« AnteriorContinuar »
THE PRIEST OF ISIS.
BY THE AUTHOR OF AZETH, THE EGYPTIAN."
In a large secret chamber within the walls of the Ædes of Isis, but not amongst the halls and chambers underground, sat the Council of the Priests of Philoë. Grave matter was on hand, demanding grave and earnest deliberation. It touched on the continuance of the Power of Egypt's Priesthood, and of the future maintenance of the state religion. It was a serious time. Men's thoughts were awakened : the teaching of Christianity, though its echo was so feeble, had done much ; and the influx of Greeks had, perhaps, done more : the one had called up the slumbering genius of truth ; the other had aroused the spirit of inquiry and infidelity. And men's minds, after a strong pressure of constraint in religion--after ages of subordination to an ill-understood superstition-are more ready to warp into the extreme reaction, and to adopt denial, rather than to be modified into a purer faith.
One of the most formidable enemies which the Egyptian Ædes had ever possessed, was the Christian cenobite, Anthony of Heraclea. The purity of his morals commanded universal respect; the wildness of his life attracted a romantic attachment ; the severity of his religion suited the gloomy but earnest nature of the Mizraimites ; and the truth and depth of his doctrines were as wells of life in the arid waste of the ancient Faith. Hundreds of the bravest of Egypt's youth had followed his steps ; hundreds had bound themselves by the same fearful vows as those which made the Isiac temples graves in feeling and in reality. But the repentant among the Christians were few; among the Egyptians many ; even more than the number of the slain.
And now this council had been convoked for the purpose of arresting, in the best way it might, the rapid spread of these new and strange doctrines from Judea ; and, as the first step, and one which contained more than a mere earnest of success in the end—the priests would send out a sufficient, though secret, body to seize and to slay the Christian monk.
“ It remains now for us to choose the sacred messengers of the gods,". said Semmuthis, glancing round the assembly. “ Which of ye all, tried men and true to your trust, will go forth on this mission of the oracle ? There is danger in your way; for the followers of this false fanatic are many, and of youthful blood and high courage, and they will defend their patriarch with their lives. But it is glorious to die for the Temple; and the awful Judgment will be a passage to eternal bliss for those whose souls went forth on the Dark Lake at the need of the gods."
“Where is the brave youth whose second Initiation has just passed?" asked a priest, one from a neighbouring temple. " Zimnis would be most fitted for this work.”
“ Zimnis as the executor, and that old holy man whose place, too, is empty---as the mind, the chief, the head," said another.
A deep silence was the only answer. The Isiac priests looked gloomily upon the ground. The Hierophant sighed ; Asafor shuddered strongly.
Ay, is it so?" asked the first speaker. “ llave they passed into the world of spirits?"
“They were guilty : the shrine of the Mighty Mother must be pure,” answered Semmuthis.
“ And the blood of the impure cleansed it from its stains," said Asafor, almost passionately. “But if not so strong of limb as Zimnis, I am more true of heart, of equal bravery, and of deeper reverence to my gods. I am the first to devote myself to death for the weal of
Ædes. Consecrate me, father, to the work of such holy extermination," and he bent before Semmuthis.
The Hierophant blessed him, extending two fingers of his hands; then whispered as he knelt before him; “Come to me ere thou departest. Remember, that whether thou dost secure the Christian, as he is called, or whether thou dost fail, thou bringest Oëri, the daughter of Osor before my footstool.”
• My life is forfeit if I do not obey thee,” replied Asafor; and then he returned to his place in the council buried in deep thought. But not in reflection. The wiles of the wicked Semmuthis were neither seen nor understood by him, and to analyse his character, or his motives, was a thought too deeply fraught with impiety to be harboured for one fleeting instant.
After Asafor, many came forward, who likewise devoted themselves to the search, and the finding, and the destruction, of Anthony, the teacher of the Redemption and the Atonement, the professor of the Law of Mercy.
But a stronger hand than the hand of man was over the holy Christian, and his obedience to the precepts of his Lord had thus far rewarded him, that they had saved him from the
Had he not accompanied the young Greek girl to Philoë, he had been discovered by the priests, and, in his unarmed solitude, could aught but a direct miracle have preserved him? So true is it that good is ever it own best recompense, either from the soul, or from the chances of outer life.
