Douglas Colston

Being on the upper side of 50, much of Douglas’ biographical material can be assumed (various careers, relationships and university qualifications [even industrial hearing loss and roaring tinnitus related to playing in Ska bands]), but this may be a little unique – he is still married with a great wife and two children (it does happen) and is seeking to enrol in a PhD (towards producing a speculative notated memoir of a 1st Century CE Greco-Roman author … it is intended to be an innovative project in Creative Nonfiction). To date, a number of his works have been published online (at ‘New World Writing’) and in a number of print anthologies (including ‘Erotica of eternity’ [2022], ‘Let’s begin again’ [2022], ‘Garden of poets’ [2022] and ‘My Glorious Quill’ [2022]), in addition to gaining praise such as “… eliciting a strange sense of awe … [t]his is ground breaking and gorgeous … writing and deserves   to be read widely” (The Editors, POETiCA REViEW).

Grendel – Cain’s Kind

The King’s people had celebrated in the great Mead-hall for days – or so it seemed. The Hall’s gables may have been none the wiser to the obscene amounts of alcohol that had been consumed, but the servants were familiar with what had been imbibed. After all, they had prepared it and they were responsible for cleaning up the mess.

By this point in proceedings, they reckoned the consumption by the amount of vomit being produced.

Chaos, however, did not reign exclusively. This was proven when the best of Skálds stood and the roar of revelry died to a murmur. For the Skáld, that was insufficient deference. To gather the ears of stragglers – and to emphasize the beginning of his speech – he thunderously banged his staff. Three times that staff banged and then the Skáld shouted once, “Listen!”

In the silence thus established, he then – with a voice much like a heralding messenger – continued, “In the past, we, the off-shoots of Dan, were the army, host, force, power and glory of High Kings. We found out, discovered and learned lessons of how the people and princes of strength, courage and bravery performed.

“Often, the one known as the Protector, or Scyld, gathered together and bundled up injuries, warriors, enemies, assailants, ravagers, punishments, oppression, retaliation, assaults, crowds, swarms, throngs, troops and armies.

“Taking away, withholding or withdrawing metaphorical ‘mead-benches’, a multitudinous mixture of maidens, wives, families, tribes or nations, importunate desires or ambitions, terrified earls, nobleman and warriors.

“Since, at first, came destitution or misery, having found and met it, afterward, comfort or consolation were endured, experienced, reached or attained”.

Here, a lengthy pause was accompanied by the piercing gaze of the Skáld travelling across the audience, knowing nods from women and occasionally, shame-induced flushes of cheeks from those who considered themselves ‘noble warriors’.

It was an awkward moment – just as it always was and as it was intended to be, for growth sometimes occurs in times of discomfort.

In due time, the Skáld continued, “Having grown among tortured and convoluted mixtures of glory, honour, reverence, having oppressed, threatened, subjugated and prospered until he entirely, in that place, besieged across the ocean, having heard, obeyed, complied with or assented to what was owed, opinions of what is apt, tribute to be paid, yielded, restored, requited, rewarded, worshipped or cultivated, that consumed and macerated King Good.

“The heir was, according to birth, last in the lands.

“That one, Good sent the common people and the army, as comfort and consolation.

“Necessary and requisite torment, suffering, crimes and sins, which, as a consequence of a lack of lengthy leadership, they previously bore, suffered, underwent and endured, were recognized, understood and confiscated.

“The one sent by Good was known by many epithets, including the Life Lord, but in Danish lands, was the Wasp, Beowulf, the son of Scyld Scefing, the Binding Protector. The fame and renown of that one – characterized by glorious adulation – spread far and inspired dignity and virtue”.

Another pause – as usual – occurred at this point in the story and when the Skáld next began speaking, his tone had softened as he said, “In that way should a young, recent or final man or hero, who is good or excellent, achieve through individual and collaborative works, boldly, firmly or resolutely dispensing treasured gifts from his father’s possessions”.

Smiles sprinkled the faces of the audience as they basked in the reward offered by the thought of unconditional positive regard and benevolence. The Skáld noticed and was inwardly pleased that teaching moment had penetrated the addled minds he held for this relatively brief moment.

Once more – and not for the last time – the Skáld’s intonations changed and the tale continued with moral lessons wound through what were, at the least, semi-historical commentaries involving the departure of Scyld and the early journeys of the ones known as ‘the four children’. It had become like an idyll.

Then, the Skáld’s voice shifted another time – mid-sentence – and he continued, “until one, having attempted to be made of fire, performed the enemy from the underworld. Having consumed that savage, bitter and angry passion, which we call Grendel, that emotion commanded, summoned, proclaimed and hated. The infamous and renowned walker in border regions. The one the moors and mountains kept watch over, possessed and contained. Marshes, mud, fens, fortresses and strongholds. Monstrous kinds’ native soil, dwelling, station, condition and fate that unhappy and unlucky heroes and warriors guard and protect in the time since it shaped and created condemnation, proscription, incisions and writings.

