From Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie by Arthur Edward Waite. 1896:
The natural mandragore is a filamentous root which, more or less, presents as a whole either the figure of a man, or that of the virile members … it is certain that man came out of the slime of the earth, and his first appearance must have been in the form of a rough sketch. The analogies of nature make this notion necessarily admissible… The first men were, in this case, a family of gigantic, sensitive mandragores, animated by the sun, who rooted themselves up from the earth … reproduction of a soil sufficiently fruitful and a sun sufficiently active to humanise the said root, and thus create men without the concurrence of the female…
Shakespeare: Hamlet; 1.5, 167-8
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy.
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.”
I’d been born in the Village, the only village on the Island. My parents and brothers had moved back to Dad’s family home there just two months after I was born. Dad had never really recovered from Mum’s death during my birth, and I had only recently begun to realise what it was, that all unwittingly, I’d done. That I’d killed her. Without wanting to. Without knowing anything about it. There had been times when I’d half wished that it’d been me who’d died and not her. But the part of me with the sense said rightly that she’d probably have died anyway, that two deaths are worse than one, and that life was pretty good anyway. But there was still this ugly realisation in the back of my mind…
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.” I looked stupidly at the man giving the order.
Dad had brought me up, as well as those of my brothers who were nearest to my age, in the best way he could with the help of my older brothers. Ours was a close family, but then so was everybody’s in the Village. The settlement was small and remote, and everyone relied on everyone else to do ‘their bit’ for the good of all. On the rare occasions we visited the outside world it was a culture shock. To see people ignoring each other, to see selfishness, greed, and above all ignorance of the well being of others. Well! I was glad I was a member of Our Village.
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.” He couldn’t be serious, I thought. There are another five of them with him too. I couldn’t do what he asked!
Recently the village’s fortunes had been waning. We seemed to have had so few good harvests that the produce we had to buy in from the outside world was starting to exceed what we could sell back to it. That much I’d learnt by asking at school and by attending one of the long, boring council meetings that anyone over nine years old could go to, it being argued that sometimes people as young as ten could give good advice. I hadn’t, but I had a retentive memory, and had learnt a lot. It seemed they were very concerned, and were having to delve into the money they’d accumulated over the years. Some said they needed the old magic back, and that’d bring a spell of good luck.
“Come on, boy. Take your clothes off. All of them.” He’d said it again! Surely they wouldn’t ask a boy to strip in front of so many of them? It was bad enough doing it for the doctor when he visited the school. Then we had to strip to our pants in the classroom — boys and girls — and run to the dining hall where, one by one, we had to go behind a screen, drop our only remaining item of clothing, get prodded, held, investigated, poked, held again, told to cough, and finally allowed to put on our skimpy barriers against immodesty and go to the next screen where they did other tests… But to strip, on my own, in front of six clothed men… well! I mean, I was ten now, not a child any more, not really, and deserved my privacy.
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.” I wondered suddenly if any of my six elder brothers had had to do this. Was it one of these coming of age things you had to do? Was it a test? What would happen if I failed? That brought more fears to me. I mean, was it a manhood thing? If I wasn’t growing properly would they do something to me? Make me a girl, or something? Although I was ten and not a child any more I couldn’t keep my bottom lip from trembling, just as I couldn’t keep the pricking from behind my eyes.
“Come on, Aidan. We’re not going to harm you. We just need to see. It’s for the good of the Village. Take your clothes off, please, then we won’t have to keep you here.”
“But… sir… I can’t… I mean…”
“It’s all right. We won’t be laughing at you. We won’t harm you in any way. Just do it, please?”
I looked round the men. All of them were on the council — I’d seen them at the meeting. One of them, I knew, was the doctor. He at least had seen me stripped, at school. He had a deadpan expression, as they all did.
Slowly I started to fumble at my belt, then undid the button, then pulled down the zip. Then I remembered my trousers wouldn’t go over the long boots I was wearing despite the season. Instead I pulled them off first, then hauled off my socks. Then I thought better of the trousers, and took off the jumper and shirt.
