The Apocrypha

A story does not spring out of cloth whole; it must be spun and woven, the threads placed this way and that until at last the story stands complete. But even then, that is not the end, for the story must change as it passes from speaker to listener spawning a hundred shadows and reflections, each a living thing born in the heart's own blood of its mother.

"The Apocrypha" in standard usage refers to certain non-canonical works in early Christianity. A couple of hundred years after a certain Jew died, a committee got together and decided which of the dozens of gospels then running around would be considered "true" and which "heresy". The best known loser of this religious battle were the Gnostic Gospels, but there were others as well.

Many of the passages in the Book of Heresies' Apocrypha are taken - usually modified, though not always - from other sources. Among these are Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Judiasm, Islam and the Gnostic Gospels, to name the ones I can spot myself, and there are probably others I can't. My guess is that this Apocrypha is named as it is because it includes passages from other religious traditions.

2-1 in the beginning
My name is Mary. I was named after another Mary, now gone.

My mother's name is Angela. In the late 1960's she worked as a nurse. She never told me the name of the hospital where she worked, but it doesn't matter. It might have been any of a thousand hospitals, and the beginning would have been the same.

This is the story my mother told me.

This is one of the confusing things about the Apocrypha. The author (editor?) of the Book of Heresies is Mary, but the Mary the Heresies talks about is actually the woman the author was named after.

2-2 angela begins
Passing by Mary on the street, you would not have looked twice at her, but when she looked at you, when her eyes met yours, there was a quality that lay within them that could not be measured with mere words.

Mary was pregnant. Pregnant from rape with twins and a month overdue. Mary had already told the hospital that she had no home, no family. Angela went to her and tried to be comforting, and Mary said to her:
"Rape is the most horrible thing you can imagine, but you don't have to imagine it all of the time."

Mary always spoke like that, her words twisting around what you thought she said with what she had, until you started to wonder why she was laughing.

Angela made light talk then, speaking of her friends in New York and other places. Angela asked Mary if she had been to New York City and Mary replied:
"I don't travel much."

Angela asked:
"Why not?"

Mary just smiled and said:
"Because the world is everywhere you are."

Mary always had an answer, even if it never was the answer to the question you asked, but to the one you should have asked.

Ironic, the mention of New York City here, given September 11. Although the version of the Heresies that includes the Recordings (the part following this one) did not emerge until after September 11, the Apocrypha (and the Principles) both pre-date it.

2-3 one chooses life, the other death
The doctor induced labor; Mary gave birth to twins early in the morning on the last day in April.

One boy, one girl. The girl was stillborn. She had been strangled by her own umbilical cord. When the doctor told Mary she said:
"One is choosing life; the other death."

Mary turned to the doctor and asked to hold the girl. The doctor handed her the dead child and Mary took her, stroking her forehead gently as she said:
"To the House of the Unfleshed,
To the place where the journey ends.
Never again shall you return,
Never again shall you make your way back.
Sleep now, my daughter. Sleep."

Later, the Circle would say that the death of Mary's daughter marks the beginning of the Choosing.

"The Choosing" is a tradition of heretics that is mentioned in more detail in the Recordings.

2-4 time and chance to them all
They said it was an electrical fire.

Smoke poured from the creche. Angela and the other nurses tried to evacuate the nursery. Mary came and stood, staring into the smoke. After a moment Mary stepped into the nursery, though the others attempted to stop her.

It was long moments before Mary emerged from the smoke, breathing normally. In her arms was a child, not her own. She handed the baby to Angela, who asked Mary:
"How did you get out of there alive?"

Mary replied:
"Step by step."

Angela said:
"But what of your own baby?"

Mary shook her head, and said:
"Who can straighten what he himself has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider:

A man of good heart perishing in his goodness, and a cruel man living long in his cruelty. Live for living, or live for death, for the race is not always to the swift nor the battle always to the strong, and time and chance happen to them all."

