Jacques is telling it…

The last week of Advent is a whirlwind of duties and vigils. The brethren grow excited at the prospect of the coming feast, and with all the preparations under way, there is little time for study. But on Ember Friday, the prior announces that repairs to the warming house are complete. So the brethren vacate the Day Room and leave me alone to practise my penmanship. There is great pleasure in writing, sitting in silence with my nib upon the parchment, watching the letters appear before my eyes.

My favourite desk is half-way down the aisle, where I can survey the entire chamber in all its glory: the herringbone tiles, inlaid with white acorns and oak leaves; the gloomy alcoves with their parchment stretchers and jars of coloured inks; the hanging lamps of beaten copper, charged with aromatic oils that perfume the musty air. I feel like a ghost in a baronial hall; and how I came from churl to monk in such numinous circumstance, has all the mystery of a dream.

The Titan skull is ever before me: it looms on the page with portent promise – a visage of Death and Transformation, hanging above Christ crucified, like the face of Golgotha.

A spirit draws nigh.

Wind moans down the chimney; the fire splutters and pops; eddies of dust whirl down the aisle and tables rattle. My soul is in suspension, my body in violent tumult.

A flash of light.

Then the Cyclops appears beside me. He scans the page with his mighty eye and says:

Vigilate et orate ut non intretis in temptationem spiritus quidem promptus est caro autem infirma. Shall I translate that for you, Jacques?’

‘There’s no need. I already know what it means: watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ [i]

‘Exactly. So heed the words of Christ Incarnate, for the Janus will be your undoing.’

‘He wants to help me. How can I be unified with God in such an infernal body?’

‘You are not the body.’

‘Nor was Christ.

‘And just what do you mean by that?’

‘There are some heretic shepherds who follow the Cathars, who say that Christ was not born of a woman, nor had true flesh, nor was truly dead, nor suffered anything, but pretended to suffer; nor do they believe that he ate, or drank, and that he had, as it were, a phantastic body, and that he did not rise from the dead.’

‘What are you child? Catholic or Cathar?’

‘I fish from both banks.’

‘Then you are lost. Despite my intellectual gifts, you remain stubborn as a mule. I fear I shall never bring you to the Light. Why do you crave these things of flesh? Have you learnt nothing?’

‘’Tis I who must live in the flesh, not you.’

‘In Greek, we say Logos ensarkos [in the flesh], or Logos asarkos [without the flesh]. The union with God is taken by some men in a fleshly sense, for they say that they shall be transformed into divine essence. And they deny the future resurrection of human bodies, imagining, instead, certain spiritual bodies…’

‘Then why do the souls of men, even after their separation from the body, have flesh and bones, hands and feet, and all members of the body?’

‘What makes you think that?

‘A shepherd told me. For when the souls of wicked men are gone out of their bodies, before and after judgement, they fall over precipices; for the Devil throws them headlong from the heights; and they wail in pain yet can never die.’[ii]

‘Man’s flesh is of two kinds: a flesh that comes from Adam and a flesh which is not from Adam. The flesh from Adam is a gross flesh, for ’tis earthly and nothing but matter – a flesh that can be bound and grasped like wood or stone. The other flesh is not from Adam; ’tis a subtle flesh that cannot be bound or grasped – except by spirits, for ’tis not made of earth.[iii] The resurrected body is impalpable, more subtle than wind or air. What of you? Shall you be purged of Adam’s flesh, and live as a bloodless ghost?’

‘I think that would be better.’

‘Poor Jacques.’

‘They call me Lazarus now. Lazarus.

‘Well, you will always be Jacques to me.’

‘Either way, I prefer Jacqueline.’

‘Poor Jacqueline. You cannot see what I see. My inner sight perceives all the inner parts of your body; and my perception shows not only the causes of your physical disease, but the flaws in your soul. Some say that God pours his gifts into men according to the merit and measure of their hearts. Essence is Life and Life is Essence. The Life and Essence produce all things, but they are One, not two. The hand writes, yet it does not write; tis the Essence that writes by means of the hand. Likewise, the tongue talks, yet it does not talk; ’tis the Essence that talks by means of the tongue. Without Essence your tongue would be silent, because flesh alone cannot talk.[iv] You are Logos ensarkos because you are fallen from paradise: you have forgotten the Light which existed in you before your spirit fell asleep and awoke in the flesh.’

‘Before the fall, Adam was a Divine Hermaphrodite. That is why I must weave a silken purse and become a butterfly.’

‘Who taught you these foolish things?’

‘Lucifer. He said the adept is not without the woman, but is male and female in one.’

‘Alas Jacqueline, your sexuality is but a sign of your enslavement to the body. The distinction between the sexes belongs only to the material world. Why hold yourself in contempt?’

‘Because I am human only insofar as I am bodily.’

‘Your maleness is bred in the bone: it saturates every cell of your flesh; ’tis intrinsic with your marrow and the humours of your blood. Esto quod esse videris. [Be what you appear to be].’

‘I am not what I appear to be. I am hidden in plain sight. Would you be happy if you looked like an Ox?’

‘The comparison is hardly fair.’

‘Women are as different from men as horses from oxen.’

‘That may be so, but the Janus is mad and his remedy doubtful.’

Anceps remedium est melius quam nullum. [A doubtful remedy is better than none].’

