Rush_Lights

Court Transcript

JACQUES. The primary terror of Death is the unknown into which it hurls us. I first dwelt upon this mystery when I was very young. This morbid obsession was instilled by the priest, whose heart was entirely destitute of love and learning. Perhaps ’twas by virtue of my horns that I became preoccupied with the condition of man in the Universe. And in my solitude, I oft’ pondered upon the incomprehensible domains of Heaven and Hell. Outside of religious faith, I conceived of four imaginable solutions to the problem of the hereafter; first, the total annihilation of mind and body – id est the extinction of the personality; second, survival of the personality, with our day-to-day consciousness remaining intact; third, survival without consciousness, akin to a kind of limbo or dreamless sleep; and fourth, survival in the Universal Consciousness, or mind of God, which must be inconceivably different from the fetters of earthly existence. I must confess, this revelation was not given by some supernal spirit of the heavens. Nay, ’twas the rushes who gave it…

Beyond our hovel were thickets, where the marsh was deep and the rushes grew tall. A breath was always in them, sighing and rustling, or making the brittle combs chatter like teeth. In their midst was a crystal pond, full of frogs and lilies. Nothing pleased me more than to sit on the banks at dusk, with the moon rippling on the water, and watch the lilies bloom like tongues of Pentecostal fire.

How does Lucifer shine? With rush lights, of course. Making rush lights was the first work I ever knew. I must have been knee-high to a grasshopper. Margot kept the rushes in a pail to stop them from wilting, and we’d sit by the fire on summer nights with fat bubbling in the cauldron. I took the rushes one by one, trimmed the ends, then passed them to Margot who split the stems, leaving a long strip to support the pulp; then I dipped them in tallow and hung them up to dry. We took great pride in our lights, ensuring they dried straight and burned bright. ’Twas worshipful work, in honour of wind and fire, and the combs of whispering reeds. When the pail was empty, Margot would test a light, and we’d go to bed watching its soft glow flicker in the rafters…

The rushes provided a small income: copper for tapers, to bring before the images of the saints, or maintain the four lights of the church – these being the light before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, the sepulchre light, the dead light (or Alsolen light) and the High Cross light. I was forbidden in church on account of my horns, but my tapers were always in demand. I was the Devil’s incensor, present in all but body. ’Tis the incensor who assists the priest in the vestry, and who lights the incensary. And so I lit the farce of high Mass with my pagan tapers – that the priest might carry the Host in venerable procession, with candles and psalms, as if it were the real body of Christ.

Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. The bench knows perfectly well that the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night.[i] But never as a Priest in the day. For that impious intoxicator, who imbibed the blood of perfidiousness, that he might infectiously inform the heathen of hell, stole tapers by the hundred, withholding payment moon by moon, claiming it was a manifest error to pay for Christ’s incensaries. And when Margot cursed him for reserving his dues, the priest threatened her with fire:

“The inquisition is roaming the hills. They say not a single heretic shall escape the pyre. You claim to have renounced the Cathar faith, but I know it still burns bright in your heart. I shall never forgive you for the wicked trick you played upon my father. He said you were a witch, just like your mother before you. As for your son – everyone knows he was conceived by pact with Satan. The likes of you will never enter Paradise. Your souls are damned eternally. You think you’re clever, with your charms and spells, but Mother Church will outwit you in the end. Great misfortune will befall you both. The inquisition will take your body and possessions. Do not come to Mass again. From this day forth you are banished from God’s house. The hereafter is full of unimaginable horrors. Cathars believe that wicked souls return as beasts. If that is true, you will return a sheep and get eaten by a wolf! As for your son, he will return an ox. Think about it Jacques. What is more terrible than being imprisoned in the body of an ox?”

But the priest did not know I was already imprisoned in the body of a boy. And that is a very special kind of hell. As soon as you try to analyse, define, or understand it, thoughts and expressions fail, or they create a contradiction which you struggle to deny. The rushes whispered edicts. Forget the judgements of Mother Church. The priest would soon be hurled into the abyss – there to appear before Hell’s tribunal, sent by the Light Bringer himself…

i. 1 Thessalonians 5:2.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2000.

Rush Lights image montage © Nicholas Shea 2020 from public domain sources.