Serpent Possession: Glycon

8 Feb

Aetios accepted the offer of a position at the therapeutic temple of Asclepius located in Macedonia with a degree of hesitation.

The tall, skeleton thin priest had his training and professional experience as a healer at Epidaurus in the Peleponessus, the famous center of the practice of incubation of curative dreams in the ill. The ancient temple of Asclepius there on the eastern coast has pioneered that method of application of that popular, customary style of treatment that combined medicine, exercise, diet, and meditation during nights spent within the abaton of the renowned asclepieia.

Aetios could not turn down an assignment to bring the temple at Pella, the capital of the land of Macedonia, up to the high standards and level of Epidaurus.

Could he achieve such an elevated, difficult goal? the young priest-healer asked himself as he sailed on a merchant vessel up the cerulean blue Aegean toward the northern destination.

I dare not refuse such a demanding challenge, Aetios told himself.

The benefits he could bring to the sick and suffering pulled at his mind and conscience. How was it possible to ignore such an attractive force?

That is the purpose I have pledged my life to: the attainment and realization of good health for those who come to the temples for cure and comfort.

Aetios watched as the sleek ship crossed the Thermaic Gulf, passed by Thesalonica, and entered the long water inlet that led up to royal Pella, where Philip II and Alexander the Great had both been born.

Pella, founded by King Archelaus of Macedonia. It was the largest and richest city in all the North of the Greek lands.

Aetios thrilled upon seeing the white walls and red ceramic roofs appear. He caught sight of the temples of Aphrodite, Demeter, Cybele, and finally Asclepius. This was an urban community that enjoyed piped water supplied to individual homes, as well as a system of waste water disposal. It had magnificent public baths and shaded colonnades around its central public agora. The shops and workshops were busy and prosperous here.

Pella was arranged in a grid of parallel streets with eight rows of rectangular residential blocks. The city was efficient and well-ordered.

When Aetios left the vessel at the harbor dock, he found the head priest of the Temple of Asclepius, waiting there for him.

This was a small but heavy veteran cleric named Proteos.

“Welcome to Pella, my good man. I am here to accompany you to our temple complex. I and my assisting staff are glad to have you and your valuable skills to available to help us with the difficult task that our temple faces,” said the older man with a serious, unsmiling face.

Aetios walked along with his new superior, wondering what kind of problem the head priest might be referring to.

_

Proteos took the newly arrived priest on a quick tour of the temple, then showed him the residence building where a room had been set aside for him.

Only when the two were seated on an outdoor bench behind the main building did the head priest reveal the serious situation he was facing in his management and supervision of the institution that he was in charge of.

“We have several difficult problems to face and solve here in Pella,” frowned Proteos. “The number of visitors who appear and ask for therapeutic treatment has suffered very serious decline in recent days. There is an unfriendly factor present that is putting our temple in the shadows and reducing the popular support that we have enjoyed for so many years here in Macedonia.”

Aetios gazed at him with a questioning look. “There are enemies who are harming the Temple of Asclepius?”

The older man seemed to grow excited with burning anger. “There is a new kind of enthusiasm spreading about in all directions, on all sides of Pella. It centers about a new divine form that claims that Asclepius has transformed himself into a new deity that goes by the name of Glycon. That is a form that manifests itself as a all-powerful serpent, one that produces miraculous cures that restore the health of those in pain and sickness.

“This new movement threatens to win away the streams of potential visitors and followers for us. The members of the new organization threaten to build a new temple in Pella, one that will compete directly against us.

“It is a real danger to our future survival and success, Aetios. We must take it most seriously, before it replaces and destroys what we have built over so many generations. This enemy is especially strong and growing here in Macedonia.”

“I understand that snake-worship has old, ancient roots in this region,” noted the priest from Epidaurus. “That may be an important factor behind the success of the new movement here in Pella.”

“The cult of Glycon in Macedonia seems to have first arisen in the town of Edessa, to the west of us over the Axios river. That is where its earliest and greatest victories have occurred. But now the signs of its spread and growth are appearing every day in the capital city, among our people.

“I am lost and do not know what to do about this dangerous threat to us,” declared Proteos with a sad sigh.

Aetios bent his head upward. “Let me look into what is happening and find out what is behind the development of these new ideas,” he quietly requested.

Edessa, known as a city of waters, stood on the northwestern side of Vermion Mountain. It was famed for the rivulets and waterfalls that were located within its limits.

