Magus decided that Utnapishtim had learned enough to begin practicing sorcery. At the start of the month, Magus took Utnapishtim to the aetherial realm.
Utnapishtim was confused by the aetherial realm. “Magus,” they asked, “why can I see but not with my eyes, feel but not with my skin, hear but not with my ears, speak but not with my mouth, or move but not with my legs?”
“We are in the realm aetherial,” Magus said. “Elements here are different from the realm physical. There is Dream, Phantom, Quintessence, Occult, and Mystery. It is always just aside the realm physical, and dependent on it. Once you become adept, you will be able to move through both the realm physical and aetherial at the same time.
“Sorcerers do their work in the realm aetherial, and it has effects on the realm physical. This can be a dangerous and confusing place, so I am taking you to the Guide Hour, where you can center your soul. Sorcerers return to the Guide Hour if they are wise.”
They approached the Outer Gate of the Guide Hour. Utnapishtim saw nothing beyond it but thick fog.
When they passed the Outer Gate, a place emerged from the fog. A path passed through an Inner Gate. It branched before the seat of a masked figure. The figure sat on a platform.
Magus and Utnapishtim stood before the Inner Gate. Utnapishtim looked upon the three branching paths. One led to Mount Yog, one to the World Tree, and one to Ego Lake. Mount Yog was so big, its peak looked down upon the entire universe. Ego Lake was so deep it went to the core of the universe. The River of Spirits flowed from the top of the mountain down to feed Ego Lake, nourishing the World Tree. Ego Lake’s water evaporated and collected into a mighty storm around the peak of Mount Yog. Beyond it all was the Desert of Mu.
“Go,” Magus said, “you must reach the peak of the mountain and dive to the bottom of the lake to begin your sorcerer’s training.” Magus pointed to the path on his left, “This path takes you to the top of the mountain. Be warned, without guidance you will lack enough strength to make it to the top without going mad with knowledge.”
Magus pointed to the path on his right, “This path takes you to the bottom of the lake. Be warned, without guidance you will lack enough breath to make it to the bottom without drowning in terror.”
Magus pointed ahead, “This path takes you to the World Tree. Be warned, without guidance you will lack the understanding of good and evil to live from its fruit.”
Magus then gestured to the path at his feet, “Follow this through the Inner Gate and there you will meet the Guide. Do not ask them to remove their mask, for they are anyone. The Guide will bring you to the top of the mountain, the bottom of the lake, and the fruit of the tree. When the Guide asks you why you approach, tell them you wish to know your soul.”
Utnapishtim followed the path under the Gate and approached the Guide. The Guide sat on a seat while Utnapishtim sat before them.
“Why do you sit before me?” the Guide asked, “You do not need me to mine the mountain, drain the lake, quarry the desert, or cut down the tree.”
“I wish to know my soul,” Utnapishtim said.
“Have you lost your memory? Were you not born into a name?” the Guide asked.
“I may be any of those things, but I wish to know my soul, not just its sign.”
“Then you must go deeper into and farther from the sign to see beyond it. View through the Guide Mask for we are anyone, and anyone is part of the World Tree,” the Guide said.
So Utnapishtim viewed out of the mask. Anyone began their journey.
On the first week, anyone traveled into Ego Lake.
On the second week, anyone traveled up Mount Yog
On the third week, anyone traveled to the Desert of Mu.
On the fourth week, anyone traveled to the World Tree.
Utnapishtim becomes Anyone
After a month, Utnapishtim returned to Magus who asked, “what did you learn?”
“Teacher,” Utnapishtim said, “I learned about the spirit of the Guide. I saw what they saw, I felt what they felt, I knew what they knew, I was where they were. I could feel what hurt them, what nourished them, what made them do what they did. It was clear to me the magics at work which made up their spirit; how Atlantis, race, money, ghosts, nation, gods, history, class, myth, beauty, and more made them up.”
Magus nodded. “You will find the Guide Mask reveals spirits for all things. To become proficient in magic is not to become independent of a Guide or a Guide Mask. Only fools try to approach the mount, lake, or tree without a Guide Mask; if they try they find themselves confused. A proficient sorcerer can put the Guide Mask on anything, including themselves to see the spirits.
“Must I carry it around with me to be a sorcerer?” Utnapishtim asked.
“You already do,” Magus said, “Tell me, what did you learn in your first week?”
The First Week – Ego Lake
“In my first week I learned about myself and the magics which surround me,” Utnapishtim said. “I approached Ego Lake with the Guide. The lake had a thin layer of ice upon the surface, polished clean by a strong wind that blew across it. It was so lacking imperfection that it reflected all things like a mirror. A spirit called Narcissus stared at his reflection upon the ice, his face lacking a Guide Mask and his lips wet with milk, honey, and blood; he had been affixed there for many lifetimes. Another spirit called Misoegus was also without a Guide Mask. Misoegus was reaching out to grip their reflection, their hand punched through the ice mirror, with an invisible grip suffocating them in return. Their face was blue and their eyes bugged out. When I looked upon the ice mirror I saw my reflection.
