Copyright © 2009 by William R. Mistele. All rights reserved.
How to introduce this story? It is based on a woman I know. She read my essay, Twelve Traits of Undine Women, and then called me wanting to know how I could describe her so well. (See the essay that follows this story).
A mermaid I consult with informed me that this woman was once a mermaid and then subsequently acquired a human soul. There are at present on earth only a very small number of women who were once mermaids but have since acquired a human soul. In this story, I describe how this woman, basically one in a billion people, had the other four elements united with the water in her mermaid soul so that now she has the soul of a human being.
Caelius Aurelius Luscus and the Mermaid
In the beginning was an awareness. There was no “I” or identity within it. Unlike you, environment and self are not separate. But to be eloquent and concise, put it this way, “I was and am an awareness of the oceans encircling the planet—North, South, East, and West, surface and depth.
Human beings have trees that they make into wood to build tools, furniture, weapons, fences, homes and to plant and harvest orchards. They walk on dry ground and breathe the air.
You have words you use to record events, to communicate either in writing or by speaking aloud. You have five senses that operate, for the most part, in a solid environment.
You shape earth. You drink water and use it to cook. You control fire and metabolize food and oxygen in your bodies.
Your environment is your test—you use your wits and your courage to test its boundaries and to extract from it knowledge. With that knowledge of how nature works—its routines and patterns, its surface and its hidden, underlying mathematical matrix—you rise and ascend, reaching for the stars.
My environment is not a test I master in order to ascend. But this does not mean that I do not evolve. I am aware of ocean currents and how they affect the rest of the world. Weather and climate, ice ages come and gone, species when they appear, fish, animals, birds, human beings—the presence of your ships and fishing industries is hard to miss.
When a human being is curious, he invents a car, an airplane, or the means to transmit electricity. He fills in for what is missing in an overall pattern—the periodic table, subatomic particles, the motion of celestial bodies, the evolution of the species, geological ages, the creation and distribution of wealth, racial types and medical classification of disease and treatment.
I too am curious. It is not like the curiosity of human beings: “I will invent this in order to solve that problem or answer a question.”
My curiosity is the curiosity of nature itself: What species will replace Homo sapiens when they are gone? When will the next ice age come and for how long? How will the next asteroid that hits affect the oceans? How will changes in cosmic or solar radiation alter the climate? These questions are not all that different, are they, from what your scientists ask?
But how about this? When will an intelligent species within an “advanced” civilization embody the love that exists within the ocean? When will the dreams within the heart of the Goddess that is this planet become the dreams within the hearts of living beings?
Your race is known for its pursuit of knowledge and its technological advances. I think you are asking the wrong questions. The human heart, for all its capacity to wonder and to quest, contains a vacuum within it. You have an emptiness within and you do not know how to fill it.
I am the power of water with its capacity to flow, to let go, to be in the moment without prejudice or attachment. My way of knowing is altogether different.
To be as me? Imagine you are the sea encircling the world. Imagine its surface and its depth. Imagine the shores, the islands, and the rivers feeding into it.
Come down into the ocean trench. Sense the mountain ranges and the valleys, the volcanoes, the hot springs, the accumulation of silt, the temperature falling, the light and darkness, the salt and fresh water flowing, the heat exchange at the surface, and the icebergs drifting.
Now overlay this with life in its vast variety. Mammals and fish, amphibians and algae, plankton, amebas, and microbes too.
Now take a day in the life of the sea, now a year, a century, or a million years too. And sense in that defined period of time one feeling, one energy, one vibration, one common denominator for the diversity. Sense how that quality is flowing and changing.
Imagine further that this energy of the sea, this state of being and love, is flowing through you endlessly.
What do mermaids do? I have just told you what I do. Beyond the ability of the human brain as you know it, I am an awareness of nature and of life as it unfolds.
I am relaxed. I flow. I am in the moment without worry of how the next moment will go.
To be specific so there is no confusion, I share in common with you the delta brain wave configuration. I am the awareness that you meet in deep, dreamless sleep.
