“Woe to thee, Simon Magus!
Woe to you, his wretched followers!
Who, the things of God
Which should be wedded unto goodness,
Them, rapacious as ye are,
Do prostitute for gold and silver in adultery.”
Canto XIX, ‘INFERNO’, The Divine Comedy, by Dante Aligheri
It is the Moon who wakes me. Soft and lyrical and remote and mysterious Muse, the lunar goddess gently urges me from the insubstantial labyrinths of colliding dream and memory and waking visions seeking to draw my fractured soul away and back to the gross pain and indignity of mortal imprisonment.
Time is nothing; there is no duration or limit to my experiences. I cannot say, remember or command who or what I am (or was) as one dark and harsh reality gradually and complexly solidifies and coalesces from the fantastic tumult within me.
Or is it without and an exterior invasiveness and I am merely a breath within the great invisible storms that melt memory and imagining and existence itself like that terrifying vulcanism I (or some remote time-distant being) witnessed near the haunted ruins of fabled Persepolis?
Am I then in Hell, and that is why a vision of flames and devastation and pitiless apocalypse blasts upon my pulsating senses and eviscerates the phases of my soul? Again I am lost in the smoke and quaking chaos and fiery heavy hypocaust light amid a cachinnation of dismay and groans scarcely human, the underworld vomited up out of Hades to deprave and corrupt the world of day. Rock and earth and flesh itself boil in the perverted cauldron the oven-land becomes and freeze horribly in blackened immobility. Hot sulphur and poisons burn every particle of me away.
As suddenly it is gone, a spectre of memory. Now I (or what was I) wanders lost ancient Babylon and Heliopolis and Schamballah and Ultima Thule and perhaps fabled Atlantis as they once were, pausing to gaze in awe at their lost monuments and wonders and pay fealty to their vanished gods, pass time with forbidden pleasures and sensualities long gone from this sorry world. I see the mute ruins they have become and radiant ecstasies of once-young flesh become bitter ashes in my hands and mouth.
Death befouls the universe; all youth and beauty and innocence and passion and hope for the future are withered and butchered by the forces of time into hideosity. Decay and ugliness and excrescence are the viscera underlying the most perfect beauty and purity of spirit, flaying them into the vicious and saturnine. As body ages and decays and disintegrates in the merciless devouring grip of mortality so too may the soul itself disease and sicken from the evils of life and break under its scars and cataracts and hungry scorchings of betrayal.
Diffract and shatter upon the anvil and fly off into the abyssal beyond time and existence itself? Beyond Hell and Hades and the nameless dark infinities that are the Land of the Dead unto the ultimate Aether?
Void seethes around me, transcending light and darkness as I drift in helpless thrall to effervescent violence of thought and urgencies bound by invisible shackles that both bind and seem part of me at the same time.
Another fabled lost place materializes. Vast buildings, greater than the ones of Babylon or Egypt or the nameless pre-Atlantean empires of prehistory bare themselves as ruins so formidable that long centuries of neglect will not break them asunder.
Among the ruins a new life, intimidating and surging and swift and unfamiliar and with overtones of lunacy goes on but I cannot see, only sense its futile self-engrossed onrush. Only these ruins are truly visible as I explore them like an apparition infusing myself with their brutally unyielding epic geometries, as though I might thereby take on and understand something of the gigantically resolute perspectives in the men who designed and commanded them raised up.
But something is wrong. It is not possible for these buildings and this megalopolis to be ruins like those other lost places in my dream. For this is Rome, the Eternal City, and it is prophesied that it will never fall.
I have so prophesied this to emperors and the common people alike and myself believed.
Confusingly there are giant architectural wrecks of terrific edifices I have never seen or imagined, ones of such marblesque magnitude they exceed the greatest accomplishments I can remember and tower over the other massy stone corpses like discarded notions of the gods.
Time plays tricks with me, I refuse to believe it and that is a liberation as I seem to accelerate upwards through layers of dawning awareness and the bleak vision dissipates like the evil dream it must be. This squalid rubble of an unknown future is but a malign chimera.