‘The Janus does not seek your happiness. His only desire is to elevate himself. He will use you as his chattel. Do not believe that a man of flesh, who produces excrement, can save souls. Only God and the Virgin Mary have that power.[v] It shall not be well with you if you submit to sorcery.’

‘It shall be worse with me if I don’t.’

‘Listen to me. I have seen your future.’

‘Do I live to a ripe old age?’

‘I’m not talking about this life. I’m taking about the next life. The life in the New World.’

‘Do I return an ox?’

‘No.’

‘A bird then?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘A woman in another sphere? I can see myself now: a beautiful lady, sipping wine on a Venetian veranda.’

‘No Jacques. You return a suicidal maniac, who suffers sexual confusion and melancholia. A depressive psychopath, who is profoundly convinced of his own wickedness. Your mental disease is far worse than the Janus. Your acute hysterical depression gives rise to many demons. And you are ill equipped to bear the burden of your treatment.’

‘You’re just trying to frighten me.’

‘I have your file before me: 200 sessions of Empirical Church Therapy, and bewitchment by a surrogate who is only concerned with your magical powers. Instead of curing your condition, she regresses you to childhood, and produces many physiologic disturbances, so that in the end, your dreams have all the semblance of manifest reality. Your mood is one of persistent gloom with intervals of mania. Your mind is full of holes, lacking all volition, and what little spark it musters is devoted to the accusation of yourself as the author of all worldly suffering. I have spied you, dancing ecstatically around your cell, like a Darvish with sparkling eyes, staring into space, lost in dreams. With the voice of a ghost you call my name. Even in the New World, you are utterly dependant upon my power and grace.’

‘If that is so, then why do you keep me there?’

‘I am powerless to save you. In the New World, physic and the theism are at enmity. I cannot begin to relate all the dire facts and circumstances of your future state. ’Tis naught but Purgatory.’

‘Purgatory is better than this earthly Hell. Your warnings for my immortal soul do not change my current condition. Besides, you rest on the supposition that my soul has no power to redeem itself. When in fact, the opposite is true.’

‘Oh? How so?’

‘When I dwelt in Paradise, I possessed powers that are now lost. But they remain latent within. The rite will awaken them.’

‘What you do in this life echoes down the centuries. If you go ahead with this cure, it shall not be well with you.’

‘You cannot dissuade me. I’ve made up my mind. ’Tis time I governed my own fate. You told me to await the grace of God, but the grace of God never came. Now I have changed into a man. Have you seen my whiskers?’

‘A bearded woman. So what?’

‘What of my cock and bones? There’s no option but sorcery.’

‘Sorcery is nothing like the grace of God. The ramifications of sorcery go beyond all human calculation. Oft’ it costs a life or lays waste ten more. The subject of a spell never gets what they bargained for. ’Tis folly to proceed with such a dangerous scheme. The flesh of the Titans is terrible flesh indeed…’

‘You could have cured me long ago.’

‘If such a feat was within my power, believe me, I would have done it. I have cured countless ills: leprosy, pox, colic, scab, dropsy and paralysis; also lupus, cankers, noli-metangere, fistulas, and a whole race of internal diseases, more surely than you could believe. But your congenital deformity is a different matter altogether. My medicine is entirely powerless against your condition. Do not make the mistake of assuming your body is yours to do with as you please. Your body belongs not to you, but to the heavenly father alone.’

‘Is that so? Then why did the heavenly father chain me to this corrupt identity? Your demonic faith is equally absurd as materialism. As absurd as the Grand Inquisitor, who insists my body belongs to the state! Get out. Leave me alone.’

‘Jacques! Do you really mean that?’

‘Be gone!’

‘What has become of you? To treat me so cruelly? Do not forget, I’m your only friend in this mad world.’

‘With friends like you, who needs enemies?’

‘You’ve changed. You’re not the same Jacques I knew all those years ago.’

‘You’ve noticed then.’

‘You’re more twisted inside than out. You’ve become cynical. The world has hardened your heart.’

‘That’s what happens to girls like me. I’m unnatural. A freak. A changeling. A goblin. I always knew I was fated with the faeries.’

Krew ponders for a moment, his eye twinkling with the winter sun. At length, he asks:

‘Tell me Jacques, do you recall what happened in the orb? Do you know what Grazide did whilst you hovered between worlds?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it.’

‘Why?’

‘It frightens me.’

‘Did she hurt you?’

‘I met a terrible insect.’

‘Insect?’

‘A praying mantis.’

Mantis Religiosa?

‘Aye. But she was big. Very big. She showed me the Apocalypse.’

‘The Second Coming?’

‘I don’t recall exactly. But I saw the world destroyed by fire. ’Twas Mullard Magic. The dissociation of matter into its constituent atoms. I saw a thousand faeries trapped in a thousand phials, all glowing in a giant machine. The clock is ticking.’

‘When does this happen?’

‘When the last king is strangled by the entrails of the last priest.’[vi]

‘And when is that?’

‘I know not. The mantis made me forget.’

‘But how do you know this mantis was not Grazide in disguise? Faeries take many forms, and can change their state in the blink of an eye.’

‘Believe me, ’twas not Grazide.’

‘How can you be so sure, when she can manipulate your mind?’

‘Grazide would not frighten me so.’

‘You forget she’s a deceiving spirit.’

‘No. Grazide is only concerned with my welfare.’