My curiosity got the best of me. For reasons I won’t go into, I wondered about humanity. It was not, “I wonder how the human race is doing?” It was more like “What is water in human form?” Can the bliss be as intense? Can they hear the songs of the moon? Can human beings feel one with the sea? In their hearts, have they learned to be free?”
In the depths of the ocean, in a deep, dark trench, I sat at the edge of a cliff, my tail dangling over, and asked these questions. And then, as easy as it is for me to sense an ocean current as it rubs against a continent to the North or to the South, I let my awareness drift. I found myself in the body of a woman sitting in a bath in ancient Rome.
She had dozed off and was in deep, dreamless sleep. Though her mind was turned off, there was still plenty of awareness to be found. I felt the moisture on her body, the open pours of her skin, her heartbeat, and the way her body leaned against the marble. I felt the mosaic tiles beneath her toes and heels.
I heard the sound of water dripping and felt the vapors forming where the heat from the water meets the cold air. There was the scent of skin, towels, linen, and crushed flower petals in the air. With the scent came pictures of flowers from gardens, fields, valleys, and mountains.
Her body, when asleep, was in a state of peace. There were no needs. The vibration of deep, dreamless sleep is almost exactly the same as the vibration of the ocean deep. Pressure and metabolic activity in the body are different, but there are water and salt and my consciousness can move between the sea and these almost without effort.
And then she woke up. She was not aware of me. Her brain waves retained unconscious vibrations for five minutes since waking up is a gradual process. Even so, it was obvious that this person was plagued with unhappiness. She felt shame, hatred, animosity, fear, repressed desires, and barely controlled passions. She was a disaster waiting to happen. In her self-loathing, she had declared war on herself.
If she could, she would have preferred one final battle--victory or defeat, winner take all. But her life offered no such opportunities, no definitive confrontations, no capacity to clarify her personal boundaries. She hated being dependent on anyone. She wanted freedom, freedom from need and freedom from society, and that was never going to happen.
Her mind began to speed up. She was thinking about the arrangements for a party and what she would have each servant do. She arose from the bath, dried off, and dressed.
I did not follow her long. I returned to the sea where there is indeed peace and freedom from need.
Three months later I came back. She was lying in bed on her back. She was content to remain in a void without consciousness, beyond thought or perception.
And so I opened her eyes and looked at the wall of the room and out through the window at the morning sky. The light was citrine and magenta with a hint of crimson and violet. I dropped my eyes down and looked at the man lying next to me.
He was still asleep. I entered his dream. He was talking to the captain of a ship in his fleet that sailed the Mediterranean Sea. He had far reaching commercial activities.
A storm had suddenly come down. Rain and surging bow waves, spray and lightning were all about. “Reef the sail. Steady! Hold the helm! Bear off. Ride the storm out,” he yelled at the captain in the dream. The ship was nearly lost.
I turned the dream off. The ship in my mind rode the storm out and now it was dawn and the winds were gentle. The mast unbroken, the sails were full.
Caelius Aurelius Luscus is a distinguished Roman senator. Skilled as a negotiator who works with men who feel fear, greed, and passions of every kind, with a glance into someone’s eyes Caelius can often read the other’s mind. For him, desire is a function of situation, personal history, expectation, dreams, and market conditions. If survival is not an issue, then the rules are fairly simple: you enter the other’s thoughts and look around until you find something to trade that is of equal and fair value.
But at this moment, as Caelius gazes into what should have been his wife’s eyes, he is overwhelmed. He forgets the fact that this is his wife who hates him, her life, and everything else. Instead, in this moment, as if ensorcelled by some vision, he falls into another dream--he is on a beach at twilight cooking a fish he just caught. And across from him sits a woman. It is his wife’s body, but it is a different soul inside. And then he falls asleep again.
That evening, Caelius sits on a balcony of his villa. And as the moon rises, he writes these words about that moment he shared with an unknown woman who gazed at him from the eyes of his wife’s body.
