as I slept, I dreamed of traveling in a small boat up a wide river at
night. A single lantern dangled above my head, attached to a pole
driven into the back of the boat. From here, the Ferryman drove us
forward with a single long bamboo pole.
was a small man, unassuming, unremarkable in appearance. He was easy
mannered, as calm as the gentle waters around us. He looked at the
black water confidently, as if he knew every drop of that made up the
won't be long now," He assured me. "We'll reach the island,
will we know it?" I wondered, looking back over my shoulder.
smiled as he guided the boat along.
candles." He answered.
knowing what that might mean, I turned my eyes forward. I held both
sides of the narrow boat, scarcely enough large to hold me, and
looked into the darkness. All around I heard the sounds of life along
the river banks. Bugs sang their sweet songs of chirping love
searching for mates, while the occasional monkey howled and a bird or
to felt compelled to cry.
was a truly wild place. As it should be, an island that was home to
forgotten gods, could only be in a place this remote and untamed. It
was a place void of the mortal bodies and souls who had once raised
them up to the height of heavens with their praise.
guide drove our boat forward as his lantern swung gently back and
forth in the still air. His was the only light for a time. Then in
the distance, tiny yellow flickers appeared. They seemed to gaze at
us like the eyes of vigilant jungle cats.
it is." The Ferryman announced. "We should be coming to the
village of Deities and Heroes fist."
I wanted to ask how many villages were on the island, but I held
back. There would be plenty of time for questions when we touched
lights grew brighter and multiplied as we approached. Each passing
moment, allowed this ever burgeoning crowd of orange flickers, to
illuminate fragments of the world that was around them. Melting
candlesticks appeared beneath them, followed by sword-blade shaped
shadows of palm leaves. Last, came the round stones along the shore
and the stone lips of a great cave.
the time we reached the shore, the Ferryman and I could see the
hundreds of wax candles and a small peddle path that wound up to the
tied our vessel down and followed the rock tongue to its gaping
mouth. The Ferryman led the way with his lantern.
we reached the mouth, we spotted the soft glint coming off the
breastplate of a guard.
Ferryman, ever confident, waved to the figure.
Anubis. It's your turn to keep watch?"
moved closer and the figure stepped into our lantern-light. Above his
shimmering breastplate was a necklace of intricate stone chips, above
that a jackals' head of ebony fur with sharp ears, a long nose and
thick amber eyes.
is friend," The dog faced man spoke, leaning his hairless
muscular arms on a golden spear. "Not that I have much to watch
out for except your sad looking face. Do we have a visitor tonight?"
The Ferryman moved his lantern in my direction.
eyes met the Jackal god's. He seemed strangely cold faced.
He said after looking me up and down from scalp to toe. "The
others are inside eating. Artemis had enough fortune and light to
snag a pig today."
bid the watchmen farewell and entered the caves. We took our time,
gingerly making our descent along wet stones and soft, slick mud. As
in the boat we soon had orange lights to guide us. Two fires blazed
in the distance, encircled by a dozen or so male and female
bodies....some sporting the heads of various animals.
chatter around the flames stopped as we approached the circle. In the
fire light, I saw the garb of dozens of long vanished cultures and
peoples. Mayan and Aztec gods in grass skirt and jade crowns sat
beside Greek and Roman deities and demigods in togas. Across from
them, the crocodile headed Soka of Egypt shared a swine foot withe a
horn helmed Votan from ancient Europe. Beside them, Hercules shared
wine with Miyamoto Musashi from Japanese lore.
and myths great and small from so many corners of the globe. Once
mighty, they lived in darkness, aided only by a few fires.
olive skinned woman stepped forward, clutching a bow and arrow in
each hand. I knew her to be Artemis the Greek god of animals and
welcome to my pig. As is your friend."
you," He said. "We've journeyed far in this dark. My friend
has questions for you as well."
do our best to answer." Artemis replied. "But first we
Ferryman and I ate and drank with the other gods. Whenever I could
look from my meal I searched for other faces I could recall from
history and mythology classes in primary school.
the Indian thunder God was one. A bearded Thor with a rusting hammer
Jason, Achillies, Quetzukhatal. Being up close, for a
prolonged period of time, I could see the wrinkles in many an
immortal face, the weariness in eyes that had glimpsed eternity.
