..the story……….Fabrisse, a well-known trobiaritz, is in the process of becoming a Cathar. Her loyal servants, the Spinners, adhere faithfully to their Roman faith, but she is desperate for them to know the spiritual reality for humans. She starts slowly to teach them as the shepherds arrive back with their herds in the village from the high peaks before the heavy snows fall.
I climb up to my gallery and walk along to the opening to look down to see them coming. And, although I had seen this site so often, it had never taken my breath away as it did this day.
I gaze down on hundreds of wooly backs, crammed together, nervously clustering. They are crowded into the lane and all around the ostal, kept in tight check by the huge white herder dogs ranging around the edge of the throng. The sound of hoof on the granite, of bleat and bark, men and girls and boys, all helping and mingling. The varied colours and contrasts of pelts and shag could only be the work of the most talented of spirits, each unique and yet different. Suddenly I understand, remember, that the flocks all come together to feed and clothe us. Luscious meat for all needs, fragrant milk for cheese and butter, fleeces for our beds and backs, and wool to spin, horn for our knives and spoons.
The shepherds, all ruddy and working always in harmony with the beasts, towards one aim – the survival of the chosen creatures for our survival in the harsh mountains. I watch and watch them, amazed at how differently I now look out of my body, out of this mind grown with this great migration of beasts twice every year.
I marvel at how the devil could slide into the looking, and could render it mundane. How could this site ever be mundane? I was bursting with this joy of teeming jostling life pressing again the high walls and gates, willing us fragile species to take from them. I run to the steps and call for the spinners to come to see. They bustle below, passing out the sustenance, making sure the shepherds have everything they need. All smiles and kisses, and welcoming. All gratitude and caring. I call them again, and one by one they come, curtseying and bowing at being allowed in the music gallery.
“Come close, my dearest women.”
They inch forwards nervously, in wonderment, no knowing what is expected of or from them. I become more serious, giving into my passion for their happiness and being certain of the way to bring that about. I look from one to the other.
“I have no more orders or desires which you can busy yourselves bringing into truth today. I want for nothing except for you to look at this site with my eyes. I want you all to be still because the Good God is here and now among us. I want you to feel it deeply. And God is here in each of your hearts, right now. We do not need to dress and rush to church, to close the doors and receive certain substances through our senses.”
The spinners are confused, apprehensive, unprepared. They look around, lacking confidence that they will recognize him.
“My ladies, God is not human! God is pure spirit. Spirit goes where it will, and here is the church and the sacraments.”
I point down through the opening at the flocks.
I reassure them that the spirit is there all the time if only they could open their inner eyes. They sweat and bridle, quite unaccustomed to being still without their busy spinning. They are lost without making or producing or doing in order to keep the ostal going. But now, it is time for them to become acquainted with the real living divine, their own divinity and uniqueness.
I push them forwards to the wooden rail, making sure each of them can see the sight of the Good spirit. They looked I know for robes and rosaries, for virgins on clouds and fountains of blessings and the holy faces of adoring saints. They looked and looked, but could only see the massing of creatures, creatures they took so much for granted, and had done all their lives. The forcing and teeming of wooly lives with throbbing hearts and grassy stomachs topped up with gentians and field flowers.
Brune knows. She looks at me and asks, “Is the Good God in each one?”
I affirm, and the pressure is released. The bosoms heave and loosen, the eyes soften and then smile, and tongues moisten. Vuiss whispers to the others.
“Bow your heads girls for the Madame is giving us our first lesson. Bow low. Kneel in your hearts, for we are much blessed this day.”
I did not teach but imparted, shared. I could not keep these gods to myself inside these walls. Could not keep them from my beloved spinners.
“Look at what you have looked at all your life in the very heart of this moment and this blessed place. Look at the massing of spirits and wooly backs, some silky, some shaggy, some dark, some light, some piebald, some striped. Look at the young and old, the male and female, all pushing together, brushing the walls and pawing the earth to leave their mark. This is your God in each twitch, each panic, each urge to make water or create young, each sprouting of more wool, more milk, more of everything for us.”
They are stiller than I have ever known them, looking down below at the clamor of holy spirits. There is suddenly no need of words, or spinning, of anything except breathing. Brune later told me that they could have stood there looking forever, and my heart was so thrilled that they listened and accepted what I relayed to them.
Later we go down to talk with the shepherds, to hear their latest stories and jokes, to see their rough bright faces and smell the strong mountain scents on their ragged clothes. They are full of the visions and vistas, the storms that blew up out of nowhere, the days and days of being stranded in isolated places because of thick cloud, of eagles flying low to pluck off the lambs, of practical jokes pulled by the children. But everyone has survived this long hard journey, and all the beasts are accounted for.
