Paramaecium’s “Within the Ancient Forest” Lyrics – Outlined, Explained, Analyzed – Part 7: A Song of Life and Fire

“Nothing you have not given away will ever really be yours.”
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
[On baptism:] “The female water spiritually fructified with the male fire of the Holy Ghost is the Christian counterpart of the water of transformation known to all systems of mythological imagery. […] To enter into this font is to plunge into the mythological realm; to break the surface is to cross the threshold into the night-sea.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Image: “Fire Tree” by Gladiola Sotomayor []

The title of the final track of the album, “Darkness Dies”, recalls and cancels out that of the penultimate track “Of My Darkest Hour.” The lyrics begin with a song sung by “distant voices” – in the book, this song is not heard until Dé-nyl has entered the baptismal pool to “die to himself.” We will get back to this song later.

At the beginning of the narrative part of the lyrics, Dé-nyl is traveling along a “golden path” leading towards the Firetree and the castle of Garen. In the book, after his return from under the ground and his apology to Destiny, the two have had some more brief adventures including a surprise attack by one of the dragon’s warriors, and discussions about people either walking away from the Firetree or camping in its light without entering the castle. The lyrics skip these episodes and concentrate on Dé-nyl’s encounter with Garen. In fact, Destiny is not even mentioned anymore.

It is on the golden path that Dé-nyl realizes that his quest so far has really been a search for the Firetree and all that it stands for. Since Dé-nyl has been journeying through a forest, it only seems natural that the final object of his quest should take the form of a (very special) tree.

So what does the burning tree stand for? – Most obviously, it is a symbol of the Cross of Christ (the Bible verses quoted in the booklet strongly indicate that this is an allegory about the Gospel): The Firetree is the place where in the legend (and in fact) Garen has “died to bring life to mankind.” But the Firetree is also a “tree that burns whilst never consumed,” and therefore associated with the burning bush that appeared to Moses – a symbol of eternity and the mysterious presence of the divine. Perhaps Destiny is no longer mentioned because the fire itself is a symbol of God’s Spirit. The Firetree is an amalgamation of the many trees present in myths around the world. These trees are often Trees of Life and Trees of Knowledge – and therefore the tree is a most fitting object of Dé-nyl’s quest (whose “utmost desire” has been to “behold both truth and life”). Now it seems that he has finally reached his twofold goal. In the book the Tree is also (in a way too complicated to describe here) the “gate” into the castle. The Gospel connection is crystal clear – the Tree is the way, the truth and the life.

As already mentioned, Garen’s sacrifice epitomizes Christ’s crucifixion, but it also bears resemblance to the “Passions” of other God men – for example, the Norse god Odin’s self-sacrifice on the great tree Yggdrasil – another Tree-of-Knowledge connection. (See C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, chapter 10, for ideas about the deeper connection between different passion stories.)  After burning to death Garen has risen from the ashes like the phoenix, but unlike the phoenix’s life cycle, this has happened once and for all, so that Garen now sits on his throne forever. Dé-nyl’s encounter with him is now the last in a long series of legends-come-true. “Who was he, that man that died?”, Dé-nyl asks. The disembodied answer given in the lyrics, “That man was God”, holds the key to finding a hidden “clue” in the track titles:

In Exordium
Song of the Ancient
I Am Not Alive
The Grave, My Soul
Gone Is My Former Resolve
Of My Darkest Hour
Darkness Dies

The initial letters of each title on the album make up the question, “IS IT GOD?” The question has thus “built up” over the course of the album. Dé-nyl has now gone far enough to see where he came from: It is now, in the presence of the everlasting fire and the risen king, that he realizes his quest has been for God. He really is the “old man” who seeks reunion with “the Ancient.” And the final lesson that he learns is that “in death there is life.” He has found the Garensword in an unlikely place of death and decay, and Dé-nyl will now find true life in the death of his own (false) self.

This is why he enters the pool of water in the king’s throne room – not only does the image connect the ending of the story to the beginning (in the book he actually re-emerges from the forest pool he had crossed at the beginning of his quest), but it also symbolizes the “death to self” aspect of baptism. Contrary to what some people think, baptism is not simply an initiation rite associated with a symbolic cleansing or a bath in the water of life. According to the New Testament the water is meant to symbolize death and the denial of the “old self” – the rite is explicitly connected to the tale of Noah. Dé-nyl enters the pool of death, once again crossing the threshold into the unknown, to find life. His “denial” at last is directed against himself, and (in the book) he gets a new name, “Dé-vout.” By the way, the paradox that your true self cannot be found until you die to your false self, is very old one. The seed must fall into the ground and die to bring forth new life.

There is also a striking contrast to Dé-nyl’s passage over the forest lake in “In Exordium”: This time, he does not pass over but into the water – his passage into the uncanny has attained its fullness. And whereas the lyrics to the first song culminated in the first person “I”, this second transformation ends with a shift to the second person as Garen pronounces the order, “Go now and die to yourself.” This time the traveler leaves behind everything of his own free will, and vanishes beneath the surface, being held completely by the words of the king of life.

While he is passing through death to rebirth, a song is sung, whose lyrics are as follows:

“Now the fire’s burning,
Let the fire spread
So those who think they live
Will realise that they are dead.”

These lines reference those living dead that Dé-nyl found lying comfortably in their graves in “Gone Is My Former Resolve.” It is implied that he now will have the power to awaken them. The lines also recall the words of Jesus recorded in Luke, chapter 12, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

“Over æons, over centuries,
It has taken many names
For the Spirit of the Ancient
Is the fire within the flames.”

The eternally burning tree symbolizes the Spirit of God, which has “taken many names.” Destiny the beautiful guide has been only one of its many incarnations. King Garen uses similar words addressing Dé-nyl before his baptism, “Many have stood where you stand, and many will stand there in latter days.” This once more drives home the point that Dé-nyl is an Everyman figure, like all allegorical travelers. Anybody could stand where he is standing, and many or all will at some point. He is a variable that transcends and includes. We know this story well, as we should, of he that is us.

Patrick Maiwald, August 2012 (revised September 2016)

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