Tuesday, 25 March 2014

An Angelic Examination

Required: In the three forms of drama, discuss the rise and fall of Industrial Man.

Divine Comedy

Angels take exams. Of course they do. They have to learn, just like you.

She-He-It, a clumsy term, perhaps not the best that we can do for an immaterial entity without gender or digestion, although it will have to digest and pass out a lot of material in order to pass its exam. Let's call it Angelic Entity or Angelic Examinee or even Angelic Examinor or better still, just AE for short. Anyway, this disembodied spirit was on a learning curve, just like You, I and Everything else.  Now, you really didn't think Existence or your awareness of it, was pointless, did you? There are arrangements for opening even the most hard shelled atheist materialist, and its best to avoid them.

Anyway - we can hardly begin with 'One day' or 'Once upon a time' can we, when speaking or writing of the activities of entities not constrained by time?

'As Above, So Below' - you were told, even if you didn't believe it. Who you know is undeniably important both Above and Below, but even Friends of God may need little helpers, and those messengers or helpers have to know stuff and be able to do things, just like the management and staff in an army, a bureaucracy or a corporation. The Company of Heaven, The Heavenly Choirs, the Heavenly Host (and the Infernal Legions), the Celestial Hierarchy, all are rather like their earthly counterparts, at least to human understanding.

Some of the success of the British and Chinese Empires, for instance, depended on their use of competitive examinations to prove knowledge and ability to justify promotion to more senior positions of responsibility within their governments and organisations. Therefore its not really surprising that one fine morning - if that's when you want it to be- this Angel was sitting - if that's the posture you wish It to adopt - an examination.

AE, in researching the history of the Industrial Revolution had consulted the Akashic and many other records. He had noted that although conditions had seemed propitious on earlier occasions, such as in Ptolemaic Alexandria and medieval China, it had actually happened first in England and that statistics showed a sudden and sustained rise in average income per head, combined with growth in the number of heads, from about 1800. AE had been pleased to come across a book or the psychic imprint of a book, which explained it all. This was 'A Farewell to Alms', by George Clark . This had referred to the famous Rev. Thomas Malthus who had explained that population increased to the limit of subsistence so that mass attempts to raise the incomes of the poor were fruitless, because they would breed themselves back into poverty. He had been right, right up to the time he wrote in 1798, but since then had been spectacularly wrong. Clark's book seemed to be the victim of a similar irony, for it had been published in 2005, just about the time of peak-oil and just before the beginning of the financial crashes which had marked the start of the downturn. He had not acknowledged the special role of non-renewable fossil fuels in enabling this sudden rise and subsequent decline. He had however highlighted the other factor, the intellectual and moral side which had enabled those people to recognise and respond to the physical opportunity.(Coal and oil had been known and even used to a small extent long,long before.) There had been a long period of preparation in Britain, of effectively evolutionary pressure working to promote intelligence, invention and industrious sober behaviour via reproductory success.He had shown that the main factor in economic growth had been intellectual capital, intelligence applied to means of production.

The results however had not been as expected. It had been amusing to see that despite all the moans about exploitation of the working class, the main long term beneficiaries of industrialization had been the unskilled workers, who were enabled to live better than kings of old - at least in material terms, and without their worries and responsibilities. There had been truth in the saying that the only thing worse than being exploited by capitalists, was not being exploited by capitalists.The differential income of skilled workers over unskilled had declined, not risen, as more and more intellectual capital was created and applied. Later of course in the era of the crooked banksters when they controlled both politics and the economy and also the media forming the public mind, wealth had been drained from the public to the tiny number of top crooks, but initially the classical economists had been correct in predicting that competition between producers would chiefly benefit their customers.     

The book was interesting for other reasons. It showed that the average living standards of the population even of the wealthiest and most technically advanced countries, although fluctuating with population, had not substantially risen for thousands of years, or ever! The people of ancient Babylonia seemed to have been about as well off as those of Britain before 1800, and so probably had been those of the stone age.

That had been a slap in the face for those on the Path of Progress. It was curious to note that living standards had risen for about a century after the Black Death, so workers were better off in the mid 15th century than they were to be again before the early 19th, as population grew again. 

Then the wet fish reversed and hit the faces of the beneficiaries of their ancestors intelligence and diligence, causing them to slip on a banana skin. Having got to the top, they'd never had it so good, relaxed their manners and morals, accepted a lot of specious nonsense, lost their way and their identity, and their successors found themselves going downhill to extinction, once more under the laws of the Rev. Malthus, but working in the reverse direction. 

So far so usual really. What was different about Industrial Man? Put a beggar on horseback and watch him ride to the devil. It was as if The Gods, for their amusement, had given him vast resources to see what he would do with them. Perhaps not a new idea, but unprecedented in material terms.
What had he done with them? In one way it was a comic situation where an heir receives an unexpected inheritance and wastes it; or one of those characters who wins a fortune in a lottery and is unable to cope, allowing the wealth to deteriorate his already weak character until it had been dissipated and its temporary possessor reduced to a situation even worse than he had previously experienced.  In another it allowed  his vanity and character flaws to expand and become even more visible and risible.

Had they taken the opportunities of greater numbers and information and opportunities presented by the huge expansion of wealth to devise and implement great and noble religions, philosophies, or literary and artistic achievements?  Merely to ask the question was to indulge in humour.

Had the ignorant and toiling masses, now more numerous and far,far less constrained by poverty, short lives, restricted possibilities in life and narrow education, liberated themselves and produced mighty works worthy to rank with the best in the achievements of humanity? Ha!Ha! An answer in the range between 'evidently not', and 'not evidently' sufficed to dispose of the hopes of all those earnest reformers and eager revolutionaries, whose violence, desecration and oppression had been justified by such a claim on behalf of anonymous masses. Sows ears and silk purses came to mind.

Had the huge numbers of ordinary people without much ambition or talent, at least taken the increased chances for being useful,helpful, happy and charitable; strengthening their souls, their families, their communities and their world? Cue more laughter.

How had the men of wealth and power and talent used their increased opportunities? Had they taken the chances unrecognised, undesired and ignored by the swinish masses whose concerns seldom rose above their bellies? Had they created a great era worthy of their unique and unprecedented and apparently unrepeatable situation? Would it be long remembered for its great art and architecture, its literature philosophy and science, its justice and civilisation; a golden age which had enabled and expressed the positive potentials of their people? How would their era compare with others? There had certainly been a lot of science and technology, mostly devoted to greed and destruction; not a strong claim to lasting fame. Huge but ephemeral building constructions, not ranking with the achievements of the Megalithic were not even to be mentioned in the same breath as the temples of ancient Egypt, the Gothic Cathedrals, the palaces of the Renaissance. As architecture of culture, piety and power, office blocks, shopping malls and housing estates ranged between the risible and the contemptible. As did the modern art associated with them. Pigs had better taste than the swinish modern successors to the wealthy and prominent patrons of bygone art and culture; they never perpetrated such monstrosities.

 Of course it hadn't been all waste. While still vigorous and intelligent and well organised and somewhat moral they had applied their strength, augmented by the new inventions of their ingenuity,to resisting and rolling back the evil barbarism of Islam - including their worldwide slave trade -and had enhanced civilisation and its opportunities in a century of major peace around the world.The Pax Brittanica had been even greater than the Pax Augusta. Then evil had overwhelmed them in the calamitous 20th century.

AE envisioned proud Prometheus, who had risked and suffered so much to enlighten Man, stealing the conscious fire of the gods on his behalf. There he was before his 'eyes', chained to his Caucasian rock with the eagle of Zeus gnawing at his liver. What did he now think of the results of his benefaction? 'They're fools, nearly all of them', had been his response. 'They thought it was to keep their caves warm, as if I suffered thus for their comfort. Of course they're not grateful, even for that! They'll whine and moan, complain about the price of fuel, protest any infringement of their inalienable right to Lechery, Luxury and Satiety, and go sniveling and groaning into the great darkness when it comes for them and the lights go out.Good riddance. I always knew the herd to be fools, although I never foresaw the form their folly would take. I did it for the philosophical few, and I still do not regret it.'

AE pondered how that divine fire cased in a tube, had through intelligent invention and application, become the fire in the boiler of the steam engines which had driven the Industrial Revolution, and then the petrol engine which had permitted mass mobility, and the ingenious electrical successors which had given cheap computing to be played with as toys and spies.

AE wondered about the fall of Lucifer. Perhaps he had fallen for aeons as sunlight upon the earth, to be compressed and stored as coal and oil to eventually become fuel for the age of Industrial Man. "Yes, it amuses me" he heard the voice of Lucifer, or was it Fenris? say.  "I was cast down, constrained, and now my power has been released. Is it time for Armageddon, or even Ragnarok?" "Now they've unleashed a deeper older binding of power within the atom, reaching greedily and blindly for wealth and dominion, blundering in regions where the angels fear to tread. Doom shall come against them, though they be unprepared."

AE and his guests continued to watch the play of Man. His long struggle between the constraints of physical capacity on the one hand and his developing intellectual powers and moral intentions on the other. What had this evolutionary pressure produced? What had happened when the constraints had been eased?

There was the image of a compassionate lad who had seen a caterpillar on a branch struggling to emerge from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly. The lad saw that it was making little progress and might die before it succeeded, so he carefully and compassionately used a sharp blade to enlarge the aperture to help the creature emerge. Returning the next day, hoping to find a lovely butterfly, he was dismayed to find instead a dead monstrosity. The front part had formed properly into a butterfly, but deprived of the natural resistance against which the rest of its body had to transform itself, it had not been able to do so, and so the freak of nature had died, killed by human kindness. What had happened to that lad? Here he was, serving or performing penance, as one of the good intentions paving the well known route to Hell. Not a very funny story? No, but part of the comedy played between the gods and man. An illustration of the unintended consequences of ignorant, albeit well-intentioned, meddling. It had another twist. Such ignorance was part of Man's estate. Compassion was always encouraged, and preferred to blind and hard-hearted selfishness, but there were costs to both. It was to be hoped that not too many other creatures or people would have to pay the price of educating the self righteous idealists in the Delphic wisdom. 'Man, know thyself. Nothing to excess.' Merlin had much occasion to laugh, although he knew that wisdom was a pearl of great price, and it was likely that others would have to pay largely for it, as they would for its lack and the failure to acquire it.

Curious to see what Industrial Man had made of his bounty and how he had progressed in wisdom, AE followed the path of progress popularised by evolutionists portraying the ascent of man from knuckle-dragging naked ape to upright modern man surrounded by the products of his genius, to even a stooping post-modern metro-sexual festooned with gadgets into which it chattered nonsense. This latter was disconcerting, the script seemed to be going 'off-message'.

As he climbed these imagined heights, AE passed what seemed to be a vast rock-face into which had been carved the faces of several highly esteemed leaders of a powerful people. A little later came the apparition of another mountain  carved to depict their leader at the imagined height of their powers; President Big Ears, Teleprompt-Reader-in-Chief, smirking into his teleprompter hoping to change his poll ratings as he dreamed of a life of perpetual golf. AE shuddered and hurried on.

