Jacques is telling it…
I count more than two hundred steps before reaching the bottom. Before us is a gloomy catacomb stacked with bones. Skulls cram the arches, their horizontal courses slotted with femurs and ribs. The abbot strides into darkness, his torch illuming macabre candelabras that hang from the vault; human spines are strung into columns, arrayed with scapulars and clawing carpels for candle cups. The sepulchre devours the light and ’tis hard to distinguish the boundary. Yet I glimpse a steep rift to the left where a subterranean stream gurgles into foramens of stone. A warren of holes perforates the higher galleries, and yet further down are several low tunnels that funnel off in all directions; some show signs of ancient workings, with tool marks in the rock, and one gapes wide enough for a horse and cart to pass with ease.
‘What is this place?’ ask I.
‘This ancient chamber is older than Devil’s Ditch. ’Twas discovered by our founding fathers who built the abbey above…’
The walls are encrusted with sparry concretions that sparkle in the torchlight. From the crevices of the vault hang large projections of brute figures that drip crystal tears; one resembles a headless woman nursing a child; another a hunchback with a swollen foot; yet another an ape brandishing a club. The rock is of a dark liverish red, veined with creamy whorls and milky bands. A shallow trench runs along the floor, covered in coralline stalagmites that gleam like writhing maggots. The outer boundaries are strewn with fallen boulders where the cavern contracts in ominous black apertures. Two columns tower before us like ossified bones, riddled by a spongy mass of calibres and pores. Beyond is a forbidding gloom, punctured by inlets, vents and vomitories.
A benthal wind drones in the depths like the Devil’s hurdy-gurdy. My father grins, flashing his rotten teeth:
‘These are the Catacombs of Lazarus. For he was the abbot who built them, many centuries ago. I gave you his name for a reason.’
‘Because I returned from the dead?’
‘The dead indeed. Whenever I visit this place, I think of that army of skeletons whose resurrection was predicted by Ezechiel. “Ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.(i) Behold, I will send spirit into you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to grow over you, and will cover you with skin… And I will give you spirit and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord…” (ii) But for a miracle, you too would be mouldering here, awaiting your resurrection. Yet there is a greater power at work. Truly, you were delivered to me for a reason. Do you not sense the hand of destiny upon your shoulder?’
‘What do you want from me, father?’
‘I want you to trust me. Put your faith in me and all shall be well.’
‘But where are you taking me? Where do these tunnels go?’
‘All over. This land is riddled with caves. That larger passage leads into the woods—half a league or more. There are scores of tubes and bungholes. I have crawled down most in my youth. But now I’m too old and fat. No doubt there are many splendid chambers yet to be found…’
‘So many dead men…’
‘Like us, the monks of yore suffered from a terrible curse. Come this way my son: your destiny awaits…’
We pass over a ridge, covered with a delicate fretwork of dripping stone, where tiny hollows of water quiver under our footsteps. Then we enter another catacomb, filled with monstrous bones that speak of terrible sufferings. Here lie the misbegotten, misshapen and grotesque; the crook-backed, scalene and crippled; the bow-legged, knock-kneed and splay- footed. Disfigured skulls, uncanny and bizarre: pig-nosed, dog-faced and toad headed. Pelvic candelabras dangle like plough-shares, bat-winged, round-shouldered and riven. Hanging carpals brush against my horns, cat-clawed, frog-fingered, taloned and taliped.
The abbot thrusts his torch high into the vault and lights a candelabra:
‘This ossuary holds the baleful bones of our ancestors—a corrupt line that stretches back over four centuries. Our former abbot had a perverse sense of humour. Do you like his harpy?’
He points to a mighty bird of bones, assembled from a menagerie of beasts; it squats on bovine feet, a chain of human femurs making up the legs; these locate with the pelvis of a horse; then a spine of interlocking fox skulls soars overhead, where a great rib cage is formed from clusters of human ulnas; the sternum is made from two scapulars, and the collar bones from stag-shanks. The clawing wings spread ten feet wide—an umbrella of ox ribs and tarsals, splayed like a swooping bat. And perched on top is the sinister skull of a boar with two great tusks…
The parapets are strung with cascading teratologies; jawbones, vertebrae, sacrums and skulls, which hang in frilly drapes, giving the impression of some prodigious leviathan that has swallowed us whole. I spot an alcove with an iron gate entwined with rusty chains; a narrow passage rises beyond the bars, leading upward in a straight course.
