“I’m kind of surprised to see you,” my cousin Bill said. “I mean three times in one week, if you count Saturday’s outing. What’s up?”
“I need more information on the family,” I said.
Bill laughed. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “It seems the bug bites us all eventually. Stan was into it big time before I even bothered.”
“Specifically, I want to know more about the patriarch, Miles Hawkins,” I said.
“Before we talk about him, I have to ask if you know why I never published my book?” he asked. I shook my head. “I gave your mom a copy to read and she told me in no uncertain terms that our family was not, nor ever had been, a cult. And to insist on all of those crazy ideas about Miles, well, she wasn’t having any of it. She never said ‘sue’, but implied that we’d see the inside of a courtroom if I published. The problem is, looked at from one way the family was a kind of cult and we still go through some of the motions of being a cult.”
“Thanks,” I said as I accepted the glass of brandy he had poured me. “In some ways, I think it might be the cult issues I’m interested in right now. I know a few legends, but most are just plain crap.”
Bill took a sip of his own brandy before answering. “I think that’s how your mom was and so the truth shocked her. She stopped attending all of the family get-togethers and eventually your parents sold their company and moved to their third world country.”
“Please, it’s an affordable tropical paradise,” I said. “But what could be so bad to drive her away?”
“Do you know how many people in America were wrapped in a shroud and stuck on a shelf for everyone to see when they passed on?” He asked. “How many families think the biggest holidays are the ones were they sit in a crypt watching dead bodies? I mean, even that we consider people separated by almost a dozen generations ‘family’ is a little odd.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Bethy continued to remind about all of the odd things our family did. But mom grew up with it.”
“She did, and she heard legends like you,” Bill said. “She never thought about the reasons things are as they are. She never saw the cult.”
“OK, you have to tell me now,” I said.
He smiled. “Don’t say you weren’t warned,” he said. “Basics, as you know Miles was born in 1689. We would consider his family as Puritans. They were far from poor, but they weren’t rich either, just typical colonials, nothing special. But they must have done something right as the kids were all successful, very successful.
“Miles was very intelligent. I would say genius on many levels,” Bill continued. “From relatively humble beginnings he was one of the richest men in the Massachusetts colony before he died. He had perhaps the largest library in New England and was considered a top scholar on many subjects. As a young man he spent five years traveling Europe and the Middle East, not a common things for a colonial in those days.”
“I think I heard all of those things,” I said. “And of course the Halley’s grabbed the largest share of his fortune. I don’t see the cult here.”
“I have to credit Stan for researching most of the stuff I’m about to say, the stuff you don’t know,” Bill said. “He was a Miles fanatic, and I’m not talking Miles Davis, though he likes jazz. No, Stan used to travel all over trying to get his hands on original writings of Miles Hawkins. They’re pretty obscure and many travelled to Missouri by followers of Mile’s sister’s cult. But Stan found quite a few. The guy was a weird duck. And I’m talking Miles here, though some say the same about Stan.”
“I never knew Stan was so much into it,” I said. “I thought you were always the historian.”
“Stan wasn’t interested in history, he was interested in the philosophy,” Bill answered. “He shared his findings with me and I became more interested in the history that would produce the philosophy and where it went from there.
“To understand the man you have to realize that Miles thought he had some type of magic power,” he continued. “He was never clear about it. It seemed more like what we used to call ESP. He believed he could read people, see them as colors. He could also read their minds to some extent and had knowledge from sources beyond his senses. He even thought he could change things. He could influence people’s thoughts and actions. He could move objects. You know, the whole bending spoons type of thing. And there was more. He, for instance, supposedly always lit his candles with his mind. This was well documented that he’d walk into a house or building, wave his hand and every lamp and candle would light up.”
“So he was a wizard,” I said.
“He sometimes called himself that, as well as mage, magician and more,” Bill said. “He thought everyone had a little of this power but we as a society had forgotten how to use it. He also believed nobody in the world was stronger than he was. He did recognize there were different dimensions to the power and some may have been stronger, even far stronger, in some particular area or other, but overall he was the most powerful. Only his sister Elizabeth, who I mentioned earlier, came close.”
“Not a humble man, I guess,” I said
“But in many ways he was,” Bill said. “Back to our story, he used this magic power as the center of his philosophy. He explored all of the world’s major religions. After he devoured them he wasn’t satisfied with any one of them. He had some great lines on a whole range of topics, but I love his thought on religion.”
“Do tell,” I said.
“One goes something like this, ‘God wrote his holy book in the universe and Man has forever been attempting to transcribe that book into his own language, and has called that transcription “religion”.’ Another is, ‘Religion is Man’s feeble attempt to create a finite idea out of the infinite of reality.’ There are more, but these two are my favorites.” Bill smiled to himself and sipped his brandy.
“Did Miles believe in God?” I asked.
