Death of a Mystic
Slowly did the flames descend,
To watchful eyes suspended,
In silence, and the truth is this;
The Earth beneath transcended.
It was an hour before dusk and the massive garden walls reflected the still warm sunlight, generating hallucinogenic contrasts with the rampant summer flowers enclosed within. The garden was one of our greatest delights and a fine testament to the skill of its (and our) cultivator, who also happened to be the Greek History tutor. This was the garden where we opened our minds, rested in peace, gave thanks and made merry. It was the garden where we fell in love.
Five of us were sat in the centre of this garden at the top of the small hill, or 'mound' as we called it, which was reached by a stone stairway and shaded by trees. From this vantage point we looked out onto the oldest buildings of the college, facing Westwards towards the rosy rays of sundown. It was still bright enough for the sky to be indigo, violet, orange, golden, blue and more than warm enough for our bare limbs. Sunset was our favourite time of the day and most evenings it was our ritual to bid farewell once more to the source of light on Earth. Time was immaterial; only the sun marked passage of hours in our eyes.
The birds were engaged in a farewell chorus to the very same sun, whilst John and I watched two butterflies chasing one another amongst the sun-spangled leaves, as in a stylized dance of love. This dance reached its conclusion when they came to rest on the step immediately below our feet, where they stayed for a moment, slowly moving their beautiful wings. Two painted ladies who had recently been born and never been so close to a human spirit.
”They are bowing”, John stated pensively. Bowing before the birth of beauty.
I was delighted by his romantic words and peered more closely at the tiny coloured insects. Fully in tune with one another, the butterflies took renewed flight in unison, fluttering through the force of their own energy for a few seconds before landing once again. They settled on his right knee this time and I wondered what it was that had attracted them to him. As he had already done with me, John appeared to have magnetised these butterflies with his passion and stillness. It was not long before they took off again, this time disappearing into the ether; leaving us to follow the path they made through the gates of heaven. I sensed that a turning point had come in my relationship with John, which had been growing for some time. With an unspoken agreement we followed the butterflies through the gateway without looking back. Looking back is something one does not consider when the vision of paradise lies directly ahead, as in the passage of the sun.
We went down the steps and headed for my room in college, which was in a dusky pink house situated just inside the old city walls. It was a very good student building with an extraordinarily potent atmosphere and a steady stream of great visitors. John and I, meanwhile, had been taken over by some force, that much was clear. I personally had no clue what that force really was. The most I expected and hoped for was a romantic embrace, although he appeared to have more foreknowledge of what was to come. Then again, maybe he thought I knew better.....In any case, analysis is neither required nor permitted within the gates of paradise, where understanding is in the invisible realm of the soul.
Twilight fell like whispers
Of an Echo. Bade by Eros,
Venus, like the bloom, transpired
By moonlight. Smelted tears dropped.
As we entered my room an internal prompt brought about the enactment of a dramatic script. “Why are you fighting me?” he asked, with a peculiarly weary intonation. “I’m not!” I returned, with genuine surprise. I only wanted to prove that I was ready, willing, and able, to love him completely.
He lay on the single bed in my room and asked: "What is it that I can give you?". This seemed to be an offer, though of what, precisely, I could only guess at. I had been waiting for this moment, it seemed, for my lifetime’s duration, but now that it had come I was aware that the ultimate meaning was as yet lost on me. At that point I obviously assumed that sex would be involved, for I had longed for such an encounter since our first meeting and that was the way boy-girl encounters usually went. Thankfully, however, I was spared the possibility of making what with hindsight may have been an inappropriate reply, because it seemed my proscribed response was set in stone. I recited it in relief:
“The only thing I have ever wanted”
He then asked how he was supposed to know that I wouldn’t hurt him, a question which seemed to require evidence of some kind. I failed to understand (the facts but not the implications) as I uttered it, but my committed response was that I would then “do it” (myself) to spare him the pain. What ‘it’ involved I could not possibly have guessed, nor in fact did I attempt to hazard such a guess, for the immediate scene was to be continued without pause for reflection. As he considered the answer I handed him a magical book to read, opened onto the passage about the nature of love. He read the part and then looked at me with a more seriously respectful expression, which I had not seen him wear before.
“That book is amazing”, he said earnestly, obviously impressed. He had just read a passage from Kahil Gibran's The Prophet, about the meaning of love. So I went to lie next to him on the bed.
