Confrontation Three

Unus_Mundus__Confrontation_Three_Image

Monastery of Saint Clare, Toulouse. June 21, 1957.

I awoke on the Summer Solstice with an unusual perplexity of mind. As I lay in bed, peering through the window, a flaxen ray announced the rising sun, filling my shack with an ethereal glow. Night soon dispersed, and with it my dreams, fleeting, ephemeral, and beyond recall. Yet when waking from bodily sleep, I was aware of another realm: a world of indescribable peace and contentment. All this happened in the twinkling of an eye. I did not even have time to be conscious of the change. There was no moment when I could say “Now I am dreaming” and “Now I am awake”, or mark the passage from one state to the next. All the conditions of my conscious existence were reversed. That which before was real became unreal, and that which was unreal became real. Things ceased to be thoughts, and thoughts became things. My mind was incapable of comparing one idea with another, or of holding any thought before itself for philosophical examination. Yet I instinctively felt that the living world within was the actual world, and the dead world without was just a dream. In the still moments before consciousness had crystallised, I knew the better part of myself lived in another sphere. I lived my true life at one with the Divine, rooted in eternity, where I had untold powers of perception and transportation. And I asked myself, how could my soul fall into the body, and forget those Elysian fields? What had been revealed was beyond the power of words or conscious thought. And in my forgetfulness, my true self was lost in a dark cloud, as was all knowledge of beyond, and that mysterious world from whence I came. I felt like an abandoned child, locked in a derelict room. As the minutes passed, I was overcome with a profound grief that my former glory was gone. And I knew that even I slept all the days of my life, I would never recover my supernal existence. The only escape was Death.

After Prime, I went about my morning duties, milking goats, feeding hens, and attending my sisters in the infirmary. Mother Superior said the secret to a long life was sunshine and soap. Throughout summer, I was given the task of bed-bathing Sister Alice, an English eccentric who had suffered a stroke. Paralysed from the waist down, she had lost all power of speech. But she could still read and write, communicating with a slate that always set my teeth on edge. She was the image of faded beauty, with sallow eyes and blue veins shining through her waxen face. Alice was not alone in the infirmary: she had two elderly companions: sister Maude from Sussex, and sister Blanche from Bordeaux.

Maude suffered with senile dementia, but was, by all accounts, mad as hatter since a novitiate. She lost her marbles after falling off a ladder in the orchard. It took six weeks for a doctor to be found, by which time concussion had caused permanent brain damage. She was apt to childish behaviour, with long lapses in memory, but could still recite the psalms verbatim.

In total contrast, Blanch was sharp as a pin, despite being in her late seventies. She was very learned, spoke perfect English, and loved reciting Shelly. But she had unnerving bloodshot eyes and a disconcerting pallor – symptoms of chronic oedema, which had ballooned her legs, confining her to a wheel chair.

As I entered the infirmary that morning, Blanche spun on her wheels and said brightly:

‘We had a visitor last night.’

Her news took me by surprise. Not only had she broken her vow of silence, but she was eager to tell me more…

‘A visitor?’ asked I. ‘Who?’

‘He came down the chimney,’ replied Maude. ‘Just like Father Christmas.’

‘But it wasn’t Father Christmas,’ added Blanche. ‘It was a spirit. And there was more than one.’

‘Spirits? What did they look like?’

‘Shadows,’ hissed Maude. ‘Shadows, flying round the chamber!’

‘Perhaps they were bats?’ I quipped.

My obtuse remark went down like a lead balloon.

‘Bats?’ scowled Blanche. ‘You ignorant child. They were not bats! They were spirits. Spirits. I should know a spirit when I see one.’

I poured my kettle into the washing bowl and asked:

‘Were you frightened?’

‘Not in the least,’ said Blanche.

‘What kind of spirits were they?’

Blanche thought deeply for moment then said:

‘My general impression of the whole experience is that we were brought into contact with personal intelligences, apparently unconnected with the material world, but resembling in all other respects vulgar humanity – spirits who claimed to be the souls of departed men and women.’

‘They spoke to you?’ asked I, astonished.

‘Not me!’ flustered Blanche, tutting and sighing. ‘They spoke to Alice. They tell her what to write. Ever since her stroke, Alice has become a fine trance-medium. But don’t say a word, or Mother Superior will confiscate the slate.’

At this, Alice held up her slate to reveal a spidery scrawl:

“J.V. 1376.”

‘What does it mean?’ asked I.

‘Someone’s initials,’ said Blanche. ‘Someone who was born or died in 1376.’

‘Did you find out who? Did they give a name?’

‘Oh we tried,’ said Blanche. ‘But the shadows got in the way. Dark shadows are not to be trusted. Base spirits, with base impulses, who possess the living to satisfy their lusts. Most are no better than swine, gorging on offals in a sewer. The shadows are carnally dead and morally blind.’

I couldn’t believe my ears. Here were three Carmelite nuns, all devout spiritualists, who flouted the gospel and communed with the dead! Shadows or not, my curiosity once aroused, could not be allayed:

‘We should check the graveyard. Perhaps there’s a matching inscription on one of the headstones…’

‘What an excellent idea!’ beamed Blanche, clasping her hands in joy. ‘Will you do it Maria? Oh! You must do it, you simply must! And as soon as possible! Oh! What an inscrutable mystery! If only you could have seen the apparition! It was standing right there–’

She pointed to the hearth:

‘–a great big thing it was, hovering two feet off the ground! We must reciprocate, or the spirit will leave us and find another medium…’

Alice nodded gravely.

‘Very well,’ I said, ‘I will search the graveyard this afternoon.’

‘How wonderful!’ exclaimed Blanche, and she bit into an apple.

I set about bathing Alice, peeling back the sheets to reveal her limpid body. Her legs had the semblance of greasy sausage, with two knocked knees, swollen like gourds. It was customary to start with the face and finish with the feet. But Alice always insisted on doing things in reverse. Dipping my sponge in soapy water, I cleaned gently between her toes, then up her calves, behind her knees, between her thighs and over her groin. She smiled lovingly throughout, her blue eyes watering in the sun. She seemed content to lie there naked, exposing herself to all and sundry, and showed not a hint of shame, despite my persistent attempts to preserve her dignity. On the contrary, she found her bath most edifying, and posed like a queen, attended by her maid in waiting. She especially enjoyed me sponging her nipples, which would always stiffen with arousal, and make her leer at my bashfulness. Alice was a very queer fish indeed. With her withered paps and dropsy face, she looked hardly human at all, but resembled some faery who had been banished to the mortal world, and left to wither away, denied her elixir of youth.

When I was done, I patted Alice dry and put on her robes, dressing her like a dolly, guiding her arms through the sleeves.

‘You look good as new,’ I said.

She took her slate and wrote:

We live amongst the dead.

II

True to my word, I left cloister after None and climbed the path of my ruin, back to the church of Saint Laud’s. Mother Nature had long reclaimed the graveyard, her rampant fingers choking the dead with ivy, moss and weeds. Undaunted, I went amid the grasses, pulling back the creepers, unearthing tombs with weathered capstones—a maze of marriages and deaths, stretching back in Time to the fifth and sixth generations. And I pondered my own mortality, that final hour of agony, when I would pay my debt to Nature, and be numbered amongst them – the anonymous sinners and saints, whose vices and virtues had mouldered into dust.

I spend a good hour scouring round the nave, fighting with brambles and snaring my robes. Finding nothing, I widened my search behind the apse. A mound of skeletal remains lay littered in the mulch: a plague pit of infant graves, ravaged by foxes and vermin. The hours passed slowly as I surveyed every inch of the plot, toiling in the midsummer sun, my legs smarting with nettle rash, my arms cut to ribbons by briars. But my search for “J.V. 1376” was in vain.

At six ‘o’ clock I heard the bell for Vespers chiming in the valley below. I was about to return, when I spotted a raven on the lychgate. The bird cawed thrice then flew into the boughs of a mighty yew. And far beneath, in the umbrageous shadows, stood a tomb, half-buried in the needles. On seeing this, I was seized with foreboding. For the grave was on unhallowed ground, beyond the churchyard railings.

There was no way to approach the grave directly, for a perilous ditch bordered the wall. So I tried gaining access from the other side. On leaving the lychgate, the ground fell away sharply, and I took a chalk path to the right, passing between two tall menhirs, all mottled with lichens. Why do I encumber you with these details? Because these pagan stones marked the entrance to a druid barrow where the yew tree stood. Surrounded by a deep ditch, it was an enchanted site, mantled in melancholy, and steeped in dark green needles. Time stood still here, passing imperceptibly as the growth of the yew, which towered overhead, sighing and rustling in the breeze.

After clambering the embankment, I found myself on a bowl-barrow, with direct line of sight to the church. The mound was embraced by roots on all sides, like mighty serpents, guarding an ancient secret. It felt wrong to trespass there. But the gave held me spellbound, and I was seized with an urgent desire to uncover it. Frantic, I fell to my knees and dug around the stone, clawing back the yew-mulch with my bare hands. The surface needles were warm and silky, and laced the air with antiseptic scent, but the mulch beneath was damp and mouldy, and whispered of Death. It didn’t take long to reveal the tomb – a plain sepulchre, with a finely carved rebate on the capstone. Despite the centuries, the inscription was still sharp:

J.V. 1376.

M.W. 1380.

Eureka! But the mystery only deepened. There were now two individuals to consider. No doubt they were related. But why were they buried in a druid mound? The early Christians often supplanted pagan sites with their churches. Evangelisation of the heathen progressed slowly. Possibly the boundary had moved over the years, but I thought this unlikely, as the wall, although in ruins, lay on the same foundation, continuous around the graveyard. Perhaps they were unbaptised? Or thieves and assassins? Or heretics? There could be any number of reasons, especially considering the superstitions of the middle ages. One thing was certain, this was no ordinary grave: J.V. was obviously important enough to rest with pagan kings.

III

After Vespers, I went straight to the infirmary and told Blanche the good news.

‘A druid barrow?’ she pondered. ‘How very interesting. I wonder what J.V. is trying to tell us? Each barrow was built principally for one person – a king or tribal chief. But the primary interment was often accompanied by other corpses, suggesting human sacrifice. Secondary burials of family members were frequently added in the sides of a barrow. Now we have multiple spirits to consider: the primary and secondary interments of the Neolithic era; and the later burials in the middle ages. Unhallowed ground. A mystery to be sure.’

‘Excommunicates!’ cried Maude, mad as a March hare.

‘I don’t think so,’ mused Blanch. ‘Whilst the church of Rome is always happy to facilitate our damnation, the penalty of unconsecrated burial is distinct from ecclesiastical excommunication.’

‘What’s the difference?’ asked I.

‘Excommunication is imposed upon living sinners to coerce their penance. Whereas unconsecrated burial is prescribed for the unrepentant dead—criminals and apostates, whose sins place them beyond all earthly help. Like suicides and heretics…’

‘Or vampires!’ hissed Maude.

‘That’s silly,’ said I.

‘Why is it silly?’ asked Blanche. ‘After death, the soul is free to act of its own account; a discarnate entity, that remains a living, reasoning force—useful or mischievous, happy or sad, according to its thoughts and deeds whilst in the flesh.’

‘But sucking blood? That’s nonsense.’

‘Vampires don’t suck blood,’ said Blanche, curtly. ‘Blood is only a metaphor. A psychic vampire feeds upon the life-force of the living, making them waste away to skin and bone – just like anorexic girls.’

I puffed out my robes to hide my bony hips:

‘Anorexia isn’t caused by vampires. It’s a mental illness.’

‘That all depends,’ said Blanche. ‘Sometimes the parents are vampires. I have known many anorexic girls in my time, and the father was always at the root of it. What of your father, Maria?’

I found the insinuation offensive:

‘We’re talking about the dead, not the living. And leave my father out of it. He has nothing to do with my anorexia. Nor is he a vampire.’

‘Vampires!’ hissed Maude again, as if hearing the word for the first time. ‘Dig up their graves! Drive nails through their skulls! Cut off their heads! Burn them to ashes!’

She sliced at the air, spitting and seething. But within moments she was quiet again, and sat motionless, drooling like a baby, staring vacantly at the fire.

I lowered my voice:

‘I do not think it wise to talk of such things in front of Maude. Her mind has gone. She lives in a dream world of her own. She’s incapable of knowing what’s real. Oh! Poor Maude! Just look what the Lord has done to her!’

Blanche wagged a finger:

‘Whatever the Lord gives us, we are bound to accept—be it riches, penury or sickness—we submit to the ordinance and dispensation of God without question. Maude lost her wits many years ago. I am not a wise woman. How can a nun, who scarcely reads four books a year be reckoned wise? Yet I am always studious. For I study a volume far more edifying than all the books of the world—the volume of the human soul. Spiritualism is a most profitable and agreeable study. It is a faith which finds God everywhere, even in the shadows. Love always evolves truth and purity, even in a world of filth and suffering.’

At this, Alice began scribbling on her slate, her chalk braying like an ass. When she had finished, she held up the slate for all to see:

“Séance after Nocturns.”

‘That’s a very good idea,’ said Blanche. ‘Will you join us Maria? After all, you found the grave. No doubt the spirit has formed an attachment to you. Your presence and vibration will be most beneficial.’

‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea. We might infest the convent with darkness. You said so yourself: shadows are base spirits with base impulses.’

‘But J.V. is not a shadow,’ retorted Blanche.

‘How do you know?’

‘Ever since a child, I have seen dark, undefined shapes, who manifest at night, and always inspire the most unmitigated loathing and terror. But this spirit was different. This spirit is from the Light.’

The thought of a dark séance filled me with dread. I had witnessed enough evils at the convent, not least The Devil’s Advocate. I knew the fickle ways by which spirits changed from hot to cold, from shy to bold, from dark to light, and from love to hate. I could only pour cold water on her enthusiasm:

‘Perhaps you were tricked, sister. Deceived by a false apostle. For even Satan can transform into an angel of light.’

Blanche fell silent and watched as I emptied my bowl in the sink: a whirlpool of dirty sods belched and gurgled down the drains. Then she asked:

‘Why are you so frightened child? Where is your faith? Are you not already saved from the clutches of Satan, mind, body and soul? Do you not want to know who J.V. and M.W. are? Finding their grave was no coincidence. They wanted you to find it.’

‘That’s what worries me. Uncovering that tomb has opened a can of worms. Druids and human sacrifice? Think about it. Who are the shadows around J.V.? They might be vengeful spirits. And we cannot know what J.V. wants of us.’

‘Why, our help of course,’ said Blanche. ‘Is it not our duty to help those in need, whether they be alive or dead? Do we not pray for the salvation of all? For the restoration of this fallen world?’

‘Some spirits are injurious to the health and mental balance. It is unwise to dabble in such things.’

‘Finding that grave has obviously upset you. I do not doubt metaphysical causes of insanity, any less than medical disorders of brain. But if you fear that by attending a dark séance, you will become a hysterical wreck, bereft of intellectual function, then you only demonstrate a complete lack of faith.’

‘Faith has got nothing to do with it!’ I snapped. ‘What if the spirit requests something we cannot give?’

‘Such as?’

‘I don’t know. A wicked spirit might ask for anything… A crock of gold; a thousand masses; or a pact of blood.’

‘You’ve read too many faery tales,’ said Blanche.

‘Some entities can be most malicious, especially when you refuse them. You may not believe in vampires, but what about La Bête du Gévaudan?

‘I don’t believe in the beast either,’ said Blanche, flatly.

‘But you believe in shadows. They frighten you.’

‘Yes!’ hissed Blanche, annoyed. ‘They do!’ And her face quivered with consternation.

That was the trouble with Blanche – she never liked to be wrong. Ruffled, she cocked her head and sneered:

‘Anyway, why should we take any notice of you? You’re just a child after all. Unless you have the gift?’

‘I need scarcely remind you that evil spirits are the most loathsome abominations; they can inflict the most senseless mutilations, and perpetrate the most unutterable crimes…’

She raised her eyebrows:

‘You speak as if you have experience of such things. Is there something you want to tell us?’

I kept my silence.

The Devil’s Advocate mocked in my ear:

‘You have the gift but fear it. What shall I ask of you? That tickles me. A crock of gold? I have gold enough. You think I would get comfort from a thousand masses? Or gain salvation from your corrupt blood? Foolish child. I am already saved. But The Horned Man is in deepest peril…’

I tried blocking him out, humming timidly as I dried the bowl. But he hectored me with a diatribe of spiritualistic waffle:

‘As all matter is formed by spiritual force, so each man’s body is formed by his soul. This makes you wonder who The Horned Man is, and from where he comes… There are many creatures of the dark skulking in the shadows of the world. Ghosts and hobgoblins, spirit-rapping faeries and table-turning ghouls. You are wise to fear such manifestations. My presence is indispensable for your protection. Why shut me out? Open your heart. As a lowly chrysalis, by force of His mysterious power, transmutes into a glorious butterfly, so the humble man, by force of spiritual prayer, is transfigured into a being of Light. Just as the spiritual man commands his own body, so he transforms all lower forms of life, and the miraculous becomes his normal condition. Do you not recall your transformation? Your regeneration from the Dead? Spiritual regeneration of soul and body is a rare and exceptional event, unattainable, except by the chosen few. Little do you know, I was at the Transfiguration, when Christ shone as the sun and his raiment became Light. I watched with my Cyclopean eye, as Peter, James and John fell in the dust before Him…’

‘Silence!’ I muttered.’

