I'm embarrassed to admit it but, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been experimenting with the contents of The Omega Course with - from what I can determine so far - varying degrees of success. So much for my deep-seated scepticism with regards to all things supernatural, eh? I have discovered that simple words, gestures and even magical ways of thinking can be easily incorporated into everyday tasks and I have tested out a number of minor charms such as the 'Spell of Attraction' on Luke and the 'Spell for Success and Good Favour' for my postgraduate application. I have memorised whole passages of the book in case the opportunity to test out my new-found skills should present itself and I am carrying all manner of magical paraphernalia to grant me good luck during my exams. I'm positively bristling with magic at the moment!
I realise that the rituals and techniques in The Omega Course require a considerable amount of further study and I am very much an amateur at this stage, but if I am honest I have been disappointed that there is no immediate ‘bang-whoosh’ response to reassure me that a charm or spell has taken effect. Patience has never been my strongest virtue, however events this weekend have succeeded in sustaining my attention for a little longer.
Perhaps choosing St Bartholomew’s Church on a busy Sunday afternoon as the stage for my magical experimentations was foolish and I should have been more respectful to my surroundings, but I have been so deeply preoccupied with these charms and spells recently that it was inevitable that they would enter into my mind at some point that afternoon. The service was a baptism and these are invariably much more casual and light-hearted affairs than the standard Eucharist mass; the order of service is flexible, the vicar is noticeably relaxed and minor hiccoughs in proceedings are met with laugher rather than nervous tension. No-one cares if the baby burps at the vicar or falls headfirst into the font, or both. Aside from the occasional pedantic parent who is keen to follow the service to exact form, all the participants are eager to go through the motions as quickly and painlessly as possible and the church descends into a raucous social club or unruly school assembly for an hour or so.
Unfortunately the joviality of this particular baptism was failing to disperse my melancholy state. I spent the entire first half of the service watching a beautiful butterfly repeatedly bash its head into the stained glass window in the organ loft and I was starting to sympathise with its pain and frustration. I was terribly bored and it was only the ear-piercing screams of the children in the congregation that kept me awake and attentive to the vicar’s directions throughout the proceedings. Church is not the interesting and educational environment that it used to be and my apathy grows a little more each time I listen to a visiting priest banging on about the saving power of the divine Jesus while smiling politely and biting my tongue until it bleeds. Church is not the place to ask questions. Save it for the lecture theatre.
The vicar announced the next hymn and I instantly kicked into gear, shunting the coupler stop on the Great and plodding through the introductory bars of the hymn in a painfully tedious and perfunctory fashion. The congregation droned along with the first verse:
‘At the Lamb's high feast we sing,
Praise to our victorious King,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his piercèd side.’
A myriad of thoughts pass through my mind when I am playing the organ and certain hymn tunes - particularly the popular ones that are churned out time and time again for weddings, funerals and baptisms - have become so deeply ingrained within me that I find myself playing on auto-pilot while at the same time planning my outfit for a party or considering what to eat for lunch. On this particular Sunday afternoon I was preoccupied by my proposal for postgraduate study and the charm that I have placed under the books on my desk. I have always been a highly sceptical individual and, as I have mentioned before, I have an uncontrollable tendency to ridicule all things relating to the supernatural, so why should I suddenly find myself seriously considering the authenticity of magic spells and resorting to using them to influence major events in my life? Surely if a scholarship grant is awarded to me then this decision will be based purely upon the academic content of the proposal and not as a direct result of a series of nonsensical words and archaic, childlike drawings that have been scribbled on a scrap of paper and hidden beneath a pile of dusty old books?
‘Where the Paschal blood is poured,
Death's dark angel sheathes his sword.’
The congregation folded their service sheets as the hymn came to a close and I flicked through my music book to the next hymn and rested back on the organ bench, waiting for the sermon to start. Baptism sermons - much like wedding sermons and funeral sermons now I come to think about it - are agonisingly predictable and most often the celebrant will recount the exact same sermon absolutely verbatim at each service, so having heard the same sermons hundreds of times over I am often forced to seek out some form of vigorous mental stimulation in order to preserve my sanity until the next hymn is announced. I usually carry a novel in my music bag for this purpose, however when I am in full view of the congregation (as is the case at this particular church) it would appear rude to entertain myself with a good book and instead I feel obliged to listen to the sermon with interest and laugh at the appointed times at the priest’s jokes. This looks very professional from the congregation's point of view, but it is astonishingly boring and my mind invariably wanders and I am distracted by trivial things within my immediate field of vision. The congregation provide stimulating entertainment at times - particularly if they are bewildered non-church types staring wide-eyed up at the rafters and juggling unruly children and service sheets - however it is most often the case that my eye will roam around the interior of the church itself and I will occupy myself by spotting odd architectural features about the building that I have not noticed before.
My attention drifted in this fashion during Sunday’s service and I fixated on the large Paschal candle that stands next to the font at the front of the church. The Paschal candle is a favourite distraction of mine because I love to watch a flame dance and the glow of a candle in church always reminds me of Christmas-time. I was studying the markings on the candle when I heard the liturgy of the baptism service begin and the parents and godparents stepped forward with screaming children in tow and gathered around the font.
‘In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.
To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him.’
I’m not entirely sure why my mind started to race at that point. It seems ridiculous to think of it now, but as I stared obsessively at the Paschal candle I was possessed by an urge to bend the flame with my mind. I stared at the flame for a few seconds before realising that I was being silly (and looking a little crazy) and so I turned my attention back to the organ console. Then I had another thought. What if Leonard is right and the restless dead can hear and obey us? Maybe they could bend the flame? The more that I seriously considered this idea, the more the realisation hit me that I had neglected the spiritual aspects of Leonard’s teachings. There are pages and pages of rituals in The Omega Course that instruct the reader on how to employ the spirits of the dead for a variety of magical operations and I had previously shied away from these magical texts for fear of meddling with paranormal forces. Scribbling pictures on paper and burning a few herbs is one thing, but dabbling with vengeful ghosts and the spirits of the dead is a different matter. But what better location could I find to test these techniques than on the safe and hallowed ground of a church?
If the service had been a funeral then there was absolutely doubt in my mind that I would have appealed to the spirit of the deceased to test this theory, but this was a celebration of new life rather than death and everyone in the church was, from outward appearances at least, very much alive. And then I thought to myself, what about my brother Daniel? Could Daniel hear me if I called out to him? It was a perverse thought I agree, but Daniel fits perfectly into the category of spirits that was most frequently employed by the magician; a young man who had been violently killed. Besides, if any spirit was likely to be near me, to hear me and to oblige me, then it would be Daniel.
I glanced over once again at the Paschal candle and concentrated on the flame until it burned with a piercing white light before my eyes. I pushed harder and harder, maintaining steady eye contact with the flame and recalling every word from the relevant passages that I had read in The Omega Course. The chatter of the congregation and the monotonous drone of the vicar faded into a haze of background noise and my peripheral vision began to implode inwards towards the flame. ‘Daniel, if you can hear me, answer me.’
I’m not entirely sure what I expected to achieve but, rather disappointingly, the only response that I received was an entirely self-inflicted headache. I felt ridiculous staring mindlessly at the candle and so I turned my attention back to the hymn book on the music rack, but as my eye left the candle I saw the flame flicker for a brief second. It was only a momentary flicker, but it was substantial enough to send a small puff of black smoke rising high into the church roof. I almost leapt off the organ bench and a surge of rational thoughts flooded into my mind to stem the swell of panic and excitement. A door may have closed nearby, but no sound could be heard. A piece of wax could have fallen onto the flame, but the candle is cleaned by the churchwarden before each service. I calmed myself by repeating that it was a coincidence. Just a coincidence. Nothing more. But nevertheless I was too afraid to look back at the candle and I spent the remainder of the service staring down at the pedal board and scolding myself for being so childish.
Now, what am I to think? Did I cause the flame to flicker? Or am I just being silly?