In the Beginning
Saint Rubidium--His History
Rubidium Viskaya was born in Lithuania about the time of the discovery of the element Rubidium l861 by Bunsen and Kirchoff in the mineral lepidolite. Most stories about the Saint say that his father had an interest in the sciences and when he read about the new discovery he honored the new element by naming his first-born son with the same name, Rubidium. He was often called Rube or Rubi in his childhood.
The legends don't tell much about Rubi's childhood other than telling of his introduction to the Norse god Loki by his sailor uncle. Loki is famous for his mischief and transgressions. He represents the boundary crosser. Some even say he epitomizes the boundary itself. (see: Loki bibliography and links) This story of the uncle perverting his nephew may simply reflect some conservative desires to blame someone for Rubidium's rambunctious and inconsistent life. The stories of Loki and Rubidium have some uncanny parallels.
Here is a segment from the TH Archives telling one of the stories about Rubi's departure from Lithuiania and his childhood.
As a boy, young Rube's father Vlalek worked on the railroad and found himself often away from home for weeks at a time. As his young son was extremely precocious and had a habit of running away to a nearby Jewish shetl to debate with rabbisupsetting his devoutly catholic mother considerablyVlalek decided it might be a good idea to take his son on a freight train through Siberia. As this kind of thing was strictly forbidden, Vlalek had to stow young Rube away in a well-insulated crate. There is some evidence that the crate had previously contained chemicals, including the element rubidium. After several days holed up in the crate, Rube had most likely been exposed to toxic amounts of the chemical's residue, which has been known to cause a yellowing of the eyeballs and minor to severe brain damage, most often expressed as seizures.
It was during one of these seizures that Rube busted out of the crate, albeit unintentionally. When he found the crate literally shattered around him, he went in search of his father, who he found to his dismay, had been thrown from the train 3 days before in a terrible accident. When Rube was questioned by the trainmen, he remained silent, never letting on as to his progeny, nor to the fact of the rubidium-laced crate, which he later disposed of, committing it to the Siberian wasteland.
A legend soon developed among the men regarding the strange yellow-eyed boy who had appeared out of thin air on a train traveling through the vast, deserted, snowy expanses of Siberia. The men were mystified. Rube's intelligence and calm demeanor, coupled with his golden eyes and frequent fits of shivering (minor seizures), gave him an otherworldly air. Could he be an angel of God, the men wondered, sent to comfort them on their lonely journey? Or was he perhaps among them in order to fetch the soul of their lost mate, Vlalek?
Rube, who was only 11 at the time, enjoyed the attention, and perhaps it was on this trip that his penchant for showmanship had its inception. He decided to leave the train, by throwing himself from it during the night. But before he did, he penned a note, thanking the men for their hospitality, and upon the note he laid a small chain necklace with a cross, on the back of which was engraved the name Vlalek, a keepsake his father had given him at his first communion. From thence was born the now-famous Lithuanian tale of Vlalek's Angel, though to this day it is never attributed to Saint Rubidium. Rube had no idea where he was when he hit the huge snowdrift he'd chosen to fling himself into. He set off, only knowing that he was heading south, crossing the Russian steppes and meeting with farmers and local people along the way. The legends grew up around him and many cures were attributed to the 'golden goblets of his gaze' and the fits that were thought to serve as a sort of shamanic expurgation of whatever illness had been brought to him by the townspeople.
He continued on across Kazakhstan, and then in Alma Ata he lucked upon his fateful meeting with Uncle Lompa, who in a few brief weeks transmitted eons of Tibetan Buddhist teachings-all of this incidentally during Rube's fits. Uncle Lompa believed the seizures provided a doorway for wisdom, unattainable by a body at rest or in a normal state. Lompa then sent his student south through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where it was reported that Rube displayed oracular powers, predicting rains, harvests and the like. There are no records of Rubidium's travels after this point until he reappears in Thailand in 1874 at the age of 13. It is believed that he spent some time in India studying the Vedas and Upanishads and familiarizing himself with the Hindu pantheon. It is said that he wrestled a tiger, but refused to kill it, eventually terrifying the animal into flight through the fury of his fits. It is also believed that it was during his Indian sojourn that Rube took on the scent of sandalwood, a faint odor of which it has been noted was always evident upon his body thereafter.