‘Do not bid me silence,’ he purred. ‘I was about to talk of Christ. Something miraculous happens when you are hidden in the Light. But that might not come for long time. As God created man in his own image, so the Christ-born man, as a son of God, is supreme over all forms and forces lower than himself. The spiritual man is the true image of God, a being both divine and miraculous. The spiritual man is lord over Nature, capable of transforming his vile earthly body into the glorified body of his angelic associates. The Christ-like man is the worker of miracles, the converter of water into wine, the giver of sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and health to the sick. He can raise the dead and cast out devils. I have inspired many ascendant souls during my earthly sojourn. Not least, Plato, Mozart and Newton. You might ask how this comes about. It is a subtle and complex affair, and I feign to explain it to mortal minds. But under certain conditions of the human organism, as during dreams, or when the will is surrendered, my occult intelligence possesses the cerebral mechanism. Then I inspire thoughts and feelings which appear to be your own, yet come from my diamonic source. Cortical asymmetries must always be taken into account, as male brains which are exposed to testosterone, have high lateralization; I myself prefer female brains, as they are less lateralized, and consequently more intuitive. Alas, sister Alice is a slow learner who suffers acute receptive aphasia. What appears on her slate is often garbled and incorrect. She makes a very poor medium indeed. But you are a diamond in the rough – a natural clairaudient. Why do you spurn me? Before you despatch me to the realm of lawless fancy, or the limbo of mental disease, remember what jewels you sensed in the solstice sun! The better part of yourself dwells in another sphere. Your true life is at one with the Divine, rooted in eternity, where you have untold powers of perception and transportation. What is this Earth, but a fallen temporal kingdom? Your true abode is beyond the grave. Spiritual reality assures the certainty of future life!’

‘Be silent devil!’ I hissed.

‘What are devils but unknown agents? You cannot comprehend my being. But even as a child, you sensed my presence. Your spiritual evolution depends on my instruction. ’Twas I who called you to cloister. But soon you will leave this place, to join the riot and hubbub of the world. Maria, your fate was writ many centuries ago. I have so much to teach you… Don’t be a coward. Attend the dark séance, and you shall have communion with the angels of Paradise…’

‘Shut-up!’ I stammered. ‘Leave me be!’

Blanche overheard my plea and rolled toward me, her wicker wheelchair creaking on the flags:

‘Are you all right child?’ she asked, frowning with concern.

‘Yes, perfectly, thank you.’

She took my hand and squeezed it gently:

‘You seem very troubled. Do you want to talk about it?’

‘I’m just not comfortable with a dark séance, that’s all.’

On hearing this, Alice scribbled on her slate:

“No good without you.”

‘I quite agree,’ said Blanche. ‘What could possibly go wrong? We have the Light of the Christ to protect us. As it says in the scriptures: He commands the winds and seas; and unto to Him, every tongue shall confess, and every knee shall bow. Even Satan.

Despite my misgivings, I could not deny her words. And deep in my heart, The Horned Man was calling…

‘Very well,’ said I. ‘Count me in.’

IV

After Nocturns, I stole from my shack, and crept through the dews of the moonlit precinct. I found Blanche waiting by the infirmary door, chiaroscuro in her lamplight.

‘Were you followed?’ she whispered.

‘No. We’re alone.’

She ushered me in and locked the door.

The chamber was dark, but for a moonbeam that glided through the rose window. Alice was sitting in bed, the slate on her lap. Maude sat on the other side, a bible clasped in her arthritic hands. I took my place at the bedside, where a Bentwood chair was provided for my attendance. Blanche snuffed out her lamp, then wheeled beside me, and we joined hands for the preliminary prayer – psalm 91, which Maude recited verbatim:

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

After a long silence in the dark, we saw the first of many apparitions. Clouds of nebulous light, some falling from above, others rising from below, gathered round the bed; they hovered round the sitters, then slowly dispersed like wisps of smoke, and vanished through the walls.

A ghostly form was seen, streaming from the chimney and into the chamber. The apparition was translucent. I could see the hearth behind, yet its outline was distinct: an amorphous mass of disembodied intelligence, for it circled the bed, as if to study us one by one. This manifestation also dispersed, in the same manner as the first, and we sat in darkness for many minutes.

At length, Alice fell into a deep trance and began wheezing through her throat, head dropped forward, chin upon her chest. Then a luminous, small, beautifully-shaped hand descended from the vault, and superimposed with hers.

At once she began scribbling on the slate. The luminosity around her wrist was most beautiful – a scintillating aura of blue light with a fiery corona of green tendrils.

The writing, consisting of short sentences, was frequent enough; but there was nothing in it of any merit. It was composed of trivial remarks that might well have occurred to Alice herself. Sometimes the spelling was correct, at other times so poor as to suggest mischief rather than ignorance.

The first sentence was: “Three cheers for Mother Superior”. Then the spirits professed their gratitude at our presence with such words as: “Happy to be with you”, “Deo gratias”, “Ave Maria” and “Rainbows of perpetual peace”. There followed some Latin quotations: “Cogito, ergo sum” [I think therefore I am], “Ex vi termini” [To live without end], and “Certum quia impossibile” [It is certain because it is impossible].’

The stylus stopped and the slate was wiped clean.

Then Blanche asked:

‘To whom are we speaking?’

No reply.

‘Are you J.V. 1376?’ asked Blanche.

A definite “YES” was scrawled in large capitals.

‘What do you want of us?’

There followed a pregnant pause.

‘Tell us what you want,’ repeated Blanche. ‘We come in love. We are here to help you…’

Alice began writing once more. Eager to see the reply, I leant over the bed which at once began to vibrate and tremble. The message was no less cryptic than the first: “M.W. 1380.”

‘Give us your name,’ bid Blanche.

Her request was ignored. The communication was repeated, again and again, as Alice scrawled faster and faster: “M.W. 1380. M.W. 1380. M.W. 1380.”

The spirit seemed angry and distressed. The writing became more frantic, the chalk squealing across the slate at inhuman speed, over and over: “M.W. 1380. M.W. 1380. M.W. 1380. M.W. 1380…”

‘Something’s wrong,’ I muttered. ‘Stop.’

The words were barely out of my mouth when there came a shrill whir, as of wind droning in the drains. Then the slate flew from Alice’s hand and spun down the aisle; it turned mid-air, then darted between the pillars, narrowly missing our heads, until it hit the wall and smashed to smithereens.

Blanche grabbed my hand as loud knocks were heard on the walls, ceiling and floor. The enamel bowl began to rattle and chime, then the door handle shook violently. There came a sudden crash, like falling timbers, and a burst of wailing filled the air. Three crucifixes were pulled from walls, as if by invisible hands, and thrown out the lancet. Then the door flew open as a great gush of wind filled the chamber, howling down the aisle and tugging our robes.

Throughout this supernatural disturbance, Maude was gibbering like a lunatic, her mad eyes fixed on the chimney. A dark shadow was gathering there.

We watched in awe, unable to move as Alice began rising from the bed. Still in trance, she floated some distance toward the hearth, then was gently lowered to the floor.

‘They’re here!’ cried Maude. ‘They’re here! They’re here!’

They flew from the chimney, darkening the moonbeams with swarming shadows. They pounced on Alice in a writhing horde, wresting with her soul, pulling giblets of ectoplasm from her mouth and chest. It was nothing less than a psychic disembowelment. And I was sore afraid of the terror by night, and the pestilence that walketh in darkness…

Blanche wailed as her chair jittered round the bed, the axle creaking as it hopped from one wheel to the other. Then it careened down the aisle at full pelt, toppling and throwing her like a rag doll, until she landed sprawled on the tiles. She lay paralysed in fear, blood trickling from her nose. Yet still she whimpered:

‘He shall cover me with his feathers! Under his wings shalt I trust: his truth shall be my shield and buckler!’

I could only gawp at the gathering shadows as they rose up before me in a towering mass, a malevolent phantom, threatening my total extinction. The intense feeling of horror became insupportable and my body was seized by cold shiverings. Then, overcome by a hideous nausea, I fainted and fell to the floor.

V

When I awoke, I was lying in hospital. A handsome doctor in lab coat approached my bed and smiled:

‘How are we feeling today?’

‘Where am I?

‘Don’t you remember? My name is Dr. Black. We have spokeb before. I am here to ascertain your mental condition. Do you understand?’

‘I think so.’

‘I’d like to continue where we left off yesterday, if that’s all right with you… We were talking about the séance.’

‘Were we?’

‘Does your belief in spirits apply to your abstract assertion that writing took place upon the slate?’

‘That is what I saw.’

‘Did the writing take place above or underneath the slate?’

‘Both.’

‘Do you believe that any mortal could have done it?’

‘I believe that men who deny such things labour under a deception.’

‘The deception being?’

‘Their own ignorance. I cannot deny what I saw, just to please the atheists.’

He laughed:

‘Oh! So you are skilled observer, well versed in stage illusions and slight of hand?’

‘There was no slight of hand. I was watching very closely.’

‘What was the point of this experiment?’

‘To contact the dead.’

‘Who is dead?’

‘J.V. and M.W.’

‘And who are they, precisely?’

‘I don’t know.’

He scratched his head:

‘You see Maria, that adds to my difficulty a great deal.’

‘That’s because you don’t believe.’

‘Would you say the muscular action was indicative of writing? Or was the slate moving of its own accord?’

‘Both.’

‘Do you mean to say, that you can pledge the writing was caused by a supernatural force?’

‘Yes.’

‘When the slate was snatched away, who took it?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What was the last message on the slate?’

‘M.W. 1380.’

‘Do you know that the Dialectical Society has a committee to investigate this phenomena?’

‘I was not aware of that.’

‘They have published a very large number of journals on the subject of slate-writing; and they have publicly certified that long messages often occur in a very short space of time.’

‘Do they?’

‘—And tricksters often swap one slate for another, to fool the credulous, and so make it appear that messages are writ by supernatural agents.’

‘Is all this going down on my record?’

‘Naturally. It’s part of your case history.’

‘What date is it?’

‘May 14th, 1964.’

‘What hospital is this?’

‘Sunhill Asylum.’

‘A mental hospital?’

‘That’s right.’

‘May I look out the window?’

‘Please, help yourself.’

I pulled back the sheets, climbed out of bed, and went to the window. But when I drew back the curtain, I was greeted by a terrible void of darkness.

‘What time is it?’ I asked.

Dr. Black checked his watch:

‘It’s ten a.m.’

‘But it’s dark outside.’

‘Come away from there. Come back to bed.’

‘But I don’t understand. Why is it dark? It’s supposed to be morning.’

‘It’s curfew time.’

‘Curfew time?’

‘You are aware that in materialist courts, all sorts of scientific matters are inquired into, and the conclusions are constantly illustrated and elucidated by experiment – the exhibition of physical forces, such as electricity, radiation, and so on. Suppose there was a question as to the true nature of Light. One such question was put to the Dialectical Society last year. A certain slate-writer claimed that the Sun is not what appears to be. According to the Dialectical Society, our sun is a main sequence star, and generates its energy by thermonuclear fusion; a process whereby hydrogen nuclei are converted into helium. In its core, the sun fuses 500 million metric tons of hydrogen each second. But according to the heretical slate-writer, the sun is a Logos – a spiritual being – emanating the eternal Love of God. Until the Dialectical Society can determine the true nature of the sun, they have decreed to blot it out.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Thomas Clay

Right worshipful sir and master, I commend myself to you. If it so please you, my manuscript is or will soon be sequestered into the commissioner’s hand by Thomas Clay, and I would be most grateful if you would agree to my having the protection of Copyright by my muse Jemima Carmen Bond, and I will trust that you will agree to make it in her name and not mine, as before. And, sir, I have had various communications with our Lady since childhood, and she will not agree to any other settlement except this; as for the other multitude of purloiners who have robbed me of my estate, I wish the pox upon them. But I leave this to your noble discretion.

Sir, if it please you, I was informed very secretly by Lord Scales, that an army of pen-pushers is ready to arrive in parts of the country, by means of WordPress, and by the aforementioned commissioner, of 120,000 plagiarists; and if wind and weather suit them, they will pilfer my script and place it in another century. All my protagonists, the heretic Jacques Vallin, his half-brother Ricon the Luciferan, and the Grand Inquisitor, have all told me that their dialogue has been stolen from their very lips and put in the mouths of deceitful actors. So it would be as well to inform the commissioner at Channel Foreplay, that I will speak to the King. There are many heathen meddlers, and those who would do much harm, if this goes unpunished. What is art if it cannot be protected? God defend us.

Aurora Consurgens Duo

DKIST_Sunspot_detail_01

Küsnacht, Lake Zürich, Switzerland. November 15, 1958.

When Maria opened her eyes, Dr. Jung said softly:

‘I am truly sorry that you suffered such horrendous abuse – especially from a man of God, who was meant to be your spiritual guide, guardian and protector. Whenever I hear of such things, it makes my blood boil. It is a testament to your integrity and spiritual strength that you survived this wicked sexual molestation, and have turned into such a fine young woman, who can look back on this period of your life with such honesty, clarity, insight and sensitivity. Your understanding of human nature is beyond that which I normally encounter in my patients.’

‘Sometimes it feels like it happened to someone else.’

‘That’s only natural. The conscious mind often buries abusive episodes to save itself from pain. Our individual consciousness is surrounded by the treacherous seas of the unconscious. We believe our conscious mind is stable and reliable – a vestibule of logic and rational discernment. But the truth is, it rests on very shallow and unstable foundations. Sexual abuse causes cataclysmic earthquakes in the strata of the psyche. The unconscious seas rise up, and a great tsunami overwhelms the conscious mind. The conscious shores are friable, and great waves rush in through fissures and maroon it. Sometimes the inundation is so severe, it results in islands of dissociation. This process can split the conscious mind into several distinct personalities, each equipped to deal with certain situations. Splitting of the psyche can be a very morbid and frightening experience.’

‘You think The Horned Man is such a personality? The dissociative manifestation of sexual abuse?’

‘It is a possibility we must consider.’

‘But what about the priest? His crucifixion in the crossing? It was a supernatural death. No mortal hand could have done it.’

‘I disagree. What about Mother Superior? She was built like an ox, and most certainly had the strength to carry out such a formidable task.’

‘But how?’

‘These sorts of tricks are the staple of stage illusionists. You said the priest was crucified to the roof boss…’

‘Yes.’

‘The roof boss is usually a large ornate carving, produced in a workshop. When a scaffold is absent, it is raised into position by a mason’s pulley. The carpenter then lifts himself on a similar hoist, and fixes the boss with dowels. It is entirely feasible that such a pulley was hidden in the roof space. Once Mother Superior had killed the priest, she used the pulley to raise him to the vault. Then, lifting herself in a harness, she set about nailing him to the rafters. When the task was done, she lowered herself and hid the tackle back in the roof space.’

‘But how did she get up there in the first place?’

‘No doubt there was a void or attic, accessible via the tower. All churches have them.’

‘You make it sound so simple Dr. Jung. So simple and mundane.’

‘On the contrary. It is the most unusual case I have ever come across. What happened afterwards?’

‘It was all hushed up. The bishop feared such a grisly death would scare his parishioners; and the Vatican was naturally reluctant to release the details. Two steeplejacks removed the body and it was taken away.’

‘And what did Mother Superior have to say on the matter?’

‘She was very proud of herself. It was proof positive that her Herm was an amulet of untold power. She insited that the priest got his just deserts. A punishment by God. And she quoted Matthew 18:16. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” She was very loving and kind to me after that.’

‘But her affection was never reciprocated?’

‘No. I was still frightened of her. And I’m not that way inclined.’

‘Mother Superior made you believe that the priest’s death was caused by a wish fulfilment. When giving you the Herm, she knew exactly what you wanted. After all, she’d suffered the same abuse as a novice. And what child doesn’t want the death of their abuser? As a schismatic archetype, The Horned Man expressed your hatred of the priests, your inmost desire to crucify them; to burn them to ashes; to cut them to pieces… For a victim suffering sexual abuse, such violent fantasies are usually impossible to put into practice. Either the abuser is too big to physically overcome, or the victim has been subverted, nullified and dismantled, to such an extent that they feel impotent and mentally inept.’

‘The Herm was a trick?’

‘If Mother Superior really believed the Herm was a magic amulet of untold power, she would never have let you touch it. Lest your wish was for her destruction. There is another discrepancy concerning the fulfilment of the wish. The wish was made on Walpurgis night, 1955. But it took The Horned Man another whole year to fulfil it. During which time you suffered yet more abuse at the hands of the priest. If the The Horned Man loved you so much, why did he take so long to save you?’

