Wednesday, 9 November 2011

A Mirror of Shalott by Robert Hugh Benson

This is the season of the pooka, a good time for stories of the supernatural. In a paperback anthology I found a slight tale by Robert Hugh Benson benson excerpted from a book called A Mirror of Shalott. This is available on Internet Archive. IA The suite of stories are told by a group of Catholic clerics meeting in a house in Rome I'm not sure that everyone would consider them real chillers, there are no fat boys like the one in Pickwick that will make your blood run cold, with a recitation of the blood drinkers burial in character but in an understated way that sharpens your sense of both the supernatural and the infranatural, they have a power.

Benson was a priest himself so the material plane was merely a diaphane that could be backlit on occasion. My sense is that these tales are more or less the true stories that he had heard from his colleagues in the ministry. It is the near irruptions into the everyday of other worlds where you can't be quite sure whether it was imagination or not that are the most effective. One story of a dream told by Father Stein :

He was slow of speech and thought and movement, and had that distressing grasp of the obvious that is characteristic of the German mind.

However the story that he tells of an archetypal dream is worthy of the best of Carl Jung.

Another story involves the concept of mystical substitution which a man proposes to the priest who is recounting it, a practical man not well up on the idea.

Well, I didn't understand him at first, but we talked a little, and at last I found that the idea of mystical substitution had seized on his mind. He was persuaded that he must make an offering of himself to God and as to be allowed to bear the temptation instead of his brother. Of course, we know that that is one of the claims of the Contemplative but to tell the truth, I had never come across it before in my own experience.

Not a good idea as it turned out. This man had previously gone for the priesthood and we are told:

The man's health simply could not stand it. But he led a most mortified and interior life with his wife in his London house, with a servant of two to look after them and was present daily at mass at the church that I served then.

Diverting and edifying. Quite!

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