Hairpieces and Nocturnes

A third email from Luke appeared in my inbox this morning. It contained another poem and a set of photographs from our sessions back in June when we were experimenting with the box of wigs and assorted costume paraphernalia that Leonard had retrieved from the cupboard in the back room. The round convex mirror in the workroom distorts my reflection like a fairground mirror so this is the first time that I have seen myself wearing the hairpieces and I feel odd when looking at the photos because I barely recognise myself in them. The poem in the main body of the message is quite unlike the others that I have received from Luke as the characteristic combination of self-pity and macabre imagery that is so commonplace in his poetry is strangely absent. It is - dare I say – almost cheery:

‘When the pump and the swell of my body is done
And I'm called to your side when the battle is won
See me not as accuser, or bearer of pride,
But a friend and an equal who stands by your side.
For we need one another more than darkness needs light
And without an aggressor there is no will to fight.’

Although the intended recipient of the sentiments expressed in Luke’s poetry always remains anonymous, it is clear that his words are directed at someone in particular. Is it selfish to secretly wish that his next poem will begin with 'to my dearest Helen' or 'to the one I love'? But it is precisely this air of ambiguity and mystery that draws me to him. Besides he is such an amazing teacher. Leonard is an excellent teacher too - that goes without saying - but Leonard will take a conversation to a point and then he will change the subject as though he has been warned not to cross a line and reveal too much information. Luke, on the other hand, is much more forthcoming with his advice and he is eager to share his knowledge with me. He will elaborate on Leonard’s teachings by teaching me new words and demonstrating simple techniques that open up entirely new pathways of study. Luke tells me that although Leonard would no doubt approve of his ‘enhancement of my expertise’, there is no need to mention our ‘extra-curricular activities’ to Leonard and worry him unnecessarily.

Speaking of teaching, Leonard is in the process of writing a beginner's guide to Biblical Greek and he has asked me to read through the drafts. I find it very amusing that he manages to 'shoehorn' his painting into almost every subject and the introduction to the book is no exception:

On another note (quite literally) there is a beautiful piano piece on one of Leonard’s cassette tapes that we have been playing repeatedly in the workroom for a number of weeks now: it is Chopin's Nocturne in E Minor, Op.72 No. 1. I have purchased a copy of the sheet music and I have been playing it on the piano in the back room during Luke’s sessions. Luke and I love it so much that it has become 'our song' (things must be getting serious!).

The creeping miasmata

Tuesday, 24 August

I thought that I had good news to share with you, my dear reader, but now I’m not so sure.

Last week I slept peacefully and undisturbed for five nights in succession. Alex has been very pleased and he thinks that our relationship has turned a corner (unfortunately he said this with such a patronising tone that I am inclined to leave him in the spare room for one or two additional nights entirely on principle alone). I was hoping – foolishly now, I realise - that this was a sign that my nightly torments have come to an end, but I had another strange dream last night which has led me to believe that my optimism has been somewhat premature. I haven't told Alex about my dream because he will start to ridicule me again…and besides, in view of the usual night-time horrors, assaults and visitors that I am accustomed to, strange dreams are a breeze to cope with!

I awoke around midnight to the smell of a strong, sweet vapour in the bedroom, much like perfumed oils, freshly cut flowers or a sweet Muscat wine. Since it is late August and the surrounding gardens are a hive of gardening activity, I thought very little of the pleasant smell and closed my eyes and fell back into a deep sleep. I dreamt that I was in bed, lying on my back with my eyes wide open and staring at the bedroom ceiling above me. I was unable to move my head and so my vision was restricted to my immediate arc of sight and the room was filled with a thick white fog that made it difficult to see even the largest objects nearby. I rolled my eyes to my right and I was immediately confronted with the silhouette of a tall dark figure standing beside the bed. As I focused on the figure, I could see that he - and I say 'he' because the stranger had the stature and presence of a man - was dressed in a very bizarre costume; he wore a long waxed coat, a leather hat with a wide brim and a mask that covered his entire face and had a long beak-like nose. He stood perfectly still, peering down at me through the raised glass eye pieces of the mask like a giant, menacing bird perched at the side of my bed. I studied him for some time, taking in as much detail as I could about his appearance, and then a sudden movement startled me. In his right hand he lifted up a long rod and pointed it towards my head. For a second I thought that he would strike me with it but he just thrust it accusingly at me and, in my fright, I woke myself up. The room was quiet and the strong scent of flowers had dispersed, but I could detect a pungent, antiseptic-like smell lingering in the air. I lifted my head and peered into the darkness of the room and, once I had satisfied myself that I was alone, I fell asleep one again and did not wake until the clock alarm sounded in the morning.