I am not in Hell.
Not their Hell.
Goddess: why do you forsake the future of Rome, showing it to me in ghastly leprous beggary? Why did you forsake me, your most devoted slave? Why did you take Helene your Earthly incarnation from my worshipping love into the Land of the Dead from where her dismal screams and pleadings torture me?!
At last; a thought and face with the root-substance of memory where my groping consciousness might find its hold. Slowly, so very slowly, I rediscover my own being. Amid a babel of spirits and shades and phantoms and essences and fading memories and immanent, mindless imprintatures of former existences I emerge from the void and re-establish my individuality from the vast congeries of commingled souls and the broken pieces of my own.
With it comes pain, startling in its hot excoriation of every sinew and muscle and sensation. My vision is alight with unreal hues and sinuous trails that wind like primordial hieroglyphs against the inner eye. Acrid and thrilling, unnameable smells invent themselves, my ears ring with nightmare euphonies like no instrument or harmony ever invented. A trillion unseen insects seem to crawl across and through and under my skin. Stomach and bowels and intestines –I can feel them now- burn coldly, my veins themselves throb with frigid poisons and there is such a palette of bitter venoms on my tongue as no mortal could know and live.
No, this is not Hell. That would be a blessed release from life trapped in a broken and suffering and ever-decaying envelope of flesh and blood tainted with the stink of this evil world.
Yet I live and finally awaken and She is very close, the Moon-goddess, her forbidding unattainable beauty filling all my senses and banishing the deathly agony as She approaches ever closer like an amorous but deadly houri-dancer.
Her echo is there, faint but absolute underlying the song of the White Goddess who is Her child as I am the child of this world which is Their creation and domain. And for a moment I am alive truly, enwrapped in strong silver limbs and the fierce ruttings of love in which all self is forgotten and Helene too lives again.
Lost to me forever. Agony returns now as my senses clear and I am able to distinguish my nighted surroundings, although memory does not come with them. Around me soar great pillared temples and monumental statues of stern-visaged robed gods. Before me Mars and Vulcan raise a triumphal arch over which an imperial eagle nurses Romulus and Remus in some curious excess of patriotic artistic fervour. Engorged with shadow the eagle transmogrifies into a hirsute vulture and the absurdly austere warrior-cherubs look like death-bleached carrion.
Beneath my shock and pain-wracked body lie granite and obsidian flagstones all the way from distant Sardinia, pride of the great Augustus who entirely rebuilt the Forum of Rome with both the rock and slave-flesh of that island land. Meant to endure for centuries, a centuria or chequered hundred-square of them lie beneath me riven through with deep fissures and cracks that radiate out from my centre like black-and-white scripture.
Moon recedes in my vision, hangs in the sky serenely and severely illuminating the nearly deserted tableau of this unspeakably grand and famous arena. At the edges night sentries guard the many entrances. Beyond them the ceaseless commerce of Rome streams by, momentarily a curious face pauses in flickering torchlight but the vigilant sentries will let no one pass. There are many more of them than is usual at this very late hour and definite fear and tension thicken the air. Invocations to Mithras and other deities have been made and hang fearfully in the ether. Otherwise all is silent, the temples have closed and even the mendicants and beggars have fled.
But now there is a brief stirring at the Tiberius Gate. The guards part suddenly and reform as a robed and hooded figure makes its way slowly and unhurriedly across the vast dully glowing expanse of level patinaed stone. In my peripheral vision, for I still cannot move or turn my head, the figure does not seem to approach in its quiet gliding gait so much as steadily grow taller and taller out of the abstract planes of immense perfect structures until it towers over me like some gaunt and unforgiving harbinger, framed dramatically by the opulent temple of Minerva.
At a slight gesture the escort stops well before it reaches me. I note they are Praetorian Guards. An onrush of further intensified hopes and fears and doubts and anguish tear through my pain and give me a silent excruciating clarity as the hooded figure places itself in my line of sight and regards me.
