The council sanctioned the pig offering and the people rejoiced, but Van Gogh cut off his ear in protest. His earlier discourse on the nobility of toil had been most edifying to the burgermeister and his entourage, but his antics with the razor had not proved as uplifting. Poor Vincent was dragged off screaming to his cage beneath the town hall where he reflected bitterly on his fate.
Meanwhile, the pig was carried to the highest place to be sacrificed and its carcass was left there for the vultures to feast on. The ceremony was symbolic of something primeval; those vultures were the living avatars of the sky god. To harm one was to incur his wrath, but to feed them would guarantee the rain that sustained their crops. So when a vulture would occasionally take a lamb the villagers did not mind – in fact they regarded it as a blessing to have pleased the sky god.
The vultures went into a feeding frenzy – they threw cartwheels in the air and shrieked and tore at the porcine offering with lusty appreciation. Surely, thought the villagers, the sky god was satisfied with their benefaction. However, the great birds began to gather in unprecedented numbers and the people grew fearful that a single pig was not enough to satiate their ravenous hunger. The sky grew dark with birds – it seemed that every vulture in the world of the living had appeared to share in the sacrifice. The people were now in a state of alarm; were vultures not also the harbingers of death – a link between this world and the next?
Vincent knelt in his cage sketching magical diagrams on the dusty floor while intoning the rite of the pig god. It was, he believed, the people’s only chance to escape the evil fate that was about to befall them. He mixed some blood from his wounded ear with the dirt from the floor of his cage and moulded a small figurine of the pig god himself. He prayed for the people’s deliverance, he begged for forgiveness and reconciliation – though he suspected neither would come readily.
The great throng of scavengers had turned on the people – swooping low to slash with talons and beaks; children and livestock were carried off into the sky never to be seen again. The air was filled with blood and panic as people rushed for cover of their homes while others simply knelt in supplication and hoped that they might be spared because of their obvious piety. But no one was spared the wrath of the sky god; his minions – those terrible raptors – exacted a dreadful toll on the people of the village.
When the day of the vultures was over, and their dead were buried, the villagers gathered in the square to hear the burgermeister speak, but the burgermeister was gone – swept away by a great black vulture. Instead they listened to a sermon by Van Gogh who intoned to them a short prayer and preached against the folly of worshipping the things they feared.
“That which we fear we draw to us,” he said, “so we must banish fear from our hearts the better to draw that which we love to us and forsake the darkness for peace of mind and the safety of our families”.
In time the village flourished once more, but under the sign of the pig god – the messenger of peace and prosperity. The reign of the sky god slipped into memory and the day of the vultures into folk lore. No more did the villagers worship that which they did not understand and the adoration of vultures became naught but an outmoded superstition held only by the very old, and the very foolish.