To the uninitiated, the gathering in a seminar room in one of the smaller Oxford colleges during the long vacation seemed to be a small group of academics meeting to discuss abstruse matters relating to their professional fields of interest, or – perhaps – a meeting of business people gathered to discuss some corporate strategy or other. Or, perhaps more realistically, a combination of both the foregoing, as possibly befitted the recent move in academia toward finding suitable necessary funds; certainly, the majority of the thirteen participants seemed to have dressed accordingly.
The four men in greyish well-fitting suits with ties announcing some alma-mater or some other form of inclusion: the black and red of an Old Malburian, the rather garish wide brown-yellow-blue stripes of another school, and the more subdued small green and white stripes (on a blue background) of a certain military unit. The older, bearded, professorial-looking man wearing well-worn tweed whose straight-grain briar pipe peeped out from his jacket pocket. The seven women who, while rather disparate in terms of age, all sported the corporate look: figure-fitting woollen skirted suits or shift dresses, all in neutral colours, together with sheer-tights. And, for some reason, all seven wore almost matching necklaces of small, fine, white, freshwater pearls.
Obviously, or so the uninitiated would have guessed, the two other women were post-graduates, or perhaps recently appointed to senior management positions. Not that it was their comparative youth or their most elegant colourful manner of dress that gave them away. Instead, it was a somewhat initial awkward self-consciousness, as if this was their first time attending such a triennial gathering. For they only vaguely knew one person there, having only met him once so very many years ago when he, after that concert of Renaissance music, had sought them out to present them with a leather-bound book and then silently take his leave.
As for this gathering, those two young women had received their unheralded invitation only weeks before, in early Summer following their successful Autumnal culling. An invitation anonymously hand-delivered to the town house they shared; intriguingly consisting as that invitation did of an encrypted message on high quality paper embossed with a certain sigil. The next day, a key to the cipher was left; an image of the three-dimensional esoteric ‘simple star game’; and while it did not take them long to understand its significance as the required ‘straddling board’ for a Vic cipher, it took them three nights of sleepless toil to break the code, for the English alphabet and the numerals zero to nine were mapped to certain squares of the seven boards of that game, ascertained by the star name of a board and by how the pieces in the image – each piece marked by symbols – were placed on them.
To the pleasurable surprise of the newcomers, the Oxonia gathering on that warm summer morning formally began not with words – not with declamations or invokations or even some speechifying speech – but rather with four of the women, who, having extracted their instruments from their cases and tuned them, very professionally played the Andante of Schubert’s Der Tod und das Mädchen. Which music set the cultured – the non-mundane – tone of the gathering, as it had at all the others.
No formal introductions, only the professorial-looking man – softly-spoken with a well-educated accent – giving a short informal talk, as if reminiscing to family and close friends. Then, a brief discussion concerning certain strategic things, ended by that gathering’s always cultured end: bottles of Krug Clos du Mesnil opened, their contents shared. And there were invitations, of course, to dinner parties for those elegantly attired young ladies, who now most certainly belonged.
“The third phase is also where we can expand slowly, nefariously, in the traditional manner by the clandestine personal recruitment of suitable people, which in practice means those useful to us individually in our own lives, and potentially or actually useful to our Aeonic aims, and who also possess culture: that is, the four distinguishing marks which are (1) the instinct for disliking rottenness (an instinct toward personal honour), (2) reason, (3) a certain empathy, and (4) a familiarity with the accumulated pathei-mathos of the past few thousand years manifest as this pathei-mathos is in literature, Art, music, memoirs, myths/legends, and a certain knowledge of science and history…
We aid those associated with us or inspired by us to carry out particular esoteric and exoteric tasks and functions such as their individual discovery of Lapis Philosophicus. For we seek to not only preserve, and add to, the knowledge and the understanding that both esoteric and exoteric individual pathei-mathos have bequeathed to us, but to manifest a new type of culture and imbue it with such acausal energies that its archetypes/mythoi will enable, over an Aeonic timescale, a significant evolutionary change in our species, regardless of what occurs in the ‘mundane world’ in respect of such causal things as wars, revolutions, changes of government, and the decline and fall of nations and States. Which is why we are, in everything but name, a secret society within modern mundane societies; and a society slowly but surely, over decades, growing individual by recruited/assimilated individual.”
Image credit: Banais (Lady of The Wedding). A painting by Richard Moult.