On a Clear Day, Part 7: Into the Principalities
01 Jul 2015 · by Brennan Storr · Be the first to comment!
In my limited experience, Saturday nights on Bourbon Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter are one of the more miserable experiences available to vacationers: herds of drunken conventioneers, Midwestern tourists and college kids testing out the alcoholic version of training wheels shuffle past bored-looking women in bikinis who half-heartedly try to entice them into whatever dank boozer they happen to work for. Over everything wafts a stink cloud made of equal parts vomit, urine, and garbage. If hell has an abattoir for the souls it has tortured past their capacity to feel pain, it smells like Bourbon Street.
After having spent Saturday in various workshops and presentations at the IRVA conference, I was more or less done with sitting but still too wound up to go to bed, so I decided to spend some time drifting around the French Quarter. For whatever reason, I always end up, over and over, in places I dislike – the desert, Las Vegas, Wal-Mart – so it wasn’t with any great surprise that I found myself leaning on the bar in some hideous, Tiki-themed spot on Bourbon Street nursing a Bloody Mary and watch two good-looking blondes in their early 30s fend off horny idiots.
The first suitor I saw try his hand was a refrigerator-shaped Italian man in his late 40s who redefined the word handsy but made up for it buying the pair drinks. Blonde 1 and Blonde 2 played along good-naturedly with the behemoth, who had that ingratiating sense of jovial entitlement common to Italian men whose mothers never slapped them enough, until he laid one of his meaty claws on Blonde 2’s cellphone; I heard something about wanting to show her a “hilarious” YouTube video.
“You’re being rude!” she shouted in his face. “Please leave.”
Anger flashed in the Italian’s eyes, followed quickly by the hurt look of a little boy who doesn’t understand why mama’s no longer laughing. He puffed out his chest and kept moving. When I looked over a few minutes later the band had started playing “All of My Exes Live in Texas” and the two women had caught the attention of a pair of hipsters. After surviving the ten-foot-tall octopus, brushing off two tattooed skinnyboys was like swatting slow, unimaginative flies. Sensing my entertainment was at an end, I exited the bar and started walking towards the edge of the quarter to catch a cab home. It was behind Jackson Square, where, at night, the palm and tarot readers set up their candles and little aluminum tables so they can look into the futures of curious tourists, that I met Gregory.
Gregory is one of the artists who sell their wares outside the square during the day, and though the other artists had long gone home, he was only just now packing up. One of his pictures – a paint-splatter depiction of the crucifixion scene – caught my eye and I stopped to take a closer look. Gregory is medium height, black, his skin stretched tight over his body. He walked up behind me as I looked at the picture and I expected the end-of-day hard sell. To say I was wrong doesn't quite cover it.
“You like it?” he asked.
“I do. There’s something about it that really grabs me,” I said. “I don’t know art and I’m a lousy Catholic but I sure like this.”
He cocked his head and smiled.
“You a Catholic? Me too, man. Well, I try to be. I struggle sometimes, you know?”
I nodded my head.
He went on:
“I know I’m blessed, I know it, but it’s hard to know why and stay worthy of it, you know?”
I kept nodding, which seems to be the safest bet in these situations.
“You know how I know I’m blessed?” he said. “Because Jesus, he appeared to me. This picture you’re looking at? I paint these because Jesus appeared to me one night and let me examine him. Yes he did!”
I hear things like this more than you might imagine.
“How did he appear to you?” I asked. “In a dream?”
“No, no – no dream,” said Gregory. “It was in a cabin in the woods. I was staying there with friends and early one morning, I woke up and Jesus was standing there. My friends, they were still sleeping but I was awake and there he was. I asked if I could paint him, and he said I could, and I asked if I could examine him, and he said I could. I said, ‘turn to the side now, Jesus’ and he did – chunk! Then I said, turn to the other side, and he did – chunk! He did that for a long time, letting me see him from all different angles.”
As he spoke, Gregory grew more excited – his eyes were wide and his nostrils would flare.