I remember the sea and how she came to me
Like a wave breaking on the beach,
The water reaching and then receding,
Soft, slippery, and tender, caressing my fingers
And then slipping back
Intimate yet detached
Like images on surface of a mirror
Receptive, responsive, enfolding
A man lost at sea, found by an island
Crawls upon the sand
He faints from exhaustion
Waking, he finds a peach in his hands
To taste, to eat
Her eyes deliver me from my pain
When I gaze into them
Every single time.
Caelius, though an excellent judge of men, is not lucky with love. As you must realize by now, fortune does not always smile upon him. So when a moment of tenderness appears, like a flower blossoming in a desert, he knows how to cherish the gift when it is given, no matter how fleeting.
It happens again a few days later. His wife is brushing her hair as she looks into a mirror. Caelius enters the room. She puts the brush down. She turns and looks at him.
The wife is gone. It is a different woman, the woman who changes dreams, who takes away pain, and who inspires poetry. Caelius turns and leaves the room quickly in order to hide his tears.
Later that same day Caelius made haste to depart for the Senate. There has been some commotion. An issue has to be resolved and Caelius is often called upon to find a solution.
His friend, Marcius Quaratus, has rushed to the villa. Sweat is on his brow and his breathing is still rapid.
“We vote him the title of Princeps and what does Tiberius do? He refuses! What is our next move?” Marcus asks irritated, feeling the emperor has made the Senate look like fools.
“I’m coming. Storms often blow themselves out soon enough,” replies Caelius.
As he is about to leave, his wife approaches him. With a voice Caelius has not heard her use before, she says, “There is danger here. The senators feel they must act. The emperor will be more receptive in a few weeks. Wait until then to discuss options.”
She then kisses him on the cheek as he leaves. This is clearly not his wife, Caelius thinks. What spirit strives to possess her? he asks himself. But matters of state push themselves to the forefront of his mind this day.
Several days later, Caelius ponders his problem. Not one to wait when action is required, he does what anyone in a position of power does when important issues must be weighed. He consults with a professional in order to understand what can be done.
There is a seer, a wise man who is gifted with prophecy. The seer has no association with any cult, temple, or deity, though he is from a family line of soothsayers, augurs, and astrologers. He lives by himself in his own villa attached to a large farm outside Rome. The fact that he had his own estate is testimony to the services he provides the wealthy. Though Caelius has had several referrals in the past to this seer, the seer is not well known. It is as if this wise man and free lance prophet prefers to live quietly and without recognition. The man is a contradiction.
Caelius visits him one evening and explains his problem, namely, that he thinks his wife might be experiencing some sort of spirit possession. The man looks at Caelius and senses that Caelius is holding back. The seer then asks, “The first time this other woman appeared in your wife, what happened?”
Caelius explains about how his dream had changed as he opened his eyes and looked into hers. “Anything else?” the seer goes on.
“That same night I wrote a poem,” answers Caelius. “Quote me this poem,” the seer says stroking his chin, looking up, and closing his eyes as he prepares to listen.
After hearing the poem, the seer reflects as if recalling myths from long ago, “This is not without precedent. The second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, had Egeria, a nymph of fountains and flowers as his consort and advisor.
“You will need to go to the temple of Apollo, the one erected by Augustus on Palatine Hill. Apollo had trouble with water nymphs. Don’t you see, he sent a muse who inspired your poem.
“You will need someone to speak on your behalf. Apollo is Cicero among the gods. Daphne escaped Apollo by praying to her father, a river god, and Castalia fled also blending into a spring of water at Delphi. The priests of Apollo will aid you in order to placate their god; Apollo would like to see a man win a nymph, especially this one who gives her love willingly.
“Wait. I take it back. Everything you do from this moment must remain hidden. We dare not involve more than one other. Forget about the temple of Apollo.
“I know the high priest of the temple of Jupiter. He will suffice. Your situation requires the highest authorization, the right words spoken, and the intent confirmed through ritual transaction.”
“I don’t follow you,” Caelius’ responds. “What is all this about temples and rituals?”