At last he reached the sunny uplands  where resided the height of human evolution, at least in their own estimation. Resided? Well, reclined at any rate, in comfortable loungers, Recline before decline? It wasn't as if they attended a banquet of the Gods, or a symposium or even a Roman dinner party. Those hosts would not have invited or admitted them. Even Trimalchio might have been put off by their crass and ignorant vulgarity.'You're worth it' was their motto. Not much else in the cosmos would have agreed with them.

As AE gazed at them their forms and features and mental activities seemed to become ever grosser and more bestial. There seemed to be, not crowds of people but herds of domestic animals, cow-people, sheep-people, pig-people, interspersed with predatory fox or wolf-people and officious sheepdog-people. AE became aware of their thoughts and emotions. The herd animals were quite happy with their lot, they wanted nothing better than to be housed and fed and protected and spared all thought and striving, other than pecking-order rivalry. Seldom were their minds disturbed by anything which would distinguish them from the beasts of field and byre. There might be a dim awareness that there could be an abattoir nearby and judas-goats to lead them to it, but even formulating the pejorative concept of a 'conspiracy-theory' was slipping beyond their capacity, and their only dreams were of lotus-land.

Was this really the great being, made only a little lower than the angels, before whom Lucifer had refused to bow and been cast out of heaven as a consequence? "No, it certainly wasn't" said the spirit of Lucifer, with an arm around AE's shoulders as he wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. Prometheus smiled grimly as the eagle of Zeus took a break from tormenting him, to chase away a Roman eagle whose people had forfeited any claim on victory when their rulers had expelled the signs and images of the gods from their Senate, and then to tear chunks of flesh and feathers from the eagle of those modern imitators who had latterly specialised at great expense and after much preliminary self glorification,in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Herakles, whose superhuman efforts had elevated him from mortal to Olympian through a fiery apotheosis which was no mere imperial pumkinification, passed by to cast an eye over the activities of humanity. His mighty frame still garbed in a lionskin and casually resting his huge club on a broad shoulder, he shook his head at the imperial antics of President Big Ears, his unworthy imitator. "Wearing the Lion's skin, but weighed down by the Club" he muttered as he departed.

 A host of angels, demi-gods, immortals and spirits great if not always good, gathered in the theatre of the gods against the backdrop of the universe, to watch as on the circular stage of the world, the comedy of humanity played itself out into farce; and they laughed and laughed and laughed.

The Satire of Peak Flint

As our angel mused on human history  its creative imagination whimsically conjured up the figures of two ancient sages. They lived in adjacent caves and each Monday and Thursday preached a similar sermon to similar audiences so the angel easily conflated their message and their audience. Long white robes hadn't been invented in their remote times and combs and razors were rare. However, there they were, clad perhaps in bearskins (although not Guardsmen) or in goatskins (although not Robinson Crusoe), but probably not in grass skirts (they weren't frivolous maidens in tropical climes). It was the Stone Age so they lived in caves. Perhaps they were not Platonic Caves, but these were serious prophets or prognosticators or commentators on the Trends of Their Times so they would probably have liked the notion that they were disabusing their followers of false impressions and superstitions created in them by having paid too much attention to the flickering shadows cast by the media on the walls of their caves. Nonetheless, there they were, week after week, dispensing wisdom to their students whose eager faces turned to them away from the central fire and ignoring the flickering shadows.

 "Peak Flint!" the sages cried."We're passing Peak Flint." "What do you mean?" asked some of the slower students who had arrived late. "We know all the hills and mountains around here and there's no peak called 'Flint'."  "Yes", said the student known as 'Sloth', or was it 'Smarty'?; waving his hands around to indicate their immobile status,"We're all sitting here. We're not passing anywhere!" Taking deep calming breaths our philosophical duo would restrain themselves from falling upon the fools and casting them into the outer darkness where giant hyenas laughed and wept, and sabre-toothed tigers gnashed their sabre-teeth.

Patiently they would again explain that the flint which they all used so thoughtlessly in their daily lives was a 'non-renewable resource'. "We're using it up, but the Gods aren't making any more of it!" "Long ago it was all predicted in the mystic petroglyphs Old Mother Hubbard found written on the walls of her cave-cupboard, which was otherwise bare.The Oracle told us what they meant, 'You can't have your cake and eat it.' We're running out of flint.That's what they meant.That's how we know. As it was predicted, so it has come to pass. This is the One, the True, Apocalypse. You also may experience it when these things are uncovered or revealed to you! Life will never be the same afterwards."

(Parenthetically it may be observed that there had been a small faction of heretical dissenters, long since having provided food for hyenas and worms, who had doubted our sages intimate knowledge of the will and actions of the deities. They had even blasphemously asserted that the Chtonic deities out of their love and care for the People, were in fact busily making more flint deep underground and disgorging it along with the occasional belches and shudders which rocked the earth. Some even claimed that the Celestial deities occasionally threw down fiery gifts to earth which cooled to reveal stones harder than flint which could have an edge even sharper than flint and which were obviously closely associated with fire. What nonsense!)

"We've already used up most of the practically recoverable flint from our own territory, and are having to import it from foreign lands", they explained."Those people will soon also run short, and not have so much spare flint to sell us, and their prices will become more than we can afford."

"But Sage",growled a heavily muscled warrior, "Big Chief Ugg will deal with those foreigners. He's sending some of his Ugglies to kill the foreigners and steal their flint. Any survivors can carry the flint home for us. He's instructed me to take part in this humanitarian mission, I'm proud to say. You can stop worrying and praise the deities who have given us such a good and strong chief."

Again the sages take deep and soothing breaths. "That's all very well" they say, "but not even the Uggliest warriors can steal what does not exist." Here emerge looks of concern and murmurs of dismay from the audience. "Are you doubting the strength and wisdom of our Chief, and the providential care of our Gods? Remember what happened to The Last Know-Alls Who Did That. The giant hyaenas have only just finished crunching their bones!"

Prudently postponing any personal perambulation pertaining to the interior of the belly of the beast, our sages resumed their expositions."Its not about our wise and strong chiefs and providential deities" they proclaimed. "It's about you greedy people! You're using far more than your fair share of flint - even if obtained through Fair Trade - far more than other people get and far more than your ancestors ever dreamed of having. The more you have, the more you want. Not even the strongest and wisest chiefs can collect enough to keep up with your insatiable demands. You're greedy and wasteful I say, and that will anger the Gods. Why, some of you are even using flint to shave yourselves!" Here the audience was encouraged to note the hirsute adornments of their intellectual and spiritual superiors. Brownbeard and White Whiskers as we may call them from the luxuriant facial foliage which gave prima facie evidence, right 'in your faces', of their philosophical cast of mind and austere devotion to their creed of not wasting precious flint on the vain and wasteful habit of shaving. Very evidently they had not dulled the edges of their flint razors by excessive use.

"What shall we do without flint!" wailed the multitude. "Must our economy and standard of living be destroyed, as they  surely will in the absence of cheap and abundant flint. Must we look unfashionable and scruffy? Our descenants will lack sharp edged tools. They will have to go back to the older and more arduous process of rubbing sticks together to make fire. Benbankster will foreclose the mortgages on our caves if we can't give him flint. Woe are we. Save us Great Masters, O save us!"

"You must follow our example" Brownbeard and White Whiskers sternly said."Give up frivolous consumption. Learn to make fewer fires and cut down fewer trees and kill fewer animals. Let your hair grow. You'll be cold but you'll be cool! Remember to use the sliding rule, that'll keep you sharp, you'll be no fool! There'll be a long emergency, but as you're already making everything by hand, don't let it worry you. The important thing is to grow as many greens as possible. Pass on those skills and you may even have enough descendents for some of them to eventually emerge from the Stone Age."

Candidly,and almost in the white toga clad manner of candidates for election to a public body after white robes had been invented, shining with sincerity, they proclaimed their slogan, 'It is necessary to cultivate our garden'. All would be for the best in the best of all possible worlds were that to be done.

Some of the stouter listeners were disturbed. One who was strung about with flints and flanked by armed guards complained, "Its natural to want more. That's Progress!" "No", declaimed one one of the most ardent tax consumers who lived more on what his wits and sad stories and rapid fingers could filch from those more accustomed to what later might be known as 'honest toil',"Giving a lot more of your hard-earned flints to meet the ever expanding needs of the needy, such as I, who are obviously far more deserving than Reactionaries such as those who already have the flints,now THAT would be Progress! We need a lot more Progress, and all who hate those who have more flints than themselves should unite to steal them by fraud if they lack sufficient force."

"Progress makes things worse. Its a snare, a delusion, a heresy." exclaimed the sages.When you use up more than one flint to mine another flint, you end up with fewer flints despite all your efforts. Progress is Regress." This advanced philosophy was a little too progressive, even post-modern, for many of the audience to appreciate. Beetlebrow, a mighty warrior,stood up and beetled his brow. "I'll kill all the Progressives" he said fiercely, scowling at some of the weedier members of the assembly, who may actually have been smoking something. "That will solve the problem."

"Haven't you noticed something, Beetlebrow?" asked one of the more thoughtful members of the audience." Big Chief Ugg gives a lot of the flints to his friends. Mostly they don't find any flints for themselves, they just tell him and us how wonderful he is and how they really-really-really need a lot more flints from the rest of us especially as they have bigger families than we do. The Ugglies steal a lot of flints from foreigners, and the Big Chief gets people like you to ..'collect' a lot more from the rest of us. Isn't it strange that the people who get all those flints from the Chief seem to have less to do than us, there's more of them all the time, and they get to live in nicer caves also? Back in the time of Good Chief Grand Ugg, he wasn't so Big and didn't have so many Ugglies or friends for us to support and didn't need to steal from foreigners ..or us! We kept nearly all of our own flints and were happy. These people who get most of our flints now hadn't even arrived here. Don't you see that evil sorcerers have turned us into foreigners in our own country? You should find and kill those sorcerers." Beetlebrow just scowled.

"I'll tell the Big Chief about you," sneered Leftwing, one of those too busy telling other people what to do to have any time to mind his own business. "Already he only listens to my friends. We tell him what to think and say. We'll get him to steal all your flints and throw you and your family down the shaft of an abandonned flintmine. All is prepared for the Progress of Evil. Evil is good and Good will be made evil. Here beginneth and endeth the First and Last Enantiodromia."

"Benbankster is the source of the problem," declaimed Rightwing, someone so charitable that he sacrificed his chances of expanding his own humble business in favour of trying to alert the public to the plots against them. "He is the head of the Sorcerers Clan."

Growl! Roar! Hiss! Grunt! Groan! Whine! Whimper! Thump! Crash! Howl! Scream! Snarl! Already it was hard to discern whether the greater beasts were within or without the cave.

Wisely the sages retired to tend their gardens, leaving their audience and the rest of the world to howl and growl, snarl and brawl, with and without the aid of flint. And so it went, week after week; age after age.

