Standing on Heaven’s mountain with my guide Michael, my ears pick up a sound that is familiar yet unexpected in this setting. “Surely I’m not hearing the clink of cutlery?”
Michael smiles ironically. “As the Solar Boat dips below the horizon, all the stars switch on to light up our celestial realm … and it’s time for dinner. Of course there is no time in heaven, nor does the astral body require food, but the illusion of a daily cycle breaks up the monotony provides the comfort of familiarity.
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 transformation 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.”
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven. Rupert Brooke
Here I am, standing on the summit of Heaven’s mountain with my guide Michael. We are surveying a vast plain stretching away into the distance.
“Who are all those people, looks like angels on horseback?”
“These are the Heavenly Hosts in training. We are now in Heroes’ Heaven, home to all heroes from the greatest leaders to the humblest foot soldiers. Those who were warriors on Earth, by role or profession, often volunteer for the Heavenly Hosts. Our crack troops wear russet, but the rest of them weren’t giving up their fine uniforms. It’s all ceremonial nowadays so they may as well look gorgeous.”Continue reading →
It is easy to go down to hell; night and day the gates of Dark Death stand wide; but to climb back up again, to retrace one’s steps to the open air, there lies the problem, the difficult task. Virgil
“You will need a passport for your next destination,” says Morgana, my gracious guide to Hell. She hands me a familiar looking document with a gold embossed cover. “Here it is, personally issued by Sir Francis Walsingham, who decides who gets a passport.” I open it, scrutinize the flourishing Elizabethan signature admiringly and slip the passport into my pocket.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate. (Abandon hope all ye who enter here.) Dante
The darkness thickens as Morgana and I descend even further into the depths of Hell. We halt in a claustrophobic stone chamber lit only by a dim yet lurid phosphorescence on the clammy walls. The temperature drops perceptibly and I shiver as Morgana gazes at me sternly, stonily. “Souls you would call serious sinners go to the Dungeons. Please be clear we are not talking about the natural enjoyment of sensual and worldly pleasures, nor even about being rude to your parents or mean to your best friend. Such minor peccadilloes are part of the rough and tumble of life in which we are all sometimes unkind, angry, lazy, vain and all the other myriad faults and failings that human nature is prone to. Taken too far these actions may incur karma…”
I desire to go to Hell, not to Heaven. In Hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings and princes, but in Heaven are only beggars, monks, hermits and apostles. Machiavelli
“Do you have any questions?” asks Morgana, formerly Merlin’s apprentice and now my guide in Hell.
“Well, you’ve reassured me that there have been major improvements since I was frightened half to death with stories about this place. Even so, I’m curious. You say that people come here of their own free will, but why would anyone choose to go to Hell? I’ve heard people joke about how in the great hereafter they’d rather have fun with the sinners than sing hymns with the saints, but I’ve never taken it seriously.”
How can I describe my vision, the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! Arthur Rimbaud
“And now I’m gonna get medieval on yo’ ass,” says Morgana, my guide in Hell. She laughs uproariously at my look of alarm. “Not really, things have moved on a lot since the Dark Ages, when nobody cracked jokes about the Spanish Inquisition because you did expect them to come knocking at your door. Such excesses helped cause a backlash of unbelief that has frankly lifted a great burden from the hearts and souls of suffering humanity. At one stage we were almost closed down as numbers were diminishing so rapidly. Indeed, your compatriots ‘dismissed hell with costs’ two centuries ago in earthly time.
The One remains, the many change and pass; Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly; Life, like a dome of many-colour’d glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity. (Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley)
“Back to happier subjects, we do throw good parties here.” Orpheus beams at me, radiating goodwill. “Lavish banquets, fountains of wine, dancing choreographed by the Graces. Even my father occasionally honours us with his presence, and everyone sings paeans to him. Then we play duets together, him on his lyre, me on my lute.”
“Yes, I am also a Son of God,” he looks down modestly. “There are quite a few of us actually, though we’ve kept a low profile since the Downfall. My father is Apollo, the only One of us who kept His name under the new regime.” His chest swells visibly as he looks up. “Everyone knows Sun Gods are the greatest, even though now and again they get usurped by the Old Thunderers … sorry, Brethren of the Skies.”
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn)
“We’re almost out of our time together. Do you have any more questions?” asks Orpheus, my charming guide to Paradise.
“Not for the moment, thank you, you’ve given me such a wealth of information to reflect on and absorb. You’re a star!”
“Alas not I, only my instrument,” he raises an ironic eyebrow. “And you’re most welcome. I enjoy coming here, especially as it gives me a chance to spend time with my wife.”
“Your wife?” My face must have fallen a little, for Orpheus gives me one of his most radiant smiles and pats my hand gently.
One midsummer day in midlife, I found myself in a dark wood. It is a yew forest, nestled into a vale amid the rolling hills of the South Downs in Sussex. Cultivated yew trees are usually clipped and trimmed, but in this ancient wildwood the trees spread their branches wide, intertwining with each other and canopying the forest into an arboreal cathedral. Their green shade is cooling and soothing on a warm summer day, while their resinous aroma is gently soporific.