‘Where does that passage go?’ ask I.
‘To the nave…’
‘Who else knows of this place?’
‘Only the prior and my sixth son Ricon. But not even they know of my secret.’
‘Follow, and you shall see…’
We push into darkness, turning down a steep incline, then under an arch of rock. The way is wide and slopes into abyssal depths. We pass though another catacomb, much older than the first, with rectangular alcoves on each side. Each cove contains a corpse, poised at work or prayer, occasionally draped in vestments, so as to mimic the living. Some are dressed as women, their skulls painted with iron and ochre pigments. But the bones are unmistakably male. The grisly effect is heightened by wigs of horse hair, stuck to the craniums with isinglass.
The abbot makes a sharp left and ducks through a gully. I follow him down an umbilical conduit, weary of Lilith who rolls her eyes and grins about her gag. The rock closes in. We squeeze through a tight fissure into a low-vaulted rotunda. A fresco of ancient art covers the walls: red bulls, black stags and strange bird-headed men.
‘What are these?’ ask I.
‘Spirits of the dead. Pagan invocations to the gods.’
Before I can say another word, he flits behind a water-worn buttress:
‘This way Lazarus…’
He moves quickly, like some vaporous gnome gliding between the shadows. Clumsily, I follow after, groping the slimy stone, my feet slipping on a bulbous pavement that glistens in the torchlight. The roof begins to lower, inclining steeply, until I am forced to crawl. The torch splutters, its lambent flame gleaming on ruddy vulvul walls. I squeeze through the twisting canal, half-sensing the walls contracting all about me, forcing me ever onward. The portal opens into a vast chasm, black as hell. My father hurries ahead, his flame illuming fistulas and flues that hang with prodigious formations. The dank air seems to penetrate my very bones, and truly, I am overcome with fear, for I sense some ancient evil brooding in the depths. My instinct is to flee. Yet no sooner have I resolved to return when a ghostly apparition looms in the distance, like some gargantuan mushroom growing in the depths. Lilith whispers:
‘Oh! ’Tis a terrible thing! A terrible, terrible thing!’
A pang of dread seizes my heart and I cry in panic:
‘Stop! I want to go back!’
‘The abbot halts and turns to face me:
‘Go back? Have you no courage?’
He glares with cold stern eyes, his liverish face all glossy green, and adds:
‘If you turn back now, you shall live out the rest of your days in ignorance, for I shall never bring you here again, and my secret will die with me…’
‘But what is that thing, father?’
‘Come, and you shall see…’
‘It makes me want to flee as if it were the pestilence.’
‘I can assure you ’tis perfectly harmless. What frightens thee? Does Sire Stench disturb your faithless heart? You think your ancestors would forgive such peevishness?’
‘How much further?’
‘Another hundred yards. Keep close Lazarus…’
My torch splutters in a chill wind. We press on, our footsteps echoing off cavernous walls. As we descend, I sense we are in some kind of inverted transept that mirrors the church above. The flowstone walls are streaked with vermilion, green and gold. Thousands of stalactites hang from the ceiling: delicate pink pipes and pale long straws. Limestone galleries sweep overhead, glistening like frozen waterfalls. The whole edifice looks like some infernal cathedral, fashioned by Mother Earth; it bares a striking simulacrum to a pig’s heart: the vast atrium; the curved ventricular walls; the aortal passages and papillary curtains that screen even deeper recesses…
We pass downward under a stalagmite arch then slide down a wet rift. Gradually the looming dome becomes more distinct: a vast gibbosity, tuberous and pocked, with strange grooves wandering over its surface; it stands some eight feet high, perched on a rocky plinth that obscures the lower half; torchlight flickers round its eerie form, illuming furrowed holes and a sinuous ridge that curves round one side. We climb toward the plinth and with each unhallowed step, the dome reveals its deathly guise…
I stand stupefied at first, rooted to the spot, and shaking head to foot. Before me looms a giant skull that appears altogether human, yet stands over twelve feet high. It grins ear to ear, its black orbits glaring from some primaeval past. I fall to my knees in awe, lost in Titanic realms. The abbot raises his torch and declares:
‘Hail your antediluvian ancestor! who walked this earth before The Flood! The Preadamite giants who fell from Heaven on chariots of fire! For giants were upon the earth in those days; and after the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, they brought forth children!(iii) These are the mighty men of old, the Titans of renown!’