Then once again I stood still, hesitantly, clad in nothing except a pair of old flannel shorts, which, unzipped as they were, were already obeying the laws of gravity. I grabbed at them automatically as they slid down over my underpants.
“Good boy. Take them off, and the underwear, and stand in front of us.” I looked at the speaker. He was serious.
With eyes pricking again I bent and pulled down at the shorts, then stepped out of them. At the time I wore white Y-fronts, the sort of thing that nobody would be seen dead in now. Because we were a big family and I was the youngest, mine were about fourth generation underpants, and were showing the strain in the number of draughty holes they had. And areas of the skin of my flanks and bottom were already visible, as was a small section of belly just above the parts that mattered.
They were still looking at me, waiting. I gave a sort of sob, and swept the cloth down my legs, stepped free, and stood there, shivering, but not with cold. Twelve eyes bored into every part of me. Most of all they seemed to be boring into the bits at the top of my legs. Quickly I put my hands over the area to stop embarrassing them.
“No, take your hands away, please. Let them hang at your sides.”
I complied, although my shaking grew worse. After they had examined me minutely I was told to go and stand in front of the doctor.
“I’m going to examine your penis and scrotum, Aidan. Do you know what they are?”
This was taking place at the end of the 1950’s. Sex education was something you might learn at the age of about sixteen or seventeen from your parents, unless you found out about it in school from someone who’d heard about it from his elder brother’s friend, or who had encountered another boy in some intimate way, or an adult who wanted you to be naked with them and try things out. And we were in a closed community on a small island. I shook my head.
“The penis is the thing you use to piddle, and the scrotum is the skin, the little bit of loose skin with the delicate things in it which is just below it.”
I looked down at myself. I’d not really taken much notice of the skin below it, apart from knowing that it tickled if I touched it. But then so did my willy when it seemed to get a bit longer occasionally when I touched it gently.
Carefully he took hold of my penis and pulled back at the foreskin like Dad had told me to when I bathed. The sensitive, pinky red, delicate thing underneath gleamed at him. With the softest of touches he put a finger on it, and I jumped backwards with the shock of the unexpected contact. I looked at him.
“It’s all right, Aidan. Come back, please.”
Slowly I stepped toward him again. He lifted the penis and gently lifted up the looseness of skin underneath, squeezing slightly, then let it drop again. He traced a path from it either side of my willy, to a point half way up the belly, then pushed in and retraced the movement. Lastly he took his hands away and just looked at me there at close quarters. It was a bit like having the school medical again, but that was never in front of six men, and never for this long or this close an examination.
“Now stand with your legs apart, please.” I separated my legs, and he put his hand up between them to push at the bit of me between scrotum and bum. Automatically I coughed; that seemed to be what they wanted you to do when they did that. He smiled.
“Very good, Aidan. I’m pleased to say you have a strong and healthy body. A body which, with the rest of your special attributes, you could use to serve your father, your brothers, and all the rest of your friends in this Village of ours. And think, just think, how proud your mother would have been to know that her youngest son had been chosen to give such a great service.”
He paused, knowing that saying that would surely get me on his side. None of the rest of the men said anything.
“Nothing to say, young man? Not even a thank you to us for choosing you?” He smiled at me.
“The… thank you, sir,” I said automatically. I was on autopilot. And at ten, in the face of authority, in the 1950’s, you did exactly what you were told by your elders and betters. I was naked and powerless anyway.
“Good boy. Now, you must tell no one what we have chosen you for, nor must you tell anyone what has happened here today. If you do, we shall have to choose someone else. And that would be a shame, because it would bring a disgrace to your family.”
I was naked, powerless, and now in shock. I would never do anything to make people think bad of my father and brothers, not to mention my dead mother whom I had unwittingly killed.
