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 He accepted Prime Ministers as he accepted railway trains – as part of a system which he, at least, was not the revolutionist sent on earth to destroy.

       – G. K. Chesterton, “The Fad of the Fisherman,” in The Man Who Knew Too Much 

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It’s been said that, for the Pilgrim, there can be no allegiance to anyone or anything but Christ; that when the state, or any other merely human entity, demands his loyalty or obedience, he can respond in only one way:  with gentle but firm resistance.  It remains to be clarified that this has nothing to do with political rebellion or revolution.

This is as good a place as any to pause and review definitions.  A Pilgrim, we’ve said, is a temporary resident.  A refugee.  A person living in a strange land among a people not his own.  The Pilgrim knows that “this world is not his home” – that he’s “just a-passin’ through.”  Being a stranger and an alien, he does not become entangled in things that are none of his business.  His outlook is founded upon a supernaturally inspired distance and detachment.  His vision and perspective shape his concept of authority and accountability.

It is one of the sublimest ironies of the Gospel story that Jesus was executed on a charge of political insurrection.  Of all the many and varied characters on the scene that day, He had the least interest in the political aspects of the situation.  When Pilate asked Him, “Are you a king?” His matter-of-fact response was, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  And when the Governor pressed Him with, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you or to crucify you?” He said, in effect, “You have no authority at all.  Your ‘authority’ is an illusion.  Apart from God’s will, you could do nothing.”  He was not particularly impressed with the majesty of Rome.

Celsus, a philosopher of the second century, was just one of many respectable Romans who accused the early Christians of undermining society and behaving as “haters of the human race.”  The basis of their charge?  For the first three centuries of the Common Era, followers of Jesus, the King whose kingdom is “not of this world,” declined to become active participants in the “system.”  So firm were their convictions on this point that Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 A.D, renounced Christianity altogether and championed a return to ancient polytheism on the grounds that it would improve the civic situation.  “We can ignore his argument,” writes Jacques Ellul, “but what historians of the later empire all agree on is that the Christians were not interested in political matters or military ventures.”[i]

Ellul, following Vernard Eller, refers to this lack of interest as anarchy.  It’s a word most of us associate with chaos, disorder, and Molotov cocktails, but its meaning in the present context is quite different.  Eller explains:


     ‘Arky’ (from Gr. arche) identifies any principle of governance claiming to be of primal value for society.  ‘Government’ (that which is determined to govern human action and events) is a good synonym – as long as we are clear that political arkys are far from being the only governments around.  Not at all; churches, schools, philosophies, ideologies, social standards, peer pressures, fads and fashions, advertising, planning techniques, psychological and sociological theories – all are arkys out to govern us.

      ‘Anarchy’ (‘Unarkyness’), it follows, is simply the state of being unimpressed with, disinterested in, skeptical of, nonchalant toward, and uninfluenced by the highfalutin claims of any and all arkys.  And ‘Christian Anarchy’ … is a Christianly motivated ‘unarkyness.’  Precisely because Jesus is THE ARKY, the Prime of Creation, the Principal of all Good, the Prince of Peace and Everything Else, Christians dare never grant a human arky the primacy it claims for itself.  Precisely because God is the Lord of History we dare never grant that it is in the outcome of the human arky contest that the determination of history lies.[ii]


Christian Anarchy, then – a Christ-centered disregard for the claims of “government” in all its forms – occupies the next spot on our list of distinctive Pilgrim values.  Because he owes allegiance to one Master, and one only, the Pilgrim’s attitude toward every other so-called authority is necessarily “disinterested, skeptical, and nonchalant” – in a word, “anarchical.”  For love’s sake, he is more than happy to tolerate, co-exist with, and, where possible, even submit to the powers that be, whether that means Washington, City Hall, or Denominational Headquarters.  But this does not mean that he takes their pretensions seriously.

On the contrary, he views most of their antics and shenanigans with a sort of benign and amused indifference.

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

[i] Jacues Ellul, Anarchy and Christianity, 92.

[ii] Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, 1-2.



The Sword of Paracelsus: Into the Fray, Part 3

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Without another word he seized Baxter by the hand and took off.  Down the slope they plunged, Morgan swinging the sword before him as they ran, frantically describing a series of electric blue arcs on the clear air.

At the bottom of the incline they crashed into three Fomorians—two in the shape of large, bristly pigs, the other a spindly ash tree.  At the approach of the glittering blade the pig-shapes squealed and bolted.  The tree folded up its branches and slipped below the surface of the ground.  The boys ran on.

“It’s not far now!” yelled Morgan, as a flat-nosed giant fled before them and stumbled over a pile of flaming stones.  “Just across that stream, and—”

But before he could finish the sentence a flock of huge black birds swooped down out of the sky, snatching at his hair and scratching his cheeks with their cruel black talons.  Zigzagging to one side, he slashed wildly with the blade.  There was a click and a snap as it caught a tip of feather and bone, and then Morgan, thrown off balance by the force of his own blow, found himself rolling in the dust, grappling the sword to his chest.

When he was able to look up, he saw Baxter standing beside him, desperately tossing handfuls of dirt and gravel into the air.  Dismayed by his act of resistance, the birds wheeled away in five different directions.  And as they fled, Morgan caught sight of something in the blue spaces between their swirling black tail-feathers.  Grabbing Baxter’s pant-leg, he tugged it hard.

“Look up!” he shouted.  “Flying ships!”

It was true.  Just as it had happened on the night of the Battle for the Stone, so now a fleet of high-prowed, square-sailed, brightly painted vessels came streaming down out of the sun, cresting tall billows of cream-colored cloud, fanning out across the sky, bearing down hard upon the Fomorians.