I was lying on my left side when he bent over to touch my forehead with his own and then sat back to observe the effect. If the truth is to be told, with this gesture he opened my mind, and was able to accomplish such a thing through his mental ability and my own free will. This is what transpired:
He had always reminded me of a leopard because he was beautiful and languid in appearance and movement but with the underlying threat of volatile instincts. He also kept a large wooden statue of that creature in his room and, furthermore, had given me a book of the same name. I sensed his spiritual power but attributed it to the animal personality, so when my body began to react to the opening of my mind I was certain that I too was being transformed into a leopard, especially so we could make love as equals (an extreme interpretation, and even I, in my transcendental state of consciousness, acknowledged without holding the thought, the danger of accepting such a course of action with the blind faith that it was my destiny to do so). One of my special subjects was in Fantasy and at this I excelled through my immense capacity for belief. I was also, it must be said, tranquilly but determinedly content to have succeeded in reaching this critical point of an initiatory engagement.
My eyes were closed and my body, following the exact directions that penetrated me from without, arched backwards (with more grace than would have been natural for a body in such a physically strained position) as if my head wanted to touch my feet. I felt strangely relaxed and experienced, if this is the right word. My body seemed incredibly lithe and supple, far more so than usual, as if light were running through my veins. I enjoyed a joyful surge of pure physical strength and energy. I could have been more than 6 feet tall, such was the sensation of healthy fluidity, and I experienced curious pleasure through feeling that way. I saw all of this as being a surprisingly desirable first consequence of my exchange with the leopard for its soul: The body.
It must have been warm because my companion removed his shirt before turning me so I was lying face down on the bed, my head close to his chest. He asked if I was Ok, and I was, so it carried on.
My right hand was the focus for the next action and was transformed into something clenched and clawed - almost exactly like a leopard’s paw, I noted with confidence - while my arm bent rigidly as if there was much tension in the limb, at right angles from the elbow. My instinct was to make use of the claws but the action was continued at my left hand as I concentrated intently on the study of my bodily transformation.
I felt reasonably satisfied to be in possession of two paws but then, after several minutes, the performance became more obviously demanding, seeing as the clenching of my arms and hands was not quite comfortable and put an almost perceptible strain on my whole body. He asked once again if I was OK and sounded a bit more concerned this time, but while my tone of voice acknowledged some stress I insisted that I was and kept my face down. It had passed through my head but fleetingly that I might never be normal again, but I had already committed myself to the action and saw that there was no way of returning to the point which came before the position I had arrived at. As such there was no place for fear, doubt or regret.
The stretching out of my own into fabulous leopard’s legs was a welcome diversion from the stiff front claws and I spent quite a few minutes appreciating the fact that they seemed to be almost a foot longer than usual. In their new-found elasticity was discernable movement within the internal veins, which seemed to override in quality the inert calcified matter of the solid form. My feet were pointed and held together so I considered that they were affected at the same time. I arched backwards from the base of my spine, constantly aware of my somehow unnatural flexibility, while my arms remained rigid. It felt rather as if a spirit of immense energy was moving my body without revealing itself fully to my mind.
When these things were done I was turned by my companion so that I was face up with my eyes still closed, for I felt it was not yet appropriate (it did not seem possible) to open them or indeed to move myself voluntarily out of the appointed position. It was not for me to break the mystery whilst it occurred. At that moment the man by my side took some initiative and decided to smoke a cigarette. He lit it by resting the matchbox on my chest, striking so the flame ignited close to my heart, whereupon a great and vivid flash of light flooded through my closed eyelids, producing an ecstatic response in me. I inspired sharply with a gasping noise and then my eyes were opened.
I felt extraordinary, with an almost beatific sense of purity and peace as if a monumentally painful test had somehow been completed without undue sensation. Feeling overwhelmingly light behind the eyes I threw my hands above my head as if compelled to achieve a final designated pose. I noticed then that my companion bore a serious expression and hardly looked at me as he smoked silently, so I felt I should relax. After flinging up my arms one more time I let them fall outwards into the approximate position they had been in when I was prone face down a moment before. My legs were bent slightly from the knees with my feet together because he was sat at right angles to my body, back against the wall with his own legs pinning mine into place.
See the Leopard sleek and running
Lo, behold, the day is coming!
Dawn descends from heaven's scented
Spheres and rolls to Earth like honey.
I looked him in the eye and smiled in peaceful adoration, with the restful thought in my otherwise clear mind that the purpose of my life had been fulfilled. My head was resting on my left shoulder and I gazed at him as if I was a child. How I loved him, I hoped he was proud.
One look was all it took for the realization to hit me with breathtaking force like a bolt from the blue. I saw with shocking clarity that leopard had been a misnomer and everything had changed - the animal had become spiritual; this I understood only upon reaching the final resting place. As the truth materialised a cool tear fell from each of my eyes. Leo was She, which I am. The Stations of the Cross, the Passion of Christ, had been faithfully enacted as the prelude to love and I had done it freely; willing, for that love, to even take upon myself the carnal instincts of a predatory creature. The performance had ended with the death of myself and the discovery of divine will.
I seemed, somewhat inexplicably, to have found exactly what I had been looking for without even knowing what it had been. John declared never to have felt that way before. I was personally incapable of speaking, such was the impact of what had come to pass, and it seemed that I had irrevocably, in the blinking of an eye, lost my own separate will to live, apart from the spirit of God, which it would be my destiny to associate with the man I loved.