His Cyclopean eye grows brighter and swells into a mandala of rainbow light. The majestic iris revolves in golden gyres as iridescent rays shoot forth, dappling the chamber in coloured pools. His voice chimes with the peel of a thousand bells:

‘You shall not regain your original state of unity, except by that celestial marriage which takes place only in a process of spiritual restitution.’

‘Then why is my soul bound to the body?’

‘’Tis only through union with the body that the soul becomes a complete substance; ’tis only through the body that the soul develops its own spiritual attributes.’

‘If that is so, then what is the nature of spirit? Is it so different from the corporeal soul?’

‘Not so different at all.’

‘Ergo, ’tis my flesh that needs restitution!’

‘You twist my words.’

‘No, I’m simply making a logical observation. What you imply is that the spirit is little different from the flesh.’

‘Spirit is the name given by philosophers to a substance that is neither matter nor dependent on matter for its existence or activity. The restitution of the spirit is not an organic process, since the spirit has no organs.’

‘Then how shall I pass beyond the reach of my sensual perceptions?’

‘With spiritual eyes and ears. Do not feign ignorance in these mysteries, for you have oft’ dwelt out of the body.’

‘But I always return to the flesh. How so, when my spirit has free will?’

‘When separated from the body, the soul is continually moved by a desire for reunion with the body, so that it may complete its substantiality.’

‘Desire? ’Tis not my desire to dwell in this beastly skin suit! I hate the flesh of Adam! This gross and earthly flesh!’

‘Such sinful thoughts make your redemption quite impossible. You cannot vacate your vessel until the appointed time. This earth is a school: ’tis where the spirit learns and acquires new experiences. For in every act of knowledge the gateway of the senses is indispensable.[vii] Art thou so different from other men? Memento mori. After separation from the body, your soul will see in a flash whether it dwells in a state of salvation or damnation; ’twill behold its past life and all the graces it received from God – all the opportunities for good which it failed to use; and in discerning the deeds of your earthly life, your soul will judge itself before the throne of God.’

‘Amen. I will judge myself at the appointed time.’

‘The prospect of damnation does not deter you?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘But why?’

‘An old Rabbi once told me: “a man will have to give account on judgement day of every good thing which he might have enjoyed but did not.”[viii] My bodily restitution is a good thing. A very good thing. And if it comes by sorcery, so be it. Besides, I cannot accept the earthly paradox of a transcendent yet immanent god; a god who left mankind at the mercy of evil forces; a god who promised to return and save the world, but never comes.’

‘Do you know, before this life is spent, you will be tried for your sins by the Infernal Counsel?’

‘Who?’

‘A court of diamons summoned from the Underworld.’

‘Summoned by who?’

‘Me. On your behalf. I am to be your witness. Shall you defy me?’

‘I can’t believe a word you say. You’re full of hot air. And you stink of rotten eggs. Where have you been hiding? The latrine?’

‘Don’t be so impertinent. If you must know, I have been attending my duties – stoking the molten halls of Aetna. An eruption is due any day now.’

‘You come and go like the wind. I thought you were watching over my life.’

‘And so I am. I have endowed you with great powers but you spurn my gifts. Remember your birthright: to work the cures effected by the Christ. Have you forgotten your spiritual obligations?’

‘I raised Maria from the dead.’

‘You did. A stupendous miracle indeed. But a single miracle is hardly enough. Why are you hiding in cloister? Go out into the world and heal the sick.’

‘I cannot. I must remain here.’

‘News of your miracle has spread far and wide. The name of Jacques Vallin is heard even in Paris. Throughout the kingdom, the sick are making pilgrimage to Devil’s Spring. The blind, the leprous, the palsied and lame. Will you leave them to suffer their bodily corruptions?’

‘I have sworn not to perform another miracle ’til the rite is done. For better or worse.’

’Twill be worse. Far worse.

‘You might think that, but I remain confident of a good outcome. Father Janus is a great alchemist.’

‘The Janus is no alchemist! Let alone physician! The rite shall fail. A good physician must know the anatomy of heaven as well as that of man. Only then can he understand the true cause and cure of astralic diseases.[ix] The wisdom of the flesh is death: but the wisdom of the spirit is life and peace.’[x]

‘The Janus is wiser than you think; and he knows the Essence of which you speak. I am Logos ensarkos because I have fallen from Paradise. But the Janus can restore my state, as it was before The Fall – when Titans walked the earth, and Adam was a Divine Hermaphrodite.’

‘Just listen to yourself! Have you taken leave of your senses? The Janus is insane! Lilith is a lunatic and injuriously affected by the moon, whose influence acts upon her wits and stimulates her passions. Lilith is an Evocatrix – a female necromancer – who evokes phantoms of the dead. Abbot Adam is but a slave to her evil schemes.’

‘You are mistaken. Why do you think Grazide delivered me to the abbey? To meet the Janus, of course. She promised to perfect me, and she shall do so through him.’

‘God’s grace is perfected in your infirmity. Nature created you for her own special purpose, yet you wish to overthrow her primordial seed and make compact with demons, all in the vain hope of re-arranging your own atoms. Like the Devil, you have become an impious materialist.’

‘All flesh is of the Devil. I hold Satan as the lord of the material world, and He is the originator of the human race. Whilst in the body, we are dwelling with corruption.’

‘Blasphemy. You have turned your back on Christ who incarnated in the flesh.’

