Ghosts in November and Deaths in December

Wednesday, 13 October

I arrived late for my sitting at Elmfield House yesterday afternoon. There was a seminar for new postgraduate students at the university and the speaker was an extremely verbose man who was very keen on the sound of his own voice. He talked straight through the allotted question-time and an infuriated lecturer waiting outside with an undergraduate class had to unceremoniously boot us out of the lecture theatre at the start of the next teaching hour. 

Leonard looked very concerned when I eventually arrived at the house and he studied me with the sympathetic but analytical eye of a psychiatrist as I staggered across the workroom and flopped down in the leather armchair. Rather than engage in our usual pre-work chatter, Leonard took out his drawing board and I took out my notes from the seminar and we barely spoke one word to each other for at least half an hour. He could see that I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and so after a while he made a concerted effort to exorcise the root cause of my malady and we had our most open and honest conversation ever.

“How is your faith doing, Helen?” he asked, bluntly.
“My faith? You mean, my religious faith?” I replied.
“Not necessarily...”
“Not in its death throes yet?”
“Why is that?”

I thought about his question for a while. I was so tired and he knew that something was wrong. But how could I begin to explain about the illnesses, the torments, the night terrors, the strangers that follow me wherever I go? We have never spoken about them and yet, when I looked at him, I could tell that he knew everything. 

It was pointless pretending any longer and so I put away my notes and I told him that I was struggling to cope with my unconventional education and I felt that my life was changing at a terrifying pace and I wasn’t sure what was real anymore. A tear formed in the corner of my eye as I spoke and when my voice cracked and faltered Leonard put down his drawing board and offered a few consoling words. He told me that the only guaranteed certainties in life are ‘ghosts in November and deaths in December’ and that fear and doubt are the necessary evils of our existence and they shouldn’t scare me - on the contrary, they should liberate me. I appreciated his efforts to comfort me, but I replied that maybe I didn’t want to be liberated and I was perfectly happy with the life of ignorant contentment that I lived before I started my sessions at Elmfield House. He huffed to himself at this remark, then gave me one of his grandfatherly, twinkly-eyed 'it's all going to be ok' smiles. 

This simple gesture tipped my emotions over the edge and before I knew it everything that I have kept hidden from him came tumbling out of my mouth; the voices in the hallway, the strangers on the street, the scratches on my body, the night visitors. I told him everything, but I was careful not to reveal too much about my relationship with Luke. Leonard did not flinch at any of it and he listened intently until I had finished speaking, then there was silence for what seemed like forever and I was terribly embarrassed. Leonard looked contemplatively at the ceiling as though processing everything that I had told him and then he smiled to himself and lurched forward in his chair, but rather than berate me for my silliness or ask a question or offer advice, he simply looked me straight in the eye and whispered:

“As the King’s son said, Helen - ‘Hell is empty and all the devils are here’...”
And then I knew - I knew that everything was real and I felt a huge sense of relief that I was not going mad. A physical weight lifted from me at that moment because I realised that I had finally divulged my troubles to the one person who was best equipped to help me.

Leonard retrieved a half-empty bottle of Armagnac from the shelf beside his chair and he carefully poured two large glasses and handed one to me. I was relieved that he had reacted so calmly to my confession, however it transpired that he was simply preparing himself to make his own revelations.
He told me that I have his every sympathy because the attention that our ‘special knowledge’ attracts has become his 'thorn in the flesh, as it is so often described’ and he has suffered similar torments for many years now, however he refuses to submit to intimidation because he believes that everyone should hear the truth. And the subsequent ‘truth’ that he revealed to me was quite shocking. He said that humanity is programmed with a need to be reassured, from the cradle to the grave, that there is a spiritual safety net beneath us that will save our souls and automatically grant us eternal life at the hour of our death. In order to sustain and reinforce this belief we construct ‘the great pacifier of religion’ and ‘create divine heroes out of common men’ so that we can delude ourselves with the promise that our souls will endure after death. However he said that the bitter truth is that the eternal preservation of the soul is reserved for only a select few and most souls at the point of death are merely ‘washed out with the tide’. The sincerity and certainty with which he spoke was very disturbing and he didn’t appear to speak from mere speculation but from absolute knowledge. I did not doubt anything that he said for a second.

