GENERISIS presents THE GOLDEN DAWN
Episode 12 - SALISBURY PLAIN!
A coffin bounced on shoulders more eager than sturdy All Souls' Night - within I blew upon the rose between my hands for warmth, cursing again the day I'd consented to initiation into the Golden Dawn.
My coffin had been one of seven loaded into three wagons hired at Salisbury Town. The road north was not very good... now and again a wheel pitched, throwing my box against its neighbor whereupon rough voices, two of these recognizable as those of Crowley and Allen Bennett, could be distinguished shouting imprecations at one another. Even had the lid of my coffin lifted (as it would do on several occasions after encountering a nasty pothole) I would not otherwise have known the identity of my Charons for, once out of the center of Salisbury, one and all had masked their faces and concealed their forms with dark, hooded cloaks.
"Well," said Bennett, "here is Salisbury Plain. Looks as though we're the first. Who are the rest of our novices?"
"This one writes for the financial press," Crowley muttered, giving my neighbor's box a hearty slap. "I wouldn't have him but Sapere Arde and Dedi pushed him through as a favor to old Councell. The rest include an insurance broker, a muck-a-muck from the Royal Academy, a chemist of some sort, recommended by the Royal Astronomer... I'd do without this journalist but Dedi's obsessed with his roses... and as twelve petals must contain seven cankers he's bound us to seven Neophytes, qualified or more likely not. Maybe," Aleister Crowley roared, slapping the coffin so its occupant could not fail to hear, "we could have an accident arranged... it wouldn't be the first time! Why not six... six goes into twelve, seven is an oddity. Sloppy magic..."
"But not a wholly intolerable lot," Bennett tried to calm him. "At least I trust we'll hear nothing from the police."
"The police?" Crowley snickered. "Drinking up their bribe in Deptford's pub. Dedi almost tossed that up, though, with his instructions in that miserable penmanship of his... Ho! Damned horse..."
The carriage lifted again, cracking my skull against the coffin-wood with such vehemence I shouted back "Hey! Couldn't you take it easier?"
"Shut up back there," Crowley replied. "The dead are not to speak except when spoken to. Remember our drill!"
Our destination eventually achieved, each coffin was unloaded and, while the night was chilled and I had not the succor of tobacco, there at least was the fresh meadow-scent to be savored after London's smoke. By and by other voices rose, and there followed a few bumps, a scream and, at length, the crackling of a fire. The voices of passing Adepts grew formal; Crowley had explained to me that they would form a circle within the greater stone circle of Salisbury Plain, with we poor becoffined Initiates at the center.
Sapere Arde, whose voice I recognized as Westcott's, began the ceremony.
"Larval sons and daughters of Hermes," the Coroner pronounced, "here stand the portals before which the Dawn's Men danced... behind me, that door to New Jerusalem, opened from the East. Fraters et Sorors, have you named a Graunde Mischief Captaine to question the initiates in the absence of the Praemonstrator?"
"We have!" the Company declared.
"Then," Westcott said, "let us follow his lead in adoration of the Lords of Universe and Space!"
It was Crowley who spoke - in the wake of the legal action and removal of the Executive Difficulties to Charles Russell's firm for satisfaction, a rough compromise had been brokered. For acknowledging the primacy of Cancellarius, my landlord had been appointed Captaine of Mischief as a sop to the Praemonstrator in his French exile. "Holy art Thou, Lord of the Universe!" Crowley declared, as such, and the Adepti roared back their salute:
"Holy art Thou, Whom Nature hath not Formed!
"Holy art Thou, Vast and Mighty!
"Lords of the Light and Darkness!"
"In the name of He who works in Silence and whom naught but Silence expresses," I heard Willie Yeats intone, "I declare the Temple Gate be opened to these neophytes."
Bennett, later, drew for me a picture of that scene which, being locked away within the coffin, I could not observe. Rather than loosing each every novice in his turn - and perhaps so giving the earliest favour in the estimation of unseen Lords, so Bennett said - we were to spring as one into life at initiation's end like rats from a lit stove. Thus I could only wait, and listen, while Westcott approached the foremost coffin.
"Frateres and Sorores," said the Coroner, "I have received Dispensation from Frater DEDI to admit Arthur Sarsfield-Ward to the degree of Neophyte. Soror Sapienta, is the candidate prepared?"
"His limbs are still weary from wars in Heaven and..." I heard Florence Farr answer, "...in other places. Unpurified and Unconsecrated he canst not enter the New Jerusalem."