‘How can Christ’s body be of the same substance as ordinary man? Christ didn’t have a real body at all. The transfiguration of Christ was the revelation of His celestial body to His disciples.’

‘You deny his passion on the cross?’

‘His passion and crucifixion have no significance.’

‘You speak with a forked tongue; the goodmen have poisoned your soul.’

‘No, they opened my eyes. Christ’s death was a delusion. Satan tried to kill Christ, believing that His body was flesh; but in reality Christ’s body was as indestructible as His spirit. Therefore Christ did not die, nor return from the dead.’

‘That is Cathar heresy.’

‘Catholics are the true heretics.’

‘I fear you are destined for the pyre. Do not expect me to save you from the faggots.’

‘Fear not. When the rite is done, I shall be indestructible. Fire will not harm me. For like the Christ, I will have a celestial body – the body of an angel.’

‘When did you last take the Host?’

‘Those wormy wafers make me sick. It seems a great absurdity that a man should eat his own flesh, which is what follows from the doctrine of transubstantiation.’

‘Alas, you have relapsed.’

The eye collapses and Krew vanishes in an icy draught.


II
The door creeks open and Father Janus peeks furtively round the latch. He glares with an unnerving fixity, his cavernous sockets hollowed by starvation and madness. He lops down the aisle like a vexed toad, checking the alcoves each side. Then he scurries to my table and whispers:

‘Are we alone?’

‘Yes father.’

He stinks of senility and his greasy face is smeared with soot. Lilith is cowled but she still whispers in my ear:

Ugh! The sight of you makes me want to vomit! Destroy yourself! A knife! A noose! Anything but that disgusting body! Why are you so afraid Jacqueline? Death is a boon to the spiritual. ’Tis only fools who fear it, and wish that their bodies would endure forever!

The abbot grins and says:

‘Take no notice of her. She’s sick in the head. All is prepared Lazarus. I have finished the engine for our descent.’

‘Descent?’

‘Into the past…’

‘The Titan is very old, isn’t it father.’

‘Aye my son – older than we can possibly imagine. When Titans first walked the Earth we shall never know. But the first dynasty after the deluge was traced by Babylonian priests to a date 24,150 years before their time.[xi] And according to Simplicius, the ancient Egyptians kept records of astronomical observations for 630,000 years.[xii] Such spans of time baffle the mind.’

He twinkles with pride and the air whistles down his nostrils.

‘I fear we are lost, father.’

‘Lost my son?’

‘Ours is an age of darkness… Even with all our knowledge, we know so much less than those who came before us.’

‘You speak the truth my son. Much of the ancient wisdom has been lost in Time. Cicero wrote that the archives of Babylon were 470,000 years old,[xiii] though he himself refused to believe it. And the Greek historian Diogenes Laertius insisted that the astronomical records of Egyptian priests began in 49,219 before Christ.[xiv] He also referred to their registers of 373 solar and 832 lunar eclipses, which involves a period of approximately 10,000 years…[xv] And Martianus Capella who lived during the fifth century, wrote that the Egyptian sages had secretly studied astronomy for over 40,000 years before they imparted their knowledge to the world.[xvi] Yes, the Titan is very old – but so is the age of Man himself. Alas, you are correct in what you say – our current era is defined not by knowledge but ignorance.’

‘I want you to teach me astrology.’

‘Never mind that now. Listen to me carefully. The rite of transformation is almost upon us. Great wonders await us in the depths. Come to my camera on Christmas day, directly after Sext. Then you shall see how old the Earth really is…’

‘But what if Odo finds me missing?’

‘Forget him. I’ve made preparations to ensure that we will not be disturbed. The brethren will be too busy feasting to know that you are gone. Do not be late Lazarus. Timing is vital for the correct outcome. Otherwise the new moon will exercise a malign influence, and be injurious to your sidereal body. We must be cautious, for your blood possesses magnetic elements that will attract this influence, and the conjunction of the moon with other orbs will make her power more injurious still…’

‘I’m afraid father.’

He clasps my hand in earnest and says:

‘You must have faith Lazarus. Do you have faith?’

‘Of course, Father.’

‘How strong is your faith? Does it saturate your whole being? Do you live and breath it? Do you cling to it night and day, even when all hope is lost? That’s the kind of faith I’m talking about: the faith to move mountains. When all is said and done, everything is a matter of faith. Even to an atheist. For surely, if you did not have faith, your parchment would be blank…’

‘How so?’

‘If you did not believe that you could reach out your arm, and dip your quill in that inkwell, you would sit at your desk all day unable to write. ’Tis only because you believe that you can write, that you are able to do so. Likewise, if there was a loaf of bread before you, and you did not believe you could reach out and take a piece, you would surely starve to death… So you see, belief is everything. Understand?’

‘Yes father.’

‘And so you must believe in me. For you will witness many strange and terrible apparitions. But whatever happens, you must hold fast to my instruction, secure in the knowledge that nothing can harm you. Do you have faith? Tell me that you do.’

‘I have faith father, but fear also – fear that things might not turn out as you expect.’

My son! My seventh son! Fear not, all will soon be well!

Then from his scrip he produces a small book with gilt pages:

‘Look here my son, I have brought you a volume from my library: Aristotle’s De Anima. You won’t find Aristotle in the amarium – Odo hates him.’

‘Hates Aristotle? But why?’

‘Odo is not a sober physical enquirer but a religious enthusiast. He despises logic of all kinds.’