"If this is true, then there is no hope,” I interrupted, “there is no salvation…”
“On the contrary, there is greater hope!” Leonard answered, then he sat forward in his chair and enquired: “Tell me Helen, were you born divine?”
“Of course not. You were not born a divine being. You were not born a Son of God. You do not have eternal life. Then what chance do you have of becoming like Jesus? What chance do you have of being saved from death? But consider that Jesus was human like you and I and that he found the path to immortality. He looked for it and he found it. And then consider the possibility that we too might find the same path and obtain eternal life. How much greater hope is there in that?”
“But how?” I asked, “How can we find this path and become like Jesus?”
“You have been studying The Omega Course, haven’t you?” he replied, “Well then, you possess the same tools that the great magicians had to hand...”
“But surely it cannot simply be the case that anyone can perform these rituals and thereby secure themselves the guarantee of eternal life?”
 “You do not think that this is possible because you doubt yourself,” came Leonard’s reply, ‘and self-doubt is the god-built and god-enforced safety mechanism that exists inside all of us and prevents us from realising our true potential and achieving an equal status with the gods. It is the impediment that humanity must overcome in order to prove its worthiness for immortality...”
“But Jesus didn’t need to overcome any obstacles, did he? He didn’t experience any normal human doubts because he was assured of success and he was certain that he would be saved....”
“Of course he had doubts!” Leonard exclaimed, “There is no greater moment of self-doubt in the history of mankind than that experienced by Jesus upon his cross!”
He paused to take a breath and a large swig from his glass of Armagnac.
“Let me ask you a question,” he continued, “the Gospel writers tell us that Jesus accepted his own passion predictions, he trusted in the will of God and he was fully prepared to bravely confront his fate and submit to the will of God at the appointed time of his death, do you agree?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“Then tell me, if Jesus trusted in the fulfilment of this prophecy and he had complete confidence in God’s plan, then why do we find him cowering in fear and desperately begging God for salvation in Gethsemane, in such great anguish that his sweat falls to the ground in large droplets of blood? And why is he so terribly afraid when confronting his fate on the cross? Do you not see that Jesus’ final days constitute the greatest moment of doubt in history?!”

Yet again Leonard had presented me with an unanswerable question. How was I to account for the enormous discrepancy between the self-confident Jesus who acknowledges his fate throughout the Gospels and the terrified Jesus who begs to be saved from his impending death in Gethsemane and later on the cross? Leonard also pointed out that Jesus is not only extremely distressed on these occasions but he is frantically begging for someone to answer his prayers - a petition that seems particularly strange since the Gospel writers remind us time and time again that Jesus is capable of summoning spiritual powers to provide assistance whenever they were required (a quote from the Gospel of Matthew came to mind: ‘do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’). If Jesus was previously assured that he could call upon these spiritual powers at any time and with guaranteed and immediate results, then why did these spiritual powers not come to his aid when he was suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross? Why did his pleas for salvation go unanswered? Certainly Jesus’ outraged statement on the cross - ‘why have you forsaken me?’ - not only suggests that he had been abandoned by his spiritual powers but that he expected that his demands for salvation would be granted before he encountered the cross.