Even joksters, like Loki and Coyote seemed somber and cold in the
the big was done and wine passed around, courtesy of Bacchus, the
gods stares all turned to me.
what brings you to us?" Thor croaked. "Have you come to
take some pictures like a tourist?"
looks like one of the pseudo-spirituals to me." the cow headed
Hathor mooed. "Come to find himself and absorb all our 'great
gathering laughed aloud but I wasn't greatly offended. I had the
sense these abandoned gods were laughing at themselves as much as
they were at me.
have only some questions." I replied. "And I hope you can
grew quiet and a few moments of silence passed, broken only by the
snap of burning wood.
ask away," Quetzukatal said.
I asked basic questions.
place is called the island of unneeded gods. Are all of you here
because you were forgotten?"
replied first, leaning on his lightening bolt.
no. Many of us are still remembered, by scholars, teachers and
dreamers but we are no longer worshiped. Are temples are museums.
Our priests dead. No one sings songs to us or asks us for our aid."
are not forgotten, just not needed." Athena said from beneath
her tarnished helm. An owl sat on her shoulder, it's feathers
molting. "If we were completely forgotten we would die."
Athena answered. "It was always our best kept secret but we can
only die if forgotten entirely by mortal hearts. This is not necessarily true of all those who live on this island but that is how
we who live here survive. Yet memory alone does not give us power."
was then that Thor interjected.
have no power now, save the stories and deeds associated with our
memories. Our greatest hope is that we inspire dreamers to make new
stories and new heroes. These new stories always pale in comparison
to our deeds...indeed we who are here lost the hearts of men and
women to greater stories and heroes who destroyed our own...today,
all we can aspire to is to become the foundation stones of today's
Gods and not die forgotten."
who pass on, we honor with small statues." Apollo elaborated,
gesturing up the cave wall.
followed his arm to a series of small niches carved near the ceiling.
In the dim light I could make out that nearly all were filled with
small figurines; of what material? I could not tell.
were they?" I asked.
and heroes who were adored and abandoned long before us." Thor
replied solemnly. "They were old when we arrived and perished
you are the only ones left on this island?"
Hercules grumbled from the back. "We are one community there are
others. We can take you to them after some sleep."
some sleep would do us good." The Ferryman agreed.
could have stayed up for a few more hours. I had so many questions
about these neglected gods and how they lived on this dark island.
Yet the Ferryman assured me there would be time if I truly wanted and
we had other places to visit. We slept on straw mats, fashioned by
Demeter, on the hard stone ground. I couldn't help but wonder if the
gods around me felt the same aches and groans after sleeping on
stones for so long? Had it ever bothered them at all?
I awoke it was still dark. The fires had gone out yet the candlelight
lingered outside. I drifted back to sleep, hoping that when my eyes
opened a second time, the sun would be out. Yet when the Ferryman
shook me out of my dreams the night was still draped over the world.
this island, the sun never shines." The Ferryman explained as I
stood and heard the gods stirring around me. "There is only one
way the gods can illuminate their world."
it turned out, the illumination came from the hundreds of candles
outside the cave. Each time a person in the world humankind learned
of their story or deeds, a candle appeared and ignited on one of the
rocks in front of the island. A candle's life lasted as long as the
person's memory of the god remained intact. When the person died or
forgot the story altogether, the candle's flame went out.
after they had slept the gods would go to the rock with their name
carved on it and picked a candle to use as their light in the
darkness. The candles were the only way they could light torches and
fires to allow them to search for food and water. It was the only way
they could light camp fires to keep them warm and cook when they
wanted to sleep.
I watched the strange assortment of mythical men and women collect
their candles for another hard day of survival, I reflected on how
arduous their lives were. Without faith and the need of people to
believe in them, they were as weak and mortal as anyone.
