Unus_Munus_Tabernacle

Jacques is telling it…

The sheep follow the master because they know His voice. And He calls me to the henge, through flurries of snow. Half blind, I follow the road to Mill Bridge where the great wheel stands locked in ice, its frozen race packed with bones and dirty fleeces.

A menacing storm gathers on the peaks; leaden clouds roll down the slopes, smothering the tree line. Chapping winds goad me to the shelter of the woods. The ground teems with squirrels preparing for winter; they dart in the mould digging up nuts, then ferry them high into the boughs. Partridge squawk in the elder and redwing flit in the briar, feasting on bright berries.

Suddenly the rod twitches in my grasp and leads down a left-hand path. I follow through the dear runs, weaving amongst the thickets. Then I hear the faint ring of iron. A chink of light glints between the elms. ’Tis the ancient grove that circles Giant’s Grave. I creep amid the roots and climb atop an earthen mound. The long barrow is smothered in hail. A lamp flickers on the cap stone, illuming the portal beneath. There stands a wizened man, cowled in tattered garb. He hops about, grappling with a tent that billows in the breeze:

‘Oh no you don’t! Come back to old Jacob! You think you can escape me after all these years?’

His shelter is a frame of hazel, covered with skins and cloth. He snatches at whiplash ropes, dragging a club foot as he hammers in pegs with a stone. He sings:

‘I live in a gale of wind, sleet and hail! No place, no place to rest my head. No place for me in this old world!’

Soon his tent is pitched against the portal – a flimsy arbour that buckles in the wind. The Jew shakes his head in dismay as he surveys his handiwork. He looks utterly bewildered. Every so often his jaw goes sideways and he mutters:

‘I shall soon be dead. Then what?’

He shakes his fist at the sky:

‘When will I be delivered to the land of milk and honey? How long Lord? How long?’

A crack of thunder. He opens his arms, embracing heaven, hail spotting his long brown beard. Then he grins and bawls:

‘And Moses stretched forth his rod towards heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and lightnings running along the ground: and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt!’[i]

Lucifer says:

Go to him.

So I clamber down the mound and cry:

‘Hello there!’

The Jew turns and gasps:

‘Who cometh? Who cometh to the tabernacle of Jacob?’

‘A friend Monsieur.’

He hobbles to his staff which sticks in the ground at five paces; then he pulls it out and beats the air:

‘Go! I have neither food nor money. Only this tent and the cowl that covers my nakedness. But the moths have eaten both. So be off! Away!’

His left eye is a cataract of frosted glass and an ugly scar runs from his right ear to the corner of his mouth. His hands are trembling:

‘What’s the matter? Are you deaf? Be off I say. I might be old, but I’m good with a stick!’

His staff makes a whooping sound as it swipes through the hail. But I remain steadfast and declare:

‘Fear not old man. I come in peace.’

‘Methinks you are a leper.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Then what are you about – astray in the woods alone? Or is your accomplice lying in wait? Eh? You have come to slay old Jacob?’

‘No Monsieur. I was gathering nuts.’

‘Nuts? So why hide in a sack?’

‘I’m sick.’

‘All lepers are sick! What pale hands you have!’

‘But my fingers are whole. See! I’m clean I tell you.’

‘Then show yourself.’

‘My face would only frighten you.’

I step toward him.

He begins shaking all over and his face gleams ghostly white:

‘Get back! I’m neither Samaritan nor magician. So leave me in peace. There’s a village nearby. Go find a priest to absolve your sins. The good Lord will take away your sickness. Don’t bring it on me. You’ll find no bread of redemption here.’

‘I’ve already confessed this year. But not to a priest.’

A blast of hail sprinkles the earth. He spits and shouts:

‘A good leper always carries a bell.’

‘But Monsieur, I’m not a leper.’

‘A Cathar then? I hate them twice as much.’

‘I’m not a goodman either.’

‘Well, you’re not welcome here, goodman or bad. So leave old Jacob alone. Go! I prefer the company of wolves to men. Wolves are more honest and far less cruel. Be gone, I say!’

‘But Monsieur, you’ve hurt your foot.’

What? Never mind my foot! My foot is none of your business! I’ve hurt my eye too, in case you hadn’t noticed. I knew bad weather was coming – and bad weather always brings bad luck. Which must be you!’

As I step forward he steps back, jabbing the air with his staff:

‘Beware! Old Jacob knows a curse or two! Must I call upon the Lord to take my afflictions and put them on my enemies?[ii] Be gone, unless you want to end up lame and blind like me! Well do you?’