He smiles with fatherly pride and hands me the book:

‘It’s yours my son. Keep it. But don’t let Odo catch you with it.’

‘Thank you father. I shall enjoy reading it. The Soul.

‘Yes, my son, the soul. For that is the kernel of the Titan rite: your soul and the true nature of its substance. To know the properties of a thing, we must also know its essence. The knowledge of properties contributes to knowledge of essence: in fact, the two are indivisible, as one is involved in the other. The essence of the Titan will raise you up and magnify all your inner properties.’

‘You make it sound so plausible.’

‘You are frightened still? Tell me child, what do you fear the most?’

‘That the attributes of my soul cannot properly be separated from those of my body. That I will still be fused with this terrible flesh…’


III
Just then the door flings open and Odo looms on the threshold. He spies the abbot’s hand in mine. Ashamed, I pull myself away and slip the book up my sleeve. Then Odo says:

‘Father Janus. What an unexpected pleasure. Where have you been these past few weeks?’

‘Away.’

‘That much is obvious. Away where?’

‘Prior, you need not concern yourself with my whereabouts.’

‘Oh but I am concerned. We are all concerned. I was worried what had become of you.’

Pah! Everyone knows you can’t wait to be rid of me! Do not deny it. You have no care for me.’

Nor you for us. You are lord abbot and your presence at Chapter is required by the Rule.’

‘Yes! I am lord abbot. And don’t you forget it! And be silent about the wretched Rule!’

‘There’s no need to raise your voice. Are you ill? I must say, you look a little dishevelled.’

‘Ill? What nonsense. I’m fit as a flea.’

‘Then where have you been?’

‘Right under your nose.’

‘Oh? Then where? Not in your lodgings for certain: I have knocked several times and the lights are always out.’

‘I have been sleeping in the ossuary.’

‘The ossuary? Why on earth would you want to sleep in that godforsaken hole?’

‘Sanctuary. I have been spending time in prayer and meditation – saying masses for the dead.’

‘Masses for the dead? Is that so? I must say, I find that hard to believe. Though on second thoughts, perhaps ’tis more fitting that a necromancer prefers to pray with the dead in a crypt, rather than with his own brethren in choir.’

The Janus darkens:

‘Do not question me prior. I have my reasons.’

‘Share them with me. After all, the ossuary is a most wretched place to sleep, especially when your own camera is luxurious enough for Caesar.’

‘My camera has become a jail where I dare not sleep, lest I get stuck with knife. You have turned the brethren against me: and now I am exiled in my own house! That is why I sleep in the ossuary. It may be wretched, but I am safer with the dead than the living.’

The prior grins:

‘You should have thought of that before you brought our abbey to the brink of ruin. The brethren are most miserable. How do you think it makes them feel, to see you lording and whoring at your pleasure, profaning the house, and draining our coffers with your mad riots? And now your sixth son has absconded in despair. The brethren have all but renounced you as abbot. Do you really think a feast will buy back their loyalty?’

‘Prior, ’tis no secret that you want me deposed.’

‘Yes, and with good reason. We all know that you are involved in sorcery.’

‘What utter nonsense.’

‘Nay! You are a warlock, who usurps God’s prerogative by prying into the future. Quæ agis curæ sunt mihi! [I have an eye to what you do]. What were you seeking at the henge? Oh, you needn’t look so shocked – you were followed – by one of the lay brethren…’

‘Who?’

‘Never mind who. He saw you divining the pagan stones. “Bright Light…” What does it mean?’

‘I’m sure, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Bright Light? I have no idea. Alas, I would pay no heed to the lay brethren: they are too enamoured with faeries to believe a word they say.’

The prior flushes red; his face contorts with hate and his eyes begin to gleam. He looks like a wolf menaced with a red-hot iron:

‘You two-faced devil! I scoffed when Albert said you were consorting with witches, but since the haunting, I cannot doubt him. You have unleashed a horde of demons upon us!’

‘Demons? Prior, what are you talking about? You have taken leave of your senses.’

‘You can’t accuse me of madness. Everybody heard them, not just me.’

‘These winter nights are long and dark. The brethren are tired and weary. No doubt you heard a nest of rats, and nothing more. I have heard them myself. The abbey is infested with vermin.’

‘As if a plague of rats could shake the foundations by their own weight! You are the cause of this horrid visitation. Your soul, like your flesh, is corrupt. Your deformation of knowledge has poisoned your own seed. Such is the twisted nature of your magical art. You seek things outside the unity of God’s creation.’

‘Yes, I am twisted and deformed. Inveni idolum mihi [I have found an idol in myself] – a false image, foul, disfigured and misshapen with the wretchedness of sin; by which I am cast down into fleshly pleasures and worldly vanities. I came of Adam and Eve, clothed in the skin of a beast.[xvii] So I am misshapen like a beast, in whose beastly flesh I am born and wrapped. My fall from grace grieves me more than I can say.’

‘Pah! As if you could become full-shapen in the image of Christ, when you live in sin and practice your wicked arts in secret. Yes, a beast thou art. And when the bishop arrives in Spring, thou shalt go on all fours to join the other beasts of the field… You are naught but a heathen—as your pagan carvings prove. Wait until the bishop sees the rood! Mon Dieu! Wait until I tell him of your pagan divinations!’

‘My dear prior, ’twould be unwise of you to challenge me, for you are not in possession of the facts.’