Scrambling to his feet, Morgan watched as the Danaan archers, radiant in their flashing helmets, silver hauberks, and scarlet cloaks, leaned over the shield-lined bulwarks of the ships and loosed a deadly flight of arrows upon the giants.  A moment later the routed Fomorians were scattering in utter confusion.  Immediately Morgan yanked the strip of blue flannel from his pocket and wrapped the wondrous sword from pommel to point.

No sooner had he finished when the double gates of the Baile swung open.  Out rode a troop of mailed Danaan horsemen.  Pennants flying and armor flashing, they splashed across the stream and galloped up the grassy slope.  When they reached the boys, the two foremost riders leaned down, grasped them by their belts, and swung them up onto their saddle bows.  Then the whole troop wheeled around and thundered back towards the fortress.

As the great wooden gates boomed behind them, Morgan looked up and saw that a crowd of Danaan men, women, and children had gathered on the grassy common to catch a glimpse of the two strangers being carried into the town.  Still reeling from the dizzying horseback ride, he could only blink and stare at the dazzling sight of those bright people in their polished armor and colorful tunics.  All of them were graceful of form, each one fair of face.  But among those fair and shining faces was one in particular that arrested his gaze and caused his heart to jump.

That face stood out from all the others.  It was olive-toned and had one brown eye and one blue eye.

That face was Eny’s face.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: Into the Fray, Part 2

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The floor gave way and they fell.  Down, down they plummeted for what felt like a very long time until at last the pace of their fall began to slow, as it often does in dreams.  Soon they were floating, drifting, meandering like feathers in a cloud, always descending, never resting, always tangled in strings and strands of tangible luminosity.

At length the intensity of the light started to fade.  Shapes emerged out of the searing whiteness:


 Tall-masted galleons slipping over the crests of steep-piled violet cloudbanks.  Birds with human faces, men with golden wings, flying fish with silver scales.  Orange suns and white half-moons.  Red-tailed comets wrapped in shrouds of sparkling mist … 

  Bristling forests.  Phalanxes of sharpened wooden stakes.  Spears rushing upward from the dark earth.  Runnels of flowing flame.  Mountain peaks, black-headed against the sky, stumping and clumping like jack-booted soldiers across a blasted plain …


“Get your foot out of my face, wouldja?”

Morgan groaned.  “Baxter?” he said, opening his eyes.

“Who else?  Get off!”

Morgan blinked and rolled heavily onto his stomach, disentangling his leg from something that felt like a sack of flour.  The something turned out to be Baxter Knowles, who was sprawled out beside him on a rough, grassy hump of ground.  From what he could see, they were lying about fifty feet from the shadowy margin of a vast evergreen forest.

Moaning again, he pushed himself into a sitting position and tried to stand when—whoosh!—a red-hot streak, like a lump of molten lead, came screeching down over his head and plowed into the earth a couple of yards beyond his feet, sending up a skittering shower of dirt and rock.

“Let’s get out of here!” he yelled, gripping Baxter by the arm.  “I think the elevator’s exploding!”

Baxter shot him a terrified look. “Which way?”

“There!” Morgan answered, pointing in the direction of the forest.  Together they bolted for the dark spaces between the trees.

As he ran, Morgan felt his head whirling with confusion.  There were stands of pine all over La Punta Lira, but none that he could recall in the vicinity of the abandoned hotel.  He had certainly never seen a forest of this size anywhere near Santa Piedra.  The trees looked like redwoods, but they were fantastically huge—hundreds and hundreds of feet tall, with massive, thickly ribbed trunks and thick, low-hanging branches.

I don’t think we’re on the Point anymore, he decided, remembering Eny’s account of her journey to the Sidhe.  But he didn’t have time to explore that idea, for in the next instant a flight of arrows whizzed past his ear, striking the boles of the trees in a rapid series of dull wooden thunks and plunks.  Then a boulder crashed down out of the sky, shattering a small hill to their right.

“This is no elevator explosion!” shrieked Baxter, as another ball of fire exploded at his heels.  “It’s the end of the world!”

“No,” Morgan shouted back.  “It’s another world!”

As if to underscore his point, one of the massive redwoods bent forward and sprouted a pair of arms just as they came up under the skirts of the forest.  A vaguely human face emerged from among the tangle of its branches and the roots, ripping themselves from the ground in an eruption of flying soil, assumed the shape of huge wooden-toed feet.  In the next instant the tree-man—for such it had become—lunged towards them with a menacing leer.

“I know what this is!” shouted Morgan, whipping the sword from his belt and tearing away its flannel wrapping.  “A Fomorian!  A shape-changer!”

With that he raised the blade and swung it over his head.  It snapped and crackled with a cool blue flame.  Instantly the tree-man stopped dead in his tracks, cringing and covering his bark-skinned face with his twiggy hands.  Then he turned and crashed back into the depths of the forest.

Morgan stood bewildered.  For a few seconds he stared after the monster, oblivious to the howls, shrieks, and crashes raging around him.  Then another loud explosion reminded him that he and Baxter were still in grave danger.  He wheeled around, looking for the source of the sound.  That’s when he caught sight of his companion’s face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said, astonished at Baxter’s expression.

But Baxter didn’t answer.  He was gaping open-mouthed at the quivering blade in Morgan’s hand.  A hot flush suffused his pudgy cheeks and a hungry glitter burned in his wide gray eyes.  Morgan had just enough time to notice all this before a second blast drew his gaze to the horizon.

Turning away from the forest, he found himself gazing down a trampled green slope towards a palisade of massive wooden stakes and pilings.  This wall, which reminded him of a frontier fort, rose to a lofty height on the far side of a swiftly running stream.  Between Morgan and the palisade stood a barrier of another kind—an army of Fomorians two or three hundred strong.

