When I Was Your Age….


By Alex Bledsoe

Greek statues are said to have a life of their own.

     “Are your eyes still closed?” I asked my wife as I led her up the stairs.
     “Yes, and don’t think I miss the irony,” Tanna said.
     I guided her into the huge chamber, past the first of the columns, and gently pushed her back against the seventeen foot double doors. “Okay,” I said softly, “open your eyes.”
     She gasped at the forty-four foot statue of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, that dominated the upper level of Nashville’s full-size recreation of ancient Greece’s Parthenon. For a long, wonderful moment she was speechless. I don’t get that reaction from her often. “Oh, my,” she breathed at last, “I can’t think of words to describe what I’m feeling.” Joyous tears glittered in her eyes. “When all you ever see on this scale are depictions of an aesthete on a cross, to see a woman with such power…” She shook her head and kissed me. “Thank you for making it special like this.”
     A crowd gathered in front of the statue. “Is that your friend from the conference?”
     We’d come to Nashville at the request of Dr. Sherry England, who taught philosophy at Belletrist University, with a specialty in the work of the ancient Greeks. On Saturdays, she put on a toga and retold Greek myths for tourists at the Parthenon.
     We caught her final performance of the evening. A dozen tourists sat on the floor or against the marble columns. She had to really project to fill the huge space.
     “My last tale tonight will be the tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice..”
     She told the story with tremendous enthusiasm and thorough knowledge. She also filled out her toga very nicely. When it ended she took a great sweeping bow, the toga swirling around her, to appreciative applause.
     The crowd began to disperse. I leaned close to Tanna.  “Does she know?”
     Tanna is blind, but because of her training as a witch and psychic, she is able to overcome this when the fireflies are out, something that’s not widely known. “No, we really only met once,” Tanna said. “Let’s fake it for awhile.”
     So, even though the trees outside in Centennial Park glittered with fireflies and I knew Tanna saw everything as clearly as I did, I led her through the departing crowd up to Dr. England, who packed papers into her small valise. When she saw us she smiled. “Dr. Tully! I really appreciate your coming this far. What did you think of my show?”
     “Terrific! You do it so well I forgot it’s thousands of years old.”
     England smiled. “Now THAT is a compliment. Is this your husband?”
     We shook hands. “Ry Tully. I remember this place when she wasn’t in it.” I nodded at the statue.
     “Yes, it wasn’t quite right without her,” England said. “Did you say anything to anyone at the desk downstairs?”
     “No, as far as they know, we’re just tourists like everyone else,” Tanna said.
     “Good. I don’t think they’d like it if they knew I’d told anyone the Parthenon is haunted.”