There was something familiar about the stranger's appearance, particularly the bird-like mask. It was reminiscent of the character Scaramouche's mask in the Commedia dell'Arte and at first I thought that the inspiration for my dream could be found in my fondness for reading about the Commedia late at night, but after a quick search on the internet this morning I have discovered that the figure more closely resembled the plague doctors of the fourteenth century. If I let my imagination run wild then I could easily convince myself that this is an omen that I have contracted some kind of unpleasant illness or disease, but that would be unfounded paranoia and I must avoid being drawn into such obsession and mania. Luke has warned me numerous times about this and I have no doubt that he will reassure me that the dream was simply the result of reading too many books and playing with silly masks.

In Arethusa's azured arms

Tuesday, 17 August

Another postcard from Leonard arrived this morning. The picture on the front is one of Nabil Kanso's paintings (Leonard is a great admirer of Kanso’s work, particularly his series of Faust paintings) and the quotation on the reverse is a line from Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus: ‘A sound magician is a mighty god.’

Yesterday afternoon I received a second email from Luke containing a poem (below) and a set of photographs from the sessions with the brown dress and mask (I'll never forget how warm it was in the workroom when those photos were taken). I’m pleased that Luke has grown to trust me because meeting him has been the best thing that has happened in my entire life. Although he frightens me to death at times and he is a source of such terrible discomfort, he is also the only person who can soothe me when I am restless and alleviate the unbearable pains that wrench my body. He is both my poison and my cure. He is always caring, he is never afraid and he simply laughs when I voice my concerns like a criminal who has done something unspeakable but shows no remorse whatsoever after committing his crime. It is all so acceptable to him. I hope that I never become so accepting of it, but I suspect that I will over time. 

Luke uses certain words to describe us and our activities, but I feel such a fool mentioning them that I doubt they will ever pass through my lips or through my fingers to the computer keyboard. I tell him that these things are not real and we may as well talk about fairies or dragons or space aliens, but he says that I am avoiding the truth and he pleads with me to believe; to believe in him, to believe in us and, most importantly, to believe in myself.

Pelle Sub Agnina 

Why should I shout?
You won’t listen
And besides
I am comfortable here.
But the pounding,
This pounding I hear when they are near me,
It deafens me.

You said we would have
The devil to pay
And how right you were.

For since we took our place on stage
And commenced the first act,
The congregation has applauded
Our harvest of figs
From the thistles.

Devils and Demons at Afternoon Tea

Friday, 13 August

Apologies for the delay since my last post, but I have unable to sit and write for a number of reasons.
First, I have not been feeling particularly well again and I have been experiencing excruciating pains in the pit of my stomach that confine me to bed for hours on end. My body has been rejecting everything that I consume, I’m punch-drunk dizzy and the twitching in my limbs is making it impossible to sleep. When I spoke to Luke at Elmfield House this afternoon he apologised for not visiting the house for a while and he spoke as though he was directly to blame for my poor health. And when he explained the likely cause of my illness and the controlling mechanisms that will keep these pains at bay I understood why he felt so responsible. He apologised for not being entirely honest with me about our dependence on each other and it was terribly upsetting to hear the truth from him, although not entirely unexpected. Now I understand why I experience such overwhelming aggression towards Luke during our encounters; my body is seeking to medicate itself by quenching the fires and soothing the pains. And so it seems that my valiant pledge to resist addiction may be hopeless because it is not the act itself that I will become addicted to, but the relief that it brings and the freedom to live a pain-free life.