‘I have asked myself that question many times.’

‘And did you ever reach a satisfactory answer?’

‘It’s all about Time, Dr. Jung. You see, Time operates differently where he comes from. Time runs at a different speed and course. I am sure that The Horned Man came soon as he could.’

‘I see.’

‘You think I’m mad, don’t you?’

‘No. I am not yet decided upon The Horned Man. We must try to determine his true nature—or at least formulate a theory on what he represents. He may be real, he may not. Materialists do not believe in independent psychic activity outside of consciousness itself. But there are numerous attested and proven cases of poltergeist activity throughout history. I myself saw several books fly from my shelves during a period of intense isolation. Each book opened on a page that was directly pertinent to my current state of mind. I was unsure if the energy behind this disembodied intelligence came from my own subconscious, or was something external to myself.’

‘And what was your conclusion?’

‘It was my diamon, Philemon, an entity as real as you or I… And in the same vein, we must determine if The Horned Man is, (a) a real entity, (b) some internal schizoid phenomena, or (c) a poltergeist generated by the psyche. Tell me, how do you feel when he appears? Do you feel as if some stranger has taken abode in your soul?’

‘No, quite the contrary. I feel an inexplicable connection. That I know him from another world.’

The Old World?

‘Yes.’

The Horned Man claimed that only The Good Men can save souls. Who are The Good Men? Do you know?’

‘It took me some research to find out. The Good Men or Boni Homines, were priests of a heretical Gnostic sect in the 12th century, more commonly known as the Cathars. The sect was purged by the Holy Inquisition, and many Cathars were burnt at the stake.’

‘What was their heresy?’

‘It’s complicated. First and foremost, they were dualists, believing in two opposing principles, Good and Evil. They believed that the Devil made the world and all things in it. Essentially this belief was a solution to the philosophical problem of pain and suffering in an imperfect world. For a good god could not create a world that was imperfect. That’s why they thought Hell was in this world. They believed all the sacraments of the Church were of the Devil, and the Church was a den of malignants. They denied the Trinity in the Catholic sense, for the Father was greater than the Son and the Holy Ghost. They also denied Purgatory. They believed the Devil was the author of the Old Testament (except for Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus, and some minor prophets). They did not believe the Son of Man was incarnate in the Virgin, and denied His bodily existence, believing it was impossible for God to associate himself with matter, which was of the Devil. Hence they denied Christ’s resurrection in the bodily sense. They believed the final Judgement was past, and that the world was eternal. They denied resurrection of the flesh. They believed the patriarchs were all servants of the Devil, and denied the power of baptism by priests. They held carnal marriage as a mortal sin, were strict vegetarians, and forbade the slaughter of animals. They also believed it a mortal sin for the secular power to punish heretics or malefactors.’

‘So The Horned Man is a Cathar priest?’

‘Yes, I believe so. He looks like a beast because he’s awaiting a new body. A new vessel. He’s between lives.’

‘I see. Tell me, do you suffer from fluctuations in your general sense of well being; from irrational changes in mood, psychic inertia, or a sudden distaste for everything?’

‘I wouldn’t be here, if I didn’t.’

‘And can you tell me when these feelings began?’

‘When I could no longer hear God’s voice; when The Great Silence became frightening and oppressive.’

‘Was that before or after your abuse?’

‘After.’

‘But your faith returned like a wellspring, when you saw priest crucified on the crossing?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yet these mood changes still persist as remnants, as psychic ripples from the event?’

‘They won’t go away.’

‘If you want my honest opinion, they probably never will. These feelings are something you must to learn to live with. It’s a miracle that you’re still sane. What you’ve been through would destroy most people. In every psychic conflict there’s a schism of one kind or another. Sometimes it can shatter the consciousness entirely, causing complete disintegration of an individual. Sexual abuse – especially child sexual abuse – is the root of most chronic neurosis. You’re lucky to be such a strong and resilient woman. Less robust individuals spend their entire adult lives in and out of mental institutions.’

‘Oh, I am over the sexual abuse,’ replied Maria, matter of factly. ‘I no longer think about it. At least, I don’t allow myself to dwell on it. I have forgiven the priest.’

Forgiven him?’ asked Jung, surprised. ‘For all those terrible things?

‘Yes. Forgiving him was the only way I could move on in life. Hating him just ate me up inside.’

‘Do you think it was your Christian duty to forgive him?’

‘No. The truth is, I had to forgive him before I could forgive myself. And it was much harder to forgive myself.’

‘Victims of abuse often blame themselves.’

‘For many years I was so ashamed, I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror. I felt the deepest regret for my actions; I hated myself bitterly for loosing my chastity in such a sordid devilish way. I had lost control; put myself in the path of temptation. I longed to be pure and precious again. Then one day I decided to forgive him. So I did. It’s a closed period in my life.’

‘Then you are a most remarkable woman.’

‘I still pray for his soul—which is probably in hell.’

A faint smile came to her lips, as if the thought of his infernal state gave a secret pleasure.

‘So what causes your mood swings?’ asked Jung. ‘Where do these psychic ripples come from, if not the past?’

‘The past doesn’t bother me at all. What troubles me is the future. What The Horned Man showed me about the future. That’s what disturbs me. The future. After all, that’s why you invited me to tea.’

Jung twinkled:

‘Indeed. Only a dullard would think the future less important than the past.’

‘And I’m so looking forward to that apple strudel…’

He checked his watch again:

‘We have another hour before tea. The Horned Man obviously wants something from you. Do you know what it is?’

‘Salvation. That’s what he said.’

‘His soul is in peril?’

‘Not just his salvation. Salvation for the whole world.’

‘Almost every Idealist has his own scheme of metaphysical salvation; we live in a universe which is, according to religion, the Idea, or Dream of its Creator. We are just part of the dream. I paraphrase here, but as Tweedledee asked Alice of the snoring Red King, “If he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be? You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a thing in his dream!” … The divine human life which mediates between man and the Eternal, always constitutes the “salvation of the world.” As an individual consciousness, at one with the psychic totality, The Horned Man seems to represent a psycho-pomp; a Christlike figure who can transfigure mankind and bring about Utopia. His consciousness is centred on a plane superior to earthly happenings.’

‘I believe that is so. But the future I saw wasn’t rosy at all. It was a dystopian nightmare.’

‘Are you willing to share it?’

‘You’re the only person on Earth I can share it with. That’s what I love about you Dr. Jung. You never look down on your patients. You treat them as equals. As friends.’

‘I do not see how a responsible and humane analyst can proceed in any other way. Although I am often accused of “Swiss Wooden-Headedness”, of being “Teutonically confused”, “mystical” and “moralistic”. My Freudian opponents are many – especially in America. But I always welcome their criticisms. I am also happy to admit my so-called “father-complex”. But more often than not, their grievances say more about them, than they do about me… Shall we continue?’

‘Yes.’

‘Very well Maria, close your eyes and relax. Let us go back to your third confrontation with The Horned Man…’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Inouye Solar Telescope Releases First Image of a Sunspot. (detail) NSO/NSF/AURA. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Confrontation Two

Bronze_herm_MET

Monastery of Saint Clare, Toulouse. April 30, 1955.

You talk of mystic marriage. But my matrimonium alchymicum was not with The Horned Man. It was with a man of God.

Shortly after Mother Superior found me weeping by the compost heap, I was assigned a priest as my spiritual director. He would steer me safely through the seas of doubt, and restore my faith in God. I was told to meet him every Friday afternoon in the vestry of Saint Laud’s.

The church of St. Laud’s was a half-ruin on the far outskirts of the manor. Built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the river, it was surrounded by elms, its nave and tower overgrown with ivy. But it was not entirely disused; mass was still held there at Easter, and the bell still chimed a dulcet note.

And so it was, with all the trepidation of a relapsed Carmelite, that I climbed the path to Saint Laud’s on the feast of Saint Catherine of Siena. She was a Dominican tertiary, whose life of prayer, spiritual writings, and extreme mortification, had great influence on the popes of Avignon. It is written that in her prolonged fasts, she found sole nourishment in the Eucharist. As I wound amid the thickets that day, I dwelt upon her profound faith, in the hope that the priest would return me to the fold and rekindle my fire for God.

I entered the church to find it derelict. The roof was open to the sky, the stalls covered in guano, and the aisle buried in dung. But two candles flickered on the altar, as if to welcome me. Without delay, I went to the vestry where I found the priest in prayer.

‘Are you sister Maria?’ he asked.

‘I am father.’

‘You’re late.’

‘Forgive me father, but I got lost in the thickets.’

He rose to his feet and looked me up and down. He was plump and middle-aged, with dirty eyes, thread-vein cheeks and a piggy nose.

‘Did you come alone?’

‘Yes father.’

Our meeting began with him closing the shutters.

‘Father, why are we praying in the dark?’

‘My child, we are seeking a mystical experience. Come and sit beside me.’

He started by kissing my fingers.

I couldn’t make sense of it.

‘Monsieur, what are you doing?’

‘I am bringing you closer to Christ. It is my duty to express his love for you. My kisses are his kisses.’

I was like a small bird, hypnotised by a snake. His whiskery lips brushed my palms like the muzzle of a mule. Then he suckled on my thumb, caressing it with his tongue, sliding it round his gums and teeth, up into his soft palette.

I pulled my hand away:

‘No Father. This is wrong. Please stop.’

‘Sexuality is a great mystery, Maria. A sacred mystery. You will experience many sweet joys under my guidance. Ecstasies that will bring you closer to God.’

His hands began to wander, pawing at my robes. He took off my bra and squeezed my breasts, as if to test their firmness. Then he removed my robes and drew back a curtain to reveal an ante-chamber with a soiled mattress.

‘Your restoration is through union with me.’

‘But I don’t want to.’

‘It is your duty.’

Naked as I was, I tried to run away, but he grabbed my wrist and snapped:

‘Don’t question it! You must have complete trust in God’s authority. Do what is required of you. Christ wants this; you are married to Him, as you are married to me. Consummation with a priest is a sacred union with Him.’

He was well versed in the doctrine of spiritual seduction. He perched me on the bed, pushing my shoulders down, and loomed over me. The mattress felt damp on my buttocks and whiffed of mould. I expressed my fears of getting pregnant. He said preserving my chastity was part of the ritual. The ritual of the sceptre. And he instructed me on the art of fellatio. I was to express my love for Christ with my lips, tongue and throat. But his personal hygiene was much to be desired. The rim of his glans was encrusted with smegma, and reeked of rotten fish. It was an arduous, repulsive task. He drooled and jerked like a rabid dog, clasping my head on the sceptre. I tried putting myself in another place. A secret place, where he couldn’t touch me. I thought of my childhood in Norfolk, with its windmills and windswept skies; the Broadland yachts, gliding along the reed-banks; the green bulrushes, whispering in the sunset. But it wasn’t the same sun; it was a fallen sun, dirty, tainted and corrupt. There was no escape. I kept returning to that thing in my mouth. I was a whore, a slut and a malkin. His climax took an eternity of sucking, gagging and groaning. Then his eyes rolled back in their sockets. He gasped and whimpered “my blessed little angel”. I tried spitting it out. But he took my jaws and bid me swallow the “milk of human kindness”. When he was done, he wiped my mouth with a stole and said:

‘My child, you are now fully consecrated to Christ. Just as I am his earthly embodiment, so you are His enlightened sexual apostle. You have been anointed by the white chrism from The Tree of Life.

The priest said he loved me, and that we were joined in heavenly wedlock. But it was a marriage made in Hell. My consecration was with the Devil.

‘You will come here next Friday at the same hour. Do not be late. If the altar candles are lit, meet me in the vestry. If not, return to the convent, as I will be on other business. Is that clear?’

‘Yes Father.’

‘I felt totally destroyed from head to foot. It was complete domination: spiritual, physical and mental.

I endured this abuse for several months. I thought I was the only one to suffer these depravities. But there were many other sexual apostles before me. I told the priest if he wanted women in that way, he should visit a brothel. He said prostitutes were immoral and carried syphilis; but the brides of Christ were chaste and always clean. I was to work on my salvation by pleasing him. Devotion to the sceptre would ensure my place in Heaven. He insisted our carnal union was perfectly innocent: a mystic marriage, by which my soul was purified of its Satanic misgivings.

Of course, I didn’t believe him. The ritual of the sceptre always made me weep. Then he would kiss away my tears and say:

‘You are lucky to be intimate with a man of God in this way. Do not be sad. True friendship is a combination of both sexuality and spirituality. Get dressed, go and pray, and give thanks to God.’

But I soon stopped praying altogether. My shame and guilt prevented me from confiding in God. I couldn’t even tell my sisters. I was in mind to slit my wrists with broken glass. But bloodletting repulsed me. Better to starve myself. I would follow Saint Catherine’s example, and eat nothing but the Host. Month by month, the priest grew fatter and fatter, whilst I grew thinner and thinner. After the transfiguration of our Lord, the priest disrobed me, and remarked:

‘You are looking a little scrawny, my child. Your breasts have lost their pertness; and your peachy buttocks are not so peachy. Are you suffering in your mortifications? I fear you will catch a cold. Let me rub your chest with balm…’

I couldn’t hide my hatred for him. But he didn’t seem to care. He was always brimming with lust, pride and contentment.

I determined to put an end to it. One evening, when I was due at the church, I went to Mother Superior’s lodgings instead. I found her writing at her desk. She was surprised to see me enter so boldly, without knocking, or announcing myself. She scowled and stood up. She was a woman of considerable bulk and stature, with a formidable presence. But I was not in the least bit intimidated. I confessed there and then what the priest had done. She was neither surprised nor disturbed. On the contrary, my depravity amused her. When I threatened to expose her convent as a harem, she said:

‘You may have broken your vow of chastity to Christ, but in exposing the priest, you will also break your vow of obedience to God. Why bring scandal upon His church? You’re an adult. Move on. Forget about it.’

‘Forget about it?’ I raged. ‘How can I forget about it?’

To answer this question, she fetched a small box from the shelf and put it on the desk:

‘This is my secret sandbox. I want you to look inside.’

Curious, I lifted the lid. It was full of white sparkling sand, strewn with tiny shells.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘Reach inside…’

I was reluctant at first, lest some sprung trap lay hidden in the sand, ready to snap my fingers.

‘It won’t bite,’ she sneered.

Fingering the sand, I felt a wooden object lurking in the box. Removing it, I examined it carefully in the candle light. It was a phallic carving, about three inches long; the shaft had short crossbeams, like a crucifix, with an erect phallus on the front, and a bearded head at the top.

‘What is it?’ I asked, perplexed.

‘That is a Herm – a ritual amulet, dedicated to the Hermes, the god of fertility, magic, and crossings.’

‘Why do you keep it in box of sand?’

‘That’s not sand, but salt. The Herm is an object of untold power. Salt prevents that power from leaking away.’

‘You believe in magic?’

‘What are the miracles of Christ, if not magic? Herms were prolific in the ancient world. They guarded all the major crossroads of Greece and Rome. Hermes and Hecate were worshipped as lord and lady of the crossroads. But they have now been replaced by stone crosses. In 415 BC, on the night before the the Athenian fleet set sail for Syracuse, the Athenian women castrated the Herms, knocking off their penises. The mutilation was a defiant act to invoke impotence – a protest against the machismo of the Peloponnesian war. The violation of the Herms led to the indictment of Alcibiades, the expedition’s commander, and to the failure of the Sicilian Expedition.’

‘Where did you find it?’

‘That particular Herm belonged to our founding abbess, many centuries ago.’

‘Why are you telling me all this? Do you not care what has happened to me?’

‘Yes, of course I care. Of course I do. Poor child. I want you to hold the Herm tightly and make a wish. Any wish.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’

‘Is wishing any more stupid than prayer? Go on Maria, make a wish, and the Herm will grant it. But you mustn’t tell anyone what you wished for.’

Insulted, I put the Herm back in the box.

‘I don’t want to make a wish. I want to inform the bishop. I shall tell him what goes on here. Pimping out your sisters to the priests!’

She leered again:

‘The bishop knows all about it… Christian bishops still carry the Herm, disguised as the sceptre of their office. A most perfect object of mystical contemplation, don’t you think?’

‘The bishop’s sceptre is the Devil’s pitchfork!’

‘The Devil’s pitchfork is a triple phallus, and symbol of the Creator’s union with the Triple Goddess. A caduceus, if you like.’

‘You’re not a Christian! You’re a filthy pagan!’

‘Your sexual license with the priest is no sin. He might have deflowered you, but fear not, you can still wear your robes with pride. You are the harbinger of many fruits to come. This night, God’s phallus is planted in our Earthly mother’s womb, and the peasants celebrate with dance and song. Walpurgis night.

‘The Sabbat of the Witches!’

‘The early Gnostic Christians worshipped the phallus as fervently as the pagans. They called it The Tree of Life. Saint Augustine, who was a Manichean Gnostic for a decade, recounts a tradition of eating the Holy Eucharist sprayed with human semen.’

‘That’s disgusting!’