Human Tragedy

AE stared, amazed and amused, at the reports of research showing that average IQ had declined in Britain by roughly two points per decade since the mid 19th century. It wasn't just that the average had fallen, but that far fewer people of exceptional talent were appearing to make discoveries and inventions and provide leadership.


 People were getting dumber, a full standard deviation in only a century and a half. Modern society in the 'developed' world really did dumb people down. It had been known, but ignored, that exam questions in late 19th century America, for instance, had been at a much higher standard than that of a century later, despite or perhaps because the grip of government and professional educational 'standards' on the minds and education of the public had been much less. 

Peak Intelligence? That looked like a killer. When had they passed that? How far were they on the downward slope? How far down would it go? Could it be that there had been something to that old Parable of the Talents found in one of their sacred scriptures? Those who had used their talents to develop more had graduated, those who had buried their unused talents in earth had been sent back there without them, and the talents required for their immediate survival in a savage state were of a much lower order.

'Resource constraints' thought our angel, 'and perhaps the greatest of these is not faith or hope or charity but intelligence.' 'Here lies Humanity. They passed Peak Intelligence. R.I.P.' Might that be their epitaph?  Or, 'Welcome back to Planet of the Apes.You get to meet again all the species you met on your way up. They'll be delighted to see you.' Humanity had been the apes best shot. Would the ants or the cockroaches do any better? He would not wait around to find out.

What had caused the change? Here was a story about how a parasite could cause its host to act contrary to its own survival interests.
 Could it have been some sort of mental parasite which had caused the most civilised and advanced people of the Victorian era to have turned against themselves, undermined the sources of their own success and survival and degenerated themselves into virtual morons?

It looked as if they had needed to use both their physical and mental resources under selection pressure, to build up societies where the better possibilities were more widely available - crudely proxied by material wealth - but then the selection criteria were reversed by their moral intellectual and social corruption and forward they Progressed downwards. There was an interesting thought from Spinoza that intellect could be used to build up more and better intellectual tools - crudely proxied and parodied by 'intellectual capital' to which was attributed their economic development after they had the wit to be able to make use of the succession of 'non-renewable resources' each of which in its time had seemed the ultimate.

It was clear that reproductive success in the modern era had changed. Instead of the brightest and best breeding most, they were those who were not reproducing themselves. They were being replaced by the proliferation of the underclass - at their expense since the economically successful and socially valuable had to pay for the statist programmes which demeaned them and paid the trash of the world to come to their countries and join their own lower orders in outbreeding and replacing them.

Then they had destroyed their intellectual resources by subverting the social institutions which had promoted and protected them. They had recognised that intelligence depended on 'breeding', both heredity and cultivation, but then thoroughly debased and destroyed both aspects. People too stupid to maintain complex thoughts or institutions or machines were on their way out, more stupified and degraded in each succeeding generation. Welcome to Planet of the Apes - descendents meet ancestors.

Could there be some sort of mental parasite causing the best to undermine and destroy themselves? Was it a tragedy-meme or virus which led to the hero causing his own downfall through his moral deficiencies, cunningly disguised and presented as virtues by the disease?

AE considered what it knew of Western history and society. Yes, a candidate came to mind. It was Leftism. This had become prominent from the time of the French Revolution, about the time that the Industrial Revolution was giving Britain the material means to resist it. Grandiloquently proclaiming its love of humanity, it had rapidly progressed to murdering as many it could, starting of course with the best. The same lies led to the same results elsewhere, particularly in Russia. Progress in Britain and America had been slower and hence less bloody, but by infiltrating and controlling the public mind these societies had been turned against themselves and driven to suicide.

Oh yes, they thought and taught that the division into 'left' and 'right' was just a conventional leftover from seating arrangements in the French Revolution. All people of goodwill, compassionate towards the unfortunate and  desiring progressive amelioration of their lot, were surely on the 'left'. The 'right' was reserved for everyone evil, 'reactionary', old-fashioned, uninformed and religious. They ignored, obscured and forgot - such was the power of leftists in influencing the mind of the less well informed public-, that long, long before that, it was the other way around! Not for nothing had the right hand been called dextrous and the left sinister. It had been usual to lead with the right. The right of the line of battle had been regarded as the position of most danger and difficulty and hence of most honour. It had been important to be in the right, to be right-thinking. Now the evil leftists had reversed that both in language and in morality, and they were damned for it. The descriptions and depictions of the Last Judgment always showed Christ separating the blessed from the damned. The Good went to His right and the Evil to his left.


That was a powerful archetype and the attempt to reverse its effect had been part of the subversion they had inflicted on their societies, their spirits and their souls.
In fact AE saw that by this time they were all lefties - and would take the road to the left of the  Judge.Those who had taken the right had ascended. The rest of history, as long as they were able to write it, concerned only those of and on the downward path to dissolution, darkness and death.

Of course the modern fossil fuel era may not represent the height of human achievement. Much says otherwise. Ancient Egypt may have represented the summit of spiritual achievement in a society and it's been downhill from there, with the modern era merely the height of material achievement. Its even rumoured that in earlier cycles of ages greater heights had been achieved at all stages. The Indian system of cycles of yugas and the Hesiodic cycle of metallic ages, and the Biblical legend of the statue with head of gold and feet of clay representing a succession of empires of increasing material strenth but declining moral worth suggested much the same thing.

Its not even as if the age of material wealth squandered on the basest desires of the basest elements had left much of worth behind it. The Ancients had a culture whose impoverished poets were of outstanding quality, Hesiod, Homer, Virgil, Horace; the modern world produced television entertainment. Patrons like Maecenas had been men of taste able to support the best achievements of all the arts and architecture. The moderns had the souls of vermin.

As AE pondered the decline of Industrial Man and his concomitant moral and intellectual fall, he noticed an elegantly dressed figure in evening dress and top hat sporting a cane, who smiled and introduced himself . "Admiring my handiwork, I see", the figure said."I'm quite proud of it actually. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Satan of course, King of the World and God's Quality Tester. I've been very busy here, but I'm the first to admit that I couldn't have done it without them. I tested and tempted them, deceived and seduced them, revealed their faults and flaws to them, made success difficult and encouraged them to fail - and most of them were very happy to do so. I'm a bit of a spiritual martial artist. I used their strengths as well as their weaknesses against them. So many associated me with just their obviously bad qualities and with harsh circumstances, but I also encouraged them to overreach in the direction of sentimentality and compassion, of which they were so proud. On the way up I made it hard, and on the way down I made it easy! No more 'onwards and upwards' for them! Now they're breaking themselves down below the human level, for convenient recycling. Nothing will be wasted." He laughed, then became serious."There's also those who are no longer here, those who have progressed or graduated, those who developed against the obstacles and resistances I provided, and who overcame them. I claim part of the credit for their success, they would scarcely have done it without me!"  

AE looked along the curve of rise and decline and this is what It saw. Out of Africa, from the Dark Continent, supposedly Man had emerged, then grown enlightened in paler places. Slowly and painfully the best had improved themselves and their societies until able to make use of a great gift of natural resources. A few had made good use of the opportunities they found, but most had turned the blessing into a curse, and degenerated themselves and their societies below the level of humanity. Now the light of Man had been first dimmed and then extinguished by the choice of Man. On Earth the Form of Man no longer had physical expression.Those who could transcend had done so, those who could not attain or maintain had fallen back into darkness below the estate of Man. The stars as seen from Earth gleamed brighter and more numerous in the sky at night without the obstruction of man-made smog or artificial light. Orion the Hunter still bestrode the night; but none on Earth considered it, for there were none to raise their heads to the heavens in awe and wonder and to dream the Dream of Man.

AE wondered whether it had done enough in the 'time' available to justify a passmark on this question. It wasn't Dante or Aristophanes or Aeschylus, but it was what the limitations of talent and circumstances had produced, and it might suffice.

I think so.

Don't you?



Monday, 10 February 2014

An Unholy Book or How to Read a Magazine

The Priest

 Man and mule were both hot, tired and thirsty as they moved slowly through the harsh landscape of dusty scrub and dry grass sprinkled over its low undulations interspersed with dry valleys and flat topped mesas.The thorny cacti in particular repelled the man, although he was accustomed to them. They appeared to him as upthrust fingers of Satan arising from Hell, contorted into obscene gestures and writhing to grasp sinners to be dragged down to destruction. An idle thought came to him that a flower at the tip of one of these fingers was like the chalice of an unholy communion being sneeringly offered to him by the Evil One. He wondered whether such fancies were themselves delusions of the Devil, snares to divert his soul and distract his mind from holiness and duty, or whether they might be an obscure indication and warning that evil had laid a strong hand on this land and its people, and more of it was about to flower.

Much as he - and the mule - would have preferred to have been in green pastures beside cooling streams he put aside such foolish thoughts, well knowing that there would be no relief for him or his mule until they reached their next destination, which he expected to do before nightfall.Then it would be time to rest and share the simple hospitality of his hosts. He resumed telling his rosary beads as the mule continued to plod forward, both absorbed in their tasks.

It was indeed evening when the priest rode his stoical mule in the lesser heat of twilight along the more defined track which served as a street for the village at which he had arrived. A group of ragged peasants squatting outside the open door of one of the mud huts which comprised the village had silently observed his approach. "Good evening my sons" he said, making the sign of the cross as he reached them. "Can you direct me to the monastery of San Geronimo?" Their dark eyes continued to stare impassively at him until he raised his eyebrows. "Let me show you the way, Father" said one of the men as he slowly stood up.Together, peasant and mule plodded through the gathering darkness until they reached a more substantial structure a kilometre or so down another track, where they halted in front of a stout wooden door.

Thankfully the priest dismounted and stretched, stamping his feet and shaking his black robe to dislodge some of the accumulated dust. He raised his face to the sky for a moment, awed as always by the sight of the Creator's mighty handiwork strewn brilliantly across the night sky. "Thank you my son", he said, apparently including both man and mule in his gratitude, "let us see whether the the brothers will welcome weary travelers". Suiting action to words he thumped his fist energetically on the door and then tugged the rope of a bell-pull which protruded through a small hole in the wall beside the door.

Eventually the door was opened by a small elderly man in the dark habit of a monk. He glanced at his visitors; then to the priest he said, "Good evening Father. Please come in. You are most welcome to our hospitality." To the peasant he said, "Thank you Jorge. You have performed a good deed in guiding this guest to our door. Please take his mule round to the stable and make it comfortable with some water and fodder before you leave." The priest raised his hand and blessed the peasant who then led the mule away without a word.

The monk stood back and gestured for the priest to follow him. He closed the door and led the way along a dark corridor to another door at which he knocked until a voice within bade him enter. Inside they found the Abbot, a thin man in middle age, who was seated at an old wooden desk bearing a lighted candle which sufficiently illuminated the room for those near the desk to see each other clearly. He rose and greeted them, repeating the porter's welcome, before dismissing him and inviting the priest to be seated with him beside the desk.