“I swam down to the bottom of the lake and there was a great feast at the bottom. The feast was rich with meats, honey, and milk but I did not eat it lest I drown. So I turned away from the feast and looked up out of the pool. I was overwhelmed by what I saw. I could see currents of magic flowing through the worlds and the lights of the universe. I was surrounded by vibrant and ever-shifting colours. The heat as I sunk lower became oppressive.
“The currents took shape like a great ape, ugly and alien who looked into my eyes with fear and suspicion. At first, it seemed as if I was separate from the currents, but then I found I was being pulled downward. I was important to the lake; it would not let me leave. In my terror, I panicked and wondered if I should eat the feast at the bottom so I could enjoy one last thing before I was lost. I refused the temptation and instead faced the great ape. It matched my attacks and defenses. Tiring from the lack of breath, I stopped and it stopped with me. I smiled and it smiled back. I tried to befriend it, and found that I could navigate the currents. Sometimes I kicked to create little currents of my own. I could feel my connection with the magic and how my soul could make its own current. In the darkness, I saw the Guide Mask and swam up to it. When I reached the surface, I saw that I had been sitting on the shore the whole time as anyone, looking upon the reflective ice,” Utnapishtim said.
Magus said, “my student, you were wise to befriend the ape. That creature is your familiar. It is a spirit tethered to you long before even your soul formed. It has been with you your whole life, and it knows everything about you. It desperately wants to love you, but as with all relationships, you must cultivate it. Many drown at the bottom of the lake fighting with their familiar, thinking it is an enemy that must be vanquished. But it is a deep part of you; you must cultivate a healthy relationship with it. A strong magician has a healthy relationship with their familiar, and a good name for them.
“As for the feast, you will come to enjoy it in time. Many drown in terror at the bottom of the lake thinking that magic is something they can consume as a fuel for their desires. Others indulge in the feast too early in their training thinking it a gift. Some take off the Guide Mask to feast and become trapped by the lake, not realizing it is the Guide Mask who keeps them safe. They are pressed down by the currents and drown. However the feast is neither a fuel nor a gift. It is the sublime passion, the deep-cold, the Idtide.
“Despite these dangers, it is important to dive to the bottom of the lake and return before approaching the World Tree. If you do not, the World Tree will seem alien and meaningless. Tell me, what did you learn in your second week?”
The Second Week – Mount Yog
“In my second week I climbed up to the top of Mount Yog,” Utnapishtim said. “At first my ascent was pleasing; as my view of the world grew, I found happiness and support for my thinking. There were many paths that circled around the mountain rather than going up it. I saw many wandering souls and hours who circled endlessly, thinking they were ascending. On the lowest path, I spoke to one called Latan, who told me trusting their explanations will solve all my problems. In response I said:
Anyone may know truths But no one has all truth And no one truth solves all I grant you no power over me
“I ascended to the next path where I found one called Lot. They told me that when the world ends, I would see how right they were. In response I said:
Why do you damn this world? It does you no credit to seek validation in doom You cannot impress those who are destroyed I grant you no power over me
“I rose higher. I met one called Lath, who told me there were secrets and agents that threatened all of reality but could not tell me what they were. In response I said:
If knowledge is power, your hearsay is poison I will not trust what you cannot credit Back up your words with action and evidence or else leave I grant you no power over me
“Ahead them I stepped up another path. It was walked by Aonat, who enthusiastically told me what they didn’t believe. In response I said:
If you only push away, what are you going towards? The good is not just the absence of the evil It is a thing unto itself I grant you no power over me "The final path was walked by Elaot. They told me with great concern that all truths were lies. In response I said: Is it a truth which you tell me? Verily, truths are knowable, facts may be discovered To believe you is to unravel the mind I grant you no power over me
“Until this point the journey was easy. As I ascended further, the skies darkened and a terrible hot rain began to pour. The rains washed away dirt, clothes, and flesh. I tried to find rest from my ascent, but the flow of rain and water pulled me to one of the circular paths below me. So I pressed on until there was nothing left of me. When I reached the summit I was purified, not even my bones remaining.
“Upon that black peak lava flowed from that primordial spring of the depths. There was a great throne of glowing orbs, surrounded by floating souls who were unborn; between death and life. I looked upon the world and saw all of its mechanisms right down to the finest detail. Gears turned within gears within gears. The higher I went the lower I was, and the lower I went the higher I was. I looked at myself without myself. None of it mattered. I knew gnosis but found that I did not care. I felt lightheaded in the thin air and thought perhaps I might float like the other souls.