If all proceeded as Crowley said, a Northern Adept would be approaching the coffin with his cup, the Southern Adept with a torch to pass over the novice twice, making a smoky cross. I hoped this latter was sober. I had thoroughly examined my habitation on the train to Salisbury Town... the coffins had been borrowed by Westcott's agents from the City's store earmarked for paupers' burials, they were cheaply constructed, the wood well-seasoned and eminently vulnerable to errant sparks.
"Thou art purified with water!" Farr said at length. "And thou art consecrated with fire."
There was a silent interval while one of the Adepts... it was probably Councell, young Sarsfield's sponsor... questioned the initiate and then the process was repeated, five times in all. Of we seven initiates, lying in seven coffins in a tidy little row on Salisbury Plain, it seemed I was next to last situated.
"Frateres and Sorores," Westcott finally declared, "I have received Dispensation from Brother Perdurabo to admit Arthur Cameron to the degree of Neophyte. Soror Sapienta, is the candidate prepared?"
"His limbs are still weary from the wars in Heaven and... other places," Farr repeated, yet again. "Unpurified and Unconsecrated he canst not enter the New Jerusalem."
I heard the water sprinkle from the cup of the Northern Adept, smelt the smoke of my crucifixion.
"Thou art purified with water! And thou art consecrated with fire."
"Inheritor of a Dying World," Westcott questioned, "why seekest thou admission to our Order?"
"My Soul wanders in Darkness and seeks the Light of the Hidden Knowledge," I replied, as Crowley had tutored, "and I believe that in this Order, Knowledge of that Light may be obtained."
"Frater DEDI?" the Coroner invited.
"Are you prepared to take a solemn obligation to keep the secrets and mysteries of our Order inviolate?" said Yeats, "to persevere with courage and determination in the labours of Divine Science and not debase Mystical Knowledge in the labor of Evil Magic at any time, whether tired or under any temptation?"
"Candidate," Crowley stated, "the Captaine of Mischief asks what of the multiples of number seventeen below one thousand... what are their connections and their significance?"
I felt the heat of fire leaping as one of the Adepts had, no doubt, added fuel... a strangled cry rose from the plain, evidence of some small tragedy of nature. Crowley had warned me that it was the time of year when stags quite lose their senses in such rural abodes, emerging from the woods to mate and fight as, also, he had stated that it was the sponsor's prerogative to pose any question of his choice as a test of qualities... "you've studied engineering, lad, let's see if you can engineer your own admission." I began counting off on my fingers, letting slip the rose placed within the coffin as my sole companion... I imagined the impatience of the Golden Dawn, remembered my landlord's many reference to multitudes of paths.
"O Captaine..." I replied, "the last whole divisor by seventeen before one thousand is nine hundred eighty six... by fifty eight... the tenth percent of which is ninety eight point six, that temperature Fahrenheit at which the body in its normal state reposes."
"His reply is suitably enlightened," I heard Crowley answer. "What say ye of the Golden Dawn?"
"He is chosen!"
The officers proceeded to the last coffin where the ceremony was repeated, without incident, and the sponsors then retreated to their place at the head of the caskets of their candidates. "Rise, Neophyte Cameron," Crowley said, "who now loses his mortal name and shall henceforth be known among us as Frater Altius Resurgre Spero. Cancellarius, your Captaine personally presents this fellow for admission into the Golden Dawn."
And, the lid of my coffin being thrown open, I lay blinking a moment under a shroud of stars, then sat up as did the six other shades, to find ourselves arranged before two tables, one black and the other white; twelve cloaked, masked celebrants forming a circle around them and from their midst...
"Stand, Frater Altius," Crowley invited, "that was only the releasing of a champagne cork... the first of many, let us hope!"
He had pushed off the hood to one side; Mercury and Scorpio alike shining down to wash his balding pate... Bennett, also unmasked, pressed a flute to my hand. Such Lords as protected the Golden Dawn apparently felt no need of secrecy, now that initiation was done and all dreadful oaths sworn... Adepts in cloaks and Novices in their day-garb conversing as fellow seekers if not quite as equals. Bennett excused himself to lead Farr, Gonne and a young woman with dark hair in a shambling but enthusiastic dance.
Crowley pointed out to me a white-moustached Adept watching the dancers jealously.
