Brothers on the Shining Path-A cautionary tale of spiritual politics. By Fanny P. Wolstenhulme
This is exclusively a work of fiction and any resemblance to contemporary or historical events or organisations or individuals either living or dead is purely coincidental. Fanny P. Wolstenhulme. 2021
Hypergnosticism: A self-willed system of direct personal contact with The Absolute, utilising universal and immutable cosmic laws and everlasting truths to enhance the cyclic evolution of a timeless universe. (From A Nosegay of Esoteric Thought by Countess Katarina N. Bugarov, Hypergnostical Publishing House, Lima, 1877.)
In her last but one incarnation she had worked assiduously for the Inquisition, co-ordinating and implementing the excommunication, flaying and roasting of dangerous opponents of Catholic dogma – and doing it very efficiently, too. (Unknown to many The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition continued in the twenty-first century under the more innocent branding of Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith housed at the Palace of the Holy Office at The Vatican.)
This was possibly why the regular Monday morning ritual she adopted under her current role always seemed viscerally satisfying: the swift summary expulsion of those members of her organisation flagrantly transgressing its many, many rules.
As long-standing General Secretary and spiritual figurehead of one of the world’s most independent and influential spiritual fellowships, she was all too aware of the dangers heresy heralded. It could simply not be countenanced under any circumstances. Human beings indeed had free will but seekers after enlightenment required a firm hand as with trepidation they trod the ever-steepening path towards final liberation. Otherwise they might face all kinds of temptations and deviate from the accepted road to bliss and this could have disastrous consequences for many lifetimes to come.
Freedom, liberalism and tolerance were fine and noble principles but didn’t always neatly assist mankind’s reintegration with the godhead – at least not in The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima they didn’t.
The English Tendency of The Brotherhood had been headquartered at 66 Fortescue Square, London W1 since the Cuban embassy had vacated the cavernous four-storey Regency edifice in 1926. Despite its dimensions, the vast building nestling in a bucolic enclave between Baker Street and Harley Street had only two occupants and few visitors.
It had long ceased to be a place where those ardent aspirants of the arcane and ageless wisdom came to further their evolutionary prospects. These days all activity at 66 Fortescue Square was distinctly low key.
The pale pudgy hand gripping the ancient Parker fountain pen paused briefly over the standard green form produced on the Gestetner 2000 duplicator. Located in the first-
floor office where she now sat, the machine had been state-of-the-art when originally purchased by The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima back in 1957.
The form contained blank sections which she began to fill in with a well-practised scratching rhythm. When she had finished the final document read:
BY ORDER OF THE GRAND COUNCIL OF THE ENGLISH TENDENCY OF THE HYPERGNOSTICAL BROTHERHOOD OF LIMA
1st. April 2020.
This is to give formal notice that you, Albert Wallace of 57 Clearview Terrace, Bognor Regis, are to be immediately expelled from the abovementioned society for flagrantly infringing its rules and bringing the organisation into disrepute.
A full and fair inquiry by The Council has established that you have wilfully:
- been in possession of literature at variance with the aims and spirit of The Brotherhood, viz. Alice Bailey’s scurrilous work “Initiation Human & Solar” [Rule 37 (c) (iv)]
- attended meetings of The Anthroposophical Society and the South Sussex Cake Baking Society without due authorisation [Rule 101 (e) (v)]
- expressed opinions likely to cause extreme distress to The Brotherhood’s membership by suggesting in print an abandonment of our fruitarian principles in favour of veganism [Rule 17 (a) (i)]
- questioned the legality and professionalism of a properly-selected officer of The Brotherhood, namely the General Secretary, thereby severely undermining trust and brotherhood [Rule 9 (c) (viii)
Yours in fraternity,
Georgina Bulstrode-Savage (Miss),
General Secretary, English Tendency H∞B∞L
The signatory of the form scrawled the gold nib across the bottom of the green sheet and consigned it to the wooden out tray on her desk. Her lips pursed in a zealous rush of momentary self-righteousness.
Wallace may indeed have worked tirelessly for the society for half a century but rule-breaking was rule-breaking and had to be matched with an iron-fist response otherwise dissent and discord could easily spread like an out of control cancer, undermining key spiritual principles.
The Grand Council mentioned on the form had existed as a democratically constituted body elected by the national membership until 1981 at which point it had been abolished and its role taken over solely by the General Secretary.
Miss Bulstrode-Savage briefly glanced at her companion, the ageing but ever-obliging Muriel Bland, who with wizened fingers was pounding the black Imperial office typewriter, which had also been cutting edge technology when brought into service in the late 1920s. The woman seemed to be getting slower by the day, she thought. Being eighty-eight and somewhat arthritic was simply no excuse for the slackness and gross inefficiency which seemed to characterise much of her work these days.