He knew they were Fomorians, though they appeared before him in a wide variety of forms.  Some were casting spears, firing crossbows, and manning catapults in the shape of huge men—giants like Falor son of Balor.  Others had planted themselves as powerful oaks along the banks of the stream, where they were busy hurling boulders at the wooden fortress with their great knotty limbs.  There were bears and wolves among them, and long-legged birds, and two-headed boars. There were tusked creatures like elephants and long-toothed hags in black cloaks.  Most alarming of all, there were shifting mounds of stone, like small volcanoes, rumbling from one end of the field to the other, spewing flames and projectiles of hot yellow magma.  Apparently there was no end to the shapes they were capable of assuming.

Morgan didn’t know exactly where he was, but he thought the fort or town on the other side of the water looked a great deal like Eny’s description of Baile Daoine Sidhe, the stronghold of the Tuatha De Danann.  If that were the case, a safe haven was near at hand.  It was just a question of getting there.

One thing was certain:  whoever they were, the inhabitants of the place were defending themselves heroically.  He could see the glitter of their armor between the spiked battlements.  He could hear their cries and the hiss of their arrows as they fired upon their enemies from the top of the wall.  He watched a company of them put out a blaze where a portion of the palisade had been ignited by a flaming missile.  He marveled at the skill of their marksmanship as here a horned Pookah, there a horse-headed giant fell beneath the deadly aim of their unerring spears and darts.

Somehow, he thought as he stood there at the top of the rise, we’ve got to get inside those walls.  But how?  

He fingered the hilt of the sword.  In this world as in his own he had seen the Fomorians cower before the mysterious blue blade.  His experience with the tree-man led him to believe that, even against such overwhelming odds, he’d have a pretty good chance of cutting a pathway through the besieging horde if only he could move quickly and keep the sword in play.  He thought the plan could work, desperate as it was.  And yet he hesitated to try it.

What would happen, he wondered, if he continued to display the weapon’s wondrous blue flame openly—here in the Sidhe, in front of the whole Fomorian army?  Would it betray him into the Morrigu’s power?

And what about the Danaans?  What would they do if they found the sword in his possession?  Would they take it from him?

Now that I’m in the Otherworld, he thought, I don’t want to do anything to mess up my chances of finding my dad.

He had always assumed that keeping the sword secret and hidden was vital to the success of his quest.  That’s why he had concealed it so carefully from his mom, his grandma, George Ariello, and Rev. Alcuin.  That’s why even Eny herself knew nothing about it.  But now he was faced with a dilemma.

He could see the gate of the Baile plainly, down the slope, straight ahead, and directly across the stream.  It looked to be about a hundred yards distant.  His mind made up, he spun around to tell Baxter what he was thinking.

But Baxter was already there—standing at his elbow, so close that Morgan gasped and jumped involuntarily at the sight of him.  The same strange, eager light was still burning in his eyes.  His hand was outstretched as if he were about to lay hold of his companion’s arm.  Morgan drew back and took a tighter grip of the sword.  Baxter’s arm fell to his side.

“Come on!” Morgan said.  “We’ve got to make a run for that fort!”

(To be continued …)



The Sword of Paracelsus: Into the Fray, Part 1

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Morgan reached the elevator door just in time to see the hoist-cable snap taut, vibrating and humming like a huge bass string inside a gigantic grand piano.  An instant later it burst and slapped the sides of the shaft with all the force of a massive steel whip.  This was followed by a screeching, grating sound, and then a terrible crash.  Then everything fell eerily silent.

Plunging through the choking dust, he peered down into the darkness of the shaft.  The elevator car, still creaking and trembling with the force of its fall, was wedged tightly up against the wall, stuck between floors about two yards below his feet.  In the beam of the flashlight he could just make out a small trap door in the roof of the compartment.  From within the car came the muffled sounds of Baxter’s cries and the incessant tattoo of his frenetic pounding on the walls.  Morgan slumped against the doorframe and groaned.

Part of him wanted to walk away and leave Baxter Knowles to his fate—to turn back and resume his examination of the mysterious door down the hall.  The Knowleses deserve everything they get, he heard himself say.

But another part of him knew that he couldn’t do that.  That part of him realized that, sweet as it might be, he didn’t really want to drink the cup of revenge.  Not when he thought about his mom.  And Rev. Alcuin.  Besides, Baxter had fished him out of that hole in the street.  One good turn deserves another.

“There’s only one thing for it,” he said to himself.  “I’m going to have to climb down that broken cable, open that trap door, and pull him out.”

For a minute or two he hesitated.  He thought about running back to town for help.  Then again, he reflected, there was no telling how long that elevator car would stay put.  He didn’t like to think about what might happen if it shook loose and went crashing to the floor below.

His mind made up, he tightened the straps of his backpack and slipped the sword, still wrapped in its flannel shroud, through his belt.  Then he reached out, grabbed the cable and began to climb down hand over hand.

The elevator car shuddered and moaned the instant his foot touched it.    He held his breath and waited.  A minute passed.  Then, still gripping the cable, he eased down slowly with all his weight.  The car rattled and shook and slipped another foot or two down the shaft.

“Baxter!  Listen!” he yelled, his pulse pounding in his ears like a drum.  “I’m going to try to get you out of there!”

No answer.

“There’s a trap door above your head!  Can you see it?”

Again there was no response.  Apparently Baxter could hear nothing but his own screams.

Stooping to examine the roof of the compartment, Morgan saw a thick metal ring, about five inches in diameter, bolted to the top of the trap door.  Slipping his fingers through the ring, he tugged at it tentatively.  It didn’t budge.  He pulled again, only harder.  One corner of the hatch gave way.  Fifty years of rust, thought Morgan.  But third time’s the charm.

Tightening his grip on the cable, he yanked at the ring once more, this time with all his might.  Without warning, the trap door burst open and flew off in his hand.  The elevator car rattled loudly and slid a couple more inches down the wall, squealing like a thousand fingernails on a giant chalkboard.  Then the unimaginable happened.

