Wiping away my tears after the poignancy of my experience in Heroes’ Heaven, I look up to see my guide Michael beaming at me radiantly. “Do you have any questions?” he asks as I compose myself.
“Yes, I do. I’m delighted to see so much progress up here since the old stories were written. I’d love to hear more about how it all hangs together and who’s running the show.”
Michael smiles. “Welcome to Team Heaven! You’ve already observed that our reformation has taken root and is beginning to flower. The biggest structural change in our world is that we have moved from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy. Of course “Their” Word is always Supreme, but the other denizens of Heaven get to vote on important issues and their views are taken into account.”
“Not before time, in my humble opinion.”
“From despotism to democracy is a big step, et in Arcadia. Don’t for a moment think it’s easy ruling Heaven. It’s all love and peace, of course, but there was much resistance to change within the dominance hierarchies.”
“So how did this shake-up come about? Was there a rebellion or a coup?”
“Certainly not! Their dictatorship was so benevolent, Their rule so enlightened that there was no cause for discontent. Yet there was a revolution, albeit obviously a bloodless one. It had long been observed that the old model was no longer working, as evidenced by the ever-increasing loss of bums on pews. Clearly it was time for a change. Accordingly a round-table discussion was set up, which opened the floodgates to a deluge of complaints.
“One of the loudest grievances concerned the gender imbalance in the Personage of God. The official line was that God is beyond gender: possessing all the positive and none of the negative attributes of masculinity while encompassing all the feminine virtues. Accordingly the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ should be understood gender-inclusively.
“However, these arguments were greeted with eye-rolling scepticism by our more militant supporters and there was muttering in the ranks about sophistry and post-hoc rationalization. Their counter-proposal was that Divinity should be clearly defined, described and depicted as gender-inclusive, ditching the masculine pronoun which undermines all claims of gender-neutrality.”
“I’m with you there. It looks a bit beardy and it sure as hell sounds patriarchal. So how was it resolved?”
“After much soul-searching it was decided on both spiritual and political grounds to bring an incontestably female Personage into the Trinity. But who and how? In the end it was HG…”
“… the Holy Ghost who came to the rescue. The genders of Father & Son are non-negotiable, set in stone and on parchment. The only loophole lies in the enigmatic Third Person of HG. HG graciously volunteered to vacate the post. This offer was gratefully accepted as a face-saving solution to the concurrent problem of what to do with “One”. There had long been whispers in the corridors of power that HG was the lightweight member of the triumvirate. “One” had a big moment two millennia ago but has been somewhat under-employed since. HG then modestly proposed Oneself as a candidate for re-election, being the sitting tenant with some experience of the position as well as fashionably transgender.”
“How lovely to be so sure!”
“Well, it is complicated, and strictly speaking One is metagender, having begun life as a feminine presence: an emanation of Shekinah who is rumoured to be the ex-wife of the Father. [ed: the true identity of the Father’s ex-wife will be revealed in Part VI: Game of Thrones] One then transmuted into maleness to perform the office of Surrogate, and ever since has been gender-neutral and/or fluid, speaking sometimes with a masculine and sometimes with a feminine voice according to the needs and perceptions of One’s devotees (few but enthusiastic).”
“So what happened next?”
“After further research and endless debate, it was decided to call an election for the position of Lady God.”
“What a clunky title and not even politically correct!”
“Well, to be fair it has symmetry with the masculine title ‘Lord God’. The title ‘Lady God’ was chosen to avoid offending traditionalists for whom the term ‘Goddess’ has unacceptably pagan associations as well as feminists who find the feminine suffix demeaning. Eventually a shortlist of six candidates was drawn up, approved and circulated along with their mission statements and manifestos.”
“Who else was on the list?” I ask with eager curiosity.
“I’m afraid that’s strictly confidential.”
“Oh go on, please!”
With a smile, Michael relents and flourishes a golden tablet towards me. I glance at a list of names accompanied by their odds and gasp. Some of the names are predictable but others are a bit of a surprise.
Michael quickly whips away the tablet. “Strictly for private circulation! Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Well, it’s too late for spoiler alerts. Clearly Britannia won, though on long odds I notice.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that. You’ve come through a portal into a parallel universe in which the election has already taken place, and indeed Britannia won. However your own universe unfolds at a slower pace with all due caution, and in your probable future the principals are only just about to sign off on the shortlist.”
“OK … So how did it happen that an outsider beat the favourites in such a key appointment?”
“The merits of all the candidates were of course considerable. HG started well as the hot favourite with strong support among traditionalists, mystics and the LGBT community. But these minorities did not add up to a winning majority and One’s campaign ran out of steam. Britannia, on the other hand, was viewed as the unity candidate, with a broad appeal transcending party lines and religious divides.”
“But what about her background? Surely Britannia is not a real Goddess?”
“Oh yes, her genealogy is impeccable, proceeding from the most glorious origin myth. Like all the best Goddesses, Britannia is self-born of Divine Essence, arising fully formed in response to the Decree of Heaven. She is doubly powerful as both the Apotheosis of the Sea and the Personification of the Soul of Britain. Choirs of Angels sang paeans of praise to celebrate her nativity. The grand ceremony culminated with Neptune graciously resigning the command of the seas.”
“It sounds thrilling but a bit gung-ho.”
