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The Curse of Many Faces ; A Tale of Self-Hatred

His voice crumbled into his trembling hands, all wet with wobble. His knees buckled under his disbelief as he wept bitterly,

“Where do I go?”

* * *

There once lived an artist. He was unbearably beautiful and all who met him were charmed. When he smiled, his teeth shone blaring and bright as ultraviolet, and his words were drenched in saccharine notions. Romantic and driven by the phosphorescence of life, he seemed to fly into each new situation, holding back the dark with a positivity that was positively irritating. Although, for his speed and grace, you could not fault him.

He wiled away his jubilant days painting, music-making and throwing fabulous parties darling! O yes, lucky enough to be born into wealth, he could comfortably throw huge extravaganzas whenever and wherever he pleased. Men, women and all there in between would turn up with an assortment of alcohol, drugs and occasionally, some good fella would bring along a giant watermelon to share.

Upon an evening much like any other, he lifted his cup high above his head to announce a series of orgies in the chambers upstairs. Many of the people filed out of the main room to continue their enjoyment of the celebrations elsewhere. They took a bulk of the crystals and powders with them, sniggering with a dizzy superiority. And what a time they had; a skin buffet where one could help themselves to great loaves of flesh, buttery chunks and sopping rolls that folded over into thick gravies. Tender, meaningless kisses were palate cleansers in the lurid glow of the lamplight, and the night was still young.

As soon as the artist thought he was tired, he heard a soft knocking at the chamber door. Several participants looked up in confusion and then carried swiftly on, caught up in the moment and their partners brimming with impatience. There it was again. The knocking drummed louder, booming around the room.

With an exasperated sigh, he pushed himself up and threw on his robe.

“What is it?” he answered aggressively in a plastered smile, swinging the door wide. His eyes roved around until they came to land on a small doughy figure standing in front of him. He saw a greyish sallow pancake of a face with a lolling tongue and sharp, inquisitive eyes. She was slightly rotund and wore a fine, velvet cloak.

The room fell silent in frozen wait.

“Yes?” he gestured for her to explain her interruption.

She began in a tumbling manner, her pronunciation slightly askew but understandable. Her message was clear; she wanted to join the private party. For a few high-intensity moments, he held his breath, and with a quick sideways glance at his party guests, he looked back to the unwanted woman and scoffed.

“There is so much good happening here, I’m afraid this isn’t quite your scene.” It was a mockery but, in his mind, a fair judgment to which he expected no consequence. Velvet waves poured to the floor in a blackened puddle as she revealed her true appearance.

He no longer found her reprehensible.

Fires of alchemy danced and lashed about her form, dazzling, severe and strong. She towered over him in a fury, straight locks of hair touched the floor to meet her majestic gown made of spindled sunlight. In her left hand, she held a sceptre of gold to match her mighty crown, sending streaks of blinding light through the room. All cowered beneath her flaming gaze.

The artist knew he had offended and angered a powerful Sorceress and begged forgiveness at the hem of her gown. Much too late.

I snap my fingers and curse you down!

In a prison of vanity, you will drown!

Your one way out is through ingenuity.

But a sad and weary fight it will be!

Delighted screams of manic laughter rang out across the lands and all the people at the party fled. Shooting the runners with her sceptre, she transformed them into beasts and birds of the desert plains. Cornering a young girl, she melded her into the shape of a cheetah. The girl’s shrieks and cries as her body cracked and broke, became the chirping and howling of the feline. The Sorceress kept the animal as her familiar forever more.

All the while, the artist was confused. As he watched those around him suffer at his faux pas, he noticed nothing different about his fate. Flipping over his hands and twisting around to see his body from behind, he saw himself unchanged.

Like a dragon’s breath, the Sorceress had forced everyone from the palatial venue. And then she left with her familiar, giving the artist a sly smile. He sat alone on the edge of a bed.

It was then, that he looked up at a full-length mirror across from him. Yet there was no reflection. Scrambling closer, he touched its surface and there was nothing. Not an imprint, nor a sign of heat. He whirled around to see if the room was there, and of course it was. A gentle knocking came from behind him and he saw that his reflection had returned, haggard and frantic, indicating towards the room. Now, he noticed something new about his reality; on every surface, shining or not, he could see his face.