Raising my torch, I peer into the septum and wander round the mandible; there are three rows of terrible teeth, with molars wider than a cubit. I tremble at the prodigious scale and all its frightful implication. My tears begin to run at such a marvel so long overseen and lost to the world of men. And I wonder how it lived and how it ate; what incantations were uttered by its tongue; and what lost mysteries lit its terrible eyes.
‘By my reckoning, this giant stood over eighty feet tall,’ says the abbot.
‘Eighty feet? That’s higher than the nave!’
‘The skull alone is twelve feet high, and large enough to contain at least six-hundred bushels of corn. A single tooth must weight at least twenty pounds. Eighty feet, most certainly, at least—that’s assuming the skeleton is seven heads long, and has the same proportions as modern man…’
‘But where’s the rest of him?’
‘Lost and buried in time. I found a finger bone beyond the outer fosse: the cavity is so large that I can pass my whole arm through its middle. This was a prodigious giant indeed, a Titan—and surely one of the first to ever walk the earth: for they were the biggest of all. ’Tis written by Saint Augustine that there were many giants born of the line of Seth. Augustine himself saw on the shore near Utica, a fossil human tooth, which had been cast up after a storm; ’twas a hundred times the size the tooth of any person living.(iv) But this Titan is older than Seth—older even than Adam…’
‘I wonder who put it here.’
‘Pagans methinks—on horse and cart—through that gaping tunnel we passed on the way. This must have been their temple.’
‘But the way we came is too narrow.’
‘…Too narrow, yes, indeed. There must be another way in—one I haven’t found yet…’
‘It must have taken many men to raise it.’
‘Aye, but do not forget our ancestors were skilled engineers who raised megaliths all over the land…’
‘Perhaps it comes from Giant’s Grave.’
‘No. That tomb holds human bones. The grave of this titan is still a mystery; but the skull can’t have been here more than a few centuries, or ’twould be little more than dust. Yet it has not even petrified. I found marrow in the cranium. Would you like to go inside?’
‘Inside?’ I ask, faltering.
‘Yessss!’ whispers Lilith, ‘Go in… Go inside!’
‘Fear not,’ grins the abbot. ‘I can assure you ’tis quite dead! We may enter via the foramen magnum— a large hole at the base of the occipital. Come…’
He leads me round the back of the Titan’s head and we climb between two smooth condyles into the skull itself. The cranial cavity shimmers in the torchlight, with vascular furrows running round the skullcap like dried up rivers. ’Tis a sinistral space, full of eerie hollows and bulbous spurs. I tremble to tread where thoughts once ran in such a vast archaic mind, now lost to oblivion, yet still omnipresent in this labyrinth of bone. And I think of Raymond, dreaming on the riverbanks, when he sojourned out of his body into the skull of an ass, and I wonder if I myself am fast asleep, dreaming in the infirmary…
We perch in two fossa where a mighty cerebrum once pulsed with reason. And in that moment I am swept away with wonder and forget my father’s crimes:
‘Oh father! What vistas of heaven this Titan must have seen! What arcane knowledge was held within this sconce! If only we could only live as he once lived! To stride through Eden before The Flood; to smell the perfumed flowers and gaze upon the dawn of God’s Creation! Yet all is lost and so far gone in time…’
‘Aye my son. But would you, like Adam, still eat from the Tree of Knowledge?’