Mrs Bland had joined the society after the death of her husband, a major in the Catering Corps, had been killed by an exploding tin of bully beef during a training exercise at Catterick Garrison. She had lived at the headquarters building permanently since 1972, the very same year that Georgina Bulstrode-Savage had taken over as General Secretary after graduating with a Higher National Diploma in chemical engineering from Peterborough College of Technology.
“You do realise that I want the newsletter in the post this afternoon,” she sternly intoned.
Although more than a quarter of a century younger than her secretary-cum-general factotum, Miss Bulstrode-Savage had always wielded a powerful but invisible authority over her. The anachronistic pince-nez and beetle-black hair scraped into a tight bun somehow enhanced that authoritarian superiority. So did the 264 pounds of prim malevolence encased in tweed robust enough to resist small arms fire.
The next recipient of her pen, Mrs Audrey Whiting from Solihull merited expulsion on two grounds: openly discussing the contents of an Eckhardt Tolle DVD with an unnamed fellow-member of the Birmingham Lodge (Rule 79 (b) (ii)) and persistently refusing to abide by Rule 142 (k) (iii) involving the unauthorised use of a kettle to make herb tea at a lodge meeting in flagrant disregard of current Health & Safety protocols.
They never learned, she inwardly tut-tutted to herself, as Mrs Bland carefully removed the wax stencil from the typewriter and gingerly approached the hand-operated duplicator where she began to apply it to the inky drum.
“This is the final page, madam,” said the older woman, smoothing the stencil into place.
“I’m very glad to hear it, Mrs Bland,” said the General Secretary as she signed Mrs Wallace’s letter. “We can’t have the latest edition of New Truth being delayed for members. You never seem to appreciate just how important communication is for an organisation such as ours in the modern world.”
An impartial observer to this vignette may have smiled at the deeply ironic nature of the remark. One of the Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima’s core founding precepts had been total and outright opposition to the intrusion of technology into an increasingly materialistic world. To some extent this had been compromised during the early decades of the organisation’s operations, especially after the deaths of the founding members. But it had been rigidly reinforced since Miss Bulstrode-Savage’s inception into high office some four decades earlier.
Emails, the internet and digital communication methods in particular had been declared anathema – their use prohibited absolutely. This blanket ban alone had led to the expulsion of more than 500 members over the previous five years. This principle had been carefully enshrined in the running of headquarters. Never connected to mains electricity, number 66 still retained its gas lighting and open coal fires.
A late 1940s black Bakelite telephone was perched next to Mrs Bland’s Imperial but it was never used and had not rung since 2003 when someone had dialled the headquarters number by mistake.
As the foolscap sheets of paper began to emerge from the Gestetner, Miss Bulstrode-Savage sank back in the scuffed leather office chair and allowed herself a rare moment of introspective satisfaction. Her thin lips curled into a half-smile as she recalled details of the previous evening’s regular Sunday lecture she had delivered in the downstairs meeting room which had been a ballroom during the building’s diplomatic days.
Even by her own admission “The Shining Path of Self Discovery” had been a masterpiece of insight and wisdom from someone as privileged as herself to be so closely connected to the hidden spiritual hierarchy. There had been keen interest from the six students who always attended her weekend talks. And even 95 year old Olive Twining, who always fell asleep within ten seconds of the General Secretary stepping on to the podium, had assured her afterwards that she had found it very illuminating – especially on the astral level.
“You did prepare lunch, didn’t you, Mrs Bland?” she asked, awakening from her reverie.
“I did, madam, but they didn’t have any kiwi fruits.”
“Again? Why didn’t you try somewhere else?”
“I had to get the newsletter out.”
“That’s hardly an excuse.”
Georgina Bulstrode-Savage vehemently denied to herself and indeed everybody else that she was agoraphobic in any way, even though she hadn’t left 66 Fortescue Square since 1977. Since the world outside the large sash-windows was largely a degenerate cess-pit of human frailty and unbridled lust, this had been a consciously self-imposed decision in the interests of maintaining purity of thought and single-mindedness of purpose.
This building was a sacred haven from the evil temptations of modern life in general and the central London bustle in particular – a place of tranquil serenity far away from the turmoil and hysteria of twenty-first century existence. And The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima was a solid bulwark against the shallow illusory nature of a civilization gripped by its addiction to greed and material possessions.
She regarded herself as a spiritual pioneer, a latter-day anchorite eschewing this world of flesh and filth. In this way she maintained that proud tradition inaugurated by the founders more than 140 years earlier.
Like other organisations of its type, The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima had come into existence through a serendipitous – and in many people’s opinion – pre-ordained means. The work of humanity’s elder brothers had been clearly at work here.