As the cover broke free, a flood of light exploded from the hatchway.  Not just a beam of light or a shaft of light, nor yet a square column of light.  No—this was an entirely different kind of light, a light he had never seen or experienced before.  It streamed out of the trap door in clinging fibers and strands.  It welled up in stifling billows and suffocating clouds.  It had mass and weight and force.  It ruffled his hair and clothes like a hot wind.  It shoved him from side to side as it flowed over his head and body.  And even as it engulfed him, he seemed to hear, echoing in the back of his mind, the words Eny had used to describe the shining corridor through which she had descended into the Otherworld—dust-devils of luminosity.

Through the open hole he could see the blanched and howling face of Baxter, phosphorescent, glowing, his hair a flame, his mouth a boiling chasm, his eyes two white-hot suns.  Morgan let go of the cable and dropped through the hatchway, grappling the other boy as he hit the floor.  Leaning close to Baxter’s ear, he tried to shout, Hang on to me!  We’ll climb out!  But when he opened his mouth, nothing came out.  He could see Baxter screaming, but couldn’t hear anything except the fizz and hum of the swirling lightstrands.

Then the floor gave way and they fell …

(To be continued …)





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       The kingdoms of this world are the national states.  “All this I will give you if you worship me” – meaning the dragon who gave the beast power.  “You shall serve God alone,” says Christ.  You shall serve him absolutely and not only relatively as in the state.  Jesus refused to become a Roman emperor like Nero.  He became Jesus Christ, and love was fulfilled in Him. 

— Eberhard Arnold, Christians and the State 


    All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.

— Isaiah 40:17


* * * * * * * * * * * *


“Christ is all, and in all,” wrote Paul, epitomizing in a single sentence the essence of Pilgrim perspective.

It was some four centuries later that St. Patrick gave a decidedly Celtic twist to the same idea.  His Lorica, though lyrical and loquacious in style, lacks none of the punch of the apostle’s terse six-word summary.  Here’s a brief excerpt:


Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.

Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.


Patrick and Paul agree.  There is only one way to describe the Master’s claim upon His Pilgrim follower.  It is total.  It is absolute.  It brooks no rivals and admits of no qualifications.  It fills up the Pilgrim’s field of vision from horizon to horizon.  How could it be otherwise when the Lord Himself stated the case in such uncompromising terms?  “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

This is the meaning of the word allegiance.  In its Latin derivation the term suggests the bond between slave and master.  In its historical context it conjures up the image of a vassal knight, kneeling, palms together, swearing fealty to his liege lord.  It denotes complete submission and unwavering loyalty.  It is exclusive, all-consuming, and obligatory.

Allegiance is next on our list of distinctive Pilgrim values.  It is unique to the connection between Christ and His disciple.  For every other relationship there is just one standard of measurement:  “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

Make no mistake about it.  There is a place for love of country, just as there is a place for love of one’s hometown, one’s alma mater, one’s neighborhood or clan; father and mother, wife and children, brothers, sisters, friends.  But these loves, as Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms, are only relative.  They have to be kept in perspective.  In no sense can they be compared with the all-inclusive thing we call allegiance.

It is difficult to imagine loving the state.  That would be like loving a machine.  But the state is not thereby prevented from demanding our allegiance.  This it does in varying degrees according to the particular form it takes; for totalitarianism is a graded continuum, and every state in every form falls into place somewhere along that sliding scale.  It is precisely to this extent that the state merits a response of gentle but firm resistance on the part of the Pilgrim.

Such is the presumption of the state that in its quest for absolute dominion it does not shrink from requiring those beneath its sway even to kill and die on its behalf.  Thus in one bold stroke it makes a total claim upon the life of the individual, neither knowing nor caring that in so doing it sets itself up as a rival to the One who is all in all.

For the Pilgrim, meanwhile, there can be no question of pledging allegiance to anyone or anything but Christ.  After all, no man can serve two masters.

Not God and Mammon or God and Country.


The Sword of Paracelsus: The Lira, Part 3

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The rotting steps groaned beneath his weight.  In three or four places the wooden treads had crumbled away altogether, leaving huge gaps through which an unwary climber might easily go crashing to the floor below.  Slowly, cautiously, always keeping the flashlight trained upon the step just in front of him, he ascended step by step until he arrived at the second floor.

Here he found a hallway lined with doors.  Lowering the beam of his flashlight to the floor he found that he was walking on a dirty mass of tangled fibers and cords—the remains of what once must have been a plush carpet.  Black curls of mildewed wallpaper dangled from the walls.  Above his head and all down the length of the hall hung a series of small crystal chandeliers, thick with dust and spiders’ webs.  The doors on either hand were dark with mold, and wherever he swung his light he heard the frantic skittering of insect feet—a sound like the patter of raindrops on dry newspaper.

Without the slightest idea of what he was seeking, he proceeded down the corridor, step by slow step, keeping an eye out for bare nails and loose flooring, closely examining the deteriorating lath-and-plaster walls, hesitantly jiggling the handle of each and every door.

Whatever it is that I’m supposed to find, he thought, it must be inside one of these rooms.

This was his working theory and it seemed to make perfect sense.  Unfortunately, it was of no practical use to him since not a single door yielded to the pressure of his hand.  All were either locked or stubbornly stuck shut after more than fifty years of neglect.  Morgan pounded on one or two of them with his fist.  This accomplished nothing except to produce a vast hollow echoing sound within, like the ringing of a huge kettle drum.

In the course of his search, Morgan noticed that every door bore a tarnished brass plate on which was engraved a room number.  He began counting them off as he plodded along.  On the right, 204; on the left, 205; on the right, 206; on the left, 207.

