Premiered – 2 April 2004
The desire to help others is a curious attribute. It's likely to be a parental characteristic, wherein an apparently quite helpless infant needs help in order to survive and prosper. On the other hand, it can be said with some authority that a parent's primary task with respect to their child is to prepare the child to become a wholly independent and sovereign individual, while simultaneously preventing the little darling from incurring any permanent physical or mental scars (or in the more dramatic case, dying young).
A desire to help those who have advanced beyond the infant/child state is a bit more problematic. When does helping, for example, become enabling? When does a therapist (aka “the rapist”) or doctor (rhymes with “raptor”) slide down the slippery slope of ego-gratification and/or god-complex? When does an organization dedicated to healing become more concerned with the maintenance of the organization than the health of the individual(s) seeking their help?
In the latter case, for example, when the March of Dimes found itself a functional, stable organization, but one without a reason for existing (i.e., with the polio cure seemingly found and perfected), its first item on the agenda was, “Why continue?” (The fact that it chose to leap into the arena of “birth defects” and other maladies, does not eliminate the question of: When is the healing done?)
Healing of the spirit is not unlike healing of the body, mind, and emotions. Spiritual gurus and healers have the same issue. What is to prevent dependence, instead of a healthier facilitation for the individual's return to mental and spiritual health? When and under what circumstances can anyone choose what is best for another? When can any true helper do more than act as a good example -- if they are attempting to avoid infringing upon another's free will?
This question is the basis for Omegan's Door by Dan Sewell Ward . The story is fictional, but one based upon reality.
I had lived within Omegan's Temple for nearly two years before I saw The Great Door. It was far too holy to be casually viewed by the average pedestrian. Novices and Initiates of Omegan were not even told of its existence until after their first year, or upon their ascending to the Order's third level. Thereafter, there was little hope of actually seeing it without first reaching the fourth level, which had been the situation in my case. And at that point, I had been formally taken before it.
I can still remember my first impression of the massive portal. It was easily twelve feet high and wide enough for a Mack truck with an inebriated driver to easily coast through without even so much as having to remove or collapse any side-mounted rearview mirrors. Composed of intricately woven bronze in a variety of highly symbolic shapes, laid over a background of spirals within spirals and Celtic knots, the portal represented the ultimate facade of deep philosophical thought and enormous physical strength. The Great Door itself was inset within the portal with the same heavy bronze motifs, complemented with huge knockers and large-enough handles to be suitable for your average Nordic God. The age-darkened bronze lent a sense of antiquity, while its sheer immensity suggested inexplicable strength.
One might have compared the door to Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise , the great bronze doors of the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence , but there was only the slight comparison. The Great Door was far less intricate and its symbolism more abstract. But the Great Door did generate much the same emotions as when first seeing Ghiberti's masterpiece. Of course, my first thoughts after seeing the Door was the lyrics of the popular song from my ill-spent youth, “What's behind the Green Door?” (My first thoughts are seldom if ever appropriate to any conceivable occasion.)
Nevertheless, as suggested by my adolescent memories, the real glory, or so we of the fourth, fifth and sixth levels suspected, was what lay behind the Great Door. Ah yes, we concluded, that would be where the greater glory resided. Ultimately, we were proven correct. Just in a different manner from what we had expected -- which is always the way, when you come to think of it.
Meanwhile, all evidence pointed to the glory that we never saw, but which surely lay behind the most notable door of the new world. Moving up through the levels of Omegan, we had at first sensed, and then begun to know with great certainty that behind the Great Door -- where Omegan's priests and priestesses of the eighth and higher levels resided -- were secrets and mysteries far beyond anything imagined by the inner circle of Eleusis, Delphi, or even modern-day Freemasons.
But of the mysteries behind the Great Door, those of us below the seventh level never knew directly or, for that matter, could not even make an educated guess. Only the high priest or priestess, the Guardian of the Great Door, the sole member of Omegan at the seventh level (and who had all direct authority over all those below the seventh level) knew what lay behind the Great Door. When the current Guardian ascended to the eighth level, he or she would pass through the Great Door one last time, never to be seen again. One member of the sixth level would be appointed, prior to that passage, to assume the singular position of the Seventh Level Omegan, and the tradition would thereby continue.
