Extracts from Mystical Circles – What is Dream Yoga, as Practised by the Members of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love?

What is dream yoga? Does it really exist? The answer is yes. It is one of the practices of Craig’s group The Wheel of Love, which I describe in my novel. I have investigated dream yoga myself in the past. It originates in Tibet, and through it one aims to achieve wholeness and self-knowledge by mastering the art of “lucid dreaming”.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

When the group gathered around Craig at the back door at six a.m., Juliet was encouraged by the brightness and freshness of the sky. A steady heat, enlivened by a crisp breeze, ensured that most walkers had chosen T-shirts and shorts this morning.

Craig, in bushwalking khakis, swept his arm out over to the north west, where a fence separated the car park from a thick stand of horse chestnuts and field maples. “That’s where we’re going today.”

Juliet spotted a footpath accessed by a stile. Beyond the trees, the side of the valley rose steeply through pasture to a wooded ridge. Her concentration returned to Craig, who was now telling the group that the first part of the walk was to be conducted in silence.

So that meant she wouldn’t get the chance to quiz Zoe further on what she really felt about last night.

Craig led his followers along a track that disappeared among the trees. Zoe walked way ahead of Juliet, who couldn’t see whether or not her sister was sticking close to Craig. Beth, she noticed, seemed to be missing, though Oleg was present. Everything about him suggested depression, even his tired-looking floppy beige hat. So much for the effect of last night’s Dynamic Meditation.

They tramped for several minutes, sometimes through dense undergrowth that contained a lot of bramble, and eventually emerged on the top of the ridge. A glorious panorama of hills and fields spread out before them. But Craig didn’t allow them long to admire it. He instructed them to gather round.

“This is where it gets interesting,” murmured Zoe to Juliet, before Juliet moved forward to put her mike in front of Craig’s mouth.

Now, in a moment I’ll ask you to start walking again,” said Craig. “But this time I want you to walk backwards. Don’t turn round. Just trust me. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

Juliet shot him a look. He seemed serious. And they were all obeying. She had no option other than to join them, sticking close to Craig so she could be ready with the mike for his next utterance.

After about ten minutes of this, Craig’s voice rang out again. “That’s it, everyone. Stop. Who found it difficult to trust me? Who struggled with an urge to look behind, to check they weren’t going to crash into anything, or fall over a sheer drop? Laura? Sam? Zoe? As I expected. And who thought it was extremely silly? Juliet? Good. You’re here to unlearn everything you’ve been taught to believe about the world and how to behave in it, from the moment you were born.”

Juliet caught sight of Oleg. He was in deep gloom.

She stepped aside with her mike. “You don’t look enthralled, Oleg,” she said. But before he could reply, Craig’s voice cut in again and she swung round once more.

“See that beech tree? Look at the very topmost branch. Concentrate on those leaves. Next, imagine a spot in the centre of your forehead. Visualise a silver cord extending from it, reaching out, further and further, and finally connecting you to the leaves at the top of the tree. Keep your eyes on them. Now walk very slowly toward it, never letting your eyes drop.”

Juliet joined them, unable to notice the reactions of the people around her until they’d completed the exercise. Then Craig seated himself on a fallen trunk, and asked how they’d felt when asked to do it, and during the walk; and whether those feelings had changed now they’d stopped. Juliet could detect no sign of dissent among them, apart from Oleg, who continued to look miserable. He seemed to be weighed down by some heavy problem; she resolved to get him to open up about it as soon as she had the chance.

Craig sprang from the fallen log. “I want you to do this every day. As you walk around, think: This is a dream. Whatever you’re doing, say to yourself:  I’m dreaming this. Any questions?”

Juliet looked around, mike at the ready. Silence. Surely, someone other than herself must have doubts? But nobody expressed any. Were she and Don the only people in this community who still saw things from the perspective of the outside world?

“This,” said Craig, “is part of my strategy to teach you all the art of lucid dreaming. Remember, if you master this art – the art of knowing you’re in the middle of a dream, and then taking command of the dream at that point – I tell you, if you master this art, death will be a breeze.”

Not one of his followers spoke, or moved. A dreamlike quality had settled upon them all.

Craig spoke again. “If you follow what I’ve taught you this morning, lucid dreaming will become second nature.”

Extracts from Mystical Circles – What is Dynamic Meditation, as Practised by Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love?

What is “Dynamic Meditation”?  I describe this in my novel, as Craig leads a session for the members of his group The Wheel of Love. I observed this supposed “emotional release therapy” myself in the past, whilst investigating the practices and beliefs of the sannyasins who followed the guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Dynamic Meditation took place that evening in the barn.

Surely, thought Juliet, as she stood at the rear of the spacious meeting room, with her portable recorder and mike, the original builders of this glorious sixteenth-century tithe barn would never have imagined that such use would ever be made of it. She gazed at the roof, a dazzling crisscross of beams and wooden vaulting. Yes, the tenant farmer may well have held barn dances; but surely nothing of the nature of what Craig was leading his followers into right now.

