Some excerpts from George MacDonald’s “Lilith”.
The titular character, Lilith (the princess), was an “angelic creature”, but she desired to be a goddess and turned to evil. She was finally subdued by Mara (a representation of good), but she refused to repent.
“Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?” said Mara gently.
The princess did not answer. Mara put the question again, in the same soft, inviting tone.
Still there was no sign of hearing. She spoke the words a third time.
Then the seeming corpse opened its mouth and answered, its words appearing to frame themselves of something else than sound.—I cannot shape the thing further: sounds they were not, yet they were words to me.
“I will not,” she said. “I will be myself and not another!”
“Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real self?”
“I will be what I mean myself now.”
“If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the misery you have caused?”
“I would do after my nature.”
“You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!”
“I will do as my Self pleases—as my Self desires.”
“You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?”
Finally Lilith saw herself and began to repent. Mara said:
“She (Lilith) is far away from us, afar in the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch.”
Soon it was Mr. Vane (the main character)’s turn to sleep. He went to sleep willingly and his experience, as he later recorded, is as follows:
I grew aware of existence, aware also of the profound, the infinite cold. I was intensely blessed—more blessed, I know, than my heart, imagining, can now recall. I could not think of warmth with the least suggestion of pleasure. I knew that I had enjoyed it, but could not remember how. The cold had soothed every care, dissolved every pain, comforted every sorrow. COMFORTED? Nay; sorrow was swallowed up in the life drawing nigh to restore every good and lovely thing a hundredfold! I lay at peace, full of the quietest expectation, breathing the damp odours of Earth’s bountiful bosom, aware of the souls of primroses, daisies and snowdrops, patiently waiting in it for the Spring.
How convey the delight of that frozen, yet conscious sleep! I had no more to stand up! had only to lie stretched out and still! How cold I was, words cannot tell; yet I grew colder and colder—and welcomed the cold yet more and more. I grew continuously less conscious of myself, continuously more conscious of bliss, unimaginable yet felt. I had neither made it nor prayed for it: it was mine in virtue of existence! and existence was mine in virtue of a Will that dwelt in mine.
Mr. Vane had his share of repentance, too. Somehow the experience of Lilith (seeing herself for what she was, and despised what she saw) and of Mr. Vane (sincerely regretting the wrongs he had done not because of the penalty of such wrongs but because those he wronged now became so dear to him) remind me of … purgatory. I do not say that MacDonald intended these scenes as an illustration of purgatory, or that he promoted the concept of purgatory. He was a Protestant minister!
Then, of a sudden, but not once troubling my conscious bliss, all the wrongs I had ever done, from far beyond my earthly memory down to the present moment, were with me. Fully in every wrong lived the conscious I, confessing, abjuring, lamenting the dead, making atonement with each person I had injured, hurt, or offended. Every human soul to which I had caused a troubled thought, was now grown unspeakably dear to me, and I humbled myself before it, agonising to cast from between us the clinging offence. I wept at the feet of the mother whose commands I had slighted; with bitter shame I confessed to my father that I had told him two lies, and long forgotten them: now for long had remembered them, and kept them in memory to crush at last at his feet. I was the eager slave of all whom I had thus or anyhow wronged. Countless services I devised to render them! For this one I would build such a house as had never grown from the ground! for that one I would train such horses as had never yet been seen in any world! For a third I would make such a garden as had never bloomed, haunted with still pools, and alive with running waters! I would write songs to make their hearts swell, and tales to make them glow! I would turn the forces of the world into such channels of invention as to make them laugh with the joy of wonder! Love possessed me! Love was my life! Love was to me, as to him that made me, all in all!
And what happened after those who slept woke? The story told us that each one woke at their own time. When Mr. Vane woke, he found that the children whom he befriended in his journey have also been awake. Together, they set on their journey to the City.
But hark the herald of the sun, the auroral wind, softly trumpeting his approach! The master-minister of the human tabernacle is at hand! Heaping before his prow a huge ripple-fretted wave of crimson and gold, he rushes aloft, as if new launched from the urging hand of his maker into the upper sea—pauses, and looks down on the world. White-raving storm of molten metals, he is but a coal from the altar of the Father’s never-ending sacrifice to his children. See every little flower straighten its stalk, lift up its neck, and with outstretched head stand expectant: something more than the sun, greater than the light, is coming, is coming—none the less surely coming that it is long upon the road! What matters to-day, or to-morrow, or ten thousand years to Life himself, to Love himself! He is coming, is coming, and the necks of all humanity are stretched out to see him come! Every morning will they thus outstretch themselves, every evening will they droop and wait—until he comes.—Is this but an air-drawn vision? When he comes, will he indeed find them watching thus?
It was a glorious resurrection-morning. The night had been spent in preparing it!
Fluttering butterflies, darting dragon-flies hovered or shot hither and thither about our heads, a cloud of colours and flashes, now descending upon us like a snow-storm of rainbow flakes, now rising into the humid air like a rolling vapour of embodied odours. It was a summer-day more like itself, that is, more ideal, than ever man that had not died found summer-day in any world. I walked on the new earth, under the new heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said, lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his.
A great angel guided them to the glorious City. But when Mr. Vane almost reached the City, he felt a strong hand hold him and drew him to a door. Mr. Vane was pushed gently through the door, and suddenly he found himself in his (our) own world. I can imagine his regret in finding himself back to his normal life. Then I thought, was it all only a dream? Mr. Vane, or rather, MacDonald, thought the same thing. For in the next (that is, the last) chapter, he told us:
Can it be that that last waking also was in the dream? that I am still in the chamber of death, asleep and dreaming, not yet ripe enough to wake? Or can it be that I did not go to sleep outright and heartily, and so have come awake too soon? If that waking was itself but a dream, surely it was a dream of a better waking yet to come, and I have not been the sport of a false vision! Such a dream must have yet lovelier truth at the heart of its dreaming!
In moments of doubt I cry,
“Could God Himself create such lovely things as I dreamed?”
“Whence then came thy dream?” answers Hope.
“Out of my dark self, into the light of my consciousness.”
“But whence first into thy dark self?” rejoins Hope.
“My brain was its mother, and the fever in my blood its father.”
“Say rather,” suggests Hope, “thy brain was the violin whence it issued, and the fever in thy blood the bow that drew it forth.—But who made the violin? and who guided the bow across its strings? Say rather, again—who set the song birds each on its bough in the tree of life, and startled each in its order from its perch? Whence came the fantasia? and whence the life that danced thereto? Didst THOU say, in the dark of thy own unconscious self, ‘Let beauty be; let truth seem!’ and straightway beauty was, and truth but seemed?”
Man dreams and desires; God broods and wills and quickens.
When a man dreams his own dream, he is the sport of his dream; when Another gives it him, that Other is able to fulfil it.
Mr. Vane concluded his story by stating that his experience (or his dream) changed the way he saw his life. He did not try to re-enter his dream, but he looked forward to that day when he will be finally awake.
I have never again sought the mirror. The hand sent me back: I will not go out again by that door! “All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.”
Strange dim memories, which will not abide identification, often, through misty windows of the past, look out upon me in the broad daylight, but I never dream now. It may be, notwithstanding, that, when most awake, I am only dreaming the more! But when I wake at last into that life which, as a mother her child, carries this life in its bosom, I shall know that I wake, and shall doubt no more.
I wait; asleep or awake, I wait.