They let me stay like that, bare, thinking, as their eyes still scanned me. At last another of them stirred. “Very well, boy, you may put on your clothes. But never forget that we shall know if you tell anyone, even your father or brothers, even the priest. This is essential. Do you understand?”
“I didn’t hear you, boy,” he said in a suddenly loud, commanding voice.
“Yes, sir,” I managed.
“That’s better. In six months we will call for you again, and at that time you will learn more. Get dressed, please.”
“Yes, sir.” And, still with them watching me I bent for my underpants and hurriedly pulled them up, twisted. I got both feet into one trouser leg of my shorts, and had to hop around to keep my balance. I could feel my face getting hot. I pulled them down again, rearranged myself, hauled them up again and pulled up the zip, did up the button and fastened the belt, then realised I needed to undo them again to tuck in my shirt. Hurriedly I pulled it over my head, undid, tucked, and scrambled to do it all up again. Then the jumper. Then I picked up my socks and again hopped round the floor trying to get them on.
“Sit down on the floor and do it, Aidan,” said the doctor. I looked thankfully at him and dropped down instantly. One. Two. Then the boots. One. Two. And then I was ready. I stood up.
“You may go, boy,” said the one who had told me to strip in the first place.
“Thank you sir,” said my automatic pilot, and I turned and fled from the room, nearly tripping over my feet as I went.
“You’re late,” said my eldest brother.
“Stopped to talk to someone.”
He didn’t ask anything else.
I lay awake in the bed I shared with Sean, the brother one up from me in age, for what seemed like hours that night, thinking, thinking. Why me? What was special about me? I was now officially healthy and strong, which was nice, but what a way to have to find out! Me, stripping myself naked in front of six men! But they’d wanted me. Me. Me! Why me?
And so on around in circles until I fell asleep.
The next morning I was dreading running into any of the people who had examined me. But I suppose it was inevitable that I should. I looked at the man as he passed me by, but apart from the usual “good morning Aidan” that I got from everybody in the village whom I knew, which meant everybody, there was no extra glimmer of recognition. No spark to show that he knew exactly what I looked like naked. No laugh, no comment, no recognition. I returned the greeting as I’d been taught. At school there was no mention of anything strange, as I’d half feared there might be. It was all right their swearing me to silence by the good name of my family, but I had no indication there would be silence on their part.
But there was silence. And gradually the memory faded, and became just one of the odd things that adults do now and again. And after five months I’d forgotten almost all about it.
A month after that he doctor caught me on my way home from school, as he had done the first time.
“Aidan, follow me to the village hall, please.”
“Yes sir.” I was ten and a half, and automatically did everything that I was told by someone in authority. I walked with him to the little building, and into the hall, and through it into the same little room that I had been in before. And once again there were five other men sitting there in a semicircle. As I saw them I stopped in something like panic as the memories of the first meeting came flooding back. But the doctor took his place, and we were back to square one.
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.” I knew he was going to say it as soon as I had seen them all there. This time the surprise wasn’t there, but I was still panicking about doing it. But common sense and my upbringing told me I must, and as I’d done it before it didn’t matter. And after all, at home there was very little privacy in our all-male household with the constant pressures on bathroom and lavatory imposed by a father and seven sons.
My clothes came off with less hesitation this time, and I stood there once again naked, being scanned by the twelve eyes. And once again the doctor felt and prodded my most private areas, and nodded to the others Then I stood in front of them again. The village’s chief elder, the only one apart from the doctor who ever seemed to speak, looked directly into my eyes, and that was quite a change compared with his close examination of the rest of my exposed body.
“Aidan, the last time we saw you we said we would be able to tell you more about what was going on, what you would be required to do for the future of your family and the village. Well, now we can.” He paused. I stood there, wishing it was summer, and as warm as when I’d last stood naked in front of them. “You know that this Village, this Island, has a long, long history. In fact its history goes back thousands of years. You’ve learnt about it in school.”
He seemed to want me to say something. “Yes, sir.”
“And you may have been taught that before people started to believe in Christianity they had other gods.” Again a pause. I thought back to history lessons.