“Oh, yes of course. You, a man who knows the Mediterranean Sea like the back of your hand, you are not familiar with these other things of the sea. For reasons beyond human understanding, a water spirit most profound has taken an interest in you. I’ll say it again: this is no ordinary water nymph being chased by a god in some story by the Greeks.
“She also has two sisters who walk among us, having joined their souls with humanity. Now she prepares to come over as well.
“Love is the bridge. Both realms must agree. On her side, she is free. But for her to stay, to play it safe so the love you give does not fade, she too must be brought over.”
“The two of you must swear an oath at the temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill using the Iuppiter Lapis, the Jupiter stone. There are a few daily rituals to be followed. But the priest will assist you with the details. What is important is that you do not hurry—go with the flow.”
“What about my wife?” asks Caelius. The seer replies, “I will not speak on this matter other than to say, wait a year or so. She has her own fate and will not stand in the way.
The seer goes on. “I must insist again, do not tell anyone else about any of this. And do not consult with the priests of Neptune. I know it seems obvious that the god of the sea should be your primary focus. But his priests will question the propriety of your actions just to be annoying. The sea is not losing anything here. The gift has already been offered. It is up to you and to humanity too to receive what is given wholeheartedly and without reservation.”
“I have not contemplated any of this,” replies Caelius. “Speak simply—what are the options in the case of spirit possession?”
The seer waits patiently a few moments staring calmly into Caelius’ eyes. He then says, “This is not a spirit possession unless you are ready to say that those who love are slaves. You are on the verge of sharing a love that appears only once or twice in each century.
“You have three options. Do nothing and you risk losing this creature of nature imbued with divine grace. In any moment without explanation she may return to the sea. I, dear friend, am no Orpheus with the power to enter another realm and have a spirit follow behind me as I return to our world. If you lose her, she is gone forever.
“Second, if you desire her, there are ways to entice her to remain. You may give and receive pleasure. You may share love. But when either of you dies the love will only be a memory, like a dream, that fades away. She returns to her realm beyond human reach.
“Third, you are free to invest her with a human soul like your own. In this case, she will be bonded to humanity. The love you share in this life will remain part of your soul forever. Not only that. She is a gift from the sea to humanity. A new love shall take root on earth. It shall grow and flourish down through the centuries.
“No one can tell you what to do. An empire is founded and maintained by power. But the choice you make can only be guided by the love in your heart. But if I were you, I would look at the poem you wrote.”
“Is that everything?” Caelius asks.
The seer says nothing.
“Is there something you are not telling me?” Caelius restates the question.
“Because of my vows, I must answer when a serious question with good intentions is put to me. But you must refrain from sharing this discussion with anyone.
“As we speak, in the East a great world teacher has appeared; he promotes a new religion of love. Yet even he who embodies the light of heaven is not permitted to share with humanity the love you taste. In a distant future, these things shall be spoken of openly. But for now silence must reign.”
Over the next year, from time to time the mermaid would appear even as his wife disappeared. Was his wife aware? When she was not being mean to servants, drinking too much, or shopping for some next mosaic, Greek vase, Egyptian goblet, or some other work of craft or art, she did notice the way Caelius was alert around her. He was differential, as if whatever she did it no longer bothered him. In her presence, even when she spoke with a tongue of poison, he was patient and tolerant.
She let it go by. His comings and going were of no real interest to her. Affairs of the state were only good for gossip and entertainment as far as she was concerned. And she always felt distaste that her husband was involved with the commercial activities of shipping and trading. Such interests brought her no social status.
One night late after a party had ended his wife was in the kitchen intoxicated and screaming at the cooks. Glasses and plates were thrown against walls and floors. And then she came out, sat on a couch, fell over, and was asleep.
Caeleus lets out a sigh and walks out into the hall. The next thing that happens is that the mermaid’s hand has taken his as she whispers into his ear, “Come with me.”