He was nearing the end of the corridor—239, 240, 241—when he came upon a door that had no brass plate.  It should have been room 247, but the number was conspicuously missing.  In the spot where the plate once hung there was nothing but a rectangle of dark paint and a couple of tiny screw holes.  That in itself was noteworthy.  But when Morgan bent down and held the light steady on the door, what he saw almost took his breath away.

Just below the rectangular splotch someone had carved seven letters into the wood.  Seeing them, he nearly dropped his flashlight.  They were as familiar to him as his own initials, and yet he had not expected to find them here:




“This must be it!” he cried, gripping the door handle.  “It has to be!”

But even as he strove to open the door, a metallic clatter arose at the end of the hall.  With a gasp, he leaped up and flashed the beam of his light in that direction.

“Get a load of this!” called a loud, brash voice.

Baxter Knowles again.

“Have you ever seen anything like it?  I think it’s supposed to be an elevator!”

Morgan’s cheeks burned with frustration and anger.  “I thought I told you to go home!” he shouted.

“You can’t get rid of me that easy, Izaak,” grinned Baxter.  He was standing in front of a big painted steel door that stood open at the far end of the corridor.  Behind the door Morgan could see a retractable metal gate.  With another clangorous rattle and shriek, Baxter yanked the door and the gate open, revealing the interior of an antique elevator car.  “See?” he said.

“Of course it’s an elevator,” said Morgan.  “What else would it be?”

“Never saw one like this before.”

“It’s old, that’s all.  Like from about 1910.”

“Well, let’s try it out!”

“Wait a minute!” cried Morgan as the other boy took a step inside.  “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”

“Why not?” scoffed Baxter, punching several black buttons.  “Are you chicken, Izaak?”

“What’s that got to do with it?  This place has been deserted for more than fifty years?  There’s no way to know—”

Suddenly the elevator shuddered and groaned.  In the beam of his flashlight Morgan saw Baxter jerk to one side and make a desperate grab for the door.

“Baxter!” yelled Morgan, dashing headlong down the hall.  “Get out of there!  Quick!”

And then, with a jolt and a sickening lurch, the car dropped into the shaft.

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The Sword of Paracelsus: The Lira, Part 2

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The ruins of the Lira stood on a small hill overlooking the cave-riddled western shore of the Point, not far from the great black rock of La Piedra.  The hotel had been built on the plan of a three-sided open rectangle.  The main portion, which had contained the lobby and all of the grandest rooms, faced south.  At one time the broad open space in the middle, walled in on either hand by the east and west wings of the building, had enclosed an immaculate lawn traversed by wide gravel walks, brilliant flower gardens, a couple of majestic cypresses, a hedge of holly, and a grand three-tiered fountain.  All that remained now was one old twisted tree and the rubble of the fountain’s cracked granite basins.  The rest of the space had been entirely taken over by sage, beach grass, and low-growing coastal scrub.

Except for portions of the west wing, which had borne the brunt of ocean gales and storms, the outer frame of the building itself was still largely intact.  Like St. Halistan’s church, its exterior walls had been constructed of solid stone.  The woodwork, both inside and out, had suffered terribly at the hands of the ravaging decades.  The few doors still remaining hung in blasted shards from rusty hinges.  The glass in the windows had all been broken out.  Most of the door-frames and window casements had long since rotted away.

As he stared up at it from among the weeds and wild grasses of the one-time courtyard, this shattered and abandoned structure seemed to Morgan the fossilized skeleton of some gigantic Behemoth.  He shivered involuntarily at the sight of its second- and third-story windows, all of them standing open to the invading sea air, blank, frigid, and empty.  They appeared to be gaping down at him like so many hollow eyes.

He was just surveying the east wing, searching for the most likely point of entry, when a rustling among some dead leaves and branches near the main entrance caught his attention.  Gripping the blue bundle tightly under his arm, he took a few hesitant steps towards the porch.  Under its shadow he could see the remains of the surviving half of a double oak door dangling crookedly from the crumbling door-frame.  Within the porch itself all was thick shadow.  Beyond it lay the blackness of the deserted lobby.  Morgan took out his flashlight and directed its beam straight through the front door of the Lira.  No one was there.

This place is kind of creepy, he thought.  He hadn’t expected to find his nerves so badly shaken by the loneliness and quietude of the spot.  What if somebody’s out here? he wondered, sitting down on a piece of the broken fountain.  What if I’m attacked?

It was only natural that these fears should lead to thoughts of the sword Azoth; and not merely thoughts of its sharp blue blade, but of the words he remembered reading in The Life and Times of Paracelsus:


 … some say it possessed the power to deflect the hatred of his enemies.  Others affirm that in the sword’s hollow pommel Paracelsus  kept a miraculous powder …


Morgan looked down at the blue bundle.  If it’s hollow, why is it so hard to open?  Peeling away just enough of the flannel to reveal the hilt, he gripped the golden globe at the end of the handle and tried again to pry it off.  Nothing happened.  He took a firmer hold and twisted for all he was worth.  It wouldn’t budge.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” said a voice from over his shoulder.

Up jumped Morgan, his heart in his throat.  Hastily covering the sword, he whipped around and found himself face to face with Baxter Knowles.

“You!” he cried.  “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you leave school with that big pack on your back,” Baxter answered nonchalantly, turning up the collar of his blue windbreaker.  “Looked to me like you were up to something.  I decided to follow.”

“What for?”

“I figured you might need my help.”

“Your help!  I don’t think so!”

“Look, Izaak, I’ve bailed you out before.  Maybe I can do it again.  Don’t be stupid.”

Morgan eyed him narrowly.  “I’d be stupid to believe anything you say.  You’re just a bully and a liar!  And don’t think I can’t fight back if I have to!”