Ferryman and I followed Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, as she
snuck through the jungle. We kept quiet as we moved in the tropical
underbrush. The island's wild creatures chirped and called all
we trekked through brush and vines, I came to believe my eyes were
adjusting to the dark. All around me the shapes of leaves, branches
and soil became more visible. In time though, I realized that there
was bright light ahead of us. The closer we came the more everything
around us became clearer.
on ahead and follow the brightness to the next village." Artemis
said when we reached a moisture soaked wooden fence which marked the
boundary on the community we would soon be entering. "They will receive you, but I'm afraid they are hostile to me and my kind."
she left us, the Ferryman and I stepped over the fence. I asked him
why the people in the village were so hostile to the gods.
is the village of philosophers and thinkers," He explained to me
as I made out the thatched roofs of several huts ahead. "or
rather the thoughts and worldviews of philosophers and thinkers. Many
of these were opposed to the idea of blind faith, superstition and
magic. They may have believed in god or gods but they lived by reason
became confused immediately.
they never believed in gods why do they share the same island of
Ferryman smirked knowingly as we passed by a field of corn. By now
the world around us had become almost as bright as day. My
eyes hurt as they struggled to adjust after a full day of pitch black
philosophies share the island," He corrected me. "Philosophies
and worldviews that sought to be as all knowing and authoritative as
any church dogma or temple priest. For a time their ideas were like
gods to the men and women who believed in them. Now, however, they
too have been pushed aside to the realm of memory, supplanted by new
philosophies and studied only in academia for a time before being
pushed aside. Yet, because they are remembered more often their
village is much more illuminated than that of the old gods who must
scrounge with only a few candles to survive."
struggled to make sense of this as we entered the small village of
huts where history's great philosophies now lived. So many candles
burned here, that the inhabitants had put them in lanterns and strung
them up over the roofs of the houses in an intricate spiderweb of
light and vine. A great bonfire with a wax foundation blazed in the
men who were working in nearby fields of crops, fed by the light of
their admirer's candles, approached us. A spindly Voltaire, his wig
discarded, spoke first and introduced his companions. Moustachioed
Nietzsche, white beared Marx. Others gathered around in time,
Descartes, Spinoza, Confucius, Sartre and a lively and lengthy
I can't recall of what was spoken but I can remember a few more
interesting tid bits. I admit, even if I knew every word of this
great gab-fest I doubt I'd be able to properly digest it enough to be
able to accurately share it.
the beginning of the convocation, I asked Voltaire why his reason
based philosophy had placed him on the island:
strange isn't it?" He admitted. "I tried my whole life to
crush superstition and religion and make people trust in reason. Yet
I share an island with deities and demi-gods. Truth be told, it was
the passion and belief that people of my time held in my work. Men,
like that Robespierre guillotined aristocrats and clergymen in the
name of reason and Enlightenment with the fervor of Templars and
Hospitlars. True, reason and rationality were always the center of my
worldview, but like those who worshiped Apollo or Jupiter, these
words became empty slogans, preached by rabble-rousers to those who
were not willing to think for themselves."
spoke in a similar vein:
believed Nietzsche's words, God was dead. Their was no place for gods
and magic in the world of proletariat revolution. No need for the
'opiate' of the masses. Yet, like Voltaire, many of the people who
read me created governments that taught people to believe in a system
without question or reason. My words, misconstrued and misinterpreted
often, were as authoritative as the bible."
teachings made no mention of gods and men. That was an issue I left
for the temple. My concern was with order and harmony in society. For
centuries, my words kept the Emperors of China in power, creating an
Imperial system of bureaucracy that kept the rulers of the Middle
Kingdom on high. My teachings were the bread and butter of every
public servant in China for over a thousand years."
Many other spoke as well but after a long discussion, the camp broke
for a midday meal of biscuits and roast chicken. The philosophers were
sadly not as skilled cooks as they were thinkers and talkers, but
their food tasted well enough and filled our bellies.
is a third community on this island?" I asked Spinoza as he
finished his last bite of chicken. "Apart from this one and the
look weary as the words entered his ears.