They ask me if the cardinals have arrived yet, and tell worrying stories of pressurized interrogations, of some of the old folk dying before they ever reached the torture chambers, of people taking their own lives by jumping out of windows and down wells rather than confess. And of the tiniest details of people’s lives and thoughts being scrutinized endlessly, and then twisted to fit the traitor’s bill.
“They say you have to have your wits about you with those cardinals and Priests. And all the time as they question and threaten, shock and pace, they eat and drink like Kings. Then there are tales of the young damsels and handsome boys disappearing for days on end, and later being released in different places miles away from home. They are so scared and damaged, that some of them are never to speak again.”
I wonder how much to say, how much to comfort or reveal. How much advice to give, or not. Then unexpectedly, Didier, the thresher-man Pierre’s brother, addresses me directly.
“What of the Good August Madame? Is he still around these parts? They say the Good are retreating slowly but surely. They are making for the high châteaux which they say is their final hiding place.”
“Is it true Madame?” He confirms with concern.
“I cannot be exact you must understand shepherds. We live from day to day, but we live in full joy, our breathing as deep as our smiles and hearts.”
I pause, trying to gage possible traitors among them. To judge those of loose morals, but then judgments were no longer mine. But the shepherds are honest and independent. Their worship is natural, of the mountains and beasts. Then I suddenly realize that I am limiting myself to human ways. I close my eyes, see the divine faces of my two gods, and shift myself into another realm. The words flow from my heart now, not my head, and there is no scrap of hesitation.
“We must all see the positive in everything and everyone. The wider the smile and the throat that sings of God’s nature, and of our great blessings in being close to it, the smaller the fears and doubts. You have choices. You all have choices you can make. It is your personal destiny, and you can change it by believing or not believing, by being pulled to the negative by the devil’s long arms, or resting in the strong hands of the Good and positive. For there is nothing negative in this world if we make changes in our hearts.”
The crowd of faces settles, listening, breathing gently. Outside the crowding beasts are also still, their retaining dogs alert but in control.
“Believing or not believing is not it. ‘Belief’ is a dead thing, devoid of spirit. It is only a thought, a toy of the mind. Living or not living, that is our choice. Life and belief are distant.”
I pause. I see the beauty of my August and Alexandra with my inner eyes, feeling the fabric of understanding of the Church of Love enveloping me and all of us. This Church of flocks and dogs, of fleece and fragrant air, of a diversity of vibrant eyes and tails. I go on.
“Take today. I have seen the flocks rushing through narrow streets and lanes all my life at the spring and winter equinoxes. They have always been a part of my life, and as a child I often went with the shepherds up into the cool meadows to sleep under the stars and taste mountain vegetables and fruits. And what a joy and joyous company too.
But today, to witness this thronging of beasts who exist so we may exist, to witness their many and varied colours and textures, their ranging eyes, to see how they obey the dogs and boys, I am overcome. My tears flowed as I stilled and only watched and breathed at such a wondrous sight. And I felt in each body there was Good God. God for us. God the natural and the positive. There is no space or chink through which the devil may slide if we can open our eyes to see that God is everywhere and at all times.”
There was silence. I was flushed with joy, and my audience rapt and still.I looked down and saw my August,squatting in the threshing yard,tempting the wagtails with barley gold.He was there with us,within each of us.
I looked up again, and there among the ruddy shepherds and the bronzed spinners I suddenly saw my Alexandra, her hair hanging down like a royal afghan, her eyes polished walnuts. It was time for our lesson.
“Ah, my beautiful Alexandra! It is time for your lesson. I quite forgot I am sorry to say. Come.”
I made to gather up my skirts and offered her my hand to convey her to the gallery. But she did not move. Instead, she said simply,
“Please Madame. Go on. I will listen.”
The assembly of dear souls chattered excitedly, exclaiming and darting their eyes around. Each one so shiny and completely different to the next, and again, God was among us. The divine was present. I looked around, under tables, in corners, in the rafters. But then, I realized that God was these wholesome and beautiful people. We each had God in us as he made our souls, and I smiled.
Alexandra was smiling adoringly. She nodded her beautiful shining head, and I suddenly understood that without my telling her directly, she understood everything. They still waited and I knew that I must sing.
We need not stones and spires to understand with love.
We need no regulations or rivalry to know we belong.
All faiths and groups are made richer
and all teachers of every age respected.
For we practice only the truth.
Open the giant doors to shine its light into every corner
of the Church of Life and Love.