Distorted, his horrified face sculpted every crinkle of the bedsheets, his gaping mouth draped off the sides and down to the floor. The warp and weft of the curtains mimicked his expression repeatedly, in neat little uniform lines. Running from the room, he passed his faces in the grain of the banister, in the patterns of the carpet, every dot and blemish of the painted walls began laughing at him.

Reaching the street outside, all he could see was the image of his face in the traffic lights and the flower heads. Each person smiled at him with his teeth; the same fake smile he saved for the Sorceress; the last smile he ever really made. The artist yelled out down the street for help, but no one could hear him. In desperation, he lunged at a passer-by, pleading for an ambulance, but no one could see him. Everyone walked on as if he were invisible.

The visions worsened. They grew more prominent, overflowing his exhausted eyeballs. From each point of reference, they charged forward until he could not make out the material world in front of him. All that there was became a mocking Mandelbrot of self-loathing. They began talking at him,

“There’s so much good happening here!” beaming away maliciously.

With great difficulty, the artist tried to steady himself and sit down. He breathed long and low.

“What can I do?” he asked out loud. His positivity and self-assurance had been a great ally to him in the past, and he called upon these qualities now to quieten the darkness creeping in.

What could he do about this curse?

He recalled the words of the Sorceress and the faces chimed in unison,

I snap my fingers and curse you down!

In a prison of vanity, you will drown!

Your one way out is through ingenuity.

But a sad and weary fight it will be!

He tried to block them out, even as his own body seemed to disintegrate. Pores, hairs, fingertips morphing into the likeness of his face. Hopeless and terrified, he closed his eyes but there they were, arising in those moving black patterns.

He tried talking to the faces instead. They sneered at him, ridiculing his blunder.

“There’s so much good happening here!”

He tried singing out loud to soothe his nerves and calm the faces to no avail.

He tried apologising with a deep sincerity to the atmosphere, hoping the Sorceress would hear him and lift the curse. There was no reply but the faces bellowing in a chorus of laughter.

After some time, a horrible thought began to creep into his head. He must destroy his face.

But how?

Punching and kicking, he tried to hit one of the faces before turning on himself. Although he could not see it, he felt it; his fist beating against his cheekbone. Again, the artist bashed his once beautiful face with his fist, and then the other fist, and then the other and the other. A painful flurry of faces unravelling upon him in succession, jeering at his sorry demise. He beat his chest and hammered down on his thighs, with fountains of faces exploding from his impact.

For many moons, the artist beat himself senseless until all energy had left him. Half-dead, he lay on his back watching the faces pour into his sore and swollen eyes. His creativity had failed him. The risks and the ideas had caused him to collapse. The artist had reached his limit and his own face tormented him with a million triumphant smiles.

Somewhere, above in the clouds, another Sorceress happened to be riding by on the Eastern wind. She had caught sight of the treacherous curse and curiously came down for a closer look. The artist was silently sobbing and gasping, and she took pity on him. It was obvious by his bruised and battered physique, and his red lifeless eyes that this curse had worn him so thin, he was at the edge of death. Barely recognisable from the once confident and bubbling persona he used to be, and his voice but a husky echo of the past merriment, she knew he had suffered enough.

Naked and angelic, this Sorceress urged his soul to hush. Brandishing a large steely knife, she made a steady and precise incision around his neck. She removed the curse, which had latched itself around the artist’s face like a sticky mould. Pulling it back with the upmost care, it peeled away from his features.

The artist could not believe how bright the world was.

His voice crumbled into his trembling hands, all wet with wobble. His knees buckled under his disbelief as he wept bitterly,

“Where do I go?”

“You are free for now,” replied the Sorceress, “but you would do well to meet the world with a new face.”

And with that, she bid him goodbye with her eyes and rose up into the heavens with the dangling, lifeless image of his cursed former self.

Reclining, he wondered what more his ingenuity could have done for him and what it could do now. Was there any other way he could have escaped but by divine grace? How would his life change from this point onwards? Could he do something different in light of his predicament?

The artist lay there pondering, his body driven weak to the bones and his mind anxious with possibility, learning to see anew.

🃏 Thoth Tarot by Lady Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley


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