Baxter backed off, his eyes wide with something akin to genuine awe.  “Listen, I’m not looking for trouble,” he said, staring fixedly at the blue bundle.  “I only meant to—”

“Then get out of here.  Just go home.”

With that, Morgan spun around and walked straight into the old hotel’s east wing.  Not once did he look back until he was switching on his flashlight and ducking under its yawning black doorway.  Then, turning for the briefest moment, he quickly reconnoitered the shadows that lay jumbled together on the weedy quadrangle.  Baxter was nowhere to be seen.

Guess I told him, he thought, carefully stepping over the warped floorboards and pointing his light down the cobwebby hallway to what looked like the lower end of a broad winding staircase.

East wing, second floor.  That’s what the yellow piece of paper in his father’s notebook had said.  Morgan reached the stairs and began to climb …

(To be continued …)


The Sword of Paracelsus: The Lira, Part 1

Sword & Stone 2 001

It was Friday afternoon before Morgan could free himself from school, homework, and household chores long enough to make the planned expedition to La Punta Lira.  By the time he crossed Pillar Creek, his steps resounding hollowly on the boards of the old wooden footbridge, the sun was already entangling itself in the pink and orange shreds of sea mist gathering on the horizon.  He’d had a late start.

At the farther end of the bridge he stopped to sniff the air and listen.  The atmosphere was heavy with a salty dampness, and the birds were strangely silent.  Leaving the shoreline trail, he turned to the left and followed a rough dirt path up over a wooded slope.

Maybe I could camp out here all weekend, he thought wryly.  Then I wouldn’t have to be at that stupid dinner with Baxter Knowles tomorrow night.

If anyone had seen him, they might easily have assumed that this was exactly what he had in mind.  His backpack was bulging with stuff he’d thought it necessary to bring along:  a ham sandwich, six tangerines, a bag of raisins, some chocolate chip cookies, a compass, a flashlight, a pair of binoculars, a length of rope, an extra hooded sweatshirt (in case it got really cold), and a handful of essential books.  In addition to all this, he carried under his right arm a long bundle wrapped in dark blue flannel—the Sword of Paracelsus.

At the top of the rise, he paused among the fragrant pines, anxious lest anyone should have observed his movements.  It was of the utmost importance that he preserve the secrecy of this mission.  Looking back in the direction of the town, he scanned the beach and the gravel pathways for signs of pursuit.  There was nothing to be seen.  Muffled shadows lay across the jade waters of Laguna Verde.  Everything was still.

He was just turning to go when a faint sound reached his ear.  Could it have been the echo of a footstep on the bridge?  Morgan wasn’t sure.  Except for the distant crash of the waves on the far side of the Point, all was silent.  He got out his binoculars and swept them across the scene.  There was not another living creature to be seen on the beach below—not a gull on the sand nor a sea lion lounging on the jagged brown rocks of the lagoon.  He returned the binoculars to his backpack and trudged on.

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Eighth Journal Entry

Dungeon 001

Day 271


For some days now Dee and I have been back at work, digging and chipping away in a fresh attempt to escape the misery of this melancholic dungeon.  On the assumption that the wall at the rear of my cell must communicate with the exterior, we’ve begun our new excavation there.  

It’s a tedious business, and I crave conversation to help pass the time.  But my comrade, a mulish, tight-lipped fellow, resists my every attempt to draw him out.  Fortunately, he is painfully aware that we share a common concern, and this works to my advantage. 

“Several years ago I happened to be at an exhibit of alchemistic artifacts in St. Louis,” I said to him this morning, “when I made the discovery of a lifetime.”   

He grunted.  Then I said, “It was a sword.”

Dropping his tool, he looked at me slyly.  “What sword?”

“I think you know,” I responded.  “We’ve spoken of it before.  The exhibitor didn’t realize what he had, but I recognized it immediately.  It was Azoth.  He sold the thing to me for a pittance.” 

“Then thou hast the sword in thy possession?” 

“I did.  But there was one thing about it that always puzzled me.”

“Play not at cat-and-mouse, man.  Speak thy mind plainly.”  

“I was unaware,” I said, watching him out of the corner of my eye, “that Paracelsus had any knowledge of the Enochian script or language.”

“Faugh!  Nor did he!” said Dee.  “He gave that sword to me, and I made those inscriptions myself!  Under angelic inspiration!”

“I thought as much,” said I, calmly going forward with my work …


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Books 001

Today we launch a new category of posts on Pilgrimagination:  Quotable Quotes.  Here is the first of what will hopefully prove to be many more to come:


     Human life, I have come to feel, in all its public or collective manifestations, is only theater, and mostly cheap melodrama at that … There is nothing serious under the sun except love; of fellow mortals and of God.

                                                 Malcolm Muggeridge  



The Sword of Paracelsus: Soror et Sponsa, Part 3

Sword & Stone 2 001

Morgan presented the minister with a small sheet of yellow paper.  It was stained and dirty, and had been folded over twice.

“This is the reason I was especially hoping you’d be able to translate that second inscription,” he said, spreading it out on the arm of Rev. Alcuin’s chair.  “See?  It’s got the same strange words written on it.  ZIR DVIV.”

The Reverend scanned the scrap of paper.  “So it does,” he observed.  “But that’s not your dad’s handwriting.  I’d say this was a note he received from somebody else.  Someone in a big hurry.  Why didn’t you show it to me sooner?”

“I didn’t notice it until today.  It was stuck between the pages of the notebook.  There was something sticky or gluey along the edge when I tugged on it.  Otherwise it would have fallen out a long time ago.”

The note, written in an antiquated, backward-sloping hand, read as follows:


               This is the promised clue. 

                You know what to do.

                Lira, east wing, second floor. 

                Keep them separate, mark the door.


“Any idea what that’s about?” Morgan asked when Peter looked up from the page.