He staff whirs as he swipes it left and right, his club foot slipping in the leaves. I ignore his threats and proceed boldly toward him. He snarls:

‘Go with the dead! With darkness and the Shadow of Death! Get back! Get back you hooded cur!’

He lunges forward, thrusting his staff in my side, but I catch it firmly in my left hand and tell him softly:

‘I come in peace.’

He tugs back and cries:

‘Let go!’

I oblige and he totters like a tumbler. But he soon recovers, limping forward, jabbing my legs and knocking my shins:

‘Show yourself!’

I throw off all disguise. He gasps in dread and cowers away, hiding in his cowl:

Ugh! Lord God of Abraham save me! Unclean spirit! Be gone!’

‘I cannot go ’til you are healed.’

‘Son of the Devil!’

‘Fear not, for oft’ the Devil has more power than God, and I have no choice but to ease your suffering, either with the aid of God or with that of the Devil.’

I put forth my hand but he scurries off, wailing into his tent. After a brief pause he cries:

‘Better to suffer my pains than be touched by you!’

Resolute, I pull back the flap and peer inside. He gibbers in the gloom, hiding under a frayed straw mat:

Oh! Mercy! Mercy! Devil, be gone!

‘You do not wish to be healed?’

‘Healed? Oh! What has the Lord God sent me? A demonic fiend!’

‘Nay, I am clean Monsieur. And a creature of flesh and blood, like you.’

After a while he pokes out his head. Cold dews trickle down his brow. He blinks several times in disbelief. Then he cups his mouth and points with trembling fingers:

Horns!

‘No Monsieur. Cankers.’

‘Cankers?’

He ponders for a moment, his glassy eye rolling in its socket. Then he clasps his head in anguish and shrieks:

Get out! Get out! Whatever you are!

‘Very well Monsieur. As you wish…’

I turn to leave. But then Lucifer spills words from my lips:

‘I will go, but first you must answer a question.’

‘A riddle? You have come to try old Jacob with hard questions? Get lost you ugly monster!

‘But I need the answer.’

He bites madly on his lower lip and sucks on his beard, drawing the hairs through gaps in his teeth. At length, he snaps:

‘A riddle? Then what’s the prize? Thirty shirts and as many coats?[iii]’

‘There’s no prize, Monsieur.’

He casts a malignant glare.

‘A riddle without a prize? A cunning devil thou art. Old Jacob has something you want, eh?’

‘Yes.’

‘And if I answer honestly, you will leave me in peace? Man or Devil?’

‘I swear.’

‘So? What’s the question?’

‘Did Christ make his own cross, or was he hung on a tree?’

His face darkens and his eyes begin to bulge. Then he explodes:

What? What? How the hell should I know? That’s your faith, not mine!’

‘I’m sorry Monsieur. But I thought an old Jew like you might know the answer.’

‘Why? I didn’t kill your Messiah! I wasn’t at the crucifixion! Old Jew? I’m not that old, you idiot! Jews of late don’t live as long as Abraham!’

‘I know that Monsieur.’

He beats upon his chest in earnest:

‘But you blame me for the shame of His passion and the scorn of His death!’

‘No Monsieur.’

Baffled, he scratches his head:

‘Well, tree or cross, ’tis all the same to me. Now get out. Go back to wherever you came from! Hell or hovel, I don’t care!’

I turn to leave:

‘I’m sorry Monsieur, but I needed to know, that’s all.’

‘Your priest will instruct you on Christ’s miserable end.’

‘The priest is dead. And good riddance to him. He was an evil ignoramus. He raped the milkmaid and banished me from church. And I shall break up the rood to boil my pots.’

He gasps:

‘What did you say? Wait! Come back!

I halt in the threshold:

‘The rood Monsieur. ’Tis worthless and a sign of evil. It must be burnt.’

‘Who are you?’

‘Jacques Vallin, Monsieur. But they call me Goblin.’

He ponders for a moment, transfixed on my cornua. Then he asks:

‘And your horns… Cankers you say?’

‘Yes Monsieur, cankers.’

He swallows hard and his eyes fill with pity.

‘Well, you gave old Jacob a fright, my boy.’

‘Forgive me. I shall leave you in peace…’

Curiosity gets the better of him:

‘No, wait a moment. Er, now listen boy. I mean to say, we can’t have you wondering about in this foul weather, can we? Stay a while. Until it blows over that is. I rarely have visitors, and never a goblin before. Well, of course, you’re not really a goblin. Not a goblin at all. Just a poor sick boy who foolish old Jacob thought was a… Come, be seated…’

He pats his bed and I sit on a blanket that stinks of senility.