‘But true.’

She closed the box and said:

‘I too was given to a priest when a novice. But as you know, I swing the other way. I prefer the daughters of Eve to the sons of Adam. I soon had that priest eating out of my hand. A submissive eunuch is so much more adorable than a man whose only wish is to own you, mind, body and soul. You should learn to stand up to him. Make him do your bidding for a change.’

‘My bidding? He repulses me! He stinks like pig!’

‘I know my dear. All men are repulsive, are they not? Such silly little creatures. We women should stick together. Take solidarity in our sex. There was a time when we ruled the earthly church. For too long we have suffered under the patriarchy of Rome. There will come a time when we will rise up, and reclaim that office which was so wrongly stolen from us; when the priests shall burn on pyres, and witches shall sit in state; when the matriarchs and wise-women, who know the hidden ways of Nature, shall restore the old religion to its rightful place in the altars and temples. The old world ended with the great exodus of the goddess. But she shall return, and the Earth will be reborn anew, radiant, immaculate and free. The Virgin is the one true goddess. And all things come through her.’

‘The Virgin is not a pagan Gaia! She’s the mother of God!’

‘Yet how mysterious that her robe is sky-blue; that her son’s flesh is the corn of the furrows, and his blood the juice of the vine.’

‘I do not share your pagan sentiments.’

‘Educated intellectuals do not believe in the gods; it is all myth and moonshine to them. The Herm testifies the truth of these supernatural creeds. As does the Dionysian rite of the Eucharist. To an intellect dominated by logic, the supernatural must have its origin either in ignorance or insanity. But my precious Herm has granted many wishes.’

‘Such as?’

‘It brought you here, for a start. And we have come to an understanding, have we not? Spend the night in my chamber. I promise you won’t regret it. I have so much to teach you. Locked in my embrace, you will experience pleasures beyond your wildest dreams. I can rid you of your most enervating weakness—fear. My Jehovah is a god of passions, not virtues.’

‘What do you mean by that?’

‘I want your body, not your prayers.’

‘I do not wish to give my body.’

‘Pity. I have my own phallus – just like that Herm. A strap-on. You could ride me all night long.’

‘I don’t want to ride you, stupid fool!’

But I adore you, Maria! Foolish woman that I am! Oh god! I’m obsessed with you! I can’t stop thinking about you! It’s a torture to me in choir, to see your beautiful face shining in the candlelight! I could gaze upon your face for eternity! I love you, Maria! I love you! Believe me, I do!’

‘Love? No. You just like to see me suffer.’

‘Just one night with me. And I swear, you’d never look back. We’d become the happiest lovers in the world.’

‘I would rather die.’

‘How your words cut me to the quick! As for that filthy little priest, there’s nothing you can do. The Catholic church always wins in the end. It is the wish of Rome that we succour the priests. Celibacy is such an unnatural state of religious contemplation. The sooner it is abolished, the better. The Vatican has committed many evils in this fallen world. One would be forgiven for thinking that the church of Rome is the church of Satan. They’ve got their dirty fingers into everything. I am told they are even in league with the CIA. And now they are using children as guinea pigs.’

‘For what?’

‘Vaccines. Our orphanages in Ireland are testing a new polio strain. Alas, there have been many deaths. Many unhallowed graves. I sometimes wonder if the pope is really an atheist. Science is their religion. Materialism is such a flimsy faith: a fool’s paradox, with no substance at all. Of course, quantum theory is of great convenience to pious men of physics, desperate to find cracks in the atheist realm of matter. But it’s all Buddhist mumbo-jumbo in the end. The only true religion is the old religion.’

‘That’s profanity.’

‘Profanity, Maria my dear, is a relative sin. It all depends on what you consider holy. Those who are ignorant of holy things cannot profane them. The pagans who live according to heathen laws and do not have the Word of God cannot profane it.’

‘I’ll escape this place. I’ll jump over the wall.’

‘You won’t get far. Ten miles at most. The police will catch you in the end; and they’ll bring you straight back here. The mayor of this district is deep in the bishop’s pocket. That’s how the world works. Money. Now be a good girl and run along to your shack. Give thanks that you have been chosen for such a holy task; that our priest deems you worthy of his sceptre; and that you have been initiated into such a sacred mystery.’

‘The priest will go to hell. And so will you! Your sins will find you out. You might be holy in the eyes of the world, but even the wings of a fly have weight, and God’s justice is exact.’

She laughed, cocking her head in mirth:

‘I would rather be in Hell, romping with my concubines, than sitting on a white cloud in heaven, bored out of my skull with you.’

I burst into tears and ran off through the cloister, tripping down the aisles.

II

My second confrontation with The Horned Man came on Walpurgis night, exactly one year later, in 1956. Once again, I cannot recall the hour, but it was within the interval of the third watch, shortly after Nocturns. The event had all the semblance of a fairy tale…

I was lying in bed, when suddenly, without warning, I was transported to another realm. Baffled in wonderment, I found myself standing in a green wood, surrounded by shining glades. And there was The Horned Man, lurking in the trees. His face was terribly deformed. Yet his loving presence assured me of an infinite light-flooded world. He drew near and whispered:

‘I heard your wish, and I will avenge your ruin, just as I did, centuries before.’

‘Before?’

‘You never learn, from one incarnation to the next! The priests are steeped in evil; only The Good Men can save souls. What wretches are the priests! I’ll crucify them all! I’ll burn them to ashes! I’ll cut them to pieces! If a priest was dying, I’d not pity him a bit. I’d spit in his eye and send him to the Devil! Filthy vermin! They wag their tails like faithless dogs; they preach holiness but trample the poor underfoot like cockroaches. Miserable, two faced leeches! You were never married to the priest, Maria. You were only married to me.’

‘Who are you, spirit?’

‘Do you not remember?’

‘I know you only from dreams I cannot fathom. Our last union is a mystery that troubles my soul. Tell me spirit, what is this place?’

‘’Tis a world so very far away, yet closer than the tip of your nose. Pity me. I have been banished from the Light. For many centuries, I have walked this Earth alone, awaiting your return.’

‘My return?’

‘From The Old World.

‘But what are you?’

‘I was once a blessed Seraphim, who dwelt with God before the Earth was formed. Alas, like you, I fell from that Heavenly sphere. And now I’m just a man, a paltry seed of Adam.’

‘You don’t look like man.’

‘Forgive my appearance: ’tis monstrous, I know. But I am in the process of regenerating myself.’

‘Into what?’

‘A vessel more fitting for my soul.’

‘What do you want from me, spirit?’

‘Salvation.’

‘Yet how shall I give it? You want my prayers?’

‘Prayers, no. There will come a time of universal atheism. A time when The Devil’s Advocate will be a Christian apologist with proof of God. To see God in all things is the height of spiritual illumination. A heresy of the blackest dye.’

But before I could ask more, the vision collapsed, and I awoke in my shack, with the night owl hooting in the thickets. As I lay there in the darkness, I thought of the Herm, lying in its box of salt. And I wondered if wishes really did come true…

III

The following Friday fell on the fourth of May – Saint Monica’s day – the patron saint of mothers. She was a widow whose prayers and tears invoked the conversion of her son, Saint Augustine. To my shame, I scorned her and all the other saints for abandoning me. My prayers and tears would never invoke the repentance and conversion of the priest.

As I climbed the path to the church of Saint Laud’s, I thought upon many things. Not least, how my soul was turning to Satan. Then I spotted an old dagger lying in the grass. It was rusted to the hilt, its scabbard encrusted with lichen. But the blade was still keen enough to kill. I put it in my scrip and continued to the door.

On entering the church, I found the altar candles snuffed out, with trails of blue smoke curling in dusty motes. Had the priest come and gone? Uneasy, I crept to the vestry and peered behind the door. The chamber was deserted. Perhaps he was waiting in the alcove? I drew my knife and pulled back the curtain. Nothing. I stood there for a moment, gazing at the mouldy mattress, the sordid nest of my ruin and damnation; the ticking was stained with urine and menses; the pillows littered with pigeon feathers, rat-droppings, and maggot casings.

I called out:

‘Father, are you there?’

Silence.

Leaving the vestry, I walked under the transept. His cigarette was still smouldering in the platter. Perhaps he was relieving himself in the bushes? I would finish him there. Who would suspect me? I was about to leave when my attention was caught by a splattering on the tiles. This struck me as odd, because it hadn’t rained for days, and although the roof was rotten, this particular spot was well-sheltered from the elements. Three drops caught me on the cheek. Squinting, I wiped them away. The liquid felt warm and oily in my fingers.

But it wasn’t rain.

It was blood.

Faltering, I peered into the vault.

And there was the priest, crucified to the crossing, seven inch nails piercing his wrists and feet. His ghoulish face was twisted in the most hideous expression of horror and pain.

It was an impossible death, his corpse suspended more than thirty feet in the air, with no visible means of access. There were no ropes, no ladders, no scaffold; nor was there any loft or gallery. Just a great arching chasm, with the priest pinned to the roof-boss like an ugly moth. I knew in my bones it was a supernatural death. A death invoked by a telekinetic spirit. The Horned Man had avenged me, just as he promised.

At that moment I felt an intense awe. And with it came a sense of restoration – as if all the abuse and shame had been purged from my soul. My faith returned like a fountain of living waters, bubbling from the deep. But this elation soon dispersed and I was left with a terrible foreboding. What powers had I unleashed? Still clutching my knife, I ran in panic down the aisle, out into the sunshine.

To my astonishment, I found Mother Superior waiting in the graveyard. She stood resolute and calm, her arms folded beneath her habit.

She was smiling.

‘Did your wish come true?’ she asked.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Aurora Consurgens Una

DKIST-First-Sunspot

Küsnacht, Lake Zürich, Switzerland. November 15, 1958.

Dr. Jung thought for a moment then asked:

‘Where do you suppose the rose came from?’

‘I have no idea,’ replied Maria. ‘It was the middle of winter, after all.’

‘What about your convent? Where there any glasshouses where roses could be cultivated out of season?’

‘Not to my knowledge. What are you suggesting?’

‘Perhaps the rose was a love token from Mother Superior. The Devil’s Advocate – or rather, your Advocate, was not shy in coming forward regarding her sexuality. He revealed her sexual obsession and desire to share your bed. Subconsciously you must have been aware of this attraction. This obviously made your situation with The Poor Clares intolerable. No doubt it was a strong contributing factor in you leaving the convent.’

‘But Dr. Jung, The Horned Man was real. I saw his footsteps on the floorboards.’

‘Are you sure they were his? Perhaps they belonged to Mother Superior?’

‘No. I saw him face to face.’

‘Every aspect of the unconscious mind is endowed with a numen of personality. I believe it was Mother Superior who was really behind you in the snow that night.’

‘No.’

‘You already associated Mother Superior with the beast, because of the painted cloth on the back of her throne. As your Advocate explained, she was a man inside. A wolf in sheep’s clothing.’

‘You don’t understand. On seeing this rose, I felt an inviolable intimacy that I could not explain.’

‘Intimacy with the beast, or with Mother Superior?’

‘I know, it sounds so Freudian, doesn’t it?’

‘Tell me Maria, what does The Secret Garden mean to you?’

‘I don’t know. Eden, Heaven, Paradise? A state of innocence, perhaps? But sexual union? No. Absolutely not.’

‘And you remember nothing of the void? Or your time with The Horned Man?’

‘It was all so blurred and ephemeral. I saw through a glass darkly. I can only describe it as a place of mystery, obscurity and paradox. But I remember his horns, tipped with tongues of fire. I saw him burning at the stake. A ghastly crucible of flame. A jeering mob. There was a serpent coiled amid the faggots, guarding a white egg.’

‘Anything else?’

‘No. Perhaps you could hypnotise me?’

‘That’s not a good idea.’

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t believe hypnosis would be helpful in this case.’

‘But why?’

‘You will just have to trust my professional opinion on the matter. Abnormal visions, hallucinations and convictions generally only occur when a patient is suffering from dissociation.’

Maria glanced up at the window; the sun was breaking through the clouds and heavenly beams of light punched through the cumulous, revealing the majesty of the firmament. Her eyes began to water:

‘You think I’m schizophrenic?’ she asked.

‘On the contrary. The masculine feminine antithesis is often resolved in the alchemical atanor or crucible. Mother Superior was a bully who had the sanction of God’s authority – an authority she abused for her own sexual gratification. She was an unbridled sadistic fantasist who loved to make you suffer. She got a thrill watching you toil in the cold. Your frostbite was her pleasure.’

‘She was a most peculiar woman.’

‘Did she assault you?’

‘No. But she was creepy and cruel. When she smiled, she looked like Peter Sellers in drag. And when explaining the significance of the large black crucifix that hung above our beds, she would raise her arms, displaying her cruciform scapular, like some camouflaged monster of the deep, about to devour us. But I can assure you, it wasn’t Mother Superior behind me in the snow that night. Nor did she visit my shack for some illicit sexual union. I’m not a closet lesbian Dr. Jung.’

Jung scratches his head and pinches his moustache:

‘But Maria, if The Horned Man is not Mother Superior, then who is he?’

‘That’s what I came to find out Dr. Jung.’

‘Surely, you don’t believe in La Bête du Gévaudan?

‘Of course not. I’ve already told you, I’m not so childish as to believe in werewolves. I’m sorry. It was presumptuous of me. I thought you would have all the answers.’

‘In psychiatry there are often many answers to a problem. But only one of them is ever truly correct. Perhaps The Horned Man was the unconscious mystical counter-balance to the dogma of your religious vocation.’

‘And what about The Devil’s Advocate?

‘Why do you insist on calling him that? I believe he spoke a great deal of good sense. I have no doubt that he was – is – a psychic reality, which demonstrably influenced the contents of your conscious mind. Of course, as an archetype, he remains morally indifferent as a crocodile. But he shares your complexes and their autonomy. His powerful dynamism obviously had its intended effect on your behaviour.’

‘In what way?’

‘Sometimes we imagine ourselves to be innocent, innocuous and reasonable. But it is frivolous and psychically unhygienic to assume our motives are always noble.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Like your aunt, you obviously possess a strong psychic gift. But the word psychic means less than air to most people nowadays. Yet without the psyche, human history would cease to exist. I suggest you took up the cowl to suppress that psychic gift. Something about that gift terrifies you. Perhaps it was a vision you had as a child; something you repressed or have chosen not to reveal. You decided to lock that gift away; to fence it in with the Rosary, to put chains and beads around it, and devote yourself to Christian dogma instead. A dogma which forbids divination, talking to spirits, and communing with the dead. But this decision set up an imperceptible disturbance in your equilibrium. And this was enough to upturn the whole apple cart. The truth of the matter, is that you clung more to an idealised relationship with the Absolute, rather than getting your hands dirty with the psychic contents of the everyday world. This annoyed your Advocate to such an extent that he became real and manifest; whereupon he tried to show you the error of your ways. The more power religious dogma had over your psychic intuition, the more your Advocate rebelled, just like Lucifer, swelling with pride. This caused a whole tapestry of contrary feelings, fantasies and emotions, impulses and dreams. The devoutly religious person is never master of his own house. Your Advocate was right: The Horned Man did indeed raise you from the Dead: the living death of the cloister; a life-sentence of dogma, doctrine and isolation with The Poor Clares.

‘No Dr. Jung. That’s all wrong.’

‘It is?’

‘Yes. I could have told you all that myself.’

He looked up from notes, his eyes twinkling with surprise:

‘Could you, indeed?’

‘Yes doctor. That interpretation was one I reached myself several weeks ago, when I trying to convince myself that I wasn’t going mad.’

‘Then you have the makings of a fine analyst. It is one thing to objectively sift through the contents of another’s psyche – but quite another examine your own.’

The Horned Man was real, I tell you. He wasn’t a dream. Nor was he Mother Superior, or some psychic manifestation of suppressed sexuality.’

Jung nodded gravely several times:

‘Very well Maria. Let us suppose for a moment that The Horned Man was a bone fide spirit – an autonomous entity existing beyond the laws of our temporal realm. What did he want from you?’

She threw up her arms, visibly distressed:

‘That’s just it, I don’t know. That’s why I came to see you, after all.’

‘The Advocate gave you his testimony. He claimed that you and the beast were soul-mates. Your marriage was made in Heaven. And what is the meaning of a mystic marriage, a matrimonium alchymicum, if not to save you from the death of religious dogma? The Horned Man appeared during a dark cloud of depression; when you could no longer hear God; when the The Great Silence began to intimidate, oppress and frighten you.’

‘That’s correct.’

‘The numinous alchemical symbols are reflective of your incarnate state; the crucible is the Phoenix pyre, by which you were reborn, back into the corporeal world. The white egg is the lunar mother from which all is made and coagulated. And the serpent is none other than Lucifer, the “bringer of light” who has the same symbolic designation as the Christ. You had entered a manic depressive state, where the calling to God had lost its lustre. All of this was accompanied by a despairing realization of your own insignificance. The Devil’s Advocate was keen to point out the futility of human actions, compared with the infinite age and vastness of the cosmos. The Absolute in which all things exists. In talking philosophy, the Advocate made you feel inconsequential, such that your religious vocation became nothing but the vain and empty pursuit of a solipsist. But your mystical illumination in the void of unknowing, gave you the courage to renounce your vows, and rediscover your own power and volition.’