That day-the morning of which had seen the flight of Oëri and the death of her deliverer, a company of priests passed from Philoë to the mainland. Some took their way across the desert, others in companies of one or two walked in the unfrequented places along the banks of the Nile, asking, as they went, of all they met, if such and such had passed by. One, Asafor, taking a light byblus boat, went down the Nile coasting the Theban side, and running his bark into every creek and harbour which he passed.
And while Zimnis lay wounded, fainting, and dying, in his solitary cell-while Myrrha sped over the burning sands to the cave of the Christian-while Oëri awoke to the horrors of death-the fierce enemy was abroad, and the dogs of hell were unslipped.
Suddenly a cry broke over the Nile ;-it was a cry of exultation—a shout of victory. Asafor, holding the priest's daughter in his arms, steered his boat inland.
“ Blessed be the great gods!” he cried. “I have done the will of my High Priest!"
THE SUBTERRANEAN HALL.
The Christian father and his young companion travelled long over the burning sands. His cell, or rather the cave which at that time he made his dwelling, was, as has been shown, situated about a day's journey, across the desert, from Philoë. But on their way they chanced to meet with men who had been travelling through the Nubian country, taking merchandise to sell , and who, not using
the boats for fear of the cataracts— though the boatmen of the Nile could so well and safely shoot over themhad taken a direct way across the desert, travelling on camels, and leading beasts of burden laden with precious goods. It did not require much persuasion for them to give their aid to that beautiful girl whose loveliness was ill-concealed by her long Egyptian veil, although the strange appearance of the saint was so foreign to their ways; and thus the journey was much lightened to her, and the Father was enabled to reach the Sacred Island sooner than he could had he been obliged to delay on account of the tenderness of his companion.
“ But how hast thou learnt the secrets of the Island ? And how hast thou known the sins of the high priest of yon idolatrous altar ?" asked the Christian, as Myrrha was detailing her various plans to best aid the prisoners. “ Thou art a foreigner to the Egyptian, and a stranger to his faith-how hast thou penetrated his secrets ?"
“It is a long tale-sad and sorrowful!” the Greek girl answered mournfully. “ I was taken as a captive* by pirates, and sold into Egypt while still young-almost too young to fully estimate my sorrow. changes I fell into the power of Semmuthis, the High Priest of Isis at Philoë. As I passed into his keeping, my former lord whispered to me, that now, although a polluted foreigner, I stood on the threshold of heaven, for that Semmuthis was the wisest and the holiest man through Egypt's vale, whose very presence was an earnest of future bliss. I listened and was glad; for I longed for peace, and to find a friend and a protector even in my master. And then I was taken to the house of the priest ; but secretly and by night I was taken, as though he blushed that his deeds should be seen by the day. But if I had been full of hope from anticipation, how was I doomed to the bitterest disappointment! A moment's glance convinced me that beneath that low forehead, so unlike the majestic beauty of those of my own countrymen whom by chance I have
seen, could rest nothing of the grandeur nor of the worth of man. His
eyes my father, were unholy, and the look can never deceive the heart. I saw that he was a servant of darkness, destined to the gloom of the eternal Tataros.”
Say, rather," interrupted the saint, “ that he is the servant of sinchild of Satan, and doomed for ever to the unending punishments of the Outer Darkness."
"I do not know thy names yet,” replied poor Myrrha, humbly. “I - must learn them. But to proceed: for I already see the white pylaf of
* It was no uncommon thing for the Hellenic women to be thus stolen and thus disposed of.
the Holy Isle rise in the blue distance, and I must be brief. The priest received me with a studied coldness while my salesman stood by ; then bidding me to the slave's court, I left his presence for that time. But he called me soon again to him, and seemed to take pleasure in my
fears. In a few days an old, deformed, and withered man came to he was dumb, and endued with the strength of one of those impious Titans who made war against the venerable Chronos.”
Again those idolatrous names~ those cursed signs of a cursed faith!" exclaimed the monk.
A glance of terror and of anger shot from the Ionian captive's large and liquid eyes. · Forgive me, she then said, “I will attend more strictly to my task," and she laid an emphasis, half of scorn, half of sorrow, on the words. “This man came suddenly upon me. He bandaged mine eyes, and stopped the utterance of my speech; and then he bore me through the darkness into a boat. How long we journeyed I know not; but I heard the plashing of the water around us for long and weary hours. No stay -no change-no word. On we went through the dreary void, with nought but the rushing river to bear us company. At last we stopped, suddenly and rudely, while a violent shock awoke all my fears, and roused me to the horrors of my place. We were then in a low, and straight, and arched passage-place, through part of which ran the water, while the rest served as a footway. We landed—the old man taking me in his arms as if I had been the youngest child of Mnemosyne, and carrying me along the passage swiftly and rapidly. He then entered a bright and wider place; and, taking the bandage from my eyes, bid me welcome to my home. Father, I was in the vaults which are beneath the temple of Isis at Philoë ! I was in the power of Semmuthis-helplessly--hopelessly! Days and weary months passed, and still I was immured; and still I had to witness scenes, one of which, my father, might have warped my brain for ever.