But as Mary walked past her, Angela noticed the tears running down Mary's face.

This last passage, of course, is very similar to one in the Christian Bible.

2-5 choose to fear, or choose not to
Angela asked:
"I don't understand how you can choose not to fear death."

Mary said:
"Choose to fear or choose not to. When we choose not to we have entered into a covenent with death; with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made life our refuge and living our hiding place."

2-6 a good name
Mary's child had died of asphyxiation in the fire.

The next day Mary was discharged from the hospital. As she left, Angela removed her identification card and placed it on the front desk, and quietly quit her job.

Angela walked up to Mary and asked her if she might go with her. Mary asked:
"What is your name?"

She said:

Mary smiled.
"That's a good name."

Angela says it was the second of May when Mary was discharged from the hospital, and so the Circle would later call the date to be the consummation of the Choosing.

2-7 departures and arrivals
Angela walked with Mary for hours until at last Angela asked:
"Where are we going? How long will it be before we get there?"
Mary replied:
"Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking already for the end?"

One of my heretic friends explained this one in this way: "It's not that the Heresies say nothing changes, it's that calling something 'an ending' just predisposes you to thinking of it like shutting a book. It's a question of perspective."

2-8 the name within the name
They came upon a park by the water, and there sat down. Mary knelt and picked up a nut from the ground where it had fallen and handed it to Angela. Mary said:
"Take this and look upon it. When you believe you understand, come back to me."

Angela took the nut and sat beneath the tree and watched. An hour later she returned to where Mary sat on a bench and told her everything she had learned. And Mary said:
"You can do better. Go back, and look again."

Angela returned to her place beneath the tree and watched again. This time she saw not the task, but the doing, and when at last she looked up she was startled by how much time had passed and went to Mary who said:
"Tell me what you see."

Angela said:
"When I first looked at it, all I saw was what it is. Now I see what it is, but also what it was, where it came from. I see the oak it would become if I planted it here, and I see it also as others see it and do not see it."

And Mary said:
"These people around us are like the blind, who have never known what sight is.

You do not see, being blind, but now understand that there is such a thing as sight. You know now that you have eyes, if you have but the will to see."

This passage would be instantly understood by anyone who has practiced Zen Buddhism for any length of time.

2-9 ignorance
Mary said:
"The fool does more harm in his ignorance than the monster in his wickedness."

If there is any "sin" in the Book of Heresies, it would probably be willful ignorance.

2-10 an open thing cherished in secret
A man passing by heard this and stopped. He asked:
"Where did you hear this? Through my own ignorance I have harmed more than than I meant to save."

And he sat and spoke with Mary until he asked if Mary would be there again tomorrow. When Mary said she would, he promised to return and left them there to return in the morning.

Mary turned to Angela and said:
"Where there is one, there are two.
Where there are two, there are three.

As others come to me, bring others to you. Make of yourselves a Circle and keep it, and in so doing be reminded that it is what we do that is important, not what we believe. It is not a secret thing laid bare by the world, but an open thing cherished in secret."

The "Circle" is referred to in more depth in the Recordings.

2-11 choice and action
Mary said:
"Choice is not action. Action is choice."

Choosing, alone, is not enough. You have to act on that choice, or "in the moment of decision, choose to act."

2-12 leadership
Angela asked:
"You ask of me something I have not to give; I am not a leader to call others to common cause."

Mary replied:
"Where have I said that one dines on leadership?

They that are the sustenances of life are what walk, what move, what rejoice, what laugh.

In all truth it is said, they are the lords, they are the rulers - they are what conquer."

2-13 kith and kin
Angela asked:
"Which are more important, family or friends?"

Mary said:
"There are the associations we are born to, and there are the associations we choose. Honor the one, but cherish the other."

2-14 freedom
Mary said:
"A man in prison for a crime he did not commit came up for parole. They did not believe that he was blameless, and if he maintained his innocence, they would accuse him of being unrepentent and he would remain in prison, but if he lied and claimed repentence he would be released.