‘Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.’

Jung scowled at this remark and seemed more than a little annoyed. Then he tapped his temple with the end of his pencil:

‘It is an interesting case to be sure,’ he muttered. ‘Maria, you said that you had three confrontations with The Horned Man?’

‘Yes, doctor.’

‘That number is significant in itself. In Christian dogma, the Holy Ghost is the third person of the trinity; this spirit does not always remain a prerogative of the incarnate God, but may roam freely, and descend upon men as tongues of fire. I find it also significant that the The Horned Man appeared on Ash Wednesday. As you know, that is the day of the Seven Penitential Psalms, when the penitents were expelled from the holy place on account of their sins, just as Adam and Eve were driven out of Paradise because of their disobedience. When you renounced your vows, and the bishop shut the gate on your Carmelite life, you felt banished from Heaven. And, like The Horned Man, who was dressed in sackcloth, you are doing penance in sackcloth and ashes – just like the Ninevites of old. You felt angry that you could not make your escape by simply jumping over the precinct wall. Mother Superior insisted on following protocol. Permission for your release could only be granted by the Holy See. No doubt her sadistic desire was to humiliate and shame you even further. Your life of self-denial in the convent did not fulfil you, nor bring you any closer to God. In former times, the Pope used to go barefoot into Saint Sabina’s on the Aventine, “to begin with holy fasts, the exercises of Christian warfare, so that as we do battle with the spirits of evil, we may be protected by the help of self-denial.” But your self-denial did not protect you; it only served to crush your spirit and weaken your faith. And even though you have now left The Poor Clares, and are dressed in a pretty frock, you are still wearing your penitential garb, because you feel that you haven’t earned the reconciliation of God. But remember, it is not so much our outward observances which are important, as the spirit in which they are carried out. That is why God’s favourite bird is the lark. It celebrates life. The Devil’s Advocate made that perfectly clear. I feel there is nothing more for me to add.’

‘I never thought of it like that. And I’m very grateful for your insights.’

‘Yet I feel that you remain unsatisfied with my conclusions.’

‘Unsatisfied, no.’

‘Then why do you look so unhappy?’

‘Because I still believe The Horned Man was a bone fide spirit. And I’m sure The Devil’s Advocate was exactly who he claimed to be.’

‘And who was that?’

‘A diamon and spiritual teacher: a practical philanthropist of human souls.’

Jung sat forward and motioned for Maria to tell him more, gesturing with his pen whilst his eyes remained fixed on the paper.

‘There was a profundity about The Horned Man,’ continued Maria. ‘He knew secrets.’

‘Concerning what?’

‘The future.’

‘Your future?’

‘No. The future of everything. The future of mankind.

Jung looked up, almost startled; he studied her for a moment, and she felt his eyes penetrate deep into her soul. He seemed to see something there. What? Fantasies, dreams, deliriums, and delusions? Or the reality of The Horned Man? She smiled uneasily. He smiled back and checked his watch:

The future… Which reminds me, we are running late. But as I have no one else booked this afternoon, I would like to invite you to tea.’

‘Tea? Are you sure Dr. Jung? I don’t want to put you to any trouble.’

‘No trouble at all young lady. Besides, my housekeeper makes a fine Apfelstrudel. The finest in all the world. You simply must try some.’

She smiled fondly:

‘Apple Strudel at Dr. Jung’s house? What girl could possibly refuse? Thank you doctor. You’re very kind. I’d love to stay.’

‘That’s settled then.’ He rubbed his hands with glee. ‘We have another two hours before tea. Are you happy to continue?’

‘Yes. Very happy.’

‘Very well then Maria. Let us dig a little deeper. Will you kindly recount your second confrontation with The Horned Man.’

Maria lay back on the couch, closed her eyes, and began…

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Inouye Solar Telescope Releases First Image of a Sunspot. NSO/NSF/AURA. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

Confrontation One

beast_of_gevaudan_small

Monastery of Saint Clare, Toulouse. March 3, 1954.

The winter of ’54 brought heavy snows and the thaw came late. It seemed the earth was smothered in universal death. The woods were dark and songless; the furrows lay barren under leaden skies; and the roaring falls were silent, frozen in their flows, like spent altar candles.

Behind the precinct wall, the whole convent was locked in ice; the orchard trees glistened like crystal chandeliers, the vines drooped with hoar frost, and titanic icicles hung about the cloister. Our rustic shacks lay half-buried in drifts, all crooked and bent, their rooftops buckling under slabs of snow.

Throughout Septuagesima, I was given the task of clearing footpaths to the shacks. Mother Superior provided a coal shovel, and instructed me to cut alleys through the drifts. But day by day, the snow continued to fall, until the alleys were over six foot high. It was a task of Hercules for which I received no thanks, frostbite being my only reward. But since I was the youngest and fittest, it seemed only right that I should help my arthritic sisters. I would have done all this with a happy heart, but for Mother Superior, who refused to let me sit by the oven:

‘Sit by the oven? Don’t be soft child. When Saint Catherine of Genoa dipped her hands in icy water, the water boiled. And snow melted about the feet of Saint Peter of Alcantara. More faith, less fuss. Then your chemise will be scorched by fires of the heart, and you will cease to feel the cold.’

Her tongue always burnt my ears; and when she spoke, the cloister seemed to echo with mirthless, malevolent chuckles.

That winter two policemen came to the gate with horrid news from the hills. A lunatic had escaped the asylum and slaughtered several women. The police described these murders in great detail; they were grisly and bloody, with savage amputations, gory disembowelments, slit throats and vile excisions. The lunatic had a history of sadistic fantasies, with a longing to butcher women like pigs. Needless to say, this dire news upset us all greatly. But there was some disagreement amongst the locals as to the true perpetrator. The hill peasants blamed the deaths on La Bête du Gévaudan – a mythical beast who prowled the land centuries before. According to legend, this beast was a giant werewolf, who killed over one hundred men, women and children. Mother Superior knew all about the infamous beast. And she took great pride in showing the police a moth-eaten tapestry in the Chapter House which depicted this lupine creature. The beast had a black stripe down its back and talons on its outstretched paws; it reared up on its hind legs, attacking a naked woman who was bathing in a river. I had never seen this particular tapestry before, as it hung behind Mother Superior’s throne. Yet on closer inspection, I saw that it was actually a painting. For it was once customary for the nuns to paint proverbs and psalms on old tapestry hangings, which were called painted cloths. This particular cloth was very old, but the beast was still vivid, with bloody jaws clenched about the woman’s throat.

I was not so childish as to believe in werewolves, yet I could not discredit La Bête du Gévaudan entirely. According to Mother Superior, the first fatal attack occurred on June 30th 1764, when a 14-year-old shepherdess, Jeanne Boulet, was tending her flock. But Boulet was not the creature’s first victim. About two months prior, a milkmaid was herding cattle across a ford when she was mauled by a creature “like a wolf, yet not a wolf”. She escaped the beast by climbing a tree as the herd rallied round to defend her. Mother Superior said the beast was an infernal spirit who prayed on pagan unbelievers. My sisters were even more distressed by the idea of a supernatural predator. But the gendarmes were not so gullible. They insisted the beast was a homicidal maniac, a misogynist psychopath like Jack The Ripper, a vicious butcher of women, and far more deadly than La Bête du Gévaudan. We were instructed to keep our doors and windows locked at all times, and never to wander the precinct alone. If we saw the lunatic, we were warned not to approach, but to call the police at once.

These are the strange circumstances surrounding my first confrontation. The entity appeared on Ash Wednesday during a moonless night of Stygian darkness. I cannot recall the exact time of manifestation, but it was within the interval of the third watch, shortly after Nocturns…

Let us pray.

If ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your high ways shall be desolate. And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.[i]

When Mother Superior finished the closing prayer, we filed out the choir in silence, collected our bricks from the oven, lit our lanterns, and returned to our shacks. The labyrinth of snow was foreboding at night, especially with a murderous beast stalking the hills. Being a postulant, I always took up the rear, whilst my sisters went ahead, winding like fireflies in the gloom. Yet as I scurried behind that night, there came the sound of lumbering footsteps. In fearful anticipation, I stopped and turned, my lantern held high. Then I glimpsed in the pitch the indefinite shape of something infernal, but which I could not define. I tried to scream, but couldn’t utter a syllable, for my tongue was a stone in my mouth. My whole body felt clay-cold and paralysed. The thing drew closer, shuffling through the snow, panting like a dog. But it wasn’t a werewolf nor any other lupine beast. It stood upright like a Minotaur, with huge curling horns. Dressed in sackcloth, it looked ghoulish, eerie and weird – a hideous chimera, pitiful to behold. This monstrous spectre curdled the blood, but try as I might, I couldn’t look away. Closer and closer it came, until we stood almost face to face. Yet even then, my impression of fear was so great, that I feign to describe its true shape. It was a vaporous thing, more shadow than substance, and its face – if it had face – wavered like a flame. Then, to my utter dread and consternation, it held out its hand.

It was the hand of a man.

Terrified, I ran to my shack, slipping madly on the ice, and bolted the door.

I dived into bed and hid beneath the covers. I lay there trembling, clutching my brick, reciting the Rosary over and over. Then, peeking over the blanket, I kept watch on the door, fully expecting the beast to break in at any moment. A storm was gathering and the shack began to quiver in screaming blasts. My lantern spluttered and popped as the flame puckered and died. Then the whole shack plunged into darkness.

Petrified with fear and cold, I cherished my hot brick as a living soul. But it slowly expired in my arms, giving up its last vestige of warmth, until it was a chill inanimate block. I spurned it with my foot, pushing it away to the bottom of the bed, and curled in a foetal position, hands clasped in prayer, lips pressed between my teeth. Wind rattled the door, howling under the sill like a banshee. I knew the beast was lurking outside. What did it want? Why did it offer its hand? I prayed fervently, asking God for deliverance. Had a demon been sent to test me? Several times I thought to raise the alarm. But who would hear my cries amid the tempest? And who amongst us could fight such a terrible beast? Besides, to leave the shack would mean certain death. I took solace in my crucifix and stoup of holy water. I would hold fast and pray ’til dawn.

But instead of praying, I began to reason with myself. Or rather, something else began to reason with me. It was more than just the inner voice of conscience. I heard it audibly in the darkness, an entity, exterior to myself. And I came to know it as The Devil’s Advocate.

The Advocate purred softly:

‘Listen to me child. Pious paintings often imprint themselves on the imagination. And sometimes the apparitions which we believe to be Christ are nothing but intellectual reflections – as when fog reflects the sun, and misleads sailors at sea. The human mind is liable to the most ingenious deceptions. And most spirits that appear to man are untrustworthy, capricious manifestations of the brain. But The Horned Man is real. Fear him not. He is your protector and friend. Why leave him out in the cold? Invite him in.’

Never!

‘What are you afraid of? Everything within this convent is a tissue of lies and subterfuge. Day and night you pray to Christ. But for what? The salvation of sinners? Is that beast not deserving of your prayers? Let him in.’

‘That thing is not of God.’

‘You are too weak and finite to know what is of God; your faith too limited and puerile, your mind too small to comprehend His terrible reality.’

‘And you are so mighty?’

‘More mighty than you.’

‘Yet it is within God’s power to destroy you.’

‘I see your heart is dark and plagued with fear. Yet, I must admit, ’tis a radiant ruby compared to Mother Superior.’

‘Do not speak ill of my sisters.’

‘Mother Superior? Your sister? That butch lesbian? She isn’t your sister. She’s more of a brother, in fact. She completely lacks any sexual self-assertion or self-representation. Her one overriding desire is to be a masochistic flagellant. During my long experience of human sexual perversity, I have found that most of the women who professionally torture masochists are on the whole not sadists but lesbians. It is a fact of human nature: masochists seek masculine women, and women sadists seek feminine men. Mother Superior loves to see you suffer – you being such a pretty young thing. In the brothel of her dreams, she acts out Biblical scenes. She is the Christ who lets Magdalene kiss her feet. That Magdalene is you. She dreams of whipping your bare bottom. Her closet is full of sadistic books and journals, pictures and photographs, for exciting her fantasy. Leçons disciplinées et séverès, etcetera. She has a peep-hole in the wall to observe you in the bath. Every onanism closes with a prayer, and with the fervid wish that you might share her bed. Don’t you get it? She’s a man inside. She doesn’t know it yet. But when she comes to this realise this terrible truth – when the consequence dawns on her thwarted mind, and reveals all the splinters of her pathetic little life, laid bare in the cruel light of day, she will have no recourse but to hang herself from the belfry. Some purgations of flesh are too fiendish to articulate. The moment you try, a hot coal incinerates your tongue. It is often wiser, less troublesome, and less humiliating, to simply dispose of yourself.’

Be gone! I shall fetch the priest to exorcise you!

A flash of lightening; a purl of booming thunder.

‘Fetch the priest? My dear girl, you have more to fear from him than you do of me.’

Be gone, I said!

‘The sheep spends its entire life fearing the wolf, only to get eaten by the shepherd. I have known many conceited nuns like you. What will you do when the priest lifts your skirts and presses his lips upon your thigh?’

‘You have been sent by the Devil to tempt me.’

‘Tempt you? You wouldn’t smell a rose for fear of sin. When will you emerge from the cave of your delusions? I say again, that beast is your protector and friend. Admit him.’

‘I shall not.’

‘You really are the most stubborn self-righteous little dunce. If you only knew what he has suffered for you! Yet there you lie, smug beneath your crucifix, your breast swelling with Christian pride, determined to ignore the truth, and call him beast!’

‘But he’s not human.’

‘More human than you.’

‘Then what is he?’

‘Let him in, and you shall see…’

‘How can I be certain that you are telling the truth?’

‘Nothing is certain—that’s one thing you learn as an outcast. Self-existence is the only certainty. Do you not agree?’

‘You talk of absolute egoism, but I’m not a solipsist.’

‘You want to talk philosophy?’

‘Solipsism claims that I alone am the only true reality—that it is impossible to know another mind. Yet here I am, conversing with a spirit.’

‘Then you deny subjective idealism?’

‘I deny it categorically. The only certainty is God.’

‘Alas, you make a poor philosopher.’

‘And you a poor Solipsist. If solipsism is true, then you do not exist demon – except in my head. You are merely part of myself. A shadow.

‘Yet are you not a shadow of me?’

‘We might as well charge at windmills. I have my faith. And that is enough.’

‘Ah, but faith is not knowledge.’

‘Yes it is. I know that God is Love; I know that God exists; I know that God is real. I know that my Lord is risen from the Dead. I feel his presence hour by hour.’

‘That is all very commendable. But these articles of faith are not knowledge.’

‘Faith is higher than knowledge. Faith is the highest knowledge of all.’

‘And what does your faith say of me?’

That you are the Devil’s Advocate.

‘Nay child, I am not he.’

‘Then you are surely a spirit of Hell.’

‘You labour under false illusions. I have heard your prayers in The Great Silence. Your sole desire is a real and permanent union with the Absolute. But what is real and absolute? Your current state is determined by every act and event in the universe. So how does belief in yourself correspond to something in the absolute? Your freedom is not even determined by your own will. You might feel that you are free, but the absolute does not see it that way. Your faith is misrepresentative of the truth. As for hell, you’re already in it.’

‘Then I pray for God’s sanctifying grace. And I surrender myself utterly to His infinite will.’

‘His will would surprise you. They say that God loves the lark above all other birds, because it sings so beautifully. Because it celebrates life. But there’s no celebration here. Ask yourself why. The hard life of penance and prayer on Mount Carmel was undertaken in a joyous spirit, to the sound of ringing canticles; Saint Rose of Lima sang duets with the birds. When do you ever sing? When are you ever joyous? All you desire is The Great Silence. But we prefer the songs of troubadours and minstrels. Is your sanctifying grace only fit for virgins, paupers and lepers? What of bawdy whores and thieves? What of heretics, devils and madmen? Christ wasn’t the only one who died for your sins. Open the door. Do not let him suffer in the cold. Admit him.’

I will not!

‘What shall happen at Death and Judgement, when you stand before God and tell Him that you refused His angel?’

‘That beast is no angel.’

‘You are no less ignorant now as when you were a child. I have watched you for many years. You have the gift, just like your aunt before you. But your powers lie dormant and wasted. You are a fool if you believe The Poor Clares are the magic path to absolute reality. You must leave this place. It is a church of death. Already your heart hardens in your breast. How shall you live a sane and vigorous life within this Plutonian church?’

As he spoke these words, I beheld the entire convent in my mind’s eye; the dark aisles leading to gloomy chapels; the dismal ingles, cloisters and passages; the dark winding staircases to sepulchral chambers; the faded paintings and menacing statues of the saints; the Lethean crypt, where the mouldering bones of the faithful lay strewn amongst cobweb curtains. It was all too grim and horrible to contemplate. Yet still I affirmed it:

‘My life is here, with Mother Superior and my sisters in Christ. Be gone.’

