Image["Image of Peter Whitehead"]

Peter Whitehead

Peter Whitehead
The Risen: A Holographic Novel
Kettering, Northamptonshire: Hathor Publishing, 1994

Chapter 2 [pp. 27-57 (pp. 44-51 reproduced here)]

‘And that mysterious lady, who never revealed her face (except to me in dreams), but acted by delegation, had her name from the Latin verb levare, to raise aloft.’

‘Suspiria de Profundis’
Thomas de Quincey

...

As he was walking home, rather forlorn and disconsolate, passing the Fitzwilliam Museum with its colossal Greek façade looming over the small street, he suddenly stopped. He felt the tingling on the back again. Gazing at the museum he felt the same doubling perception as with the trees in the laboratory garden. He’d passed the building every day for years and yet, he was now seeing it for the first time. It seemed to be shouting at him to take notice of it. But it was the colonnade of stone columns comprising the façade that first caught his attention. Rooted to the spot, he gazed up at the huge building, amazed at its size, its monstrous inauthenticity, its pretentiousness. Why build a replica of the Parthenon of the Athenian Acropolis, a Greek temple for the worship of pagan gods, in a Cambridge side street? Absurd! But it was just as absurd to have never noticed it before. He felt quite week in his knees.

The building was massive: its frontage stretched a hundred yards along the street, the steps up to the entrance were thirty yards wide and thirty feet high and the façade must have been a hundred feet high. The huge stone columns towered above him and he felt almost dizzy looking at them as the clouds reeled by behind him. Why had he never stopped before and looked at it? Resting on top of the column was a pyramid-shaped hypostyle, decorated with a frieze: humans, animals, plants; a brief moment trapped in stone and time from a mythological narrative. It seemed inconceivable that he’d passed it every day and its presence had never impinged on his consciousness. Was he really so blind?

But then he saw another connection: the colonnade of columns across the façade reminded him of his dream ... and the copse ... and the interior of King’s Chapel! It was merely a coincidence of images. But why was he suddenly becoming so disturbed by mere coincidence? He’d never worried about coincidence before.

He wanted to press on home and start packing, having decided to take a week off; maybe take a trip to Scotland, something he’d intended to do for ages. But something prevented him. He knew he had to go into the museum. With an intense pang of expectation, an intimation of something menacing but necessary, he walked up the steps towards the tall front doors of the museum. He felt again the burning, tingling sensation on the back of his neck as he stopped under the colonnade and looked up. For a moment, he was able to superimpose, in his mind, the two images; the one he could see, the other remembered ... the stone columns, the beech trees, and the building in his dream, part stone, part steel. He started to feel excited as if he was following a hunch, the kind of intuition he sometimes felt while working with scientific ideas and images, when he was close to making an important observation or some kind of creative deduction or discovery, not necessarily deriving directly from the data. Sideways.

Inside the door, he was persuaded to buy a handbook by an elderly lady at the information desk, but he didn’t need to open it. He just knew; in front of him as a wide staircase leading to the upstairs galleries, on both sides were two narrower staircases leading down; he knew he had to go down the right staircase. His heart was pounding.

At the bottom of the stairs, he paused. This was the threshold. Above the doors, in gold leaf:

He felt nervous about going in, and to distract himself, he opened the handbook; it fell open at the right page ...

First Egyptian Room. The small antiquities are of great variety, the most numerous series being formed by the vases, bronzes and jewellery. A large proportion of them come from Tel El Amarna. Among the sculptures is the mouth and chin from a huge sandstone figure of the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty.

Matthew could not understand why he felt so much on edge.

The First Egyptian Room was empty. In front of him were various stone statues placed near the walls, and in the centre, glass cases with smaller objects. He noticed a huge carved stone top of a sarcophagus, some painted wooden mummy cases. The room was lit by a small window that was shaded from the sun by trees, the leaves translucent green against the light; the room was gloomy and dark. Like a tomb, Matthew thought. He stood at the door, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the light. Gradually he felt overcome with a profound sadness, knowing that all the objects had once belonged to people who had been alive, but now, all these once cherished objects were abandoned, betrayed, detached ... dead ... all that remained of past people, past lives. ‘Look at my works ye mighty and despair!’ ... wasn’t it?

Near the window he saw the remains of the huge statue of Pharaoh Akhenaten, a fragment of the mouth and chin the size of his own chest. He noticed the grain in the sandstone – compacted anthracitic shale, modified by diagenesis, probably containing coarse crystalline segregations in radiating cracks known as septarian nodules; a rare kind of sandstone indeed!