“Indeed it used to be when the need was there, but nowadays the trident is mainly ceremonial and her other hand holds an olive branch. Back in the day, the Muses–loving liberty–graced her domain with their inspirational presence. Nowadays, in her archetypal form, she herself is Patron of all the arts and sciences. Britannia has evolved from the exemplar of heroic virtues to the paragon of civilized values: from Conquest to Culture.”
“I never thought of her as the artistic type.”
“Well, she only has one song but it is properly jaunty with the catchiest singalong chorus, accompanied by choirs of angels.”
“I’m beginning to get it now. I’m impressed! But how did she communicate her mission at a popular level?”
“To encapsulate her message she came up with a compelling slogan which clinched the campaign:
*Jesus reigns + Britannia rules*
“I like it, catchy and punchy! But how does it work in practice?”
“Their Lordships wanted a strong administrator who would take care of the business of government, leaving them free to fulfil their more exalted roles. The Father is semi-retired though still on call for smiting duties, with the heavenly host waiting in the wings. The Son still reigns but wished to delegate the duties of sovereignty, retaining only the ceremonial, in order to focus on the job he came for originally: being God of Love. Britannia had already shown her form in her successful clean-up campaign in the infernal regions – a job nobody else wanted to take on. You saw the results on your visit.” I nod thoughtfully and appreciatively. “As Lady God she is both tough and tender, gracious and pugnacious, traditional and progressive.”
“To emphasize her illustrious lineage, her first act was to choose a title with suitably Greco-Roman gravitas: Thea Britannia, Regent of God.”
“Sounds good to me. So was everyone happy with the result?”
“Oh yes, jubilation all round. She was the Bosses’ favourite but also the popular choice: Goddess to her devotees, Archetype to the intelligentsia and Patria to the patriots. Even the defeated candidates were happy as she promised jobs for the girls, building a strong team spirit. To add icing to the cake, her supporters who had bankrolled the campaign issued and distributed gold bullion in her name.”
“So how is this new regime working?”
“Britannia’s mission is to build a progressive alliance among the rival tutelary deities in order that the body of Europa may never again be dismembered.”
“Oh, I thought she was an independent Goddess.”
Michael smiles sardonically. “Oh yes, that has always been her path. But Gods too are subject to Evolution. And so Britannia moves with the times, evolving in wisdom and understanding. Her plan is to revive the ancient Order of Matrons, which all the tutelary Goddesses may join.
“She has already taken the first step by working things out with her cousin Caledonia, who has been given her own zone to look after.
“The next, tougher challenge is to achieve concord within the Greater Pantheon. She has buried the hatchet with Marianne and Germania to achieve a reasonably solid working partnership, now extending to all the other tutelary Goddesses of Europa.
“Eventually the paradigm will be rolled out in accord with the Principle of Correspondence: as above, so below. Thus the long cherished dream of your species – peace on earth – may finally be actualized.”
“I’m glad to hear Cousin Caledonia is flourishing. And does Cousin Columbia have a role in this brave new world?”
“Of course! I told you it was a broad alliance, which all civilized deities may join. The borders are boundless, the boundaries are clearer yet more fluid above than below – up here where Love rules and peace is bliss…”
“And what about the home team?”
“Well, it’s harder to get anything done through committees and reaching consensus can be an uphill struggle, but the team is learning to work together. There have been some quite intense discussions concerning our entry policy. Traditionalists argued that Heaven should be a Christian monopoly. However, Christians themselves wanted to exclude some of their own co-religionists as heretics, backsliders, fundamentalists, wishy-washy liberals, lunatic fringe … and so forth. Jews pointed out that they have a standing invitation, since both the Father and the Son are of Jewish descent, while POFs…”
“Sorry? These acronyms are getting me down…”
“…People of Other Faiths insisted that their Britishness gave them an automatic right of entry. Even Atheists wanted an option in fairness, should they be proved wrong.”
“Sounds like a minefield, how was it resolved?”
“Britannia stepped in as a non-sectarian Goddess, proposing a policy of ecumenical compassion. This was approved and as a result we continue operating an open door policy as we always have done, and so all are welcome. As you’ve learned already, it works in practice on the principle of self-selection, and so all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.”
“We did at least get unanimous agreement on one point: Britannia’s Heaven is animal-friendly, welcoming all animal companions and heroes. Admittedly there was a bit of resistance at first from the diehards, but too many good souls were refusing to come here without their best friends. Britannia as ever led the way with her ever-growing menagerie, now including a bulldog.
“Of course the devil hides in the details, and there was fierce debate about boundaries. For example we draw the line at pet snakes for obvious reasons. We have to watch the cats and remind them of their place. After all, we’ve moved on from the ancient Egyptian Heaven. It’s enough for cats to rule on earth and online but absolutely not in heaven too. Cats obviously go where they please, but most will happily accompany their humans here, though it takes patience to get them through the gate.
“We’ve patiently explained to them that there is a clear chain of command up here and cats are not on it. We’ve even threatened to send them back to the Happy Hunting Ground. Meanwhile there have been grumblings in the ranks about how it’s time for the Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast, but it appears to be too late. As Schroedinger demonstrated, the cat lives forever.”
I nod sympathetically, knowing full well that Ra would nudge aside Britannia’s lion, chase off her owl and jump onto her shoulder, while the dear soul who is Monty would head straight for her lap.
I know the title of a King is a glorious title, but assure yourself that the shining glory of princely authority hath not so dazzled the eyes of our understanding, but that we well know and remember that we also are to yield an account of our actions before the great judge. To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.