My fondest memories of the bandstand came from my schooldays and the many evenings that my friends and I spent sitting on its steps after school, hoarding sweets in our coat pockets and gossiping about boys. And here I was again as an adult woman, sitting on the steps of the bandstand with Leonard and holding a deeply philosophical discussion about the arrogance of young men and the pitfalls of egotism. Some things never change.
Leonard became very calm and meditative when discussing his disagreement with Luke and he seemed to be distracted by the anonymous members of the public that passed by at the bottom of the hill. I didn’t realise that he was such an avid people watcher, but I suppose that his inquisitive approach when engaging with his environment is what makes him such a gifted artist.
“Can you imagine how arrogant and egotistical a man might become if he possessed the ability to click his fingers and completely change the lives of any of these people?” he asked as he gestured towards the figures scurrying around below us. “If he could influence their quality of life, their degree of health or prosperity or even decide whether they live or die?”
“No-one could ever have that much power,” I answered, “well, no-one should ever have that much power.”
“Well indeed,” he replied, “they might even consider themselves to be a god...”
Leonard shifted his weight on the steps and fumbled in his coat pockets, then he took out a folded piece of paper from his inside pocket and handed it carefully to me as though he was passing a highly sensitive or fragile document. He told me that it was a photocopy of a fourth-century CE Greco-Roman magical spell called ‘the Spell of Pnouthis’ and he was interested to hear my thoughts on it. I took the piece of paper from him, unfolded it and as I read the spell I was surprised by its contents. It described a ritual in which a divine spirit descended from the heavens and appeared to the magician in the form of a bird, a bright star then settled over the magician’s house and a spirit appeared to him in the form of an angel. This angelic spirit attended to the magician and it had many beneficial attributes: it could open locked doors, make the magician invisible, bring money, food and drink such as bread, water and wine and it could freeze water so that the magician could walk across it. The spell even promised that the spirit would carry the magician’s body into the heavens when he died and the magician would be worshipped as a god.
I was surprised by the similarities between the powers that were attributed to the magician in this spell and the powers that are attributed to Jesus in the Gospels and I commented that the spell read like an instruction manual on how to become like Jesus. Leonard agreed and he explained that countless magicians in antiquity claimed to have achieved a divine status and performed wondrous miracles through the performance of these kinds of magical spells. Since the close bond between a magician and his divine assisting spirit was thought to induce god-like qualities in the magician then simply possessing a divine spirit was considered sufficient to transform the magician into a god-like being, however Leonard also revealed that many magicians believed that by participating in a ritual known as a ‘deification ritual’ they could convert themselves into a god-like being without the need for a spiritual assistant (this was familiar ground as I have been reading the deification rituals in The Omega Course under Luke’s instruction, but Leonard had not mentioned them before and so I chose to keep quiet). Since seeking to achieve an equal status with the gods - either through the possession of a divine spirit or through the performance of a deification ritual - was a popular and widespread practice in antiquity, Leonard said that arrogant and forthright claims to divinity such as ‘I am the Son of God’ were commonplace in the ancient world and individuals who made such claims often attracted charges of blasphemy and they were accused of practicing magic.
Leonard then turned his attention, quite predictably, to similar claims to divinity that are made by Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and he pointed out that John 19:7 explicitly states that the Jewish people sought to execute Jesus because he had ‘made himself a Son of God’. I asked whether Jesus' contemporaries would have drawn a correlation between Jesus’ claim to divine sonship and the practice of magical deification and consequently whether this is an explicit charge of magic. Leonard answered that since the deified magicians often made reference to divine ‘sonship’ and to being a ‘son of god’, it is entirely possible that Jesus’ statement ‘I am the son of god’ would have attracted a charge of magic and fears surrounding deification and the practice of magic could account for Jesus’ rushed and illegal trial at night and the decision to execute him by crucifixion rather than stoning (which the Talmud states was the standard method for punishing blasphemy).