She leads him out into the gardens of the villa. Like other patricians’ estates, he has paths among trees and a fountain with flowing water. Holding his hand, she smiles as she steps into the fountain and draws him to sit down beside her in the pool. Ripples from the falling water curl around their waists.
She then slips his toga off of his shoulders and arms. She does the same with his tunic underneath. Then very gently with her fingertips she begins stroking his upper arm and chest. The touch of her fingers are as soft as a feather, barely moving during the length of a breath.
After ten minutes of this she says, “I know you like this.”
Caelius replies, “My body loves it but my mind is perplexed. What are doing? It is neither a massage nor is it a caress.”
She replies, “The skin is a second body with its own language. The muscles say, ‘Release my tension so I can relax and feel happy.’ But the skin says, ‘Touch creates love and the feeling of connection.’
“Touch such as this is heart to heart and soul to soul. It is love without being possessive. It is being sheltered by another’s heart. But you must look for it, otherwise it remains unseen, the words spoken unheard.”
Caelius then slips her stola off as well. For the next hour they sit in the bubbly water softly caressing each other. With only the faint light of the moon reflected off of the garden walls and through the trees, you would have had to look very carefully to determine if two people were sitting in the pool or two statutes frozen in an embrace.
A year later, Caelius’ wife falls sleep while taking a bath after a heavy bout of drinking. She slips down into the bath, wakes up briefly, looks up at the surface of the bath, and struggles to stand up. But then she decides, as if all of this is happening to someone else, that the effort is not worth making and she drowns.
A moment later the mermaid steps out of the bath. She dries off, dresses, and goes to assume her new duties as the wife of the senator. Having found the body of the wife abandoned, she brought it back to life. Whether she remains now depends on Caelius.
Though the mermaid had sometimes fallen asleep with Caelius, she was never there in the morning. Other than the first time, it was always the wife who wakes up next to him. The next morning is different.
When she opens her eyes, Caelius looks into them and asks, “Are you here to stay?”
The mermaid replies, “As long as you want.”
Caelius, following the seer’s instructions, makes an appointment with the head priest of the temple of Jupiter whose first name is Lucius.
The temple of Jupiter is the foremost temple in Rome. The head priest, accordingly, is a member of the ruling families, highly educated, and well-trained in religious doctrines and practices. An astute observer of human behavior, he knows the activities of Rome and follows significant events occurring across the empire.
The priest is also a man of power. Though he rarely acts outside of the boundaries defined by traditional rituals, in a pinch he know that rituals have to adapt to changes in power as a town has to adapt to changes in a course of a river.
Previously, the seer informed Lucius about Caelius’ situation. Lucius considered the problem complex but not beyond the range of his power. The temple contained in its archives the spiritual history of Rome. There had been many unusual requests and rituals performed over the last few hundred years. Some were equal in magnitude to this one.
Lucius explains to Caelius that the main difficulty is that this is not a problem that can be resolved by performing a ritual. The resolution requires a special bond be created between Caelius and the mermaid.
Caelius is not an initiate of the mysteries so this stands against him. On the other hand, Caelius has a highly skilled mind and an imagination that he uses to weigh every option in a crisis. In any situation, he knows how to negotiate and how to formulate a fair exchange.
There are times when experience with life outweighs the significance of religious observance and knowledge of the inner planes. As Lucius sees it, Caelius can act as his own priest to intercede with the divine.
Lucius, however, designs several customized rituals for Caelius and the mermaid to engage in during the new and the full moon each month. He also has Caelius construct an outdoor bath with gods and goddesses placed into the mosaic representing the four elements of nature—earth, air, fire, and water. These elements can be drawn down into the bath, invoked or evoked, to accomplish what is needed.
The real problem lies with the fifth element of spirit. This will have to be transmitted directly from the soul of Caelius to the mermaid. Just before dawn, whenever Caelius is at home, he is to sit in the bath with the mermaid before the sun rises.
The priest explains to Caelius, “It is not the light itself but the spirit you put into the light that makes the ritual effective.”
Caelius asks, “How do I place into light the power of boundless spirit?”
