"An Aura alone", said John, "doesn't make you a Pilgrim. Like that fat old geezer with a stick who used to go to Brevnov church. He had an Aura, real classy, shining for yards 'round. So I figured he's some kinda guru, so I said to Hugo to come and have a nose at him, like, maybe he'd make us into his disciples. 'Course you know how Hugo has a nose for these spiritual things. So Hugo comes along and says, you git, the old boy stinks like an ape, his sex-drive is way offscale. Guru! You're wide of the mark there matey! So we were baffled how the two could go together, such a neat Aura and ape-glands, so then one Elder says - never mind the name, you know how they hunt them down - so one of the Elders says that it so 'appens that if a man has some great talent, like a Composer, or Writer, or Painter, or a Mathematician, or even if he's a good Doctor; one who's good at telling illnesses and knows how to treat 'em straight away, then he'd 'ave an Aura regardless of his stage of spiritual advancement. Unruly sexuality, he says, is the least kind of problem, though you might not think so, for it carries elements of surrender and selflessness, the worst thing is hatred, but that's something you hardly ever find in such people. Some commie collaborators, the better ones among them, like, never profess hatred, although it's the party line, funny that, ain' it. And then we found out who the fella was, it was that poet Síbrt - so that fitted right in - funny how the inner senses are spot on, when you uncap 'em."
"That's just it. They aint," said Thomas, "they're just the opposite, unreliable. And through them is how the negative intelligences gain entry - all the Scribes agree on that, ours, occidental and oriental. Everyone thinks that if his Inner Eye opens he's really picked out a plum, like, and plays silly games with it like Little Jack Horner. And eyein' and sniffin' other people - none of your business, mind your own pilgrimage! Every one thinks if he has the Inner Eye, he's Somebody and what a flippin Pilgrim - but that needn't follow and usually doesn't. There's folk who have no deep senses open at all and still dunk right into Formless Immersion. Senses are senses, inside or outside - away with them all! Folk are all just playing games, but to give themselves and let themselves be drawn in, no, they're much too tight-arsed scared for that. O'course the Last Woes are no picnic when they start, when you have to pay your last respects to old Adam. Everyone prefers to sit on the edge, in the Calm Zone, and daren't go further, because then it gets unpleasant. But playing around like sniffer-dogs after Auras, oh yeah! Pilgrims! - Not to mention that it's bloody dangerous, because it diverts you after. There's madhouses full of them failed pilgrims and secular science then makes out that it's all craziness through and through - which you can understand, looking from the outside in, it's logical - sure enough. If you don't yield completely, then they'll get the better of you every time, those are much greater intelligences that ours, make no mistake! But why should I preach, it goes for me just like anyone and maybe more - but it's the truth - bollocks like Pilgrimage, more like Occultism."
"Tom, don't yell so much, so the others don't hear. It's unworthy to cause offence and lead them astray. Es werde jeder nach seiner Fason selig. Each to his own."
"As it 'appens, some of them orthodox Catholics are plodding along better than us, that's the paradox of it." - "Well, that's tradition for you." - "But them Catholics have the worst Woes to go through of anybody." - "Because they think they have a monopoly on it all." - "Because they're the worst when it comes to giving up the Self." - "It's to do with their idea of the Soul." - "Ah, let 'em - we're minding other peoples' business again - no matter if it's an individual or an organisation - leave the others be and tread your own path in full obeisance, all the Scribes agree on that." - "So where is it we're heading today, then?"-
"Oh to some chapel to sing Viadana, there's a Fete, or something." - "See, and instead of making use of the chance we're just prattling."
The stopping train juddered carrying the mixed choir of some fifteen men and women toward their theoretically legal, but in practice suspect and semi-criminal objective. Some were reading, some chatting to keep amused, a small group played cards. In one compartment four men had their eyes closed, apparently asleep.
