Sunday, May 13, 2012

Les chimères

Gustave Moreau, Les Chimères

On one wall, half in shadow, was a large untinted photographic reproduction .... In the background I could see the pinnacles and archways of a gothic palace or cathedral; mysterious towers half-hidden in vegetation; and on the far horizon, rocky crags. In the foreground, fantastic images were layered one upon another, bewildering to the eye: naked goddesses mounted on bulls and hippogryphs, a queen in the crown of Charlemagne stroking a unicorn’s head, a serpent-headed goat; as well as fairies, angels, witches, and all manner of fabulous birds and beasts.

“I see you are admiring M’sieu Gustave Moreau’s famous picture,” said M. d’Artois. “Les Chimères –a masterpiece of artifice and invention, He never finished it, you know. To portray all of myth, all of history, all of religion – what artist is equal to such a task?”

And I, who know so little of art, could only murmur, “It’s beautiful, and very strange – and I think quite frightening.”

“Just so. A journey through the haunted forests of the imagination. The reflection of our dreams, our terrors and our innermost desires.”

Even in black and white, the picture had the power to mesmerize. If one looked too long, one had to tear one’s gaze away. I could well imagine that beyond the distant mountains of that never-to-be- finished painting lay a still more marvellous and seductive country existing only in the artist’s mind.

I was raised to believe that in this life, at least, there is only one reality, and that is the world of ordinary experience, that has no place for unicorns and hippogryphs. But all that has happened these past months has tested that belief. If we believe in Heaven, is it so impossible to believe, as spiritualists do, that other worlds exist above and beyond our own?

Friday, May 4, 2012

In HPB's study: an excerpt from Wild Talent

I asked – as many others have asked before me -- “Madame Blavatsky, is that real magic you do, or jiggery-pokery?”

HPB does not easily take offense, and this made her laugh. “Mostly the second. But never question, Miss Guthrie, that I can do the first. Shall I show you?”

When I hesitated, she turned those brilliant azure eyes upon me, and said, “Listen then, and learn. This is magic. This is the music of life. And have no doubt that it is real.”

And from somewhere there came a ghostly music, faint and distant at first, so that I strained to hear; then growing louder till it filled that snug, close, lamplit room. It was high and sweet as the sound of a flute, but unlike any instrument I could name. With that intense and piercing sweetness came a scent of herbs – wild thyme, or rosemary – so that I thought of the Pipes of Pan, of their dangerous music, beckoning and enticing.

And now I could hear voices singing – a melody without words that made my heart catch in my throat. The voices, languorous and seductive, twined themselves around me. I could not move, could scarcely draw my breath. More than anything in the world I wanted to yield to that music, let it wash over me and transport me. My gaze drifted to the photo of the Tibetan Master. His eyes, dark and wise and beautiful, seemed to say, “Leave this world behind. I will lead you over the high lonely passes.” And I was filled with a terrible foreboding. I remembered Alexandra’s story of the painting, with its haunted landscape, and her words -- : “Be careful. You could be pulled in.”

But pulled into what? I knew only that I must step back from a nameless peril.