Today my feet are heavy, mud stuck and deliberated, bovine perhaps, are they cloven I wonder?… I look down, but no, they remain as they are, slowly stepping, measuring the rise and tread of the stairs; carefully.
The Root of the Powers of Earth, to give it its correct title… to what land will I venture, to whom will I address my prayers, what God will receive me…..?
I stand before the door, and with a difficulty that is unusual, I push open against its stubbornness. The tension finally recedes, and the wood relents in a surprisingly gracious manner, allowing me at last to pass through the portal, into the shimmering glyph of the Ace of Disks.
I stand at twilight, a shadow within shadows, dusk edging its way like a hooded assassin over the medieval city of Kashgar. The thousand tiles of a thousand roofs create a mosaic of gently smouldering red umber, embroidered with knots of clustered birds, exchanging tales of travels in their busy chatter.
As I gather my concentration, I look down into the shawl of narrow tangled streets that wrap their way around the town, how it is patterned with a weft of cobbles, and a warp of crumbling hair plaster walls, an archaic network that carries the lifeblood of this place, the business and intent of industry, and like a giant hive, it hums while it works.
As I stand watching this beautiful scene, an angular and somewhat elderly man, with skin the colour of old mahogany, trots purposefully around the corner, pulling a rather elegantly carved rickshaw, and stops in front of me, as if I have summoned him. As there doesn’t seem to be anyone else that it may be intended for, I step up onto the small wooden vehicle, and wonder where he will transport me to. As soon as I am in the seat, the man takes off at speed, and with a strength that seems surprising of a man who appears as old as he does, he carries me off into the city.
The wonders of the darkening streets fill my vision, and I am captivated and entranced by the faces and hands of the citizens of this ancient place. Firelight starts to dance through the streets, as people work on through the evening, heads bowed over different tasks. I see shoemakers, molding richly tooled leather into tiny dancing pumps for concubines, and heavy, farmers boots for the fathers who have forsaken them. Muscled young men, stripped to the waist, sweat in the firelight as they shovel coal into the furnaces that bake the countless red tiles covering the heaping roofs, while their mothers and wives sit nearby, painting more refined tablets, decorations for palaces and the houses of wealthy silk merchants. Flower sellers and food vendors wander the streets, taking advantage of the hunger of the hour, and the savoury smells of Samsa, Manti and Dimlama, mingle with the aroma of charcoal and mint, all underpinned with the scent of cooling earth.
Further on we come to a different area, where crumbling stone walls and arches from the Karakhanid times, shelter several families of gypsies, gathering in the shadows of history. Their fires paint fearsome shapes on the laughing faces of children and fleeting youth on the craggy eyes of old men, whilst heavily shrouded women with veiled faces, hunker with cooking pots conjuring spices and vegetables for the evening repast.
Beyond the gypsy encampment, things seemed quieter, the streets emptier, and I see that the man who had been pulling me along had gone.
I climbed out, and looked at the rickshaw, and learn that from now on I would have to pull it myself. I stood in the shafts, unsure as to what to do, and lifted them up. The cart was surprisingly heavy and awkward; I was shocked at how the old man had made it look so easy. The delicately carved wood that had looked so elegant and refined in his nimble hands, now seemed lumpish and awkward in my stewardship, and I started to pull the offending cart along behind me. I realised that I would have to put a great deal of effort in if I was going to get anywhere with this cart, and also, if I was to get to the end of this journey.
After what seemed hours of practice, with the fatigue that it imposed upon my shoulders and arms, I finally seemed to get the hang of it, and although nowhere near as efficient as my elderly & silent demonstrator, I managed to continue my tour of the city without too much trouble.
At what seemed a very late hour, although the streets were still busy, I heard the heavy clang of a bell, mournfully repeating its insistent call to prayer, and as if in answer to this, I saw a Buddhist monk, standing across my path. I asked him what he represented in this card, and he said that it was important to be kind to the earth, that our idea of our importance on this planet was an illusion, that we were part of the earth, like the animals and the plants, but not more important, he said that that part of mans thinking, that hubris, would lead to our untimely downfall.
In the nature of such journeys, I find a book, at the end of my path, and today it shows me the image of a large black bear, a symbol of the North, the home of the Earth Goddess…. And I see the flash and fly of coloured streamers against a starlit sky, and I am absorbed by the panorama of the Northern lights, the expanse of the snow and the chill ice wind that bites my skin harshly after the mellow firelit night in Central Asia.
The lights fade and fall, forming finally into the shimmer of the Ace of Disks, and my journey for now is done, and I, returning sadly this time, one step at a time, ponder on what I have seen as I make my way back to the Hallway of Beginnings.
The Ace of Disks
The Root of the Powers of Earth