It was the Equinox of Spring, and all my life stirred in me. They led me down cool colonnades of mighty stone clad in robes of white broidered with silver, and veiled with a veil of fine gold web fastened with rubies. They gave me not the Uraeus crown, nor any nemyss, nor the Ateph crown, but bound my forehead with a simple fillet of green leaves — vervain and mandrake and certain deadly herbs of which it is not fitting to speak.
Now the priests of the Veiled One were sore perplexed, for that never before had any boy been chosen priestess. For before the vows may be administered, the proofs of virginity are sought; and, as it seemed, this part of the ritual must be suppressed or glossed over. Then said the High Priest: "Let it be that we examine the first woman that he shall touch with his hand, and she shall suffice." Now when I heard this, I thought to test the God; and, spying in the crowd, I beheld in loose robes with flushed face and wanton eyes, a certain courtesan well-known in the city, and I touched her. Then those of the priests that hated me were glad, for they wished to reject me; and taking aside into the hall of trial that woman, made the enquiry.
Then with robes rent they came running forth, crying out against the Veiled One; for they found her perfect in virginity, and so was she even unto her death, as latter appeared.
But the Veiled One was wroth with them because of this, and appeared in her glittering veil upon the steps of her temple. There she stood, and called them one by one; and she lifted but the eye-piece of her veil and looked into their eyes; and dead they fell before her as if smitten of the lightning.
But those priests who were friendly to me and loyal to the goddess took that virgin courtesan, and led her in triumph through the city, veiled and crowned as is befitting. Now after some days he that guarded the sacred goat of Khem died, and they appointed her in his place. And she was the first woman that was thus honoured since the days of the Evil Queen in the Eighteenth Dynasty, of her that wearied of men at an age when other women have not known them, that gave herself to gods and beasts.
But now they took me to the pool of liquid silver — or so they called it; I suppose it was quicksilver; for I remember that it was very difficult to immerse me — which is beneath the feet of the Veiled One. For this is the secret of the Oracle. Standing afar off the priest beholds the reflection of her in the mirror, seeing her lips that move under the veil; and this he interprets to the seeker after truth.
Thus the priest reads wrongly the silence of the Goddess, and the seeker understands ill the speech of the priest. Then come forth fools, saying "The Goddess hath lied" — and in their folly they die.
While, therefore, they held me beneath the surface of the pool, the High Priestess took the vows on my behalf saying:
I swear by the orb of the Moon;
I swear by the circuit of the Stars;
I swear by the Veil, and by the Face behind the Veil;
I swear by the Light Invisible, and by the Visible Darkness; On behalf of this Virgin that is buried in thy water;
To live in purity and service;
To love in beauty and truth;
To guard the Veil from the profane;
To die before the Veil; … — and then came the awful penalty of failure.
I dare not recall half of it; yet in it were these words: Let her be torn by the Phallus of Set, and let her bowels be devoured by Apep; let her be prostituted to the lust of Besz, and let her face be eaten by the god ——.
It is not good to write His name.
Then they loosed me, and I lay smiling in the pool. They lifted me up and brought me to the feet of the goddess, so that I might kiss them. And as I kissed them such a thrill ran through me that I thought myself rapt away into the heaven of Amoun, or even as Asi when Hoor and Hoor-pa-kraat, cleaving her womb, sprang armed to life. Then they stripped me of my robes, and lashed me with fine twigs of virgin hazel, until my blood ran from me into the pool. But the surface of the silver swallowed up the blood by some mysterious energy; and they took this to be a sign of acceptance. So then they clothed me in the right robes of a priestess of the Veiled One; and they put a silver sistron in my hand, and bade me perform the ceremony of adoration. This I did, and the veil of the goddess glittered in the darkness — for night had fallen by this — with a strange starry light.
Thereby it was known that I was indeed chosen aright.
So last of all they took me to the banqueting-house and set me on the high throne. One by one the priests came by and kissed my lips: one by one the priestesses came by, and gave me the secret clasp of hands that hath hidden virtue. And the banquet waxed merry; for all the food was magically prepared. Every beast that they slew was virgin; every plant that they plucked had been grown and tended by virgins in the gardens of the temple. Also the wine was spring water only, but so consecrated by the holy priestesses that one glass was more intoxicating that a whole skin of common wine. Yet this intoxication was a pure delight, an enthusiasm wholly divine; and it gave strength, and did away with sleep, and left no sorrow.
Last, as the first gray glow of Hormakhu paled the deep indigo of the night, they crowned and clothed me with white lotus flowers, and took me joyously back into the temple, there to celebrate the matin ritual of awakening the Veiled One.
Thus, and not otherwise, I became priestess of that holy goddess, and for a little while my life passed calm as the unruffled mirror itself.
