A Gaggle of souls …..

An Angel came visiting last night.

He (I am sure it was a “he”) was clad in fiery red, deeply tanned and with long flowing hair. He was enormous and cut a very impressive figure, floating there at the foot of my bed. He seemed to be glowing all over but there was no specific halo around his head that I could see. I was more preoccupied with his expression which was rather supercilious and contemptuous – at having to waste his time on me, I suppose.

But I got over my astonishment faster than he got over his disgust. Well,” I said, ” What can I do for you? I don’t make donations when I am in bed. And very rarely even when I am not. Cheap party tricks are not my thing and if you are meant to be ‘Christmas Past’, you are 6 weeks too early”.

His contempt was tinged with irritation. Nay!”, he exclaimed in stern and ominous tones, Accept thy Fate. I am come for thy soul”! His booming voice reverberated around my skull.

But I was not to be intimidated in my own bed and in no mood for any unearned reverence. Besides my head was throbbing and I was not pleased. Aha, said I, Then I do have a soul. I’ve never met him you see. Have you?”

He must have been expecting a little more shock and awe and a little less lip. “I am come for thy Immortal soul,” he repeated. “To mark it as Mine and to give thee Warning. As thou soweth, so shall thou reap!

“You mean as I sow, so shall my soul reap,” I corrected him. “I suppose my transition must be due. You must be my travel guide. Do you have a brochure regarding my options? Or a web-site? Is there a basic package or can I acquire extras? Do I need to get dressed? I shouldn’t need my wallet, surely?”

He seemed just a little taken aback. Perhaps he was more senior than just a simple travel guide. “Dispute not!” he growled. “Thy time is not yet come. I am come to mark down thine soul as belonging to my Gaggle” he declaimed. You will understand that this was a transcendental conversation without conventional words. So my interpretation of “gaggle” could be slightly off. He could have meant “team” or “army” or “tribe”, but I think “gang” best captures the intention. Perhaps he meant “gaggle”. Was gaggle the collective noun for souls? I wondered. Yes, that sounded about right.

  • A Gaggle of souls.
  • A Flight of Angels.
  • A Congregation of Saints.
  • A Pantheon of Gods.

I wondered if I had the hierarchy correctly.

My Angel was not to be deterred. “Thy time will surely come,” he continued in his best Richard Burton-“Under Milk Wood”-like tone, “and when it comes thine soul is Mine. I have impressed my Mark upon thy soul and all shall know it. My every wish is thy command.”

I hadn’t felt a thing but my head was still throbbing. Still, I was remarkably composed. The news was portentous but was nothing really new. I had been brought up on these stories of souls and Angels and Saints during my school-days with the Jesuits. In fact, having my own personal Angel to call on me was rather gratifying and a status symbol, I thought. His Gaggle or any other Gaggle of souls wouldn’t much matter I reasoned. Just the fact that my visitor was an Angel with no visible forked tail or pointy Spock-like ears also portended well. I was, it seemed. destined to be with the good guys. What was critical though was what connection there was between me and my soul. And how did his Gaggle differ from other Gaggles? Was there a competition between Gaggles?  And how would a win be decided?

“Tell me more, I said in my best psychiatrist manner. Where is my soul now? What do souls do? What do you want my soul to do? How many souls in a gaggle? And how many Gaggles are there? And how do you compete with the other Gaggles? How many innings? What are the rewards? Or the penalties? “ My questions poured out.

My Angel looked down at me from his great height with some disdain. Souls are Immortal,” he intoned. “They have existed since the beginning of Time and always will. Thine will be under My command and at my Whim – when thy time comes. Souls don’t do anything. They are not required to do anything. They are above doing Anything. They just are. And they are not constrained by Space. They can Flit and Fly anywhere or everywhere – wherever they are. And they are Completely Immortal. Deathless. For Eternity. Till the Cows come home. Till the Fat lady sings. Till the end of Time.” He paused. He seemed unsure if he had capitalised all the appropriate words and whether he had got his point across. My souls in My Gaggle are in a state of Eternal Grace and Perpetual Bliss – except when they are not. They are at one with the Cosmos. Forever.” He hesitated and then continued in a rush, “Or till they are returned to inhabit another  body corporeal and the Eternal Bicycle begins again, forever and forever till the end of Time.  Thy soul is tethered to your body and from thence shall it be freed – when thy time comes.”

I thought his command of language and meaning and the resultant communication were rather poor. “Let’s get this straight,” I said. “So my soul is separate from and a prisoner of my body and is not free?” I put on my skeptic face. “Moreover my body does not seem to be in communication with my soul. So why then should I care what happens to my captive, separate, immortal soul when I am gone and it has been set free, only to be made captive again?” I asked in my best Clarence Darrow imitation.

I was beginning to doubt if my Angel  really was an Angel.  He wasn’t very quick. He was getting confused and tried to drown me out with sound. “For as thou poor mortal livest shall thy immortal soul be bound into grace or damnation or bliss or misery, for all eternity or until it shall be bound again to a body corporeal of my choosing”, he thundered.