He said, a grimness blooming in his eyes. "A day's walk north,
you will find the village of Tyrants and Dictators, men who made
their words divine through fear and savagery. Speaking against them
was a kind of blasphemy that could see you tortured and killed by
their own inquisitors. These are dark and dreadful men, who put many
of my fellows here to shame for using and misusing their words."
for our safety, I asked the Ferryman if it was a sound idea to
don' need to worry." He assured me. "The men of that dark
place know me as the gods and the philosophers."
shaken, but trusting in my guide we bid the village of thinkers
farewell and started north. Soon enough the light of their candles
dimmed and we were back in pitch-black jungle.
walked through increasingly land. Soon all we could hear were our own
souls crunching leaves and and branches beneath our feet. The
Ferryman explained that all animals kept away from the north of the
island, save rats and snakes. In time, even the trees grew fewer and
farther between. Thick jungle gave way to open fields with scattered,
fallen trunks and gnarled stumps. Even the trees seemed afraid of
this part of the island.
A smell, at once burnt ash and decaying mildew filled the air. My nose
had steeled itself to the odors by the time we spotted the lights in
the distance. These small flickers were deep red at their center, and
icy blue on the rim.
Ferryman once again enlightened me.
men and women and seldom remembered in a positive way. They inspire
memories of despair, fear and bitterness in most. Such dark
recollections produce only dim lights, that can only provide enough
light for catching vermin, growing moss and fungus...and other
as we closed in on the perimeter of the tyrant's village, the red
lights only revealed a small portion of the dark, moistened wooden
stockade that surrounded it.
reached a tall pair of rotting doors reeking of mildew. A pale
skinned man in armor bearing a sharp mustache approached us. He recognized the Ferryman and let us pass.
Inside, ramshackle huts barely stood on waterlogged soil. The inhabitants,
tyrants and dictators from days past sat with their heads between
their knees staring into the blood light of their red candles eating
away at black wax. All were so thin and disheveled that I often
couldn't recognize them. The Ferryman had to help me.
scrawny and black bearded, sat with his arms across his chest while a
grizzled Stalin stared emptily into the sky beside a long haired,
pencil thin Mao Zedong.
are they so sad?" I wondered. Compared to the other villages,
these villainous men seemed the most crestfallen.
were men who became gods through the terror they inspired. They ruled
through fear, and fear made millions bow to them and their every
thought and word. None could question them without losing their
lives. They were all powerful in their own times and their voices
spoke with the power on the same level as divinity. Here, they are
only men among equals. Gone are their armies, their thugs and
parties, their secret police and propaganda machines. All they are
left with is themselves."
ushered me in, deeper into the community. The shivering outlines of
fallen tyrants lined the muddy pathway to a blood red fire crackling
beside a house.
tall man stood beside it, turning a piece of meat on a spit.
many of others, his wooly face prevented me from identifying him.
is Muammar Gaddafi, one of the newcomers to this sad place,"
the Ferryman told me. "Like many who came before him he wants to
be powerful, and even though memories of him provided enough light
for a fire he wants to know he will have plenty of food and memory to
last him. Look closer at the meat."
did as he asked and inspected the rotating flesh. It was not long
before I spotted a brown, slightly burnt human nipple on one of the
stood back in horror. He was cooking the remains of another man.
is he eating?!" I managed to blurt out after struggling to keep
my stomach from somersaulting out of my mouth.
Ferryman's reply was as calm and collected as ever. The haggard
looking Gaddafi seemed oblivious to us as he continued to prepare his
burning pieces are all the remain of Saddam Hussein. Each time a new
dictator rises to prominence he consumes the memory of the man who
came before him. Stalin absorbed Lenin, Idi Amin absorbed Obote.
Here, the consumption of the other makes their lives longer."
by this dark place, I demanded we leave and return to the boat. The
Ferryman idly consented and we left the island. I was glad to leave
that black island behind.