‘Now wait there… Jacques…

He crawls out and a moment later returns with the lamp which he hangs on a high hook. We sit facing one another, wind howling round the portal, inflating the tent with sporadic blasts. But he still looks fearful of his spectral guest and casts uneasy glances. His long brown beard glistens with melting hail. The old face is scored with deep sufferings, but still handsome, with a noble brow and a long penetrating nose. A thought strikes him and he delves inside his bag. Then he grins and throws me an apple:

‘Like Adam I am partial to apples: these are crisp but a little tart. Try…’

We begin eating in silence, munching on the bitter flesh; the sharpness makes him shudder and he says:

‘I have spent my whole life wandering this miserable world, being blown around like a restless leaf. Apart from the clothes on my back, this humble tent of skins is all I have. The summer months are not so bad; and autumn has bounteous fruits. But winter is hell.’

‘Great snows are coming. A squirrel told me.’

‘I pray not. Two years past, I lost this left foot to frost; it went black as coal and withered away. ’Twas my own fault: I got drunk and fell asleep. The wind blew out my fire. A life in the open does not suit an old cripple like me. But where else can I go? Believe me, the world is never kind to men like us; we’re despised wherever we go. Take the anchorites; they live far better lives; they are attended with alms and never go hungry. Well, I blame no one but myself. I should have converted and become a monk. But when I was young, the thought of the cloister filled me with dread. But now I am old the cloister charms me; for it proves that a man may find sanctuary in this wretched world, even in amid war and famine. Take the abbey of Belloc. The monks dwell at ease; they eat meat whenever they like; and they pass the cruellest of winters in comfort; for they have a great warming house where colossal fires burn from Autumn to Spring; they drink fines wines and eat sugar deserts adorned with rare spices; they spend their nights reading and singing. But best of all, they bring whores to their chamber whenever they please. I have oft’ dreamt of such a life. What could be finer than a naked woman and a crackling fire, whilst the hail hammers without? Tell me, what man in his right mind would not live the rest of his days like that? Yes, the cloister would have suited me down to the ground. But alas, I was born a miserable Jew!’

He slaps his chest and wheezes with mirth, jets of spittle foaming between his teeth.

‘We Jews are devils to Christians. But Catholic, Cathar or Jew, you’ll always be a devil to somebody… There is only one God. The God of Abraham. And only one testament. The First. Take heed from one who knows. We poor Jews have kept the laws of God better than any Christian. But there’s no justice in the world. No justice at all…’

He continues like this for some time, and just when I think he’s finished, he repeats: “There’s no justice in the world. No justice at all…” and then he starts all over again, weaving his fate with the history of his people. He recounts his earthly exile – a long Exodus through far lands full of strange animals. If he crosses a river, he compares himself with Moses and tells how the prophet parted the Red Sea. I listen, rapt by his many tales. At length he grows silent and asks:

‘And you Jacques? You are alone in the world?’

‘Yes, apart from Future Jacques.’

‘Who?’

‘A lunatic Monsieur. The ghost of my future self.’

‘I have never heard of such a thing. A figment of your wits, no doubt.’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘A deceiving spirit then.’

‘No Monsieur. He has prophetic powers.’

‘Perhaps he does no more than read your mind?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Are you sure that he’s ghost? Surely, you are mistaken boy. I’m sure that he’s flesh and blood, like you and me.’

‘No Monsieur, he’s a ghost. A real ghost. From the future.’

‘You seek the company of ghosts over the living?’

‘Yes Monsieur. But only in dreams, when my soul is free of the body.’

‘So yours is the fate of madman?’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

‘But why?’

‘Because I am seized with a hatred of the body. Because my flesh is a lie. Because this is not my true image. But most of all, because I believe that Man is a spiritual being, capable of existing in a state separate from his material body.’

‘That is not madness. ’Tis common sense. That Man has a soul is what the scriptures teach.’

‘But in the New World, the scriptures are heresy.’

‘Be careful what you say.’

‘Six centuries hence, I return to Earth and get imprisoned in an asylum. In the New World, they only believe in the body alone. They do not believe in the soul.’

‘You have seen all this?’