In the Second Room were various painted coffins, with notes on small cards next to each exhibit, explaining they were ‘Decorated with scenes from the so-called Egyptian Book of the Dead, more correctly named The Book of Coming Forth by Day’, and he thought it strange that death should be referred to as ‘coming forth by day’. One tall wood coffin was painted with a series of images depicting the ‘Transformation of the Soul’. Next to it was a full-size replica of the black Rosetta Stone, carved with a text of tiny white hieroglyphs and two parallel texts in Greek and Demotic Egyptian and Matthew learnt from the card next to it that it was this stone that led to the decipherment of the esoteric language of the hieroglyphs. There were other sheets of papyrus with chapters from the Book of the Dead in hieroglyphs, in which the soul was depicted as a falcon with outstretched wings with the head of a beautiful young girl.

One image caught his eye and seemed especially strange. ‘The Goddess Isis in the form of a falcon, copulating with the body of her dead husband Osiris, King of the Underworld.’ The body of Osiris was lying on a sarcophagus, wrapped in white bandages. At its head and feet were two priestesses, and above his body a beautiful small falcon was hovering ... just touching the erect phallus ...

suggesting [it said] the conjunction of two different levels of existence ... the human one; and the bird’s, symbolising the spiritual.

Another chapter described the transformation of the soul into the Golden Falcon. ‘I have risen, like the mighty falcon of gold that cometh forth from his egg; I fly and I alight like the falcon which hath a back four cubits wide, and the wings of which are like unto the mother-of-emerald of the South.’ He read that ‘The doctrine of immortality of the soul,’ elaborated in the Book of the Dead, remained practically unchanged for at least four thousand years of its existence.

Matthew felt uneasy; his whole spine was aching. It felt hot along its whole length and was becoming more and more painful. He felt inexplicably weary and dizzy. He sat down on a warden’s wooden chair, knowing he was about to faint. He managed to relax for a few minutes with his eyes closed. Then he tried to remember where he had seen such Egyptian objects before, what museum he must have visited as a child, or what books he had seen of images from ancient Egypt. He couldn’t recollect any in particular; it had never been a subject he was remotely interested in. yet what was disturbing him was the emotion he had felt since walking in the door, which he had tried almost desperately to resist, but the more he looked, the more it possessed him; the feeling of recognition, as if he had seen the objects before ...

He sat still, his eyes closed. He wanted to leave the museum but something urged him to stay. He couldn’t understand why everything was seeming to be back to front, the wrong way round, inside out, his sense of time and space becoming more and more dislocated ...

Slowly he took control of his turbulent emotions, and curiously to explore his new feelings, he decided to look in other glass cases, soon becoming fascinated by the mirrors, combs, tools, musical instruments and even furniture, in the shape of animals or birds or plants, heavily decorated with motifs of the natural world. It struck him forcibly that the people who made them must have loved the world around them; less concerned about making the object merely functional, than making it also faithful (and that was the word) representation of a living plant or creature ... it had a double meaning, on two levels and at once ... and he felt moved by a feeling of tenderness as he saw the beetles and birds and lotus flowers, transformed into all kinds of small objects to be used in the day-to-day lives of the gentle people who had made them. They must have felt themselves to be deeply part of the natural world, an extension of it ... and all the objects shared a similar kind of beauty.

And then he saw her ...

In a glass case a few yards away and facing away from him, a small sculpture. He knew immediately it was the head of a young girl. He stood still for a long time, scared of being wrong, scared of being right ... until he had the courage to walk towards her, knowing it was his dream. He recognised her immediately. He knew he’d never seen the object before or any representation of it or her, but ... in some inexplicable way, he recognised her. It was as if the previous hints of recognition had been a premonition, a preparation perhaps, for his confrontation now with her.

On the card he read: ‘Portrait of a Princess from Tel El Amarna: Meritaten, daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti’. He gazed intensely at the exquisitely carved features and then he felt almost mistaken. No! He’d never seen the face before. The features did not exactly remind him of anyone he’d ever known, but it was a new kind of emotion he’d never felt before, of relief mostly and a tangible feeling of pleasure, the pleasure coming mostly from his recognition of the beauty of the sculpture; not the personality, unless he was mistaken, but the gentleness of the features ... the sadness in the heavy-lidded eyes. He felt he knew the beauty, and it was the beauty of it, of her, that was relevant, because it was this beauty he had always dreamt of, touched lightly by death, always sought in his innermost being, despite himself, and the pleasure he felt, tinged with relief, came from discovering it at last ... unless he was still deluding himself.

But then his mind seemed to falter, to slip a plane, and he became the crystallographer again. He noticed the head had been sculpted from a block of quartz schist. Oh the beauty of crystals! Even ordinary sandstone, limestone, granite, when cut into very thin slices were magically transformed under the microscope into miniature replicas of stained glass windows, or beautiful abstract paintings. The interlocking crystals appeared as different colours, different textures, radiating with the light that passed through them. It had been the mysterious beauty of these slides that had provoked Matthew’s eventual decision to study crystallography although he would not have admitted it easily, even to himself.