By nine o’clock the lights had been dimmed, and the sound of heavy metal music echoed up to the roof trusses, ricocheted off the hayloft and rebounded all around the stone walls. The hayloft, or upper room, could be accessed by two spiral staircases, one at the west side, and one at the east. Juliet had positioned herself beside the foot of the west one. She was trying to make herself heard as she explained her digital recording equipment to Don. Following Llewellyn’s words, he’d clearly felt sufficiently emboldened to try this session, but meant to stay at the back watching and listening.

He moved closer to Juliet in order to hear her words.

“This machine is a Nagra Ares BB Plus,” she said. “I record on flashcards. Each has only about one gig of memory, not that much, so I’ve brought several for all my interviews.”

“And your mike? Will it cope with the noise levels?”

She laughed. “It’s omnidirectional. I’ll hold it as close as possible to Craig when he’s speaking, if I get the chance. Must admit I’m a bit doubtful whether I’ll pick up any speech.”

“Me too,” he said cryptically.

She smiled.

“However,” he continued, “Craig dropped me a few hints. So I steeled myself.”

“Certainly looks and sounds chaotic.” She gazed at the scene in front of her. She suspected that tonight would yield nothing her listeners could make sense of. But her concern for Zoe was far greater. What would her sister get up to with Craig in an atmosphere like this? And as for Craig himself, she’d be watching him very closely; for she found it impossible to believe he wouldn’t take advantage of his position, especially with the women, in such circumstances.

And as if to confirm Juliet’s worst suspicions, Laura, her hair wilder than ever, was already tearing off her cotton print dress. Juliet feared Zoe would soon follow her example. She and Beth, however, had so far both kept their lycra leotards on. But, to Juliet’s confusion, Zoe was curled up in a foetal position in the corner, sobbing as if her heart would break. Should Juliet go over and comfort her? Or was this all part of the Dynamic Meditation and meant to serve a cathartic purpose?

Her instincts told her it was the latter. The other members of the group were scattered across the available floor space, in a variety of postures and states of undress. Several danced; some had curled themselves into tight balls, and others writhed across the flagstone floor like snakes. Juliet followed Craig with her mike, as he strode around amongst them, looking authoritative and crackling with sexual energy, in a bottlegreen leather jacket and Levis, shouting at each in turn.

She recorded him as best she could, whilst trying to keep an eye on Zoe. But her sister, it seemed, won no more from him than anybody else; and neither did Laura or Beth. To Craig’s credit, and Juliet’s mystification, he seemed to share his attention equally.

His attention consisted largely of a verbal lashing. With each person he varied his remarks, depending, as he explained to Juliet a little later, upon their emotional situation. At Beth, who clearly had a problem with self-esteem, he hurled personal abuse; when Sam confessed fear and timidity, he compelled him to imagine the kind of exposure he most dreaded; finding Oleg full of anger, he provoked him to an even higher level of rage. The Slav then strode over to Beth and accosted her. Juliet watched closely. She’d already picked up emotions simmering between these two. What would happen now, in this overwrought situation?

But before she could satisfy her curiosity, her attention was distracted. Laura, in a desperate attention-seeking measure, had finally peeled off her lacy knickers. But even this failed to win a special response from the group leader. However, the same could not be said of Al. Laura then gave herself over to what looked like a Dionysian frenzy. Edgar rolled around the floor giggling hysterically, creating a surreal effect with his monastic appearance. James, too, added to the madness of the scene by kicking his legs in the air and screaming like a child having a tantrum in a highstreet store, without any regard to the state of his tailored trousers or natty cravat.

The only question in Juliet’s mind was at which point one of the men would snap, leap onto Laura, and sexually assault her. Or settle for Craig instead, as some, in her view, might well do. She’d already begun forming opinions about their sexuality. It was when she began to focus on Craig’s, that she felt ambivalent. He was supposed to love her sister. But…  Her mind went foggy beyond this. All she knew was it was a big but.

Meanwhile, miraculously, here in the feverish atmosphere of the barn, no assault, sexual or otherwise, ever happened.

Oleg now seemed to be performing t’ai chi; James was grinning inanely and blowing bubbles, and Al, who’d begun the evening in a benign frame of mind, was beating his head against the wall.

At this point Craig turned the music off, and Juliet hurried across to him with the mike. Before she could speak he plunged himself into a lotus posture, and apparently into a state of deep meditation. Meanwhile, the participants lay around weeping or working out their distress in whichever way seemed best, or emerging slowly from hysteria. So Juliet moved among the group members instead with her mike, though there seemed no need to ask any of them to describe their feelings to her. Eventually all sounds faded into silence. Juliet set her Nagra on automatic voice-activated recording. Craig allowed stillness to reign for several minutes. Then he opened his eyes, stood up, and, looking around among his followers, began to speak.

“This Centre has been going for exactly fourteen months tonight. Fourteen months from the day James and I moved in. In the time that’s elapsed since then, the Wheel of Love has become a tribute to the dynamic power of change.”