“A soul called Sisyphus joined me. He pushed a huge boulder and balanced it at the summit. He sat upon the throne of glowing orbs and looked out upon the same view as the rest. The boulder he pushed was smooth from rolling. The path I travelled up the mountain must have been established by Sisyphus and his boulder. He smiled and said:
The horizon seems farther the higher I go My boulder seems bigger the lower I go This I know Beyond I do not Oh may I never stop climbing
He took in deep breaths to enjoy the view, but became lightheaded just as I was. As the thin air overtook him, he lost the boulder’s balance and it rolled back down to the base of the mountain. He now had to repeat his ascent. He followed it happily. I looked around and saw the Guide Mask at the base of the mountain. I kept my gaze upon it while I returned. By the time I reached the bottom, I cared again.”
Magus said, “well done my student. To ascend to the top of the mountain is to gain perspective of the worlds and universe beyond them. You were wise to avoid the circling paths. Many try to ascend the mountain but become mad with deception, conspiracy, insecurity, or unyielding contrariety; stopping before reaching the top. To get past this is to encounter the storm; the Heavengale. If someone cannot be cleansed of their prejudice, bias, and fallacies in the storm, they will likely fall onto one of those circling paths. To leave those paths you must acknowledge you are on the wrong path, but many find that difficult.
“At the summit is the high-heat, the Edenvent; that primordial source of all live. Once it lay at the bottom of the waters, and it was there that life sprung forth. The throne at the summit is called Yog-Lothoth. To sit upon Yog-Lothoth is to become omniscient, to sit outside the universe. But to do so is to sacrifice meaning. All who sit upon Yog-Lothoth risk losing their reasons to leave. They can inhabit any layer or portion of the universe, and so might never return to their own. Lost souls here are asphyxiated by knowledge and privilege. Making it down the mountain can be as difficult as reaching the summit. You were wise to look to the Guide Mask as a way back to the base of the mount.
“Despite the danger, it is important to ascend and descend the mountain before approaching the World Tree. Without it, the World Tree will appear beyond reach and fated. Tell me, what did you learn on your third week?”
The Third Week – The Desert of Mu
“On my third week I traveled to a desert which the Guide did not follow me into. I found it was an endless place, but a peaceful one. Upon those endless white dunes I traveled far away from the mountain and the lake. It was clear that one could easily be lost there. Just as water evaporated from the desert, so too was the magic evaporating from my soul. But the peace of the desert came with the price of being empty. I felt my needs press in on me, my breath, my thirst, my hunger, my warmth, my shelter. I was free of magic, but not my body. So I focused on my body, and came into control of my desires. Without magic flowing in and around me I could feel purely, simply. I was calm, and felt able to think clearly about what mattered. I was left with just my body and my feelings. Seeing clearly, I could quiet my mind.
When I was ready, I decided to return. Suddenly, I had returned, just by thinking about it. After walking into the desert for some time, I turned and found I had barely gone anywhere. But that was not all. I was overwhelmed by my senses. I found that everything was wondrous. It was so pleasing to take care of my needs, and all my feelings were clear. When I drank water of the River of Spirits, Scioconplexus, I saw magic more clearly than I ever had before. Through the peace and emptiness, I found clarity in magic and the mundane. I must return there regularly.”
“It is good practice to do so,” Magus said. “The Desert of Mu is where magic dries up and sorcery loses its power. You were born through it, and when you die you will pass through it again. The Desert is the boundary of your consciousness. Your need for the Guide Mask remains as you enter the desert, but it is a gentler need than the Mount or Lake. Thirst will draw you back to the River of Spirits, and then hunger will bring you to the World Tree. Spending time in the desert will heighten your awareness of magic and give you awareness of the World Tree you would have missed otherwise. It is hard to taste without hunger, or to quench without thirst. In addition, many find fasting in the Desert of Mu a good way to find peace after being filled with fruit of the boughs. Tell me, what did you learn on your fourth week?”
The Fourth Week – The World Tree
“On my fourth week I went to the World Tree to eat its fruit,” Utnapishtim said. “The Guide gave me a ladder, then stood back to watch my climb. I saw multitudes under the tree’s boughs, all eating of its fruits and finding shade.
“I used the ladder to climb the tree and eat its fruit. The lowest bough was called Carneconplexus and it bore no fruit. I ate the dark bark. It was bitter and nourishing, fortifying me. My flesh became my love. I felt raw, and cared for nothing but tomorrow. I only cared about my physical needs. My soul began fading; I was fading, leaving an animal body. I nearly forgot to step up to the next rung. When I remembered, I had to force myself to step up.