‘And sustain such great distress? To be cast into the wilderness, to forage for seeds and delve for worms? For Adam cried and said:† “O God, when we lived in the garden, and our hearts were lifted up, we saw the angels that sang praises in heaven, but now we cannot see like we used to see; no, when we entered the cave, all creation became hidden from us.” Then God the Lord said to Adam: “When you were under subjection to Me, you had a bright nature within you, and for that reason could you see things far away. But after your transgression your bright nature was withdrawn from you; and ’twas not left to you to see things far away, but only near at hand; after the ability of the flesh; for ’tis brutish.” When Adam and Eve had heard these words from God, they went their way; praising and worshipping Him with a sorrowful heart. And God ceased to commune with them.(v) And so ’tis with us…’
I feel a sudden desolation and sense of trespass:
‘We have sinned in coming here. Is this unhallowed place not forbidden to mortal eyes? We wretched men, so stunted and cursed in flesh, are poles apart from this magnificence. Which makes me wonder why you brought me here…’
‘Aye, we are poles apart in time and flesh. Yet not so far as you might think. Aristotle’s Doctrine of Four Causes states there is a common material substratum to all material bodies.(vi) This giant shares the same substratum as you or I. But such a substratum cannot control its own modifications—or we too would be perfect beings, without defect or blemish. No, there is a movement set up in the material.(vii) Find the cause of movement, and you control the substratum…
‘You mean the flesh?’
‘Precisely. All things generate different degrees of goodness and beauty. But neither movement nor the substratum alone can produce such characters of being. Hence, the cause of movement must be in Nature, whose ends and purposes direct her creatures to the better good.(viii) But there lies an even greater power, over and beyond Nature: Essence.(ix) And Essence is the chief cause of all. The Essence is extra carnem [outside flesh], but when Essence is added to the other three causes, the secrets of Nature are revealed—and the substratum becomes a clay we can mould…’
My father looks oppressed with fantastical visions (yet not so mad as one who raised the dead and cured a withered stump). He gesticulates wildly:
The knowledge of things past is the key of things to come! We are descendants of giants, but the giants are descendants of angels. These were giants of high genius who possessed great mental powers—powers to levitate colossal stones and control the winds and clouds. They walked tall in the midst of the stones of fire!(x) Never will we find another remnant of the heavenly Essence! This material substratum is almost perfect, hardly subject to corruption or decay. How it died I know not, but had it lived out its natural span, it might have lived ten times longer than Methuselah—perhaps even longer. Man was originally created righteous and immortal, but Death got power over him through sin, when the Satan Gadreel seduced Eve… God planted The Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden, and it bore angelic fruit, capable of repelling Death. But once Eve and Adam were cast out into the wilderness, they were no longer under its life-sustaining influence. That expulsion incurred the sentence of Death over all mankind. Our terrestrial bodies are made of dust—and to dust we must return, by the dissolution of our flesh. We are perishable creatures who dwell in a tenement of clay. But what if we could reclaim our immortal birthright?’