“Yes and no,” Bill said. “He was a very, very spiritual man, but had no place for any organized religion. He talked about ‘God’, but sometimes he seemed to think there wasn’t really a supreme power while other times he talked about a pantheon of gods and spirits. His philosophy transcended religion in many ways and worked independently of God.”
“He sounds pretty modern to me,” I said.
“Very modern,” Bill agreed. “But often was almost a throwback to the ancients, which isn’t surprising since he was so widely read of the classical sources.”
“You’ve been hinting for a while,” I said.
“OK, the big part of his philosophy was centered on Man,” Bill said. “He divided Man into three parts: mind body and spirit or soul. OK, not too shocking. All had their part to play and all had some bit of power, and I’m talking the magical power here.
“The body is simple,” he continued. “In today’s language you may say it’s a ‘meat puppet’ controlled by the other parts. Yet there was more. Our emotions often come from the body. The body is controlled by hunger, sex, pain and all of those other things. These in turn often react to or are caused by emotions. Our minds and soul also work with our bodies. They fit. If the body is broken in some way, the mind and soul change. They are interconnected. And there is power connected to the body, a deep, earthy power.”
“Yeah, makes sense,” I said.
“The soul is actually in ways simpler than the body,” Bill said. “It is from some higher plane of reality and returns to that plane when we die, be it Heaven, Hell, Hades, Valhalla, or just void, he didn’t say or know. The soul is the essence of the person, but very little more. On small thing it is, is a balance for different values. Good and evil are the most important of these values to us, or at least the ones we most comprehend. He thought that a new born soul was in balance, though he left room for reincarnation with the balance being shifted by previous lives. The balance shifted by our experience and the choices that we make. He thought it was hard to write Good onto the soul while easy to erase it. On the other hand, he said it was easy to write evil onto the soul but difficult to erase that. The soul wanted to tend towards good, but faced a difficult journey. At death the soul returned with experience giving it a new shape and the good and evil written and erased giving it a new balance. The soul has very little of the magic power, which is a thing of the Earth.”
“Still not too far off of what most would say,” I said.
“In the middle is the mind,” Bill said. “While living the mind is our thoughts and memories. It is what we think of as ‘me’ while ignoring the soul. In ways it is like software. It needs the hardware of the body to make it run while the soul might be thought of as the operating system on which the mind runs, though it is both much more and far, far less. There is also the electricity, the life force but that is for later. Without body and soul the mind is like the words written in a book. It is history, memories, crystalized experience. The mind is where Miles thought most of the magical powers were stored.”
“Still doesn’t seem too cultish to me,” I said.
“We aren’t quite to the cult part,” Bill said with a chuckle. “There are a few more tidbits that are needed. I guess the most important is his view of equilibrium. He believed in an almost closed universe. Matter and energy could not be created or destroyed. Pre-quantum physics, he also felt information could not be destroyed or removed from the universe.”
“Again, modern,” I said.
“But remember I said it was almost closed,” Bill continued. “The soul enters from its own plane of existence, its own universe, whatever that is. And when you die, it returns to that plane, or at least it does eventually. So the balance is zero, even though something does enter and something does leave. And since the soul is different when it leaves, that is the balance within the soul has shifted, there is an equal change in our universe, that is good or evil is created since information cannot leave our universe. Equilibrium was a very important part of his philosophy.”
“OK, I get it,” I said. I fiddled with my empty glass, thinking over Mile’s view of the universe. “And I’m assuming that the good or evil of a place can be dictated by the choices of the people who lived there as it is copied off of their souls as the soul goes over the rainbow bridge.
“Yeah, something like that,” Bill said. “Do you need a refill?”
“Sure,” I said.
He started talking as he poured the new drinks. “So what happens when we pull the plug on the computers that are us? Of course back then they didn’t have the analogy, but Miles had his guesses based on a lot of reading, visiting holy sites in Europe and the Middle East and through his ‘magic’, or experience if you will.”
“Thanks,” I said as he handed me my glass.
“So with the body,” Bill said, “the electricity, or life force, is what keeps the body running, what keeps it together. Once the force is removed it starts to deteriorate almost immediately. The mind and soul hang out in the body for a little while, maybe a few minutes. Perhaps a few days. Once they truly get that the changes are irreversible and the spark isn’t returning, they leave the body.
“The body keeps some of the power,” Bill continued. “As I said, it is a deep, earthy type of power. If the body is buried it will slowly dissipate into the ground. If cremated it quickly dissipates into the air. Mile’s felt that if it were buried properly the power would stay close to the body. He wrote about feeling the strong physical presence of the dead while visiting the great cathedrals of Europe.”
“I guess most places devoted to the dead are supposed to hold some type of power,” I said.
“Exactly,” Bill said. “So, the body slowly loses the ‘magic’. What about the other two components? Well, according to Miles they stay close to the body for a while, still clinging together. It might be a matter of hours, more likely days or weeks, but it’s possible they will stay for years or even centuries, moving to places of importance to the deceased after the body is gone. Eventually, they split and the soul goes to wherever souls go.”