Realizing a Muse will have to assist in the process, Lucius writes for Caelius a short petition to the divine which he is to speak aloud. The words call out to the light of heaven and also speak to the heart of the mermaid. They are to be spoken just as the first rays of dawn touch their skin:
From darkness light
Behold the sun upon the horizon
As its rays draw near
Witness love’s transformations
The child’s first breath
The lover’s first kiss
The seed within the earth awakens
Until the flower blossoms
By the power of love
The two of us are one
Neither life nor death
Shall separate us
What I am is now part of you
Equally as what is within you
Is now part of me.
Over the course of the next decade, Caelius and the mermaid meet many times before dawn waiting for the sun’s light as they perform their ritual. During this time, the mermaid residing inside of this woman’s body never fades. Instead, the mermaid acquires new abilities to enhance the soul she already possesses.
There are other interactions of a magical nature that occurs between the two of them. When Caelius has time, he sits with her for an hour each day without moving. Sometimes they sit next to each other at his villa overlooking the sea. Sometimes they face each other holding hands. During this time of quiet repose, he feels free. Nothing else in the world matters. Time dissolves.
All the same, he can feel her aura as it gently surrounds him, taking hold like a mist that flows down a valley or a fog that rolls in from the sea. He feels her around him and gradually she flows into and through him.
If tenderness can take the shape of moist air, cool and refreshing, gentle and embracing, then her aura is tenderness similar in sensation, caressing him from within. The temperature around him drops five degrees. There is no chill.
After sitting in her aura, he feels he can see the entire Mediterranean Sea before him. He can tell how each of his ships is doing, its progress and the weather around and before it. But he can not communicate with the captains or give them directions or warnings.
It is the oddest feeling, he thinks—he feels like he can sense the waves moving in their myriads of patterns across the Mediterranean: The huge waves rolling with storms; the cliffs where these waves break; waves continuing to roll on a thousand miles after the storm is gone; waves caught off guard with white caps new born struggling to rise as a storm crashes down; the gentle waves circling in a bay; the ordered waves of a steady wind and the crisscrossing waves among the islands of the Aegean Sea. In some places, the waves are wild and in other places the sea is calm. In a few places, the sea is a mirror where barely a ripple appears.
He knows it is heresy, but in truth he feels at such times that he has been transmuted into the god Neptune. He watches over the oceans from a state of great peace. The storms and waves obey his will. The sea is his servant, like a bride who yearns in her heart to please and to unite. These are feeling that do not belong to mortals but only to gods.
And so one day without violating the specific directions of the seer, Caelius stops by the temple of Neptune. One of two in Rome, this is the Basilica Neptuni, dedicated by Agrippa in celebration of the naval victory at Actium. The temple stands on the area of Rome referred to as the Campus Martius.
Caelius quickly attains an audience with the highest ranking priest. After preliminary greetings and honorifics are exchanged, after a donation that the priest finds to be quite interesting, the priest asks, “Senator, you have a question or a petition?”
Caelius replies, “You understand, I have ships at sea all seasons of the year. Your temple is obviously of great importance to my work. But my question is more of a personal nature. If you could speak informally to me about a question that has captured my imagination?
“Humm. Then I’ll take off my robe if you do not mind. Would you like some wine?” Asks the priest.
“Yes. Thank you,” replies Caelius.
“Go ahead, then, what is your question?” asks the priest settling down onto a couch.
Caelius asks, “Other than the normal responsibilities that accrue to a god who rules a kingdom, what activities occupy Neptune’s time? What does he do during the day?”
“A day in the life of the god Neptune?” The priests laughs wholeheartedly. “Wouldn’t you prefer a poet or story teller?” he asks rhetorically.
“As priests we perform rituals, sacrifices, libations, ceremonies, and we preside over festivals. In brief, we give something to the gods and they give something back in exchange. Honor and respect are common currency in all realms mortal and divine, as Odysseus learned the hard way.
