THE BALD INQUISITOR
A modern parable
by Shirley Locke HolmS
No one knows where the woman came from, she just appears one day in the small Swiss town. It's springtime and she is dressed in a light, attractive frock reaching to just above her knees. As she passes the vegetarian restaurant on the corner the people eating lunch in the garden stare at her, then go to out to greet her, hesitantly at first, then in a rush: students carrying notebooks, old people wearing black berets, even the waitresses and the cook with a frying pan in his hand. She smiles warmly at them, then turns left up the hill towards the temple. They follow her. The few people who live in the house halfway between the restaurant and the temple join the throng, as do those who are in its small art gallery. The word spreads quickly and people run from all the houses on and near the hill to follow her. The strange thing is that they all, without being told or having seen her before, recognize her.
She pauses in front of the temple for a moment, shakes her head sadly, and continues up into the woods beyond it. When she reaches a clearing sufficiently large to accommodate the crowd she stops, takes off her knapsack and places it on the ground, shakes out her long black hair and smiles at the people. She motions for them to sit and they do so, forming a circle around her that extends almost to the temple. She begins to speak in a beautifully modulated voice. They listen hungrily, for this is real spiritual knowledge.
She returns to the same place the next day and the crowd of listeners has grown enormously. On the third day the Chairman of the Society, who has been informed of her presence, comes to the scene accompanied by some other functionaries of the Society and a policeman. They push their way through to the front using elbows, knees and authority. After listening to her for a while the Chairman knits his gray, beetling brows and his eyes flash. Suddenly he shouts for her to be silent. The listeners do not protest, for they are used to bowing to authority. The Chairman tells the policeman to seize her, charged with trespassing, but to bring her to his office in the temple where he will look into the matter.
He makes her wait for an hour in his ante-chamber before summoning her to enter his organically-shaped, purple-trimmed office with its elongated floor-to-ceiling windows. He sits at his large, liver-shaped desk and motions for her to sit across from him.
"Who are you?" he asks angrily, but she doesn't reply.
“Are you him?"
She looks out the window at the gray granite of the Jura hills.
"That's right, be silent. I don't want to know who you are. But if you are Him, I must inform you that your arrival here at this particular point in time is inappropriate, unwanted, even dangerous. You see, the work of the Society is centered in the Board of Directors here in the temple. It's the centralized organization which you yourself called into existence during the Foundation Meeting way back in 1923."
She raises her eyebrows slightly, a movement he does not fail to notice.
"Oh, I suppose you would say that you didn't intend it that way, that you had quite a different organization in mind". He laughs, his mouth twisting into a cynical smile.
"Did you seriously think that something so confusing, chaotic and anarchical could possibly work? My dear man - I mean woman - How could you be so naive? We knew it wouldn't work and we took care to keep the members ignorant of your foolishness. As you probably know, all the members of the Society were incorporated into the General Society in 1925 and they weren't even aware of it. Are these the sheep you expected to act in freedom? Don't make me laugh! Just think: you formulated the statutes of the Society, which you called the most modern society in the world, then you said they weren't statutes at all, but a reality. Who can make heads or tails of such a mess? We solved the problem though - after you died of course, so you couldn't confuse the matter further - by calling those original statutes "principles" and absorbing everything and everyone into the General Society, a legally constituted unprofitable - er..I mean not-for-profit corporation with power vested in the Board and proper statutes that anyone can understand."
The woman continues gazing out the window. He smiles crookedly and goes on.
"In case you're wondering why I say 'we' when I wasn't even born then, I ask you to remember that apostolic succession - well, succession at least - is an esoteric tradition that we have maintained since you passed over the threshold - despite the fact that you forgot to name your successor."
She turns her head toward him and seems about to say something, but remains silent.
"You were probably upset about all the expulsions back in the thirties," the Chairman goes on. "After all, they were your friends and collaborators. It was unfortunate but necessary, although I might have handled it differently. Those friends of yours who were expelled refused to recognize the Chairman's authority. And even you must realize how dangerous that was. Independent societies springing up all over the place, no clarity, no central authority. Oh, it was done smoothly enough. My predecessors called it 'self-expulsion', a stroke of genius. Just between you and me, I think the Soviets got the idea from us. All the General Assembly had to do was sanction their requests - admittedly unspoken - for self-expulsion. Now please tell me how that could have been done under your wishy-washy statutes, which don't even contain a provision for expulsion? You should thank us for picking up the pieces and gluing them back together. If we hadn't, nothing would be left of your work. Don't you realize that?" He becomes red in the face. "Don't you? Answer me!" he shouts and slams his fist on the desk, causing the portrait of the temple's founder hanging on the wall to fall to the floor behind him. She doesn't answer him. Gradually he calms down, rises, picks up the portrait and places it back on the wall. The solid wood organically-carved frame had saved it from breaking. "It's not the first time this has happened. This thing is indestructible," the Chairman mumbles.