Which path lies to freedom?"

2-15 thunder and perfect mind
His name was Julius. He asked Mary:
"You say so little of where you came from, of those who came before you. Who are you?"

Mary said:
"Are we where we came from? Are we those who walked with us, or those who brought us into the world? All of these are who we are, but none of them are all of who we are. I am you, and you are me.

For I am the honored and the scorned.
I am the whore and the priestess.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.

I am barren, and many are my children.
I am the bride and the groom, and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father and the sister of my husband, and he is my offspring.
I am the staff of his power in his youth, and he is the rod of my old age.

I am the voice whose sound is manifold and the word whose appearance is multiple.
I am the utterance of my name.

I am knowledge and ignorance.
I am shame and boldness.
I am strength and I am fear.
I am war and I am peace.

In my weakness, do not forsake me, and do not be afraid of my power.
For why despise my fear and yet curse my pride?

I am she who exists in all fears and the strength in all trembling.
I am the one who has been hated everywhere and the one who has been loved everywhere.
I am the one whom they call life, and you death.
I am the one whom they have pursued, and the one you have seized.

I am control and the uncontrollable.
I am the union and the dissolution.
I am the judgement and the acquittal.
I am a mute who does not speak, and great is the multitude of my words.

I am the speech that cannot be grasped.
I am the name of the sound and the sound of the name.
I am the sign of the letter and the designation of the division.
And I will speak that name.

For I am godless, and I am the one whose God is great."

I think I heard somewhere that this is a modified version of a really old Jewish passage, but I have not been able to track it down.

2-16 four circles
Mary said:
"Listen, all who would hear:

First, there is yours and mine.
Second, mine is yours, and yours is mine.
Third, there is no mine, and no yours.
Fourth, there is no me and no you.

Wherever you may hear this, know that some will call them this and some that. One follows another, yet the pursuit of even one is a life's work."

This is Sufism. The idea, as I understand it, is that first you have the rule of law, that is, there's your stuff here and my stuff there, and we respect each other's rights. Second, by sharing what each need, we are making both our lives better. Third, the whole concept of ownership is a construct, which isn't to say it isn't useful or important, but we need to recognize it as a social convention and not an immutable law of nature. Fourth, we are all connected and in some way the same thing. Where do you draw the line between what is you and what isn't? It's not as easy as it might seem. You might say your brain is part of you, but if you have a cancerous tumor from your brain removed, is that tumor you, too?

2-17 the world
Mary said:
"No one who possesses snow would find it difficult to exchange it for jewels or pearls. The world is snow exposed to the sun. The snow will melt until, at last, it will disappear entirely, while understanding is like a precious jewel that will never pass away."

Believe this is from the Quran.

2-18 divinity
Mary said:
"Divinity is not a thing separate from the world, it is the world. To turn to the divine is to turn to each other."

Religions tend to be either transcendent or immanent. Transcendent religions place the divinity (God, or what else have you) outside, beyond the universe. Immanent religions place the divinity wholly within the universe. (There are some varients of pantheism that are actually hybrids of this, but they are relatively rare.)

2-19 god
Angela asked:
"Does God exist?"

And Mary laughed.
"Do you exist?"

Angela said:
"Yes. I believe I do, at least. But I asked about God, not myself."

Mary said:
"Define your God for me."

Angela replied:
"God is omniscient and omnipresent, all-knowing and ever-present."

Mary said:
"If God is all-knowing and ever-present, doesn't that make the universe God?"

Angela laughed.
"No. The universe does not know, it simply is."

Mary replied:
"Can a person know?"

Angela hesitated.

Mary continued:
"Are you part of the universe?"

Angela said:

Mary nodded:
"Then, if you are part of the universe, the universe can, indeed, know things. We are the universe's way of being conscious of itself.

Your hand is a part of what you think of as you, but your hand is not, in itself, conscious of its own existence.

