A misa has been assembled to help a house member who is gravely ill. Only a handful of espiritistas are gathered to keep the work focussed and the fuss to a minimum. More stress is the last thing she needs now.
The usual cheer and anticipation is muted. Although friendly smiles are exchanged and some small talk takes place, a sombreness pervades the preparations. The table is set up with austerity. The washes are prepared with minimum deliberation. Everyone intuitively understands that padrino wants us to stick to the letter of the form. This is important.
Opening songs and prayers are said.
Even though the opening songs seem more perfunctory than usual, the moment he declares the table open I am hurtled, backwards, it feels, through a swirling storm of light. As disorienting as it is surprising - I am plunged into it that deeply in a single moment. The expected, gradual increase of spiritual energy that is usually felt during the mass is replaced instead by an instantaneous catapulting of consciousness into spirit-space. I am dumbstruck.
The personal urgency of this situation obviously is matched by spiritual gravity because the usual cacophony of discarnate voices that attend to us - whilst still speaking - seem also unusually hushed and respectful here. Wherever here is. This place is different.
Tremors begin to grip my body. Although not an entirely unusual phenomenon during a misa, this time the tremors feel like titanic subterranean rumblings rolling up from the Beyond only to awkwardly bang against the limitations of my human form. Too small. I suddenly feel a little frightened. Just as soon, a deep, cool, calm feeling wells up from bellow and washes over me, as if to meet my fear and diffuse it. I am being cooed, consoled and guided deeper across the strange geography of trance... to a terrain where the conscious fears and limitations of the human can be momentarily suspended in order to make way for the oblivion of possession...
I open my eyes quickly and flex and clench my fists to stay in charge and bring myself back. An uncontrolled possession would certainly be bad form now. Or so I tell myself. This is the internal battle I seem to find myself locked in whenever these tremors come on.
She begins to sob softly.
An espiritista gets up to stand in support behind her and another gently touches her hand; part healing rite, part spiritual transmission, part communal catharsis. Mediums begin giving messages but I struggle to follow what is being said as the tremors start up again.
Without warning the ceiling of the living room collapses upward. An incredible celestial architecture is revealed spiralling upward into luminous infinity. The geometry of its design simultaneously impossible and familiar. More incredible, a dazzling network of beings seem to be woven into its structure, and disturbingly, moving in a continuous rotating cycle whilst also paradoxically remaining stationary for its support.
The unusual, almost hallucinatory, quality of this trance is shocking to me, to say the least. Each medium experiences it differently I am told. For me it's mostly physical; energetic flows, tremors and vibratory undulations combined with fleeting images and whispered voices. This is how the messages are assembled in my consciousness for delivery. As I translate this and the abstraction of what I receive is correctly encoded in ordinary language I will also get additional 'hits' to confirm I am saying the right thing - jolts of pleasant vibration that ping into my body - somatic confirmations from my quadro that I am saying the right thing.
Not this time. Instead, I am plunged into an immersive visionary experience. I can't help but stare upwards into the infinite architecture unfurling above me. A medium across from me looks over with a puzzled expression. We all try to watch out for each other like this in case someone passes a spirit. I must be peering up at the ceiling like a loon, I realise. No matter, because the strange network of beings above us is nearing, their long telescopic fingers reaching down into... everything...with faces; alien, angelic and skeletal. Their movements gently swaying, graceful yet precise a surgeons.
These are not the dead.
Hidden functionaries. Working carefully at the boundaries of embodiment; tweaking, adjusting, guiding beings from form to formlessness and back, I muse to myself, as I watch them operate the machinery of heaven. I would be frightened by the implication but the gentle bone-white symmetry of their bodies is just too beautiful. Their skeletal glances - ancient, curious, caring even.
The other participants are now all staring at me expectantly. They noticed something has just come through and I realise I have to try and say something. We are here to work.
"Jacob's Ladder", I begin.
As these first words are said the rest of the message coalesces in a rapid internal collage of whispers, memories and images forming context and clarification. A bible verse rolled up beneath a pillow. A constellation of stars. A bitter taste spat out. These all rotate around the central image of the angelic fractal escalator above us, forming the message I need to give tonight: a kind of strategy, and hopefully, a path to walk in this dire situation.
There is understanding in her eyes as the symbol shown to me above is given to her. I can sense it working in her. It relates in a way that means something. She recognises it, perhaps on a deeper intuitive level only, but it somehow explains something that before was at the edges of awareness only. That's a good start.
My godbrother begins to cough. At first it seems normal but then the urgency of his coughing increases and he curls over convulsively - as if to expel something invisible. He is passing a spirit, we realise. People begin assisting. It asks for an egg. The egg slips into his mouth in one gulp and he moves in a serpentine movement across her body only to vomit it out again broken. It seems rotten now. The spirit leaves having done it's work.
Padrino asks me to open the prayer book. During the course of the misa a Kardec prayer book will be opened to a random page at the prompting of a spirit, for guidance. I make the sign of the cross over the book and open it to page 73, letting my eyes settle on the first paragraph on the page:
Living voluntarily: the spirit in space and it's profound boundaries: the world...
It is not solely Jacob that enraptured the divine Elohim, who sees the legions that from earth to heaven fly bringing blessings down. It is no longer Socrates the genius familiar for his lessons; It is no longer Mohammed who describes when the Archangel Gabriel received the Koran.
It is with Jesus prolific living prophet from Thabor, from whose lap along with Moses and Elias birth the apostolic church with its luminous wings, fervent aura of truth and spirit asking God celestial, in his tenderness, to come down from heavens in tongues of fire.
Acting like a Kardecian I-Ching the book of prayers produces this startling passage echoing and confirming the vision of Jacob's Ladder. What the Spanish speaking mediums in our house call an "evidencia". Another wave of tremors catches me off guard, this time sweeping from the left side of my body to the right where the book is held in my hand and I almost drop it - as if to punctuate the written words in my hand with a spiritual exclamation. A certain look of understanding passes around the circle - and padrino elaborates on the passage further, explaining its significance to her in Dutch.
She looks hopeful, strengthened and consoled. She thanks everyone for coming. Everyone is genuinely happy and touched - the helpless awkwardness one feels when another person is struck by an incomprehsible calamity replaced, instead, by the experience of having communed with them at the very epicentre of its strike.
Ultimately, I am humbled, having glimpsed a mystery that I might never have seen unless I was forced to walk through that terrifying gate myself.