‘Mother Superior cares only for the vulgar marvels of the saints. But we are more concerned with transcendental matters. However, if you would like to boil icy water with your bare hands, or burn your chemise with fires of the heart, we can arrange that for you. Anything you like. Name it, and it shall be yours.’

‘I want nothing from you. Nothing! Do you hear? Get out! I desire only what is given by the Christ!’

‘If you truly believe in Heaven and Hell, then you will know that there are other spheres of being than those which your senses report. After all, your craving for hidden realms is the secret reason for your vocation. Yet do you really believe that a life of prayer will solve all the painful riddles of the world? The riddle of you? Beyond that door is the answer to your earthly existence. Open it. Invite him in. His hermetic knowledge transcends this phenomenal world. Only through him shall you attain that reality which is behind all earthly things. The Horned Man is a constructive mystic, a profound thinker, as well as an ecstatic. I am his diamon and spiritual teacher: a practical philanthropist of human souls. I know the secrets of the seed, and the mysteries of the braid… Join us. Unbolt the door.’

I will not yield! Do not ask me again! Be gone!

The Advocate chuckled:

‘If you stay within these walls, you might fulfil all the stations and duties of your Catholic faith; but if you refuse to admit him, you shall die accursed and alone. He is your protector, and you are his salvation.’

You lie!

‘Do you not recall his great sacrifice? He raised you from the dead.’

Go to hell!

‘Heed my testimony. You and that beast are soul-mates. Your marriage was made in Heaven. Together you shall open the gates to The Secret Garden on which the hopes of all mankind are set.’

‘Paradise?’ asked I, astonished.

But the Advocate had gone.

I lay shivering in the darkness, chastised by the howling wind. I could still hear the beast outside, muttering undecipherable words that drowned in the gale. Then it knocked upon the door:

Maria! Let me in!

I nearly jumped out of my skin. The voice was deep, rich and velvety, with all the resonance of a lute. It was a sexy voice, and I must confess, it almost made me swoon. I do not recall asking the phantom to enter – at least not verbally. But there was a crack in my resolve; a curious desire to know who or what he was. And no sooner had this thought crossed my mind, than the entity was looming over me, his huge horns spread amongst the eaves.

The very sight of him made me weak with fear. As I gazed into his eyes, I felt myself falling through the bed, deep into the earth. And as I fell, I was consumed by an overwhelming sense that my world would never be the same again – that I had crossed some spiritual threshold, and ventured into forbidden realms. I could neither see nor hear, for all was infinite blackness. A void of unknowing. Yet I sensed an overwhelming presence: a phenomenology of Universal Mind.

I must have blacked out, because the next thing I remember was the dawn light bleeding through the window. As for The Horned Man, he was gone. It might have been a dream. Except his wet footprints still gleamed upon the boards. Astonished, I bolted upright and crossed myself with holy water.

I didn’t see it at first.

I had to look twice.

A beautiful red rose was blooming in the stoup.

But what passed between us that night is a mystery.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

i. Leviticus, 26:21-23.

Image credit: La Bête du Gévaudan (detail). Public domain.

The Horned Man

Küsnacht, Lake Zürich, Switzerland. November 15, 1958.

Maria reclined on the couch as pellets of hail rattled the windows. Sitting beside her was an old man with grey hair and glasses. He had a mild face yet a bold charisma that seemed to bathe the room in light. It was none other than Dr. Jung:

‘Close your eyes, Maria. Just relax. Breathe deeply. It is extremely useful and desirable to know why we do certain things. Not the superficial worldly reasons. But the secret motives we keep hidden within ourselves. I want you to explain your vocation. Why you decided to become a nun…’

She thought deeply for a moment and a tear ran down her cheek:

‘I always believed that I had been called to serve Christ. My only desire was to be with God. It was God who called me to the cloister. Even as a child, I just knew there was another world than this; and there were people waiting for me that I could not see.’

‘Your ancestors?’

‘I didn’t know who they were, but I sensed their presence. And I felt their love. I had the strong sense of them existing beyond the face of the everyday world. More than a sense. It was a conviction. And I knew I would give my life to be with them. ’

‘Is that why you locked yourself away?’

‘I didn’t lock myself away. I locked the world out.’

‘Same thing, isn’t it? Living in a monastery. When did you first decide to take up the cowl?’

‘When I was six. My mother always said I would grow out of it. But as an adolescent, I began to feel an intense spiritual hunger. Of course, I didn’t know it back then, but my soul was starving for the Eucharist. When I was fifteen, I found a copy of The Life and Legend of the Lady St. Clare. It struck a deep chord with me. And I soon came to the realisation that my desire for God was the most significant part of my life. When I thought about it, I couldn’t think of a single moment when I didn’t have a yearning for God. My only wish was to be consecrated to Christ. That was my one overwhelming desire. To be with Him. To love Him. To follow Him. All the days of my life. In hidden light. It is the greatest love affair ever known.’

‘You make it sound wonderful.’

‘It is.’

‘Even so, you don’t become a nun overnight. How were you accepted into The Poor Clares?

‘It took many years. For the first six months I was called a postulant – because I was asking – postulating. I wore ordinary clothes and lived under strict observation. After which the chapter nuns voted to receive me into the order. Then I underwent the solemn ceremony of a “clothing”. I put off my worldly garments and put on the bride of our Lord, dressed in white. When the ceremony was over, I changed into the elementary habit and the bishop gave me the full insignia of the order. I then spent a year as a novice. After another vote, I made temporary vows for three years. Then I made solemn vows for life.’

‘And what did you wear then?’

‘My habit was a loose fitting cowl of gray frieze; the cord was of linen rope with four knots representing the four vows; my sandals were of cloth.’

‘You went through a great ordeal to become a nun.’

‘Yes. It It takes commitment and dedication to be accepted. But I knew I had found my place in the world.’

‘Then why did you jump over the wall?’

‘I didn’t jump.’

‘Sorry. It says here that you jumped.’

‘That’s just a wild rumour put about by the press. My release was granted by the Holy See. And I was collected by my mother.’

‘Was she pleased to see you?’

‘No. She had a face like sour milk. I wept when the bishop shut the gate. It felt so final and absolute, like being banned from Heaven. But my tears annoyed mother even more. She always liked pouring salt in my wounds: “I knew it wouldn’t last,” she said. “Selfish child. You should have listened to me in the first place. Upsetting your poor father. Wasting your education. Five whole years down the drain. We’ve been worried sick.” She chastised me at length, all the way back home.’

‘How did that make you feel?’

‘Angry. I sat in the back seat, listening to her flux de bouche, her copia verborum, her furor loquendi, her tongue running on wheels, as she rubbed my nose in it; she called me stupid, thoughtless and batty. I hated her for it. I wanted to pounce and strangle her. And I thought to myself, Christ, what have I done?’

‘Did your mother always rebuke you? Undermine you?’

‘Yes. As a child I learnt to switch off and ignore her. I would escape to the attic and play at fancy dress. But to leave the silence of the convent, and be subjected to her poisonous rant – it was very distressing.’

‘Tell me, what did you love most about the silence?’

‘Being with God.’

‘You found him easily?’

‘It was hard at first. I felt isolated and alone. Despite my expectations, God rarely spoke. Then I discovered the silence was the bigger part of the conversation. The best part of the day was early morning. Matins at 3 a.m. The Great Silence was from Compline until after Mass. It’s hard to live without that.’

‘Prayer opens the mind to a numinous realm. That’s how the primordial powers approach us. In prayer. And now you feel banished from that world.’

‘Yes. Once you dedicate yourself to prayer, the voice of God becomes clearer, louder.’

‘Did you always hear God in The Great Silence?

‘No. But I felt His presence.’

‘Yet despite your communion with Him, you were still miserable?’

‘As the years went by, I began to doubt myself. When God spoke, I could no longer distinguish between His voice and my own secret desires and expectations. I feared that I was deluding myself – talking to my subconscious. In the beginning the voice of God was unmistakable. But in my early twenties, the voice became garbled. Distant. How could I know it was God? Or something else entirely?’

‘What do you mean by that?’

She remains tight-lipped. He studies her for a moment then says:

‘Prayer also serves to focus all the powers of the human soul; and to strengthen the creative powers of the imagination. True consciousness is a collision with a numinous archetype, but its real psychoid essence cannot be comprehended. Yet when such a collision occurs within a person, their own subconscious becomes the Vox Dei. Alas, the psychoid nature of an archetype contains infinitely more than can be explained by mere psychological interpretation. It points to the sphere of the Unus Mundus – that unitary world where science and mysticism converge along separate paths. Yet one thing remains very odd to me…’

‘What doctor?’

‘Despite your renunciation, your faith remains strong. So why did you leave the cloister? All saints and mystics have doubts along the path to enlightenment. You’re hiding something from me. From yourself. What was the real reason for renouncing your vows?’

‘A regimented life of silence and solitude is not easy. The three main virtues are poverty, chastity and obedience. It was a life of penance and contemplation. We fasted at all times except on the Feast of the Nativity. The constitutions forbade meat, even at Christmas. We were allowed an hour of recreation a week. That’s the only time we could speak. But our conversation was strictly monitored. We were only allowed to talk about certain things.’

‘Such as?’

‘Anything within the catechism of the Catholic church was permitted; anything else, other than work, was forbidden.’

‘What was your work?’

‘Bread-making. Then there was the garden and livestock to take care of – which was back-breaking. Every aspect of life was geared to finding God. Even when doing the dishes or digging dung. He was the diamond, sparkling in the suds; He was the pearl, shining in the sods. But the diamonds and pearls slowly melted away.’

‘You became disillusioned?’

‘I tried finding God in the silence, but he’d vanished. His presence had just evaporated. Or at least, I could no longer sense Him. The silence began to feel dark and oppressive, as if it were trying to intimidate me. It was like living at the foot of a big brooding mountain.’

‘Why are you still hiding it?’

‘Hiding what?’

‘The real reason why you came here. You’ve travelled half-way across Europe to speak with me. But all I’ve heard so far is the story of a disillusioned nun. It’s a familiar tale. Especially where beautiful young women are concerned. You didn’t belong there. Plain and simple. Many adolescent girls sublimate their sexual awakening with love for the Christ. But as they grow into adulthood, they find the world holds greater sway.’

‘No. It’s not that.’

‘Then what? Tell me, what’s your overriding emotion after leaving The Poor Clares.’

‘Guilt.’

‘You feel guilty that God wasn’t enough?’

‘No. I feel guilty that I wasn’t enough. That I was found wanting. That I was weak and feeble. Taking up your vows is like travelling into the unknown, and waiting for God’s will. It’s like jumping off a cliff. Only Faith stops you from falling.[i] But I couldn’t endure it. The isolation. The loneliness. The cold.’

‘You slept alone, or in a dormitory?’

‘Alone.’

‘In a cell?’

‘No. We slept in sheds. Shacks. They stank of creosote. Mother Superior said it kept the germs at bay.’

‘Describe your shack.’

‘It was about ten by eight, with a bed and a cabinet made from an old orange box. There was a large black cross on the wall, a stoup of Holy water, a storm lantern, and a jug.’

‘No heating?’

‘No. After matins we went to the kitchens and took a hot brick from the oven. We wrapped it in paper and used it to warm the mattress. That’s when I felt most alone. Curled in the darkness, with the wind howling and the timbers creaking. During the winter storms, the whole shack shook to its foundations – and my very soul seemed threatened with demolition. I never imagined I could feel so wretched. They say that loneliness leads to Jesus. But it also leads weak souls away from Him.’

‘Is that how you see yourself? As weak?’

‘Yes.’

‘You had a crisis of faith. Did you consult Mother Superior about your feelings?’

‘I was reluctant to do so. But she knew I was unhappy. Then one day she found me crying by the compost heap.’

‘She offered no words of encouragement?’

‘Not really. She talked like a book. I expected some compassion and understanding. But she was angry and disappointed. I can still hear her, even now: “Our contemplative life of silence and prayer is not for everyone. But what keeps us here is the reality of the Divine Love we experience so deeply; the sisters we break bread with. This is the way my child: a solitude of the heart. Walk in it.”[ii] I think she looked down on me. She saw things in me that I would rather ignore.’

‘Such as?’

‘The obstacle in the way of my salvation.’

‘Which is?’

‘My shadow.’

He smiled:

‘Your shadow?’

‘Yes. That’s why I came to you Dr. Jung. I’ve read all your work. I want to become a psychoanalyst.’

‘Indeed? The human experience is strange and full of the deepest mysteries. We live in a material world with iron clad physical laws, at the mercy of Nature, our lives beset with cruelty and conflict. Few souls can endure such existence without recourse to a higher power. It is one thing to determine the transcendent origin of a numinous communication, but quite another to prove its infallibility, even its authenticity. The search for God is never how we planned. For God is full of surprises.’

‘Like my Shadow?’

‘Precisely. Can you describe it?’

‘You will think me mad.’

‘Not at all. What was it?’

‘Not what, but who.’

‘Then who was it?’

‘The Horned Man.’

He glares sternly over the rim of his spectacles and asks:

‘The Devil?’

‘I thought so at first. But I came to know him better.’

‘When did you first see The Horned Man?’

‘Ash Wednesday 1954, during my first year with The Poor Clares.’

‘How did he appear?’

‘He came to my shack in the small hours. A spectre in the darkness.’

‘A spirit?’

‘Yes.’

‘Were you frightened?’

‘Petrified. My horror was so great, I almost fainted. Yet I felt that I knew him.’

‘From where?’

‘From somewhere else. He had a tormented, infernal quality. But not malevolent. What disturbed me most was my recognition of him: a feeling that we had met before.’

‘Who do you think he was?’

‘My shadow. I’ve already told you.’

Your Shadow. Perhaps. Perhaps not. How many times did you meet him?’

‘Three. But I wouldn’t call them meetings. They were more like confrontations…’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Plastic Babes

plastic_babe

Sunhill Asylum, November 1, 1963.

Maria knocks on the door and Pontius bids her in.

‘I’m glad you came Maria. Sorry to call you at such short notice. But some important documents relating to Jack Vallis have just arrived.’

‘What documents?’

‘Pictures. Well, descriptions of pictures to be exact. The actual photographs were deemed too obscene and have been destroyed. But the details are listed here. Please take a seat…’

Concerned, she sits and asks coyly:

‘What details exactly?

‘I hope you’re prepared for this sort of thing.’

‘I wasn’t born yesterday Dr. Pontius. And I know all about the pictures they found in Vallis’ home.’

‘Well you don’t know about these particular pictures, because the police only dug out the file last week.’

She sighs and crosses her legs:

‘Very well, go on then…’

‘It’s a long list. I mean, would you prefer to read it yourself?’

‘No Dr. Pontius. You read it. You’re obviously pleased as punch, so out with it…’

Slightly nervous, he rummages through the file:

‘Er, very well then, now where were we, ah yes, the forensic descriptions…

1. A grown woman dressed in an opalescent pink plastic baby-romper; she sucks on a dummy whilst fondling her breasts and crotch.

2. A blonde maiden dressed in a transparent macintosh decorated with dollies and teddy bears; she’s ball gagged and wears an oversized diaper that bulges profusely at the rear.

3. A center-spread of two adult women dressed in diapers and high heels. Both are full-breasted glamour models with red glossy lips, and cherry tattoos on their ankles…

‘That particular photo is entitled “AB Hunnies” … Er, in case you don’t know, AB is an acronym for Adult Baby, by-the-way… Where was I. Ah yes, number four…’

4. A nurse feeding an adult baby girl who is cocooned in a soft vinyl cat-suit, with vinyl mittens and socks; she is hooded in a gimp mask and sucks a dummy strapped to her head.

5. An article entitled “Daily-Diapers” – a story about regression and loosing control of your bladder.

6. Two girls in filly silk frocks, entwined on a four-poster bed. Both wear oversized diapers and suck on teated bottles.

7. A woman in patent thigh boots and a terry nappy under translucent pantaloons. She reclines on a couch, legs akimbo, moaning as she pleasures herself with a dildo. Attached to her breasts are suction cups that draw milk from her nipples.

‘Stop’, bids Maria. ‘That’s enough. I get the picture. Vallis is a pervert.’

‘I did warn you about him, didn’t I…’

‘Yes, Dr. Pontius, you did. And I ignored you for good reason. These erotic impulses, however degenerate they may appear to your Freudian sensibilities, are part of the Shadow and must be integrated into the whole person.’

‘You’re just making excuses.’

‘How so?’

He leers:

‘Admit it Maria: you’ve had a soft spot for Vallis ever since you arrived. Ever since he caused you to faint.’

‘That’s not true. My interest in the patient is purely professional. But as I see it, his infantilism stems from his disorder, and not the other way round.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Meaning that he – or rather – she, is an untreated transsexual. And as such, her sexuality has been thwarted from an early age; what we see now is the clinical result of a girl who’s never been allowed to develop normally. Imagine what it must be like, living in the wrong body, becoming fixated on all the pleasures denied in youth – especially by a neglectful and unloving mother.’