‘Yes Monsieur. And much more besides. I saw the Apocalypse: the day of judgement, and the glory of Heaven at the end of the world. I saw the Locusts come forth from the bottomless pit; they were large and monstrous, with breastplates of iron and fire; and I beheld lightnings and earthquakes with voices and great hail.’

‘I once knew a pythoness – a seer who foretold a terrible plague. I prefer not to know such things. And I would not befriend lunatics as a matter of principle. Whether they be dreams or not. A man is judged by the company he keeps.’

‘Perhaps that is wise Monsieur.’

‘Indeed. The world is a mad place. A very mad place. Little wonder: ’tis is run by lunatics. The pope; the king; the Inquisition; the barons and bankers – to name but a few. As for prophetic visions, they always occur in states of derangement: soporific music, whirling dances, magic potions, salves and other mysterious agents. The oracle of Delphi was intoxicated on fumes that arose from the abyss. Think about that.’

‘Do you think me mad, Monsieur?’

‘I don’t know what to think. Are you intoxicated?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Perhaps you have drunk too much wine, or feasted on magic herbs?’

‘No Monsieur. I came to heal your foot.’

He glares angrily then pulls up his breeches to reveal a glossy black stump. He raps it with his knuckles and says:

‘Only your Nazarene could heal that.’

‘Does it hurt Monsieur?’

‘Oft’ the pain is so great I cannot sleep.’

‘It has gone black Monsieur.’

‘’Twas dipped in tar by a physician. The strange thing is, I can still feel my lost foot. A phantom foot.’

‘I shall restore it. Let me touch.’

‘You born fool. ’Tis best you forget such childish dreams, or they’ll put you to the stake. Look what they did to your Christ.’

He rolls down his breeches and changes the subject.

‘So Jacques, what will you do with your life? After all, you are young and the world is your oyster.’

‘I shall become a monk Monsieur.’

‘Ah! A wise man. Then your life will be easy and your future secure.’

‘And when I have slain the abbot, I will burn down the abbey.’

His jaw drops in astonishment. He twinkles then bursts out laughing, spluttering and coughing:

Oh! I like that! First the rood and now the abbey! I should like to see that cloister of Catholics turned into a huge heap of ashes! And all its brethren roasted like fat spit hogs! And what, pray tell will you do then? Flee to hills and join the shepherds? Eh?’

‘No, I shall go to Paris.’

‘Boy! You’ve got it all worked out! Have you not? And what pray tell, will you do in Paris? Lay waste to Christian churches?’

‘No Monsieur. Attend the University.’

‘Ah well, then I pity you. For you will join the ranks of vain fools who quote Socrates at the drop of a hat. The University is corrupt to the core. ’Tis naught but a den of thieves; a cesspit of vermin who brawl in taverns and persecute Jews like poor old Jacob.’

He presses a dirty fingernail to his orbit:

‘That’s how I lost this eye. The philosopher who gouged it out was avenging your Messiah. Do you know what he said when he thrust in his needle? “Let the blind see, the lame walk, and the lepers be cleansed.”[iv] Whoever Christ was, the Christians live without Him. Believe me my friend, you’re better off in the hills with the shepherds, than philosophizing with rats at the University of Paris.’

‘Were you a scholar once Monsieur?’

‘Of sorts. I was a proud Rabbi who crossed the Inquisition, many years ago.’

‘What did you do?’

‘What did I not do? Lust of the flesh; lust of the eye; pride of life; delight in pagan sensuous pleasures; all kinds of happy frolics and perversions; in short, a love of life that made me overconfident in my own powers. Such presumption and disobedience was a confront to Mother Church. So she accused me of every evil under the sun. Including the forbidden arts of magic and alchemy. Can I help it if I look like a wizard?’

‘Well are you?’

‘You think old Jacob would be living like this if he could turn lead into gold?’

‘No Monsieur.’

Pah! I can make fire and boil water – but that’s the only alchemy I know. As for the philosophers stone, the Inquisitor can shove it up his big fat arse. And may it be a source of great pain and inflammation, so that he dies from the bloody flux! Alchemy! I ask you! Listen boy, I’ll let you into a secret: this entire world is a conspiracy. The Catholic church is stuffed with alchemists. Why? Because the pope wants all the goldmakers for himself. Christian alchemists are deemed sages but the Saracen goldmakers are persecuted as sacrilegious imposters. Well, if it wasn’t for the Moors, there would be no goldmakers in the first place. They rediscovered the mysteries of transmutation from the Greeks and the Manichees of Persia. The greatest goldmaker of our age was Albertus Magnus – a Catholic, I regret to say. But that infamous magician took his secrets to the grave…’

‘My mother was a goldmaker.’