‘Facts? Do not talk to me of facts. You have brought darkness upon this house.’

‘Darkness? Bright Light? Which is it? Make up your mind. Whatever this lay brother said, I can assure you ’tis far from credible. As for brother Albert, he is a superstitious fool who cares more for old wives tales than the Gospels.’

‘He is a devout and faithful Christian.’

‘Is he? Are you? Or do you obey the word of God and avoid vices, simply from fear of punishment? In that case you have the semblance of a slave. Or do you keep the precepts, because of the utility derived by their recompense? In that case you are naught but a mercenary. Or do you, like a Gnostic fool, renounce all things perishable, in the hope of receiving incorrupt goods in exchange? Fear of punishment, motive of reward – those are hardly Christian qualities.’

‘You are lost to Christ, not me.’

‘We are all lost to Christ unless we obey Him with joy, at having been judged worthy of serving so great and good a God. In loving The Christ, we must imitate that same affection that children show towards their parents.’[xviii] Just as you must show toward me.’

Odo throws up his hands:

Holy! Holy! Holy! Is that why you sin so bravely? Whoring at the henge; feasting and rioting in your private camera? Oh, that you might live in honesty and chastity, as becomes a true man of God! But by your wicked vices, we are greatly despoiled and impoverished. How many bitter tears have you caused us to shed? How many sleepless nights? You have stolen our peace and whittled away our dreams! And for what? A rood so monstrous and heretical, that Satan himself might have carved it! You and your curséd chisel. You have infested our church with pagan obscenities!’

‘You condemn me for portraying the divinity in Nature?’

‘Your pagan religion is but a cloak by which you conceal all kinds of evil.’

‘Must you stand there on the step? Come in and let us discuss this as theologians. We are brothers, you and me. Think how long we have known each other. Does that mean nothing to you?’

‘I once counted you as my friend. But look at what you’ve become. Look at your long polished boots! Even in youth you displayed the same vanity of dress – your shoes where so long and pointed in the toe, that you had to walk backwards up the night-stair!’

‘Yes, I cannot deny it: I was a vain and youthful fool. But come and sit with me. Let us discuss your grievances as brothers.’

‘No thank you. I prefer to remain where I am.’

‘Very well, stay there if you wish.’

‘Your pagan rood will not stand. As soon as the bishop has seen it, I will break it up and burn it for our pots.’

The Janus stamps his foot and bellows:

‘You will do no such thing!’

Adam stands quivering with rage, his eyes bulging in their sockets. Then he adds:

‘You hate my rood, because you hate the world. Just as you hate the Earthly Mother who protects us from the vault.’

The prior scoffs and folds his arms with indignation:

Pah! That frog, you mean.’

‘’Tis not a frog. ’Tis our Earthly Mother. The Virgin, I tell you.’

‘The Virgin? How can it be the Virgin? With her legs spread like a whore, showing her paps? The Holy Mother is no harlot! She is not perishable or sensuous! She is immaculate, infallible, and beyond all material dross. Earthly Mother indeed. The Virgin is our Heavenly Mother.

‘Yes, I concur: She dwells in the essence of God, by whose grace she imparts her rays of loveliness to this lower world. But her spiritual Essence reveals itself in many forms of earthly beauty. And if the brethren, in gazing at my rood, raise their souls to that eternal and lofty world of Platonic ideas, then what’s the harm?’

‘Your nymphs and satyrs are disciples of the devil!’

The abbot shakes his fist:

‘Fool! These things gave you birth and are suffused with God!’

Odo glares in defiance, his gaunt cheeks flushed with rage. Then he shakes his fist in return:

‘You have fallen so deep under Satan’s spell, that you are no longer afraid of him.’

The abbot bawls like thunder:

‘He who is afraid of the devil is not fit to become a monk!’

They stare each other out as I tremble behind the desk. The Janus is frightening – but the prior more so, and his whole face seems to burn like a hot coal. He catches my eye and I quickly look away. At length, the abbot relents and sighs softly:

‘Prior, I am not the evil magus you think I am. You are right to point out the error of my ways; for I know I have neglected my sheep and behaved in ways unfitting for a man of virtue. But these past weeks my twin has made life impossible; not content with disrupting my sleep, she pains me with effusions of blood.’

‘Blood?’ ask Odo.

‘Yes, blood. I bleed like an unclean woman.’

Odo curls his lips in disgust:

‘I am not interested in your curséd afflictions – only in the future of the house. Fit as a flea, indeed. Clearly, you are unfit for the duties of your office.’

‘Yes, and how glad you are because of it.’

‘’Twould be better for all if you just resigned.’

‘Resign? Over my dead body!’

‘If you cannot attend Mass or Chapter, what use are you? None. As for your bloody effusions, I suggest you retire to the infirmary and leave the running of this house to me.’

‘Retire? Never!

‘Brother Jean is a skilled physician: I am sure he has something in his vast armoury to alleviate your suffering.’

‘Alleviate my suffering? You don’t know what suffering is! As if my bicephalic curse were not enough, now I bleed from the nose, mouth and cock every full moon! Brother Jean can do little to remedy my affliction, except with some foul concoction or clyster to shove up my arse. His latest remedy turns me green in the gills; it makes me sick to even speak of it…’

Odo cocks an eyebrow and asks:

‘What remedy? What is it? Tell me.’

