What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.
(Andrew Marvell, The Garden)
I find myself walking though a cool green tunnel of foliage. As I emerge into the bright morning I see a lake sparkling ahead of me in the middle distance. I am standing at the top of a steep grassy bank covered in myriads of daffodils, all in full bloom and gleaming yellow gold in the sunlight. The place looks familiar yet altered, enhanced. Turning round I see a garden planted with flowering shrubs, glowing in the sunlight and scenting the air with their heady fragrance. Suddenly I recognize where I am: rus in urbe; a garden which is also a public park, where Basil and I have often walked and enjoyed its salubrious beauty. I walk down the bank of daffodils into a glade of trees surrounding a spring. I stand there for a moment drinking in the cool tranquillity of this oasis.
My eyes follow the spring, which issues into a stream flowing down across an expanse of emerald grass. The lawn looks a bit empty, but I remember Orpheus’s guided meditation, and lo and behold! Here is a small flock of black sheep with the cutest little black lambs gambolling around them. This is fun, let’s add a beautiful palomino mare, just like home. Cool! She gallops round the field, the sun streaming through her blond mane, then trots over to the sheep and starts grazing with them.
My gaze now moves out to the lake and I see in the middle a small island crowned by a white marble temple. From its forecourt I hear the strains of a chamber orchestra, sweet notes harmonizing with the birdsong that also livens the air. I stand there drinking in the scene – not a plastic bag or bottle anywhere in sight – and my heart fills with peace and joy.
Turning round, I find Orpheus standing in the glade. “This spring is tended by Nea, the Muse of News. She is the younger and lesser known sister of the more famous Nine. Her river is small but powerful, feeding a series of lakes, then flowing underground, forgotten by many but still a potent source of inspiration for those who drink of her waters. Countless generations of writers, journalists, chroniclers of the great events and cultural flowerings of their age have moved fleet-footed through her meadows. Here also are trees of knowledge whose delicious fruits may be freely eaten by seekers of wisdom. Try one if you like.” My hand reaches out towards a ripe red apple gleaming invitingly on its branch, but I hesitate and withdraw, constrained by too many stories about the perils of eating in the Otherworld.
Instead I turn back to contemplate the sylvan prospect, my eye now drawn to a hill standing proud in the distance.
I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
The air was cooling, and so very still.
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,
Had not yet lost their starry diadems.
The next moment I am transported smoothly in the blink of an eye, and here I am standing at the top of the hill. Orpheus is standing beside me once again, smiling broadly. “How do you like teleportation? Who needs a chariot?” He gestures expansively towards the magnificent vista that appears to stretch into infinity.
“This hill is also an acropolis, far though it is from the great original. Once it too was a stronghold for a resurgence of democratic values and religious freedom. The passions of those times still resonate for those who are attuned to the spirit of liberty. In remembrance of those glory days it is named Parliament Hill. From this summit you may survey the power and glory of the world.”
I gaze in awe at a vast metropolis of domes, spires and towers, shimmering silver and gold in the distance. “Some of those temples are dedicated to that barbarian ‘god’ Mammon, but here in Paradise all is good, and the raw energy unleashed by Commerce is transformed into higher Culture.”
Orpheus turns around and we start walking again.
“Do you have any questions?”
“Well, yes. Paradise is so idyllic that I wonder: why would anyone choose to go to Heaven? How could anywhere be better than this?”
“Frankly I agree, but Paradise is not for everyone. Since anyone can get into Paradise there is no cachet, no queue jumping or exclusivity, just open access. Some people only value what they have to fight for and win against stiff competition. There are people in your world who will only buy a handbag or a car if it is a limited edition. Anywhere that is perceived as higher and harder to get into will therefore be aspirational regardless of what it can actually offer.
Asphodel Meadows is called the Chillout Zone by our residents. It appeals to free spirits and bohemians wanting a more relaxed experience, as well as gardeners and nature lovers bidding a fond farewell to the beauties of Gaia’s realm. As a Hampstead Heathen you naturally feel at home here, but there are more ambitious people who look down on Paradise as a kind of second-class heaven for pagans.
“The open secret is that anyone can get into Heaven too, although in practice so-called ‘sinners’ are self-debarred by the pain and magnitude of their evil deeds. However, the engrained belief in elitism is enough to guarantee the appeal of Heaven to success-oriented younger souls. Of course, there are also many heroes, saints and other good souls who are drawn to the love, light and power of the celestial realms. Heaven is not without its charms, as you will see for yourself when you get there. However, before you go higher you have to go deeper…