A bawdy port city of fantasy realized and destroyed beckoned Rubi eastward on his journey. Working on various sailing ships he made stops in Japan, Anchorage, Seattle, Portland and Eureka before discovering the delights and debauchery in the adolescent community once named Yerba Buena. His earnings provided a comfortable life based at a rooming house in North Beach. Here he could temper the Asian rice-based food he had learned to love in Thailand with the heavy European cuisine he ate as a child. He even found a café with a Lithuanian cook that offered the crispy pancakes favored in that region. But it was more than food that led Rubi to abandon his sailing adventures. He never did learn to enjoy the desolation of the open ocean enduring it only with his dreams of the next port. It was the intense concentration of artists, industrialists, financiers and workers from all the continents of the world that fanned his intrigue with this city by the bay. This expansive range of immigrants, for everyone was from someplace else, provided the ingredients for a veritable buffet of nightlife. His typical evening started with a few beers on Columbus Street then a music hall show by a traveling minstrel group or a storyteller. Then it was off to a dance hall for more drinks and flirtations with anyone who returned his gaze for a second. If that didn't result in an intimate sexual encounter he would wander over to one of the opium dens in Chinatown on the way back home. a few hours sleep provided sufficient recovery time. A late morning breakfast was the first event of Rubi's daily ritual. The afternoons were spent wandering through the markets, meditating at one of the open lots destined to become city parks engaging in philosophical discussions or listening to tales of the Gold Rush over coffee. When he tired of people he would explore the sand dunes west of the city and the Pacific coast-mountains.
Rubi's financial resources had dwindled to a pauper's level when an irresistible offer arrived one late night from Sebastian Moore. This handsome gentleman of thirty-four years was the principal purveyor of paper in San Francisco and all of California. He provided the paper for newspapers, flyers, posters, stationers and even for the butchers' meat wrap. The scale of this business was sufficient to provide for a handsome Victorian mansion, his socialite wife and five children ages three to fourteen at that time. The offer from Mr. Moore included sole residence in the carriage house, use of the horses and carriages, meals in the kitchen with the cook and other servants and a monthly cash allowance. In turn Rubi's responsibilities included care and feeding of the horses and carriages, taking the children and their nanny on field trips and tutoring the oldest boy, Jason, in languages including German, Thai and Japanese. In addition, Rubi was expected to stay home on Wednesday evenings and prepare for Mr. Moore's late night visit. It seems that there was a mutual attraction between the two men. Sebastian, as Rubi was expected to address him only in private during these weekly encounters, was delighted by Rubi's versatility as well as his body. One moment he could behave as a blustering macho man and the next as a meek submissive female or vice versa. What more could an eighteen year old desire? The setup was perfect since the carriage house had a private entrance from an alley through which Rubi could discreetly bring his mostly female friends for tea or sex or literary readings. The three upstairs rooms were spacious and filled with fine furniture banished from the main house by Mrs. Moore in favor of newer more fashionable items.
It was during this time at the Moore house that Rubi was exposed to the teachings and traditions of California style Catholicism. Each Sunday Rubi drove the family to Mass and then slipped into a back pew to observe the ritual. Naturally he also learned from the children as they practiced and joked about their catechism. Rubi's friends were also teaching him about other viewpoints and religions. Song Li, a long, dark-haired ravishingly beautiful twenty-two year old woman from China gently informed Rubi about Taoism and her consequent view of the day's events. She also described Rubi's traits based on Chinese astrology. His birth year, 1861, was the year of the Rooster. Some of the traits ascribed to people born in that year are: colorful, optimistic, articulate, ambitious, truthful, industrious, organized, sincere, meticulous, observant, dauntless, quixotic, grandiose, eccentric, indiscreet, temperamental, and relentless. Another viewpoint came from Taiko with her Japanese Buddhist understanding of the world. A little salt was added to the stew via the pontifications of money hungry men at the bars and cafes. From ship owners to recalcitrant miners and the occasional card shark, madam and banker came advice on how to conquer the world and become rich. The beliefs of West African animism came via the Moore's maid and butler, a married couple, children of first generation slaves.