I saw my opening. “Aah! I understand. My life so far has led to my poor, captive soul being designated to be in your particular gaggle or gang or whatever. And to whatever level of grace and bliss that entails. Until you decide that my soul will be trapped in yet another body. And then it will no longer be my soul but someone else’s?  So my temporary, captive, immortal soul is just in transition within my poor mortal body. Right?” 

He was not amused. “Thou art being obtuse,” he tried to thunder but there was a shade of whinging creeping in now. “The manner of thine life shall decide whether thy soul shall suffer or be in bliss. Thy behaviour in this life shall decide which Angel thy soul shall serve and what the prospects of thine soul shall be. Thou and thine soul are One. Well, at least until thou perishes and thy soul then becomes One with someone else. As thou dost shall thine soul be rewarded – for all Eternity; or until it is held captive by another body corporeal.

Now, this was getting to be too much. My soul was obviously not even exclusively my own. Just borrowed for a while. Actually for a very little while. And if my own Angel was reduced to reincarnation mumbo-jumbo then I was in for a bad time in his Gaggle. He would probably threaten next that my soul was destined to be bound to a cockroach. But how would that threaten me? And with population increasing as it now is, it  shouldn’t be too long before my soul gets trapped in another body,” I said. 

I decided to wax poetic as well. “Why then should I care about this temporary, captive, unknown soul of mine? And of what significance your so-called immortality?” quoth I. If there cometh an end to Time – and thus to Eternity – and my Soul ceaseth to exist, then how canneth it be immortal? Doth not my spirit – as I define it – already exist, and hath it not existed forever and from before the beginning of Time and shall it not continue forever and forever and beyond the end of Time? The puny soul thou seekest and which is merely eternal, cannot be my mighty spirit which stretches beyond the bounds of time.” I liked the sound of being beyond the bounds of time.

He seemed somewhat confused now so I continued in my best Gandalf imitation and inserted capitals wherever I could. “For such, from Before and Beyond Time, is the Concept and Substance of my Immortality. Your immortality, Angel, is merely eternal and bound by Time and decidedly inferior. Besides, being in eternal grace and perpetual bliss sounds rather boring. No big deal! And anyway my Time is not yet come. And maybe when it comes I will get a  different Angel and join a different Gaggle.” I felt rather pleased with myself. 

It was obvious that “grace” and “bliss” were the critical parameters for souls to experience and aspire to, with “eternal damnation” and “misery” being the other ends of those scales. What could the KPI’s be, I wondered, for grace and bliss? “What have I to do with my soul?”  I asked reasonably. “Or its level of grace or misery when my time has gone? And what is bliss for me may be misery for my soul. Or the other way around. And since my Time is not yet come this  mortal body shall decide and my soul will just have to lump it? You really shouldn’t talk to me,” I said. “Go talk to my soul.”

The Angel was now fuming. He was as red as his fiery cloak – did I mention that he wore a cloak. “How dare thee bandy words with thy Angel?” he whined, petulantly. “Know thee not of thy immortal peril? Instead of grace and bliss thy soul mayest be condemned to Eternal Damnation and Desperate Misery. There are no other Angels for thee but I.. I mean me .. I mean Us”.” He was beginning to bluster now. “Thou hast no choice but to be Ours. And to obey Our every command, to carry out whatever task We may set thee and to return to whatever corporal body We may designate. When thy time has come”.

Even with his capitals and the Royal plural, I was unimpressed. It seemed the oneness of my temporal body and my supposedly immortal soul was fundamentally suspect. Moreover even the immortality of souls seemed somewhat limited. Apparently, it only lasted as long as Time did. What happened before the Big Bang or would when Time ceased to exist was clearly beyond the Angel’s comprehension. It also seemed that the world of souls had many inherent injustices. They had not even established any fundamental Rights of Souls. Clearly Angels ranked higher than souls and could order them about. But what were the sanctions if a soul disobeyed? What recourse would a poor soul have? Was there a higher authority he could turn to, a Cosmic Court of Soul Rights? How did a soul get promoted to be an Angel? Were there different grades of Angels? How many Angels reported to a Saint? How did one get to be a Saint – apart from first being Pope? Were there no other tasks for ambitious souls – apart from grace and bliss?  Could souls be created and destroyed? Or was their number fixed? How did souls and bodies get matched? Did the bodies of animals and birds and insects – a la Buddhism – count? What was the universal all-souls unemployment rate?

The questions were multiplying. It was time to end this pointless dalliance with an Angel who was clearly, at best, only a beginner and, at worst, a fraud. . “Well I think you are just a fraud or a figment of my imagination,” I said, “and I am going to ignore you. In the worst case I demand and shall get a more experienced, more competent Angel, with a proper Gaggle. Whenever my time comes”.

I must have said just the right thing. There was a long “poof” as if of escaping air and the Angel seemed to deflate and diminish in size. His glow was fading. He got smaller and smaller and I had to sit up to see him disappearing into the floor at the foot of my bed.

“Clap your hands if you believe in Angels” he whimpered as he imploded into nothingness – and I woke up.

It must have been that fifth whiskey. 

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