(Following this latest installment is a recap of all the preceding episodes. New readers should scroll down to Part 1 and read in sequence.)
Earlier I mentioned that I’d begun studying the Tarot. This was a few years after I’d become accustomed to being haunted. The power to see the future seemed like it might be useful, to say the least. Before long I was sampling the wares of astrology, psychometry, necromancy, channeling, reincarnation, etc. (Palmistry was a non-starter; my eyesight was too bad for scrutinizing those tiny little lines that add detail to the story.) I suppose these interests would qualify me as a card-carrying New Ager. But I don’t like to belong to movements or organizations. Like religion.
I wholly accepted the existence of my grandfather’s ghost. Ergo and indisputably there was an afterlife. What else was true? What else was out there to believe in? It followed that there was connection, and meaning, and creative force welding the cosmos. Suddenly, unexpectedly, I possessed faith. Which put me in the vicinity of religion. Because we might be talking God here. And I wasn’t too comfortable with that.
Until I was 11 I was pretty comfortable with believing that spirits inhabited everything in the natural world: trees, rocks, ocean, moon. And I was ready to be convinced that magic was practicable.
My religious background was scant. Mom, who was handicapped, had her hands full managing five kids, chauffeuring us to different schools and music lessons (we each played two instruments). Like my father, she’d been brought up Episcopalian, but the idea of corralling us children and driving to Sunday services on her one day of reprieve was too much.
She got no help from Dad. He proclaimed himself a devout atheist. A Columbia Law School professor, he was an intellectual, an academic, a man of reason, and besides on Sundays he had papers to grade. When some folks inquired about his faith, he told them he was a Druid, or, “Druish.”
When I was 8 and we moved to another town, our new house happened to be a mere mile from the nearest Episcopal church. In a fit of guilt, Mom decided that, while it might be too late for my older brothers, there was still a chance to inoculate the littler kids against Dad’s atheism. So she drove my younger brother and me to St. Paul’s Church and simply dropped us off, giving us a quarter for the collection basket. The two of us had to go in alone, sit in a pew, and figure it all out.
It was excruciating. We had no idea what the hell was going on. How did people know when to sit, when to stand, what to answer the priest, which page the hymn was on? What was the deal with going to the railing, kneeling, and getting something to eat? It was mid-morning and we were hungry, so one Sunday I dared to join the row of people at the railing and open my mouth when the food came around. The holy wafer was not enough to feed a guppy, and tasteless besides.
After several Sundays of listening to our stomachs growl as we sat confounded in the pews, my brother and I waited for Mom to drive off, then walked a half mile to the penny-candy store, where we spent our collection-money quarter on twenty-five pieces of candy. Then we walked back to the church and were waiting on the stoop when Mom picked us up.
Our religious education didn’t last long. When my mother questioned us about what we’d learned, we were utterly ignorant and had Red Hots on our breath.
Years later I was exposed again to the Protestant faith at prep school, where we attended a brief chapel service every day. A Bible chapter was read by a senior, a song was sung, and off we went to classes. I joined the choir because it did concerts at boys’ schools, but we were also obliged to sing at the full chapel service on Sundays, officiated by a local minister. I enjoyed the music, but there was one image that left a sour taste every time: the sight of the reverend holding the collection plate full of money up to Jesus on the altar cross while we sang praises. (About ten years later, this image would recur in my documentary “Marjoe,” which was about a mercenary evangelist.)
So Dad’s atheism had prevailed through my adolescence. What I did not know, when his father’s ghost began to infiltrate my life, was that Grandpa was a Freemason. Masonry is not a religion in itself. However, it does urge its members to attend the church of their choice faithfully, and so Grandpa attended Episcopal services with some regularity. And when, in my half-dreaming state of the half-dawn, he fed me the last of the songs, it was shot through with music from Episcopalian ritual.
In researching this blog, I’ve also discovered that much of Masonic belief is characterized by the “occult.” All the things I’ve embraced over the course of my life – karma, reincarnation, and even magic – reflect his spiritual views, and it was he who, from the “other side,” first raised the window for me to fly out through.
Grandpa didn’t write poetry, except for one that I found recently among his papers. My jaw just about slammed on the floor when I read it.
When you feel
The nearing presence of the long, long sleep,
Send out your thought to me;
And I shall come, -
I shall come to you. You have not known me in your present life;
Yet you are mine and I am yours…
Someone your living eyes have never seen,
Who draws the something that men name your soul
With sweet familiar call, -
The moment flees, -
Is gone beyond recapture…
‘Tis I, who keep alive that ancient urge
To blend with me, as I with you.
For I am in the gentle wind
And the warm summer rain.
I gleam upon you through the sunset fire.
Softly my whisper
Breathes through the hush that lies upon the world,
In the strange secret hour
Before the dawn…
(To be continued.)
- I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.