“When a supplicant is desperate, I sometimes recommend that he cut himself and place a small vial of his own blood on the altar. Then he prays and meditates. And finally he takes his blood back and anoints himself with it.
“Having mingled his blood with the inspiration of the god, the same life force and vitality flows through each. And so insight arises naturally from sacrifice and spiritual union. In this case, the life force in the blood is the medium of exchange.
“But this example does not apply to you. You want my expertise, the insight I possess as Neptune’s priest. What you ask is most curious. I would never have thought to ask this question myself.
“To answer you, What does the god Neptune do? The questions leads to other questions: Can a mortal ever understand the mind of a deity? Do a god’s actions known or unknown ever reveal what he can do if he were to choose something new?”
Waving his palm from left to right in front of the face of Caelius, the priest says, “Give me a moment. What I now do is not forbidden yet it is not part of our religion. I shall put aside my mortality and my guise as a priest. I shall imagine that I have become Neptune. Now then, what am I doing right now?” the priest asks himself as he falls into a trance.
“With a simple glance, I can see into the waters’ depths—every fish and sunken ship, the hills and valleys, the caves and mountains that become islands—all of this I can easily survey. The storms, should I ignore them, go their own way. But should I choose the storm clouds can express my rage and the peaceful sea my tranquility.
“When I take my ease, the wind is my consort at night and during all hours of the day as she caresses the seas that are for her my body, forming waves upon waves. She is one with me and knows my ways. And when it rains the rain is my moist fluids nurturing the earth, satisfying thirst and the desires of fields and flesh. I am water in the springs and lakes and rivers—they are my bloodstream. Lightning is my heartbeat. In all seasons of the year, whether you see it or not, I am always near.
“The outer forms of nature cloak and conceal yet also reflect and reveal my innermost essence: I am the lord of water, salt or fresh. Its mysteries and treasures are mine to possess or to protect. I have an interest in horses, it is true. But the nature of my being is to nurture and to dream.
“Though I helped found Delphi, what is not well known about me is that I have a gift for prophecy. Like water, I nurture the seeds of the future. All that shall be passes through me. In the depths of my heart are found the sites and sounds of civilizations long gone and of civilizations unknown that belong to the far future. You see, I get around.
“The time displayed on your calendar is by necessity an illusion. It keeps you busy and engaged in productive activities. But for me, the moment ‘now’ encompasses the past, present, and future. It may appear that on occasion I doze off and lose interest in military campaigns, noble deeds, which emperor sits on the throne, and whether his borders are sound. But I assure you, when I relax my awareness increases geometrically.
“People may think of me only when their needs pertain to the sea. Yet the great men of your race, the heroes and explorers, your sages and seers, have yet to chart the open spaces of my heart.”
And then the priest chants in a deep, resonate voice completely unlike his own. There is a hint present, a faint intonation reminiscent of thunder pounding a distant horizon:
There are those among you who dream my dreams.
Listen carefully. These are my children:
They feel what others’ feel
They have the power to heal
When they love
They neither take nor possess
For like me,
They are one with the sky and the sea--
The waters of the earth flow through their souls
Each moment is both sensual and divine
And their vision transcends the limitations of time.
There are a few moments while the priest is silent. Then, opening his eyes, he looks at Caelius with a spontaneous smile lighting up his face and asks in his normal voice, “How was that? Have I answered your question?”
“Yes,” replies Caelius.
The priest goes on, “Good. I am glad. Perhaps you might send me your best recollection of what I just said. The reason I ask this is because when I speak like that imagining myself beyond human form I can never recall what I say. It is most annoying. In order to speak from another place, my memory is the sacrifice.”
“I will write down what you have said and send it to you this very day,” replies Caelius. And this Caelius does.
One evening, in the fall of AD 30, Caelius steps into his bedroom. There the mermaid stands naked, her silhouette outlined by the rising moon. She turns to him, taking his hands into hers. She says, “Do not align your self with Sejanus or the house of Julii. The emperor will turn against them. In my dreams, I see many bodies being thrown into the River Tiber.”