"That's Waite..." said the magickian, "he is what one considers a commercial occultist, it is less than a polite term in these circles. He thinks young Pamela personal property of his, though he is such a proper, pompous Papist in Hermetic guise... watch him seethe! Mathers has a Parisian friend who compared such faces to those which monkeys upon hearing the songs of Orpheus... perfect, yet wicked men whose bywords are "suffer, abstain and die". Yeats, at least, has his wee bag o'dreams but that one's a dream strangler - ah! there he goes. Good!"
The novice whose given name was Sarsfield-Ward approached; a man younger than I... a lad, really, with a long, earnest face and a sharp nose, the better with which to sniff round London docks after the gossip of marine commerce.
"Brothers," said Ward, "... if I may so presume... are all nights of the Golden Dawn rather like this?"
"Sometimes even the more dramatic. In May, we quite make monkeys of ourselves, eh Ruby Arse?"
"Altius... please!" While appreciative of Villiers, Crowley had taken cruel advantage of the initials of that fraternal name I had taken in his homage (and under some prodding from my landlord). "So you are the reporter... and also, I hear, a writer of Egyptian tales. Have you been to the pyramids?"
"Well, not exactly," Sarsfield-Ward admitted, "but I have read everything by Petrie, Burton too... I lack the money for traveling, you see, so I have to work for the financial press and manage comedians. But I do hope to establish myself in trade and so earn enough to travel..."
"A good many fortunes have been established in trade," Crowley allowed. "So what's to be your racket..."
"Well, at present I hold high hopes for a little device for the manufacture of a superior mothball. I'm hoping for customers and I've taken on a partner who is a medical student..."
"A medical student!" Crowley remarked drily. "How prescient..."
"A nephew of Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll as most know him..."
At once my landlord's mien turned calculating. "This seems like an interesting young man. Now that you are a Neophyte, I need not tell you one of the surest avenues of promotion is one's efficacy in recruitment."
"O! if only Donald had any interest in the ancient arts," lamented Sarsfield-Ward. "But what he does mostly is drink... almost to the degree my mother did. She came from Ireland and tended to commune with ghouls when so afflicted... say, is the Sapere Arde really Coroner of London? He must have plenty of stories... you see, I am very interested in death."
"As death is interested in us all. Go to him, young man..." Sarsfeld-Ward departed, Crowley shaking his skull.
"Useless boy! but that nephew might be an avenue into the confidences of Dodgson. Celebrity is as useful to occult orders as in any other venture, cold as that may seem! Oh... looks like Gonne has had another row with her Willie. Yeats always was more adoring of heroic men then heroic actions and it may be the Soror has taken him at his word. Since I am, after all, the Grand Captain of Mischief; perhaps there is something I can do to hasten matters along!"
The Mischief Captaine departed, glowering, leaving me to drink in the primeval splendors of the night... the dancers and feasters and lonely shadows slithering across Salisbury Plain. Locating a quarter-filled bottle of claret, I seized it and wandered westwards, intent on inspecting those great monoliths that, in company, have been given the name Stonehenge. Out of the corner of my eye I observed a hand beckon from the wood towards one of new Initiates, a tall hat surmounting his dark cloak, weaving towards it past one of the smaller stones at the perimeter of the ring, an obelisk which seemed to tremble in the crisp autumn air.
Suddenly I espied... of all things!... a small, pale orb scudding across the grass. A human skull! attatched to a thin dark cord, almost like a snake... racing away from the monolith which forthwith lurched, like a tooth coaxed from its bed by the dentist's hammer, to fall towards its unseeing victim. I rubbed my brow, but it was neither dust in my eye nor the wine that had caused this vision.
"Hey! Watch out!" I began to run but, quite silently, the stone toppled and buried the man in the hat. "Help!" I cried, turning to the others. "Help!"
I have said that the stone that fell was a small one, but this was only in relation to its brethren... only a twitching hand protruded from beneath its mass and, upon the turf beneath the place where the head would have lain, a small trickle of blood oozed down a gentle slope towards the center of the ring. Another Adept arrived, and then another. "No man or woman could have survived such accident... if it is that!" I heard someone declare. A clearer head called for a count-off by number as used to be done in schoolyards; this seemed the only means by which a census could determine who had fallen beneath the stone. Such proved impossible, however, owing to the Pandaemonium arising... certainly allowing any perpertrator of foul play, especially if equipped with the foresight to conceal himself by cloak and mask, to have effected his escape.
Light of head, sick of heart I stepped away from the violence and it was then, looking down, I spied that certain boast of murder completed, a dagger thrust into the meadow to its hilt... the very brother to that implanted beneath a hanging man... and that across an ocean!
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