‘Oh? So you are rich like me then.’

‘Richer than you Monsieur.’

‘Ah! That’s why you forage for nuts with the squirrels. How thick headed of me: to think you poor, when your mother was a goldmaker. Did she buy you that fine silken cowl?’

I glare angrily:

‘She made it herself. From hemp.

‘Of course she did. Like all poor spinsters. And a fine cowl ’tis too my boy, sackcloth or not… There is great shame in being poor, I know; but ’tis better to be a humble churl who lives in fear of God, than a vain astronomer who studies the stars. All heresy is truth and sackcloth is finer than silk. There’s no justice in the world. No justice at all…’

He shudders:

‘I’ve got a draught on my back. I would light a fire but I’ve yet to fetch wood. How many more winters shall I last? I pray that God soon takes His hand off the top of my head. To pass in my sleep would be best…’

‘Dying is easy. Living is hard.’

‘Especially when you’ve spent your whole life fleeing the Inquisition. Winter is cruel but still a gentle friend compared to the Grand Inquisitor. I never thought they would try a rabbi of such high repute. But they made a fine example of old Jacob.’

‘What did they do?’

‘They cored out my heart like an apple. Yet God still flickers in my soul. The stars look down on such wickedness. The Devil is good at his work, there can be no doubt. And He has ground me up between the millstones of Providence. But I kept my faith like Job.’

He glances at my horns:

‘Tell me, you think the Devil cursed you with those cankers?’

‘I was born of corrupt seed: the spawn of an evil man.’

‘Do you really think the Devil has more power than God? As far as the will of God is concerned, no questions should be asked. Not by me, not by the Inquisitor, nor anyone else for that matter. Any man who claims to know the will of God is a liar and a fool. The mortal mind cannot comprehend the mysteries of God; these things are beyond all human construct and transcend our paltry intelligence. What mortal has seen the multitude of the heavenly host? Enoch alone. The Seraphim and Cherubim, bathed in the eternal source of Light Divine! How I long to see the angels. Alas, they remain enshrouded in darkness – because I’m not ready to witness the glory of God. Are you?’

‘They say the faeries are fallen angels Monsieur. They fell to earth with Lucifer. They sometimes appear as great orbs of light. What do you think of that?’

‘Both Heathen and Christian writers assert the existence of intelligent beings, both good and evil, far superior to the material nature of man; and the Scriptures assert these beings are employed in the administration of divine providence. Each one of us is fated in one way or another. But I cannot tell if you deserve your punishments any more than if I deserve mine…’

He rummages in a leather bag and throws me an old white cloth:

‘A gift for you Jacques. My mother made it.’

Catching the cloth, I unfold it on my lap: a square of linen, embroidered with a golden star:

‘Why, thank you Monsieur! That’s the finest cloth I have ever seen: two triangles making a six pointed star…’

‘The triangles of Spirit and Matter. The Star is their fusion. The Star of David.

‘Your mother was gifted with a needle.’

‘Oh yes, she was the most handsome and fairest lady, with very dainty fingers, and always with a needle in her hand… Our menorah stood on that cloth… We had such a fine home. And look at me now. Once upon a time, that cloth was trimmed with pearls, but I sold them many years ago…’

‘Are you sure you want to part with something so precious?’

‘For you Jacques.’

‘Thank you Monsieur. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I shall treasure it always. Thousands and thousands of stitches; this triangle interlocks with that triangle; how clever to render their paths like that. And how long it must have taken.’

‘Yes, she worked on it for many moons. Hold it to the light – see how it sparkles, even after all these years… A talented lady yes. And a great cook. Oh, I am far from the smell of my mother’s cooking…’

His eyes begin to water.

‘That’s a rare and fine gift, Monsieur.’

‘You’re welcome my boy. But look underneath…’

Puzzled, I examine the reverse where the stitching has been cut and tied in a confused mass of threads and knots. The star is almost invisible.

‘You see Jacques, we sons of Adam rarely glimpse God’s pattern. The majesty of His plan is hidden from mortal eyes. Oft’ it seems that the purpose of our life is meaningless; and as we look at the chaos around us, we surmise that if there is a God, his will is unjust and arbitrary. Ah! But when we see the fabric of the Cosmos from Heaven’s side, we behold His divine plan running through Creation. Remember: the fusion of Spirit and Matter.’

