Time travel is often thought of as a scientific affair, with precisely-calibrated equipment, sleek uniforms, and incomprehensible jargon. As any physicist can tell you, this is bullshit. It’s nonsense. It’s impossible. It’s a complete violation of the laws of physics.
…There’s a word for that, you know. It’s called magic.
The Saturnine Rites of the Cult of Phanes
Long ago, before the people of Greece knew alpha from omega, a priestly faun received a revelation. That faun’s name has been lost to time, but the cult he started, kicked out from his tribe for such incredible heresy, continued to grow in number well through the centuries, initiating hundreds into its mysteries — the mysteries of chronomancy.
The satyrs’ creed is simple: the Cultists of Phanes are to bring Bacchic joy and ecstasy to the people of the future, for our numbers are far greater than theirs, and they are to spread the word of peace and love. Many thousands of lives have been touched by them, and most will never even know it.
The physics of time travel
There is much disagreement even within the cult on the precise mechanics of chronomancy, but among its astrologers, a rough consensus had developed (prior to the return of Libanomene) on its approximate physics.
As Bill and Ted would put it, the clock is always running in
San Dimas Delphi. The
universe seems to have an unchanging “present”: while the future is fluid and can be changed as one
likes, the past is set in stone, unchanging and unrachable.
The Saturnine Rites, as they are called, use magic to set a stable “anchor” from which our brave congregants are launched into the future. Once an anchor is set up, it takes far less effort for a chronomancer to return to whence they started; they need only perform a simple solo ritual with the materials strapped to their belt.
A solo traveller can accomplish hops of a few years by themself with a small stone circle and enough prayer, but serious business requires a serious ritual. The Great Saturnine Rite is the cult’s time-tested method of flinging their members up to a thousand olympiads into the future and bringing them back safely. It goes, roughly, as follows.
1. A circle of gypsum chalk — any material will do in a pinch, the closer to its natural form the better — is drawn on the ground in the form of a sigil, based by cult chronastrologers on the precise position of the stars and planets at any given time. (It often represents a date a precise amount of years in the future; this is not a physical limitation, merely something the cult likes to do to reduce the star-speyers’ workload.)
2. The ritual space is fumigated with lavender, rosemary, and cannabis, first introduced to the fauns by an uptime dealer, until the air is foggy and thick with smoke. This creates a trance-like effect once the already drunken fauns enter to begin the ritual proper; it is best done in a cave, building, or other enclosed space.
3. Our brave chronomancers enter, supplies and utility belt in hand. Due to the rite’s nature, they are always of an even number; the cult’s priests have attempted adaptations for one or three members, but they are far less effective. We will be assuming for the remainder of the description that there are only two within the circle.
4. The rest of the cult chants and dances in a ring around the circle, rhythmically howling and singing songs of praise, while the time-sailors within recite prayers and hymns to Gods whose names i am not party to.
5. With a toast to Dionysos, the two fauns within the circle eagerly drink up a small flask of hand sanitiser. This used to be a calyx-ful of wine, but modern advances in technology have allowed travellers to get far drunker, far faster. (The High Priest says He strongly approves.)
The Cult of Phanes are self-described “hippies” who eschew violence when out and about. The daggers they keep are blunted, used only to intimidate, and never to hurt. They keep bouquets of flowers in their hair, and preach a gospel of unity and equality. All this makes the final step of the ritual shocking to the unacquainted observer — but we must remember that much as they idealise peace and love, they are also an Orphic cult, one that deals in sacrifice and reincarnation.
6. The High Priest (or, if they will be tagging along for the ride, a priest of lower rank) hands one of the travellers a freshly sharpened scythe.
I am not a member of the cult myself, and this account is based only in the whispers i have heard from members in vino veritas; thus, i cannot attest to the precise meaning behind the rite. It seems to me to be derived from myths of Saturn, Dionysos, and (bemusingly) Mithras, but the cultists i have spoken to are all of the laity, and they have no more of a clue than i do.
7. In one fell swoop, one of the chronomancers slices the scythe through their hand and strikes the other with it in the calf. As drops of the two’s blood fall to the floor, the rite takes effect, transporting them and their belongings hundreds of years into the future. The only remnants are a blood-splattered scythe and a metallic taste in the air.
A few hours, days, or weeks later, the travellers materialise back in the circle, confident that they have successfully spread peace and love to the denizens of the future and ready to do it all over again.
The return of Libanomene
It is said that Hallowe’en is when the veil between spirit and matter is at its thinnest, and the same too goes for Saturnalia. Around the winter solstice, the fabric of time becomes far more susceptible to human (or satyr) intervention; far less work is needed to launch someone millennia into the future, or to send dozens of cultists on one trip. This is why Christmas (as we now know it) is such a wondrous time of the year. The troops in 1914, the warm family reunions, the children screaming with joy over their new gifts — all made possible, in some part, by the Cult’s activities.
But even in those weakened days, the laws of chronomancy held true, much to the chagrin of Phanes’ priests. The Gods are unchanging and eternal, exempt from our mortal notions of time; why, then, should prayer and magic be beholden to our earthly rules? It was by accident that, last year (1970 BCE to us uptimers), the cult discovered an exception.
It was high noon on midwinter’s day. The high priest Libanomene and their assistant Ombrosilphion were readying themselves for an expedition to gods-know-when, gods-know-why (the precise order of the day has been forgotten since), and as a ruddy scythe clattered to the floor, all seemed well. But, just as the cult’s other members were shuffling out the room to tend to other business, Libanomene returned to the circle in a state of frenzy, barely a few minutes after they had left. They claimed to have seen visions of a distant future, with their first and second eyes, no less, of dark golden clouds blotting out the sky, onyx-shard buildings cutting through, and — well, my drinking companion passed out before they could say what else was spoken of.
The priest’s assistant, however, was unaccounted for, and a search party set out. For days on end, they scoured Delphi’s hills and valleys, until they found the missing faun, battered, bruised, and broken-horned, in an ivy-covered ditch. Ombrosilphion was despatched back to the temple, wrapped in a woolen blanket, and fed a steaming bowl of soup. Once the trembling cultist mustered up the ability to speak, they revealed that they had been lying there, unsure of what had happened, for “seven days and seven nights”.
It had only been three days since the rite.