Once seated again he says, "Then there was the unpleasant incident with your wife. We couldn't convince the Swiss judges that your literary estate belongs to us, to the Society, and not to an individual, last will or no last will. We lost that round - two rounds actually - and now they've published almost everything you ever wrote or said, most of it as confusing as ever. We would have been more selective, retaining the more powerful stuff for ourselves. But a lot has changed: we even sell your books at the temple book-shop now. Imagine!
Speaking of powerful stuff - the Esoteric lectures. For a long time we managed to protect them, just as you wished. Now even they have been published by your so-called literary estate. But this time it's been done with our blessing. And why not? Why fight a losing battle? They would have published them anyway. It's a feather plucked from our cap all right, but we still control the School, including membership and expulsion. It's much easier to expel someone from the School than from the Society, as you know. No fuss. And that gives us a lot of leverage. Membership in the School has increased enormously, by the way, thanks to us. That doesn't mean they're all initiates - ha, ha. We launched very successful membership drives and soon almost all Society members will also be members of the School. If you want to be in the "in-group", it's the thing to do, believe me."
"Ah, a reaction at last. I suppose you're worried about the esoteric development of all those people. Forget it. All that stuff you said and wrote about initiation doesn't work. I know, I tried it.
"We have our critics of course. Some time ago an old guy - probably one of your friends - called the School Readers the "curia". Thought he was being smart; I'd call him fresh.
"There has even been criticism of the fact that I travel first-class on airplanes and stay at five-star hotels. It just shows how niggardly they are, or maybe it's only jealousy. People don't realize that we must arrive refreshed after a long journey, sleep in a comfortable bed and have all the necessary conveniences at our fingertips: telephone, TV, FAX, e-mail, swimming pool, masseur, hair dresser -- in order to faithfully carry your message to the antipodes. Whoever heard of an executive of an organization of over 50,000 traveling economy class and living in hovels?"
"Although membership in the Esoteric School has increased," the Chairman continues, "we don't seem to be able to break through a certain barrier as far as membership in the Society is concerned. In 1924 you expected to have 50,000 members in a few years. Well, many years have passed and that figure has been reached, but no more. Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, take advantage of your ideas for their own selfish purposes, but don't join the Society. I must confess that it puzzles me. This rejection..." He passes his hand over his face and wipes the sweat from his brow with a violet handkerchief. "It takes a lot of money to run this organization, as you well know. So the more members we have who pay their dues, the better.
“But all that's only anecdotal. As you can see, everything is under control and we don't want you around stirring things up and confusing the members. No one is ready yet for your path of knowledge, for your higher worlds and your freedom. We're still working on what you said before without having to digest new revelations. People don't really want freedom if they have to work at it themselves and you never offered to hand it to them on a silver platter. They don't even understand it - at least I don't, and who is in a better position to do so? I know by heart almost every word you ever said. In fact, I'm very fond of quoting you, as we all are, and the effect is grand. You should feel flattered."
He lights a cigarette and offers her one. She shakes her head.
"They say you used snuff then - so human." His crooked, ironic smile appears again, then vanishes.
"You see, we give them the illusion of freedom and spiritual experience through membership in the Esoteric School and the Class Readings. Why, it's better than going to church. We know what's good for them better than you ever did. The illusion makes them happy and it gives them a sense of belonging."
She is looking at him fixedly now and he lowers his eyes. "I wish I knew what you are thinking. No, I don't care what you are thinking, if anything. You gave up on the Social Threefolding thing yourself. You fold it once, you fold it twice..." But there it is in your Complete Works, so we can't ignore it altogether. Every once in a while someone gives a lecture about it, and young people who read about it for the first time often get enthusiastic. But we make sure that they don't go too far and offend some politician, industrialist or group of powerful members. The whole idea of a Tripartite Society is downright dangerous - for our Society and for the world. It implies that people are intelligent, courageous and willing to be free, which is, as I already explained, an erroneous assumption. Furthermore, what would happen to our donations if we went shooting off our mouths against political cowardice, injustice, capitalism, materialism, economic power? We talk a lot about what you said 75 years ago, which doesn't hurt anyone's feelings now because it's so historical."
The Chairman extinguishes his cigarette in a kidney-shaped, oak ashtray, and coughs.