Second, Alex has been proving extremely difficult to live with. We haven’t spoken much and he has been sleeping on the sofa bed in the spare room. He insists that he is merely allowing space for me to make a full recovery from my illness, but I know that he is struggling to cope with my work commitments at Elmfield House. I cannot deny that I have been spending a substantial amount of time with Leonard and so I accept the blame willingly. But Luke is partly to blame too. I find myself drifting into thoughts of Luke throughout the day and the intoxicating nature of our relationship haunts me at night. I lie awake for hours dwelling on every touch and every word that has passed between us and I find it impossible to fall asleep. Alex has busied himself with his work and we have avoided addressing our problems to date, but he must notice that I am distancing myself emotionally from him in addition to withdrawing from physical contact with him. I suspect that things will come to a head soon.

Third and finally, Leonard made some shocking revelations at our last meeting and I have been spending every hour of good health in the university library eagerly researching everything that he has taught me so far. I am thankful that I do not have a strong religious faith because it would surely have been tested to breaking point by now. I am finding it difficult to process all the information that I am being presented with and form my own opinions at the moment, so for now I will simply record our conversations as they take place and conduct further research, both academic and personal. Leonard is assisting with the former while Luke is proving valuable for the latter. I have discovered that Luke is extremely competent when it comes to applying Leonard’s knowledge to my everyday life and he has a great deal to teach me in this respect. 

So these are the reasons for your neglect, dear reader, and I promise to be more attentive to you in future. But now, before the memory fades completely, I must finish my report on the conversation that took place two weeks ago between Leonard and I concerning the Beelzebul controversy and the magical binding of demons…

Reflecting on the events of that day, if Leonard had deliberately engineered the creepiest scenario for our discussion then he could not have possibly done a better job. Against a backdrop of oppressive darkness and the occasional rumble of thunder, the entire afternoon was reminiscent of a dark and wintry evening spent exchanging ghost stories around an open fire or a brooding scene from a Gothic novel written by a morose and tortured soul. All that was needed was a gentle rapping, rapping at the workroom door and the scenario would be complete.

Following on from his brief lesson on the subject of magical binding, Leonard drew my attention to Jesus’ response to the accusation that he is using Beelzebul, namely his statement in Mark 3:27 that the strong man has been bound and as a consequence he cannot prevent Jesus from plundering his house for his goods. Leonard explained that if the ‘strong man’ is to be understood as Beelzebul and the ‘house’ is the kingdom that belongs to Beelzebul – a theory that is supported by the fact that Jesus draws a strong correlation between ‘house’ and ‘kingdom’ and the name Beelzebul is used (Ba'al Zebul, often translated as ‘lord of the house’) - then the goods of the house must be the residents of the kingdom, i.e. the demons that are under Beelzebul’s command. Jesus is therefore boasting that he can ‘bind’ Beelzebul and then enter into Beelzebul’s kingdom and ‘divide his house’ - i.e. steal his demons – now that the bound Beelzebul is unable to prevent them from being stolen.

I asked why Jesus would wish to steal demons from Beelzebul and Leonard reminded me that many magicians in the ancient world were eager to ensnare demons to work under their command and these demons were put to work in a number of magical operations, including performing exorcisms. He said that a bound demon was considered to be at the absolute mercy of a magician and it could be compelled to carry out his every wish, even performing exorcisms and driving out demons from the possessed on the magician’s behalf. Some magicians even sought to gain control over the superior demonic figures, such as Satan himself, in order to demand that they expel their demons from the possessed or to insist that they command their lesser demons to assist the magician with his incantations and magical rituals. 

Given that the employment of bound demons for magical and exorcistic purposes was a commonplace practice in antiquity, Leonard said that Jesus’ question ‘how can Satan cast out Satan?’ is not as absurd as it sounds since the idea that one demon could facilitate the exorcism of another demon would be entirely plausible to a reader who was familiar with these popular magical practices and the popularity of this exorcistic method may therefore account for the assumption made by the scribes that Jesus had possession of a demonic power and he was using this demonic power to perform exorcisms. Furthermore, Jesus’ analogy of a ‘divided house’ fits perfectly with the template of magical exorcism in which the possessing demon and the exorcising demon - while both originating from the same source of evil - are pitted against one another until the possessing demon is eventually defeated.

Although I found this subject immensely fascinating, I was struggling to maintain concentration at this point as the storm was intensifying outside, the rain was beating against the window and rather than focusing on our conversation I was listening for the tortured crack of thunder that followed each sharp flash of lightning. I had also become preoccupied with the front window for some irrational reason; I think I caught the shadow of a bird or an insect out of the corner of my eye, but I was so completely convinced that someone had passed by the window that I was afraid to look directly at it for fear that I would see a demonic figure looming up against the glass. The conversation was having an adverse effect on my mental state! 