Once the Guardian had appointed a successor and passed through the door one last time, they were never seen again. In fact, all the earlier Guardians had disappeared from any further contact with the lower levels. It was this mystery of their disappearance, as much as anything else that so intrigued the rest of us. Only the Guardian had any hint of what went on behind the Great Door, and of what great mysteries and secret rites the former Guardians, the members of the eighth and higher levels, might be practicing.
I personally have known of five who have passed the last time through the Great Door. They had been wise, loving, and already possessed of great power at the time of their ascension. It seemed more than anything else that they had followed the Delphic charge and knew themselves. It stretched my imagination to think of what power they would yield on the other side of the Great Door when Omegan granted them degrees of the eight and ninth levels. What activities and mysteries would they accomplish beyond the rites that I had learned and practiced at the first six levels?
The thought of my years of Omegan, the beauty and discipline of the holy rites, still brings me that inner warmth as if my heart were bathing in golden light. I had been such a basket case, when first I entered the Temple . My life had been blitzkrieged by loss, financial disaster, and seemingly massive rejection by everything I held dear. I had felt disconnected, without a genuine friend or person who cared if I lived or died, and I was in a virtually constant state of searching for something of real meaning. Perhaps, more than anything else, I needed something to which I could feel a sense of belonging.
Later I learned that my yearning was often referred to -- humorously but with great compassion -- as “Groupitis”, a disease of the lonely hearts. Basically I had desperately wanted to belong to a group, to acknowledge some higher power, to feel companionship in my otherwise lonely quest, and to seek guidance from great and profound teachers. I had already decided that my life was not something of which I was in control, and that it would be far, far better if I could find a great quest worthy of the name, and thereafter devote myself to a cause greater than myself.
Now I am at the sixth level, one of the five who have met the requirements of that semi-exalted position, and I have become one of considerable authority myself. Only Tarkington is my senior at this level, but he himself has apparently sensed a flaw in his adherence to the accountabilities of our station, and has therefore acknowledged that -- instead of himself -- I am more likely to be the next person to reach the seventh level.
There is, of course, only one at the seventh level, the Guardian of the Great Door, and that one is Catheryn -- whom we like to call, but never directly to her face, “Catheryn the Great.” For my part, Catheryn is very good at what she does, and thus there seems to be no hurry for me to take on greater responsibilities. More than anyone I have known before, she is both wise and loving and possessed of some great, undefined power. She is also a friend, and I would hate to see her pass through the Great Door without me, even, if after a time, I might follow and join her at the eighth level.
For now, I will content myself with my sixth level duties and responsibilities. The many mysteries and indoctrination rites for the newcomers takes an immense amount of time, particularly when so many more people are entering Omegan in recent months. It is as if the world is becoming all the more unmanageable and more and more souls are finding their lives out of control. Or more likely, like me when I first entered the Temple , they are suffering from Groupitis, and desperately seek the cure Omegan offers.
It is curious that so many potential novices and initiates even find us. The Temple is not exactly located in the heart of the most desirable neighborhood of the city. In fact, it is located in the old industrial section, where the main activities for those who might be laughingly referred to as ‘residents' consist of unemployment and loitering. Located in the same massive block that houses the Temple is a goodwill soup kitchen, which provides probably the height of social activity for the ‘neighborhood'.
Not that the soup kitchen in any way detracts from the beauty and glory of the Temple . On the contrary, the Temple is an amazingly ordinary-looking, massive brick warehouse structure, with no windows below the third floor. Were it not for the gardens and open areas on the roof, and the windows of the upper two floors, the lack of lighting would have been quite dismal. Instead, shafts of light penetrate to the lower three floors, transforming the Temple 's interior into a wondrous sanctuary. No one seeing the Temple from the outside might ever guess or imagine what glories lay within the structure.
