A Chapter from Kedesha

Pele Ezrahi, Kedesha: A Timeless Tale of a Love Priestess

Chapter 27

The priestess dipped three fingers into the blood and smeared the face of one of the men in the congregation with three long red lines, from his forehead to his chin. Uziyah looked around and noticed several other men who had been marked in the same way: three long vertical lines the length of the entire face, giving them a wild and threatening look. Why were these men chosen among all the others who were marked with only a red dot between their eyes? 

The elder priestess, holding a silver staff shaped like a snake in her right hand, approached the altar with ceremonial steps. The beating of the drums continued ceaselessly, like the pulsation of a great heart, bringing the heartbeats of the entire congregation into unison. This was Ishtar, the high priestess of the Astarte Temple, whose eyes now looked closed while her mouth continuously repeated the words of the poem to the rhythm of the sound of the great drum. The entire congregation repeated it with her: “I am the Goddess, I am the blood of life. I am the Goddess, I am the blood of life….” Uziyah’s eyes were fixated on her, not noticing that the young priestess, who beforehand had drawn his attention, was now making her way toward him through the rows of the men in the congregation. 

Before he noticed her stopping next to him, he became aware of a new and sweet fragrance that had just penetrated his nostrils. It was the scent of a woman at the peak of her beauty, blended with the smell of fresh blood that arose from the silver bowl she was holding. He suddenly turned in the direction of the fragrance and there she was right next to him, as beautiful as the moon, as bright as the sun. Their eyes met for a moment that seemed like an eternity. She dipped three fingers into the blood and smeared the entire length of his face with long red lines. His jaw fell in shock, but there were no words in his mouth. She lightly bowed her head toward him and went on, continuing her work. 

“Aho, my friend,” patted the bald man on Uziyah’s shoulder. You have just arrived and you are already invited into the sacred.” 

“What? What does my being invited into the sacred mean?” asked Uziyah in panic. 

He had not anticipated this. All he wanted was to stand at the side, without anyone noticing him, or God forbid, identifying him. He wanted to see how they perform the sacred ceremonies in the Astarte Temple, about which he had heard so much. Being a priest in Yahweh’s Temple in this splintered and troubled generation, he had never set foot in any other temple, even though they were only a short walking distance apart. He had come here this evening discreetly, and the fact that he was now called into the sacred terrified him. If only he could now flee for his life without creating an uproar. He looked around and realized that he was surrounded on all sides by people who were singing with devotion. If he would try to push his way through them to escape, he would draw even more attention to himself. Doing so would be as bad as remaining. 

“’What does it mean’ you ask?” wondered the bald man at Uziyah’s question. “You are indeed new here, aren’t you my friend? So, you shall soon see my friend, you shall soon see.” He smiled at Uziyah, looking amused. Then he added: “They will soon call all those who were marked with three lines on their faces into the center of the hall. If the priestess marked you, obviously the Goddess has chosen you. Don’t resist, don’t be afraid. It is a blessing, a blessing for you and your family, whoever you are. Don’t worry.” 

But Uziyah was very worried. What if his identity will be discovered? All of Jerusalem would then know that Uziyah, son of Elazar the priest, had participated in the new moon celebration in Astarte’s Temple. Hilkiyahu the high priest would explode in rage, and it would not shed a pleasant light on his father. For his entire life, his now elderly father had attempted to walk between the raindrops and not get wet. He had attempted, and until now had been successful. He had served as an ordinary priest in Yahweh’s Temple, under the imbecilic leadership of Hilkiyahu, the high priest, while ancient secrets that were anathema to Hilkiyahu and his followers were preserved in great secrecy within the family. 

As appropriate for a descendant of Aaron the priest, Elazar was also a man of peace. He was different from all those other strife-mongers who filled Yahweh’s Temple in these days. The elder Elazar had succeeded to live in peace even with Shaphan the scribe and his followers in the royal palace. They, who hated the guts of the Goddess worship and worshippers, respected Elazar and didn’t know a thing about his positive feelings for the Goddesses. Until now, Uziyah’s father had succeeded in walking safely between all the splinter groups of the people and to avoid dispute. “I dispute the need for dispute,” Elazar would say jokingly to anyone who ever tried to drag him into some holy argument. But now, if Uziyah, son of Elazar’s visit to Astarte’s Temple on the night of the new moon would become known, it would likely endanger the entire family. His heart pounded in his chest. It was impossible for him to flee, and he was afraid of trying to wipe off the blood marks from his face. So he decided to wait and pray for some respectable way to get out of this mess. But to whom should he pray in a situation like this? To Yahweh, the God of his ancestors, or to the great Goddess Astarte, in whose temple he was standing? Or perhaps to both together? 