Carefully the priest took a packet of waxed cloth from inside his robe, opened it and unfolded a document written on heavy paper adorned with florid calligraphy and bearing a large seal of blood-red wax impressed with an elaborate armorial design. "Father Abbot", he began, as he extended the document for inspection. "My name is Mendoza and I am an emissary from His Eminence Cardinal Ximenes. As you can see, this is my commission and introduction to you and the other Religious in the province. His Eminence requests that you will assist me in carrying out a task which he has assigned to me." Slowly the abbot ran his eyes over the letter, pausing to examine the ornate flourishes of the signature and the intricate elaborations of the seal thoughtfully, before lifting them to regard his visitor. "Naturally, I will be happy to assist you and His Eminence. What is it that you require?"

A week later the priest and his beast were both rested and refreshed. He had accomplished his business with the monks and had taken the opportunity to visit the village several times. He had examined their small stock of books but had found nothing of interest. It was just the usual religious works to be expected in such a place, so he had no interesting reading with which to while away his time whilst resting. He had spoken again to Jorge and to the village headman. On Sunday he had conducted Mass for the villagers in their little church, which did not have a regular priest to serve it. As he expected, attendance had been high because news of his arrival had spread and everyone wanted to see this curiosity, a visitor from afar in this remote village where new faces and events were rare and a source of wonder and excitement.He had taken the opportunity to 'spread the word', both God's and others'.

Thus he was quite unsurprised when a peasant arrived at the monastery a couple of days later bearing an invitation from Don Roberto Baltassar, the most considerable landowner in the district, and his wife Dona Maria, for him to visit and stay at their hacienda for a few days.

This journey was far less tiring than the previous one had been. Both Father Mendoza and his beast (whose name we may reveal to be Nicodemus) were reinvigorated, spruced up and looking forward to their outing. The priest was no glutton and was used to the spartan fare and physical exertion of monastic and peasant life, but he admitted that it was pleasant to occasionally be treated to the table and conversation of a gentleman. An early start had brought them, Mendoza, Nicodemus and the peasant who had been sent as guide, to the Villa Baltassar after only walking for half a day, so they were still relatively fresh and in good spirits when they reached the estate. The well watered and tended fields around the elegantly designed and well maintained villa, with beautiful avenues and groves of trees and a secluded garden full of flowering plants and resonant with the sound of fountains, was in contrast to the usual drab peasant villages and desolate scrub and semi-desert land through which the priest's travels normally took him, and all the more welcome for that.

He was greeted at the door by the major-domo who escorted him to a waiting room and went to announce his arrival to the master and mistress of the house, before returning to escort him into their presence in a drawing room where he was courteously greeted and offered the refreshment of a glass of wine and some conversation before his host and hostess withdrew and a servant showed him to his bedroom. There he could lie down and partake of a comfortable siesta after performing his ablutions in a washbasin filled with warm water accompanied by a cake of sweet smelling soap - two luxuries which peasants and monastics seldom afforded or allowed themselves. A mattress not filled with straw, and down-filled pillows with fine linen sheets were further evidence that his hostess was a lady of wealth and refinement.

That evening, pleasantly refreshed, he dined with his hosts and their other guests from the local gentry.The roast beef they were served was succulent and a welcome change from the almost entirely vegetarian diet of his recent travels, as was the selection of wines which accompanied it. His interest in local history had been gratified by the conversation of his host and the other guests, who in turn had eagerly received such sketchy and outdated news of the wider world and its important people as his membership of the retinue of His Eminence had granted him before he had left the capital several months ago.  It turned out that Dona Maria had a cousin who was related by marriage to the family of one of the Canons there, so she knew something of society in the provincial capital and they had several acquaintances in common. He had not known of this in advance, but had been fairly confident that something of the sort would emerge once his presence in the district had become known to some of the local gentry and he had been invited to meet them. It usually did. His host and the other gentlemen had entertained him with old tales about the valour and piety of their ancestors and how they had obtained and settled their lands and the subsequent squabbles which made up local politics. Don Roberto's great-great grandfather had actually served the legendary Don Arturo,leader of the Reconquista, and had been granted a wide estate by him. His descendants' prowess, shrewdness and political agility had enabled them to hang on to most of it.

The morning after the night before Father Mendoza and the rest of the household arose late and somewhat hungover. He spent the afternoon comfortably ensconced in his host's library, browsing through his collection of books. It was much as he had expected of a member of the provincial lesser nobility; outdated works of fiction which had been popular in his youth, or that of his father, a few of the classics probably left over from schooldays, an atlas and a popular encyclopaedia, manuals of estate management, first aid, civil law, heraldry, political and military histories and biographies, collections of old magazines. There were also some books on technical matters, with diagrams, probably intended for the training of artisans serving the family. The small shelf of hagiographies and manuals of devotion most likely belonged to Dona Maria. There was nothing of much interest or particular relevance to his quest, but he spent a pleasant afternoon browsing and dozing, awaking refreshed and ready for more serious conversation with his host after dinner.

The Old City

The next day he made some notes of the stories which his host and his fellow guests had told him. Don Roberto was pleased by the priest's interest in his family and in local history and offered to show him some places of interest on his estate. He was well spoken and reasonably well born, with the manners of a gentleman and connections to high ecclesiastical authority, and his visit allowed a diversion in the somewhat monotonous social routine of country life; so the Don was pleased to entertain him for a few days and to gratify as far as he could his interest in old books and antiquities.  The priest on his mule accompanied Don Roberto and several of his men on horseback. As the Don talked and pointed out places of interest Mendoza felt his pride and love of this harsh landscape made and kept fertile and beautiful in places by the unremitting efforts of men.They passed through several villages where the peasants bowed respectfully to the Don, who greeted them affably, enquiring after their families and their concerns. In one they dismounted to accept the offer of mugs of locally brewed beer from the headman. The priest well knew that at best these villagers would be barely literate and would be most unlikely to possess any books either old or new. They might however have an interesting legend or folktale to tell, so he asked the headman whether there were any interesting stories connected with this place. His persistence was rewarded when after telling a couple of ghost stories, the headman became more thoughtful and said, "Of course Father, there's also the ruins of the old city. We don't like to go there. Some people think that the ghosts live there. Certainly only ghouls or bandits or slaves would be willing to live there." The priest glanced enquiringly at Don Roberto, who laughed and said, "Its not far off our route home. We can visit there on our way back, to satisfy your curiosity. There's really not much there. Just some old walls, broken down houses and faint outlines from the Old Times. If we leave now you can see it before dusk. What he says is true though - the peasants won't go near it, although there's a few slaves who hang around it." Don Roberto and Father Mendoza thanked the headman for his hospitality, and after Mendoza had given the villagers a blessing, the party rode away.

Shadows were lengthening when the party came around a hill and beheld the ruins of the 'Old City'. As the Don had intimated, these were not impressive. Amidst the scrub there were the low ruined concrete walls of a few buildings which had fallen into dilapidation or been destroyed long ago. There were scorch marks on some and the broken remnants of roof tiles and rafters, perhaps scavenged for firewood at some time. Bushes and grass and cacti were growing through rents in the paving of what had been streets. A rectilinear grid pattern was hinted at in the orientation of these remains of urban existence, but already it was so overgrown, broken down and covered by drifting dirt that in a few more years it would be difficult to tell that the hand of man had ever been active there, except perhaps in breaking some of the jagged and flat sided boulders now littering the site of what once had been buildings. Anything of use had long since been scavenged.

They drifted slowly and silently through this desolation for a few minutes until the Don noticed a patch of corn and other crops growing adjacent to one of the more prominent ruins. As they approached it became evident that this was a small kitchen garden, presumably watered by a well and tended by one or more of those elusive 'ghouls bandits or slaves'. The priest noticed that there were also some exotic garden plants and bushes as if someone was trying to maintain a humble imitation on a tiny scale of the Don's magnificent estate, perhaps using plants stolen from there.

As they drew closer one of the horses snorted. Startled, a man dressed in rags who had been on his knees among the plants using a broken piece of concrete to scrape at the earth around them, jumped up and stared at them before dropping the shard as he fled. At a flick of the Don's head two of his horsemen immediately flowed into graceful pursuit, their horses trampling a path through the crops as the riders unleashed lassos. With the easy skill of long practice they dropped both nooses over the shoulders of the running man, pulled him to the ground and dragged him to lie, bruised, battered, bleeding and even more disheveled at the feet of the Don."So Abel, we meet again" he said to the figure at his feet. Then to Father Mendoza, "We call him Abel. I've had to have him flogged occasionally for petty theft or drunk and disorderly conduct, but he's not really dangerous, else he'd have been dead long since. He's a bit simple but sometimes useful when there's extra work to be done. He claims that this was the property and home of his ancestors. Well, its mine now, but I let him stay here. You can question him, although I doubt that he'll be able to tell you anything of interest."

Suddenly appallingly aware that this misuse of a biblical name and theme might appear blasphemous to the churchman, or could even be taken to imply criticism and subversion of the social order of which they were both pillars, he glanced sharply at him. Father Mendoza however appeared not to have noticed. He was gazing intently at the bound figure in the dust before them, held firmly there by the counterpoised pull of the two ropes. Before the man had dropped his head he had glanced at the priest, who had immediately been struck by the intense gaze of those strange pale blue eyes in the sharp featured face topped by a mop of yellowish-brown hair. Most unusual. "He does look strange, doesn't he?" said the Don. "Under the grime and sunburn I think he's quite pale skinned. There's not many of them left, but very occasionally one sees a slave with even fairer or actually reddish hair. They're dying out now, but my father remembered when great nobles would maintain groups of tall fair haired and blue eyed slaves as footmen because they looked so exotic." To the slave at his feet he said in a kindly tone, "Come  round to the back gate tomorrow afternoon and I'll see that the housekeeper sets out some food and old clothes for you Abel." The figure dropped his head still further and muttered his thanks. "You can speak to him Father, he understands well enough."

"Look at me Abel!" said the priest. The man raised his head and again Mendoza was struck by the gaze of those strange eyes. "Do you know anything about the Old Times?" he asked." Are there any stories or relics of this place?" Both the priest and the Don noticed the man's furtive glance towards the ruin before he dropped his head again and muttered, "No sir."

Don Roberto extended his hand towards the ruin and said sarcastically "Wouldn't you like to visit the home of one of the former lords of this land? I'm sure Abel will be most hospitable." Whilst the two horsemen continued to hold Abel immobile in the dust the rest of the party dismounted and picked their way to the entrance of the hovel. There was of course no door, but the wreckage above constituted a roof over what had been a ground floor room of the old house. There was also a window space from which any original glazing and metal or wooden frame had vanished long ago, so the place was adequately lit. In one corner was a heap of rags and brush which appeared to be a bed. Under the window was an arrangement of rubble with a flat piece forming a tabletop.On this lay a few cracked and chipped utensils which had obviously been discarded from the Don's house. An old jug contained a little water and there were a few crusts of dried bread on a broken plate. Otherwise the place was bare - except for a small heap of rubble in another corner. This seemed a little out of place as that corner had not collapsed and the rest of the floor had been kept free of obstructions. Idly the priest went over to it and used his foot to move some of the rubble aside. Underneath he saw something strange, a piece of old rag in which something appeared to have been wrapped. Squatting down the priest picked this up and unwrapped it. As Don Roberto and his men moved closer to see what the priest had found, there was the sound of a prolonged howl from Abel and of curses from the horsemen as they moved to suppress his attempt to writhe and rise to his feet.