I have seen youths, brave and beautiful, fail beneath the magic terrors of the initiation; and then I have seen their pale corses flung into the pits of the dead. Oh! many a mother, whose young son went into that dreadful Ædes of the Mother Goddess, full of life, and holy hope, saw him no more on earth :-he had wanted in courage, and his place was henceforth empty."
“And the Righteous Lord will take vengeance on the land-on her iniquities, and her sins, and her idolatries!” cried Saint Anthony, fervently.
And the holy Christian monk prophesied truly, for the plague* burst forth at the breath of his own word in preaching, and it has been the scourge on the land since the day that Saint Anthony aroused Egypt to reform.
“And there I saw the brother—the young priest whom I would that thou shouldst save," continued Myrrha, hesitating, and looking down ; “he passed through the trials bravely; he has lived pure and holy, though ever sorrowfully; he is worthy thy care; and thou must save him from destruction."
“I will save his soul from the power of the evil one-his body I cannot redeem.”
The plague broke out when the dead bodies were not embalmed; a custom which kept up the religion, though it secured the healthiness of the land of Khem, and which Saint Anthony abolished.
“Oh, yes! yes! do not speak thus !" cried the slave, “I can show thee to his deliverance! Thinkest thou, father, that I have lived for years long in that underground imprisonment and have not searched through the island for escape? Not one of those many covered and secret ways have I left unexplored, not a passage unvisited, not a cell unseen; and, but that my escape would not have given me freedom, alone and unassisted by thee, as I showed thee when I came first to thee -- but rather have strengthened my after bondage, I could have fled from the island at my pleasure, as I have fled when urged on by —," and then she stopped and hesitated, and hung her sweet head upon her bosom, blushing.
“By the love of man and the holy spirit of charity," said the saint, gravely.
“ Thou art right, father,” she answered: and then a deep silence fell on them both.
The pious Christian saint was dreaming how he might best win upon the erring Hierophant of a false faith ; and the impassioned Greek was now yielding to her love, now nobly combatting it, and resolving herself to become the cause of her rival's bliss.
And whether the worshipper of a true or of a false God, these thoughts and resolutions in one so young, and warm, and sorrowful, were equally beautiful and holy, and equally the creation of that Divine Spirit which dwells in, yet is not of, man.
It was in the early morning when the Christian father and the perjured Greek entered a boat, which she unmoored from amongst a mass of reeds and rushes in which it was completely concealed, while lying in a small creek. And then they crossed the Nile, and running the bark into the mouth of the cavern through which Oëri had passed, they landed at the passage steps, and passed through those heavy ways ; until Myrrha, opening a door, led the saint into the same hall into which Zimnis had before been introduced.
“ Fear not,” she cried, as she pointed to a large double chair, and begged him to rest there and refresh himself, while she sought through the cells for the priest. “ This hall is sacred for me. I have wrung
this privilege with prayers, and tears, and menaces, from Semmuthis, and he has been obliged to perform his vow. Thou mayest rest here undisturbed, for even that bigot fool, the pale Asafor, dares not to penetrate hither.
“And were they to come,” answered the saint, quietly, “I should be found ready to die for my Lord.”
“But then thy mission would be unfulfilled," Myrrha exclaimed ; " thou hast promised me to deliver yon young priest
, and thou must not fail me. Thou must not fail me in truth;--for wilt thou not thus gain another disciple to thy creed? And this will lure thee to aught, for love of that God whom thou sayest was crucified.”
While Myrrha spoke thus she trembled much and turned pale. For to one of that nation, whose most mystic deities were but other forms of those of Egypt, and who consecrated an altar to the unknown God which the Christian father preached ;—this conscious impiety, this self-convicted, double falsehood, while standing in the temple of the one, and speaking to a priest of the other faith, was a thing most dread and horrible. But her superstition and her fears, though strong enough to have such influence over her mind, were weaker than that unreasoning conviction in the truth of