It had all begun innocuously enough in early spring 1872 in a well-furnished back room of The Lucky Diamond Casino in New Orleans, Louisiana. On this balmy April evening one Major-General Zeus Z. Zachariah had met Countess Katarina Natasha Bugarov, a rogue Russian aristocrat, spiritual adventuress and author, who at the time had been basking in the mixed controversy and critical acclaim of her newly-published massive oeuvre Pan’s Panoply: Penetrating Realities Beyond The Veil.
Although published only six months earlier this gigantic 2,000-page overload of erudition, ageless knowledge, mysticism and mythology had already gone into its third edition and had had translation rights approved in twelve languages, though not Russian.
Major-General Zachariah, a senior commander with the defeated Confederate forces during the American Civil War, had retired from a military career to dedicate himself to the exploration of the hidden realms. Like thousands of other Americans, he had taken an early interest in Spiritualism and subsequently gravitated towards Mahayana Buddhism while also flirting with neo-pagan ideas.
Now, in a bid to boost his flagging fortunes, depleted by his abiding passion for gambling, he had come to the Gulf of Mexico in a bid to use a mystico-scientific technique he had recently devised to beat the cards and the roulette wheel.
He had had no remarkable success, nor if the truth be known any success at all that evening, when he had fallen into conversation with the bulbous-eyed, bejewelled blond sitting next to him at the blackjack table. He had been instantly captivated by this sophisticated middle-aged lady. Countess Katarina Bugarov’s stunningly radical worldview had given him nothing short of a metaphysical orgasm, a category of climax that he had never previously experienced. It had been a meeting of old souls, a synergy of fellow truth-hunters. The way she had explained Hypergnosticism had set his etheric body on fire.
For the next month the pair had been inseparable, locked deep in conversation from dawn to darkness about the hidden recesses of the universe. Although not attracted as conventional lovers with a bond confined to the physical plane, Zachariah and Bugarov had soon realised that their meeting had been no merely fortuitous cosmic accident because as every esotercist knew, there were no such things as accidents or coincidences. It had been part of a much grander plan.
Then, for reasons history has obliterated, the pair moved on to Peru.
Six weeks later as Zachariah had continued with his revolutionary odds-beating technique in a small gambling joint in Lima, the countess at his side, their paths had crossed with Senor Perez d’Asquiller de Los Lobos de Silva Cortes Delgado Dorado III, a rich Peruvian lawyer. Dorado, it had rapidly emerged, was a man immersed in Hermetic wisdom, Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and with a talented amateur’s grip of alchemy. He had been waiting for people like these all his life.
For the next three months the trio had become inseparable. Three-times married and well-schooled in the ways of men, Countess Bugarov had intensively taught her eager new pupils the complex cosmogenesis and expansive doctrines of Hypergnosticism. Day after day, week after week she had stripped away the mysteries clouding the fundamental precepts of eternity and beyond. This, she had patiently explained, would grant mankind deliverance from its current lowly status as over-developed animal and propel the species towards divinity.
This panoramic and over-arching vision of an eternally-evolving universe, combined with the countess’s slingshot personality, had enraptured both Zachariah and Dorado. One night not long afterwards, the major-general’s cherished mystico-scientific system had finally paid off to the tune of 250,000 pesos. This single act alone proved to be a major acceleration in the Western esoteric tradition.
Within hours The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima had been born at Dorado’s comfortable offices in a plush downtown area of the capital. With Zachariah as president, Dorado as treasurer and Countess Bugarov as secretary, Zachariah’s winnings had been matched by an equivalent donation from Dorado. The countess had even pawned one of her many strings of pearls in a bid to assist. This modest capital had been enough to secure a small meeting space with separate rooms above for Zachariah and Bugarov.
The movement had grown with a contagion of Old Testament proportions. Within days dozens of well-heeled and wide-eyed members of the Peruvian intelligentsia had sat spellbound as the countess had eloquently elaborated the secrets of the universe in semi-tortured English, the latter being only her fourth language after Russian, French and Sanskrit. Very soon the talks had been held three times a week.
Lodges had quickly appeared in half a dozen other major Peruvian cities and by the next year it had established a presence throughout South America. Exactly a year after the founding of the organisation on 1st September 1872, The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima opened its first branch in the United States, at 51 West 14th Street, New York.
Britain had also enthusiastically embraced this exciting new spiritual current, opening its first lodge, not in London but in the Yorkshire mill town of Bradford on 3rd February 1874. A London branch had finally come into existence by the autumn.
Europe had proved to be equally amenable to the countess’s new breed of spiritual science. Lodges had sprung up Scandinavia, France, Germany, Finland and the Iberian peninsular by 1875. By 1890 it had spread worldwide – except, curiously, to the countess’s home country where possibly due to extreme cold or endemic despotism it had never gained much traction.
