In the last of the Ages of Man — the age of our remembered ancestors — the ancient gods died, or forsook the Earth, or set out for domains more welcoming of their character; no one knew of their fate. Behind them they left the semi-divine spirits that animated the living, moving things of this world: the naiads, ondines, dryads, and sprites; the beings of water, wood, fire, and wind. These the earliest men had seen, revered, and pursued; particularly had men yearned for and chased the feminine among the spirits, and, failing to possess them, recounted them in tales and fables so as to hold fast something of them in memory. Legends abound of the grace and beauty of these female spirits, these sylphs.
After centuries, the sylphs themselves disappeared. As with the gods, no one knew what became of them. To our remembered ancestors they left only their old legends and stories, which were passed down eventually to us. But some believed that before they vanished, the sylphs taught women the secrets of their grace, the tricks of movement and dance that had held the ancients rapt and motionless in adoration. The women who learned the craft of the sylphs gathered in small troupes, wandering the nations, performing their feats, and teaching their daughters those secrets as well.Festivals, games of grace and skill, and contests gave birth to carnivals and circuses.
In our own time, the spirit of wonder has been diluted by abundance. Miracles occur around us in every moment, only to pass unnoticed by our surfeited, dimmed eyes, our dulled souls. Wonder dies in every moment; the carnival, the circus, will not long survive it.
In the Museum of the Sylphs are to be found the performing descendants of those long-absent spirit beings — or, rather, their images. Those in whom a spark of wonderment still shines, find themselves entering the Museum in an idle moment. The idle moment extends into stolen time. They wander the halls as the hours pass, marveling at the trapeze performers, the high-wire jugglers, and the mermaids.
The visitors leave the Museum at last, faces flushed, breathing more quickly, moving with great animation, glancing this way and that. Gradually these symptoms lessen and fade away. Faces assume their customary colorless pallor. But smiles remain: tokens of love for grace and eternal beauty.