     Originally built for Tennessee’s 1897 Centennial Exposition, the Parthenon is a full-scale replica of the Greek original, restored as closely as archaeologically and historically possible to its former glory. An art museum occupies the basement level, and at the time the outside was closed off for renovation. As a kid I’d played around those massive columns, and was a little irritated I couldn’t get to them now.
     Athena had been added in 1992, financed privately by rich Nashvillians who felt the Parthenon wasn’t complete without her. According to Sherry, once she’d been installed rumors began circulating of voices in the great central hall. The acoustics were really weird, so at first it was written off as people outside, or downstairs. But over the last five years the manifestations had grown stronger, and their nature was so odd no one wanted to discuss them.
    Sherry had permission from the administrators to work on her presentations at night, when the building was deserted except for the security staff. Here, at the foot of the mighty goddess who’d sprung fully grown from the brow of Zeus, she’d written the speeches she’d committed to memory, inserting telling details and asides that brought the stories to life. And it was here she’d heard the voices.
It was 10:00, the last of the tourists had left, and except for the three of us and a few security people, the massive building was empty. In the central hall we sat cross-legged on the floor and silently waited for the ghosts.
     We weren’t disappointed.
     The voice of a young woman in high dudgeon suddenly rang out. It wasn’t loud, but in the silence it didn’t have to be.
     “Mo-THER, I am NOT going, and that is final!”
     An older woman’s voice immediately followed.
     “Listen, young lady, you ARE going, just like you promised!”
     “But Mo-THER, I don’t waaaaant to!”
     “I am so TIRED of this argument. You are a spoiled little brat and you will do what I tell you! Or do you want me to tell your father?”
     “Daddy wouldn’t make me go!”
     “The hell he wouldn’t! Now march right back to your room and get ready, and no more of this nonsense, or I’ll get your father in here and let HIM settle it!”
     It went on like this for several minutes. As the husband of a psychic parapsychologist witch, I should’ve been used to such a typically mundane manifestation. But it seemed so ridiculous in this magnificent faux Greek temple.
     Finally the girl’s voice gave a loud “HMPH!” and silence returned.
     “And that is that,” Sherry said. “Any ideas?”
     “Not a clue,” Tanna said. “How often does this happen?”
     “I can’t get very many answers out of the security people, but it seems to occur a couple of times every night.”
     Tanna walked clockwise in a big circle around the open space, eyes closed to pick up any psychic vibrations.
     “This is amazing,” she said at last. “I feel confusion…spirits moving in and out. They have done a great deal of duplicating of this place, all right, they’ve even confused the ghosts. Tell me, where do the voices seem to come from? The echo’s so bad I couldn’t place them.”
     “I don’t know,” Sherry said. “I’ve tried to tell, but it doesn’t last long enough to narrow it down.”
     “Uh…..I can tell you,” said a new voice.
     One of the security guards stood next to a column. He was a big beefy guy, a young ex-athlete gone a little soft, clearly nervous.
     “You can?” Sherry said.
     “Yeah, I was, like, up here one night and was standing right by one of the statues when it started. It sounded like the statues were talking to each other, and then it got real loud and kinda, like, filled up the building.” He walked toward us. “Hi, I’m Trip Thomas.”
     “I know you,” I said. “You were a linebacker at UT a couple of years ago. You messed up your knee, right?”
     “Yeah, I’m working here until I can afford to go back and finish school.”
     “Which two statues?” Tanna asked.
     “It’s…well, I gotta show you, ‘cause I can’t pronounce most of them names.”
     He led us to the row of statuary reproductions from the real Parthenon. These fragments, all missing heads and hands, were cast from the real pieces now in the British Museum. The one he showed us had two female figures, one reclining back into the lap of the other, Sherry stared at them while I looked at the nameplate. “Demeter and Persephone,” I said out loud, and actually pronounced them correctly.  “Oh, wow,” Tanna said with wonder. “You’re sure about this?”
     “Yes, ma’am. Now, if you all will excuse me, I reckon I should go make sure nobody, like…does anything.”  He slunk out.
     Tanna tentatively touched the reproduced statue fragment. “Sherry, do you know the story here about how  the seasons came about?”
     “Duh,” Sherry said sarcastically. “Actually it’s one of the most popular ones I tell.”
     Tanna smiled. “You may have to revise it, then, because you, me, and all of Western Civilization may have gotten it wrong.”

     Witchcraft is an old religion, traced back to the earliest stirrings of an idea of spirits above those of men. By the time the Greeks got hold of it, religion had more gods than I have cousins. Over time the belief in many spirits coalesced into  a belief in one, now commonly portrayed in the West as a bearded old man on a cloud with a somewhat rebellious son.
Witchcraft, or Wicca, kept in underground purity during these changes, believes in a dual deity mirrored by the seasons, a goddess and god. This allows women to assume a role—priestess—denied them by Christianity.  Tanna is a priestess.
     The story of Demeter and her daughter represents one of the earliest personifications of the seasons, and Demeter is recognized as an earlier incarnation of Hecate, the Wiccan goddess Tanna acknowledges. As Sherry told us the Greek story, with full dramatic flourish, as if the entire audience were still there, I understood the way the Greeks saw their gods, as fallible humans writ on an epic scale.
     “Demeter, he goddess of the harvest, made all things grow on Earth. She had one daughter, Persephone, whose father was the king of all the gods, Zeus. Persephone was the maiden of spring, and spent all her time in the great fields of flowers, bringing life and beauty to everything.
     “Then one day Hades, the lord of the underworld, saw her and fell in love, the kind of love that only a god or goddess can feel. The earth opened and he kidnapped her, carrying her to the Land of the Dead in his chariot drawn by four coal-black stallions….”
     Demeter heard Persephone’s scream as she was carried away but couldn’t find her, because not even a goddess could peer into the Land of the Dead. Demeter searched tirelessly, in the process forgetting to make things grow on Earth and inventing winter. Finally Zeus took a hand, found Persephone in the Land of the Dead and brokered a deal with Hades. Persephone would spend half the year with her mother, and the other half with him. When she was with Demeter, the world sprang to life, and when she left, everything died.
     “That’s it,” Tanna said. “That’s the key. And I can prove it to you, but it’ll take a little finagling on your part.”
     “Prove what?” Sherry asked. “And finagle what?”
     “I could bring in all sorts of parapsychological gear, meters and cameras and computers, and analyze this until doomsday, but I think I can confirm my suspicions much faster if you’ll allow me to do ritual in here.”
     “Ritual?”
     “Yeah.” Tanna faced her, and made no attempt to hide the fact that she now plainly saw her. “I’m a witch, Sherry.”
     Sherry didn’t blink or even really react. “One way or the other, we all are,” she said softly.
     Tanna nodded. “Then you’ll understand. I want to call down someone to ask him some questions.”
     “Who?”
     “Well, we call him the Horned One. The Greeks knew him as Hades.”