Shadow hides its impassive features and a long moment passes as we watch each other, neither willing to speak. Then the figure shrugs and almost negligently flips the hood down, revealing a face as cold and passionless as the stolen rock he stands upon. Darkly glittering eyes measure me with the glacid hauteur of a supreme aristocrat for whom all others, including aristocracy, are slaves.
I was hoping for Claudius.
Contempt, open and maliciously pleased, emanates from him as a minor colouration of his even more noxious pride. The wreckage I have become, the spectacular jagged damage that illustrates me in a chequered scribbling web of destruction merely bores him – he can barely summon amusement.
“So you’re not invincible after all, eh?”
“It takes more than Christian magic to destroy the likes of me.”
Not a quaver in my voice and the future emperor stiffens, although such is his already imperial composure that only a practiced sorcerer like myself could detect it. Nero has the bearing of a true Caesar, I have to give him that despite his obstinacy, arrogance and pathological, paranoid self-absorption. Nevertheless he fears being overheard now and draws closer, speaking low and urgently as through crouching over a grave.
“Your prophecies. Were they true?”
I want to laugh with all the sardonic nuances at my command and fill him with the dread that might make him act precipitately and destroy himself. But that time will not come while his mother that vile witch Agrippina lives and I know his fall will not be by my hand, but his own.
All my strength and concentration are required merely to discipline my voice and eliminate any trace of weakness, in starkest contrast to my helpless paralysis. Despite the undercurrents of pain I am enjoying his growing terror of the paradox, and can see the multiplication of his own fears and doubts until they effervesce in a lurid rainbow around him. Counterbalancing ambition throbs in livid hues all through it.
“After all you have seen and heard you still doubt me?”
By the gods in the Abyss, what it costs me to keep this voice.
“But those Christians have proved their god is stronger than your demons. My uncle is hysterical and making offerings to every little god in Creation! My mother is having to do the incantations – he can’t even speak!”
I cannot help laughing, though it clenches me with agony, at the absurd picture of poor old Claudius twitching and stuttering and palpitating over his quixotic collection of idols from every obscure corner of the empire. He never was sure which gods protected him so he betted on all of them. I was not a little guilty in encouraging much of it myself. I gave him that ancient jade Marduk I found on my travels through Babylon and the remarkable soapstone Edshu from one of the more dangerous forbidden corners of Abyssinia that still contains a dweomer-portion of its original divinity. And the chalcedony Astarte. And the ivory Yoruba. And the anthracite Danu. And the lapidary Hotei. And the onyx Tara. And the obsidian Kali – but I digress.
“Lucius Domitius, hear me. I am without equal among sorcerers and prophets. Wounded as I am it was by a higher power and not those little men Peter and Paul, who knew only words of power and not the power itself. It is they and their Christian traitors to your gods-ordained rule who will be a threat to you and that is both my great pronouncement and what you have seen with your own eyes.”
Still he cannot quite believe and his fears visibly wax and wane to me in a pleasingly ugly polychrome toroid around him. I can smell the olfactory accompaniment through his expensive Greek and Persian and Cathayan perfumes.
Nero would put a common strumpet in the Aventino and Suburra, most debauched and notorious of the plebeian districts of Rome, to shame for vanity. By an accident of birth he has missed out on his true calling as a professional over-educated perfumed catamite with artistic pretensions.
Glad of his tortured silence I again try to muster all my strength to recover and show no auditory weakness. Somehow I must find the greater, inner strength I will need to call down the only assistance which can save me. Nero is now pallid and pleading, a profound change from his imperious disdain of before as my careful evasions have worked upon his voluptuary responses and driven him into the almost-pliant receptivity I need for my purposes.