There was also the beautiful inner mathematical and geometrical structures that made crystals into what they were. But quartz schist had been his favourite mineral, a poly-metamorphic stone, produced by intense pressures and very high temperatures. He’d been so fascinated by it he’d made it the subject of his first serious research, studying the magnetic orientation of the interstitial quartz veins ...

He was quit certain the head of the Princess Meritaten was a rare specimen of his beloved quartz schist. The stone in its raw state, a mere chunk of rock, newly quarried, appeared very similar to hundreds of other hard stones found in quarries throughout the world, a pleasant texture and colour, but nothing special. It was under the microscope that the mineral was unequalled in its variety of form and the beauty of its translucent, shimmering, radiant colouration. He could see the sculptor had been moved aesthetically by the external appearance of the stone, managing to reveal the grain flowing in it, like waves of an ancient petrified sea ... wave grain in the rock, caught forever as it cooled from the amorphous magma. It showed especially across the young girl’s cheeks, and the effect was tantalisingly beautiful. But as he gazed at the sculpture, he felt his mind repeatedly splitting, wavering from side to side as it switched from observing the appearance of the girl to imagining what was going on inside her head, in the crystal structure, its almost infinite possibilities of form. He tried to close his eyes ...

But he couldn’t look at her without remembering the beauty of the microscopic crystal structure of stone of which she was made. It was composed of a background field of exquisite dark blue-green crystals of feldspathoids, and darker-hued, emerald green phyllites, inter-laces with traces of iridescent quartz, ranging in colour from violet to rose, sometimes clear and translucent, etched with bold lines of shiny black mica foliation, and every single microscopic image was as different to the next as a montage of cinematic photographs would be, taken of a spume of dragon-flies, poised over a pool ... or a flock of a thousand lapwings, flinging themselves into the air at the sight of a hovering falcon.

But the image of the crystals faded and before him, again, was the face of a young girl. It was surely the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. The most beautiful object he’d ever seen, and again, the feeling of recognition returned, faint but certain. Was it desire returning? Perhaps he’d experienced her face before and whenever it had been, he had loved her. Now, remembering those feelings of love he’d felt for her, to his intense surprise, tears welled up in his eyes. Embarrassed, he quickly looked round to see if there was anyone else in the room, but fortunately, he was still alone. ‘This is not like me at all!’ he said loud, as if talking to Meritaten, as if wanting to reassure her that his naïve behaviour was not at all his own.

For some minutes he stood in front of her until the emotion rising up inside him, of longing for her, became too painful and he knew he had to leave her. But he wanted so much to say something reassuring to her, feeling a pang of guilt for leaving her alone in the cold unfriendly museum, in the room that had reminded him of a tomb. But he knew he must go ...

He hurried back to his rooms, in some kind of obscure and uncharacteristic trance. Once inside, he drank a neat whisky, took out a suitcase and started to fling things in it. Yes, he must get away – fast! He was going on a trip to Scotland! He’d been there with Jane. Not since. He must get some fresh air. His grandfather had been born in Sutherland, he had friends there who could rent him a cottage. But then he stopped. What was it? He sat on his bed, his head in his hands, knowing he was almost defeated. He began to sob, quietly. His sobs were evenly spaced, rhythmic and melodic, and came from very deep within him. He didn’t want to think any more ... to suffer any more connections ... any more inexplicable recognitions.

He decided he must try to sleep. Although his body felt dead, he managed to will himself to sleep almost immediately, with the image of Meritaten hovering over the splitting planes of his once adamantine consciousness. But once again he suffered another vivid infusion of images from the past to the present, which he might still describe objectively, as dream ...

...

Chapter 3 [pp. 59-91 (pp. 64-67 reproduced here)]

‘The morphic influence of a past system might become present to a subsequent similar system by passing ‘beyond’ space-time and then ‘re-entering’ wherever and whenever a similar pattern of vibration appeared. Or it might be connected through other ‘dimensions’ ... Or the morphic influence of past systems might simply be present everywhere ...’

‘A New Science of Life’
Rupert Sheldrake

The following morning he went to say goodbye to Meritaten and was pleased to find the Egyptian room empty again. He paused in front of the huge foot, the fragment of the Colossus of Akhenaten, thinking of all the other pieces of his dismembered body scattered around the museums of the modern world. It was a sad fate for such a man of vision, such a revolutionary thinker, a mystic in love with his symbol of such perfect unity, the Aten. Sad to be so dismembered and scattered, and to have become little more than a tourist attraction.

