She swept the sand off the temple steps along with a few dried leaves and grasses. Her eyes went to the edge of the dunes where the deep green forest abruptly met the smokey brown pebble- and driftwood-strewn sand. In her imagination, she could see him waiting for her there, just out of sight in the cool shade of the trees. His eyes, keen and discerning, would be trained on her, fathoming her thoughts and mulling over what lay in the depths of heart. She often wondered how much she could keep from those eyes that she often felt on her back as she bent to sweep and clean the white verandah. She felt that they knew her with an intimacy she could not understand. Those eyes. His eyes. The eyes of her Lord.
The priestesses who kept the temple agreed that there was something about the foundling that piqued their interest, held their curiousity. Her small face, housing bright eyes and her quick, sharp movements spoke of a mind filled with questions and teeming with thought. There were times when her eyes were so bright they seemed to light her skin with silver. Yet, she made no loud noises and she was given to silence and sitting in the heart of the temple for long periods of time; they had never heard her voice. She was a strange one, their mysterious acolyte.
They agreed to call her Dharma, although they also agreed that the naming was not of their own making. Rather, it seemed, that the name fell gently on the child as if the stars were calling her. The Eldest knew there was something strange in this naming and in this child and, on the day she was named, looked at the Goddess Necklace that none had ever worn in the recorded history of the temple. The first priestesses had always elected one to wear the necklace but the names of those holy ones were now lost to the whispering sea.
The God had brought it, the legend told, when his beloved took it upon herself to perform a severe meditation. He had challenged her in front of His court in the ice-covered mountains. Foolishly, he made light of her devotion and stung by his jokes, she declared that she would sit by the sea for ten thousand years in silence, turned inward until her body became transparent and pure. She rose from her seat of white silk and silver bells beside him and left the court. He let her go, believing that she was simply angry and would soon return, even while His heart began to grieve.
Months, then years passed (what are years for a God?) before He acknowledged that she must be serious and had really left His side for ten thousand years, and He set out to find her. He thought of the Mountain, who was her father, and how difficult it had been to win the old man’s approval. He! A God had to fight for approval! The very thought was an insult. And yet. And yet. The coolness of her eyes, the depth of her soul had won Him utterly and so He had vied for her. She was remote and yet, she was open to Him as a lotus in full bloom. He did not want to face ten thousand years without her. So, He set out in the direction of the southernmost ocean, knowing she would place the greatest distance possible between herself and Him.
The priestesses said that with each new acolyte, a stranger would arrive. Sometimes an old man, weak and tottering on a stick; sometimes he was young and vibrant and strong. He might be a woodsman, or a warrior or a beggar. Sometimes, he was as if washed up from the ocean itself. But always he would arrive. The legend survived that the God had brought a necklace to the women who had gathered about his beloved. The women who built white walls to shelter her and who took to carving those walls with unending stories. The legend claimed that the woman who had come to sit at the heart of their temple was mortal and she had, in fact, died many thousands of years before. Yet, she returned again and again to meditate and work in silence until her heart was pure, until her devotion was as flawless as the heart of a diamond. Until she became a Goddess.
The Eldest held the first written transcript of the story. It lay in the same box as the necklace. A box of clear crystal, offered by the ocean, that had, like everything else at the temple, been shaped and carved by a woman. The necklace was the only thing in the temple that had ever been touched by the hands of a man and the priestesses allowed it because they believed that it was no mortal man who had given it to them. For many years, the practice of giving the necklace had been forgotten but this acolyte was special. They could all agree on that. The Eldest gently took the necklace from its bed of white silk and silver bells, for she believed it was time for it to be given once more.
At the edge of her sight, she saw a movement and quickly looked up. Furtive shadows in the woods seemed to play with her mind. A cold breeze blew down from the north but she didn’t shiver. The icy fragrance made her think “Home” although she had no memory of any home except the one she was in now. She wondered what was happening to her for in her last meditation at the heart of the temple she had become invisible. Well, not exactly invisible, she admitted to herself, but she could see through her hands and feet. It was almost like she had become water or liquid crystal. In her mind, bells rang and the music of the universe ran through her. She told no one of the experience when she emerged, not even the Eldest. Somehow, she knew that was why she was there. It frightened her but there was a rightness to the experience, as if it had always been there, waiting for her.
Since the night she emerged from that meditative state, she had a terrible feeling of longing. Of waiting. She swept the paths, stairs and verandahs more often. More often, she looked to the forest. For Him. She knew but thought it such a a terrible conceit. What interest would He have in her? What a silly concoction of her brain! Still, it resided like a small, sad stone in her heart. She longed for His eyes, His voice. She was waiting for something. What? What … ?
The Eldest’s whispery steps brought her to the girl. She seemed sad but gently radiant in the evening light. She reached out and touched her hand.
A thrill. A shock. She looked up at the Eldest with a song of white fire in her heart. The old priestess held a necklace in her hands made of pearl from inland pools, silver from the moonlight and turquoise of the mountains. Somehow she knew that there was a turquoise and silver seat high in the mountains and next to it was one of silver bells and white silk. She turned from the Eldest’s eyes, gentle brown like the pearls, and looked to the forest again. He stepped out to meet her eyes. In her mind there was music and fire and the universe thundered through her veins. He came toward her with his hand outstretched. Finally. She was going Home. With Him. Always with Him. She was returning after ten thousand years – she was returning as the Goddess.
Faintly amid the noise and revelry in her ears, when He touched her shining hand, she heard the Eldest say, “The name of this necklace, given by the God, held in trust by us for the Goddess, is Dharma. And, it is rightfully yours.”