‘The fusion of Spirit and Matter… Then why do the goodmen renounce the world?’

Goodmen, goosemen! The Cathars are so harebrained, they have renounced all flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh.[v] Yes, being in the body is a dangerous thing… The Egyptians would not eat swine, goats, sheep, oxen or fish. And Pythagoras did not eat a bean, nor anything that contained life. But the goodmen insist that man cannot eat nor touch meat, cheese, eggs, or anything which is born of the flesh by way of intercourse. They think they can live off the wind! But only fools would adjure property, meat and wine. I should like to know what they grind between their quern stones – thin air, I shouldn’t wonder. Those emaciated fools might blow away on the breeze. They have renounced the world Jacques, because they have severed the Mal’akh from God.’

‘The Mal’akh?’

‘Ah! You want to know what the Mal’akh is? The Mal’akh is the messenger and emissary of God – one of his shining children, the bene ha-elohim. But the Mal’akh does not dwell in Heaven with the other heavenly hosts; He roams the earth in God’s service. The mysterious Mal’akh – shadow of the Lord, whose dominion is Earth and sky.’

‘I think you mean Lucifer Monsieur. For he is the Prince of this world…’

‘So, like a Cathar, you presume to know who the Mal’akh is? ’Twas the Mal’akh who spoke to Moses from the burning thorn bush; ’twas the Mal’akh who slaughtered the first-born of Egypt. Did your priest not tell the story? Moses bade the Israelites to sprinkle their doors with the blood of the paschal lamb, lest the sword of the destroying angel kill them. And when the destroying angel saw the blood on the transom, he passed harmlessly over the house.’

‘Destroying angels? Is that how God contends with the human race?’

‘Absolutely. Evil is part of God’s plan. The Mal’akh appears throughout scripture. Who is it, in the book of Leviticus, that is called Apopompæus or “Averter”, regarding whom, the Scripture says: “One lot for the Lord, and one lot for Apopompæus”[vi] The Mal’akh. And again, I ask you, who was the evil spirit sent from God, who came upon Saul in the first book of Kings? The Mal’akh. The Mal’akh appears in the third book also, when Micaiah the prophet says: “I saw the Lord of Israel sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on His right and on His left. And the Lord said, Who will deceive Achab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that matter. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said: I will deceive him. And the Lord said to him, by what means? And he said, I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the Lord said: Thou shalt deceive him and prevail also, go forth and do so quickly. And now therefore, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all thy prophets: and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.”[vii] ’Tis there in black and white, recorded in the Scripture: the Mal’akh, by his own free will, was elected to deceive Achab so that the Lord might mislead the king to his death. For in the eyes of the lord, the king deserved to suffer. And who is it in Chronicles, of whom ’tis said: “The devil, Satan, stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number the people.” The Mal’akh. And who is the evil angel in the Book of Psalms who torments certain people? The Mal’akh.’

‘God and Satan working together… I must confess, I have given much thought to the virtues of evil myself.’

‘You speak with a cunning tongue. So tell me young Jacques, what are your conclusions?’

‘My fight is not only against flesh and blood, but also against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world – against spiritual wickedness in high places.[viii]’

‘By high places, you mean the air and the celestial depths, where God permits such wicked spirits to wander.’

No. By high places, I mean Mother Church and her retinue of devils.’

‘I see you are boy with a mission. And you really do intend to burn the rood.’

‘Yes Monsieur. Do you think me evil incarnate?’

‘I think Christianity has poisoned your mind. But whatever transgressions you are about to commit, do not commit them under the pressure of malignant powers.’

‘But who is the malignant power? If the Mal’akh executes the will of God, how can the Mal’akh be evil? I mean, if the Creator is all-good and all-wise, how can He be the author of plagues, famines, wars and tempests?’

‘Precisely. I have already told you: evil is part of God’s plan. But birdbrain Christians cannot accept it. So a creator of evil there must have been. And evil must be due to sin.’

‘Sometimes I hear Christ speaking; but oft’ Lucifer rebukes Him. I believe Lucifer is wiser and more just. They summon Him at the sabbat: the poor, the crippled and lowly. “Oh Great Master, help us!” If Christ does not answer their prayers, The Prince of the World will…’

‘I fear you are right boy. But be careful what you ask for. Was Christ not tempted by Satan who offered all the glories of the world? If so, then the whole earth must belong to Satan. But as you know, Christ rebuked him and said: My Kingdom is not of this Earth.

‘Then where is it Monsieur?’

