Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Suddenly I paused, startled by a swift pattering of feet from somewhere just behind me.  As I looked round, a little girl shot past me, her two jet-black pigtails flying out behind her, her tiny feet pounding the earth like toy piston rods.  The long sleeves of her apple-green pyjama-jacket flailing as she ran called to mind a butterfly skimming the grass in panic flight from some predatory bird.  This was certainly no ordinary village girl, no daughter of the black-clad peasants of Lantao.

Following her with my eyes, I watched her branch sharply to the left and scramble up a narrow slope set in an otherwise perpendicular rock face.  At astonishing speed, she flew up to the top and disappeared across a platform of rock some twenty or thirty feet above the path.  The roof and walls of a grey-brick hermitage with an ornamental frieze below the eaves were now clearly visible from where I stood and, spurred by the thought of tea and a place to rest, I began to climb up after her.  Dragging myself up the rocky slope proved even more difficult than it looked; roots and grasses trapped my legs and loose pebbles slipped from under me.  Indeed, my mode of ascent was ludicrously different from hers.  When I reached the top, there was no sign of the girl; instead a tall, dignified recluse in an ample robe of blue stood gazing at me.  There was no doubt about him being a Taoist, for his long hair was gathered up into a bun and fastened with an ornamental wooden comb, protruding from a hole in the top of his antique headgear.  Here, at last, was a rider of griffins and unicorns.

John Blofeld, The Wheel Of Life.  Berkeley, Shambala, 1959.

Griffin fresco in the "Throne Room", Palace of Knossos, Crete, Bronze Age.

Unicorn mosaic on a 1213 church floor in Ravenna.

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