The disappearances and Nick and Mrs. Milton’s short-lived stay at the Bartholomew. They’re all connected. I’m certain of it. An ouroboros of a most sinister nature.
Which is why I ended up at the library, striding to the help desk and saying, “I need as many books on symbology as you can find.”
Now a dozen titles sit in front of me. I hope at least one of them will help me understand the meaning behind the ouroboros. If I can learn that, then maybe I’ll have a better idea of what’s going on at the Bartholomew.
I grab the top book from the stack and flip to the index, looking for entries about the ouroboros. I do the same with the others until twelve open books are fanned out across the table. The arrangement provides a gallery view of the ouroboros in all its many incarnations. Some are as simple as line drawings. Others are elaborate etchings embellished with crowns and wings and symbols within the serpent’s circle. Hexagrams. Greek letters. Words written in unknown languages. The sheer volume and variety overwhelm me.
I grab one of the books at random—an outdated symbology textbook—and read its entry.
The ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon forming a circle or figure eight by eating its own tail. Originating in ancient Egypt, the symbol was adopted by the Phoenicians and then the Greeks, where it gained the name used today—Ouroboros, which is roughly translated as “he who eats the tail.”
Through this act of self-destruction, the serpent is in essence controlling its own fate. Eating itself—which will bring death—while also feeding itself, which brings life. On and on and on for all eternity.
A symbolic representation of coming full circle, the ouroboros became associated with many varied beliefs, most notably alchemy. The depiction of a serpent devouring itself symbolizes rebirth and the cyclical nature of the universe. Creation rising from destruction. Life rising from death.
I stare at the page. Key words emerge from the pack, standing out as if they were bold red and underlined.
Creation rising from destruction.
Life rising from death.
All of it an unbroken circle. Going on and on forever.
I snatch another book and leaf through it until I come to an image of a card from a tarot deck.
It depicts a man in red-and-white robes standing at an altar. He lifts a wand toward the heavens with his right hand and points to the ground with his left. Sitting above his head like a double halo is a figure eight.
There’s another, different one around his waist. A snake holding itself in place by biting its own tail.
The altar contains four objects—a staff, a sword, a shield adorned with a star, and a goblet made of gold.
I lean in closer, studying first the shield, then the goblet.
Upon closer inspection, I realize the star in the shield isn’t just any star. Its interconnected lines form five distinct points, all of them surrounded by the circle of the shield itself.
As for the golden cup, it looks less like a goblet and more like something ceremonial.
Seeing it next to the pentagram strikes a bell deep in the recesses of my memory. I leap from the table, leaving the books thrown open across it. Back at the information desk, I summon the same exasperated librarian who helped me earlier. He cringes when he sees me.
“How many books do you have on Satanism?” I say.
The librarian’s cringe becomes a wince. “I don’t exactly know. A lot?”
“Give me all of them.”
By five thirty I have, if not all of them, then at least a damn good sampling. Sixteen books now sit in front of me, replacing the symbology texts that have been swept aside. I sort through this new stack, flipping to their indexes, scanning the names in the hope one stands out from all the rest.
One eventually does, in a scholarly text titled Modern Deviltry: Satanism in the New World.
I remember it from the article I read about the Bartholomew’s tragic past. All those dead servants and rumored ghosts and Cornelia Swanson’s alleged murder of her poor maid. One of the reasons Cornelia seemed so guilty was because she had once consorted with Damyanov, an occult leader.
Le Calice D’Or.
That was the name of her group of followers.
The Golden Chalice.
I flip back a hundred pages, locating a telling passage about Marie Damyanov.
While times of strife cause many to seek solace in their faith, it also forces others to consider the option of appealing to a satanic messiah, especially during eras marked by extreme warfare or plague. Damyanov believed that after forming the heavens and the earth, God abandoned his creations, allowing chaos to reign. To endure this chaos, Damyanov advised her followers to appeal to a mightier deity—Lucifer—who could be summoned not with prayers but with blood. Thus began rituals in which young women would be cut, their blood caught in a golden chalice and poured over an open flame.
Years later, some of Damyanov’s disillusioned followers hinted at more horrific practices in letters to friends and confidantes. One wrote that Damyanov claimed the sacrifice of a young woman during a blue moon would summon Lucifer himself, where he would grant those present with gifts of good health and immense fortune. The author of the letter then went on to admit that he never witnessed such an act, saying it was most likely a tale created to sully Damyanov’s reputation.