What is he saying? I could avenge my mother now; I cloud kill him in this profane place, and not a living soul would ever find his body. Yet that idea now strikes me as the most sinful and reckless thing to do… For he is a true magician. There are arcane mysteries to be unsealed—forbidden fruits, far beyond the gates of Eden and the sunset of the Fall. I could kill him now, aye mother I could. But I recall what old Jacob said—when Adam was combined with Eve, and The Divine Hermaphrodite shone with a radiance brighter than the sun. Surely, this magus will heal me. My father beams with haunted eyes:
‘This titan is the key! For even now, we may extract its material substratum, and by my chymic art, work back toward to its Holy Essence… Aye! Yet such a task is not easy: all powers of Heaven must be aligned accordingly—both the order of the planets and the motion of the sun. ’Tis necessary to prepare the order of hours and days, and seek the position of the Moon, without the operation of which, we can effect nothing. Yet further, such an operation requires special qualities of blood: the seventh son of a seventh son, born in the noon-day night…’
He lops about the cranium like a mad toad, his arms held high:
‘Think Lazarus! With this titan’s flesh and your mysterious blood, we can cure our deformities and restore our fallen seed! Ever since your arrival, I have been observing the heavens with great diligence. Only when the time is right may we begin the work. But we must still invoke the aid of higher powers. Like them, our composite bodies share a contiguous union with the Essence. The Essence of the Monads… whose divine Nature contains a distinct but united multitude allied to itself. The first Monad is the world, which comprehends in itself the entire multitude of which ’tis the cause. The second Monad is the inerratic sphere; and from this succeeds the third Monad, which is occupied by the spheres of the planets, each of which is also a Monad that comprehends its own created multitude. And in the fourth and last Monad are the spheres of the elements, which are also Monads. All these Monads are denominated by Wholeness, and subsist perpetually in the Eternal—that infinite life, which has no connection with time, the whole of which is at once present, and in which there is neither past nor future. This is The Demiurgus of Wholes—the artificer of the universe—who, by His own immediate energy, produces the universe as a whole, and all the wholes it contains. Many subordinate powers co-operate with Him in the production of parts. But He produces the universe totally and at once(xi) – from Essence—just as He produced this Titan…’
It all sounds completely mad. For the Essence of this Titan is but a bloodless ghost, wandering amid the Forms of eternity. The Janus grins and says:
‘You think me insane? Think again. A flower perishes when it burns. Whatever was the substratum of the flower when it grew is gone—turned to ash—and you can never re-collect it. But you can, by sorcery, out of the burned dust, raise a spectrum of that flower, just as it seemed in life. ’Tis the same with human flesh. The dead soul has as much escaped the flesh as the Essence of the flower. Yet still, you may make a spectrum of it. But this phantom must not be confounded with the true soul; ’tis but the eidolon of the dead form. And so ’twill be with this Titan, whose spectre I shall raise. Then by union with your mysterious blood, the eidolon will rise up and join its heavenly Essence, and so transmute your flesh…’
His magic disturbs me. He glares with limpid eyes and his gnomish face gleams in the torchlight. I should turn away; I should seek peace in the higher parts of soul, furthest removed from my senses, and disregard this animal part, with its corruptions and secretions. Aye, I know ’tis right to abandon myself to God in all things, and to cease disturbing my mind with the preoccupations of the body—this fleshy prison, with all its flaws and fluxes. Yet the prospect of such diabolic art sets my mind ablaze. If a single Essence makes all things, then even imperfect creatures must possess a spark of the Divine. What is my twisted life but the expression of a Monad? And I, like a struggling caterpillar, must weave a purse to seek my own fuller expression. What cruel perversity of fate: is not the history of Eve accomplished in me? The Serpent has found me alone and seduced my soul. My Janus sire, who in wrong doing and wrong thinking, fuses Satan with Christ, now proposes to transmute my corrupt flesh with high sorcery. Like father, like son. Was I not forged with him in Hell? How I yearn for the dawn of my rightful body! I break down and weep on a fistula, my face pressed on the cold unhallowed bone.
And Lilith wails:
‘What wretched men! What wretched men of clay!’
Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2003
i. Ezechiel 37:5.
ii. Ezechiel 37:6-7.
iii. Genesis, 6:4
iv .Giantology and Dwarfiana. From ‘Giants and Dwarfs’ by Edward Wood, 1868.
v. The text after ‘†’ to this endnote (v) is from ‘The First Book of Adam and Eve’ by Rutherford Platt [Chapter VIII – ‘The Bright nature of Man is taken away’]. This work is considered by many scholars to be a pseudepigragha; however it is entirely genuine in that it was written a few centuries before the birth of Christ, and much of it is derived from ancient Egypt, the Jewish Talmud and the Islamic Koran.
vi. Aristotle’s doctrine of The Four Causes: the first cause.
vii. Ibid: the second cause.
viii. Ibid: the third cause.
ix. Ibid: the fourth cause.
x. Ezechiel 28:14.
xi. Dissertation of the Philosophy of Aristotle by Thomas Taylor, London 1812.
Unus Mundus nephilim skull image montage © Nicholas Shea 2016.