“So are you suggesting that the scribes were correct in their observation and Jesus employed the help of demons, or even Satan himself, when performing his exorcisms?” I asked.
“Maybe so,” came Leonard's non-committal answer, “but there is another revelation in Matthew and Luke’s versions of this story that is an ever greater cause for concern...”

Leonard said that when faced with allegations of magical spirit manipulation, the reader would naturally expect Jesus to reject these accusations and thereby avoid a charge of magic. However he does no such thing. Surprisingly, in Matthew’s version of the story Jesus denies that his powers have a demonic source but he does not contest the presence of a spiritual intermediary in his operations and instead he corrects the Pharisees’ mistaken identification of it. Jesus points his accusers to the correct source of his exorcistic power - the ‘Spirit of God’ – and he openly admits that the ‘Spirit of God’ is empowering him to perform exorcisms. Consequently the author of Matthew places in Jesus’ own mouth a candid confession that he is employing a spirit-authority to carry out his exorcisms.

Leonard then turned his attention to the Lukan version of the story and he said that the author of Luke chooses to replace the Matthean ‘Spirit of God’ with ‘Finger of God’, perhaps because he is uncomfortable with the Matthean implication that Jesus had control over the Holy Spirit. Although this removes any connotations of spirit manipulation, Leonard pointed out that the expression ‘Finger of God’ also carries a strong magical subtext as the phrase appears in a number of ancient (particularly Egyptian) magical manuscripts and it is generally believed to refer to the name of a wand or staff…

“Maybe this is where the early Christian artists who portrayed Jesus using a wand found their muse?” I proposed.
“Maybe so” Leonard replied, with a smile.
“Thinking rationally about all of this,” I said, “although it seems preposterous to believe that Jesus used a magic wand, it is equally absurd to interpret this passage in terms of spirit manipulation, isn’t it? I mean…who would seriously believe that a man could gain control over the Holy Spirit and use it to perform miracles?”
“Ha! Now that’s a very 21st century question!” came Leonard's amused reply, “You see, you consider this to be an impossibility because you are only familiar with one ‘holy spirit’…”

Leonard explained that ‘divine’ or ‘holy’ spirits were commonplace in the ancient world and they were regularly employed by magicians as supernatural assistants. He said that the Greek magical papyri contain numerous examples of rituals that must be performed with the assistance of a divine or holy spirit and, although many were considered to be inferior and anonymous divine spirits, some were also believed to be the gods themselves. Magicians would often use these divine spirits to overpower and bind lesser spirits (such as demons) in order to compel these lesser spirits to fulfil the wishes of the magician, therefore Leonard argued that a first-century audience may have considered it to be entirely plausible that Jesus could be using an anonymous holy spirit, or even the Holy Spirit of God, as the means by which he gained the upper hand over demonic powers.

The idea that Jesus had possession of a spirit – of either demonic or divine origin - was beginning to sound like a credible explanation for his miracle-working powers but Leonard was quick to make one final point: regardless of whether the spirit that was under Jesus’ command could be conclusively identified as demonic or divine, the fact remains that serious implications of magical activity are present in all three Synoptic versions of this story and the charge of magical spirit manipulation that is made by the scribes appears to have some evidential basis in Jesus’ own behaviour and words.

So that concludes my report on our devilish conversation that afternoon. Please excuse me if I do not spend time reflecting on my thoughts and I sign off abruptly because I am still feeling unwell, the computer screen is giving me an awful headache and my bed has the allure of one of Persephone’s sirens right now. Luke has succeeded in taking the greater part of my pain away so hopefully my body will stabilise overnight and I will feel better by the morning, but I hate to think that I am locked into this cycle now and there will be many more teething troubles to come. If Luke’s fantastical imagination is to be believed then the reality of this condition isn’t at all what I had expected; it isn’t about strutting around in sharp suits, wearing designer sunglasses and breaking into bedchambers and seducing the opposite sex. It’s traumatic, restrictive, undignified and most often than not, it involves incredible pain.