‘Christ’s Kingdom is in Spirit. That’s why Cathars believe all matter is evil; from the fouls of the air to the beasts of the field – all is the work of Satan. But think. The serpent was inspired by Satan to seduce Eve, who was the cause of Adam’s Fall. Yet surely God must have allowed this to happen; for He is all knowing and wise. Old Jacob knows the secret: God planned The Fall from the very beginning – so that Man might transform base Matter. Ask any Rabbi: ’tis written in the Talmud: God created the first pair of tongs just before Sabbath Eve, at the end of His six days work; and He gave the tongs to man, because to make tools, a first tool is needed… This is the very same God who clothed Adam and Eve, and who took pity when He saw them fallen at the gates of Eden… But Cathars believe the God of the Old Testament is none other than the Evil creator of the world. For the God of Job deals in sufferings and pains; unlike Christ of the New Testament, who preaches love, forgiveness and peace. The Cathars are gravely mistaken. The true God is not the Christ of the New Testament but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We Jews are His chosen people: the Israelites. For all you know, the Mal’akh could be a lying spirit in the mouths of the Gosples.’

‘The Mal’akh is the Prince of Lies?’

‘God never ordains lies; but he permits the Mal’akh to deceive those who hate the truth.’[ix]

‘But if the Mal’akh isn’t Lucifer, who is He?’

‘I am forbidden to utter His mysterious name.’

The dome of skins wobbles in a blast; I’m alone with Johah in the belly of the whale, descending into an abyss of knowledge. The lamp flickers and dims…

‘Monsieur, they say if I am not hereticated, I will be condemned to wander from tunic to tunic. And I have oft’ feared I will end up in the body of an Ox. I think my poor mother dwells with the hares. I support the faith of the goodmen over the Catholics. But I rather support your faith over the goodmen. I believe in the existence of God and the creator of good spirits, but also in the existence of the Devil, creator of the world and our perishing flesh.’

‘Then, how can Christ have existed in a fleshy tunic at all? For his very incarnation would have Satanized him. You see, it makes no sense. Until you realise that Christ was just a mortal man who died on a cross of his own making. The real Messiah has yet to come.’

‘So we are all at the mercy of Satan?’

‘There is only one ruling principal – God alone. God is by essence one. Old Jacob speaks the truth: God is good but evil exists. Get over it. For how can the authority of the prime God be usurped by a malignant Devil whose rule is coeternal since Genesis?’

‘I know not. I fish from both banks; but my communication with the goodmen is greater than that of Catholics. At one time I ceased to believe in the Resurrection of the Body. My conscience was driven hither and thither. The priest said I am so evil that all the water in the sea cannot cleanse my sin – even if I confessed wholeheartedly. But one thing I know for certain: all flesh is corrupt. Can you look me in the eye, and say with hand on heart, that my horns are Holy?’

He throws up his hands.

‘My poor boy, these Cathars and Catholics have poisoned your soul! What? All flesh is corrupt? The world has gone emphatically mad! God is not here – you must look for him beyond the sphere of all bodily existence! I think I too should prefer to fall into Lucifer’s grasp than the Cathars. Is the threat of earthly matter so dark? This muddy ground; our frail flesh; the apples we have eaten; the bark upon the trees and the blood in our veins? Shall we shun the blossoms of Spring and the pleasures of living? The Cathars believe the human desire for personal happiness must be killed. They renounce wealth. They have no possessions. I see no virtue in poverty. What a great desolation of the soul. Must we believe all pleasure as evil and become dead to the world?’

‘Perhaps we should, Monsieur. After all, ’tis full of evil, bestiality and frightfulness. I don’t know how to reconcile divine omnipotence with the free will of Adam’s sinful children. And as for pleasure, I have tasted little.’

‘There is an old Rabbinical saying: “a man will have to give account on judgement day of every good thing which he might have enjoyed but did not.”[x] So be sure you make the most of life: enjoy its pleasures, especially lusts of the flesh…’

He surveys my horns with a sheep’s eye then adds:

‘Tell me Jacques, do you believe that Christ incarnated in the flesh?’

‘I was taught so, Monsieur.’

‘But the Cathars cannot accept the incarnation of God in human flesh, nor his susceptibility to the sufferings of man. All these they deem as illusions. Their opposition of spirit and matter, of good and evil, is so fundamental, that they insist Christ did not have a body at all. I mean, how is that possible?’

Lucifer spills more from my lips:

‘I dare not speak of His body. But you should know the Mal’akh sent me.’