“No,” said Rev. Alcuin, thoughtfully stroking the stubble on his chin.  “But I do know what the Lira is.”

Morgan shot him a questioning glance.

“It’s the old ruined hotel out on the Point.  You never heard of it?”

“That pile of rocks has a name?”

“It did.  Back when Santa Piedra was a popular tourist destination.  People came from all over the world to stay at the Lira.  I’ve seen some pictures from the early 1900s.  Pretty impressive.  Grand spiral staircases.  Tiffany lamps and glasswork.  Stone exterior, hand-polished oak interior.  Robert Louis Stevenson is supposed to have spent some time there.  Dickens too.”

“But what could that old place possibly have to do with Enochian inscriptions?  Or Lia Fail?  Or the sword of Paracelsus?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.  But you know what?”

Rev. Alcuin rose.  Still rubbing his chin, he crossed the room to a small Edwardian bureau of dark cherry-wood.  Taking a key from his coat pocket, he unlocked the bureau and opened a drawer.

“That note,” he said, carefully lifting another sheet of paper from the drawer, “—particularly the part about a ‘clue’—reminds me of your father’s last message somehow.  The one he left your mother the night he disappeared.  I assume you know the one I mean?”

“I can recite it by heart,” said Morgan.

“Well, I’ve got a copy right here.  Kept it all these years.  Do you remember—?”

“Yes!” cried Morgan.  “I think I know what you’re going to say!  ‘Against all odds, the clue has actually fallen into my hands!’

“Exactly.  And that’s not all.”

Stepping to the window and holding the paper up to the light, Peter read:

    “It came to me when I least expected it.  Why, I cannot say; how, I dare not.  This, too, I must confess.  But I will also confess that, having what she wants, I am at last resolved to keep it from her.”      


Morgan’s heart was thumping in his chest.  “That fits in with the bit about keeping something separate!  I think it’s talking about her—the Morrigu!  My dad had something she wanted, and he wasn’t going to let her have it!”

“A logical inference,” said Rev. Alcuin, replacing the paper in the bureau drawer and taking his seat again.  “But we need to be careful about jumping to conclusions.  I suggest we return to this subject after tea.”

But tea was the last thing on Morgan’s mind.  His brain was filled with a dramatic, wide-screen image of the gloomy old Victorian hotel out on Punta Lira.  He wasn’t sure what he was looking for, but he believed he knew where to look for it.

His pack was on his back and he was halfway to the front door when he stopped, turned, and gave Rev. Alcuin a sheepish look.

“Staying after all?” said Peter.  “Delighted.”

“No,” stammered Morgan.  “But there was just one more thing I wanted to ask you.”

“At your service.”

“Rev. Alcuin,” said Morgan, rubbing his nose, “what would you do if your Mom invited your worst enemy to dinner?”

The Reverend smiled—an indulgent, knowing smile.

“Don’t worry about it, Morgan,” he said.  “I’ll be there with you.  Your mother invited me too.”


Sunset 001

The Sword of Paracelsus: Soror et Sponsa, Part 2

Sword & Stone 2 001

Morgan reached into the pack and pulled out the Enochian primer.

Rev. Alcuin took the book from his hand.  Peering over the tops of his spectacles, he began to thumb through it.  “My goodness,” he said, his forehead arching upward.  “Did this belong to your father?”

“It’s one of the books he left behind.”

“So apparently he was familiar with this Enochian script?’

“Yes.  And the sword too!”

The Reverend glanced up at him.

“The Sword of Paracelsus,” breathed Morgan.  “The Sword in the Stone.”  He could feel his pulse pounding in his ears.

“Did you bring the drawing?”

“Right here,” Morgan answered, rummaging in his pack again.

“Let’s have a look, then.”

Peter opened the little book to the alphabetical table and laid it flat on his knee.  Morgan pulled his chair over next to the minister’s and unfolded the picture of the sword.

“I’ve already copied out the inscriptions,” he said.  “See?  I’ve transcribed them into English letters.  But I still don’t know what they mean.”

He pointed to the paper.  Just below the first line of Enochian text—


Ubi Soror et Sponsa 001

—ran Morgan’s careful transliteration:


Ubi Soror et Sponsa Sub Scalis Iacobi


“Well!” exclaimed the Reverend straightening up in his chair, a satisfied smile illuminating his rosy countenance.  “Here at last is something I can help you with!  That’s Latin.”

“Latin,” murmured Morgan.  “I knew I’d seen that second word before.  Soror Mystica is Latin.  It means ‘mystical sister.’  That’s a term from alchemy.”  Then, in a softer voice, he added, “I used to say that Eny was my soror mystica.”

Peter looked up at him.  “Sister.  Precisely,” he said, readjusting his glasses on his nose.  “‘Where the sister and spouse is, under the stairs of Jacob,’” he intoned.  “That’s what the inscription means.  Or something to that effect.”

“The stairs of Jacob?” repeated Morgan.

“Jacob’s Ladder,” said Rev. Alcuin with a nod.

“And Jacob’s Pillow Stone!” whispered Morgan.  “The Stone of Destiny!”

For a moment they were both silent and thoughtful.  Then the Reverend said:

“It looks like we were right, Morgan.  There is a link between that sword—or at least the inscription on the sword—and Lia Fail.  But what does it mean?  And would it make any difference if we knew?  Would it help us get the Stone of Destiny back?”

“It would have to help!”  Morgan’s head was spinning with ideas and possibilities.  “The connection must have something to do with the first part of the inscription—the part about the ‘sister and spouse.’   What’s a ‘spouse’ anyway?”

“Don’t you know?  A ‘spouse’ is a married person.  Sponsa is feminine—‘wife’”

Morgan felt himself blushing again.  “What’s that supposed to mean?  I don’t get it.”