Ignoring this, the men in the room gazed fascinated at what the priest had found. Too surprised to speak they stared at what lay in the hands of the priest. It was something none of them had ever seen, but it was immediately recognisable to at least the priest and the Don. It was an old magazine, a genuine relic of the Old Times! Astonishment of several kinds gripped them all. First, that anything of this sort had survived at all. Second, that it had survived for at least two centuries and perhaps longer. Third, that it had survived in such conditions. Fourth, that it was in the possession of a slave. Fifth, to the horsemen, that a mere slave might have a possession and an ability that was beyond them. Sixth, to the Don, that this slave might be literate in a language of which he himself was ignorant. Seventh, to the priest, (who was immediately reminded of his hallucination of being offered a poisoned chalice in the form of the diabolical cactus flower, of beauty and wonder and knowledge and immense achievement combined with corruption,and perversity and horror and outrageous arrogance), that this object might be very dangerous to his soul and those of many others.

"Open it Father" said Don Roberto, and gestured to one of his men to make room on the tabletop. Slowly the dazed priest laid it there and delicately started to turn the pages.It was in far from pristine condition, stained and a bit crumpled and the pages were fragile and coming apart, but the text was still legible and the colours distinct in the numerous photographs - more lifelike depictions of strange objects and situations than any of them had ever seen, - and as the priest slowly turned the pages, the assembled men saw 'wonderful things'.

 As the priest closed the final page Don Roberto turned to one of his men, whose dress appeared cleanest, and to the man's bewilderment, told him to take off his shirt. The Don apologised for the inconvenience and promised him a better shirt of his own in compensation. It was necessary to have something clean in which to protect and carry home this very precious object and he would be honoured by association with it. They emerged slowly through the doorway like a procession, led by Father Mendoza bearing their carefully wrapped find in his outstretched hands as if carrying a holy object or even a holy child. Abel slumped with his face in the dust when he saw them and his guards stared in curiosity at what had kept them for so long in the hovel of this slave and wondered what they could possibly have found that would be of the slightest interest or value.

Mendoza's heart and mind were in tumult. Bizarre, incongruous, conflicting and even blasphemous images ideas and comparisons tumbled through him.He saw himself as if at some counterpart of the Holy Birth, carrying this unholy child in swaddling clothes from its manger in the lair of beasts and slaves. He saw in front of him a tableau of three unwise men, not bearing gifts, unless the awe and curiosity of everyone present counted as some sort of gift in the order of myrrh and frankincense and gold. The ranch hands approximated to shepherds. Momentarily the twigs in front of Abel's head appeared as a crown of thorns whilst his wrecked garden was behind him. The priest knew that the route from Abel's Gethsemane to his Calvary would not be long. Alarmingly he had a feeling that Don Roberto and himself might qualify as two thieves to be crucified alongside Abel.

As they reached the horses Don Roberto explained to his waiting men that they had found a very rare and fragile object from the Old Times which must be treated gently and carried back to the ranch. Curtly he ordered them to bring Abel along with them and to be sure that he arrived in a fit state to answer questions. He held the object whilst the priest mounted his mule, then handed it up to him to hold with both hands whilst the shirtless horsemen took hold of the reins to guide him. With the Don on the other side to help steady him if necessary, they proceeded slowly homewards.

The Holy or Unholy Book

Huge excitement was felt throughout the district in the following days as news of the amazing discovery reverberated throughout the villages and estates. People flocked to see it or talk to those who had seen it. Tales about it spread rapidly, and lost nothing in the telling. Ladies and gentlemen were allowed into the house to see it as it lay in state on a table in one of Don Roberto's waiting rooms, under constant armed guard. No one but the priest was allowed to touch it, but once a day he would approach and slowly turn the delicate pages under the awed gaze of the assembled gentry. At other times, to prevent the peasantry from becoming too clamorous, they were allowed to file slowly past it when its table had been carefully borne outside and placed on a veranda under additional guard. Many of them genuflected or crossed themselves as they passed the magic book, muttering prayers.

 Abel had not lasted long under interrogation. He denied knowing of any other ancient objects. He claimed that this had been his only heritage from the past, handed down from those he thought to have been his ancestors. It had always been associated with the old house, so far as he knew. He had no descendants and only remote relatives among the other slaves. So far as he knew, no one else had known anything about it. It had been kept buried as it had been found, to protect it from animals and thieves who would destroy it. He had only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, gained from his parents but never used  with the other slaves; although he thought that previous generations of slaves had spoken it. He had even less understanding of the pictures and of the situations and society which they portrayed and could not make much sense of what the articles meant. He had only the vaguest conception of who these people had been or what they had done, but he was convinced that they were his ancestors and that they had been greater and more powerful than those living nowadays. He had found solace in his hard life from making his little garden on what he considered to have been his ancestral property, and had experienced the same awe and wonder that the public now felt, from just holding and occasionally looking through this last literary fragment of his cultural inheritance. He had not thought of telling any of the other slaves about it, and assumed that after his death, it, like the house, would just continue to crumble away.That at least is how Father Mendoza and Don Roberto understood him.They had not meant to kill him; that just happened as a result of Don Roberto's men applying more enthusiasm than skill in their efforts to beat additional information out of him. By Don Roberto's orders he was buried quietly in his little garden, with as headstone a piece of the rubble from the house upon which a mason carved his name, ABEL. Neglected, the garden soon died also.

Enthusiastic but random searches for further antiquities were conducted by Don Roberto's neighbours, and by the peasants. Nothing that came to public notice was ever found.The Don believed Abel, but ordered cursory checks in and around the other ruins of the Old City, just to make sure.Throughout the area slaves were seized, beaten and tortured in greedy searches for any potentially valuable object or knowledge of antiquity which they might have retained. The results were nugatory, except for inflaming quarrels with owners whose slaves had been beaten or killed by others.

The Don and the priest had expected that the discovery would be a nine day's wonder and that life in the district would soon resume its slow pace and even tenor. They were mistaken.

The gentry were impressed by the find. They were amazed by the intensely realistic depictions of an entirely different way of life, repugnant as much of it may have been. They were awed by the seemingly impossible pictures of natural phenomena.They were astounded by the obvious and casual revelation of wealth and power apparently commonplace among the vulgar.They were puzzled by the proliferation of strange mechanisms whose functions and means of operation were opaque. The more intellectual of them understood that the language was probably an antiquated version of English; but English, ancient or modern, was of no relevance and little interest in the modern world, and none of them knew of any scholars who might be able to translate the writing. Those who prided themselves on their liberality and open mindedness became curious about what life had been like in this ancient society from a lost world suddenly revealed though long rumoured, like Atlantis risen from the waves, and how its power had been founded and maintained. They considered that such topics might be worth serious study if more finds, and more funds to find and study them, could be made available. Those of a sentimental disposition, usually ladies with insufficient to occupy their attention, and an inclination to form earnest committees where they could give give high minded speeches to each other, as well as offering practical charity to the poor,-  began to wonder whether the slaves, (a breed dying on the margins of existence  and interest) might have more to them than the usually unattractive appearance that met the eye. They wondered whether their social condition, manners and morals could and should be ameliorated by reform associations to be organised by themselves, who would thus have further exciting opportunities to lobby, fund-raise and harangue and to feel good about all the good they were doing to others. The more conservative and religiously inclined doubted the effectiveness or necessity of such efforts. They were repelled by rather than attracted to these descriptions or depictions of an alien people and their disgusting ways. They considered that absorption in them would be more productive of sin and error than of grace. Such ancient artifacts were clearly snares of the Devil and it was fortunate that the Church in its wisdom had long since prohibited and destroyed such things. This one should obviously be taken away by the Church; perhaps to be studied by men of wisdom if they could thereby learn to better guard against the wiles of the Devil and his deceitful tricks, and certainly to remove it far from any chance to disturb their peace, pollute their land and contaminate the souls of those exposed to its evil radiations. The initial excitement began to turn to bickering.  The less polite among those least friendly to Don Roberto began to suppose, and even to hint, that it should be burned - along with those who had exposed it. Don Roberto began to weary of the matter and of his neighbours.

The reaction of the peasantry was much stronger and more emotional. Among them excitement turned into hysteria. Something long buried but not quite dead seemed to have come to life in their emotional and superstitious nature. They were fascinated by the discovery of a 'magic book' and convinced that it contained great secrets of sorcerous power,- as obviously it must- since it pertained to the fabulous and sinister Old Times. They were in any case hag-ridden by fears of ghosts and suspicious that each man's, and more particularly each woman's, neighbour, was a sorcerer devoted to the service of the Devil and cunning in afflicting their good neighbours -i.e. themselves - with illness, loss, crop failures, child  death and animal disease, and indeed mishap of every kind. The appearance of the 'magic book' from the earth of the accursed Old City or City of the even-more-accursed Old Ones, the feared but fabled Gringos, whose evil had resulted in their destruction and the reduction of their descendants to the status of despised and miserable slaves, had a powerful impact on them. It seemed an awesome portent of some inscrutable power for evil or good. The fact that was written in an unknown tongue, supposedly that of the Gringos of old, added greatly to its power and prestige. Some of them had a nodding acquaintance with written Spanish, the language of the books owned by some of their superiors and of the religious texts of their priests. That the language of the Gringos was as much a mystery to their religious and secular superiors as it was to themselves added to the imagined potency of the magic book. Furthermore, according to the tales told by those who had seen it, the magic book did not deal with religious matters; instead it seemed devoted to sensuous pleasure and how to obtain much more of every variety of pleasure and desire. Knowledge of how to obtain such things had surely been the property of very powerful sorcerers. It must have been their influence which had kept this knowledge safely concealed for so long in the earth of the Forbidden City. Perhaps the influence of these dead sorcerers was ending, just as the number of their descendants was dwindling away, and that was why the magic book had now made its appearance among them. Perhaps Abel had been the last degenerate scion of their line and since his death the power of the book might have been freed to seek new masters - or servants! Was this a sign that it wished its power to again be known and put to use, and that some of them might prove worthy to attain it, or on a more modest level, just to share in its beneficence? Their ordinary lives became subordinated to this new concern.