“Stupid question,” I said. “What would happen if the body sparked back to life after the mind and soul had already taken off?”
“He actually wrote about just that scenario,” Bill said. “But I don’t want to talk about zombies today. Or the monstrous mashup of the wrong soul and mind entering a body. Think of a transplant – the closer to the original the better, but still some rejection issues. He wrote in depth about this issue.
“OK, back to the story so far, we know that at death the body starts deteriorating, the soul and mind leave it yet stay together a while, then the soul goes home.”
“Hmm,” I said while taking a sip from my drink. “That’s still not too controversial.”
“No, not yet,” he said. “OK, so when the soul goes to its great reward the mind starts to dissipate. As I said, at this point it is like a book, but after the glue of the soul is gone it is a very fragile book that crumbles when you try to touch it. When it crumbles it starts to float away. Some of the random memories will return to where they were made. Some parts will slowly fade. Some will enter people as stories. Some will stay with the body. The ‘magic’ will also dissipate, spread out. And be lost. It still exists, as does the fragmented mind, but they are no more recognizable than that atoms of dust from Vesuvius that you just now breathed in.
“Now, here is where Miles started to get a bit strange,” Bill continued. “He felt he could keep the mind confined with the body and that it wouldn’t dissipate. He could concentrate the power. He felt that those with power would be able to receive even more power by being in such a place. The energy would be replenished from the earth and sky, the sunlight and the rain. He said many such places existed on earth and he wanted to create a new one.”
“I think I’m starting to get it,” I said.
“Yeah, and there’s more,” Bill said. “He designed the whole mausoleum and crypt system so it would concentrate power in the octagon, where his body was buried. He felt that since he was so powerful all of his progeny would have power and as more and more where interred, the octagon would become a place of great power. He created little occasions and holidays to draw family with the idea that the more people who are together the more power would be present to share.”
“So our family days,” I said. “And what was Heritage Day, this year on Saturday, August 15, about?”
“Mile’s birthday, of course,” Bill said with a slight laugh.
“OK, so our family did and still does follow the days, but did they ever follow his cult any deeper?” I asked.
“I think the Halley branch did at first,” Bill said. “There is record of Mary and Gustave being at the functions and Thomas did at first. He was a very strong advocate of it, but then he grew strange and stopped attending. He spent a lot of time in the crypt by himself, but never on the prescribed days. Later members of their branch came and went as they wished, so I’m not sure if they believed. That being said, many of Miles’ original writings were recorded as belonging to Benjamin’s estate when he passed away.
“The Hawkins were very committed at first, or appeared to be,” he continued. “Members of their branch became more and more religious and started distancing themselves from what they saw as at best superstition, at worse evil. Through most of the 19th and early 20th century a few members still visited and they still interred important family members, but it wasn’t until Rosaline and her brother Arthur, usually called Art, did they start visiting a lot and following the prescribed days again. Art’s grandkids sometimes show up and Rosaline’s two granddaughters are almost an institution there.”
“Yeah, I’ve met them,” I said.
“I’m sure. We all have,” Bill said. “As far as our branch, the Hawthorns, we were the most into it for the longest time. We buried our kin in the prescribed shrouds for at least three generations, four in a few sub branches. And it was extended family. You have to remember that people were baby factories back then and some families had a dozen kids. The Hawthorns were pretty sturdy and many lived into adulthood. But then in the 1820s we stopped most of the practices. By the mid-1830s everyone had started to use caskets, though we did continue putting them on the shelves. And as room became scarce and only the oldest male line was interred, the other sub-branches started to drop out and not participate. My wife already hates going so my guess is when my mom is finally laid to rest the Hawthorns will drop the practice of celebrating the family days.”
“Kind of sad,” I said.
“Yeah, but people move on,” Bill said. “It’s amazing it lasted this long.”
We sat in silence, sipping the drinks.
“Do you believe in Mile’s magic power?” I asked.
Bill laughed. “Uhm, yeah, that is one of the strangest parts of the whole thing. Even today a lot of people do believe in it. Some swear they have it. Rosaline strongly believed in it. And Stan used to, but he hasn’t mentioned it in a while, years. Me?” he drained his glass. “Can’t say I do.”
I had been careful about scanning people since Amelie told me to stop, but I had to send a feeler. Bill had some power he used without realizing what it was. He had more power he kept suppressed by his disbelief and his total faith in science and logic.
“What about you?” he asked.
I drained my glass as well. “It might not be magic, it might not be power, but there is something in that crypt.”
I could feel two sides of his mind fight for a second before coming to a truce. “Yeah, a lot of creepy dead bodies.”
I laughed and we toasted the thought with our empty glasses. I then made my excuses to leave. I had a lot of information to process.
And I knew I had to return to the crypt for more answers.
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