Aetios decided it would be useful to him if he traveled there to investigate the nature of the Glycon phenomenon that was spreading from that center of new ideas and interpretations. Who was leading this strange new development? Why were persons who might once have visited the Temple of Asclepius in Pella seeking therapy under the aegis of a deity with the identity of a serpent?

First of all, it was necessary to find out the location of such disturbing activities. Aetios asked several strangers in the agora of Edessa before he received clear instructions on how to reach the one claiming to be a priest dedicated to and serving Glycon.

“Go to the far northern end of our city, and you will see an old, dilapidated cottage made of yellow-brown bricks. That is the home of a man named Maeon, who claims that he can perform curing through the assistance of certain marvelous snakes that he has found and cultivated.

“This Maeon can tell you everything you wish to know about the unknown god that he calls Glycon.”

Following these directions, Aetios located the cottage in question and carefully made his way through a field of high grass in front of it.

It took him several knocks at a primitive straw door to draw the attention of someone inside.

“Yes, can I help you?” asked a stout figure in a bluish robe. His long yellow locks hung down his head on all sides.

“I am a stranger who has come to Edessa from Pella, and my purpose is to find treatment for a severe health problem that is making it difficult for me to carry out physical work or perform simple, everyday tasks.

“Can you tell me if there is an informal health center about here? I have been informed that there is.”

The fat stranger grinned with pleasure. “Come right in my cottage and we can talk about your pains and ills, my good man.

“My name is Maeon and I know ways of helping people such as you.”

The investigating visitor entered into a large, almost completely dark room, stepping forward slowly and cautiously.

“Sit down on the stool in front of you,” instructed Maeon, taking a large, comfortable chair facing it.

“Tell me about you sicknesses and ills,” said the heavy one. Aetios proceeded to describe in detail the conditions he had taken a long time to invent, imagine, and picture in his own mind.

The supposed therapist listened with patience to the fictional list of health problems, seeming to accept the recital as genuine and true. He spoke only after the visitor went silent, indicating he was finished.

“That is most interesting,” smiled Maeon. “I have had others come to me with several of the same symptoms. And they have enjoyed complete, total cures of the ailments that plagued them.

“I believe that the same positive results can occur in your case. What is your name, my friend?”

“I am called Aetios,” declared the would-be patient, gazing at the other with expectation.

“You come from somewhere beyond Edessa?”

“I traveled here from Pella,” revealed the priest of Asclepius, reluctant to say any much more than that.

Maeon lowered both his large head and his bass voice. “There are places where you can stay in the center of our city.

“If you come back to this cottage tonight after dusk, I can have you join a group of local followers with whom I work on matters of sickness and health.

“You can then witness for yourself what the promises of serpent therapy include and consist of.”

Maeon then rose out of his chair and saw his new patient out of the old, humble cottage.

After finding lodging in a travelers’ home in central Pella, Aetios prepared himself for the evening’s session with the priest of Glycon. What should he expect from this strange character? How should he react to whatever the man might tell him tonight? It was impossible for him to foresee what might lie ahead for him. It was best that he go back to the cottage of Maeon with no preconceptions or prejudgments. But that was most difficult to accomplish, the visitor to Edessa found.

Aetios was surprised to discover that he was the only patient or potential patient present for the therapeutic meeting scheduled for that evening.

“No one else will be here with us tonight,” announced Maeon once the visitor was seated on a stool. “But I now will have a splendid opportunity to present you with a full and detailed account and explanation of my methods and principles of curative treatment. Shall we, then, begin?”

The somewhat disconcerted investigator nodded yes and the session started.

“Our ancestors were not the original inhabitants of what are now called the Greek lands. It is nowadays accepted that the first population to live here were the Palasgians, about whom very little is known or survives.

“It is recognized that the most important Palasgian deity was Eurynome, known as the Goddess of All Things. She was instrumental in the creation of the world that we live in, together with the original great serpent, called Ophion by the Palasgians and their successors.

“Ophion happened to see Eurynome dancing across the waves of the sea and became filled with lust for her.

“Ophion, the Snake, coiled its body seven times around Eurynome as she danced. She laid the Universal Egg from which all creatures came, then she ordered Ophion to wind around it seven times. So, the Great and Original Serpent curled itself about it the way that Eurynome commanded him to do.