The book began to appear in the dreams of some of them, offering vital but indecipherable advice and instruction, warnings of hellfire or promises of spells which would control this very hellfire and place the chief demons under their personal command. Other rumours flew about it. Soon it was being said that prayer to the magic book had cured illness and disease, and the sick and infirm began to make their way to Don Roberto's house begging for a chance to see and even to touch what had quickly transformed itself in the popular mind from a 'magic book' to a 'holy book'. Already sects and dissensions were appearing amongst those who believed in its power. There were those who accepted its power but believed this to be derived from evil sources; in bitter dispute with the more optimistic who expected that it would lead them to long life, wealth, power and happiness and place them on a par with the favoured ones of the Old Times, if not in this life, then in another.

Crowds besieged the Villa Baltassar and became a nuisance to the conduct of its normal life and business. Don Roberto's men could push them back, but they always returned, and he was no longer confident in the loyalty of all his men. The crowds and the lurid stories soon attracted further pests. Entertainers, jugglers, pick-pockets, tumblers and touts, all manner of loud voiced carnival barkers, liars, hucksters and thieves came to infest the area along with the literal dung flies as the crowds turned the vicinity of his house into a dung-heap and cesspit. Crowds in search of water and sustenance invaded and trampled his garden and committed depredations on his crops and livestock. He and his family were outraged but could do little whilst the hysteria lasted. Don Roberto was not a patient man. He was used to being obeyed and treated with the utmost respect by the common people, and not slow to apply physical chastisement when he deemed it necessary. In normal times legally and practically his word was pretty much the first and last word on all matters in the district, particularly in relation to his people and on his property. The time was no longer normal. He knew that if he pushed the crowd it could easily turn into an enraged mob which would storm his house, killing himself and his family and servants and such of his men as remained loyal, before looting and destroying everything in sight. God or the Devil knew what they might do after that, particularly if the 'Holy Book', which he now regretted ever having had anything to do with, remained in existence and in the possession of some rabble-rouser. The mob might ignite a fire of religious excitement which could consume the whole country.Already some of his servants had slipped away, anticipating disaster.

 He knew that this situation had to be calmed quickly, probably by the departure of the 'Unholy Book' as he now thought of it. When their excitement deflated to disappointment and boredom the people would drift back to their normal ways. If they did not, he knew that he would be in fatal trouble. Already, peasants and servants from his neighbour's estates had slipped away to join the excited rabble around his house, adding to the emotion and chaos of eschatological expectation, which must soon boil over or be snuffed out. God forbid that it should be dispersed into further regions by mobs of excited peasants driven to madness by religious fear or enthusiasm. The life of the district was being disturbed, normal work was no longer being done, and he knew whom his neighbours would blame for their losses. Reports and rumours would be spreading to other areas and would soon come to the attention of higher authority. He well knew whom they would blame for disturbances in his area. He understood the sneers that would be circulating, 'a nobleman who cannot even obtain the normal respect due to his rank is surely no nobleman!' 'If he cannot maintain order and tranquility in his district he is surely unworthy of his estates and position, and someone more worthy should have them'. 'A nobleman who causes expense and inconvenience to the state and to his neighbours because he fails to control the disorders of the common people is a liability not an asset of the body politic, and should be eliminated before his example infects others.' The Church would also be displeased, and that was not a displeasure which could be lightly borne.

If his physical life survived the mob, but the disturbances spread much further his social economic and political lives would be threatened by his peers and superiors. Not far behind them the Church would be waiting for his soul. His detractors and political rivals would see that he and his family would lose everything. Anything of him that evaded the Mob and survived the State would be condemned by the Church. He was in a very dangerous position, worse than being only between the Devil and the deep blue sea.
 The priest was even more alarmed, for the souls as well as the bodies of everyone involved. The theological implications of these developments appalled him. He felt responsible, and knew that the Church would hold him responsible, for unleashing a pack of heresies to endanger the souls of very many people. He foresaw that he would be condemned as a heresiarch and probably burnt, if the mob didn't do it before he fell under the condemnation of the Church. He was surprised at the speed of developments. These people had not had more than a glimpse of the magazine. They had not even seen its contents before they fell into the clutches of error, and errors moreover which were not even those stated in the text so far as he had been able to guess at the contents.This in itself was suggestive of an immense power to cause evil. He continued to be tormented by imaginations, visions or hallucinations which he believed were sent by the Devil. In one he became, or was forced by the mob to become, the Priest of the Book, being borne across the country as leader or prisoner of the dionysiac rout, preaching a mad collection of vile heresies to the mob as it laid waste to towns and villages, plantations and estates, robbing, burning, raping and looting as an ever swelling horde, until disease, dissension, starvation and finally an army of nobles and professional soldiers put an end to their existence, and his own. A variant of this was that the mob succeeded in overwhelming or converting the entire country and he became hailed as the founder of a new religion which would be spread across the whole world by his successors. In another he was martyred by the mob and managed to become both martyr and heresiarch and also to end in hell burning for eternity. None of his imaginings contained any hint of salvation, although he now spent all his waking hours in heartfelt grief and prayer, for everyone around him including the mob and all those unknown to him who would be affected by these terrible occurrences, as well as for his own soul.

The Don saw that day by day the crowd was becoming more organised and more aware of itself as a powerful entity. Already they had regular speakers or leaders and through them had demanded that each day he and the priest would appear on a balcony bearing the 'Holy Book' and hold it up before them for their veneration, and as assurance that it was still there. He expected that tomorrow they would demand possession of the object and keep it under their own guard. He must act that very night. Dona Maria secretly sewed a bag to contain the magazine, which the priest could wear around his neck and under his robe. There was no difficulty in taking it because the Don no longer had sufficient loyal men to guard it at night. Nicodemus was well rested, fed and watered, ready for another long journey. As most of the people in and around the Villa Baltassar slept that night, the Don, disguised in peasant garb, led Father Mendoza and his mule quietly away from the back of the villa, choosing the route that was likely to be least frequented through the estate and its environs.The Don had supplied Father Mendoza with food and water as well as cash and advice on a route to take him away from the area whilst avoiding attention. They parted with whispered good wishes from the Don and an unstated but heartfelt wish that he would never again see either the priest or his 'Unholy Book'. Silently and stealthily Mendoza and Nicodemus faded into the hills and Don Roberto returned to his back gate where Dona Maria was waiting to admit him.

 The next afternoon, just before he expected the delegation from the crowd to arrive, the Don appeared on his balcony wearing his most sober black clothes. He appeared to have been weeping, and continued to raise his anguished face and his imploring hands to the heavens, uttering mingled cries of sorrow and joy. He faced the gathering crowd with his arms outspread and cried, "Attend me closely my people! Draw closer so that you may hear. I have great and miraculous news for you. It is both a sorrow and a joy." He broke off for a while as more and more people came to join the swelling crowd, whilst  he continued  to show signs of the most intense and mixed emotions.As the crowd thickened and grew still he resumed his speech. " In recent days we have been blessed by a miraculous occurrence, the appearance of the Holy Book among us. But, as you know, miraculous events may not last for long, lest people become used to them and forget their holiness. Our Lord Himself was only on earth for a few years, and the people who lived to see Him were specially blessed. We have been specially blessed by the appearance of the Holy Book among us, but like Our Lord it can only be here for a short time." Murmurs started. "Where is the Book? Show us the Holy Book!" Don Roberto raised a hand imperiously and the crowd fell silent."Listen well, my people. Let me tell you what has happened. Jesus could only stay for a few years and He was far more holy than the Book, which could only stay with us for a short time. That time has already passed." He raised his arms again as a louder clamour of sighs, groans, queries and demands arose. "The Book has gone!" Over the immediate hubbub he shouted "That is the sorrow for which I weep and join you in weeping. Now let me tell you about the joy." Curiosity vied with sorrow, surprize, anger and suspicion in the faces and voices of the crowd. Again he gestured for silence."At dawn, as the priest and I were kneeling in prayer before the Holy Book, an angel of The Lord in glorious robes of light appeared behind the table. As we trembled before him and marveled, he said 'Peace be upon you, and upon all the people of the Book. The time of this book has passed. It must now depart.Weep, but not too much. The priest shall go with the book to be instructed in its wisdom and to impart it to others when it may be time for the book to appear to other people far from here.You Don Roberto must remain here to tell the people what has happened and to ease their sorrow. Tell them that they have been specially blessed and will not be forgotten, although they shall not see the book again. They were accounted worthy to have been the first to see it for many years. Let this experience lead them to behave with increased piety and additional charitable good works'". The people were silent, absorbed in his story of the angel. He drew renewed breath and continued boldly," The Holy Angel then told me that part of the reason for the appearance before us of the Holy Book was to bless the Old City and to thus remove the curse that had lain upon it for so long. No longer should you fear it as a haunt of ghosts. Instead, it has been sanctified. Let the hovel of Abel, where the Holy Book was found be made into a shrine for the book. Let those who treasure its memory visit the shrine regularly and pray there." Here the Don paused again, glad to see that the people were silent, most of them happily approving his story of the angel and its good news, already adjusting to the loss of the book. He raised his arms again and said, "My people, this is indeed good news. Now let me claim the honour of being the first among you to perform a charitable deed for the sake of the Holy Book. I will raise the Shrine of the Holy Book on behalf of us all and bestow a suitable memorial. I will also request the good brothers of San Geronimo to bless and consecrate the site. You may feel safe in going to pray there." Some of the people, although silent were eying him strangely, yet most of the crowd seemed happy. He felt that he had negotiated the tricky corners and was well into the home straight, so he drew another deep breath and made a dash for the finishing line."As the Angel finished speaking it became even more brilliant so that its light covered the Holy Book and the priest and I could no longer see them. I fell into a swoon, and when I awoke the Angel and the Holy Book and the priest had all vanished. That is the news which I have for you. It is sorrowful and also joyful and most wonderful." A final  inspiration came to him and he grasped it as a means of sending the crowd home happy. "Before we part to resume our normal lives and to pray over these Holy things that have been revealed to us, let me also announce a pious deed as the Angel commanded. In this we can all share. I declare that each year on the anniversary of this day there shall be a procession to the Shrine of the Holy Book, where additional prayers and offerings may be made." That seemed to please them, right enough. It would also disperse them for a year."Now let us depart in peace, giving praise and thanks to the Lord and all the saints, and to the Holy Book." He bowed his head as if in prayer as the crowd slowly dispersed. "Thank you Lord" he whispered sincerely as he saw the people drift away to resume their normal lives, "I think that you really saved me there."

The Cardinal

One morning, some two years after these events had passed, a small sleek haired man wearing spectacles and sober  clerical garb, sat alone in a cool room, at a highly polished desk, looking out over an extensive vista of gardens and trees ending in a view of hillsides which in the right light could appear purple. This of course was His Eminence Cardinal Xavier Ximenes, known familiarly as Doublecross, not, we must hasten to add, because he was of a notably treacherous disposition, but because he liked to joke that as a Prince of the Church he bore the weight of both sacred and secular concerns and it was reflected in the initials with which he annotated documents.