Leonard then - somewhat inevitably - came to present his own solution to the problem. He explained that, in magical terms, the failure of a petitioned god or spirit to respond to a magician’s command is usually attributable to two causes: a) the performer of the ritual has incorrectly applied his techniques or he has deviated from the precise instructions of a magical text or b) the ritual itself is valid and the failure to respond lies with the petitioned spirit or god. If, as this latter option suggests, the spiritual power that was previously under the magician’s control is unavailable or it has abandoned the magician, then the magician will no longer be able to command the spirit(s) to comply according to his will and he will be unable to produce the miraculous effects that he had been previously assured. With this abandonment theory in mind, Leonard proposed that the story of Jesus’ crucifixion could simply describe a magician’s inability to continue exploiting a spiritual power to obey his commands and he suggested that the vulnerable figure of Jesus that appears in the final stages of the Gospels - a human being stripped of his magical powers and desperately petitioning the gods for their mercy – embodies humanity’s continual failure to recognise that although we might believe that we have dominion over the gods, they are simply humouring us and capable of withdrawing their compliance at any given second...

Although this abandonment theory seemed to be an entirely rational explanation for Jesus’ desperate pleas in Gethsemane and on the cross, Leonard then dismissed this line of thought and he made a confession. He said that he is unconvinced that Jesus was abandoned by his spiritual powers and, on the contrary, he believes that the spirits were still attentive to him while he was on the cross but they were simply ‘watching from a safe distance’. He explained that self-confidence is fundamental to the successful completion of the deification rituals in The Omega Course and these rituals represent the ultimate test of self-belief; the magician must not doubt the strength of his will and he must truly believe that he has achieved absolute authority over the powers that will bring about his salvation, even if they appear to be absent or unwilling to respond to his demands. Leonard said that Jesus was aware of the importance of self-belief in magical operations since he taught this principle to others (as is evident in the faith teaching) and his own self-confidence was put to the test in the final stage of the deification ritual on the cross, during which he demonstrated supreme confidence in his authority over the spirit world and he took the ultimate ‘leap of faith’ into the realm of death, for which the spiritual realm bestowed upon him the gift of eternal life as his reward.

I became very confused by Leonard’s reasoning at this point and he was firing out half-digested statements as though his brain was on overdrive and his mouth was unable to formulate the words required to express himself correctly. The maniacal fervour with which he spoke was quite shocking and, although I expect that the Armagnac had a large part to play in his passionate enthusiasm for his argument, it was upsetting to see him appear so muddled and I had never seen him gesture so wildly and rant so loudly before. I struggled to follow his ramblings exactly, but some of the random statements that he made were very similar to previous comments that I have heard made by Luke:

“Death is the greatest test for the magician; it is the moment when his self-belief is tested to the extreme...if the mind is prepared correctly and the flesh is compliant then the soul of a man can be saved...salvation is the tethering of the soul to the earth...this is the true reject the natural order and the conquest of death and the dissolution of the age, to die and to be reborn over and over live a thousand mortal lives with the assurance of the continual resurrection of the soul and to carry your memories, skills and knowledge into the next life…to nourish and expand the soul, to learn and to grow from one lifetime to the next until you are as omniscient as the gods...” 

After a while Leonard realised that I was noticeably disturbed by his tone of voice and confused behaviour and he collapsed back into his seat and reached his hand out to fuss Hooter who had been woken by all the commotion and was pacing back-and-forth beside his chair, anxiously barking at him. There was an awkward silence and I stood to leave, whispering that it was getting late and I really should be going. Leonard hung his head and apologised for upsetting me, to which I replied that he had not upset me, he had just given me a lot to think about. I placed my glass on the table, patted the dog on the head and then reached out to Leonard and gave him a kiss on the cheek to reassure him that I was ok. As I pulled away he held me firmly by both hands and made a promise:
“Next time we meet I promise to tell you about the Christian Church’s bastardisation of humanity’s only hope of salvation. We will talk about communion. And I don't mean the fancy charade with bread and wine. I will tell you about the true communion, the most intimate union that can take place between one human and another...the transmission of the sacred blood into the common man...the preparation of the human body for the reception of the divine soul...”

I left Leonard seated in his chair with his head in his hands, exhausted and clearly distressed by our conversation. He looked very old and fragile for once and I felt awful for leaving him, but I knew that my continued presence would only have made matters much worse.