‘So what will you do? Take Vallis in your arms and suckle him?’

She bristles and tosses her hair:

‘Don’t be impertinent. But I think, instead of a full frontal lobotomy, we should prescribe a course of oestrogen, followed by a surgical sex change after two years. It’s been done before, and with remarkable results. I’ve studied the case histories. They’re highly convincing. I mean, if you saw those transsexuals in the ladies changing room, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. You’d never know that they were “men” at all.’

‘A sex change is out of the question. You seem to forget that Vallis has gone through puberty. He’s been on testosterone his whole life. Two years on oestrogen isn’t going to fix that – and you know it. Vallis could never pass as a woman.’

‘Does it really matter?’

‘Well, it does in the ladies changing room! Especially when other women feel threatened by what is obviously a man in drag!’

‘I think that’s very unkind, Dr. Pontius. You’re being prejudicial, ignorant and foolish.’

‘No. What’s foolish is your liberal attitude. You want to grant Vallis human rights that have been denied him by Nature.’

‘There are many human rights denied by Nature. The history of medicine is full of them: tumours and deformities to name a few.’

‘What are you saying? That Vallis suffers a bodily deformity? That’s got to be the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. How can he be deformed?’

‘That’s what he claims.’

‘Well, if you’re going to play that card, it’s a very mild deformity at best. I mean, his suffering is nothing compared to someone with spina bifida or neurofibromatosis. There was a deformed man who lived in our street before the war. He was born with a fused spine. They called him The Folded Man. He spent his whole life bent double, with his head between his knees. And that’s how he went about, like a puppet with broken strings. The kids threw stones at him, called him “Clothes Peg”, and made his life hell. So don’t talk of deformity in a healthy adult male like Jack Vallis.’

‘Oh I don’t know. I think being trapped in the wrong sex must be the worst deformity of all, don’t you?’

‘Deformity has nothing to do with it. Vallis is playing with you. It’s a Freudian masquerade. A case of fetishism, pure and simple.’

‘Think what you like Dr. Pontius. But that masquerade has eaten Vallis up: it’s destroyed his whole life. And now you want to finish the job by cutting his brains out. What kind of a cure is that? Wouldn’t it be kinder just to remove his penis instead?’

He winces in disbelief:

‘What? Are you crazy? I can’t believe you’re giving in to him like that! Cut off his penis? Why? So he can indulge his auto-erotic fetishes? So he can dress in plastic pants and become a plastic baby girl, and ape the women in pornographic magazines?’

‘I don’t think it’s fetishism at all. His psycho-sexual infantilism is a displacement activity; a safety valve, if you like. Freud resorts to “infantile transference” whereby a subject projects phantasy into fetishistic objects; and via transfiguration, they compensate for the difficulties of life.’

‘Granted. But the sexual constellation is the driving force behind all human fate. And an infantile sexual constellation is the strongest force of all. You won’t cure Vallis with cognative therapy. Believe me, he’s wired that way.’

‘Unlike Freud, I’m an optimist: I believe in the supremacy of the subject, not the object; I believe in a patient’s triumph and liberty, not in the thwarting forces of his existence. Every human being has individual needs; and our sex lives are dependant on certain contingent conditions. A fetish is not necessarily pathological. Besides, male fetishism always ends in a depreciation of the female; but Vallis adores women; he idolises them.’

‘But he fears them as sexual partners.’

‘Only because he feels like an imposter. He claims his penis is too small to pleasure a woman. In point of fact, his penis disgusts him.’

‘I’m not sure that it does. He once confessed to masturbating in front of a mirror whilst dressed as Scarlet O’Hara.’

‘That may be true, but the centre of his sexual attraction is not focused on a woman’s genitals. He prefers them half-clad in sensuous undergarments. Believe it or not, he’s more interested their personalities… What women think and feel. That’s what he identifies with the most.’

‘You make him sound like a saint.’

‘And I’ll tell you something else: Vallis denies ever seeing those pictures. He claims the authorities planted them.’

‘Of course he does. And you believe him? Of course you do. Just like you believe everything else he says. Do you still believe he can walk through walls?’

She sighs wearily, then goes to the window, peering out at the barren rose beds:

‘I don’t know what to believe any more. Vallis is very resistant to analysis.’

‘You regret coming here?’

‘No, not at all.’

‘I thought you were itching for your old life. The Carmelite convent. The Poor Clares. You feel guilty for renouncing your vows?’

‘Not really. Although I miss my sisters in Christ. I miss the silence. The peace.’

‘You won’t find peace in this place. Not ever. Sunhill has a knack for driving doctors insane. Look what happened to Hardy. He was obsessed with Vallis, just like you.’

She turns to face him:

‘I’m not obsessed.’

‘Of course you are. There are plenty of other patients in Sunhill, or had you forgotten?’

‘Please, Dr. Pontius, don’t lobotomise Vallis. Let me work with him just a little longer.’

He thinks gravely for a moment, pinching his lip. Then he concedes:

‘Very well. I will postpone his lobotomy on one condition: that you forget all this nonsense about The Old World. All this hocus-pocus about his powers. Comprendez?’

‘Yes Dr. Pontius, of course. I understand. Really, I do.’

‘Good. One thing you learn at Sunhill is that insanity can be infectious. Like the hysteria that spreads through female institutions. One girl spies the Devil, and before you know it, they are all demoniacs, possessed with sexual frenzy. Have you read The Devils of Loudun?’

‘Of course. In fact, Aldous Huxley is my favourite author.’

He smiles:

‘I’m more of a Dickens man, myself. Do you like Dickens?’

‘I haven’t read much Dickens to be honest. Just A Christmas Carol, in my teens. I always found it such a convincing ghost story. He describes the spirit world so well.’

‘Is that so?’

‘Was he a Christian, do you know?’

‘Dickens was born into a Anglican family. But he detested religious dogma of all kinds. I’ve read all his novels. My favourite is Hard Times. You can borrow it if you like.’

‘Thank you. As for infectious hysteria, I’ll keep The Devils of Loudun in mind.’

‘Good. So tell me, how will you proceed exactly? With Vallis, I mean.’

‘I’m not sure yet.’

‘You still deny that Vallis is man?’

‘No. I don’t deny that Vallis is a man. A biological man, that is. Yet I cannot deny that Vallis is also a psychical hermaphrodite.’

‘The only true hermaphrodite in Nature is the amœba – the sole connecting link of all terrestrial life with the primodial protoplasm[i]. Then of course, we have the phylogenetic worms, whose organs of each sex are equally developed; both testis and ovaries. But Vallis has been X-Rayed top to bottom; he’s had barium swallow tests, full blood work, pelvic examinations, and even an examination by a gynaecologist. Needless to say, the results were normal. Not one single vestige of hermaphroditism. The fact is Maria, that effemination and viraginity, are caused by that immutable law layed down by Darwin – the law of reversion to ancestral types.[ii] Vallis suffers from a mental disturbance whose sole aim is to return him to the primal hermaphroditic form. It’s a psychic effort to resolve male and female into a single monad.’

She looks surprised and taken aback.

‘Ah! So you admit that such a condition exists?’

‘Of course.’

‘Then why proceed with lobotomy?’

‘Because it will make Vallis happy, that’s why.’

‘Happy?’ She fumes. ‘How can the destruction of his wits make him happy?’

‘Well, it will infantilize him, for a start. The adult brain is held within the frontal lobes; once those connections are cut, the character of childhood becomes predominant. His effeminization will find a more suitable home in the enervations of the nursery, which is ignorant of moral and sexual decadence. You must be aware that psychic hermaphroditism does not occur naturally in uncivilized races; simply because that atavistic travesty of Nature cannot affect robust stock. But the modern world is a hot-bed of sexual neurosis. Little wonder that the offspring of hysteria should be neurasthenic transsexuals, who suffer from erotic delusions! Effeminacy was very prevalent before the fall of Rome. Read Juvenal. Neurotic mothers, bringing men into the world who had the tastes, desires and habits of women. Dr. Hardy knew that. And he was right about Vallis: effemination always follows in the wake of luxury and debauchery.’

She stands there, glaring in defiance then asks:

‘How long have I got?’

‘I’ll give you two weeks.’

‘Two weeks? Is that all? What am I supposed to do in two weeks?’

‘Prove yourself. What else? Integrate his Shadow.’

He sniggers.

‘You find that funny?’

‘Oh! Come on Maria, lighten up! It was just a joke.’

‘You’re determined to see me fail, aren’t you Dr. Pontius? Tell me, who do you hate the most – me or Jung?’

‘I’ve got great respect for you. And for Jung.’

‘Or perhaps you’re just a mysogenist?’

‘That’s nonsense. Besides, I’ve just given you a reprieve, haven’t I? Two weeks. I think that’s fair, don’t you? Especially considering the detrimental effect Vallis has on the rest of this hospital.’

‘Two weeks. You promise?’

‘You have my word. Er, I hope you don’t take me for a fool.’

‘Not at all, Dr. Pontius. Why?’

‘Are you and Vallis in this together?’

‘In what together?’

‘His prophecy regarding the assination of President Kennedy.’

‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. Jack makes lots of prophecies.’

‘Yes. But in point of fact, I’ve already promised to cancel Jack’s lobotomy if this prophecy comes true.’

‘Oh?’

‘He forced me into a verbal contract, witnessed by matron and Bob Hallet, the night warden. According to Vallis, Kennedy will be assinated on the 22nd of November.’

‘First I’ve heard of it. And do you have any intention of honouring this contract?’

‘Don’t be absurd. Six months ago, Vallis predicted the Apocalypse. The day came and went, and we’re all still here. Vallis is a rabid Christian fundamentalist one minute, and an infantile sexual hedonist the next.You have two weeks to prove yourself. Understand?’

She strides to the door then stops and says:

‘Er, did you know that there’s a monkey running loose in this hospital?’

He gasps:

‘A monkey? Are you sure?’

‘Yes. I saw it on the stairs this morning. At first I thought it was a cat. But it was a monkey. A Capuchin, I think.’

He begins to panic:

‘A Capuchin? What stairs? Where?’

‘The flight leading up to your flat.’

‘My flat?’

‘Yes. I looked for you there after breakfast. Funny that. Vallis talks to an imaginary monkey for years and no one believes him. Then it materializes out of thin air. What do you think of that? Hocus-pocus?

She twinkles and shuts the door quietly behind her.

Pontius draws pale and trembles in his chair, his finger nails rattling on the desk:

‘Christ,’ he mutters. ‘The Capuchin…’

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

Image credit: photo used with kind permission of the webmaster at Plastic-Babe.com

Polygon Two

Unus_Mundus__Bomb_Woman_Ink_Blot_2_by_Nicholas_Shea

Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment or illumination which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence—would make him almost a member of a new species.[i]

Sunhill Asylum, December 25, 1959. 3:30 p.m.

After winding down a long corridor, Jack led Blyth and Sims into the morgue. Proceeding directly to the refrigeration units, Jack opened a large steel door that concealed a service elevator. Entering, the three men descended into the basement. Sims stood stupefied as the doors slid open. Before him was a futuristic laboratory illumed by red light. He had the uncanny sense that he had seen it in a dream: a vast underground complex of vaulted bays, that stretched away like a wilderness of mirrors. He reeled for a moment, unsteady on his feet, his perceptions confounded by a labyrinth of pillared arches. Built of brick, the subterranean edifice had the semblance of an Escher lithograph – a realm of paradox, where space itself was inverted.

Sims stepped from the elevator and peered down the aisle. The place was deserted, but no less unnerving. Specimen jars lined the far wall, with deep dissections of the human head: a median section of the cortex, showing the brain stem, midbrain, pons and cerebellum; the cranial nerves, exposed posteriorly, displaying the vagus nerves, spinal ganglions, dorsal ramus and spinal root; the middle cranial fossa, showing the tentorium cerebelli, cut away to reveal the courses of the trochlear and trigeminal nerves; a coronal section of the brain, showing a full frontal lobotomy, and the severed fibres between the pre-frontal cortex and the anterior frontal lobes… Sims shuddered at these materialist explorations of consciousness. Was he nothing more than a lump of meat? A deterministic creature, ruled by sensuous impulses and unconscious biological predicates? Everywhere he looked were signs of vivisection: surgical trolleys with cranial clamps, leather restraints, braces and calipers. In the chambers beyond he saw iron-lungs, incubators, aspirators, cardiographs, resuscitators, and X-ray machines. But what really got his attention was a colossal mainframe with flashing lights that droned in the gloom. He should have been astounded by this electronic mastermind. But he felt strangely unmoved and dissociated. He flinched as the teleplotter burst into life, rattling out a line of text that seemed to mock his empirical career. There were realms unintelligible. Things beyond the algebra of quantities; beyond the theory of limits, derivatives and differentials. How could he remain constant in such a world? He was no longer a man of self-subsistent intelligence; he was not self-governed, self-controlled, self-regulated or self-directed. His entire life was subject to a will beyond his own. The will of the Sidhe. Anxious, he stood apart from himself and feigned his enthusiasm:

‘Wow! What I wouldn’t give for a computer like that at Leconfield House. That’s an IBM, isn’t it?’

‘Correct,’ replied Jack. ‘The IBM 7090. The first fully transistorized mainframe. It can perform 229,000 calculations per second. If I’m not mistaken, the U.S. Air Force uses them run its Ballistic Missile Early Warning System. This particular device uses the IBM 305 Random Access Method of Accounting and Control. A disk storage system. In less than a second, the RAMAC’s “random access” arm can retrieve data stored on any of 50 spinning disks.’

This was a new Jack they were seeing. Not the lunatic who talked to crows, but Jack the engineer, knowledgable, articulate and charming. Dressed in white lab coat, he looked quite at home in this ward of Death, with its surgical terrors, flashing lights and whirring tapes.

‘What is this place?’ asked Blyth, astonished.

‘This is Operation Cyclops,’ replied Jack. ‘A top secret CIA funded program to explore the frontiers of human consciousness. It sounds very grand and altruistic. But the real aim is to develop psychic spies. Except the word “psychic” is never allowed. Principally because it is associated with madcap gypsies who read crystal balls, tarot cards and tea-leaves. The CIA prefers the term “remote viewer” instead. Atheists don’t like dealing in the occult; it’s far too vague and nebulous. Everything must be nailed down in scientific terms. They see through a glass darkly. Such are their materialist preconceptions. They use pseudo-physics to interpret the spiritual world. Instead of saying “intuitive” they resort to long-winded quantum mechanical theories that attempt to explain the nature of consciousness and how it interfaces with the space-time continuum. As for those computers, they’re very primitive devices indeed. I can give the value of PI correct to 500,000 decimal places just off the top of my head.’

‘We don’t have time for that now,’ grins Blyth. ‘We came here to build TERGA, remember?’

‘Of course – this way gentlemen…’

Jacks leads them down the aisle where six aluminium vats bubble in the gloom. Each tank is fed by an umbilicus of wires, which snake along the floor to the mainframe.

‘It looks like a brewery,’ joked Sims.

‘Don’t jest,’ shuddered Blyth. ‘It looks very sinister to me.’

‘They’re floatation tanks,’ replied Jack grimly. ‘That’s where I do my work.’

‘Are you given any choice in all this?’ asked Blyth. ‘The frontiers of human consciousness? It’s bloody inhuman, locking you in that thing.’ He glances above where a supended rail runs along the ceiling with a harness and hoist. ‘This place is no better than an abattoir. They treat men like racks of beef. How convenient that the lift goes straight to the morgue. These people should be stopped.’

‘Stopped?’ balked Jack. ‘Forget it. You’re out of your depth. You have absolutely no idea what “these people” are capable of. Human Potential Unlimited isn’t concerned with advancing humankind. On the contrary. All they care about is power. They want to exploit Psi for their own ends. In particular, the development of psychotronic weapons.’

‘Psychotronic?’ asked Sims.

‘Essentially it’s a form of micro-telekinesis that targets electronic circuits. Imagine being able to diffuse a bomb or destroy a computer with the power of your mind.’

‘The implications are terrifying,’ said Blyth, dipping his head in thought. ‘Can you do that Jack?’

‘Of course. But don’t try saving me from “these people”. They’ve got covert operations all over the globe. In every asylum, hospital, orphanage and dentist. They’re responsible for the most heinous crimes against humanity – crimes that make Joseph Mengele look like an angel of mercy. Think of all the doctors in their employ – men who experiment on people like me – thousands of human guinea pigs in asylums throughout America and Europe. Even a fine spook like you, playing outside the law, hasn’t got a hope in hell of bringing them down.’

Sims peered into the tank, his reflection lurching in a pool of dark liquid that slurped against the walls:

‘It looks very claustrophobic. I can’t imagine being locked in there all day. How do you manage it?’

‘I feel quite liberated when submerged. Consciousness is a free agent. Mummy Selena sends me everywhere. I’ve been to some very exotic places.’