“This Universal Egg then broke and opened, spilling out the plants, animals, ans creatures of this world we are in. Because of its role with the Great Egg, the Great Serpent and all its successors claim to have been the Original Creators of All. That is the basis for the primacy of the snake in this world that we inhabit.

“Ophion met his fate when Cronos and Rhea cast him out of Heaven. Those two deities were the original rulers of this world that we live in. The Greeks, known at that time as the “sea people”, took all the lands of the Aegean away from the palaechton Palasgian, forgetting and losing much of the tradition of the Serpent that had aided Eurynome in giving birth to the present world that we know and live in.

Maeon stopped speaking for a little while, gathering his strength and allowing Aetios to absorb and digest what he had heard. All at once, the patient made a boldly conclusive statement.

“The Serpent has, therefore, always been an important actor and factor in everything,” murmured Aetios as if from a deep interior place. “It was first and early in its impression upon the world and everything in it.”

“That is the central key in everything that I have uncovered in my work,” muttered Maeon under his breath. “In our own age and generation, that serpent god is reborn and returns to this world in a new form, with a different name. The old Serpent called Ophion is now present with the name of Glycon, carrying miraculous health cures for those who beseech his intervention.

“His name is now different, but he continues to rule in cases of invasion by plague, disease, or illness.

“Glycon is proving to be the main protector of humans against the assaults made by Nature and malevolent beings of all sorts.

“The sick must come into the new temple in order to obtain the beneficial gifts of this special deity who rules the body and brings about healthy life for individual persons.”

“When can I avail myself of the health benefits that are possible under your supervision, sir?” abruptly demanded Aetios, expressing the impatience that he genuinely felt at that moment.

Maeon smiled with sympathetic understanding. “Not long at all, for I shall have a small number of suffering patients spending tomorrow night at the special shrine that we have on a nearby hill. It is a deserted area where no one can see or interfere with what we accomplish there. All of my patients receive important, powerful benefits when they go to our meetings there.

“If you return here late tomorrow, just before dusk begins, I will take you to the place where the followers of Glycon will be spending the night seeking to be enlightened in their dreams under the favorable conditions that will prevail.

“I promise that you shall see noticeable improvement in your health,” predicted the priest of Glycon with supreme confidence.

Unable to foresee what lay ahead for him, Aetios spent the next day attempting to distract himself by remembering what he knew about the serpents prevalent in various regions populated with Greeks.

There were venomous vipers like the ochia on many of the Aegean islands, as well as poisonous echidna in wild, mountainous areas such as northern Macedonia beyond Pella.

He had heard and read about horn-nosed, blunt-nosed, and long-nosed varieties of snakes and vipers.

What kind might he encounter under the direction and care of the therapeutic priest of Glycon named Maeon? he wondered again and again.

Late in the afternoon, Aetios made his way back to the cottage he had found the day before, discovering that three other males and a woman were already present, waiting for the sun to set so that matters could advance as planned.

Maeon welcomed the newcomer into the cottage and informed him what was going to occur that evening.

“There is an old, abandoned defensive fortress, a stone castle of sorts, located on a steep hill a little distance to the north of where we are. That is the destination we shall now hike to, and where the coming night will pass for us.

“My objective in taking this group there is to enable each of my followers to commune with Glycon so as to receive a therapeutic message from the serpent god. That revelation will guide each person to an individual formula for medicinal or herbal treatment of their malady.

“My sincere hope is that each one of you will be able to incubate the cure that you need so desperately. By next morning, you will know whether your outcome is a successful one or not.”

The gathered group of patients exited from the cottage of Maeon, following the latter along an upland path traveled mainly by shepherds and isolated hermits of Vermion Mountain.

It took them less than a half hour to reach their destination, the abandoned hill fortress from a past age of this part of Macedonia.

It was nearly night when the expedition reached the old structure, a relic from the days when the Macedonian Kingdom had to defend itself from invading Doric tribes descending from the north.

Several of the patients carried lanterns which they lit up as they entered the large internal hall of the ancient castle.

Aetios was surprised at the clean, well-ordered condition of the inside of the fortress, attributing it to the efforts and care of the followers of Glycon.

“We shall rest ourselves tonight on the rugs and canvasses that you see on the floor of this central chamber,” proclaimed Maeon in a strong, ringing voice. “Let each of us choose a comfortable position in the hall and prepare to obtain curative slumber with dreaming revelations while lying and slumbering in it tonight.”