"And we can always counter criticism by warming up the conspiracy theory, which you so kindly bequeathed to us. You remember, don't you? The map dividing Europe? Whenever something goes wrong we blame the Anglo-American secret societies." He smiles and looks almost happy. "It always works. Nobody's ever seen one of the secret societies, but they swallow it anyway. It's a good thing they do, for otherwise this freedom thing you were always talking about could get out of hand. It even went so far that the editors of the Society's weekly publication, which you inaugurated yourself, recently began raving about freedom of the press after insulting our best-paying members. Don't you see how dangerous that is? We kicked them out of course, and there was quite a scandal about it. 'Templegate' some wise-guy journalist called it. But it will blow over, these things always do. You should be grateful to us, but I see that you are not. That is further evidence that we know what's best for the movement and you don't. We're in the Twenty-first century, for God's sake. Cyberspace and all that. But no, you probably never even heard of it."
They sit in silence for a few moments like a couple who have been married for too long and have grown bored with each other.
"I have some ideas though," the Chairman finally says, and lights another cigarette. "I'd like to hear your opinion about them." He blows a smoke-ring over her head, which settles for a moment like a halo. It startles the Chairman, but as soon as it disappears he forgets it. "I'm thinking of declaring myself - I mean the Chairman, whoever he is - I'm thinking of declaring the Chairman infallible, but only where thinking, feeling or willing are concerned, of course." He smiles. The woman sighs and looks out the window again.
"I think that would have an excellent effect on Society discipline. But do you know what we really need? Something that would put the icing on the cake? No? Well, I'll tell you: an immaculate conception. Problem is that our female Section Leaders are kind of old for that." He taps the desk with his long fingernails and muses: "Perhaps an eurythmist." Suddenly his eyes light up as they do when a brainstorm strikes. "Or maybe even..." The light goes out. "No, no, you wouldn't be interested. Well, we'll see. Miracles do happen, you know."
The conversation is becoming too one-sided, even for the Chairman, who is used to one-sided discussions, so he comes to the point.
"Now, to demonstrate my magnanimity, I am going to make you an offer."
She smiles for the first time.
"I don't know what that Mona Lisa smile is supposed to mean and I don't care. I'm an esoteric administrator, not a psychiatrist. Here's my offer. Take it or leave it: In return for your cooperation we will appoint you Class Reader in... Where is it you come from now? Austria again? or is it South America? They say you were raving about the poor in Brazil or Africa or someplace.
He waits, thinking she might say something to that after all, it being so outrageous. She remains silent.
"You can be an Official Class Reader, but only on the condition that nothing is added to what you said before and is already in print. You read, you don't comment. Get it?"
"Well, what do you say?"
She shakes her head sadly.
"That's what I thought. It's just as well."
He picks up his violet telephone and asks his secretary to connect him with the Fremdenpolizei. His interlocutor is on the line almost immediately.
"There's a foreigner here stirring up trouble. He..er..no, She was arrested but I wanted to be merciful and help her. Unfortunately, I must admit that I was mistaken! She's a trouble-maker and probably in the country illegally... No, I don't know where she's from, probably somewhere in the Fourth World.....No, no, that was only a joke, don't worry. What's important is that she expresses undemocratic, un-Swiss ideas and is working without a permit. ...Yes, I will attest to it. Please come immediately and expel her - if you must, and I assume you must - from the country...Where to? How should I know? As far away as possible, to Jupiter for all I care. But quickly, before the Summer Conference begins and we're swamped by naive people who would be dangerously susceptible to her charms."
He hangs up and looks at the woman almost, but not quite, kindly. "Believe me, it's best this way. I know what I'm doing. Your message is too important to be endangered by inflammatory preaching. We can protect the movement and the Society - which are One now, in case you've forgotten - and you can't. If we allowed you to go through with what you intend, whatever it may be, the whole thing would collapse and we'd have to start over again."
He stands up. "You can wait in the antechamber. The Fremdenpolizei will be there in a moment." He looks at his watch. "In fact they are probably there already. The Swiss are incredibly efficient when it come to expelling foreigners. I wish you a good trip, to wherever they send you."
She stands, looks at him for the last time and turns to go.
"Wait," the Chairman says. "Tell me, Why did you not name a successor?"
"You have said it," she answers, and walks through the hand-carved, arched, doorway into the antechamber where the Immigration Police are waiting. One holds handcuffs, the other a one-way ticket to Jupiter.
© 2001 Southern Cross Review
Shirley Locke HolmS is the great Victorian detective's great-niece on her paternal side and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's virtual virgin on her mother's. She is not related to the editor of this publication, who is just as scandalized by its contents as you are.