While he stood, confused and in panic, Ishtar the high priestess began her ascent up the steps leading to the seat above the altar. The young priestesses spread over the altar glowing coals held in copper braziers. On the red-hot coals, they placed various leaves and resins, as smoke spiraled upward. Ishtar sat down in her seat. She deeply inhaled the smoke of the incense rising from the altar. She had personally overseen the preparation of a special mixture of spices that arouses passion in whoever inhales it, while disintegrating all walls of fear in the person’s soul, just as the walls of Jericho had fallen before the passion of Rahab, the prostitute, as she united with Joshua, leader of Israel’s tribes. 

Only after the locks that shut the gates of the heart fall away and people are no longer protected from the consuming intensity of divine love, is the Goddess able to appear in her full beauty in the flesh and blood body of a human being. 

Ishtar anxiously awaited this moment. She knew the ways in which the gates of her soul were opened, and she knew how to tread that path. The Goddess had already appeared through her many times. Sometimes like a compassionate mother who provides food and shelter for her believers, and sometimes like a wild wolf seeking to tear to pieces anyone who stands in her way. Other times she appeared like a drooling prostitute who seeks to flirt wherever her beloved appears, and other times like a wise owl that seeks to open the eyes of those who cleave to it to see even in the darkness. 

But this time, Ishtar knew that the Goddess wanted to talk through her. She had been told in a dream that she must prepare herself for the sacred ceremony on the night of the new moon, for the Goddess will then appear through her and convey to her what she should say to the priestesses and believers. Ishtar again inhaled the smoke deeply and waited. The smoke of this new formulation of incense hovered in the space of the temple and penetrated into the nostrils of all the believers. Sighs of wellbeing arose from the congregation. Some of the people sprawled out on the floor, which was covered with red carpets. Many, men and women alike, hugged each other as loving brothers and sisters. Their eyes slowly closed, and over their faces spread a soft smile. 

“Come here.” 

Uziyah looked in front of him and saw the beautiful priestess who had marked his face with lines of blood standing before him. She took hold of his fingers and pulled him forward. Her eyes smiled at him sweetly. “Come with me,” she whispered. 

He followed her silently without any resistance but asked himself why is he following her so naturally. He continued walking, simultaneously observing himself walking, but the inner observer was not involved in the walking, rather only watched the proceedings from above. The walking seemed as if it was taking place by itself, like magic. 

“Come,” she said again, and his body continued following her through the large space as the men and women looked at him. He saw himself following the priestess into the center of the hall. Several other men were already standing there and in front of each of them danced one of the priestesses, wriggling like a snake. 

Uziyah had never seen such seductive movements in his life. One after the other, the men untied the bows of their clothes, exposing the front of their bodies to the priestesses. Uziyah froze. The priestess who danced before him began opening up the long sash that surrounded his waist. In his heart, he thanked her for this. It had already seemed to him to be a necessary thing to do, for from moment to moment his clothes were becoming heavier and heavier on his body. He would have wanted to strip everything off and stand like that before the entire congregation, before God and man, naked and nude, clean, pure and simple as on the day he was born. But his arms were as heavy as lead and his eyes were frozen as if hypnotized by the sensuous movements of her dancing as she was untying the bows. He was getting impatient. His body wanted to throw off all covering of clothing, but his sash was long and wrapped around his waist many times. The priestess had to unwrap it thirty-two times in order to expose his flesh, which was imprisoned within it as if in a cocoon. The truth is naked, so why is he walking around covered with garments, like Adam, after he betrayed the living God? His eyes opened wide and his head nodded to her. His body begged to be relieved of the great lie of all these coverings. The observer within him that was watching the developments with a momentary delay, was shocked by the sight and began screaming warning cries. But the cries came from the distance, while here, on site, everything was so clear, so simple, so appropriate. Uziyah had never stood naked like this in front of a congregation of women and men, but it had also never been so pleasant, so simple, and so understood as now. 

The entire room melted in his consciousness. The boundaries between people and walls, between them and himself, became muddled until they disappeared completely. Each thing melted into the other. It seemed that there was no longer any congregation of individual people here standing in the temple space, but, rather, one amazing presence that dwelled in everything, that poured over from one person to another, as if all the people were connected with transparent channels of light. 

