The Unlikely Occultist
What is it about a death that leaves those remaining at the mercy of time? A single moment, the release of a life, sending ripples through the universe. She hadn't contrived her visit to coincide with the first anniversary of her aunt's passing. Even if she had wanted to, with all of the organising involved—the scheduling of holiday leave, the booking of flights, the itinerary arranged to accommodate the wishes of her companion—such a feat of temporal intersection would have been impossible to pull off. Although another part of her couldn't resist wondering if some entity hadn't orchestrated the entire trip to serve some hidden agenda of its own. It was the part of her that felt connected to her great grandmother, Katharine, who had died the day she was born.
That it was exactly a year since her aunt Hilary had passed away had only occurred to her as she had entered the building with the others and one of her tour party announced the date to settle some discrepancy of her own. The twenty-fourth, the woman said. And it was June.
They were visiting the United Nations in New York, and she was at last arriving at the key destination of her holiday. She might have come alone. She wished she had. The tour was for Suzanne's benefit.
Heather stood aside a few paces on and let the others file by. Faces rose to the grandeur, the grey concrete of the exterior of the building giving way to sweeping curves and a fluted ceiling high above. Turning, she beheld tall panels of glass evenly spaced between concrete columns newly painted in yellow ochre, dusky pink and black. A colour scheme reminiscent of Art Deco. The windows allowed in an abundance of natural light. To her left, a flight of stairs led to the upper levels. It was all as splendid as she had anticipated, the building exuding an aura of serious, enlightened humanity. At least, that's how it felt to her.
Her awe was shattered by a commotion nearby as one of her tour party raised his fist and yelled, 'Down with the globalist agenda!' over and again. Heads turned. People shuffled off, shaking their heads. Some ran, scared. The man, large, bearded and middle-aged, made full use of the space around him to pace and rant. 'Don't get sucked in by the power elite! It's a cabal!'
'Oh, shut up,' someone said to his back.
The man swung around and yelled in his face, 'Wake up!' He stabbed the air at others. 'You, you and you. Wake up! The United Nations is a conspiracy. Who funded this place? Rockefeller and the Rothschilds! You,' he said, his wild stare landing on Suzanne. 'You need to wake up.'
'I'm fully awake, thank you.'
Heather cringed inwardly, hoping he wouldn't use her reply to home in on her.
Security descended before he could utter another word, knocking him to the floor and pinning him down and shooing away the onlookers. People muttered and rolled their eyes.
'What a nut job.'
'Yeah, but he has a point.'
'What was that about?'
He was whisked away and the atmosphere soon settled. The rest of the tour party gathered around the guide. Heather hovered behind some stragglers. Suzanne, an inch or two taller than the rest, was huddled in with the pack. Heather caught her gaze.
'I'll be over there,' she mouthed, pointing.
Suzanne glanced in that direction then edged through the pack to say in Heather's ear, 'I thought you were joining the tour.'
'It's the meditation room that interests me. That's all.'
'It's part of the tour.'
'I'm well aware of that.'
Suzanne eyed her appraisingly. 'This has something to do with that woman, doesn't it?'
'That woman, as you call her, is Alice Bailey, and yes, yes it does.'
'You've developed an obsession, Heather, if you don't mind me saying.'
Heather did mind. She was not a nut job. She was also well aware that Alice Bailey sat at the helm of the United Nations version of the New World Order conspiracy theory that man had been ranting about. Were they right to put her there? Of course not. But they were not wrong to put her at the helm of the United Nations.
The meditation room represented to Heather the culmination of a mission, a silent memorial of a spiritual activist, a woman who had dedicated her life to righting the wrongs of power, only to be shafted and duly shunted into the margins of history. If Suzanne wanted to label her appreciation 'obsession' then so be it. She left Suzanne and the tour and headed off, divesting her mind of her chagrin with every footfall.
The meditation room was situated past the security desks on the Eastern side of the lobby, discretely positioned to the left of The Peace Window. It was this mural of glass that drew the eye, an impressive artwork Marc Chagall had gifted the UN in memory of Dag Hammarskjöld. Heather didn't need to be told any of this by a tour guide. She knew more than she would ever have imagined possible about the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, given her complete lack of interest prior to last year. In the past few months she had come to admire Dag Hammarskjöld, not for his outward achievements, although they were remarkable by any measure, but for his spirituality, his dedication to the study of medieval mystics Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroeck, and, Heather strongly suspected, his affiliation with, or at least his sympathy for the mysterious occultist, Alice A. Bailey.
It was Donald Keys, a speechwriter for Hammarskjöld's successor, U Thant, who had alerted Heather to the Bailey connection. By then she was eight months into dealing with the curious assortment of books, magazines, journals and notes associated with the unpublished manuscript of Professor Samantha Foyle, bequeathed to the State Library of Victoria upon her death. Chair of Religious Studies at a Melbourne university, Professor Foyle specialised in alternative spiritualities and the subject of her latest research was Alice Bailey.
Back at her desk in the manuscript office in the upper reaches of the library, in the thick of unravelling the life of the occult figure, Heather had stumbled on New Age activist, Keys' speech – written in the 1970s and later posted online – in which he referred to Bailey's prediction that a leading Swedish disciple would soon be working in the world. Bailey had made her prediction in the 1930s, long before the birth of the UN. In his speech, Keys identified this individual as Dag Hammarskjöld.
Keys was one of the few notable figures who openly admitted to being part of Alice Bailey's coterie. He was almost brazen about it, given the secrecy of most. He even dedicated his book, Earth At Omega: Passage to Planetization, to Alice Bailey. When Heather made the discovery, she had succumbed to a frisson of satisfaction. It wasn't easy uncovering the identities of the occultist's notable followers and sympathizers. Unlike the glamourous mystique the charlatans enjoyed, Alice Bailey was the anathema of flamboyance. In true esoteric spirit, she had preferred obscurity, working behind the scenes to achieve her goals.
Which was more or less how Heather had found herself when working on Professor Foyle's collection, the secretive, almost furtive manner in which she had sifted through the contents of all those boxes cluttering her office, reinforced by her colleague Suzanne's dismissive attitude whenever she poked her head in and scanned about, taking in the chaos that was Heather's desk, and Heather's look of startled surprise as she peered at her colleague through her reading glasses.