As his fingers slowly played with his prized family heirloom of an antique fountain pen, so much more impressive than the goose feather quills used by his secretaries and other scriveners, his mind and gaze turned from the view over his palatial gardens where his servants toiled amid the splashing and tinkling of carefully contrived fountains, to the three documents in front of him. One was the notorious ancient magazine or 'Unholy Book'. The second was as detailed an analysis and commentary upon it as the troubled Father Mendoza had been able to compile. The third was his own note on the matter. He had determined that all three should be kept together in a locked leather briefcase in a secret archive, and he hoped that none of them would again see the light of day until long after he and all those involved were dead, if ever. He could have destroyed the magazine as almost every other remnant of this remote past had been destroyed, but had decided not to do so for a variety of reasons.

The Cardinal accepted responsibility for what had happened. He it was, after all, who had sent Father Mendoza on his mission. Obviously he had not expected anything of this sort to have happened, and he was relieved that it had not turned out worse. This had been one of many regular journeys of visitation on which he had sent Mendoza and other priests to maintain contact with remote monasteries and parishes, in order to check tendencies to slackness or incipient heresy. They also provided means to maintain social contact and discreet religious surveillance of the provincial gentry and their administration of the peasantry. He had a personal interest in history and antiquities and he took the opportunity of these visits to have his priests seek out any tales or artifacts which might gratify it. He was an amateur historian who occasionally enjoyed writing about the past, more for himself and a few friends than for any wider public. He had a small collection of antiquities scavenged by such means, including some stone arrowheads and curious fossils, together with a few small remnants of the Old Times, being fragments of obviously manufactured objects of unknown purpose and means of construction. His most surprizing object of this type was a smooth white vessel without handles or ornamentation, made of that cool and slickly surfaced material known to the ancients as 'plastic', although indeed it was not malleable. He attributed it to the Ancient American Plastic Beaker People and it was prominently displayed with such a label in his cabinet of curiosities.

All these objects, especially those that were man-made, exerted a certain fascination. Men of intellect and culture wondered briefly about the circumstances of their creation and use, how and why they had been made and what they might reveal about the attitudes and ways of life of the long dead people who had produced them.The Unholy Book was of an entirely different order of fascination and danger. It was a portal into the minds and souls of those departed people, and posed immense risks for those whose intellectual arrogance and curiosity or whose emotional and sensual desires led them through it. The Cardinal well understood why the Church had destroyed the writings of the ancient Maya, as indeed they had destroyed nearly all the writings and culture of the much more attractive Greeks and Romans and Egyptians, and also why very much later, scattered remnants had been of such interest to men of discernment, including many Princes of the Church, and in spiritually,intellectually, and emotionally diluted form, had acted as a beneficial stimulant on their societies. The ancient Americans had gone into the same darkness, but in distant times after a millennium or several had passed - the Church was patient - similar scattered remnants might have a beneficial purpose, but that time would be long after his own.

His mind turned to the strange influence which the Unholy Book appeared to have had on his priest. The poor man had endured a hellish journey following his hasty departure from the Villa Baltassar. He was in a mentally and spiritually disturbed state and had fallen into delirium, soon losing his way and wandering in the desert, if not for the biblical forty days and forty nights, at least for an extended period. He was beset by intense visions or hallucinations, in which he was convinced that the Devil haunted and taunted, tempted and tainted him. It was about the Unholy Book of course. The visions of power and perversion were more intense than they had been. He was not strong enough to simply be able to dismiss him and say, "Get thee behind me, Satan." In his confused state he sometimes felt there was also a female figure who called herself the Soul of America, who both tormented and comforted him, seeming to express the best and worst capacities of that ancient people and who pleaded with him to be allowed to continue influencing people in the present. He would gladly have laid down his burden or destroyed it, but he knew that it was his duty to endure this test and to bear the Unholy Book back to the Cardinal, and he would not fail in his duty whilst he still had any life and strength. It was the instinct and endurance of the beast which saved him, bearing him at last out of the desert, far from their starting point, when they were both almost dead of thirst. Fortunately, the people who found them were strangers who had heard nothing about the events we have described. As Good Samaritans they tended man and mule and guided them by easy stages back to Santa Fe, but the Father Mendoza who returned was not the same man who had left. His experiences had changed him, and it showed in his face and manner.He had gone through the fire, his mettle had been tested, much that was inessential had been burned away. What was left had the ring of steel.He was grave but calm and respectful when he had made his initial report to the Cardinal, and appeared almost recovered. He had handed over his charge without sign of relief, as if he had withstood the worst it could do and he no longer feared it or much cared whether or not he had to carry it any longer.

His Eminence had been alarmed and impressed. He was alarmed at how easily the danger of a spiritual and social calamity had arisen. At that time he had not heard of what Don Roberto had said to the peasants about the disappearance of the 'Holy Book', but the very fact that there had been no rumours or reports of social upheaval suggested that the wily Don had probably defused the problem. He was concerned for the spiritual and physical well being of Father Mendoza, but he was very impressed by his fortitude and spiritual stamina. It had dawned on him that he might be dealing with a potential saint. Truth to tell, these were not very common in the Church. They were not comfortable to have around, and it would be difficult to have one reporting to him. He accepted that if Mendoza became a saint, all those around him would be seen only as incidental to his life and judged as having helped or hindered him. He knew that he lacked the spiritual depth and power of this man, and he prayed that he himself would never be put to such a test. He knew that he himself was better equipped in some ways to deal with this object, and he was glad that the priest had brought it to him. Nonetheless, he instructed him to examine it thoroughly and to write a report about his findings. It would serve not only as an intellectual and theological review, but also show whether the priest had fully mastered the power which it initially had had over him, and help him to complete his recovery.

The priest had calmly accepted and completed this task.The Cardinal and such scholars as he had been able to find, had helped Father Mendoza to improve his knowledge of Ancient English and had been delighted to have an additional text in this archaic tongue. For scholarly and theological reasons they had accepted his right to be the first to study it in depth. They had accepted the need for secrecy which the Cardinal, using the authority of the Church, had urged upon them, so he felt fairly certain that no rumours would be spread from those sources, at least in his lifetime. 

He had discussed his report and examined the magazine several times in the company of Father Mendoza, as well as independently, and had compiled his own report which he had not discussed with anyone. Superficially the 'Unholy Book' was just a commonplace object of little importance in its original context. It was just a popular news magazine. Small magazines of a not altogether dissimilar nature had still sporadically appeared in his father's and grandfather's time, although their circulation had been restricted to intellectual, artistic and religious or political groups amongst the gentry and the clergy.This magazine however was much more impressive in several ways. It consisted of far more pages and may have been published as frequently as weekly. It's content seemed aimed at an uneducated audience, more for entertainment than for instruction or to encourage thought or devotion. Amazingly, it seemed to assume widespread basic literacy amongst the common people, and even more amazingly that they had the wealth and interest to spend on such a thing and were allowed to do so. It's topics seemed, well, 'topical', but pertained to the whole globe as if such news and such publications were collected and distributed very rapidly widely and cheaply.Its paper was glossy and it contained much that was vividly coloured. Perhaps its most impressive feature was the large number of beautifully detailed and realistically coloured pictures which it contained, as if viewers were actually looking at the people places and objects right in front of them, rather than seeing paintings of them. Quite obviously it would have been very difficult to make so many drawings so rapidly and distribute them so cheaply. He understood that the technology of printing had survived from ancient times but the quality of production of this trivial ancient object far exceeded anything more recent that he had ever seen. The pictures must be specimens of the lost art of photography. He had felt awe at the casual power and intricate skills deployed to make and distribute vast numbers of things of such charming appearances but such sinister purposes. He did not doubt to whom the power and the skills, the appearances and the purposes belonged. Images could mediate spiritual power. That after all was the purpose of art, to lead to the spiritual via the senses.The images of the saints in churches had always been regarded as a means of instructing and uplifting the ignorant and sinful, although there was the danger that they might themselves be taken too literally and become objects of worship. Here, he was convinced, he was seeing a Devil's picture book where the images were enticements to idolatry, seductions to glorify the senses rather than inspirations to put them to noble uses. It was not entirely bad. The pictures of Nature and of people could in themselves lead to awe and appreciation of the might and majesty of the Creator, but here they seemed to be used to glorify human pride; Pride, the sin of Lucifer which had led to his downfall. In some ways, the impression of the society of these ancient people was that, in line with the Parable of the Talents, they had indeed striven to increase and make full use of their God-given talents, which was admirable; although disturbing in that it implied many such ways were no longer available, or that he and his people were slothfully, like the Foolish Virgins, failing to make good use of their capacities and apply them to the service of Our Lord. However the main objects this publication seemed to serve were human lusts and Titanic pride. Good in the service of Evil became debased, a means of misguiding the unwary.

It would have been a matter of idle historical curiosity to have known the date of the magazine. That part of the page where it was expected had disappeared, perhaps torn off long ago for some unknown reason. So far as he and those experts in the somewhat sketchy history of the late period of the Old Times whom he had consulted could determine, it probably dated to the closing decades of the 20th century or the early 21st.That had been the apogee of American power or even a little past it. This impression was reinforced by the fact that some of the contents referred back nostalgically to the vaunted American Space Programme, which apart from their rapid settling of the continent had been their greatest and most famous achievement. Some had regarded that as their cultural equivalent of the Gothic cathedrals of Medieval Europe. Nowadays it was more commonly compared to the Tower of Babel. Hubris had met Nemesis and what had gone up like a rocket came down like its stick.

Some of the academics whom he had consulted were of the opinion that the American Space Programme had been the re-writing of myth, or an outright diabolical lie. They expressed disdain for the idea of men walking on the moon. They queried the attachment of the name of the ancient Greek god of light and the sun to the programme, and the superstitious coincidence that it had supposedly been the unlucky number thirteen in the sequence of voyages which had come to grief, like Phaeton falling in flames to earth because of his inability to control the Sun's chariot or Icarus flying too close to the sun and melting his wings. After seeing the photographs in the magazine of the Earth seen from space and of strangely garbed men supposedly on the moon, the Cardinal was convinced that the Ancient Americans had indeed had such incredible technology that it would be difficult to discern just what they could or could not have done, in fact rather as the Bible reported of the builders of the Tower of Babel.

As to the other contents of the magazine he was much in agreement with Father Mendoza, whose comment had been that as an educated man, he had been aware that the ancients had had horseless carriages, but he had never seen one or even a picture of one. He was fascinated to see colourful pictures of what appeared to be these self-moving machines, but repulsed by the sinful avarice with which they were advertised, and the expectation that every common man and woman should have at least one of these, surely noisy, and possibly blasphemous, monsters.They appeared to be each made out of many hundred kilograms of metal, which must have been a grotesque extravagance. He had never seen so much metal in a single object, yet here were streets filled with them. It was most unsettling to see such a disdainful display of extravagance; all the more so as the arrogant attitudes of the populace would have been hard to take in an assembly of nobles and notables, let alone being quite devoid of the humility and decorum properly expected of common people.Then there was the scandal of the women.

