This is how it begins.
In a certain Tsardom of the thirtieth realm, across thrice-nine lands…
Not once-nine, or twice-nine, but thrice-nine.
To hear those words, or to speak those words, even to write those words, is to begin something that is so close to my heart, so essential to me, that I cannot tell where it begins and I end. As it is with so many (but not all) of the best things.
Oh, the adventures we have had beyond the thrice-nine lands! Do you remember? Tell me you do. Tell me that you have not forgotten the way there (and back.) The bridge of fire. The forest of thorns. The burning bird, the giant frogs. The time you had to live under a witch’s doorstep for two years and I dipped my thumb in the soup. Do you remember?
I do, but barely at some times and mistakenly at others. But I remember.
I promised, long ago, that I would – everything I do now is for that, for remembering, because to forget would be a crime against the life-force itself, that great flowering of wonder that resists the forces of forgetting and entropy and maybe turns the wheel of time. I promised, and so it is. It seems, at times, as if it were no choice at all, but a recognition, as if I were here only for the remembering in the first place. But that is philosophical wondering, and nothing to do with the thrice-nine lands. Baba Yaga would laugh at my bones.
I was born on the twenty-seventh of the month, so was made for appreciating three nines (and nine threes, too, for that matter.) Later, in the calculator-clacking, times-table-tapping schoolroom of maths, extra maths, further maths and speculative equations, thrice-nine became three-cubed, 33, nothing less than one of those magical, perfect numbers, the sequence of which I don’t have the earth-name for, but which in my head exist as The Perfect Sequence:
11, 22, 33, 44, 55 (or 1, 2×2, 3x3x3, 4x4x4x4, 5x5x5x5x5) etc.
1, 4, 27, 256, 3125 and so on.
You know how it goes. Don’t you?
Sadly, I only get to see the first four numbers of the sequence in everyday use (and 256 has now been sullied by too strong an association with computer-tongues and machine-codes. Of this sequence, 256 is the swastika rune, the once-great-now-pariah of symbols. Perhaps that’s the destiny of a number so squarely rooted [as it were] in the structure of fours. It squares itself into infamy. I digress. A digression too far, perhaps.)
Thrice-nine. 33. Three times three times three. Three wrapped and wrapped again in threes. A Goddess number, if ever there was one…
Other writers, far more eloquent and persevering than I, have wondered aloud about the thrice-nine lands and the significance of numbers in folk-tales. I doff my hat to them and read their wonderings with wonder and wondering myself*. But I bow to thrice-nine and would throw my cloak on a puddle for 3125, if it happened to pass by. We don’t get many 55 round here. How about you?
Beyond the thrice-nine lands. Let’s just say, ‘It’s far enough…’
Far enough to slip between this moment and the next; far enough to be the glimmer in an eye, the once-in-nine-years dream, the magical moment of meeting and seeing the Beloved in the other. Far enough to be a place neither here nor there. I-know-not-where? That’s another story. You know where. Before you decided that here was here and there was there. Are we agreed?
When was the last time you went beyond the thrice-nine lands? Did you ever? Would you even want to, if the invitation arose? (And it does.) Here we are on the (relatively) firm footing of the beginning of a folk-tale and already we’re off, gone, gone, gone beyond thrice-nine lands…
Welcome to the thirtieth country.
Everything you need is already here.
I wanted to write to you, to say that I have things to tell – stories, memories, ideas, ravings and ramblings that keep my heart awake or unquiet, soothed or sated. I wanted to let you know that, here, deep in my chest, I am the same as you and him and her and that these are difficult times for this world.
Wherever you stand or sit or lie right now – this was meant to be the first country, the most solid, the most secure, most known. Instead we are all in a land that I, myself, cannot picture in ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years time. My horizon of time is very hazy indeed, which says it all. We didn’t have to wait for it – the thirtieth country already came to us. I wanted to reach out in words across the strange universes of information and give something, because who knows how long we have left, ever. You, me, them over there and the ones in between. The world as we know it and the ones we don’t. It may prove, in time, that the thirtieth realm is more certain than this one. Crazy days, my friend. Crazy days, indeed.
I wanted to show you some of the things I love in this here-we-are-both-first-and-thirtieth-realm. I didn’t know where to begin, so I began here, with the first words. That’s how I came to the edge of the thirtieth country, right here at the start of this thing, already.
Will you walk in-between with me in this strange land full of bears and gods and forests? It is where the best folk-tales happen and where the deepest myths unfold. It is a place of old magic. Here’s a secret, right now for free: it’s inside you.
* I’m thinking here particularly of Robert Bly and Marion Woodman in The Maiden King. I once had a copy of this (two, indeed, at one time) but now it has gone – perhaps it is beyond the thrice-nine lands, but it is probably in Scotland. The two overlap sometimes for me. This is well worth a read, especially if you are already acquainted with their individual works… Other writers too, explore the numbers games. Let me know which ones you doff your hats to.