This heady torrent of input, intellectual, sexual and social kept Rubi spinning for a year. In mid 1881 two encounters planted the seed that was to lead Rubi out of San Francisco in October before the rains began. The first was a sudden, uncontrived meeting with a Miwok Indian. Rubi was walking along Columbus Street trying to decide which bar he should patronize next. Suddenly a man was flung into his arms from the doorway of the Last Respite, a bar with an odorous reputation. Recoiling from the impact Rubi fell backwards and the man fell at his feet. The man was sobbing. Rubi helped him to his feet and half-carried him down the street not even thinking aboout where he was going. After a couple of blocks the sobbing slowed and Rubi learned the man's name, X. Gradually and hesitating at first, typical of someone who has been injured, then through several hours of articulate and erudite story telling then ending in an alcoholic haze prose, X told his story.
He was raised in a family that was in transition from the centuries of Miwok tradition, semi-nomadic acorn gathering and small animal hunting. His family generally wandered the California Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills between what is now called Yosemite and the Rubicon River, which begins just west of Lake Tahoe in the Desolation Wilderness. When the Gold Rush of 1849 brought countless thousands of miners and merchants to the area, the Indians were shoved into smaller and smaller territories and finally into fixed encampments. It was in one of these settlements that X was born and grew up. His father earned a meager income working for miners and later for a general store in Murphy's. X was educated in an Indian school and by interrogating the white kids. He learned the family traditions from his grandparents. Now he was seeking a life in the city since there were no jobs or opportunities for him in the mountains other than menial labor. This was his seventh day in the city. It had been a week of constant and instant rejection. Despite his new Levis, leather boots and short hair, he was recognized as an Indian and shown the foor. San Francisco, it seems, did not always welcome anyone that showed up. So in a moment of youthful craziness X decided to celebrate his first week of failure. He actually got all the way to the bar and had drunk half a beer at the Last Respite before two drunken men picked him up and threw him into Rubi's arms. The sun was rising when X dressed and left Rubi's home leaving behind his Moves Moves and a stunned young man. From that night Rubi never ceased pondering the humanity.
The second episode that early summer was much more casual and jocular. An erstwhile cowboy complete with a six-shooter on each hip, a ten-gallon hat and spurs on his heels regaled Rubi with tales of herding cattle in Texas and sheep in the California foothills. He kept getting fired for losing too many animals. He, his name was George or Jim or Jeffsomething like that, claimed that he got so absorbed writing down the stories in his head that he forgot about the animals and they wandered off in all directions. When he woke up from his writing he frantically searched for the wandering livestock often to no avail. But what impressed Rubi were the tales of wild animals, giant rocks, enormous trees and serene mountain-tops.
Rubi never saw either of these men again after their singular nights of pain, passion and pleasure. Despite the brevity, the force of these two nights and two men was as great as the four years Rubi spent studying daily with the monks in Thailand. Gradually Rubi's curiosity and intrigue turned east again, this time to the Sierra Nevada foothills where he would make renowned marks on the world. However, it was another incident that led him to pack his bags and ride out on a horse. It was one of those rare hot nights in San Francisco that stirs the populace into a frenzy of crazy joyfulness. The flirtations and verbal jousting were so rampant that intimate contact was impossible. Rubi bumped into more boobs and butts and cocks than he had in total for the last month. All was in vain. Somehow he made it home in an opium dream. He thought it was another hallucination when his kerosene lantern illuminated Jason Moore lying in his bed. He was naked. The boy alternately pleaded for relief and threatened exposure of his father and Rubi's relationship. He refused to leave and cited a plan that would end with Rubi out of work and in jail. Rubi submitted to Jason. The following week Rubi spent intently pursuing his female friends. But then again it was Friday and Jason was waiting for him on the steps to the carriage house. If Wednesdays were for Sebastian then Fridays were for Jason according to the boy. He was learning power manipulation well from his father. After six weeks Rubi was nearly hysterical with panic. While he loved his young student and the moments of pleasure he realized that his position in the Moore home was now extremely precarious.