He looked at me and, for the first time, smiled. “Well, there was one particular god who was associated with our island. In fact he was hardly a god at all, more just a spirit of the earth and the sea. I suppose you could call it half god, half magic.”
I said nothing. I was trying to take it in. Oh, and to stop myself shivering.
“Well, what you haven’t been told in school is that a lot of people who went to church also believed in this old spirit. And they did so all through our history, until quite recently. They didn’t worship the spirit or have him instead of normal religion, they just believed that he was there, and they had better show him some respect.
“During the last fifty years or so, fewer people thought about him. And gradually our crops have failed and things have happened with the weather, and… well, you know how badly off we’re getting. So some of our old people have decided that we should try and see if the old spirit can help us.”
He paused again. I wondered what I should say. But it seemed as if he was almost waiting for me to laugh at him, because he was looking down at his feet just as I did in school when I expected to be told not to be silly.
“And that is where you come in, boy,” he suddenly said, loudly and defiantly. “The books tell us about what we must do when there are problems. And it calls for a seventh son, a boy who was born on the Island.”
I looked up directly at him. Suddenly aware. Almost proud. This was me. Suddenly I didn’t feel so powerless. For the first time I thought to speak.
“But what would I have to do, sir?”
“Eh? Eh? It’s too early for that yet. You have two more years of growth first, or thereabouts. Then we can tell you what. But it involves the ability that any man has to bring life, but only you have that special ability to bring back the life, the fertility of the land. When you are ready, we shall know. And you will be told. But until then you will still keep this matter secret from everyone. It is not to be discussed unless all six of us are here with you, alone. Is that understood?”
“And never forget the shame that would come on your family if you speak of it anywhere else. You may dress now, and go.”
I suited the actions to his words, and went home to get warm.
It was another night of thought before I slipped off to sleep. Thoughts of the pride that I might be able to help the village, that I was special, that I would eventually have to do… what? What is it that any man could do? Work? I expected that — four of my brothers were at work, and the fifth was due to leave school in a few months. That left just Sean — who shared the bed with me — and myself still at school. I hoped the village would last long enough for me to get old enough to do whatever it was I had to do.
And so it was that at eleven, in summer, I went through the same treatment. And at eleven and a half, during one of the coldest winters I could remember, I shivered my way through the proceedings, this time with a tinge of anger to me. Why should I have to strip naked in front of them like this? Why, if they had to do it, couldn’t the doctor do it on his own as he did at school, and then report back to them? But I did what they said, as usual.
On my twelfth birthday I once again found myself being taken to be examined. This time it took very little time. The doctor nodded, the elder told me I was growing up good and strong, and told me to look after myself and not take risks.
“Yes, sir,” I said, nodding my head wisely as my naked body shivered, summer or not. He told me to get dressed and go, and once again reminded me not to say anything about it. I was still unused to being naked in front of them. It was odd, worrying, different, but they expected — demanded — it, so it must be all right. And I’d started to notice that I was a lot taller and better able to think about how I felt when in front of them.
That summer there was a break in the almost persistent drought that seemed to visit us each and every year, scorching the crops before they were ready for harvest. I wondered if my special stature, and my eventual manly abilities, would no longer be needed if we were going to be all right now.
The next winter I got called into the meeting nevertheless.
As I straightened up from stripping off my underpants this time, I saw the doctor’s face change subtly. They still left me to stand there, showing off my twelve and a half years of growth. When the doctor called me to him to take my penis in his hand I was aware of the others craning their necks round to look as well. His hand felt warm on me, and gentle, and to my horror I felt that increase in the weight of the end of it that had started to plague me and make me hate to change for gym sometimes, or even stand up in class without adjusting the way it lay in my pants first. As he held me, my penis rose away from his palm and nothing I could do would make it go down again.
“I… I’m… I’m sorry, sir,” I said, looking at the floor and biting my lower lip in shame and self-loathing.