“What did Jesus look like? I asked, genuinely curious. I wanted to know if Gregory’s vision was of the bulk standard “beatific white guy” variety.
“He was dark! And rough, like a wild man! He looked like….he was….” Gregory trailed off for a moment, before suddenly snapping his fingers.
“One time I was climbing a ravine, and at the very top I looked over and there was an elk looking right at me. He was huge, and wild. Majestic! Jesus looked like that. Wild, and dark, and majestic, like some kind of animal. And after I had examined him, I felt my spirit flying out of my body across the field outside the cabin and down the hill. Down there, through the trees, I saw what looked like Roman soldiers, or maybe mercenaries – they was dressed in leather armor, like, and had spears. They was dragging mules behind them. They was coming for Jesus, so I went back to warn him, but he knew already. ‘Don’t you worry about me’ he said. Then he disappeared and my spirit slammed back into my body.”
Regardless of whether you believe it or not, there’s only one polite response to a story like that.
“That’s amazing!” I said, not realizing we weren’t quite done.
Gregory nodded vigorously.
“Mmmmmhmmm,” he said. “That’s how I know I’m blessed. But because I’m blessed, the devil, he tried to destroy me. One night as I was laying in bed, I heard the devil say to God – ‘You love him, you blessed him, well now it is my right to test him. To see if he is worthy.’ And God said, ‘You may test him, but you may not break him, and if he calls to me then I will come.’ So the devil, he RIPPED my spirit from my body and I felt myself flying across the universe. The place where I landed, it was all blue, this dark blue as far as you could see.”
By now Gregory had worked himself up into a state; the muscles in his neck stood out like cords and his hands waved wildly has he made his points.
“I didn’t understand what was going on…it almost looked like I was standing on water but I stomped my feet and it was solid. Then these…things started to bubble up out of the ground. It looked like a shoulder, then it was a head and breasts and then a whole woman, all blue. She was gorgeous. And then more women came from the ground, and men too, all perfect but empty inside. I realized the devil, he was testing me – he knew that I struggled with the carnal and this is how he was testing me. I tried to resist but I wanted them so bad. They were touching on men, trying to get me to give up, to do what I wanted to them. My legs were shaking.”
Gregory started knocking his knees in demonstration.
“They was just a-knocking. I was almost lost but then I called out, ‘God! God I am weak. Please help me! Then – BOOM! This big light came on above me, like a spotlight, and I heard a voice saying, ‘You knew you were not strong enough and you called on me. You have passed this test but there will be others.’ Then my spirit slammed back into my body and I woke up. Never got back to sleep again that night.”
As quickly has he had gotten worked up, Gregory calmed back down, which seemed to placate the tarot readers whose work had been disturbed by his performance.
“Now you tell me a story about you. Something I don’t know.”
That seemed fair, and though I’m not half the showman he is, I told Gregory how I came to be in New Orleans for a conference about people who have the ability to project their minds across time and space. I told him about my book, about the strange things that had happened to me since beginning work on it, and finally about the shadow people whose appearances forever changed the way I saw the world. He nodded the whole time, absentmindedly stroking his chin, and when I was done he put his hands on his narrow hips.
“Huh…I had heard of those but never seen them myself. You and me are alike, you know? Most people just live in the world, but people like you and me, we can’t help but push past it into the dark places. I call them the principalities. That’s where the angels and the demons and the rest of them move. We move through the principalities and sometimes it’s ok, and other times the things there see us and reach out. You best take care of yourself out there. The principalities are nothing to fool with.”
We never did get around to talking about the prices of his art.
As I walked to my cab, I found myself thinking about the word principalities and wondering why it sounded familiar. By the time I got back to my apartment I had found it - a quote from Ephesians. The word principalities appears a number of times in the Bible, but this particular passage - Ephesians 6:12 - was what Gregory's mention of the word had jarred loose:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places
I won't pretend to understand fully what it's getting at, but the rulers of the darkness of this world would figure heavily into a conversation I had the next day, about the neglected spiritual dimension of remote viewing.
Check back soon for the final installment of "On a Clear Day"