Truth to tell, the glories were still quite well hidden from the insiders, particularly to the initiates at the first level, when they first joined the other members of Omegan. It was only later, at the higher levels, that they would find the beautiful rooms and shrines, and be given the opportunity to see life within the Temple for the wonder that it was. But for the first level, accommodations were austere to say the least.
One can imagine, therefore, the state of those who came to the Temple to find love and comfort. There was certainly no attraction based on the appearances of comfort and ease. Instead, the new arrivals inevitably felt they had little alternative, and the Temple served only as means to escape a more drastic avenue of wherever their life was taking them. It was potential rescue, just as I had viewed it those many years ago.
But enough of reverie. I have functions to accomplish and schedules to keep. The foodstuffs must be inspected and prepared for the Transfer. And today, there are also small packages of durable goods to be included as well. As a member of the sixth level, it is my responsibility to ensure the proper functioning of what is, perhaps, one of the most sacred duties within the Temple .
The “Transfer” is the time when those of the eighth level and beyond, those who are permanently residing on the other side of the Great Door, receive the offerings from those of the lower levels. Not only are food and other goods brought into the Temple for the nourishment of those of Omegan's lower levels, but they are also for those at the more exalted levels. For me – as one who still analyzes and investigates -- the Transfer is the most notable assurances that those of the eight level and beyond are still incarnated. They may indeed practice great and secret mysteries far above the ken of the most devoted devotee, but they still need to eat and occasionally have garments and other durable goods provided. They may even do other things as well, inasmuch as many of the boxes destined for Transfer are sealed when they arrive at the Temple . They are, in fact, ordered by those of the upper levels through channels unknown to all but the Guardian of the Great Door. The mystery behind the Great Door has often been served by the fact it was often unknown by those who made the Transfer exactly what was being transferred.
Today, as I entered the Preparation Room, the mystery seemed less important to me. It was simply time to do my job, and as it turned out, to be surprised by Mary's presence in the room doing my work.
Mary was of the sixth level as well, perhaps two steps behind me in the hierarchy, but typically she not involved in the Transfer. She was, of course, trained in all its many aspects of inspection, careful attention to detail, and absolutely strict adherence to ritual procedure, but she seldom took on the tasks except in those rare occasions of my being unavailable. And thus my surprise: Obviously, I was available.
Mary had a charming smile for me when I arrived. Then, with a bit more mischief in her grin than one might have thought essential, she told me she would be conducting the Transfer that day. For just a moment she kidded with me, letting me guess the reason for the change in responsibility. Then smiling broadly, she explained, “Her exceedingly and occasionally royal Majesty, Catheryn the Semi-Great, has summoned her most lowly, second-in-command, who must now forthwith present himself as expeditiously as possible.”
“ Summoned ?” I asked. Mary sometimes elaborated freely on messages.
“Her words exactly -- the literal translation of which is: Hustle, the head-woman wants to see your body immediately if not sooner!” Mary smiled her most mischievous smile. “Maybe she's given up celibacy, and wants you at the right spot at the right time.”
I didn't bother to comment on any alleged celibacy on the part of Catheryn.
Continuing blithely on, Mary added, “I gathered from her worshipful that you'd likely be unavailable for the remainder of the afternoon, and thus the reason I'm in charge of the Transfer today. She must have some... ambitious plans for you.”
I kept my smile in tight control. “No doubt,” I answered.
Then she grinned. “I just hope you're up to her expectations.”
“Hopefully.” With that I left. It seemed to be the better part of valor.
A “summons” from Catheryn is a rare event. Whenever there are those wondrous moments when she appears to teach or pass on some thought or idea, she simply appears. Her timing is invariably perfect and coincides rather spookily with events or perceptions in one's own life. In essence, she always manages to show up -- “just happens to run into me” -- when I need rather precisely what she casually dispenses to me.
But a “summons”!? Seldom if ever does she notify anyone that she wishes to see them. And now, I am invited to attend her. But for the remainder of the afternoon? This was more than curious. This was tantalizing.
Rather quickly I began to wonder if the summons was real. Mary enjoyed small jokes, even if they were typically harmless and considerate, and this could be one of those. At the same time, Mary was still someone whose mind I had not yet fathomed. Admittedly, she was a woman, thus making her mind inherently not understandable to any man. But Mary was, if possible, even more unknown. With only one exception, I doubted that I had ever experienced how her mental apparatus might work.
The one exception had been when I had seriously doubted her good intentions. It occurred when Mary had been told that ascension to level two required that she give all of her worldly goods to the Temple . She had, quite definitively, balked! It had not been too grave a decision for me at the time, when months prior to her proposed ascension, I had undergone the same ritual. But perhaps that was due to the fact that I had had very few worldly goods to give up. It had hardly been a challenge for me to sign everything I owned over to the Temple -- after all, it was for the Temple 's financial support, for the on-going purchase of food and other materials, and it seemed a reasonable bargain in that I would be receiving room, board, and nurturing.
For Mary, it had been a bit more difficult. She had, as it turned out, investments and other negotiable assets in excess of $200,000. For her to turn over the total amount, to eliminate her fall-back security, and in effect, to “burn her last bridge”... had been a decision in the bit more traumatic category. I had glimpsed only the initial stages of the drama when she had looked at the others as though they were surely radically insane to suggest she hand over the money. Looking back on it, it was clear she had not been approached with the idea in the most diplomatic fashion. After that, I was unaware of what had happened -- other than that the Seventh Level Guru (as Mary liked to call him) -- talked to Mary at some length, and perhaps through the charismatic profound charm of his inner being, convinced her of the desirability of her handing it all over to the Temple. Simultaneously, Mary had begun to display a new confidence, as if she now shared some deep mystery with the Guardian. I was curious about what she might have been told, but she was always circumspect about it -- just a gentle grin of sharing a special secret with someone other than me.
In many respects, however, the incident was now ancient history. Furthermore, I had never thereafter detected any hint of regret on her part for handing over all of her worldly assets to the Omegans. But now, I again realized how little I understood her, and more immediately, whether she was now joking about the “summons”.
Ultimately, I decided that if it's a joke, then I would indeed allow it to play out to its finale, and would direct my steps in the direction of Catheryn, and as it turned out, the Great Door. The Transfer being on the ground floor of the Temple, it was necessary for me to descend into the deeper and inner chambers, in fact, down three levels and up two, in what had to be either an elaborate joke on the part of the Temple designers, a result of poorly planned renovations in subsequent years, or the work of a devious paranoid who had hoped to confuse any potential invader by serious misdirection. There was also the added hint of making it a true inner sanctum, inasmuch as one could become hopelessly lost in the multi-leveled basement maze -- such mystery being the stock and trade of Temples , cults, and bureaucracies.
Not that Catheryn's inner sanctum was some gloomy Hades. On the contrary, her pad was rather marvelously lighted. Her quarters received the exclusive benefits of one light shaft, and at its lower extremity, a prism glass casting rainbows in mixed confusion about the room. The room contained not just light, but enough colored shapes and forms (which naturally were in a constant state of motion and change due to the motion of the sun across the sky) to make the room a marvel of color, light and gentle invitation. Moonlight provided an even more inviting atmosphere with subdued colors, pastels, and the hint of a yet higher level of consciousness, closer still to the ultimate godhead. It was also delightful for love-making, adding a spicy spiritual flavor to the otherwise intense passion. Trust me on this one. The effect is well worth the adding flavoring.
Progressing toward Catheryn' inner sanctum, it occurred to me that she just might have some such agenda in her continuing effort to add spice to our lives. But at the same time, there was also the sense within me that such was not the case. My right-brain feeling or intuition that was a meeting of greater importance was supported by my left-brain rationale that Catheryn would not have summoned me through a third party -- Mary in particular, someone who delighted in... not exactly gossip, but more like enthusiastic data collection and evaluation surrounding inter-personal relationships, preferably other people and their relationships. As it turned out, both halves of my brain were right.
Catheryn had always had that combination of mystery and readability. She was never devious in the customary sense. Most anyone, including those with absolutely no expertise in neurolinguistic programming or its many equivalents, could sense her moods, her mundane thoughts and generally be successful at making book on what she would do next. At the same time, however, her status as Seventh Level Guardian of the Door (and parenthetically, the authorized and solitary keeper of a fair number of Omegan secrets), made her an object of mystery and intrigue. There were things she knew of potentially great importance which she never divulged (or even hinted at to a lover), even while the mundane activities of her life were an open book. Instinctively, she separated the keeping of great secrets and the remaining open book to others. It was a delightful characteristic.
There was one other thing about Catheryn. She was a good looking woman. Her long brown hair with hints of auburn combined with a regal bearing made her a reasonable candidate for Goddess of the Week. Her classic face (with the extra, subtle touch of childhood freckles) and moderate but ample figure suggested that she could easily play the part of Aphrodite. When added to her ability to nurture and/or discipline, she was not the sort of female that any male worthy of the name would ever consider turning down. Being one such male, it had never occurred to me to turn her down. For anything. At anytime. Or anywhere. (Or anyhow.)
By the time I reached the outer door of her inner sanctum -- a modest, carved wooden door with only a hint of the grandeur of the Great Door -- I was already excited. Not blatantly so, but noticeable at a distance by the more perceptive of females. For that reason, I considered hesitating at the door, thinking that I might need a brief cooling off period; but then realized I might be, in fact, slightly pre-pared for Catheryn's summons. With a quick attempt to control the wry grin on my face, I knocked on the door in the traditional fashion. This was just in case there was someone else in the room with her, and who might be affronted by my unwarranted sense of familiarity. Her verbal reply to enter was soft, gentle and full of authority. I felt ready. For whatever!
Oops. It took perhaps two seconds to see her on her “audience throne”, for me to gather in her countenance, and feel my body drop all preparedness and expectation for anything but an official summons. At the same time, however, there was no one else in the room. We would indeed be alone.
I tried to hide any disappointment, even while knowing with absolute certainty that Catheryn would be well aware of my thoughts, physical configuration (even as it abruptly changed), and current lack of strictly-celibate spirituality. Catheryn was, at the very least, telepathic, able to read my mind and body at a glance.
As I went through the ritual bow (and on an inner level, an apology for impure thoughts), I could feel her smile. Catheryn never seemed to object to my occasional lust, particularly as she occasionally welcomed it. There was no such welcome today, but her smile also carried no rebuke either.
“Come sit in your accustomed place.” Her voice was warm and loving. I made my way to one of the three chairs on her right; where during more formal audiences, I and two others of the sixth level would sit. I ascended the low rise of four steps to the chairs and sat down, looking up to her now only slightly elevated position, one step above me. For a moment she only looked at me, as if to verify some prior decision. Then she did the totally unexpected: She rose, stepped down to my level, and then took the chair next to me -- a chair with a slightly subservient position to my own.
Without making any direct acknowledgment of my amazement, she turned to me and focusing intently upon my eyes, said, “It is time.”
The sense of profound gravity in her voice and my own inner knowing of the importance of her words made their ultimate interpretation fairly obvious. My mind quite naturally dismissed any such ideas, and began to provide a host of alternative explanations, all of which would of course be fatally flawed. It was indeed, time.
For just a moment she looked at me, giving me time to dismiss my mind's random thoughts and ramblings, and thereby accept the inevitable truth. Then she continued, her hand reaching across to gently lay in on mind. “Tomorrow, after saying good-bye to all the others in the traditional fashion, I will ascend to the eighth level. Simultaneously, you will ascend to the seventh level and become the new Guardian of the Great Door.”
I promptly muttered something about being unworthy, but silently wondering at the same time, if she was ready. And also, if this meant there would be no more sex between us in the immediate future.
I know: I'm a typical male. But I also knew that she often passed through the Great Door to carry on, in some unknown degree, the various secret mysteries and rituals of the levels beyond the Door, but always returned to continue our intimate relationship. It stood to reason that my ascension to the seventh level would allow me equal freedom and the potential for a continuing relationship with Catheryn, albeit, in the inner, inner sanctums behind the Great Door. It's not that I'm always thinking about sex, but...
Catheryn smiled, and I blushed, knowing her bemused reading of my thoughts. Being horribly direct, she said, “You and I will not be making love for a time; perhaps not ever again. But certainly not until you have selected your successor and passed one last time through the Great Door. I suspect your tenure as Guardian will be a brief one, but regardless, our future sexual intimacy will be dependent upon powers far beyond our own. We will wait and see.”
I tried to make light of it. “You know me all too well.”
“It is a talent you will quickly learn -- or more accurately -- acknowledge as already possessing. You will soon come to know all those on the lower levels, particularly such beautiful souls as Mary.”
For a moment I tried to blank out any thoughts of Mary, or what might become commonplace between us. But Catheryn no longer seemed concerned with the subject.
“As for my readiness to ascend to the eighth level...” She waited for me to smile and silently admit to having such heretical questions of authority. Then she added, “ My readiness has never been at question, and, in fact, has always been dependent upon the readiness of my successor. My tenure at this level has been extended only because the next obvious candidate was not ready, and I had to turn my attention to you. By the same token, your readiness to ascend to the eighth level will be entirely dependent upon your successor -- whomever you choose -- being ready to ascend to become the Guardian of the Great Door. Keep in mind, also, that there may be those whom you will send through the Great Door, but who will never become its Guardian.”
For a moment, something didn't compute -- at least with my obsolete Radio Shack computer brain. “You mean, when one reaches the seventh level, they are already ready for the eighth?”
“In essence, yes. But as Guardian, they still have the duty of preparing others, and in particular, preparing someone to assume the Guardian duties. The Great Door must always have a Guardian! And no one should pass through the Great Door until they are ready. You are now ready. Tomorrow you will pass through for the first time, while I pass through for the last time.”
“To the eighth level and higher?”
Catheryn smiled, as if not quite ready to answer my question. Then she took my hand, gently and with a compassionate caress. “It's a question of power. When you and I were still in the world -- outside the protecting walls of Omegan's Temple -- we had power. But any sense of our having such power, the external world continually denied. We found rejection, competition, deceit, and ten thousand insults to our integrity. We relied upon external values and they failed us in every respect. Ultimately, we conceded that we had no power after all, and eventually gave up any pretense to it.”
My expression of “dare I disagree?” must have caught Catheryn, for she quickly amended, “Perhaps not all power was vanquished, but little by little we felt our power, our approval from others, taken away from us. As for those who took our power, it's only a matter of time before they realize their position depends upon external approval as much as anyone else's. In this respect we were all alike. Our so-called positions of power from those days depended upon the most undependable of sources, other people expressing in one form or another their approval of us. Such approval is at best fleeting in its benefits, and when we finally felt powerless...” For a moment, she smiled. “Or greatly lessened in power, we sought a more gentle and compassionate, external approval. This is Omegan's Temple , and the power of solidarity within its strong walls. We flocked to it and other places like it, seeking desperately for unconditional approval. Maybe even unconditional love.”
“You make it sound like cowardice. Or escape.”
“Oh no. It is merely part of the process. The simplest way to change someone is to bring them down to rock bottom, obliterate their ego, and thus wipe out every defense they might ever have employed. Then it only takes the gentlest of nudges to set them onto another path -- a path, hopefully, with heart.”
“So it is the powerless that enter the Temple .”
“Only in their perceptions. And only when being powerless is recognized, when one no longer believes they are in control of their life. Often our comfort levels prevent our seeing the chains that bind us, not to mention the precariousness of our external values and social acceptance. But once we sense that all is against us, or more simply, that no one is for us, we enter the Temple , find a convent, embrace a cult, or simply leap headlong into any welcoming group of any stripe -- traditional or otherwise.”
“Which, when you express it like that, makes everyone sound like a basket case.”
“It's only the beginning. Once they're in the Temple , we rebuild them, giving them security while they reclaim their power. We're much like a hospital's emergency room, where they stem the bleeding and stabilize the bodily functions, while our body's immune system begins to repair the damage. Traditional medicine, after all, is nothing more than a means of buying time and allowing the victim's body to heal -- if that is, in fact, their desire or intention.”
“You're telling me that during the last five years in the Temple , I have just been buying time?”
“And healing. Learning to know yourself, accepting your unique and wondrous characteristics, and reclaiming your power. It's all part of the process.”
Catheryn's smile increased, as if knowing what healed me. “The time involved, whether five years of five weeks, is irrelevant. The process isn't.”
“And now I'm healed?”
“Let's just say you've discarded the vast majority of old tapes telling you what a jackass you thought you were. You've gone from total obedience to higher authority, the first requirement of entering the Temple , to positions of moderate authority in your own right at the intermediate levels -- positions where you acknowledged higher authority and, at the same time, exercised authority over others. You have now reached the point where you understand, at least in part, your unlimited authority, subject only to one other person still in a position exceeding yours.”
“Just one? But what of those of the eighth level and higher? Aren't you -- at the seventh level -- subject to their authority?
“As a matter of fact, I am subject only on a voluntary basis. Only because I feel the demands from beyond the Great Door to be valid and worthwhile. More specifically, that they are worth my time and energy. It's a very personal decision on my part.”
“Really!? And how do they feel about that?”
“Those of the eighth level and higher.”
“Oh, them. Yes. I suppose it's time for you and me to prepare to meet them.”
Suddenly, my blood went moderately cool... Introductions to extraordinary people and mysteries always had that effect on me. I knew I would have lots of goose bumps, swallowing, and bleak attempts at smiling -- even when I assumed I would know some of them from those who had gone through the Great Door in the more recent years. But I concealed my concern well. “Now?” My voice cracked almost imperceptibly.
“I will acknowledge your ascension to the others, say my good byes, and then we will, together, open Omegan's Great Door.”
Nothing more was said, while I continued to look blank and struggle with the assumption of my own true power.
The rituals of ascension were more than typically powerful. Many were saddened by the thought of Catheryn's imminent departure from our midst. Perhaps a few were also dismayed by the prospect of my assuming the local, up close and personal, pinnacle of our small society. Yup. That could be it. Not merely Catheryn's leaving, but my staying in a position of authority ! That indeed was a pause of concern. Mercifully, no one endeavored to substantiate my claim of inadequacy, and I was thus to contemplate that I might indeed be ready.
There was only one lingering thought in my mind as Catheryn and I stood silently and alone before Omegan's Great Door; all the good-byes behind us, all the rituals of ascension completed, and the time of transition finally at hand. Quite out of character from the formality of opening the door for the new Guardian, I asked, “How do you know when one is ready to ascend to the seventh level?”
Catheryn was succinct. “The universe will tell you.”
Obscure, oblique, Delphic answers to questions have always been a pet peeve of mine, but one of my few claims to enlightenment was that I didn't bother to ask pointless follow-up questions. Thus armed, I persevered through the new, but surprisingly simple ritual of opening the Great Door. In fact, the main gist of the ritual (which for obvious reasons I cannot go into detail) was that I learn the secret combinations, how to open and close the door from both sides -- become its Guardian in fact as well as name -- and then ultimately close the door behind Catheryn as she passed through for the very last time.
As the Great Door swung open, revealing a deep darkness behind, Catheryn said in a casual manner, “Don't worry. Should you die before choosing a successor, I or one of the other of the eighth level will return to resume your duties and choose a successor.”
I hadn't been worried about that particular possibility at all.
Without another word, we both stepped into the darkness beyond the door and together closed it as a symbol of our last act together (at least for the immediate future). We continued to stand in the darkness for several moments, our hands touching. Then Catheryn turned away slightly and flipped what I immediately saw to be an extraordinarily ordinary light switch on the adjacent wall. But as my eyes adjusted to the new brightness, it was in the light that I was truly astounded. Or perhaps just dumbfounded. Or perhaps just dumb.
The great inner, inner sanctum behind Omegan's Great Door consisted of a plain, undecorated hallway extending twenty feet or so, and ending in the kind of emergency exit doors found in the most mundane and unspiritual of buildings. The only relief from this blah, common scene was a single doorway midway down the hall on the left -- a door notable for its plainness and utter lack of the slightest embellishment short of a small brass doorknob. For a moment, I stood transfixed by the mundane majesty of it all. Then I turned to Catheryn, who was now wearing one of her most mischievous smiles.
“The doorway on the left leads to a set of stairs,” she said, matter-of-factly. “You will want to use the key I gave you, inasmuch as you will be heading in that direction often enough in the future.”
Suddenly, the sheer austerity of the hallway triggered some quick explanation. Or so I thought. “And through this unadorned passage ,” I offered, with appropriate and convincing profundity, “We can then take the stairs to the eighth level?”
“Actually, no.” Catheryn smiled, touching my arm in the gentlest of fashions. “The stairs lead up to the soup kitchen, the recipient of all our Transfers of food and other materials. As Guardian, you are now in charge of the soup kitchen.”
When I looked merely dumbfounded (as opposed to just plain dumb), she added, “It's not too tough. You've some very able and dedicated mangers of the kitchen -- some previously of the Seventh Level – and they do most of the work. Primarily you relay orders for goods and food to the Temple . In many respects, the Temple 's primary function is to keep the soup kitchen operational. It's really quite a thriving enterprise. The soup kitchen even does some catering on the side.”
“Some of our best business.”
“And that's where you're going? The eighth level? The soup kitchen !?”
“It's a very noble calling. At least for some. I, however, will be heading for the exit.”
That my computer didn't even attempt to calculate. “Excuse me,” I stumbled.
“Dearest friend and lover, we're a cult. The great Omegan Temple , with all of its trappings and mysteries, is really nothing more than a cult.”
Dumbfounded, yes. But my default defense was always at the ready. “You're kidding.”
“No. Admittedly, we have nothing but the best of intentions, good and honorable ones I might add, but we're still a cult. Pretty much the same as any traditional religion. We bring people in when they've no other place to turn, put them into the discipline of our practices -- however gentle and caring such discipline may be administered -- and then slowly but surely allow them time to recover their selves, and for their spiritual immune system to reclaim its territory, its power.
But...!” Her smile suddenly carried the intensity of determined truth. “Any organization, group, or simply a combination of more than one person acting in cooperation with others and purporting to be enlightened, at-one-ment with itself, or whatever; every cult, particularly those who claim to nurture the spiritual growth of its disciples, must at some point , throw their advanced students out the door. For only then can the ‘graduates' complete their unique and individual process of reclaiming their power -- and thereby cease to submit their will to the alleged higher authority of the cult. Any spiritual organization of whatever stripe, which does not throw you out of the nest when you're ready, is not into any individual's spiritual growth. It's into spiritual slavery.
“It's a great deal like parenting. You can't live your child's life. You can only prepare them as best you can, and then shove them gently out of the nest when the time is right.”
“So now we're shoving you out of the nest?”
“Like any child, whose parents have truly accomplished their tasks, I know when to leave -- even without any shoving on anyone else's part.”
“But what will you do?”
“I'm not real sure. For starters, go out into the world. Interact, relate and perhaps in some manner of which I can't yet conceive... make a difference. It's an adventure. And for an adventure to be worth its salt, it can't be scripted or plotted out ahead of time.”
“Will I see you again?”
“Probably.” Without another word, Catheryn leaned toward me. It was a tender, wondrous kiss; something I would remember, and in all likelihood transform into the kind of motivation that would allow me to finish reclaiming my power, bring Mary or whoever up to speed, make my final pass through the Great Door, and find Catheryn again. Or maybe someone else. Or maybe even, no one.
As I watched her walk toward the exit, I felt a joyous loss; joy for her, loss for me. Then just as she reached the door, I yelled, “One last question.”
She turned to look at me as if she might have erred in thinking me ready to ascend, as if I had not quite gotten the message yet. Whereupon, whatever important questions that I might have had, abruptly vanished, and I merely asked, gesturing with my head toward the soup kitchen, “What's for lunch?”
Catheryn smiled a dazzling smile and replied, “Minestrone soup. You're going to love it!” With that she slammed open the emergency exit and re-entered the world.
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