“Nor do I.  We need more information.  But it seems to be saying that Lia Fail is a bride or wife.  To somebody or something.  To the sword, maybe?”

“Yes,” muttered Morgan, staring down at the drawing.  “They belong together somehow.”

“Which brings us back to the Sword in the Stone,” observed Peter.

“What about the second inscription?” said Morgan after a pause.  “This one—” and he laid a finger on the seven characters


“Is that Latin too?”

“Z … I … R,” said Peter, pronouncing the individual letters.  “D … V … I … V.  No.  That’s no language I’ve ever seen before.”

Morgan got up, shoved his hands into his pockets, and stared disconsolately into the fire.

Rev. Alcuin sighed.  “I’m sorry, Morgan,” he said, wiping his glasses on his sleeve,” but I’m afraid that’s as far as we can go for now.  Maybe we should shelve the question for the time being and put our heads together some other day.  Meanwhile, I’m famished.  Will you stay for tea and toast?”

“No—no, I can’t stay,” Morgan answered abruptly.  “But there is one more thing I wanted to show you.  I almost forgot!”  With that, he stooped and dipped into his backpack again.  “I found it in my dad’s notebook.  Just this afternoon, while sitting on the bench in gym class.”

Plopping down in his chair, he presented the minister with a small sheet of yellow paper.

(To be continued …)


The Sword of Paracelsus: Soror et Sponsa, Part 1

Sword of Paracelsus 001

The Rectory, residence of the Rev. Peter Alcuin, stood a block north of St. Halistan’s on Alta Drive.  It was a small two-bedroom house in half-timbered English Tudor style, with a steeply sloping roof of uneven shingles, a quaint chimney of black and yellow stone, a low six-paned picture window facing the street, and a covered porch built on the pattern of a London Beefeater’s sentry box.  For reasons neither Rev. Alcuin nor anyone could explain, this humble building had been left completely unscathed by the earthquake that leveled the church tower and opened the gaping holes in the pavement on Iglesia Street.

Nothing could have offered a more striking contrast with Rev. Alcuin’s office at the church than the interior of this neat little dwelling.  Morgan had always wondered how both places could possibly belong to the same man.  He wondered again as Peter opened the front door and escorted him into the house on Monday afternoon.

The living room was as immaculate as it was snug and homey.  Everything in it, from the maroon tweed sofa to the mahogany end-tables to the crystal and porcelain ornaments lining the knick-knack shelves, was spotless and shining.  There was a comfortable fire burning on the red brick hearth.  The beveled mirror above the mantel-piece was polished to bright perfection.  Matching glass-covered book cases stood like sentries on either side of the room, and two high-backed easy chairs covered in dark green twill faced one another across the fireplace.  Rev. Alcuin conducted Morgan to one of these seats before occupying the other himself.

“They told me you’d be here,” said Morgan, dropping his backpack between his feet.  “I know Monday is your day off, and I’m really sorry to bother you again.  But I just had to come as soon as school let out.”

Peter rested an elbow on each arm of the chair, put his fingertips together, and smiled.  “Always glad to see you, Morgan.  What’s on your mind today?”

“A couple of things.  Any news about Eny?”

The Reverend’s smile faded.  “I’m afraid not.  I’ve been in constant contact with George and Moira.  They call me almost hourly.  But nothing’s turned up yet.  The police didn’t even issue a Missing Person Report until Saturday afternoon.”

“Why not?”

“Standard procedure.  At least that’s what they said.  But you know George.  He’s like a bulldog when it comes to protecting his little mija.  He won’t give up until he’s got the FBI on the case.”

“And Moira?”

“She’s frantic—as I’m sure you can imagine.  Keeps talking about the black crow and the Morrigu and the Sidhe.”  Peter paused and stared pensively out the window.

“What do you think, Reverend?” asked Morgan.  “Do you suppose she’s right?”

“I don’t know, Morgan,” said Rev. Alcuin, shaking his head sadly.  “All I know is that we’ve got to pray.  And keep on praying.  Pray without ceasing.”

“That’s what my mom says.”

“Yes.”  Peter turned and looked Morgan straight in the eye.  “We’ve seen a lot of strange things around here lately.  I believe in God, so I guess I shouldn’t have any trouble believing in the supernatural.  But I’ll admit that the events of the past few months have thrown me for a loop.  I’m new to this kind of thing.  At this point, my mind is open.”

“In that case,” said Morgan, unzipping his backpack, “you may be interested in hearing the second thing I have to say.”  He paused; then, leaning forward in his chair, he said, “I’ve found something.”

(To be continued …)

The Sword of Paracelsus: Seventh Journal Entry

Dungeon 001

Day 248


My new friend is not the most genial of companions.  “Irascible” is the word that comes most readily to mind.  I am sorely tempted to block up the wall again and spare myself the continuing trial of his irksome company.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m judging him too hastily.  His sour disposition may be attributable to nothing more than poor digestion or lack of sleep.

It could also have something to do with the fact that he is, by my reckoning, over four hundred years old.

“Your name is Dee,” I said to him on the third day of our acquaintance.

“Who told it thee?” he grumbled.

“No one,” I answered.  “But I know who discovered—or invented—the Enochian alphabet.  And I know that the fourth letter, which you’ve scrawled there upon the floor, has the same phonetic value as the English “d”.

“Fie upon thee for a wizard!” he spat.

“Yes.  And perhaps upon thee as well.  It’s not hard to guess why you’re here.  Like me, you went too far with your experiments and conjurings.  Your thirst for knowledge betrayed you to the Morrigu.”

He glared at me.  “How is it that thou speak’st of such things?”

“I made the same mistake,” I said.  “She tried to make me tell her what I knew about a Stone.”

“And me,” he said bitterly, “she hath imprisoned for the sake of a Sword.”

“I think I know this sword,” said I.



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