He looked at me. “But that’s what we’ve all been waiting for, Aidan. It shows that your body is waking up and is starting, just starting, to become that of a man. And look, underneath, haven’t you noticed how your scrotum has grown outwards?”
Ah yes, scrotum. I’d forgotten the name. And I hadn’t noticed. I mean, I must have caught sight of my body every day in the bathroom mirror, but the slow changes are the ones you don’t notice. Haircuts and bruises and cuts you do, and when you feel that your willy suddenly gets heavier, and starts getting stiff and standing up on its own like it does more and more under your trousers in school and embarrasses you, you notice. But the slow growth of an unimportant, if tender and private, part of you passes without comment.
Once again I was squeezed there, and once again his fingers traced over the sensitive skin as he brought them up beside my willy. Which was still stiffly beating in time with my heart, making it even harder to accept that the thing was now facing straight up to the ceiling, and being watched closely by all six men.
I swallowed hard. He looked up at me.
“It’s good, Aidan. Very good. Before your thirteenth birthday, too. That’s quite unusual — quite early for your body to be this far advanced in its maturity…” Maturity! Another magic word! “…So it should only be another few months before you’ll be ready, I should say. We’ll need to look at you each month from now on.”
He looked round at the others. “I suggest we give him until the first — not of next month, but February, then look again.”
The others nodded. The leader called the doctor over to him and whispered something to him. He nodded and came back to me.
“Now, Aidan, there is something else we have to warn you about. You know by now that the part of your body that has been growing is the part of you that is used for making the seed which can be planted into a girl to make a baby.”
I didn’t know. This was news to me. Nobody had told me how babies were made, although by now I knew where they came from. There had been too many of the village’s young women who had become thick-waisted during my life and had later appeared with babies that I hadn’t been able not to notice. Oh, that and the usual rude comments amongst my school friends.
I was so long taking this in that I forgot to nod or say anything. I was still very much on automatic pilot during these sessions.
“You do know, don’t you?”
“Yes, sir.” Why didn’t I ask him for an explanation, a proper one? The boys at school would have hung onto every word. So would I, come to that.
“You may know, or would normally soon find out, that there are ways of making your body produce that seed artificially, without anyone else being there. It is important — no, it is absolutely essential — that you never do so. If you do, we shall know and you will have wasted our time and yours over all these years, and let down your family as well. In fact you would have let down the Village so badly that you would probably have to go and live somewhere else for the shame of it.”
I looked at him wide eyed. I had no idea how to get my seed out. I didn’t have the slightest idea who to ask about it either. It wasn’t one of the things we talked about at home, not even Sean and me, although we were nearest in age. I nodded, shivering once again with the winter’s cold and now with a stab of fear too. I couldn’t even imagine letting everybody down, much less living anywhere else but at home.
“The same applies, Aidan, with getting together with a girl on your own. It must not happen until after your special duties are over. But since you are only twelve, I suppose that’s hardly likely.” He paused and smiled round at the others. I felt myself go red, something that stripping in front of them never made me do any more. He looked back at me. “Do you promise these things?”
“Yes, sir,” I said without thinking.
I was dismissed until the first of February, and as swiftly as I could I got dressed again and went out into the open air.
Before Sean came to bed that night, and despite the cold of my unheated bedroom, I spent a long time looking down at my naked body. Tentatively I traced the new roundness of my scrotum, wondering why I’d never noticed its growth for myself. The sensation was so intense that my body instinctively jerked away from my own exploring fingers, but I made myself lie still while I felt again… and again… And of course, my errant penis, still boy-short at two inches, rose to be three and a half again, and stood there, beating time once again, casting a shadow from the moon across my belly. I wondered what it was you did to get your seed out.
