Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Tale of Néhété

Don't sit too close to your fire, inhale the smoke, asphyxiate, and die. Today's the Holy Day of Néhété, God of Smoke and Poisonous Air, and that would just be ironic and sad.

Kalambaka at night

Mists of darkness swirled thick and slow, deep in the primordial age, long before there was earth or mankind. Far above the murky fluids of the sea, the heavens revolved sedately around the darkness. The sea was both Kérasa, High Goddess of Water, and Her dishonest husband Hívo, God of Clean Water; the heavens were Their daughter Sívorí, Goddess of Stars; and the darkness was none other than Their son, Néhété.

Far above Their quiet parents, Sívorí and Néhété held an eternal discussion on as many subjects as there are stars in the sky, if not more. Néhété would ask a question, such as why the stars twinkle like they do, and Sívorí would always have an answer, such as stars twinkle because they are so far away and all extremely distant objects twinkle. Néhété would then ask another question, such as how we know that all distant objects twinkle. Years, cycles, and great cycles passed without notice as the two gods entertained each other this way.

During this wonderful conversation, Néhété and Sívorí managed to beget children, as did Their parents and Their siblings. The most powerful new god was Sorosotuzho, God of the Atmosphere and so much more. Sorosotuzho didn’t like how dark the universe had always been, so He created the sun to bring light to the world. Néhété, however, felt that the light was completely unnecessary, and so He returned the world to darkness, the way it had always been.

Néhété returned the peaceful darkness to every nook and cranny of the universe, cloaking the world with heavy mists. Néhété’s daughter Rakazhazhíní, Goddess of Clean Air, did not like the mist, so She undid Her father’s work, wafting away the clouds. Rakazhazhíní pulled away the darkness, letting the sun shine again.

Néhété scolded His daughter, asking Her why She would do such a thing. He promptly regenerated the darkness and cloaked the world in night, which Rakazhazhíní turned back to day. Néhété turned it back to night. His daughter turned it to day. And so the cycle of dark and light continues to this day without cessation.

After many years of creating darkness, all the while still holding enlightening discussions with Sívorí, Néhété and His close family were caught up in Korutuzho’s battle for control of the universe. Korutuzho, God of Agriculture, was the son of Sorosotuzho. Without rationale, Korutuzho despised all the elder gods -- Néhété, Sívorí, and Rakazhazhíní among Them -- so when He became King of the Gods, He banished all the elders to the underworld.

Néhété was understandably upset to lose His position in the sky, but He and Rakazhazhíní continued to make day and night unabated. Néhété and Sívorí began a lengthy discussion about Their new home, discovering all sorts of intricacies about the underworld and the afterlife, about departed souls and the path to reincarnation. Sívorí took the time to write down a synopsis of Their learning, crafting the Book of the Dead, with instructions and incantations for every soul of god and man alike.

At the gate to the underworld, Néhété created two rooms for every soul to pass through. One room holds a smoldering fire with noxious fumes that erase a soul’s memory. The other room is full of burning incense, the scent of which causes a soul to remember its past after reincarnation. Néhété presides over these rooms, questioning every approaching soul on which it would prefer and why it chooses as such.

Eventually, Sorosotuzho and the other elder gods escaped from the underworld to return to Their diminished places in the pantheon, but Néhété decided to stay behind. To this day, He and Sívorí still assist Pétíso, God of Death, in His judgment of all deceased souls. Néhété asks penetrating questions of the arriving souls while Sívorí gives Pétíso sage advice and interpretation of the souls’ answers.

One day, a non-deceased soul arrived at Néhété’s doors. She was Vuzhí, Goddess of Life, but She wanted to control more. She already was mistress of all living things, causing plants to grow and animals to run strong. She could bring human beings into existence, but Vuzhí also wanted to control them after they died.

When Vuzhí stopped at the gate, Néhété asked Her why She wanted to enter the underworld while She lived. Vuzhí claimed She wanted to talk to Pétíso about a personal matter. Néhété could sense Vuzhí’s circumspection, so He pressed Her further. He asked why She would want to go to the underworld when She was needed up above to keep the flowers blooming and life thriving.

Vuzhí claimed it would be just a short visit, but Néhété did not believe Her. He turned Her away, refusing entrance to either room and reminding Vuzhí that only the dead could enter Pétíso’s great hall.

So Vuzhí went away, but the next time Pétíso was above ground, taking His team of ink-black horses for a ride, Vuzhí made sure to be on His route. Vuzhí and Her friends danced through a meadow along the road, plucking flowers and singing songs. Vuzhí wore Her finest white gown, with Her golden hair tied up with ribbons and jewels. Exactly as She planned, Pétíso rode His chariot through the meadow and stopped abruptly at the sight of the beautiful dancing goddesses. Vuzhí sauntered over to Him and, with a calculated giggle, introduced Herself.

Barely a minute had passed till Pétíso, completely smitten by Vuzhí’s wily feminine charms, split the earth asunder, creating a chasm route directly to His home. Vuzhí climbed aboard His chariot and down They rode, completely bypassing Néhété’s doors.

Without Vuzhí, much as Néhété had feared, the world died. Leaves fell from the trees, leaving scraggly branches scraping the sky. Flowers wilted and shriveled into moist lumps of rot. Without food, animals either fled the land or starved to death. Human beings struggled on the best they could, hunkering down around their fires for warmth against the cold storms that wracked the land.

Néhété closed both entry doors at His post and went to see Pétíso. The God of Death and the Goddess of Life sat side by side on Pétíso’s throne. Vuzhí watched gleefully over all the souls now in Her charge. Pétíso looked nowhere but at Vuzhí. Néhété told Them of the destruction and devastation occurring above and asked the two gods if They cared. Neither did.

Thus rebuffed, Néhété left the underworld and traveled across the desolate terrain to the castle of Sozho, High God of Air and King of the Gods. All the gods were in such a tizzy. They saw the damage done to Their world, They knew it was Vuzhí’s fault, but They couldn’t find Her. Néhété immediately informed Them of Her location.

Storming into Pétíso’s great hall, Sozho ordered Vuzhí back to Her duties above ground. Vuzhí refused, quite enjoying Her new role as Queen of the Dead. Sozho demanded His brother Pétíso help Him. Pétíso refused, announcing that Vuzhí and He had married. Vuzhí could not be forcibly removed from Her husband’s house. The brother gods drew Their swords, just a twitch away from starting a war.

Néhété stepped between Them and held up His hands. He asked Them if They truly wanted to kill each other. Sozho remarked that He’d done it before and could do it again. Néhété said to let that be the last time, for He had a plan. Vuzhí would stay with Pétíso for half the year, but would return to Her duties above ground for the other half the year.

Nobody was satisfied, but They agreed that Néhété’s proposal was good and fair. Vuzhí returned to the surface, causing the plants to sprout and animals to bear young. This was the first spring season. It is thanks to Néhété’s wisdom that our world is fit for habitation at all. When winter ends, be sure to thank Him for His determination and glory.

Néhété is an ancient god and we must honor Him with the respect and sacrifices He deserves. Burn incense in His name. Breathe deeply of the smoke and question yourself. Inquire deep into your soul, for when you die, Néhété will penetrate it further than you can ever imagine.

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