He suffers from the true disease of the lordly aesthete – the need to feel every emotion and pleasure and unpleasantry more vividly and utterly than ordinary mortals. With every whim of generosity and cruelty available to him as a sensual thrill, the only way to experience the new is by amplifying his inner world. So both his joys and terrors must be stronger, greater, more deeply felt than those by any human around him. If he could invent new emotions and new physical senses they would be his alone.
So he will become a philosopher and decadent, succumb to abstraction, petty envy and ennui and ultimately destroy himself after wreaking destruction on all those around him like his viperously-accursed predecessors. I do not need the gift of oracles to anticipate that; I knew Tiberius and Caligula and he is in their mould. Yet Nero is also deceptively wise beyond his years and surprises me again.
“If I protect these Christians rather than persecute them as you want, this same power would be harnessed to protect me, wouldn’t it?”
Damn you, you fragrant little willing spider-toy of depraved pederasts.
“I have the protection of devils, so they say. Look what happened to me future emperor Nero, and ask yourself what you have most to fear.”
He falls silent again. I was quick and deft in my riposte but he is an intelligent young man well schooled by his environment and evil genius of a mother in political expediency and subtle interbalances of conspiracy. If you grow up in the imperial palace and expect to one day inherit the Roman Empire by the murder of your adopted father you will acquire a certain amount of shark-sense, to put it colloquially.
“That is not a decision I need make tonight. Or even if I will be emperor, now. That is in the looms of the Fates and through you I believe in them. I want to know, will you live past this night?”
“Ask the Fates.”
He smiles with a crooked sinuosity that always unnerves me. Nero’s face is unusually motile and expressive and his elastic changes of physiognomy can easily disconcert an interlocutor when he employs them unexpectedly. His whole face now a resounding diabolical smirk now that he feels himself safe again, Nero enjoys to the full my defeat and humiliation and passing from the stage of his life as he puts on the cold imperial mantle once more and dismisses my existence.
“You have deceived my uncle and myself and thereby the State. Whatever your former services and value to us, your power is clearly gone and you have disgraced your emperor and patron with this display of folly carried out before the people. If you live you are hereby banished from Rome and its dominions forever, on penalty of crucifixion. It will be decreed that henceforth the name of Simon the Magus will be stricken from all records and suffered to be spoken by no man. And for the evil you have done may the gods you have offended judge accordingly.”
Nero turns and dons his hood again, striding past his Praetorians who fall into step behind him and are swiftly gone in a sharp metallic clatter. I stare up at the waning Moon and the stars, so many songs in that burning firmament which are fading for me. I see the living shadows I am looking for among the living flickering globes.
Yes, they flit and lurk up there still; unseen though vaguely felt as foreboding and a certain persistent but inexorcisable dread by the uneasily dreaming and nervously wakeful alike. Soundlessly I call out to them and very slowly, reluctantly they descend until I can almost see them silhouetted against the heavily mumurous paean of stars above. They hate their bondage but are more afraid of my wrath if they leave before my time.
So I hold court again. The power that temporarily drove them from me has almost dissipated, though powerful traces of it still linger and I must be careful. They themselves will not move again until it is safe but I can wait for now. Enough hours of darkness remain, but slowly a doubt grows in me that builds towards terror at the thought of the apostles Peter and Paul of Tarsus returning, somehow hearing or innately knowing their work is undone.
They must hear, must know of the hooded figure with the Praetorian escort which would have emerged directly from the palace and marched the short distance here, doubtless of its return happening even now. Their spies will tell them and the city will tell them. There is no doubt those vengeful fanatics will come again now when I am at my very greatest extreme of vulnerability.
I lie in paralysis again, monstrous fear building and wresting away my tenuous hold on reality. It is all I can do to keep the shadows here. My grip is less sure than it was. Now I sense their fear of me ebbs infinitesimally. And here at this moment absolute true clarity of mind and memory returns to me as the overpowering urgency of real imminent peril shocks me back into an awareness more profound than even full wakefulness.