With that, the members of the patients’ expedition scattered about, each of them finding their position and occupying it at once.

Maeon, paying special attention to his new visitor, spoke to him in a loud, audible whisper.

“Do not be alarmed by what I shall be doing while the group is sleeping here. I have a deep well close to the fortress, and it is home to a nest of specially chosen serpents.

“My task will be that of inducing as many of those snakes as possible out of the well and into this building where my patients should all be resting and incubating their future dreams.

“The movement of the serpents around these sleepers will serve as the occasion for the dreams and the cures that everyone who came here with me is seeking.”

Aetios lay down on a long, wooly carpet and closed his eyes.

What might he find out or undergo in the night ahead for him? he wondered.

The priest of Asclepius, present as a spy, could not afford to fall asleep and did not do so, staying awake and listening to a loud concert of snoring patients.

He had an idea now of what could be expected: an invasion of chosen serpents under the control and supervision of the priest of Glycon.

In old manuscripts back at Epidauros, he had read about what was done by the ancient followers of Ophion in places like the island of Samothrace. There were old Thracian traditions, tales of magical snakes that would kiss the eyes or the ears of sleepers, giving them miraculous second sight or second hearing capabilities, or formulas for special medicines or herbal combinations.

What is going to occur within this fortress tonight? Aetios continually asked himself, but found no answer in his own individual thoughts.

All the lanterns were extinguished once all of the patients were lying apart from each other on the stony floor of the fortress hall.

The presence of Maeon was forgotten by all of the others as they sought the peace and assurance of individual slumber.

Aetios could not have identified the precise moment when he lost consciousness, because a kind of waking vision, a semi-dreaming state grabbed hold of him. An irrational, impossible vision seemed to have seized his brain as he imagined what was occurring around him in the castle hall.

Wet, slimy serpentine beings slowly came into the wide room of sleepers. They crawled with animal force across the area occupied by the followers and patients. The murky creatures seemed to know what they were about and had definite aims they were fulfilling.

Each one of them neared close to the face of an inactive, resting body.

Aetios was aware of the approach toward his head of one of these snaking shapes. It moved nearer and nearer, showing no fear or hesitation at all.

What purpose was it going to carry out? What might it desire or need?

All of a sudden, the unnatural vision seemed to go blank and disappear.

There was no longer any kind of sliding, snaking thing headed toward his face.

Aetios never had any memory of what immediately followed in time.

Early dawn light streamed into the fortress through small openings just beneath the roof of the abandoned building.

Several patients awakened, but none of them dared stirring around in any sense.

Everyone waited for verbal instructions from the leader who had brought them there the previous evening.

“I believe that all of us received valuable benefits from what was experienced among us this past evening,” said Maeon in a loud, clear voice. “If you are hungry at this hour, then we can leave this fortress at once and walk down to my cottage for provision of a meal. By that particular time, we should all be interested in exchanging ideas about what has happened during the time spent in these special circumstances in this place.”

The patients and followers lined up in a long group led by its leader and made its descent down to the home of Maeon.

Aetios very soon realized that the night asleep in the fortress had produced a profound change in him. His body and his mind were not exactly the same as he had been before. There had occurred something that he could not as yet understand. What was it? he wondered as he walked along with the other participants. He knew that there had been some kind of major transformational event. What precisely had it been, though?

It was when the entire grouping reached the cottage from where they had started the previous day that Maeon had a chance to confer with his newest patient.

The leader was distributing pieces of bread about to his followers, last of all giving some to Aetios. He spoke to the latter in almost an audible whisper.

“You are quite a fortunate fellow, my friend. Most of my patients must wait for a time and come to a number of sessions in the fortress before they receive the result that came to you on your first visit with us.

“It was an astounding event, because an incubating serpent came directly to you and made a momentous decision for itself,” he revealed with a smile on his face. “That reptile immediately chose you to be its carrier and resident holder.

“In other words, you are going to be the possessor of a serpent that has decided to join with you, as if the two of you have mated into a single couple through marriage.

“That kind of decision is extremely rare,” added the priest of Glycon. “It is the first time that I myself have seen it occur in one of my own followers.

“I congratulate you on this victory, my good man.

“You now qualify to be a complete serpent-man, as I and other priests of Glycon have become.” He looked directly into the eyes of the man who had come to investigate him. “I shall train you how to act as a leader within our ranks.”