“Possessed, inside, it is a craftsman of sorts, or as might be said in Hebraic, Cain’s kind, where death, slaughter, plague and pestilence is avenged, wreaked or spoken about, achingly, durably or perpetually the ruler.

“In respect of you, kill and beat that Abel, Abel being a Hebrew term for foolishness, absurdity and uselessness. Do not rejoice or exult it.

“Nevertheless, that, feud, hostility and enmity, that, in the distant past, and in a perverse and depraved manner, banished, drove away and expelled, thus making and creating expeditions, lifestyles, journeys, and travel. Consequently, humanity is from, and sometimes boldly and strongly for, sin and crime”.

Another pause occurred, allowing a murmur of thoughtful appreciation to move naturally through the crowd. Even the most inebriated of the retinue – possibly through a learned response from social conditioning – acknowledged the masterful application of cross-lingual and cross-cultural puns and rhetoric. Deep wisdom attached to humour, the Skáld noted to himself, seemed to work here too.

The Skáld continued – as did the tale … well beyond the corporeal existence of all who were present.

It is a story as old as human existence and it is not about ‘God’ or the ‘Devil’ – the author of Beowulf knew those were metaphors … rather, many times the most frightening monsters to be encountered are those lurking within the human psyche seeking expression and engagement.

Spotting the Lost Truth in an Urban Legend

On 1 December 1916, a fifteen year old did something that would lead to his own death within four years.

In this case, the ‘fifteen year old’ was Sermi ag Tora and the ‘something’ was ‘murdering Charles Eugène de Foucauld de Pontbriand and two Méharistes of the French Camel Corps in a botched kidnapping that was witnessed by a former slave (who had also been liberated and instructed by the priest, in addition to serving as a sacristan)’ – that witness was Paul Embarek.

Like many events that unfold to include the murder of clergy, that tragic scheme involved older ringleaders who were, nominally, acting with politico-religious motivations. The immediate henchman in command was said to be El Madani ag Soda, but to be fair, the rot likely set in at the organizational level (which was the Senussi school – a Sufi tarīqah [an esoteric group] that sought haqīqa [‘the truth’]).

The irony of such a group being involved in a murderous escapade inspired by politics, sectional theology and tribalism while masquerading as part of the path of a noble spiritual search for ‘the truth’ oozes with the metaphorical stench of coagulating blood. Becoming so misguided, however, is not uncommon in groups with high ideals and exclusionary and absolutist approaches to membership.

As for Sermi ag Tora, he spent the rest of his life in an ultimately futile attempt to escape French ‘justice’ … which ended when he is said to have been captured and executed in 1922.

Details of how that fifteen year old may have become involved in the killings is contained in a conversation reported to Bulletin des Amitiés Charles de Foucauld in 1938 by Cpt. Michel Lesourd. That material suggests the involvement of Sermi ag Tora resulted from the directions of Sultan Ahmoud (a Toureg tribal leader that had – in the preceding years – been driven by the French into Libya). The youth was considered a serf (a social position similar to that of a slave) of the Taureg confederation and Sultan Ahmoud gave the relevant orders – the shooting of the priest, however, was as a consequence of a panicked response.

A subsequent commentary by Fr Gorrée (a priest looking into the matter) appearing in the First Edition of Sur les traces du Père de Foucauld (1938) – confirmed the report report of Lesourd, in addition to advancing the inflammatory claim that the priest had repeatedly spoken “bâghî nmoût” (“I want to die” in Arabic). By implication, such statements seemed to be a pre-emptive declaration of refusal to recite the aš-šahādah ([ٱلشَّهَادَةُ‎ – an Islamic oath that serves to admit an individual to the Muslim faith]). In discussions with Gorrée, however, Embarek (the ‘witness’) specifically referred to an ‘urban legend’ of sorts that had arisen on the matter – steadfastly maintaining that it was entirely myth, the priest had never made the statements and he had been killed as a consequence of a panicked response to the arrival of the two Méharistes (who were also murdered). Those declarations from Embarek were relegated to a Footnote in subsequent publications (including a reissue of Gorrée’s 1938 book).

In 1944, a later investigation by French authorities established that El Madani ag Soda (the ‘Judas’) had acted under threats, duress and at the direction of Senussi leaders. Consequently, he was freed and lived a further five or six years before dying in Ghat in 1951.

What of the ‘Jesus’ in this story?

The former Viscount of Foucauld stayed dead.

Some of his blood, undoubtedly, mixed with the soil to create a sort of mud-blood concoction before natural biochemical reactions progressed to the point where it was – by and large – no different from any other soil on Earth. The question of what his consciousness perceived of the moments after the fatal shot related to his blood-loss fired remains a mystery. Despite the generic speculation on such issues, it remains a mystery. What was certain was that the geographer, explorer and priest had achieved nirvana – the absolute extinction or annihilation of individual existence, desires and passions. Tautology and puns aside – and however it could be phrased – he was definitely an ex-priest.

C’est la vie.

Irrespective of whether an individual’s path is remembered or otherwise – including those that turn in urban legends – death awaits us all … Judas and Jesus alike.

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