All remaining pain and disorientation and trance perceptions rip their veil from my consciousness as two hated figures reappear in the torchlight by the Temple of Venus portico (ironically enough) and after having a brief word with the clearly sympathetic soldiers (Great Gods, are these Christians everywhere?! The legions are supposed to serve Mithras and Caesar alone!) step into the empty and silent Forum.
It is as if we are alone in the universe together.
They wear deceptively poor travelling clothes and carry those small mean fish-embroidered badgelike calfskin bags of theirs, clearly on their furtive sneaking way out of Rome before Claudius recovers from his babbling vapours and seeks revenge. Checking their vile handiwork, just to be sure.
They must see or sense those malevolent shadows that should not be here if I am truly dead and gone, consigned to the unbeliever’s Hell they preach.
And who would know more of Hell and Pandemonium than I. Me, their greatest adversary and the only one to expose their lies and treason to that male whore Nero and his mad doddering cripple-uncle Claudius, the very Fools of the Age.
Both of them puppets, simulates of power animated by its physical and psychic energies but only from outside for they are shells without essence. Tiberius had true power as did Augustus before him and they were masters of those elusive but colossal phasmas emanating from their people that seek an instrument of will and wilfulness that will discipline their wild yearnings.
Augustus and Tiberius both transformed and violated Rome; they married their whore and in a sense made themselves respectable before the empire. Claudius and Nero will only ever be fleeced and devoured by her. What Nero fears most of all is that my own fate signals and punctuates his own vulnerability to new powers manifesting in this vast, cruel and magnificent internationality he pathetically seeks to personify.
Scorpion Nero; I have made certain your fate is already sealed and the venomous spiral-serpent of the Punic Curse will forever viperously coil around and through all of you proud imperials until it drags the Imperium itself to ruin.
Enough of these thoughts of a just vengeance, my old adversaries approach now and I dare not let them hear the chaos of rage and affront and agony that wracks my disordered soul and I make a Herculean effort to calm my inner storms and quell my very being into a stasis that might pass for death.
For I must be dead to them and to the watchful gaze of Rome and the baleful all-encompassing attention of those accursed hate-consumed paranoiacally judgemental Christians who see and hear unto the very Abyss where I cannot hide from them. I must vanish from history itself into apocrypha and obscurity and unreliable legend to save myself and all I have laboured to create.
I know utterly who I am now, as the disciples arrive to stand gauntly over me in a cold void that has suddenly deepened immeasurably and wrapt itself around me with stifling funereal constriction. And the grim shadows have subtly retreated now, leaving only me upon this deathly stage as wizened Pious Peter gazes down like an impassive basilisk and Paul like the beetle-browed baboon he truly is. It is Peter’s scrutiny I really fear from long, long association.
He knows me as I know myself and that is why I fear and hate him so. Even more than his master the Nazarene.
I am Simon Magus of Gitta and latterly of Kerioth: sorcerer and confidant of the emperors Tiberius and Claudius and King Herod Antipas of Judea. Originator and founder of the Gnostic revelation these servile sorry Christians call Heresy and me Heretic. Author of the Apophasis Megale, the Great Pronouncement whose truth was foretold by the sacred prophets. Initiate to the profound and forbidden magic of Egypt, adept to the Mysteries of Zoroaster and favoured student of the Magi of Persia. And more I dare not name, for the possession of my soul is upon His Majesty’s whim. I am the personification of the divine voice in the Aether chosen to give over cosmic wisdom to a humanity labouring in savage darkness.
Father of Judas Iscariot: destroyer of He who would supplant my rightful place as the herald and incarnation of Deity. I looked into the face of the saviour, of the messiah, and when he asked me to believe I turned away from him knowing the truth of what he said. And I did not care that I was damned by this for all eternity and in the eyes of history. For it is not history that will bring me to judgement.
Just before coming here I repaid a long debt of hatred and finally destroyed my arch-rival for control of the Gnostics, Menander in a fitting and just and terrible manner.
It was at my instigation John the Baptist was beheaded.
I caused then watched Jesus Christ betrayed and crucified.