The deep sobbing I was doing felt a kind of cleansing of the spirit, perhaps partly because it was a way of bringing what had felt like a purely personal grief up to a level which had so much more universal significance, even though my own part in that drama had been such a small one. Stopping at the stone stele erected to commemorate the scene of the final martyrdom of these beautiful people, I wept again, and added a tiny bit of dried yarrow I had plucked on Silbury Hill to the wild flowers already lying at the base of the monument. Far above me I heard the voices of children calling to each other, and caught glimpses of the group as they climbed in and out of the thick growth of scrubby trees and bushes that covered the steep hill to the fortress. I started my own climb, which was a long, grueling one, especially for the last hundred feet or so, which was nearly straight up. I had to stop often, completely out of breath, and occasionally, intensely giddy.
The [following] day they dragged us down the mountain, with our hands tied behind our backs and threw us over the palisade fence, into the pile of brush and wood, which was already smouldering. I found myself there so abruptly, somehow expecting a last minute reprieve until that very moment, that I simply could not believe it was happening. I thought you would come and rescue me. I didn't really understand that it would happen. I was a profound coward, and had put all my hopes and dreams into the future, with the present a way of piling up merit which would somehow bring about that future I wished for, which centered around you and Christ, and I was very unclear in my mind about the difference.
I adored the lady who was so beautiful to me and whose purity filled me with such love and joy, and I wanted as much as anything to die well and purely in her eyes, but it was a romantic ideal of death. She is my "Lady," my "Irishwoman" of the poems. The actuality of that death was too much for my reality sense. I totally lost my sense of communion with the group. I could not let myself know anyone was also dying there except myself. The process of the choking, the burning, the hopelessness of the reality of that process of burning to death did something to my inner spirit. I knew I could not go on living, that was clear, but also, as I got to the end of the hideousness, I found I could not believe that it was all right just to die, to let go of the horror and the pain, because this total denial itself cut me off from completion of any kind. I felt stuck in the total evil of my sin against the Holy Spirit. I could not go to heaven. I could not look on my burnt body to know it was gone. I could not look at the bodies of the others. I froze myself into a space with no form or substance, an eternal darkness in which I could not be with anyone nor could I even be alone, because I could not allow myself to be. I felt condemned by my utter failure either to live or to die to a kind of outer darkness that could stretch forever.
Roger says expiation is one of the strongest impulses there is, and the only thing I had in my mind was the need for expiation, only I didn't even understand that that was what it was! No one could help me. It was too late. The deed had been done. I had gone, with no perceptible space except horror between them from "too soon" to "too late." I had wanted to experience life, and it was too soon to die. Now it was too late for me ever to die properly. One is only allowed one death, and I had blown it! Do you see what I did? I forgot that God had given me his grace! I absolutely wiped the entire experience of conversion and consolation out of my being! I wiped it out so totally, I didn't even perceive that I had done so! That is the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Roger made me come down and look at myself there on the pyre. It was horrible! I was a mass of char, and my face had a kind of grimace on it caused by the exposure of bone. Then he made me look at the bodies of the others. When he saw I could not experience myself out of the body, he had me go quickly to the next life. Again I saw nothing but darkness, but as he said the words "see yourself," I had caught a quick impression of myself manacled hand and foot in a dungeon, lying in utter darkness. Roger says martyrs sometimes become addicted to martyrdom and experience it again and again in life after life. What I never understood was how deep-seated the guilt was which I felt in being this martyr! I knew survivors of massacres feel guilty, but no one has ever said those who die may also feel guilty, depending on the way they die!
This life is so important to me, I cannot even begin to express it all. I think I shall be learning from and about it for a long time to come. I keep seeing things about myself in this life which come from then! A great part of myself has been "stuck" back there unable to move away from it. I have even repeated the conversion experience with people I saw as very holy and as believing in me, only to be deceived in my commitment. That has happened several times. I seem to repeat it again and again. I once took instructions in Catholicism at a convent near my college, walking over there once a week for several months. The Mother Superior was a magnificent human being. But I never did receive baptism, after my mother asked me to promise not to until I was 25 (I was 20 at the time). Now I understand why.
The following is an excerpt from another letter to my English editor friend ("Peter Thornton") written early in 1985 concerning the Grail tradition:
With appreciation, Christine .....
- Albany, New York, 1986.