‘Clairvoyance?’ asked Blyth.

Jack laughed at the naïvety of his question:

‘Of course it’s clairvoyance! Although clairvoyance is sometimes confused with telepathy – especially when there is a strong sympathy between the person seeing and the person being seen. Clairvoyance, yes, certainly. But not in the traditional sense. It is the result of a long series of logical processes. Think of it as a conscious calculation. Although even that explanation is rather misleading, because it’s subconscious cognition that’s required. That, and the gateway action of a psychoactive agent.’

‘Cyclops?’ asked Sims. ‘How does it work?’

‘To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I try not to think about it. I just do it. According to Mummy Selena, Cyclops acts on the pineal; it turns the brain into a coherent oscillator that resonates in harmony with the electrostatic field of the Earth. The mind becomes entrained with the pulse of the planet. Consciousness is a continuum, homogenous with the cosmos. Once you accept this, it is a simple matter of attuning yourself. You see, the human brain – indeed the whole human body – is an energy system. Consciousness creates, stores, and retrieves meaning by holographic thought transmission. The entire universe is a hologram: a recording of all that ever was and all that ever shall be. Absolute consciousness is the fundamental datum of existence; a primal power which transcends infinity itself; it has no beginning nor end, and exists in a state of limitless being. Between our world and the Absolute, there are various intervening spheres. I like to think of them as bubbles – dimensions which altered states of consciousness can access. Within the tank, I can focus my mind anywhere in Time and Space. Cyclops is the all seeing eye of God…’

‘You observe the past, as well as the future?’ asked Blyth.

‘Past, present and future are human constructs. All temporalities exist simultaneously. But our filtered experience of reality necessitates a linear sequence to comprehend the deterministic concept of cause and effect. Time is a chronological illusion. Our subjective consciousness is a complementary manifestation of quantum non-locality, which manifests the principle of free-will in generating individual history.’

Sims scratched at his temple, his forehead crumpled, as he worked it all out:

‘Time is an illusion?’ he puzzled. ‘Does that not invalidate Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?’

‘Not at all,’ replied Jack. ‘Because the communication of sub-atomic particles takes place outside the dimension of spacetime to which Relativity is confined. What we think of as history remains an interactive process within the quantum realm. Jungian synchronicity isn’t far off the mark. Our subjective existential condition forms an essential and complementary aspect to our material reality; the sentient brain is an interface between the cosmic hologram and our experience of spacetime. Without the collective unconscious, this physical world wouldn’t exist at all. We are born of the Dreamtime. That’s one thing I learnt using Cyclops. The human brain is a quantum computer of godlike power.’

‘Operation Cyclops sounds much like TERGA,’ remarked Blyth.

‘There are indeed many similarities,’ admitted Jack. ‘But there’s one crucial difference. Whilst Cyclops facilitates the expansion of consciousness, TERGA amplifies and brings it into sharp focus. With Cyclops, the mind can go anywhere whilst out of the body. But with TERGA, the actual physical body is transported across an interdimensional portal. I know what you’re thinking. It sounds impossible. But you’ll find out for yourself, soon enough.’

‘And you can solve the paradox, by taking us back to the Old World?’ asked Sims.

‘The Old World runs parallel to this; it’s another dimension, with another you and another me. It’s not so much the past, as a parallel existence.’

Blyth dips his hand into the tank and sniffs a black amniotic fluid that sticks to his fingers like molasses.

‘What is this stuff? It feels like oil, but smells like perfume. Sandalwood, if I’m not mistaken.’

‘I find the smell quite intoxicating,’ mused Jack, wistfully. ‘It reminds me of Mummy Selena. She has such a beautiful body… She has taken me to so many wonderful places… Realms beyond your wildest dreams… I can be anything in the tank. Anything at all. She can turn me into a frog, or even a princess.’

Blyth didn’t rise to that. ‘Where did you go last?’ he asked, wiping his hand on a hanky.

‘My main area of study is Semipalatinsk. A region in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakh.’

Blyth was familiar with the intel from Semipalatinsk; his files at MI6 were full of it. But what had Jack gleaned inside the tank? He was curious to know.

‘Can you tell us what happens at Semipalatinsk?’

‘I’m not sure if I should,’ replied Jack, timidly. ‘I’ve signed the Official Secrets Act.’

‘But so have we,’ pushed Blyth. ‘We’re on the same side, remember? I’d like to know if MI6 got it right. If our intel matches yours. Why give everything to the CIA? The Americans have signed the UKUSA Agreement. The CIA is supposed to share intelligence, not use our hospitals to research their own secret programs. The frontiers of human consciousness? MI6 exists to protect the Sovereign and defend our shores. To do that, we intercept thousands of communications every year. We are building an important picture of Soviet military capability: mobilisation plans; technical capacity of the armed forces, and the industry which supports them. All imports into Russia are closely monitored by our agents, including cost, number of boxes, weight, invoice numbers, and final destination. In 1948 I was in Czechoslovakia, monitoring the dispatch of goods from the Tesla firm; everything from galvanometers and radio valves, to cathode ray tubes and ionization chambers. All invoices of copper wire were relayed back to London; they were particularly interested in gauge and length. These are clues to the final component; transmission coils; solenoids; power transformers; dynamos; motors, you name it… We took even the smallest order very seriously. Nothing was too trivial to be ignored or overlooked. Both goods in and out. Inventory of leather cases; rubber tyres; fuses; shellac, solder, iodine, soap and toilet paper… Most of the information we gathered was useless. But you’re always on the lookout for something strange and eclectic. A signal in the noise. In March of that year, London came across an order from the Chief Directorate of Control of Entertainments in Moscow. It gave strict instructions to forbid the performance of the following folk songs: “Why do you destroy me, you foolish woman”, “Golden Hills”, “The Moon Has Turned Red”, “Along the Old Kulga Road”, “The Love of Stepan Razin”, “My Mother Once Sent Me To Gather White Mushrooms”, “The Stone Mason and The Midges”… You might be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Because I suspected the songs were keys to a cipher. One thing I learnt early is that the Russian Ministry for State Security are consumate mischief-makers. They love hiding things in plain sight. As it turned out, I was wrong. The songs were popular with the proletariat and peasantry before the revolution. Stepan Razin was a Cossack bandit who operated on the Volga river. Most of his victims belonged to the well-to-do merchant classes. Streets in several towns, including Moscow, are named after him. My keys were useless. Bletchley Park spent a good deal of time and resources chasing up a false lead. After that, I was demoted and told to concentrate my efforts on industrial items only. Fortunately, I had the good sense to ignore the order. Months later, I came across an invoice that referred to tackle for “cigars”. I later learned that “cigars” was Russian slang for torpedoes… So, if you have any information pertaining to the safety of the Realm, I strongly advise you to share it now. Tell me, what happens at Semipalatinsk?’

Jack hesitated, surly and insulted. ‘You want to test me? You don’t believe in my bodiless state? You doubt the power of Cyclops?’

Blyth shrugged:

‘Prove it.’

‘Why should I? I have already given proof of Life after Death. That we exist after dissolution of the body. Q.E.D. Your message from Yelena. Does that count for nothing? And what of Sims and the Sidhe? He knows I speak the truth. I saw him on Wolf Fell, when out of the body. Despite your unwordly encounter, you’re in denial, the pair of you…’

‘I don’t doubt your psychic talent,’ admitted Blyth. ‘But to leave your body and travel half-way round the globe, that’s quite another thing. Tell me about Semipalatinsk.’

‘I can’t tell you.’

‘You must. If you want to build TERGA and return to The Old World, we’re your only hope. Sims has the magnetron tube, remember? Without it, TERGA is useless…’

Jack pondered for a moment, his fingers rapping on the tank. He knew that Blyth had him over a barrel. Without the magnetron, they’d be stuck in Limbo forever. Blyth and Sims remained unconvinced. They needed more evidence. If they were to enter the portal, Jack would have to reveal everything. At length he said:

‘Very well, I’ll tell you what I know… The Soviets have constructed an Experimental Proving Ground in the Kazakh steppes. A nuclear test site, known as “Polygon No. 2”.’

‘Is that true, sir?’ asked Sims.

Blyth looked more than a little concerned as Jack continued:

‘…It’s a sprawling site covering some 6000 square miles. No doubt the location was determined by the proximity of the South Urals military-industrial complex, with a well developed transportation infrastructure, including a railroad and the Irtish river navigation.’

‘And you view all this remotely?’ asked Sims. ‘From inside a floatation tank?’

‘Only my physical body is in the tank, you understand? But what defines me – my consciousness – is somewhere else entirely. The out-of-body state occurs when the brain enters a hypnagogic state comparable to REM sleep. The mainframe supplies a resonant binaural auditory feedback loop of 7 Hz. This invokes a synchronic pulse between the hemispheres. At which point lucid visions are induced. But sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re looking at. Visions can be vague and indistinct. Mummy Selena hates “inconclusive evidence”. A vision must be sharp and clear. And for that to happen, consciousness must be detached from the physical in a large measure. During the initial trails, I repeatedly observed an iron tower beside a concrete building. At first, I thought it was the headgear for a mine shaft. Or water tower. But then I saw the flash… Suddenly, far-off on the steppe, a shining white-fireball grew on the horizon. It turned yellow-orange, then bright red, flattening at the bottom. Between the rippling clouds, the stalk of a thermonuclear mushroom began to form. The shock-wave sped across the plains, flattening the forests, uprooting trees and snapping them like matchsticks. There came a terrible ungodly howling, as if all the demons of Hell had been unchained from the pit. The blast went right through me. What followed is hard to explain. I always believed my astral body was indestructible. But I felt a total dispersal of soul, as if its essence had been annihilated. My perceptions were shattered. It seemed that consciousness itself was obliterated. I had fallen into a subatomic realm, where all was void and indistinct. It took a titanic effort to gather my wits. To remember who I was, what I was, where I was from; that I was not there, but somewhere else. But I couldn’t recall where that “somewhere” was. My entire existence had the dim semblance of a dream; as if my consciousness had been shrunk to that of a beetle who dwells in a murky pond. But gradually, my human awareness returned, and I found myself prostrate on the steppe, my mouth full of dust. I groped about, trying to get my bearings. The earth was swept clean, scoured and blown away. The intense heat had fused the soil into glassy puddles. Then I found the bunker. Built like a pillbox, it had narrow lancets and fortified walls. But I penetrated them with ease. Inside was an observation facility, full of instruments and men in black goggles. I gleaned significant information there.’

‘Such as?’ queried Blyth.

‘Bomb yield; elevation; meteorological data; external radiation dose…That sort of thing. Each man was equipped with a dosimeter: a simple device with a thimble ionization chamber and photographic film. Photometric indication of radiation exposure is crude but effective. Such instrumentation was needed to estimate the destructive effects of the nuclear blast, and to enforce future safety measures. Their main concern was civil defence and troop protection in the event of a full scale nuclear attack.’

‘How many detonations have you witnessed?’ asked Sims.

‘Hard to say, exactly. When submerged in the tank, I remain entranced in a deep hypnotic state. Although, more accurately, it is a transcendental state. During submersion, I relay all experiences to Mummy Selena. But she often “clears” me before surfacing. A security measure. I should mention that the Soviet tests dwarf TRINITY in terms of their sophistication and scale. The mushroom clouds are bigger – much bigger; they tower into the upper atmosphere for miles, menacing, dark and terrible… I must have observed every single test at Semipalatinsk, going back as far as 1949. I can’t remember them all. But one remains foremost in my mind. On 12 August 1953, I witnessed the first Soviet hydrogen bomb, the RDS-6s. Andrei Sakharov called it “sloika”, or “layered cake”, named after a type of puff pastry, because it used a layer-cake design of fission and fusion fuels (uranium 235 and lithium-6 deuteride). He came up with the idea of adding a shell of natural, unenriched uranium around the deuterium. This increased deuterium concentration at the uranium boundary, which multiplied the overall yield of the device. The natural uranium captured neutrons and then fissioned as part of the thermonuclear reaction. Sakharov knew the yield would be bigger, but couldn’t estimate by how much. As a precaution, the authorities decided to remove the entire population from the fallout zone. This was based on the forecast of NE-SW wind, with a velocity of 40-50 kilometres per hour. The population deemed at risk was relocated to the village of Karaul, 200 kilometres from the test site. However, Sloika was far more powerful than expected. A 470 kiloton yield device, detonated at an elevation of 100 meters. The blast was ten times greater than any previous Soviet test. And the wind velocity turned out to be twice as high. Even worse, the direction changed as the radioactive cloud moved. As a consequence, evacuees found themselves under the cloud some three hours after detonation. Nor was evacuation complete, for large groups of people stayed behind. Needless to say, their ionizing radiation dose was fatal. I wandered around Karaul for hours, as a sticky grey ash fell on the land. When dusk fell, all the houses and crops were covered. It was an apocalyptic sight, with wailing children and whimpering dogs. Unaware of the danger, people went about comforting their livestock, wheezing and coughing. Everyone was bleeding from the eyes, nose and ears. I knew the entire village was doomed… Years after, survivors are still consuming contaminated food and drink. I will spare you the grisly details of what radionuclides do to living tissue: the ravaging cancers of the thyroid, gastrointestinal tract, skin and skeleton. The whole body comes apart. The flesh literally falls from the bones. If you’re lucky, you get shot in the head. If you’re unlucky, you get an aspirin.’

‘And what are the Russians working on now?’ asked Blyth. ‘Do you know?’

‘I can give detailed plans, right down to the trigger mechanisms… Do you believe me now?’

‘I believe you,’ muttered Blyth, gravely.

Jack smiled and pointed to a pair of green doors with round windows. The sign above read: SURGERY ONE.

‘Everything we need to build TERGA is in there: monitors, coils, capacitors and shielding. I presume you brought a soldering iron?’

Sims removes one from his pocket and waves it in the air like a magic wand.

‘Good,’ said Jack. ‘Shall we get started? Before the moon turns red? I’ve always wanted to sabotage an ECT machine…’

This was the moment of truth that Sims had been waiting for. To prove that TERGA was a hoax. To refute Vallis and all his crazy claims. To expose his Apocalypse as nothing more than the ravings of madman. But Sims could not refute the mystery of the Sidhe. What really happened on Wolf Fell? The dimensional totality of the creative order, Jack said. It was a gift. A gift of the Sidhe. But Sims didn’t want it. He preferred to forget. To block it out. He felt the ghoulish horde was all about him still, watching, waiting…

‘Are you coming?’ asked Jack.

Sims couldn’t move. The surgery doors were foreboding and shrouded in gloom. The round windows seemed to stare back at him, like malevolent eyes of darkness. He had the distinct feeling of déjà vu – that he’d done all this before – not just once, but a thousand times. Part of him wanted to run away. His committal seemed like only yesterday. How many years did he spend in Balinasloe? The past was a blur. Ever since that hideous thing flew out from a mound. Ever since he fell off his bike on the road to Kilcolgan… And now he was stuck in the bowels of another asylum. He didn’t want to go through with it. With TERGA. He was in mind to smash the magnetron to smithereens. That would put an end to this madness once and for all…

Jack vanished through the surgery doors and a flicker of neon light sparkled through the glass. Blyth was about to follow, but Sims remained rooted to the spot, pale as ashes.

‘Are you all right Sims?’ asked Blyth. You’re not having second thoughts are you?’

‘Must we really go through with it, sir?’

‘But we’ve come so far, Sims. Too much has happened to give up now.’

‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this. I don’t want to go in there.’

‘Why ever not?’

‘I’m afraid I might never come out. SURGERY ONE; the green doors; I’ve seen them before.’

‘When?’

‘I don’t know. I can’t remember.’

‘Oh come now, all surgeries look alike, don’t they?’

‘If you say so.’

‘We’re in this together, aren’t we Sims?’

‘Yes sir, together. But do you believe in everything Vallis says?’

‘Such as?’

‘That we’re stuck in Limbo; that the Ether is collapsing all around us; that the Sidhe are bringing forth The Great Dissolution; that England has fallen into an abyss?’

‘What? Of course not! But I believe the Russians are planning thermonuclear war. And that’s an abyss, if ever there was one. And I believe in TERGA.’

‘As a portal device?’

‘Perhaps not. I think it’s more of a spirit box, like an electronic Ouija board. But I suppose that’s a portal device of sorts. Nevertheless, we must keep an open mind. Who knows what TERGA can do when used by telepaths like Vallis? Cheer up Sims, if you can build this thing, you’ll go down in history. Follow me…’

Sims stepped forward, the soldering iron gripped in his fist, and whispered:

‘I come once again, with cold unflinching hand, to knock at the shining portals of Eternity…’

Entering, he lowered the blinds and locked the doors behind him.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.

i. R. M. Bucke. ‘Cosmic Consciousness – A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind’, Innes and Sons. 1905. p. 2. ‘First Words’.

Image montage: Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022.

First Posted on WordPress September 2, 2022; reposted Semptember 7 2022 (an addendum of dialogue between Blyth and Sims after Jack enters Surgery One).