“The next bough was called Egoconplexus and it produced a sweet fruit. It was sweet in my mouth, but it soured my belly. The sweet juice gave me power, but the sour belly made me feel empty. I was overwhelmed by love for my soul. To serve my soul, I created grand stories and did massive feats to make my soul beautiful and worth remembering. Other lives did not matter, I used them only to give me more fruit. Some ate the fruit themselves and used their power to step up to the next rung, but I did not understand them. I cared about them only so far as they gave me more fruit. But eventually, my sour belly enveloped me and my power shriveled up. The others who used their strength to step up to the next rung then seemed wise. I used the last of my strength to move up to the third rung.
The third bough was called Nosconplexus and it produced hard seeds. I ate the seeds. They chipped my tooth and granted me vitality. I felt connected to a few others around me. We were joined by a deep love for one another. But there were others. I only felt connected to those who were like me, all others were enemies. We fought our enemies with the vitality from the seeds. Sometimes we lost, sometimes we won, but we fought forever. We achieved great feats in our struggles, creating amazing monuments to our power. However, I knew it would not last. Eventually we would be destroyed like so many others we left in our wake. Then I saw some of my enemies step up to the next rung and send the fourth fruits back down, but not just to their allies, to everyone. Many did not like the fruit they were given. I did not understand why they gave the fruit to everyone, but I wanted to help my allies. Maybe with the fourth fruit, we would survive our doom. So, even though I felt as if there was much to do at the third bough, I pressed to the fourth.
The fourth bough was called Aliuconplexus, and it produced golden leaves. The leaves pierced my tongue but calmed my heart. My tongue bled, but it tasted like more than just my own blood. I could taste all bloods. The blood soaked into my heart and it beat as if it pumped the blood of all people. Those I once saw as my enemies I could then see as my siblings. I found that I loved them as I loved myself. I felt a great urge to share this and for everyone to stop hurting each other. So I gave the golden leaves to everyone I could. Many did not eat of it, some tasted it and spat out the blood, and some ate of it and turned to stone. Only those who had stepped up to the fourth bough swallowed the blood and did not turn to stone. I felt like it would be wrong to move from this rung, or to stop giving the fruit to others. But my body began to weaken. I gave so much of myself that my strength shriveled up, it became difficult to give. Then I saw others who stepped up to the fifth rung. They stayed there for a short while, then climbed down the tree to build more ladders for more people. Guilt kept me on the fourth bough until it was nearly too late, but I eventually stepped up.
The fifth bough was called Omniconplexus and it did not bear fruit, but accepted it instead. The sunlight nourished the top of the tree and soaked into my flesh. Its light enriched my skin and brought clarity to my view beyond the tree. I could see the world as a whole, with all entities and their experiences being a part of it. I felt at once like I was at the bottom of Ego Lake, the top of Mount Lo, and deep in the Desert of Mu. All the world was one and I loved It. I saw the world as it was in that moment, and could see the problems that needed improving. There were things to do, things that would take me away from that view. At first, the thought of leaving made me feel sad, like I would lose something by climbing back down into the dirt. But I looked around and I saw others who had not left, and they were burned by the sun’s light. Once I began to feel the sun burn my own skin, I climbed down to do what I could. When I got to the bottom and looked back up again, I saw someone familiar looking down at me.
I understood then why the others who had seen the light were building more ladders to climb the tree; it seemed like an obvious part of the good work. Many would not reach the top, but any fruit would be better than eating the dirt; Nihilconplexus. There is fruit upon every bough, and all bring nourishment.”
“Well said,” Magus smiled. “A sorcerer withers without varied nourishment. To eat only the fruit of one bough is to refuse the other fruits. There is fruit upon every bough, and a sorcerer needs all of them. Goodness is not stagnation, but a constant movement; a flow of love.
“My pupil, you have received the greatest nourishment. The familiar entity looking down on you was Terra, the god of the World Tree. The good work is caring for the World Tree and harvesting its fruit, and in doing so we worship Terra; the I of all.”
“Now that you are done, do you know your soul?” Magus asked.
“I can only remember it. Did I fail?” Utnapishtim said.
“In fact, you see clearly. Those who think they can always see their soul are fools. Just as the face cannot know itself without the distance of its reflection, so the soul cannot know itself without the distance of memory. This is why you must wear the Guide Mask. It is so you can be anyone, and view your soul as anyone would.”
“Then I will practice wearing the Guide Mask, for myself and others.” Utnapisthim said.
Together, Utnapishtim and Magus left and passed back through the inner gate.
Leaving the Aetherial Realm
Utnapishtim and Magus made their way past the outer gate and returned to the physical realm. They returned to where they were, seated comfortably around their campfire. The constellations swirled above them.
“Was that all there is to see of the aetherial realm?” Utnapishtim asked.
“No,” said Magus, “the realm aetherial is larger than you could ever know. The Guide Hour was just one place, found by passing through the gates. But the tools you find there, and the techniques you cultivate, are useful in all realms. There is much more to explore, but we must sleep.”
And so the master and acolyte continued on their journey, preparing for Atlantis to sink into its slumber.