Aetios, overwhelmed and astonished, found it impossible to utter even a word.

“You must return in order that we two can talk about your future course, my lad,” finished Maeon.

His thoughts reeling as if in a whirlpool, the disguised priest from Epidaurus decided that he had to return to Pella in order to achieve any degree of inner stability.

What had Maeon meant with his wildly insane claim? Could a serpent, even a curative one, enter and exist within some human being’s physical body? How could such a miraculous feat be possible? Aetios asked himself without any answer at all.

He had promised that he would return to Edessa in order to find out more about the transformation in himself that had occurred during the night spent at the fortress.

Why had he not asked Maeon for a more detailed explanation? Had his thoughts become too disturbed and confused by the revelation made to him by the priest of Glycon? Yes, his fright had been that his true identity was near to being uncovered if he asked or said too much about the matter raised.

How do I now feel? he asked himself on the road back to Pella. Can I locate anything different within me, any sign of a second creature of a serpentine nature?

Aetios was compelled to reach the conclusion that, except for an emotion of surprise and astonishment, he was in reality the same person he had been before his adventure in Edessa.

I feel myself exactly the same as I was then, both in Epidaurus and in Pella.

Had Maeon been giving me a fantastic fable meant to tie my loyalty to him as my master and mentor?

That might be the most reasonable explanation of what the Glycon priest was up to with his tale of serpent carrying.

Aetios decided, by the time he arrived in Pella, that he had to try to find out more by probing around with the chief priest of Ascepius, Proteos.

Without admitting anything that might arouse suspicions or questions, he had to make an attempt at general clarification.

“So, how did your journey up to Edessa go?” began the head priest. “Did you succeed in learning anything important about these people? Did you win their confidence and become accepted as a genuine patient seeking a cure for what is troubling you?”

The pair sat on one of the benches behind the Temple of Asclepius.

Aetios had to think rapidly in order to come up with an answer that sounded convincingly true.

“It was not easy to win the confidence of this priest of Glycon, Maeon, but I was able to make him accept me for what I claimed that I was, a person suffering from serious illness and desperate to find some means of freeing myself from the pain I felt.

“He invited me to join his current group of followers and patients, which I agreed to at once. So, I went with him and the others to a deserted, abandoned fortress in the edge of Edessa. We spent the entire night resting there, in the stage of dream incubation.

“The night passed quickly, without anything that might have disturbed or interrupted my sleeping. I woke up refreshed in the morning and was told to return in a week’s time for another session of dream incubation with the group.

“I promised that I would come back, then left and made my way back to Pella.

“There are still important questions in my mind about what is going on under this priest of Glycon, but I am determined to learn more the next time I have the opportunity to speak with Maeon, which will not be immediately, of course.”

Aetios stared intently at the other priest, attempting to determine whether his account had been fully accepted or not.

Maeon suddenly smiled. “You have, then, made definite progress in your investigation of what us going on in Edessa. That is good and satisfactory, and you can accomplish much more as you fit in and becoming absorbed with the activities of this new cult of Glycon.”

Aetios decided to plunge forward with a question.

“There was one matter that came up that puzzled and troubled me. Maeon told me privately, when we were talking alone, that it is possible for certain serpents to attack and invade a person’s body, and turning into a permanent part of that individual, living on inside that flesh.

“The idea was disturbing to me. I doubted that it was possible, yet it was a terrifying conception to me.

“Can you clear up this question for me? What have you learned about the ability of a serpent to take actual possession of someone in that physical sense? Should I look upon what he said to me as nothing but nonsense?”

Aetios waited impatiently to hear what the other might say.

All at once, the head priest let out a guffawing variety of laughter.

“Do not concern yourself with anything as fantastic as that, my friend. Yes, there are old superstitions among country people about snake assaults and positioning inside human beings.

“I assure you, my boy, there is nothing to it. Idle tales among the uninformed, that is all. Only the ignorant believe that snakes can enter and possess us.”

Both of them laughed, Aetios forcing himself to do so.

He soon excused himself, rose, and departed.

In less than a week, he would be going back to Edessa and finding out more about the nature of possession by a snake.

Would he become a danger to other people he came in contact with?

Would he fall under the power of Maeon and the entire cult of Glycos?

Much remained for him to find out and learn.

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