It was a fog free mid-November morning when Rubi saddled a black three-year old mare and headed south down the peninsula. He carried saddlebags with a few books, his writing journals and a few clothes. There was only the briefest goodbye to Sebastian who in his shock gave Rubi $200 and the horse. That money was enough to last Rubi through the winter.
It was 1881 and Rubi was twenty years old. He reached El Dorado as the rains began. Fortunately there was one bed vacant in the bunk-house of the ranch. Since he didn't have a job at the ranch Rubi came to an agreement to pay for the room and board at a reasonable rate. He developed casual friendship with the other workers but refrained from all drinking and intimacies. He spent his days exploring the hills and mountains on horseback or foot. Occasionally he would go to San Andreas or Murphy's to borrow books which he read on rainy days and in the evenings.
As spring arrived the rancher sought to employ Rubi on his extensive cattle, goat and sheep operation. Rubi demurred preferring to move a few more miles up into the mountains and help at the sheep operation that gave Sheep Ranch its name.
The Last Years
Conflicting reports and stories about Rubi's years in the mountains have provided a challenge in the preparation of this narrative. What follows is the most likely based on fewest conflicts and strongest evidence.
Rubi apparently fled Sheep Ranch because of the raucous gold miners there. That mine and the adjacent hotel was owned by Senator Hearst. Rubi followed San Antonio Creek upstream until he found an isolated flat near a bluff of ancient volcanic rock. This place became his anchor point as he roamed the surrounding mountains and valleys. Deer, rabbit, quail, small trout and even an occasional rattlesnake provided meat as a supplement for the grains Rubi carried in and the wild berries, greens and acorns that he foraged in the forests. On one of his food searches Rubi met some Miwok Indians gathering the plentiful Oak acorns and grinding them into a coarse flour. There was one rock with seven mortars worn from centuries of grinding. This was a favorite family spot where several women held grinding parties and their children played in the stream and fields nearby. Rubi became part of the extended family of this group of people. One of the children played a central role in a miracle that led to Rubi's sainthood.
One fall afternoon, probably three years after Rubi moved out of Sheep Ranch, he heard some women yelling and wailing. A nine-year old girl was missing. The women were searching the fields and forests. Rubi climbed up to the top of a ridge and scanned the area for any signs of the girl until the sunset. A freakish fall storm suddenly swept in and several reports tell of multiple lightning strikes on the bluff. Rubi may have been in the midst of this electric atmosphere. What we do know is that later that night Rubi found the girl surrounded by coyotes in a field west of the bluff. The girl remembered that suddenly there was a howl louder than all the coyotes and two glowing yellow eyes. The coyotes turned and attacked a quivering Rubi but they fell at his feet, became quiet and disappeared. When Rubi carried the girl into the Indian's campsite he was met with shouts of joy. A celebration lasted three days. The girl later became a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The second miracle also involved the Miwok Indians that migrated through the area. A serious and extended drought brought numerous families close to starvation. When Rubi heard of the hunger he offered food to anyone that came to him. Several parallel stories tell of a ritual that Rubi performed dancing around oak trees and side to side up a ravine and into a cave that no one had seen before. Soon he emerged with a basket of acorn mash. This feeding of the hungry continued for a year until a new crop of food grew to maturity. All of the stories express astonishment at the unending supply of food. The sheer volume could not have possibly been contained in the cave or in all of the caves in the area. This was truly a miracle.
The third miracle that we know about happened about a year before Rubi disappeared in 1888. Two neighboring ranchers who had feuded for years over boundaries, lost sheep and wandering cattle told of meeting with Rubi simultaneously in their homes that were two miles apart. In each case Rubi shared a meal and then over coffee told of a place on the ranches' boundary that was special. He told of a large rock standing on its tip almost like an inverted pyramid. He predicted that if the rancher went there that very night when the moon was full then the earth would shake, the rock would move and great happiness would follow. Each of the ranchers followed instructions though startled by the glowing red skies. (Apparently this was at this latitude a rare but not unheard of sighting of the Northern Lights.) They were full of consternation to encounter each other especially since in a mental lapse they had left their guns at home. But in just moments after meeting the earth started to quake and the rock fell over revealing two large nuggets of gold. Of course there was one nugget for each man worth over one year's income. The two were so stunned that after sharing their respective identical stories they realized that they were in the presence of a holy man and their grievances were petty and trivial. A partnership and friendship began that night in that field that lasted their whole lives. Later in recounting their stories to others they were told of a brilliant streak of light seen in the sky over their ranches. This brings to mind the recent discoveries in physics where light passing through liquid rubidium can be detected at two different points simultaneously. Was Rubi's predictions and dual presence a miracle or a reality not yet fully understood?