‘The urine of a bull to be taken thrice daily with powders from the dried testicles of a fox…’[xix]

‘That’s disgusting,’ winces Odo.

‘Yes prior, disgusting indeed. But where is your Christian compassion? Surely my curse is the greatest of all men. I make a bad abbot: I freely admit it. And I have always been a bad abbot. But I love the brethren and love this house. Now I must take my leave, for ’tis time for my prescription. All I ask these coming days, is that you pray for me. As for the coming feast, I fear I am too sick to attend; so you will forgive my absence. I hope, by the providence of God, that all will soon be well. Now, if you will excuse me, I am very tired…’

The prior looks utterly astonished at this admission of guilt. He steps aside as the Janus exits, hunched under his heavy yoke. When he has gone, Odo gasps:

‘By the providence of god, indeed! Die providentia et hominum confusione! [By the providence of God and the confusion of men].’

He stares at me for a moment, frowning with suspicion. Then he marches up to my desk:

‘What did he say to you Lazarus? You seemed very close.’

‘Father?’

‘You think I’m blind? You were holding hands.’

‘He was grief stricken, father: he was asking after Ricon.’

‘What about Ricon?’

‘He wanted to know if I knew where he’d gone.’

To hell: that’s where Ricon has gone.’

‘Yes father. A very deep, dark place…’

He looks me up and down again, weary of my true allegiance.

‘So, you were consoling him in his grief?’

‘Yes father.’

‘Is that why you were holding hands?’

‘Yes father.’

Odo glares like a wounded dog, hurt by my betrayal of trust.

‘May I go now father?’

Before he can answer, the door creaks open and brother Hique waddles down the aisle:

‘Er father Odo—might I have a word?’

‘Be silent. I’m dealing with Lazarus.’

‘Why, is he in trouble?’ leers Hique. ‘Lazarus is a bad egg to be sure. I said he would bring trouble on our house. And I was right.’

‘Enough Hique!’ chides Odo. ‘If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.’

Hique casts his eyes on my sleeve and bleats:

‘Er father Odo, Lazarus is hiding something…’

‘Hiding? I’m not hiding anything.’

‘Yes you are,’ retorts Hique. ‘It’s up your sleeve: a book. I can see it with my own eyes.’

‘A book?’ gasps Odo. ‘What book? Er, what have you there, brother Lazarus?’

‘Father?’

‘Do not think to deceive me. Hique is right. There’s a book up your sleeve. Come on, out with it. Give it to me. Give it to me this instant.

Reluctantly I remove the book and place it on the table. Odo picks it up and says:

‘This is not from the amarium. Where did you get it?’

‘Father abbot gave it me.’

‘Of course he did,’ fawns Hique. ‘Father abbot gave it him.’

Aristotle!’ fumes Odo. ‘How pantheistic and obnoxious!’

He flicks through the tome, wincing at every page:

‘So, like a Dominican, you put learning above holiness. You read Aristotle when you should be copying psalms. Be warned brother Lazarus, logic is no fit subject for a monk. A heretic might use it to argue the case against God…’

‘And a sage might use it to define him more clearly,’ say I.

‘How dare you answer back!’ snaps Odo. ‘You arrogant fool! You think yourself wise? You hope to define God’s glory by your murky intellect? Faith is all — and only faith can protect you from the devil…’

‘So true prior,’ fawns Hique. ‘So true. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.[xx] The wise shall be taken by their own craftiness.’

Odo taps me on the brow.

‘Brother Lazarus thinks there is not a single chain of reasoning beyond him. So tell me brother Lazarus, in your expert opinion, how many angels can stand on the head of a pin?’

I shrug and puff out my cheeks.

‘Well?’ asks Odo. ‘How many angels? I didn’t hear you. Five? Ten? A score?’

‘I don’t know father.’

He clouts me round the ear:

‘Don’t know? Don’t know? Come now, I’m sure you can enlighten us. Work it out. How big is an angel? How small is a pin? How may angelic feet can fit on a pinhead? Is dimension of form a fixed property in the spiritual world? I think not. Some angles are so big and powerful, they can lay waste to whole cities with a sweep of their hand; yet others are so small that whole throngs can worship in a buttercup. So how many angels? Hmm? Perhaps like tumblers, they are standing on each other’s heads… Who knows? The fact is, brother Lazarus, the heavenly hosts are beyond the conceit of your earthly mind. Deliramenta doctrinæ. [The ravings of the learned]. If you wish to remain a monk, you will leave the polemics of logical argument to the fools in the universities… Am I clear?’

‘Yes father Odo.’

‘Good. I like to be clear. I like to be respected.’

‘But I should still like to know how many.’

‘You can wonder all you like Lazarus. Such things are hid from the intelligent and wise, and revealed only unto babes.’[xxi]

‘How very true prior,’ fawns Hique again. ‘Father Odo is both loving and wise.’

Odo scowls at the sycophant and asks:

‘Er, what exactly do you want brother Hique? Are you not preparing the feast?’

‘Well yes father, I am indeed. But six minstrels have just arrived at the abbey gate and refuse to play a note unless we pay them first.’

‘And who ordered minstrels, by god?’

‘I thought you did father.’

‘Me? Are you mad? Oh! This is father abbot’s doing! Send them away. There shall be no minstrels.’

‘No minstrels!’ pules Hique. ‘Oh, I don’t think that’s wise father. I mean, the lay brethren are so looking forward to hearing them play. And after such a dire and terrible Advent, I think we all deserve some light relief. Don’t you?’