Then suddenly I knew I mustn’t go on doing this because if I thought about it too much it might happen and then I’d be an outcast. In a panic I pulled the bedclothes over me and brought my arms outside so I wouldn’t be tempted to tickle myself again… and that was the first time I realised that feeling myself was really pleasurable. The thoughts connected in my brain, and before I knew it my penis was pushing up at the heavy bedding again. I mustn’t think like this, I mustn’t. Think of the disgrace… think of living away from the family, unloved, unwelcome, an outcast… What could I do to stop it? History, that was it. Recite the names and dates of the Kings and Queens of England…
I was asleep before Sean came into the room.
I was examined again at the beginning of February, then March, then April. Each time the doctor smiled encouragingly. In March I asked him why there were dark hairs starting to grow over and at either side of my penis, and he told me it was meant to happen, that all men grew them. My scrotum had been getting even more pronounced, and two definite lumps had become noticeable either side of the centre line. I had been the first to discover them, during one of my guilty and hurried explorations in bed, before the fear of my seed coming had really kicked in and brought my hands above the covers.
When I went for May’s examination the doctor wasn’t there. Instead the village’s blacksmith was sitting, his black eyes almost hidden under his craggy eyebrows, watching me like a hawk. I was rather nervous about someone new in the room, but was told that the doctor’s part in this was over.
“Take your clothes off, boy. All of them.”
I was expecting it, of course, and stripped now, if not readily or eagerly then without delay. I was getting quite proud of my growing body, despite the other worrying sensations I still felt about taking off my clothes in front of so many men.
“Hmm,” said the blacksmith as I stood in front of them. The others were silent.
“And he’s a seventh son, you say?”
“Yes,” said the leader. “We’ve made sure there’s no confusion there. And everything else is just right. He won’t be thirteen until late June. And the doctor has said, as you know, that he’s capable.”
“Hmm… And has he ever… you know?”
“Aidan, how many times a week do you make seed?”
“I… I… I haven’t sown any seed since early spring, sir, since I helped Dad with the barley in the Easter holidays.”
“I don’t mean that sort of seed, boy. I mean your own seed, the seed that’s inside you.”
I blushed as I understood. “Sorry, sir, never, sir, because you told me not to.”
“There’s your answer, Smith. He’s a virgin.”
What? Surely a virgin was a woman? I mean, Mary was. We sung about her in church all the time. Could a boy be a virgin too? And what was one, anyway? The words floated into my head: “… because she knew not a man.” I supposed she hadn’t done something, and if she hadn’t neither had Joseph. Which must have made him a virgin too, but nobody ever sang about that. If only I knew what it was.
“That’s all right, then,” said the blacksmith. “So long as you’re sure he can. His tonker doesn’t look very big, to me.”
“The doctor says it’ll be fine,” said the leader.
Now I’d never heard of a tonker before, but somehow I knew what it was. And what the blacksmith had said made me angry, and I suddenly disliked him.
I was told to go, but expect to be called back in about two weeks. I lay in bed that night hating the blacksmith and persuading myself that my tonker wasn’t small — it wasn’t as small as usual, certainly — and was trying to stretch. And it wasn’t until I felt it a bit wetter than normal at the end that I told myself I’d got to stop, and hurriedly did so.
Years later I heard the young men’s story, and since this is where it fits in to the tale, this is where I’ll put it.
‘My’ six council members had been watching me to see who I was friendly with amongst the older lads of the village. One or two were quite nice to me, I suppose because they didn’t see me as a threat of any sort, and having so many elder brothers I was quite at home with fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year olds.
One by one they were called in front of the six elders, and their part in the plan was explained to them. At first there was a loud, vehement refusal from each of them, and incredulity that anyone, village elder or not, should even think of such a thing. But a combination of the need to save the village, to try anything, the shame on their family if they didn’t, and how their refusal might get them excluded from the village to live as outcasts, and in one or two cases the threat of blackmail, finally elicited a most reluctant agreement from them all.
Of all this I was blissfully unaware, conscious only that some of my older acquaintances seemed to seek out my company rather more than before. I put this down to my enhanced physical condition, and was happy about it.
And so we drifted thoughtlessly into another dry June, and towards my thirteenth birthday.