The tips of her fingers caressed his nude body, and deep pleasure spread throughout it. His penis immediately stood up, erect and alert like a guard at a watchtower. A woman had never touched his genitals until that moment. Deep silence reverberated around and within him, even the cries of the observer had ceased, and its desirable silence was as pleasant to Uziyah as the singing of the angels. Whoever would now come and say that a strange woman is touching him would be speaking falsehood. The woman whose fingers are now moving around his exposed body is not a stranger to him, even if he does not know her name or her family. She is connected to him with subtle threads of light, with many ancient threads, threads from the beginning of time. The men surrounding him inhaled and exhaled with great excitement. From time to time, a roar would break forth from one of them, and a stream of semen would immediately shoot out of his body like a flood. 

Uziyah had never seen anything like this. Concealed sighing could occasionally be heard in the priestly residence in Yahweh’s Temple, but that happened under the cover of darkness. He looked around and saw that the men at his side were not attempting to conceal anything. He laughed with pleasure. His heart became joyous when he realized that his soul too was now becoming released from its chains. As if on its own, his body began to move in pleasurable waves. The priestess began to move in tandem with him. She touched his burning penis, bent over and blew on it with her sweet breath, as she continued dancing before him as a flame of light. She filled her palm with saliva and took hold of his penis, stroking it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, with her well-lubricated hand. He would never be the same after this, that much Uziyah knew for sure. It was as if God had touched him, and he is being transformed into another person. He saw the priestess holding out a golden jar toward his shivering body. “Give me your seed” she whispered to him. “The great Goddess wants your seed in order to become pregnant from it and give birth to the new moon. Will you give to her?” Of course, he will give, of course. He will give anything his seed, he will even give his very self, with all his might and with all his soul will he give it, and if he would be able to turn his skin inside out, he would willingly do that as well. 

Through the veil of smoke hovering around her seat, Ishtar heard the loud roarings of the men giving of their seed to the Goddess. It was a long time since she had last felt the touch of a man on her own nude body, a long time since she had last smelled the pleasant fragrance of a man’s fresh sweat dripping from his forehead while pursuing his passion in her inner chambers. The sounds arising from the hall stimulated her. She took off her robe and began touching herself. The lips framing her vagina swelled and opened with lust, her fingers dripped sweet liquid. Deep within her heart, she sensed that it was coming, that soon she would not be here anymore, only the Goddess would be present, while she herself would disappear. She might disappear for a few hours, perhaps a few days, no one could know in advance. She smiled to herself, to her body, as if welcoming the approach of the yearned-for queen. 

With a great, long and loud roar, Uziyah released his semen into the collection bowl that the beautiful priestess held out with her skilled hand. He released himself, from himself. Very soon, he knew, the new moon would be born. A new moon would shine on Zion, but this time, its silvery light would shine on him in a completely different way. He collapsed to the floor of the hall. The priestess handed over his seed to wherever she handed it over, then returned to him, bent over him, and took his body into her pleasant, soft embrace. He was ready and willing to remain in this place forever. Exposed, nude, authentic, shining, among these people who, as he could see, were all connected to each other with threads of light, wrapped by the thin arms of the priestess, whose name he didn’t even know, and neither did she know his name, but the red blood of her womb with the outpouring of his white seed would together give birth to the new moon. 

Protrusions were carved in Ishtar’s seat resembling the members of all the various gods. Some were thick, with an ox face. Some were thin and long, with the faces of eagles and hawks, those visioning birds. Some were the faces of lions and leopards, fierce bears and rams with long horns. Some were sharp-pointed, some were hunched and some were even split into two. Onto these, the figures of various snakes and dragons were carved, as well as other fire-wielding creatures that fly about in the worlds of the gods. 

Ishtar spread her thighs and looked around at the various organs standing erect around her. The faces carved on them now took on a deeper meaning. Their eyes, embedded with precious stones, became alive. All of the gods appeared before her, while she became filled with gratitude. She, a mortal human being, was surrounded by all of the celestial beings. Their eyes flashed in her direction, their teeth shone, they all wanted to make love to her and bless her with the blessings of above and below. She loved them all. Great lust arose in her. To fully surrender to each of the gods, she being the high priestess who is able to contain many loves, she did exactly that.