at her.
The combination of strength and fragility in her rarefied blonde beauty mesmerizes me as if I am gazing upon a shimmering desert mirage. I think she must be a remarkable artist. She has a talent that suspends her in air, a sensibility that removes her from mundane reality. In another time, another place, I would want to be her friend, but pain has a silencing effect.
The opaqueness of her skin to reveal such strength of spirit, her obvious talent to charm the gods, exists as a repository for my suffering. I am reduced to mumbling.
“Que dice?” She wants to know what I am saying. I am praying that your artistic expression will not be threatened, as mine was, by the rabid beast swallowing the sun in the parched desert.
copyright 2009 Lisa Paul Streitfeld
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED