Julius LeVallon, by Algernon Blackwood

Chapter v

“We have no right whatever to speak of really unconscious Nature, but only of uncommunicative Nature, or of Nature whose mental processes go on at such different time-rates to ours that we cannot easily adjust ourselves to an appreciation of their inward fluency, although our consciousness does make us aware of their presence. . . . Nature is a vast realm of finite consciousness of which your own is at once a part and an example.” — Royce.

These was a great deal more in LeVallon, however, than the Memory Game: he brought a strange cargo with him from these distant shores, where, apparently, I— to say nothing of another — had helped to load it. Bit by bit, as my own machinery of recovery ran more easily, I tapped other layers also in myself. Our freight was slowly discharged. We examined and discussed each bale, as it were, but I soon became aware that there was a great deal he kept back from me. This secrecy first piqued and then distressed me. It brought mystery between us; there stood a shadowy question-mark in our relationship.

I divined the cause, and dreaded it — that is, I dreaded the revelation he would sooner or later make. For I guessed — I knew — what it involved and whom. I asked no questions. But I noticed that at a certain point our conversations suddenly stopped, he changed the subject, or withdrew abruptly into silence. And something sinister gripped my heart. Behind it, closely connected in some undiscovered manner, lay two things I have already mentioned: the woman, and the worship.

This reconstruction of our past together, meanwhile, was — for a pair of schoolboys — a thrilling pursuit that never failed to absorb. Stone by stone we built it up. After often missing one another, sometimes by a century, sometimes by a mere decade or so, our return at last had chimed, and we found ourselves on earth again. We had inevitably come together. There was no such thing as missing eventually, it seemed. Debts must be discharged between those who had incurred them. And, chief among these mutual obligations, I gathered, were certain dealings we had together in connection with some form of Nature worship, during a section he referred to as our “Temple Days.”

The character of these dealings was one of those secret things that he would not disclose; he knew, but would not speak of it; and alone I could not “dig it up.” Moreover, the effect upon me here was decidedly a mixed one, for while there was great beauty in these Temple Days, there lurked behind this portion of them — terror. We had not been alone in this. Involved somehow or other with us was “the woman.”

Julius would talk freely of certain aspects of this period, of various practices, physical, mental, spiritual, and of gorgeous ceremonies that were stimulating as well as true, pertaining undoubtedly to some effective worship of the sun, that resulted in the obtaining of enormous energy by the worshippers; but after a certain point he would say no more, and would deliberately try to shift back to some other “layer” altogether. And it was sheer cowardice in me that prevented my forcing a declaration. I burned to know, yet was afraid.

“I do wish I could remember better,” I said once.

“It comes gradually of itself,” he answered, “and best of all when you’re not thinking at all. The top part gets thin, and suddenly you see down into clear deep water. The top part, of course, is recent; it smothers the older things.”

“Like thick sand, mine is,” I said, “heaps and heaps of it.”

He shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

“The pictures of Today hide those of Yesterday,” he explained. “You can’t remember two things at once. If your head is stuffed with what’s happening at the moment, you can’t expect to remember what happened a month ago. Dig back. It’s trying that starts it moving.”

Ancient as the stars themselves appeared the origins of our friendship and affection of today.

“Then I didn’t get as far as you — in those Temple Days?” I asked.

He glanced sharply at me beneath his long dark eyelids. He hesitated a moment.

“You began,” he answered presently in a low voice, “but got caught later by — something in the world — fighting, or money, or a woman — something sticky like that. And you left me for a time.”

Any temptation that enticed the soul from “real knowledge” he described as “sticky.”

“For several sections you fooled with things that counted for the moment, but were not carried over through the lot. You came back to the real ones — but too late.” His voice sank down into a whisper; his face was grave and troubled. Shrinking stole over me. There was the excitement that he was going to tell me something, yet the dread, too, that I should hear it. “But now,” he went on, half to himself and half to me, “we can put that right. Our chance — at last — is coming.” These last words he uttered beneath his breath.

And then he abruptly shifted the subject, leaving me with a strangely disquieting emotion that I should be drawn against my will into something that I dreaded yet could not possibly avoid. The expression of his face chilled my heart. He pulled me down upon the grass beside him. “You’ve got to burrow down inside yourself,” he went on earnestly, raising his voice again to its normal pitch, “that’s where it all lies buried. Once you get it up by yourself, you’ll understand. Then you can help me.”

His own excitement ran across the air to me. I felt grandeur in his wonderful conception — this immense river of our lives, the justice of inevitable cause and effect, the ultimate importance of every action, word and thought, and, what appealed to me most of all, the idea that results depended upon one’s own character and will without the hiring of exalted substitutes to make it easy. Even as a boy this all appealed strongly to me, probably to the soldier fighting-instinct that was my chief characteristic. . . .

Of these Temple Days with their faint, flying pictures I retain fascinating recollections. In them was nothing to suggest any country I could name, certainly neither Egypt, Greece nor India. Julius spoke of some great civilisation in which primitive worship of some true kind combined with accomplishments we might regard today as the result of trained and accurate science. It involved union somehow with great “natural” forces. There was awe in it, but an atmosphere, too, of wonder, power and aspiration of a genuinely lofty type.

It left upon me the dim impression that it was not on the earth at all. But, for me it was too thickly veiled for detailed recovery, though an invincible instinct whispered that it was here “the woman” first intruded upon our joint relationship. I saw, with considerable sharpness, however, delightful pictures of what was evidently sun-worship, though of an intelligent rather than a superstitious kind. We seemed nearer to the sun than we are today, differently constituted, aware of greater powers; there was vast heat, there were gigantic, mighty winds. In this heat, through these colossal winds, came deity. The elemental powers were its manifestation. The sun, the planets, the entire universe, in fact, seemed then alive; we knew it was alive; we were kin with every point in it; and worship of a sun, a planet, or a tree, as the case might be, somehow drew their beings into definite relationship with our own, even to the point of leaving the characteristics of their particular Powers in our systems. A human being was but one living detail of a universe in which all other details were equally living and equally — possibly more — important. Nature was a power to be experienced, shared, and natural objects had a meaning in their own right. We read the phenomena of Nature as signs and symbols, clear as the black signs of writing on a printed page.

Out of many talks together, Julius and I recovered all this. Alone I could not understand it. Julius, moreover, believed it still today. Though nominally, and in his life as well, a Christian, he always struck me as being intensely religious, yet without a definite religion. It was afterwards, of course, I realised this, when my experience of modern life was larger. He was unfettered by any little dogmas of man-made creeds, but obeyed literally the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, which he knew by heart. It was essential spiritual truth he sought. His tolerance and respect for all the religions of today were based upon the belief that each contained a portion of truth at least. His was the attitude of a perfect charity — of an “old soul,” as he phrased it later, who “had passed through all the traditions.” His belief included certainly God and the gods, Nature and Christ, temples of stone and hills and woods and that temple of the heart which is the Universe itself. True worship, however, was with Nature.

A vivid picture belongs to this particular “layer.” I saw the light of a distant planet being used, apparently in some curative sense, by human beings. It took place in a large building. Long slits in the roof were so arranged that the planet shone through them exactly upon the meridian. Dropping through the dusky atmosphere, the rays were caught by an immense concave mirror of polished metal that hung suspended above an altar where the smoke of incense rose; and, since a concave mirror forms at its focus in the air before it an image of whatever is reflected in its depths, a radiant image of the planet stood shining there in the heart of the building. It was a picture of arresting beauty and significance. Gleaming overhead, hung a mirror of still mightier proportions that caught the reflected rays and poured them down in a stream of intensified light upon the backs of men and women who lay naked on the ground, waiting to receive them.

“The quality of that particular planet is what they need,” whispered Julius, as we watched together; “the light-cures of that age have hardly changed,” he laughed; “the principle, at least, remains the same.”

There was another scene as well in which I saw motionless, stretched figures. I could never see it clearly, though. Darkness invariably rolled down and hid it; and I had the idea that LeVallon tried to prevent its complete recovery — just then. Nor was I sorry at this, for beyond it lay something that seemed the source of the shrinking dread that haunted me. If I saw all, I should see also — her. I should know the secret thing Julius kept back from me, the thing we three had somehow to “set right again.” And once, when this particular scene was in my mind and Julius, I felt sure, was seeing it too, as he lay beside me on the grass, there passed into me a sudden sensation of a kind I find it difficult to describe. There was yearning in it, but there was anguish too, and a pain as of deep, unfathomable regret, wholly beyond me to account for. It swept into me, I think, from him.

I turned suddenly. He lay, I saw, with his face hidden in his hands; his shoulders shook as though he sobbed; and it seemed that some memory of great poignancy convulsed him. For several minutes he lay speechless in this way, yet an air of privacy about him, that forbade intrusion. Once or twice I surprised him under these curious attacks; they were invariably connected with this particular “inner scenery”; and sometimes were followed by bouts of that nameless and mysterious illness that kept him in the sick-room for several days. But I asked no questions, and he vouchsafed no explanation.

On this particular point, at least, I asked no questions; but on the general subject of my uneasiness I sometimes probed him.

“This sense of funk when I remember these old forgotten things,” I asked, “what is it? Why does it frighten me?”

Gazing at me out of those strange eyes that saw into so huge a universe, he answered softly:

“It’s a faint memory, too — of the first pains and trials you suffered when you began to learn. You feel the old wrench and strain.”

“It hurt so?”

He nodded, with that smile of yearning that sometimes shone so beautifully on his face.

“At first,” he replied. “It seemed like losing your life — until you got far enough to know the great happiness of the bigger way of living. Coming back to me like this revives it. We began to learn together, you see.”

I mentioned the extraordinary feelings of the playground when first I spoke with him, and of the classroom when first we saw each other.

“Ah,” he sighed, “there’s no mistaking it — the coming together of old friends or enemies. The instant the eyes meet, the flash of memory follows. Only, the tie must have been real, of course, to make it binding.”

“How can it ever end?” I asked. “Each time starts it all going again.”

“By starting the opposite. Love dissolves the link. Understand why you hate — and at once it lessens. Sympathy follows, feeling-with — that’s love; and love sets you both free. It’s not thinking, but feeling that makes the strongest chains.”

And it was speaking of “feeling” that led to his saying things I have never forgotten. For thinking, in those older days, seemed of small account. It was an age of feeling, chiefly. Feeling was the way to knowledge: here was the main difference between Today and those far-off Yesterdays. The way to know an object was to feel it — feel-with it. The simplicity of the method was as significant as its — impossibility! Yet a fundamental truth was in it.

To know a thing was not to enumerate merely its qualities. To state the weight, colour, texture of a stone, for instance, was merely to mention its external characteristics; whereas to think of it till it became part of the mind, seen from its own point of view, was to know it as it actually is. The mind felt-with it. It became a part of yourself. Knowledge, as Julius understood the word, was identifying himself with the object: it became part of the substance of the mind: it was known from within.

Communion with inanimate objects, with Nature itself, was in this way actually possible.

“Dwell upon anything you like,” he said, “to the point where you feel it, and you get it all exactly as it is, not merely as you see it. Its quality, its power, becomes a part of yourself. Take trees, rivers, mountains, take wind and fire in this way — and you feel their power in you. You can use them. That was the way of worship — then.”

“The sun itself, the planets, anything?” I asked eagerly, recognising something that seemed once familiar to me.

“Anything,” he replied quietly. “Copy their own movements, too, and you’ll get nearer still. Imitate the attitude and gestures of a stranger and you begin to understand what he’s up to, his point of view — what he’s feeling. You begin to know him. All ceremonies began that way. On that big plain where the worship of the sun was held, the smaller temples represented the planets, the distances all calculated in proper ratio from the heavens. We copied their movements exactly, as we moved, thousands and thousands of us, in circular form about the centre. We felt-with them, got all joined up to the whole system; by imitating. their gestures, we understood them and absorbed a portion of their qualities and powers. Our energy became as theirs. Acting the ceremony brought the knowledge, don’t you see? Oh, it’s scientific, right enough,” he added. “It’s not going backwards — instinctive knowledge. It’s a pity it’s forgotten now.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked.

“I’ve done it so often. You’ve done it with me. Alone, of course, it’s difficult to get results; but when a lot together do it — a crowd — a nation — the whole world — you could shift Olympus into the AEgean, or bring Mars near enough to throw a bridge across!”

We burst out laughing together, though his face instantly again grew grave and earnest.

“It will come,” he said, “it will come again in time. When the idea of brotherhood has spread, and the separate creeds have merged, and the whole world feels the same thing together — it will come. It’s another order of consciousness, that’s all.”

His passionate conviction certainly stirred joy and wonder in me somewhere. It was stupendous, yet so simple. The universe was knowable; its powers assimilable by human beings. Here was true Nature Magic, the elements cooperating, the stars alive, the sun a deity to be known and felt.

“And that’s why concentration gives such power,” he added. “By feeling anything till you feel-with it and become it, you know every blessed thing about it from inside. You have instinctive knowledge of it. Mistakes become impossible. You live and act with the whole universe.”

And, as I listened, it seemed a kind of childish presumption that had shut us off from the sun, the stars, the numerous other systems of space, and that reduced knowledge to the meagre statement of a people dwelling upon one unimportant globe of comparatively recent matter in one of the smaller solar systems.

Our earth, indeed, was not the centre of the universe; it was but a temporary point in the long, long journey of the River of Lives. The soul would eventually traverse a million other points. It was so integral a part of everything, so intimately akin to every corner and aspect of the cosmos, that a “human” being’s relative position to the very stars, the angle at which he met their light and responded to the tension of their forces, must necessarily affect his inmost personality. If the moon could raise the tides, she could assuredly cause an ebb and flow in the fluids of the human body, and how could men and women expect to resist the stress and suction of those tremendous streams of power that played upon the earth from the network of great distant suns? Times and seasons, now known as feast-days and the like, were likewise of significance. There were moments, for instance, in the “ceremony” of the heavens when it was possible to see more easily in one direction than in another, when certain powers, therefore, were open and accessible. The bridges then were clear, the channels open. A revelation of intenser life — from the universe, from a star, from mountains, rivers, winds or forests — could then steal down and leave their traces in the heart and passion of a human being. For, just as there is a physical attitude of prayer by which the human body invites communion, so times and seasons were attitudes and gestures of that greater body of Nature when results could be most favourably expected.

It was all very bewildering, very big, very curious; but if I protested that it merely meant a return to the unreasoning superstitious days of Nature Magic, there was something in me at the same time that realised vital, forgotten truth behind it all. Cleansed and scientific, Julius urged, it must return into the world again. What men formerly knew by feeling, an age now coming would justify and demonstrate by brain and reason. Touch with the universe would be restored. We should go back to Nature for peace and power and progress. Scientific worship would be known.

Yet by worship he meant not merely kneeling before an Ideal and praying eagerly to resemble it; but approaching a Power and acquiring it. What heat in itself may be we do not know; only that without it we collapse into inert particles. What lies behind, beyond the physicist’s account of air as a gas, remains unknown; deprived of it, however, we cease to breathe and be conscious in matter. Each moment we feel the sun, take in the air, we live; and the more we accomplish this union, the more we are alive. In addition to these physical achievements, however, their essential activities could be known and acquired spiritually. And the means was that worship which is union — feeling-with.

To Julius this achievement was a literal one.’ The elements were an expression of spiritual powers. To be in touch with them was to be in touch with a Whole in which the Earth or Sirius are, after all, but atoms. Moreover, it was a conscious Whole. In atoms themselves he found life too. Chemical affinity involved intelligence. Certain atoms refuse to combine with certain other atoms, they are hostile to each other; while others rush headlong into each other’s arms. How do the atoms know?

Here lay hints of powers he sought to reclaim for human use and human help and human development.

“For they were known once,” he would cry. “We knew them, you and I. Their nature is not realised today; consciousness has lost touch with them. We recall a broken fragment, but label it superstition, ignorance, and the like. And, being incomplete, these remnants of necessity seem child.ish. Their meaning cannot come through the brain, and that other mode of consciousness which understood has left us now. The world, pursuing a lesser ideal, denies its forgotten greatness with a sneer!”

A great deal of this he said to me one day while we were walking home from church, whose “service” had stirred him into vehement and eager utterance. His language was very boyish, and yet it seemed to me that I listened to someone quite as old as Dr. Randall, the Headmaster who had preached. I can see the hedges, wet and shining after rain; the dull November sky; ploughed fields and muddy lanes. I can hear again the plover calling above the hill. Nothing could possibly have been more uninspiring than the dreary hop-poles, the moist, depressing air, the leafless elms, and the “Sunday feeling” amid which the entire scene was laid.

The boys straggled along; the road in twos and threes, hands in pockets, points of Eton jackets sticking out behind. Hurrish, the nice master, was just in front of us, walking with Goldingham. I saw the latter turn his face up sideways as he asked some question, and I suddenly wondered whether he knew how odd he looked, or, indeed, what he looked like at all. I wondered what sort of “sections” and adventures Goldingham, Hurrish, and all these Eton-jacketed boys had been through before they arrived at this; and next it flashed across me what a grotesque result it was for LeVallon to have reached after so many picturesque and stimulating lives — an Eton jacket, a mortar-board, and tight Wesleyan striped trousers.

And now, as I recall these curious recollections of years ago, it occurs to me as remarkable that, although a sense of humour was not lacking in either of us, yet neither then nor now could the spirit of the comic, and certainly never of the ludicrous, rob by one little jot the reality, the deep, convincing actuality of these strange convictions that LeVallon and I shared together when at Motfield Close we studied Greek and Latin, while remembering a world before Greeks or Latins ever existed at all.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31