Does a molecule know where it is supposed to go, how it is supposed to behave? Being requires neither consciousness nor awareness - only being."

Mary smiled then:
"I am God. You are God. Everything that exists is a part of God, for God is that which is all-knowing and ever-present. To ask if God exists is to doubt the existence of the universe around you."

The Heresies are a varient of pantheism, strictly speaking. Pantheism holds that at some level, the universe is God, and divine. Different strains of pantheism go off in every direction, but the Heresies point is not that there is anything inherently mystical about this, it's simply that everything is connected in the sense of cause-and-effect, physicality, and movement. Anything you do will affect everything else, and even very small changes can have vast repercussions (for example, think how different things would have been today if Alexander the Great had not died as young as he had.) So, for a heretic, we're all part of the universe, so when we think, in a sense we're the universe's way of thinking. There is volition on an individual scale, but not really on any kind of global scale.

This means that the Heresies don't have to prove the existence of God at all, which in some ways gives it a substantial advantage over traditional Christianity and Islam, to name two examples. God, like so many other things, is redefined here in a way that does not insist that you check your brain at the door if you become a heretic.

2-20 applications of faith
Mary said:
"Inspired truth and revealed truth are not greater than reasoned truths. Intuitive or deductive, what is, is. Rapture and a greater glory cannot be had simply by the application of blind faith, and revelation is a poor substitute for understanding."

Christianity describes itself as a "revealed" religion, and claims to be more correct as a result of this. Blind faith equates with willful ignorance, which is, in a social sense, social irresponsibility.

2-21 truth and knowledge
Mary said:
"Truth is the mother; knowledge the father."

2-22 truth and ignorance
Mary said:
"Let each one of us dig down deeply after the root of evil which is within and pluck it out of one's heart from the root. If we recognize it, it will be unrooted, but if we remain blinded to it and refuse to see it, it will sprout and produce its fruit within us.

Truth is like ignorance; where it is hidden, it grows and gestates, and when it is revealed it emerges and is given freedom."

From the Gnostic Gospels.

2-23 truth and fable
Mary said:
"A story need not to have happened to be true."

If the title of this section wasn't enough, this should be; it doesn't matter whether this literally happened or not. Even asking the question deserves a smack on the head for missing the point.

2-24 peace
Mary said:
"If two make peace with each other within a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move!' - and it will move."

From the Quran.

2-25 the struggle
Angela asked:
"When will we begin to combat the wrongs that lie around us?"

Mary said:
"Better to ask how will you know, for what you are looking forward to has already come to be.

Your struggle is not against flesh and blood; your crusade is against the authorities of defilement and the spirits of atrocity."

2-26 the second responsibility
Mary said:
"It is not enough to be aware of the truth. Neither is it enough to practice the truth.

To seek the truth one must seed the truth. Seed it and spread it, engender and birth it. One must put forth the choice where others may see it.

As you have chosen, so too let others choose. The seeker's responsibility is to ensure t hat the choice is seen, but it is the supplicant's choice alone to seize upon the choice or turn away from it."

In some sense the Heresies are "evangelical", but mostly just to the degree that they are not exclusionary. There are no "inner mysteries" or "chosen people".

2-27 fall
It was fall, and cold. They had come to a shelter, and there Mary sat quietly with the people. She listened where there were those who would speak, spoke where there were those who would listen.

A scuffle broke out and a woman was struck in the face with a tire iron. The woman in charge insisted that a man who had not come within ten feet of the injured woman had done it - a man not liked by the woman in charge. The police were called, and then an ambulance.

Mary went to the woman in charge and said:
"You accuse one who is innocent not because he is guilty, but because he is convenient.

By accusing him, you accuse us all."

2-28 the accused
Mary turned to Angela and said:
"I will go to them when they come, and I will tell them I did what she would accuse him of doing."

Angela protested:
"But you cannot go. You are needed."