These stories circulated through the rural communities of the Sierra foothills and began growing into a myth. It is not certain who first called Rubi a saint or suggested that he was eligible for sainthood but by 1900 the title was firmly attached to Rubi. The one hundred year waiting period that the Roman Catholic observes before anointing sainthood has passed but that official sanction seems unnecessary considering the widespread recognition that this man was indeed someone very special. In addition, there are some stories about Rubi that would meet with disfavour from the official church.
Rubi spent three months in jail for having sex with a bear. It was just by chance that a pair of hunters heard a loud commotion of screams and low grunts and thrashing about. On investigating they saw a bear clutching a naked Rubi. Fearing that Rubi would be gravely injured or killed they shot the bear dead. Their concern turned to outrage when they saw that the bear was still inside of Rubi and Rubi was still squirting his own semen. They literally drug the incoherent Rubi the twenty miles to the county seat, San Andreas, and pressed charges.
The tale of Rubi's ascension or descension as it were, is puzzling and yet very fitting. A wilderness celebration of the summer solstice in 1888 was building to an intense climax of dancing and chanting when Rubi grasped each of the celebrants and kissed them on the lips then walked or some say floated, to the same cave from whence the stores of food came during the drought year. He entered and then turned to face his friends. His eyes glowed golden. He bowed then turned and walked into the cave. His friends resumed their celebrations comfortable with Rubi's sometimes-unexpected behaviour. Upon entering the cave later that day they found no evidence of the man. He was never seen again. He was twenty-seven years old. A small piece of lepidolite was found in the cave and some people believe that he returned to the mineral that was central to his whole life.
Other incomplete and unconfirmed stories involve the theft of a rifle, a bloody ritual with a deer carcass, deflowering a sixteen-year old boy, impregnating a spinster woman, and facilitating a murderous battle between miners and Indians eventually reflected in the name of the site, Skull Ranch. So Saint Rubidium was not always a saint. He did cross many boundaries, not only geographic but political, social and sexual. His life did resemble many of the characteristics of Loki. It is for this very reason that these stories were investigated and assembled here as a foundation for this web site, the exhibition with rituals and performances and some of the art therein. The essence of boundaries is the holy grail of this search and the issue of exploration. This work will continue after the exhibition closes on November 24, 2001 and new work and new stories will be posted here periodically. Explorers who are not artists and explorers who are artists are invited to join in the journey.
November 1, 2001
Níð en Senna: Formal insulting in Old Norse literature by Selvårv Stigårð (© 1999).
Loki, Father of Strife (© 1991) by Alice Karlsdottir. Republished from the "Gnosis" article of the same name.
Worshipping Loki (© 1995) by Alice Karlsdottir.
What is a Lokean? (© 1999) by Alice Karlsdottir
Loki and Christ: A Scrutiny of Their Similarities (© 1999) by Carol Robe
Cyber-shamanism: Backward Compatible Belief Systems in the Post-modern Era (© 2000) by Carol Robe.
How Sif Got Her Golden Hair by Thorskegga Thorn.
The Riddles of Horn by Thorskegga Thorn
Loki, the Unsung Hero, or, The Great Surt Conspiracy Theory by Lyulf
Loki the Fool (© 1982) by Alice Karlsdottir.
A Loki Poem (© 1999) by Carol Robe.
Secondary Sources for Medieval Scandinavia and Sources and Some General Information on Medieval Scandinavia, both by Tamsin Hekala, both originally from the ORB page
The personification of mischief and evil in Norse mythology, Loki was the son of the Giant Farbanti, and had three children,
Fenris, the huge wolf who awaited to swallow the world, Jormungand, the Midgard serpent, and Hel, goddess of the Underworld.