It was from the Veiled One herself that came the Breath of Change.
In the Seventh Equinox after my initiation into her mystery the High Priestess was found to fail; at her invocation the Veil no longer glittered as was its wont. For this they deemed her impure, and resorted to many ceremonies, but without avail. At last in despair she went to the temple of Set, and gave herself as a victim to that dreadful god. Now all men were much disturbed at this, and it was not known at all of them what they should do.
Now it must be remembered that the ceremonies are always performed by a single priestess alone before the goddess, save only at the Initiations.
The others also had found themselves rejected of her; and when they learnt of the terrible end of the High Priestess, they became fearful. Some few, indeed, concealed their failure from the priests; but always within a day and a night they were found torn asunder in the outer courts; so that it seemed the lesser evil to speak truth.
Moreover, the affair had become a public scandal; for the goddess plagued the people with famine and with a terrible and foul disease.
But as for me, I wot not what to do; for to me always the Veil glittered, and that brighter than the ordinary. Yet I said nothing, but went about drooping and sorrowful, as if I were as unfortunate as they. For I would not seem to boast of the favour of the goddess.
Then they sent to the old Magus in the well; and he laughed outright at their beards, and would say no word. Also they sent to the sacred goat of Khem, and his priestess would but answer, "I, and such as I, may be favoured of Her," which they took for ribaldry and mocking. A third time they sent to the temple of Thoth the Ibis god of wisdom. And Thoth answered them by this riddle: "On how many legs doth mine Ibis stand?"
And they understood him not.
But the old High priest determined to solve the mystery, though he paid forfeit with his life. So concealing himself in the temple, he watched in the pool for the reflection of the glittering of the Veil, while one by one we performed the adorations. And behind him and without stood the priests, watching for him to make a sign. This we knew not; but when it fell to me (the last) to adore that Veiled One, behold! the Veil glittered, and the old Priest threw up his arms to signal that which had occurred. And the flash of the eye pierced the Veil, and he fell from his place dead upon the priests without.
They buried him with much honour, for that he had given his life for the people and for the temple, to bring back the favour of the Veiled One.
Then came they all very humbly unto me the child, and besought me to interpret the will of the Goddess. And her will was that I alone should serve her day and night.
Then they gave me to drink of the Cup of the torment; and this is its virtue, that if one should speak falsely, invoking the name of the goddess, he shall burn in hell visibly before all men for a thousand years; and that flame shall never be put out. There is such an one in her temple in Memphis, for I saw it with these eyes. There he burns and writhes and shrieks on the cold marble floor; and there he shall burn till his time expire, and he sink to that more dreadful hell below the West. But I drank thereof, and the celestial dew stood shining on my skin, and a coolness ineffable thrilled through me; whereat they all rejoiced, and obeyed the voice of the Goddess that I had declared unto them.
Now then was I alway alone with that Veiled One, and I must enter most fully into that secret period of my life. For, despite its ending, which hath put many wise men to shame, it was to me even as an eternity of rapture, of striving and of attainment beyond that which most mortals — and they initiates even! — call divine.
Now first let it be understood what is the ritual of adoration of our Lady the Veiled One.
First, the priestess performs a mystical dance, by which all beings whatsoever, be they dogs or demons, are banished, so that the place may be pure. Next, in another dance, even more secret and sublime, the presence of the goddess is invoked into her Image. Next, the priestess goes a certain journey, passing the shrines of many great and terrible of the Lords of Khem, and saluting them. Last, she assumes the very self of the Goddess; and if this be duly done, the Veil glittereth responsive.
Therefore, if the Veil glittereth not, one may know that in some way the priestess hath failed to identify herself with Her. Thus an impurity in the thought of the priestess must cause her to fail; for the goddess is utterly pure.
Yet the task is alway difficult; for with the other gods one knoweth the appearance of their images; and steadily contemplating these one can easily attain to their imitation, and so to their comprehension, and to unity of consciousness with them. But with Our Veiled One, none who hath seen her face hath lived long enough to say one word, or call one cry.
So then it was of vital urgency to me to keep in perfect sympathy with that pure soul, so calm, so strong. With what terror then did I regard myself when, looking into my own soul, I saw no longer that perfect stillness. Strange was it, even as if one should see a lake stirred by a wind that one did not feel upon the cheeks and brow!
Trembling and ashamed, I went to the vesper adoration. I knew myself troubled, irritated, by I knew not what. And in spite of all my efforts, this persisted even to the supreme moment of my assumption of her godhead.
And then? Oh but the Veil glittered as never yet; yea more! it shot out sparks of scintillant fire, silvery rose, a shower of flame and of perfume.
Then was I exceedingly amazed because of this, and made a Vigil before her all the night, seeking a Word. And that word came not.
Now of what further befell I will write anon.