     Sherry arranged access to the central hall the next night, Sunday. That gave Tanna’s priest, Evan Koenig, time to drive in from Weakleyville.  Evan attended West Tennessee University on a tennis scholarship and looked the part. He’d met Tanna when he took one of her freshman psychology classes, and she’d learned that, despite his age, he worked with energy at her level.
     “Calling down” meant someone allowed a deity to take over his or her body and speak through it. Tanna, as a priestess, could call down Hecate, who was also known as Demeter, but of course she wouldn’t be able to ask herself questions. Using Evan to “channel” this aspect of the Wiccan god-figure dance would allow Tanna to interrogate him. So Sunday night, while Trip kept the central hall off-limits from the cleaning crew and other guards, Sherry and I watched Evan and Tanna become Lord Domino and Lady Firefly. Tanna wore her ceremonial robe decorated with firefly designs, while the insects themselves filled the trees outside the Parthenon to boost her power. Using four candles and incense Tanna created the sacred circular space for Evan to work in. He sat in the center of the circle, directly on the marble floor, eyes closed in meditation. He was stripped to his boxers, which allowed the natural energies he planned to channel to flow without impediment. He didn’t have an extra ounce on him.
     After the area was sanctified and the ritual spoken, Tanna offered her hand to Evan and drew him to his feet. He moved differently, more heavily than his normal gracefulness, and his posture seemed different. His eyes were closed, until Tanna stood on tiptoe and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Awake, my lord.”
     She said it softly. His eyes opened, flicked around, and he frowned. “My lord Herne,” Tanna said, “I have questions for the king of the dead, ruler of the other side of the veil, Hades. I know he is also you. May I question him?”
     Evan’s eyes met hers, and he nodded. “I am Hades.”
     “Where is your wife Persephone?”
     “With her mother,” he said.
     “When does she return to you?”
     “When the wheel turns again to the darkening of the year.”
     “Do you miss her?”
     He laughed, a loud bark that echoed through the room. “Miss that spoiled BRAT? Miss that constant whining and complaining? If I could break my own law and send her back to Demeter, I would, believe me. That girl is a PAIN.”
     Sherry stared. “Why did you kidnap her, then?” Tanna asked.
     “Why? She was beautiful, that’s why. Nothing makes you appreciate beauty more than hanging out with the dead. I saw her frolic, dance, being HAPPY, and it was infuriating. I kidnapped her because I wanted some beauty in my life.”
     “What happened?”
     “I got to KNOW her. That girl is insufferable. I live for the time when she returns home, and peace returns to Hell. If it’s possible to annoy the dead back to life, she could do it.”
     “How does her mother feel about her?”
     “Demi’s as glad to see her go as I am.  Can you imagine raising an eternal teenager? Sometimes being a god is no picnic, I assure you.”
     “Wait a minute,” Sherry said. “I’m sorry, but you’re saying the voices we hear are actually Demeter and Persephone? The actual voices of the gods?”
     He looked around. “You’ve recreated the Temple of Athena, and that will draw to it all the spirits of all the gods still worshipped in some form  today. You worship Herne and Hecate, so you also worship Hades and Demeter. That gives them power, and this place helps focus it.”
     “But they speak ENGLISH!” Sherry exclaimed.
     Evan looked closely at Sherry, and smiled a grin so wolfish, and so foreign to the Evan I knew, that it was spooky. “I’m sorry. We haven’t been introduced. I’m Hades. And you are--?”
     “Either amused or insulted, I’m not sure yet,” Sherry said.
     “Why DO they speak English?” Tanna asked.
     He laughed. “They don’t ‘speak’ anything, you hear their language of thoughts and feelings in whatever language you’d use to express yourself.”
     This seemed to satisfy Tanna, and she made an elaborate genuflection to Evan. “Thank you, my lord Herne, I have only one more question. How do we quiet them?”
     “Wait,” Sherry said. “Do we HAVE to stop it?”
     Tanna looked at her. Sherry walked past them to the immense foot of Athena, and stared up at the white form with its outstretched hand holding winged Nike. “I don’t know if I want to be responsible for silencing the voice of the gods,” Sherry said to the statue, then turned to us. “Even if it does sound like a suburban family squabble. Maybe we could just…accept it.      After all, it IS the Parthenon.”
     Evan grinned again. “It can be. If you believe in it enough, the gods will return.”
     And for the first time, I think I knew why I’d always seen just a hint of a smile on Athena’s towering face.

CONTENTS