Cold mist had lain all the day through—breaking with vestiges of sunlight and sudden sights of snow as we left the sheepyards—but now enfolding us entirely with thick, damp touch. The breath of the three horses steamed, mist-blending. Hooves trotting, squelched up the old track traversing the hillside to Towong house on the point above the flats.
Through the gate by the line of oaks—cold hands undid the chain that chinked on the metal bar—and there was strange sunglitter in the mist on the bare hilltop above us and then redgold on the flaming oak boughs. But mist wound wet tendrils round hair and ears, binding us in space, holding us in cold time. Half-forgotten was the work just finished—there was no flow nor flux. In this mist all was held still.
Yet we moved on and upwards and suddenly I saw the old brown horse and rider above me circled in brightness. We were rising out of the mist and sunlight was striking level over the top of the hill, halo-ing the figure that broke the rays—gleaming on the water prisms. The afternoon was transcended by some mystery. No longer was our track the old way up from the cottage—a time-trodden track on an Australian hillside. We seemed to be crossing some weird threshold of spacetime into an unknown beyond. Did the wind from the inland desert, thousands of years old, blow across the timeless mist?
The crest of the hill was clear. To the north and the west there was no mist. The bends of the Murray glittered bronze, the hills above Tintaldra were blocked heavily in black. Bright was the sun and all the land and air in which it set. In the south the Alps were shining—the brittle clarity of snow mountains—above the opaque, unmoving nebelmer. Below the dense sea the familiar paddocks were remote and unimagined. And out on that cold blueness beneath the white mountains, a complete rainbow lay upon the still mist.
It moved and we stopped to watch. The bright circle stayed immobile too and achieved clarity as we drew together. Projected on to the mist, circled in colour were three shadow horsemen. Between us and Towong’s skyline of the Australian Alps was the vision of the ephemeral “Spectre of the Brocken”—first recorded as being seen from the Brocken in the Harz Mountains in 1780—which is the shadows of figures standing on a clear summit, thrown on to mist by the level rays of the sun as it rises or sets. And the rainbow nimbus, the solar “Glory,” transformed the image to something deeply strange.
Our shadows faced towards the east. Infinitely ancient, infinitely new was this vision of three riders held within the luminous. mysterious circle.
Seekers? Of old they sought a birth. the Word Incarnate. and found there, in the Logos mystery, the completion of all mysteries, yet the unfolding of all knowledge. What sought the three so close-bound by the rainbow cast on the mist—standing together on the hilltop? The Truth that was sought of the Magi? The Wisdom of Creation? Or sought they a perfection of happiness—a tangible continuance?
The horses’ outlines were blurred, mist-merging. The figures that were our shadows had indefinite form, yet somehow retained the strange force of personality. Almost I felt the force going from me to the projection that rode across the mist to the east.
The way of the Magi layover the desert, star-guided to the Child that was the Truth, the fulfilment of all their knowledge and belief. Through boundless lands they rode, their faith, like a halo around them, containing them so that they should not waste themselves in their search.
Our way—when the sun released our shadows—lay through the mists; and the sinking of the sun, too, would dissolve our halo. Yet how could we but feel that we were partaking of an ancient, ever-resurgent sign or symbol—something profounder than the facts of sun and mist, of time and place that create this “Spectre of the Brocken” which we beheld?
What was it that we found promised in the projection of ourselves on to the mist below the snow?
For we were three—diversely seeking—and the vision was of those three who sought and found.
Elyne Mitchell (1913 – 2002) was an Australian author noted for the Silver Brumby series of children’s novels. Her nonfiction works draw on family history and culture.