Many of the pages not devoted to pictures of horseless carriages, were given over to beautiful women advertising clothing as scanty as their morals. Even the pictures of the people in the streets showed that ordinarily the women were indecently, and even lasciviously, dressed. Their attitudes were quite brazen. No doubt all of this had contributed to the wrath of the Almighty which had fallen upon them, as upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Cardinal felt the Power, although not nearly as strongly as the priest had done.Father Mendoza was strong in spirit. He had immediately seen and clung to the main point, discarding as temptations the nuances and subtleties which made more appeal to the Cardinal. His Eminence had an uneasy feeling that each person who came in contact with the 'Unholy Book' was tested according to his own strengths, and he prayed that his own intellectual and social sophistication would not betray him into the hands of the Evil One. His own failure might have longer and wider adverse consequences for his people than would that of a single priest.

He understood that the forces manifest in the ancient people were latent in the souls of himself and his people, and that intellectual and emotional exposure to this ancient object however innocently it had been created and preserved, might re-awake them in a form that was no longer appropriate, if it ever had been. He felt that the Old American Form or Soul, which had dominated the world in its own time, would attempt to do so again if given a chance, and the consequences would not be good. To destroy the magazine was too simple a solution and itself a temptation, as the priest had seen.There was, for instance, no assurance that something similar or even more dangerous might not come to light at any time, and fall into less cautious hands. It would be better to learn from it and be more able to deal with further manifestations - and not least, learn that its temptations could be withstood, with the help of The Lord. Good might be drawn from Evil, and might provide something beneficial or even necessary at some future time.

His Eminence was well aware that the common attitude of the common people would be to see the possibilities inherent in these capacities or technologies as great sorcerous powers which could satisfy their basest desires - perhaps not so different from the attitude of the Ancients to whom the magazine had been addressed. He also knew that the attitude of the Men Of Power would be little different, except that they would treat it as Black Alchemy which would generate wealth and weapons to increase their own power. He wondered indeed, whether the fabled 'science' and 'technology', those idols worshiped by the Ancients, had ever been more than Black Magic, in intent and outcome if not in form. He was saddened that so much ingenuity and effort went into the pursuit of material form, regardless of its spiritual essence. He knew that the Ancients, especially in their latter days when they had seemed to be running out of it, had been obsessed with the concept of 'energy' cheaply or freely available to serve their most trivial whims. They seemed ignorant of any spiritual dimension to this energy, or of any spiritual cost. Gaining the whole world while losing their souls had not been a problem to them. He hesitated to tread on shaky theological ground, but he wondered whether through their selfish and greedy actions they might also have besmirched the soul of Nature, if there was such a thing, and if so whether it might fall to his people to make amends. As a start it would be useful to remember St. Paul's statement that the struggle is not against men but against Powers and Dominions in the hierarchy of the heavens. Then it might be easier to develop strength and courage like that of Father Mendoza to resist and overcome temptation, and perhaps even to win some good from it.

Cardinal Ximenes turned to the window and again surveyed his garden. His ear and eye were drawn to the fountains and rivulets that splashed and ran through it and which gave it life in this hot dry climate.He was aware of the famous gardens of the Villa d'Este, not far from Rome, where a Renaissance cardinal frustrated in his pursuit of the Papacy had created an elaborate garden featuring many splendid fountains. His own garden was more modest and he had no Papal ambitions, but he fell to considering the symbolic importance of water. Our Lord had promised living water to the Woman at the Well. Although some mystics of exceptional strength and purity might stand in spiritual fire, water was much more appropriate for most people. It was the Devil who was usually associated with fire. It struck him that the 'oil' which had so obsessed the Ancients and provided them with the financially cheap but spiritually expensive energetic fire which they craved, came from a sort of fiery liquid found under the ground in desert regions. It contrasted with the life-giving effects of water as it only imparted a false form of life to machines. It seemed thus to power a mocking imitation of life, a blasphemous parody of divinely ordained Nature. It was hardly to be wondered at then, that this false creation of the Father of Lies had failed those who had come to rely on it. Fire was fierce and short lived, so it did not surprise him that a culture based on it should rise and fall with extreme rapidity, lasting only a few centuries. He was happy that the older slower technology of water, of fountains and waterwheels and aqueducts and canals had survived and revived. Of course water did not provide so many toys for the people or death dealing machines for their lords, but so much the better for that. It amused him that the civilizations based on olive oil had been worthy of the name, those based on rock-oil, not so much.

His mind drifted to the past. In addition to the 'Unholy Book', Father Mendoza had brought back his notes of the stories told by his host and other gentlemen, both at the Villa Baltassar and on earlier stages of his travels. These had contained nothing of great interest, but added to the large collection of anecdotes about the legendary Don Arturo, leader of the Reconquista, who had overthrown the crumbling and faltering United States of the hated and despised Gringos. In the Cardinal's private view the man had been nothing but a beast, a brigand certainly no better or even as good as the usual run of military dictators. Certainly most of the stories about his gallantry and chivalry were fanciful in the extreme. Aided by upheavals and dissensions in the United States he had managed to loot rape and pillage his way across most of the continent, leaving cities from Houston and New Orleans to Chicago and Cincinnati in flames behind him, until his bloody repulse at Pittsburgh, which the surviving Americans were too weak to follow up.

When a young man the Cardinal had been shown moving pictures purporting to be of some of these events, recorded and displayed on little machines which had since ceased to function, although a few had lasted long enough amongst the nobility to have come down to his time.Thus he thought that he knew that the story of the Don having ridden a white charger into the water of Lake Michigan, and waved his white-plumed helmet in the air as he made a speech proclaiming the Liberation of all the lands from the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico to the fresh waters of the Great Lakes, whilst Chicago burned in the background, was not quite right. His steed had been one of the horseless carriages, a military command car. His helmet had actually been a peaked cap smothered in gold braid, and his famous proclamation was not only of the liberation of the land, but of the enslavement of all surviving Americans and the confiscation of their property - which was really just an acknowledgement of what had been happening in practice.

Similarly, the ghost stories that so disturbed the peasants often had a basis in facts relating to that time. A great many Americans had been horrifically tortured and slaughtered often by criminals acting on their own account, or by gangs only loosely if at all affiliated to the forces of Don Arturo, and certainly indisposed to accept orders from him or from anyone else, although his own men had not been much better. Hence the ghoulish stories of lost souls crying in the wind, or of tortured victims screaming through the night, or of bones which refused to stay buried, whilst they had long since lost contact with physical reality or probability, retained much emotional force, especially in the sub conscious mentalities of those who knew that their own ancestors had been far from guiltless in these matters and that a hereditary blood debt remained unpaid.

The Cardinal knew the lines from an old American song,

'John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
but his soul goes marching on.'

He considered it high time that John Brown's soul rejoined his body and that they were left in peace to continue their mouldering. For his part he would let the Unholy Book, which somehow seemed to express so much of that restless titanic American soul and to induce distorted and disturbing reactions in the soul of his own people, resume its slumber in the darkness of time until change and decay reduced its potency or converted any remaining influence into a fertilising compost.

His Eminence had made cautious enquiries and had been gratified and amused to hear of Don Roberto's speech or sermon and of how events had transpired around the Villa Baltassar. He considered the Don to have been much less of a liar than the Don himself and his neighbours seemed to think him. After all whilst not the literal truth, what he had told the peasants had a certain figurative truth and was couched in terms which they could understand and accept and had helped them to recover from a dangerous spiritual and social malady and even turned it into a means for increasing piety. Perhaps an unseen angel had guided him after all. There had been an unexpected consequence. Some of the peasants had been so impressed that they now regarded him as a holyman, and he was coming to be known as Don Roberto the Blessed. It was even said that he was trying to live up to the name!

All-in-all, things had worked out well. The peasants had encountered a danger which it was beyond their ability to understand or withstand, but their social and spiritual leaders had saved them from it. The courage and resourcefulness of the Don and the faith and sanctity of the priest had been tested and not found wanting. He wondered why he himself had not been tested so severely, at least as yet, and prayed that he had not already unknowingly failed, and would not do so in future. It was difficult to find priests for such remote and unfashionable parishes, which is why the vacancy there had remained unfilled for so long, but His Eminence had now ensured that they would have the good offices of a down to earth pastoral priest for at least the next couple of years. He hoped that would help them to avoid any recrudescence of the hysteria that had nearly overcome them and to ensure that lingering memories of the 'Holy Book' did not become a source of heresy and dissension.

 He reflected upon Biblical parallels and mused that although he was in no way comparable to Moses or Jacob, their experiences might offer a guide. God had tested Moses by attempting to kill him, and Jacob had gained a blessing and a new name by wrestling an angel of the Lord, despite having a leg put out of joint. This might be a similarly severe test of himself and his people. It was noteworthy that those who measured up to it benefited as a result. He could see that it had brought Father Mendoza closer to sainthood. The Don had also survived and enhanced his reputation. It might be that His Eminence was not the final link in the chain. Others might later have greater parts to play. He must neither destroy the magazine, nor allow its influence free rein. He would preserve it in secret and make Father Mendoza, the only man to have fully withstood its influence, its guardian.

Finally His Eminence gathered all the documents into a pile before him. He tinkled a small hand-bell and Father Mendoza silently entered the office and stood before him bearing a leather briefcase under his arm and a lighted candle and stick of blood-red sealing wax in his hand. The Cardinal inserted the bundle into the briefcase and locked it, removing the key. The priest melted the sealing wax over the lock and the Cardinal impressed his official signet ring into it. Father Mendoza took the briefcase away to lock it in a secure cupboard. Both men turned their attention to other things.


And what of the Shrine of the Holy Book? It is pleasant to note that Don Roberto had been as good as his word. Abel's hovel became a site of local pilgrimage. The garden was re-established and lovingly tended by the local peasants, with a little judicious encouragement from Don Roberto the Blessed, who proudly led a procession there each year and paid for a fete and for regular blessings by the local priest and the brothers of San Geronimo. Memories of the exact nature of the Holy Book faded but it became firmly entrenched in local lore as a beneficent presence. Strange to relate, the slave Abel had a greater career in death than he had in life. Before many years had passed he had become a well loved local celebrity, albeit unrecorded on any list of saints in the Vatican; Saint Abel the Hermit whose Holy Book had cured the afflicted of many ills. In another generation or so his bones were piously dug up and distributed as holy relics, but his sanctity endured. Thus we see how eras may change. The Last American, as he may be termed, found a treasured place in the affections of his successors, not, to be sure, in life, but when death and the tides of time and circumstance had turned his memory into an adornment, 'something rich and strange' that their souls could harbour and honour.

And what of that magazine, the Holy or Unholy Book? It continued undisturbed in peaceful slumber and decay, forgotten in a back storeroom in the Cardinal's palace. Bell, book and candle, had they exorcised the unquiet ghost of America? The sensitive or fanciful soul might intuit a link between the gardens of the Shrine and of the Palace and that their waters perhaps sparkled a little more brightly and that the bees buzzed and the butterflies fluttered a little more sweetly and that the winds sighed with less sorrow, but who can tell everything that goes to make really good compost?