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The Sistren is a collection of stories about seventy-two singular sisters. Every week a new sister’s story is told, accompanied by an original illustration. 

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XANTHA

XANTHA

She has to be mostly absent. She has to appear mostly at random, and now and again when summoned, but only when there is great need. She has to be stolid and resolute, her actions flowing from an immutable place, always inevitable. And her strength needs to lie just under the surface, but it must appear limitless.

Zeus called on her often. They all did, that lot. Quaking in fear more nights than not, they prayed more devoutly than they were prayed to, having so much to lose and so much yet to understand. She was careful that her patience did not betray her gentleness, that she had her moments of cold practicality mixed in with benevolence. She was the mountain and the pond beneath it.

The other gods followed, each in their own way. The lesser ones were usually less reverent, were more indifferent unless under the threat of death. The ones we still remember were the most devout. They typically learned of her existence in a fever dream, or a violent coming of age. She did not seek their attention, never demanded that they prostrate themselves or make sacrifices to prove their worth. These came always of their own accord.

She let the grass and rocks and water speak for her most times. They could reflect back the best advice, were clearly more sage than she or any of them. She needed only make the rare appearance, assure each of them that she was listening, that she had heard, that she had been guiding them, that, yes, horrors occur from time to time. And from time to time, on those most dreaded days, she had to mete out punishment when one of them betrayed her trust, or threatened her name, or knocked the pantheon out of balance.

There was also the cordoning off of each separate pantheon: none could learn of the others, that there were more gods than their select group of deities. It would shatter them and eventually their people. Instead, she spent much of her time making sure the boundaries were large enough, that there were deep pockets of land and sky between each set. Helping conduct each creation of the universe was the most agonizing part – each set had to perceive themselves the authors of everything in existence. It was arduous, thankless work, making everything out of nothing time and again.

And there were mistakes. There was more than one deicide at the hands of another pantheon. The people followed their gods to the grave and the land became bare. The cataclysms were felt by the people of all lands, and shook their faith, and often destroyed them. They were too damaging to repeat – she could not afford to let it happen. Each time there was the threat of complete annihilation.

She also dealt gods their deaths. When their tribes died out, or a famine or pestilence made their people faithless, she took it upon herself to destroy them. She had a few preferred methods. Drowning was always the most practical and humane, though the lake that drowned gods was not an easy lure. Otherwise there was dismantling their desires or awakening them to the truth of mere being, both of which were torturous. She never bore them ill will, more often something closer to pity. Her hands were gentle when she carried their corpses to the river, her fingers tender when she shut their eyelids for a final time and set them adrift.

Those few gods who became close to her, generally out of her own boredom or profound loneliness, found her to be quite unremarkable. She was not their creator, nor their mother, nor their guide, they decided. She played the roles she had to play, suffered through the awkward contours of her office, but only because of duty. Who she reported to they were not sure. And those who spent the most time with her doubted that there was another.

 

Illustration by Julia Zhou

Begin Here

Begin Here

SIX

SIX