Old Jacob gives a cold a penetrating glare. Then he purrs:

‘So, I have been entertaining an Angel unawares? Then what is Heaven like? Surely you will know if you have been amongst God’s hosts – the cherubim, ofanim, and seraphim…’

How I ache to touch his blackened flesh.

‘I came to heal you, Monsieur.’

He snaps:

‘Hold your tongue! You have come to poke fun at old Jacob?’

No Monsieur!

‘You think me a fool?’

No Monsieur!

‘The Mal’akh sent you? He who laid the foundations of Earth, and the corner stone thereof? Cans’t thou join the shining stars of Pleiades, or stop the turning of Arcturus?’[xi]

I look away and mutter:

‘No Monsieur.’

‘Then do not claim to be a worker of miracles. God is not mocked Jacques. Remember that.’

‘Yes Monsieur.’

The wind howls. He starts nibbling on his apple and splits a pip between his front teeth:

‘– But a visit from an angel would be nice. Lot entertained Angels in his house and was delivered from Sodom, which was destroyed by fire and brimstone; but his wife, for looking back, was turned into a statue of salt… Did you know that?’

‘No Monsieur.’

‘So now you have learnt something from old Jacob: Cathars and Catholics are cuckoo, and the Lord hates sodomites. Only we Jews keep the laws of God.’

I fold the cloth away and tuck it in my belt.

‘Thank you for the gift Monsieur.’

‘Keep it always; and when doubt enters your heart, look at both sides and remember what old Jacob told you: the fusion of spirit and matter. Your cankers are chastisements of love from the Lord. If you bear them with patience and dignity, He will reward you in ways you cannot possibly imagine…’

We fall into contemplation as a squall plucks the ropes like lyres. The Jew grows tired and his head slowly drops. At length he mutters to himself:

‘A fine pattern… But there’s no justice in the world. No justice at all…’

He starts to snore.

Lucifer whispers:

Heal him!

Gently, I roll back Jacob’s breeches and reach for his withered stump. But the Jew flinches under half-remembered pains and jerks upright:

‘Alchemy? I do not worship Isis or Osiris; I know naught of the Nestorians nor even Thoth himself. But they still put me to the question!’

The recollection renders him mute. He thinks for a moment then adds in brittle tones:

‘I know little of alchemy… Except that great Hermes was united with Aphrodite and called Hermaphroditus—as Eve was once combined with Adam.’

My soul stirs with his secret.

‘Combined, Monsieur?’

‘Not by rib alone. A Divine Hermaphrodite. When Eve was still in Adam, Death did not exist. If the sons of Adam attain their former state, Death shall be no more. No more!

His head drops again and he falls asleep, sprawled on his mat. Again my master bids:

‘Touch!’

The imposition of hands…

The Angel fires shards of glittering Light…

The tabernacle is aflame with coruscating rays that leap from my palms. The Jew gasps and glares, as if peering into the heights of Heaven; he reaches for my horns and rasps in lucid frenzy:

‘Enoch went amongst the hosts and was transformed into the Metatron! His body was turned into angelic fire; his flesh became flame and his bones glimmering coals! The radiance of dawn shone from his eyes and his hair was a blinding blaze; all his organs sparkled like molten gold, and whirlwinds girdled his sides; and God gave him wisdom, knowledge and splendour!’

He sighs in ecstasy as his cataract clears. Then he whispers…

‘– But old Jacob… he has such a long way to go… Such a long way to go… Bene ha-elohim.

The Light Stream flickers out and he falls unconscious on the bed.

His flesh is restored.

His sufferings have been rewarded.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2005.

i. Exodus 9:23.

ii. Deuteronomy 7:15.

iii. Judges 14:12.

iv. Matthew 11:5.

v. Galatians 5:17.

vi. Leviticus 16:8 The Douay -Rheims version says: “And casting lots upon them both, one to be offered to the Lord, and the other to be the emissary goat”. However, Apopompæus is the reading of the Sept,. “Caper emissarius” of the Vulgate of the Masoretic text. Rufinus translates Apopompæus by “transmissor”. See The Writings of Origen, Vol 2 page 222, footnote 2.

vii 1 Kings 22:20-23.

viii. Ephesians 6:12.

ix. 3 Kings 22:19-22.

x. Quoted in G.F. More: Judaism, Vol II, p.265.

xi. Job 38:31.

Image credit: Gustave Doré – The Empyrean. Virgil and Dante behold the highest heaven