Another melodrama! If there was a god would he permit something like this to be going on, like it always has been, mind. Don't you all get it, don't you see? How come they talk about Faith not denying Reason, just rising above it. I'd say it stands against Reason for sure. How can some wafer turn into God? It's complete insanity, bowing before a flake of pastry. Why didn't I see it when I was younger? Theatre, pure theatre. But if I went and deserted, they'd be up on their high horse, so I'll stick with it, I won't be harassed away. Maybe it has a role to play at that. An apparently metaphysical buttress to the moral code, and so on. The Poles are only holding out thanks to it, but it's still just a put-on, a stupid performance. Some of those mystics say that God is the Void. It would make a neat cynical joke - those in the know enlightened that there is not, an never has been anybody or anything there, a secret society of nihilists in the bosom of the Church, even. It's possible, the world's absurd enough. But maybe that's precisely why it is all true after all, because it is so absurd - no - no way - it's just a put-on, a melodrama. Why haven't I jumped ship yet?
He was returning now, back from the Chapel. It was dusk already. The western sky was steel blue and beneath it a sulphurous band. It had become chilly, the stones on the path shone eerily white. Everything seemed submerged under blue-tinted water. He used to get feelings of pleasant anxiety and tenderness at times like this, feeling God close by, touching his innermost core. Those days were long over. Now, the Priest was feeling nothing beyond an aching emptiness. For him, God had died, God was no longer. In truth, obviously, He'd never existed. What had died had been a Chimaera, a creature of his own mind.
He felt and knew this strongly. He'd served Mass in the knowledge of its utter futility. He'd recited the words and gesticulated the movements which amounted to - nothing. He'd performed grotesquely comical artistry with a wafer and wine. They believe it, they bow before it! How can it be, how can people of normal intelligence quash their reason like this? Some of them are so called intellectuals. They're the biggest nutters of all. How is it possible? You Jester! You Clown! You despicable Con-artist! To whom are you professing loyalty? When there is No-one. No, this life cannot continue. It must end. This way or that. If only I had the courage.
Beside the roadside crucifix something dark waited. Someone was standing there, a small group. Perhaps they're out to mug him. Some hooligans - or They - or some of their stooge hooligans - that's just their style, the working classes expressing their objections. But I don't believe in it either, Comrades, should I say that? No, they'd think it was my fear talking. The Priest felt that to confess to Communists would profane and secularise his insight into the Void. No. I'd rather be beaten to death. Four men are peeling away from the roadside cross!
One was short, shrunken, with a hunchback's apeish face. "Good evening, Vicar" one of the peculiar men greeted him. "Don't be frightened, we mean you no harm. We just wanted to have a word with you. Listen, you don't Believe, do you? You think that there's no such thing as Transmutation, and never has been, that it's all crazed delusion. So you lack Intent, and indeed, nothing does happen. But there are those who can see it. Or sense it, more like a kind of radiance, light, warmth and glowing bliss, hard to put into words. It's not a sign of moral superiority, an ability like that, let me assure you. It's true that it sometimes comes with - no, let's stick to the subject. - So, let me tell you, the four of us here happen to have it.
We were here singing with the choir and we saw that you did not Transmute, the wafer stayed dark, barren, a deadnettle we call it. So we decided to wait for you, to tell you to be consoled and redeem your Faith once again. Because you see, my dear Reverend, it is no kind of abstraction, no kind of symbolism, no memento, its a blatant fact, which some of us can see." - "Dharmadhaatu," said the stunted man. - "Don't bring that into it now, mixing terminology, messing up the context. - Anyway, how else would we know you lack the Conviction, you don't Believe? Everyone talks of you as a good and proper Priest, a brave man in this day and age. So be of good faith, and next time, when we're back this way, make sure you've got it shining! God be with you."
The four men turned, and unhurriedly walked away along the darkening road, back to the station. With the dusk continuing to settle in, they merged into obscurity before too long.
The Priest stood motionless. Finally he spoke out loud.
"Sectarians!" he said, hateful and contemptuous. "Theosophers!"
"To add insult to injury - that's all I needed!"