Hypergnosticism had enjoyed a swift, smooth and steep trajectory marred only by a persistent scandal resulting from sordid revelations from her long-serving and long-suffering maid Svetlana. When refused a rise in wages, Svetlana had gone to the newspapers darkly informing them that the countess’s claims to be in control of supernatural phenomena were entirely bogus and that she had introduced psychotropic drugs into the guests’ drinks.
The accusations had subsided after Svetlana had been confined to an institution for the criminally insane in Arkansas. But even years later the scurrilous claims had still provided ripe and ready ammunition for the opponents of Hypergnosticism.
Miss Bulstrode-Savage watched the skeletal Mrs Bland sitting behind her typewriter licking and sealing the flaps of a large pile of envelopes containing the latest edition of New Truth. Later, after applying stamps and handwriting the addresses, she would pile all 678 into a large box, which she would then load on to a sturdy postal trolley before breathlessly pulling it the half mile to the Post Office in Marylebone High Street.
She would return via the greengrocer’s in Fenton Street where she called three times a week to pick up the sole sustenance of the two occupants of 66 Fortescue Square. Mrs Bland had often pondered on why the strict fruitarian diet insisted on by the original tenets of Hypergnosticism had such contrasting effects on different individuals. Why was it that she weighed in at a mere seven stone while her formidable employer hit the scales at nearly three times that? Was it perhaps because she ate three times as much as Mrs Bland?
“Have you made all the necessary arrangements for NAF?” the head of the English Tendency asked her as she began the arduous task of stamp sticking. The NAF in question was the National Advisory Forum held at The Brotherhood’s headquarters in mid-April every year and attended by representatives of individual lodges or from the various federations of detached members.
Nothing was ever concluded at these meetings. This was largely due to the fact that by the late 1970s the rules had been deftly revised by the General Secretary allowing the holder of that office to have absolute veto over any vote taken by NAF – a power she exercised liberally and frequently.
During that same period the rule book of the English Tendency of The Hypergnostical Brotherhood of Lima had mushroomed from 21 to 227 individual regulations covering 102 pages of closely-spaced typing. Few disagreed that it was the most comprehensive rule book of any spiritual organisation anywhere in the world.
Georgina Bulstrode-Savage had also used her exclusive executive powers to heavily amend the organisation’s Memorandum & Articles of Association to doubly ensure that policy was directed entirely from the centre.
“We’ve had three new applications to attend the forum, madam,” said Mrs Bland, averting her eyes from the General Secretary’s glowering look behind the pince-nez. “It’s the first time it’s happened since 1998,” she added hesitantly.
“Oh, and you think I don’t know that, you stupid woman!” exploded The Brotherhood’s self-appointed spiritual head. “I presume they’re fully aware of Rule 91 (b) (vi).”
Rule 91 (b) (vi) stated that: “No member of the society shall be eligible to attend the National Advisory Forum until they have completed 14 years of continuous membership with an exemplary disciplinary record.”
Mrs Bland swallowed hard, knowing full well what would inevitably follow.
“The applicants point out that under Rule 94 (d) (ii) NAF has the power to waive that requirement in exceptional circumstances,” she ventured.
“You don’t need to remind me of the rules, Mrs Bland,” she replied sourly, pursing her lips in agitation. “I wrote them. Odd, though, that all three individuals cite the very same rule. Rather a coincidence, don’t you think? It can only mean one thing.”
“What’s that, madam?”
“That they’ve been talking to each other. How on earth did that come about?”
“I’ve no – ”
“I bet I know who’s behind it,” growled Georgina Bulstrode-Savage, forcing herself into a standing position and staring hard at the faded black and white photograph of Countess Bugarov on the office wall. “He’s been a thorn in our sides for far too long.”
After Mrs Bland returned from her arduous errand bearing a trolley squeaking under the weight of apples, bananas, oranges, pears, grapes, pineapples and red grapefruit, she assembled them on the dining table for the evening meal. She watched her indomitable boss sink her yellowing teeth into a Granny Smith’s.
“I’ve noticed you’ve rather neglected the domestic chores this week, Mrs Bland,” she said with a mouthful of apple. “I don’t want to have to dish out another disciplinary warning.”
“I’ve been rather busy what with – ”
“Nonsense! You’re becoming bone idle and I won’t stand for it.”
Mrs Bland timorously reached for a grape and inwardly cringed at the work load ahead of her. It was a near Herculean task keeping a four-storey building the size of a hotel clean when all you had to work with were a pair of threadbare dusters and an infirm Bex Bissell carpet sweeper manufactured to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953. It was equally challenging washing all the clothes in the Victorian zinc bath in the basement and having to boil water in large copper saucepans on the gas-fuelled range on the floor above.
It would have been onerous for a woman half her age. But now having reached her late-eighties she found it increasingly difficult to deal with her daily duties.
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