He approached the glass case where he imagined Meritaten waited patiently to be seen, only to discover he couldn’t see her properly; the light from the windows was reflecting directly onto the front glass, making it into a mirror, and although he tried different angles, it was impossible to find a position to see her clearly, his own face appearing on the glass between them, framed in an image of windows, leaves where his hair should be ...

Slightly upset, he closed his eyes and tried to imagine her alive in the city of Tel El Amarna, a lithe young girl in flowing silk robes, wafting around the Pharao’s palace, giggling with her sisters, sitting poised and meditative in the sculptor’s studio as he chipped away at the block of stone, creating the beautiful object which, four thousand years later, would stir the timid heart of a rather cold and rational man who had once loved a woman and now loved only crystals ...

For a long time he stood quite still before her, her face obscured by the reflection of his own, wondering what her voice had sounded like, trying to see her swimming in the Nile while soldiers guarded her with sticks and stones to frighten away the crocodiles. The more he thought of it all, the more surprised he became to find that he could picture it so clearly. He could have painted the whole scene in detail, if he had been a painter. But he wished he had been a sculptor, able to create the rest of her ... her unknown fragmented body, elsewhere ... and make her whole again. Yet, trying hard, in his mind he could see her whole, imagining the rest from the small part he could see; rather like listening to an unknown voice on the telephone, unable to avoid imagining what was out of sight. He felt lonely, wondering how he could communicate with her, absurd though it might seem. If it would not be with the stone, what part of her would it be with? Then he pulled himself together. Such a thought should not occur spontaneously to a lucid, objective mind such as his!

He tried to take a photograph but it was impossible, the sun’s reflected light too bright. He guessed it would be some time before the glass would become translucent again, to reveal her delicate smile intact, her composure undisturbed by his confused emotional needs, so he decided to leave, try again with the computer, and return in the afternoon to take his photograph, steal her image from within the multiple reflections ... capture her soul on film, to accompany him on his forthcoming exile ...

He had no luck with his computer, the invisible wall was still firmly dug in around it. Maybe he should become philosophical about it! Was it any less absurd than his need to take a photograph of Meritaten? It was a bright day so he decided to walk along the river, amazed how lucid the light had become, how sharply he could see everything. Feeling inclined to do something different, he went to a pub and drank a lager and ate a sandwich and smiled at the students as if he was still one of them. Could he be normal after all?

Afterwards he returned to the museum, taking the precaution of asking at the desk if it was alright to take photographs of the Egyptian collection, not wanting to be ignominiously thrown out for breaking the rules.

‘Are you with the lady who is taking photographs there already?, the receptionist asked.

‘Goodness me, no, I’m just a visitor. I’m quite alone. Someone is taking photographs already?’

‘Yes, a young lady with written permission to use a tripod and lights. You can take photographs without a tripod at any time.’

Matthew walked mournfully down the winding stone steps, feeling frustrated, even angry, that someone should be invading his domain; especially with a camera! He felt acute resentment at the idea of the technology, tripods and lights, disturbing the quiet, sacred mood of Meritaten’s room.

At the door, he saw her, standing behind her tripod, with two large spotlights on either side, photographing the fragment of the colossal statue of Akhenaten. He stopped at the threshold of the doorway, taken aback by what he saw, but she heard him, turned and seemed equally surprised by him, that her presence should have caused him to stop so abruptly. Words were rattling through Matthew’s mind at the speed of his computer. He wanted to say something but knew it would come out garbled, he was so confused. His first impression took him by surprise. She’s a Gypsy!

Dressed in the wildest clothes, her three-quarter length skirt was embroidered in all kinds of shapes and colours, obviously hand-made; there were strange pointed silver boots, an emerald green blouse sticking out from a bright purple cardigan, her hair tied up in a bunch with a multi-coloured scarf flecked with gold and silver signs of the zodiac. Around her shoulders were the remains of a pair of silver foxes that looked as if they’d been killed while mating, amateurishly made into a double-headed stole. Around her neck was a bright blue and green enamel necklace in the shape of a girl with huge wings, which Matthew could see was similar to the jewellery he’d seen on the breast of one of the mummies in the museum. Her hair was jet black, with a hint of red, probably henna, and was obviously quite long despite being bundled up behind her head, and very untidy. She was wearing crimson lipstick and her eyes were heavily outlined with kohl; her blue eye shadow flecked with gold.

Matthew guessed he was in her late twenties. His first reaction was not to think she was particularly pretty: her face seemed strong, like a classical sculpture, almost masculine, and her fine, straight nose seemed just a little bold for the voluptuous high-curved shape of her cheekbones. But she was striking and amazing-looking, and he couldn’t stop gazing at her face. He’d not seen anyone quite like her before in his life.

[Reproduction with kind permission of Hathor Publishing]

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The Fitzwilliam Museum : Introduction

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