“How do you know these things?” Caelius asks.
She says, “I can sense the soul of anyone on earth. Sejanus is like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse—he is all predator, tight, vicious, with claws extended.”
“And how do I avoid becoming his prey if I refuse to support him?” asks Caelius now grasping her upper arms as her arms circle his waist.
She responds, “It is my nature to affirm life and not to harm so I do not involve myself in the affairs of state. But I will protect this family. If Sejanus even thinks your name I will erase the thought from his memory.”
Caelius looks at her. He sees the moonlight luminous in her hair. He wants to kiss her lips and feel her body against his. He wants to sit with her quietly as they do every day when he is with her, to feel time dissolve and the worries of this world fade away.
Her body has the scent of orchards and the flowers of spring. He kisses her lips, feels her response, and feels deep inside that their bodies are already joined.
To touch her skin is to find new kingdoms of the heart waiting to be explored. But in her eyes he sees great waves from the sea ready to flood the world if need be in order to preserve the things she loves.
He says to her, “It is best to not send a fleet to sea in winter. The winds can be dangerous.
He goes on, “You alone can understand my prophecy and how long it will take before it is fulfilled: one day a few men and women will use your power to establish peace on earth so war is no more. They shall do this without destroying or taking away but by turning malice into nobility. Wars will be fought not on land or sea but in the heart. And in that day no one will seek to cross swords with those hearts are as deep as the sea.”
In the Spring of AD 31, Caelius is summoned to meet with Tiberius at the emperor’s retreat, Villa Jovis at Capri. When Caelius walks into to the emperor’s hall, Tiberius is laughing where he sits at a table on the balcony. The emperor is reading a second time Caelius’ summary of the priest’s channeling of the god Neptune. The head priest of the temple of Neptune had taken it upon himself to give the transcript a title—A Day in the Life of the god Neptune.
Tiberius stands up gesturing wildly at the sea and says, “I wonder, will anyone ever write A Day in the Life of Tiberius Caesar Augustus?
“I do not see into the depths of the sea. I have no winds that comfort me. I have no knowledge of the far past or the distant future. What I do see is my own civilization destroying itself. I am sure many other civilizations will destroy themselves in the future just as easily; no warning I could send could postpone those events by even a day. My senators are the same. There is no wisdom in them.
“What is my day like? I mope. I rant. I rage. I grieve. I sleep poorly. I have indigestion. I drink excessively. Some accuse me of debauchery. And I worry about betrayal by my consul Sejanus and his supporters.
“I am no god. But here is true delight--that one man is curious enough to ask what a god does with his spare time. If the gods have not struck you down for your hubris, then, like me, they must delight in your uninhibited curiosity.”
Caelius replies, “I had no desire to offend.”
“On the contrary,” replies Tiberius waving the paper in his hands, “Your concept is pure creativity—you put a god on display to entertain.”
Tiberius sits down suddenly. He points his index finger at Caelius’ face and speaks slower and with suppressed rage, “You know, if it were not for you, I would have ordered the execution of the entire Senate. In my night, even a dim light appears bright. I know who you are. And so I ask you, What do you do when you lose as much as I have?
Caelius says, “What is lost shall be found. It shall come again unexpectedly, in a new form.”
Tiberius: “Spoken like a sailor who trusts the winds, tides, and the sea to bring him safely home. No one ventures into the unknown without trust or faith. In spite of my pain—you continue to believe a new day will dawn with hope reborn.
“I have lost my faith. But you Caelius Luscus are touched by the hand of the gods. Some benevolence hidden within nature holds you in its embrace. Even an inferior emperor such as I notices these things. I would make you tribune except I like you just as you are. In this way I will know that at least one person in the empire has peace within his soul. I find that concept comforting.”
With a bleak look, Tiberius waves Caelius away with his hand and then leans his chin on his palm. This strange encounter with the emperor over, Caelius returns to his villa in Rome.
Caelius and the mermaid survive the coming purge lead by Sejanus and the one that follows initiated by the Emperor in response.