Odo ponders the matter then concedes:

‘Hmm… Perhaps you are right Hique. Very well, you may pay them up front. But don’t give them a sup of anything to drink.’

‘Yes father! Thank you father!’

And with that, Hique scurries away.

Odo remains rooted to the spot, glaring with stony eyes. He glances at the book’s gilded title then says calmly:

De Anima… The Soul. And what do you suppose it is brother Lazarus?’

‘I cannot define it father.’

‘Certain Pythagoreans identified the soul with motes in the air, like dust in sunbeams. Democritus affirmed the soul to be a sort of fire or heat. Whilst Anaxagoras asserted the soul was the moving principle of mind that set the Universe in motion. Diogenes however, identified the soul with air. But all of this is philosophical sophistry. Beware Lazarus—beware of those that seek after your soul to take it away… Beware of the Janus.’

‘Yes father.’

‘For the abbot’s soul is filled with evil: and his life hath drawn nigh unto hell…’[xxii] The cloister has many temptations. And abbot Adam has succumbed to them all. First is his love of luxury, living a life far from the harsh realities of the furrows; second is his vanity and pretence of spiritual illumination; third is his intellectual pride, which feigns to understand the mysteries of God by reason alone; and worst of all, is his false liberty to do exactly as he pleases, inviting whores to his chamber, all under the guise of mystical knowledge and other damnable heresies.’

‘Yes father.’

‘I know not what the abbot has asked of you, nor indeed what he might have promised. But remember this: the most excellent act of which we are capable, and one which in itself contains all other virtues, is to resign ourselves entirely to God’s will.’

‘I know that well enough father. But I am confused as to what is the will of God, and what is my own desire.’

‘Then you must renounce your desires in a total act of self-renunciation. You must loose your self in the abyss of your own nothingness.’

‘You make the holy vocation sound like an act of Death – when Christ came to give us Life.’

‘Yes, but you will only find that life when self-seeking ceases. Temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil, must be continually resisted. Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata. [We always struggle for the things which are forbidden, and covet those denied to us].[xxiii] Spiritual thirst can never be quenched by reading books, but only by drinking the waters of faith. The desire for knowledge drives God away from the heart. For God is beyond all human category—and no man can define Him—not even Aristotle. Give your heart to Christ without reservation, and His incorruptible paradise shall be your protection and eternal habitation.’

‘Yes father.’

‘I say these things only because I care for your salvation. But you are a free agent, and your salvation depends on the choices you make in life. Beware young Lazarus. The Janus is a persuasive spirit and beset with many devils. Do not let him weaken your resolve, for his heart is turned toward darkness. The remedy for our afflictions lies not in mortal hands but God alone. So pray, suffer, be silent, and never show resentment. Do not seek from other men, nor expect anything from them, except forgetfulness and contempt. You may think the abbot loves you, but he has a selfish and fickle heart. His miserable pride and vanity are so great, that he would rather gain the glory of the whole world than keep his own soul. De Anima indeed. Shall you sell it to the Devil for a new suit of flesh?’

And with these words, Odo turns away and glides out the door.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 2005
Mylius Thermionic Faery Philosophia Reformata image montage © Nicholas Shea 2020.

i. 2 Matthew, 26:41.

ii. Fournier’s Register, ii.447-8.

iii. The gnostic dualism between matter and spirit was also described by Paracelsus two hundred years later: “The flesh must also be understood, that it is of two kinds, namely the flesh that comes from Adam and the flesh which is not from Adam. The flesh from Adam is a gross flesh, for it is earthly and nothing besides flesh, that can be bound and grasped like wood and stone. The other flesh is not from Adam, it is a subtle flesh and cannot be bound or grasped, for it is not made of earth.”

iv. Paracelsus.

v. Fournier’s Register, i.461.

vi. This saying is wrongly attributed to Denis Diderot (1713-1794). However, it first appeared in the “Testament” of the atheist-priest Jean Meslier, who claimed to have heard it from a common Frenchman in his parish “who had no culture or education”.

vii. Words in italics from Christliche Weltanschauung und die Probleme der Zeit, Graz, 1941, p. 217.

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

ix. Paracelsus.

x. Romans, 8:6.

xi. ‘We Are Not The First’ by Andrew Tomas, p. 101. (Sphere Books 1976. First published by Souvenir Press, 1971).

xii. Ibid, p. 100.

xiii. Ibid.

xiv. Ibid.

xv. Ibid.

xvi. Ibid.

xvii. Genesis 3:21.

xviii. The orthodox Christian discrimination of faithful souls into the classes of Slaves, Mercenaries and Children was first put forth by Clement of Alexandria who died about A.D. 215. Proemium in Reg. Fus. Tract, n. 3, Vol. II, pp. 329, 330.

xix. An ancient cure for endometriosis, cited in ‘Endometriosis: ancient disease, ancient treatments’ by Camran Nezhat M.D., Farr Nezhat M.D., and Ceana Nezhat M.D., Stanford University Medical Center, Columbia University, New York, Saint Luke’s Roosevelt’s Hospital, New York, and Northside Hospital, Atlanta, Georgia.

xx. 1 Corinthians, 3:19.

xxi. Matthew, 11:25-26.

xxii. Psalms, 87:4.

xxiii. Ovid.