Mary said:
"One or a million, it is all the same. What matters is that we who had the capacity to act, acted. They will believe her as she accuses him, and they will ignore his pleas of innocence. They will see accusation as the same thing as guilt."

2-29 messengers of the light
Angela asked:
"If you go now, what can we do? What will we do, when you are gone?"

Mary said:
"Go now not to those who will not listen, but to those who will. Go to them and do as you would have done to you, treat with them as you would have them treat you. I send you out not as conquering soldiers, but as messengers; I am the Bow, you the Arrows, and it is into the hearts and minds of men and women that I fire you.

When you are in the dark, speak of light; what is whispered in your ears, proclaim from the rooftops. Do not fear those who can kill the body. Rather, fear the one who can kill the soul and yet leave the body blameless.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for the sake of another will find it."

The last line is a modification of something from the Bible, with the change to "for the sake of another" from the Bible's "for my [Jesus] sake".

2-30 in childbirth
Angela says:
"But what if people try to stop this from happening?"

Mary said:
"For a long time I have kept silent.
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, as in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
I will lay waste the mountains and hills
And dry up all their vegetation.
I will turn rivers into islands
And dry up the pools.
I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
And make the rough places smooth.

It is I who am the blacksmith
Who fans the coals into flame and
Forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer
To work havoc;
No weapon forged against you will prevail,
And you will refute every tongue that
Accuses you."

Change is hard; learning is harder. When you change or when you learn, it will rarely be easy, but so long as you don't give up, you haven't failed.

2-31 in the darkness
Angela asked:
"When will you come back to us?"

Mary said:
"Not to me should you turn your faith, but to each other. Look not to me for answers, but to your sister. Look not to me for succor, but to your brother.

Remember, there is no me and no you. What is, is. What was, was. What will be, will be. The boundaries that you see are only those of your own making. Let your hands be guided by the miracles that are always yours to give.

I tell you this, keep the Circle! Watch for what has been hidden, seek after that which has been lost. Give to others the gift that you have given yourself. Let others share with you what is theirs to give, so that you may share with them what is for you to give. Not for my sake should you do this, but for each other. In the darkness Death will come to you, she will take your hand and lead you to the House of the Unfleshed, to the place where the journey ends. Never again shall you return, never again shall you make your way back, but though you are gone, you will in truth have never left."

Mary is no messiah, nor is she a prophet or saint. She's, at best, the finger pointing at the moon, to borrow from a Zen Buddhist koen.

2-32 the benediction
Angela said:
"I will do as you say, Mary. But it is hard still to see you go."

Mary smiled, and then placed her hand on my mother's head and said:
"So soon have you forgotten what I taught you, Angela. Remember, there are no endings, only beginnings."

2-33 in the beginning
Mary approached the police when they arrived and there, in front of everyone, confessed to the crime. The police took her from there and into custody.

In December of 1972, on the Friday before Christmas Day, Mary vanished from prison.

That evening Angela held a Candlemass, lighting one candle for Mary, and others for every other loved one who had passed from her life. She placed the candles in the windows of her apartment, letting them burn until late into the night.

I was born three years later, in 1975. She named me, perhaps predictably, after that other Mary.

Until my twenty-fourth birthday, I had never known why my mother lit the candles in the window every year. On my twenty-fourth birthday she sat me down and told me, asking me to write it down as she spoke.

I do not know how much happened as she said it, but it does not, in the end, matter, for however it happened, it is a true thing.

At first, I thought the important thing was who Mary was and what had happened to her.

But Mary was not the truth; she was the Bow, I an Arrow, loosing a solitary message into the night, a message consisting of only a single word.

Tonight I will light my candles.

Candlemass was originally a pagan holiday that was partially absorbed by the Catholic Church. Certain neo-pagan groups celebrate it too. The traditional date for Candlemass is actually in February, but the heresies put it around the the Winter Solistice, which is right around Christmas.

Click here to go to part III, The Recordings