At that point I registered a possible dilemma in my situation; I had previously been quite a strong character and certainly a selfish one, in the sense that I had always done exactly what I wanted without paying much attention to what other people thought about things. In another sense I had been extremely shy and timid about interaction with people on a social level, but this was all about to really change. Everything about me seemed to have changed in an instant, or at least, another side to me came out. At that moment I felt as if I had been turned upside down and inside out. I no longer felt that I knew either myself or the meaning of right and wrong. I felt vulnerable, to be sure, but that would not be the biggest problem for me in the aftermath of this total conversion; rather more would I struggle to untangle my feelings for a man, John, with my new-found belief in God, seeing as they had appeared to me in conjunction.
I believed that the force had come from within John, for I could see no other explanation for what had occurred; besides which, I had reasons other than my personal attraction to him to think this magnetic character I saw before me. Much later (when it was a bit too late) he said that he’d thought the force had come from me, which was very confusing.
Our human love for each other, meanwhile, was destined to be stunted, which caused me greater sorrow than I had ever thought possible, for I adored him as if I was a child and he was every meaning in life. I could not help but see that he and I must surely have been made for each other, given the extraordinary reflection that our union bore of divine love and grace.
As far as university went, I saw from this transformative moment that my ‘real’ vocation was a calling to religion. My tutor might recall me having mentioned this during my interview. I managed to do my history degree part-time whilst aiming for first-class honours in mysticism.
At the exact time of my conversion, however, the last thing on my mind was a controlled relationship with John, who I clung to as if my life depended upon it. I made it my mission in life to maintain a position by the side of the only other living human who had actually seen some of what I had seen. The corporeal object of my devotion, however, with the absolute security I afforded him, saw things in a more studied light at the first and subsequent moments, and was not inclined to embrace an extremity when safe middle ground was beckoning.
Following my enactment of the crucifixion, he waited a moment or two, declared he had ‘never felt this way before, then said he was going to the bar. This was entirely in keeping with his Irish character and offered a much needed aspect of normality to an otherwise impossible situation. I leapt at the evidence of such a clear and decisive sense of direction, which I deemed essential at that mind-blowing juncture of my life, and followed him quite sheepishly and sans invitation.
Once turned around, my thoughts were at rest,
My eyes had been closed, he lit a flame near my chest.
The truth had then dawned, and seeing, I cried,
Knowing that love was so great he had died.
We had sat close to the door of the cavernous vault of the bar, not speaking, as I was apparently holding onto an unconscious vow of silence (which was actually more than appropriate) and he was not in any way inclined to comment on the unusual situation. I was virtually speechless, and tried several times to light a cigarette, even though I didn’t really smoke. I had taken his lead in this, as with so much else that was to come and he logically declared this to be an unhealthy reaction.
The cigarette fell to the floor once, twice, then again and, as I bent to pick it up this guy we knew, who was called Matthew, picked it up, put it in my mouth and lit it with the immortal words. “Well let this be for the breath, the blood and the body of Christ!”. Obviously, we were stunned. How had he known? This sort of thing went on and on for the next three and a half months, with everyone around us apparently privy to the secret knowledge we had just learned. How did they all know? In fact, did they all know, or did we just know how to hear what they were saying? It was a very great mystery and it blew my mind.
After Matt’s comment, I turned to Peter with mouth agape, and even the budding lawyer was forced to acknowledge that for these to have been the first words spoken to us was a rather extraordinary confirmation of events. Events that might easily have been dismissed as freakish or a fluke had they occurred in isolation.
For the whole of the rain-free glorious summer, seeing as every single person on earth seemed to be on board with the mission, I was able to see how we were forming a new Jerusalem as we lived. Matthew, meanwhile, will go down in my history as having been the first to independently declare his recognition of the coming of God to his world. For my own part, I believed that love everlasting could be the only law, now that I had come alive in its spirit.
This was a fateful evening. A new age had just begun and our closest friends would look through the window onto the new world too. They were so very bright and open minded, always seeing the unusual aspects of a situation that others would probably not have seen so easily. We truly inspired one another, and upon association managed to find aardvark’s and eland’s amongst the more obvious creatures of the new world. These were the definition of halcyon days.
I was hopelessly and madly in love with John, believing absolutely, from the first time I saw his face, that the sun rose in his eyes. When I first heard of the gift – the ability to be at one with all the magic of the universe - I knew without doubt that I was a woman who had been given the moon and the stars to lighten the dark and endless night of the solitary soul*. This was the gift of faith and hope through sacred love.
The spinning up to heaven followed this and many other things besides that are no longer mentionable; except to say that I tried to see as many people as possible so that we could all go to heaven together in the end of days.
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of men, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! As the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall