Shrouding the truth?



Thursday, 8 July

We sat in the kitchen, balancing our plates of chicken skewers on our laps and listening to the rain rat-tatting on the corrugated plastic roof of the porch. Leonard was keen to continue our discussion about boy mediums and he dashed off into the workroom to fetch something. The second that Leonard left the room Luke seized the opportunity to speak privately with me and to apologise for the intimate nature of our last encounter. I reassured him that I was fine, but he apologised several times and he insisted that I alert him to any relapses of my illness or new ailments that I experience over the next few weeks, even minor complaints such as headaches or lethargy. Although he sounded terribly remorseful and it was satisfying to my ego to see him so concerned about me, the urgency and firmness in his voice was a little worrying and so I have promised to keep him informed.  

I expected Leonard to re-emerge from the workroom with an ornate crystal ball and to demonstrate one of these strange divination rituals at the very least, but he simply returned with his bible and sauce for Luke (he thinks that even the spiciest food tastes too bland). Leonard thumbed through the bible, handed it to me and instructed me to read two verses from the Gospel of Mark; one from the scene in Gethsemane in 14:51-2 (‘and there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body and the young men laid hold on him: And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked’) and one from the scene in Jesus’ tomb in 16:5 (‘and entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted’). 

Leonard asked me to identify the young men in these passages but I had not questioned their identity before and so I was unable to give an informed and coherent answer. I suggested that they might be superfluous characters that exist solely to flesh out the storyline, but Leonard disagreed and he said that they must serve an important function within the narrative because it is unlikely that the Gospel author would include anonymous characters that are dressed in such a bizarre fashion without good reason. Leonard then asked whether I considered the young man in the tomb in Mark 16:5 to be the same man who appeared in the earlier Gethsemane passage or whether I understood them to be two separate individuals. I wasn't sure whether the Gospel author intended them to be recognised as the same person but, given that the figure in the tomb in Mark 16:5 is dressed in white and sitting in a tomb, I proposed that this particular individual could be an angel. Once again Leonard disagreed and he said that the author of Mark uses ‘angelos’ (a Greek term that is strictly translated as ‘messenger’ but often translated into English bibles as ‘angel’) elsewhere within his Gospel seemingly without embarrassment therefore it is highly likely that he would have used the term ‘angelos’ if he intended the reader to identify this person as an angel. Fair reasoning, I thought. 

Leonard then pointed out that all three Synoptic writers mention that the near-naked young man who accompanies Jesus in Gethsemane is dressed in a ‘sindon’ and he explained that the term ‘sindon’ refers to a linen fabric that was commonly used as a burial shroud. Referring back to our previous conversation on child mediums, he said that a number of ancient divinatory and pseudo-burial/death-rebirth magical rituals require a naked boy medium to be wrapped from head to toe in linen - specifically a ‘sindon’ - in the same way that the young man is dressed in this Gospel passage. Given the widespread popularity of these divinatory and necromantic rituals and their requirement for a young boy dressed in a ‘sindon’, I asked whether the early readers of the Gospels may have suspected that this young man was dressed in ceremonial attire and Jesus was preparing him to participate in some kind of magical ritual. Leonard agreed that his clothing might have raised alarm bells with some readers and he said that he is surprised that the Gospel authors have preserved a reference to this young man and his unusual mode of dress, particularly since they have a tendency to remove as much suspicious activity as possible when constructing their accounts of Jesus’ life…

Before I could question Leonard about this last comment, he asked if I was familiar with the Secret Gospel of Mark. A secret Gospel? I had no idea that a secret Gospel existed! He told me that the text of the Secret Gospel of Mark is riddled with secretive and suspicious activities and the circumstances in which it was discovered are equally as mysterious too. To cut a very long-winded short, in 1958 a professor of ancient history named Morton Smith allegedly stumbled upon a letter in a monastery in Mar Saba. Smith believed that the author of the letter was the Greek theologian Clement of Alexandria and he claimed that the letter described a Secret Gospel of Mark and hinted at a distinction between the ‘doings of the Lord’ that are recorded in the canonical Gospel of Mark (i.e. the version of Mark that we have in our regular Bibles) and the ‘mystical’ or ‘secret’ ‘doings of Jesus’ that are missing from our versions but remain preserved in this mysterious Secret Gospel of Mark. 

The letter contained an excerpt from the Secret Gospel which describes a scene in which a young man comes to Jesus in a secretive manner and wearing a linen cloth (specifically a ‘sindon’) over his naked body and this young man remains with Jesus throughout the night. Leonard said that the statement ‘Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God’ that appears in the text suggests that the youth is undergoing a secret initiation of some sort, however he also drew my attention to a number of other elements within the excerpt that are suggestive of magical activity, such as the presence of a naked young man dressed in a sindon, the performance of the ritual at night (a time which, although terribly clich├ęd, is closely associated with necromancy and other unsavoury magical activities) and a strict preparatory period of six days elapses before Jesus summons the youth to him (Leonard explained that most magical procedures require an uninitiated individual to complete a period of preparation and purification prior to the ritual and the pre-training of a child medium is a customary requirement in the magical papyri).

I agreed that this all sounded very suspicious to say the least and I was beginning to entertain the idea that Jesus engaged his followers in strange necromantic magical rituals, but then Leonard made a confession. He said that the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark has been called into question and debate still rages in academic circles concerning whether the document is genuine or a forgery. I felt deflated by this revelation and I was annoyed that Leonard had led me to believe that the Secret Gospel was entirely legitimate, but he followed this admission with a mischievous smile and there was a twinkle in his eye which suggested that he knew more than he was letting on, so I was not entirely disappointed. 

When the brief rain shower stopped, I made my apologies and informed Leonard that I should be leaving as it was getting late. On the whole it was a very enjoyable afternoon, but there was one thing that troubled me and, although it may seem minor and inconsequential to the reader, I couldn’t help but dwell on it for the entire bus journey back home. Leonard and I watched Luke trim the hedge for at least half an hour but, when the rain died away and the sun came out, I noticed that there were no hedge cuttings to clear up afterwards. I realise that it was a hot day and we had been drinking alcohol for a large portion of the afternoon, but I have observed a number of peculiarities like this around Elmfield House recently and I really hope that I’m not going mad! I suspect that I am simply distracted because my mind is preoccupied with all manner of things recently. For example, our discussion about boy mediums invoked strong memories of Daniel several times and Daniel has been at the forefront of my thoughts over the last few days. I am becoming increasingly mindful of the importance of spiritual powers in my magical experimentations and I have discovered that although the magical manuscripts are the practical tools that are needed to facilitate a desired effect, they require a spiritual component to empower them and bring them to fruition (or, as Luke concisely explained, the magical text is the car that you must drive in order to reach your goal and the spiritual powers are the petrol). I have appealed to Daniel on a number of occasions now and if I was inclined towards superstitious reasoning then I would interpret my excellent degree results and Luke’s affections towards me as an indication that Daniel is assisting with my magical experimentations, not to mention the fact that a number of important decisions have fallen in my favour this month and I have attracted several complimentary comments from Alex's male friends. Maybe this good fortune is entirely coincidental, but I can't help but feel a pang of guilt when appealing to my deceased brother to assist with something so trivial as attracting funding for my studies and the affections of another man...

The rituals in The Omega Course have taught me that the power of heroes, ancestors and loved ones that have passed from this earth should not be underestimated and I want to believe that these connections can endure beyond death. Only time will tell if I have been doing all this for nothing.