“Who has changed?” asked Juliet. “And in what way?”

“Guilt has gone,” announced Craig. “Feeling bad about yourself because of the negative messages you once received, is in the past. Your former life can no longer hold you. All that matters is now.”

His glance swept once more around the meeting space. “By coming here and joining us, you’ve shown you correctly identify your longing. You recognise your birthright. And you want to regain your inheritance. You seek spiritual experience in your own bodies. We all do. I’ll guide you to a place where you can say, not I believe but I know.”

Absolute concentration gripped the members of the group.

Then he said, “Remember, we create our own reality. That’s what I taught you. And what I stand by.”

The expression in his eyes intensified, as for a moment they settled on Juliet. Then they moved to the middle distance again. “What you give out, you receive back. Simple as that, once you’ve learned to understand and harness the universal system. Your new life starts here.”

With that he dismissed them all.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Beth, a Member of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love who Feels Unloved – will she Find Healing in Craig’s Community?

Beth doesn’t really know why she’s here; she’s edgy, tense, anxious. Is she searching for the healing that Craig promises? And is she prepared to do the mysterious “work” on herself that Craig requires? She doesn’t want to tell Juliet about her past. She hero-worships Craig, but he’s inaccessible. There is one in the group who would love her in the way she longs for… but is she able to respond to him? She is in a spiritual community where all members are supposed to “share love equally” yet Beth feels unloved and unloveable. 

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Juliet exchanged a wave of acknowledgement with Laura, seated opposite the American, before turning her attention to the next diner, beside Laura.

This was a sharp-faced young woman with dark hair pulled tightly back in a French plait, which emphasised the severity of her expression. She gave Juliet a frosty stare. “I’m Beth. Beth Owen,” she snapped. “I prefer not to say anything else about myself.”

Well, thought Juliet, Beth wasn’t very friendly. How had Juliet managed to earn her hostility so soon? Beth continued to look tense and suspicious. Perhaps she misunderstood what Juliet was trying to do. But if she didn’t say anything, Juliet couldn’t put her mind at rest.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Juliet shifted position so she could also observe Beth, who’d so far remained silent. She wanted to see if Beth was reacting to Oleg in any way. But no, her eyes were on Craig. Beth was in love with Craig, Juliet had no doubt about that. Poor girl. What prospects did she have, with Zoe so ahead of the game? Her sister was chatting animatedly to Craig. Sparkling and pretty, Zoe had everything going for her to win first place in Craig’s affections.

Suddenly Beth leaned back as Don became caught up in a conversation with Rory. She faced Juliet in a conspiratorial manner. Her eyes hardened, and she spoke in a low, tight voice. “When you interview us, Juliet, do hold off from asking us about our past won’t you?”

“Why?” asked Juliet.

“Because none of us here are supposed to remember it. Craig teaches us to cut ourselves off from that.”

“But your background’s one of the first things my listeners will want to know about.”

The colour of Beth’s face deepened. Juliet guessed that to be the effect of the wine. She decided to try the direct approach. “How do you feel about Craig, Beth?”

Cold hostility glimmered in the girl’s eye. “What’s that to you?”

“I’ve been invited here to ask questions,” said Juliet gently.

Beth drained her glass of wine and refused to look at her again. Instead she switched her glance to Oleg, who’d left his seat at the end of the table, and come up to speak to her. She gave him full attention for the first time during the meal. He leaned down towards her, and laid his hand on hers. She jumped as if someone had laid hot metal on her bare flesh.

He spoke in a low, urgent voice. “Why so nervous when I touch you, Beth? Relax.”

Instead of having the desired effect, this seemed to destabilise her further. She pushed her chair back and sprang to her feet. “Goodbye, everyone.” With that, she headed round behind Juliet’s chair, whirled past The Lady and the Unicorn, and vanished through the doorway into the sitting room.

Extracts from “Mystical Circles” – the Charismatic Craig has a Strange Gift for Sudden Changes of Appearance – is he a Shaman?

Craig has a strange and unsettling habit of changing his appearance in front of Juliet’s eyes. What is this all about? It is certainly a gift that he has, and a skill that does come from an arcane body of knowledge. You will have to read “Mystical Circles” to find out exactly how Craig does this, and what it means. But it is a phenomenon I have myself witnessed in the past.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Then she dropped her fork. Craig’s features had changed. She wasn’t at all sure how, but his face was unrecognisable. She stared. Her fingers had turned cold. All the charm of his handsome features had melted away, and now she saw something that looked to her like an ancient face, like a stone carving on a rock in the rose-red city of Petra in Jordan.

Most creepy of all, Zoe appeared totally unaware of it. So did Rory and Don.

Juliet continued to stare at Craig, dumbstruck. As she did so, his former identity returned, shifting back into place like the next frame on a movie reel.

“Thank you, Rory, that’s enough.” Craig now evidently considered it time to insist upon a change of subject.

But Juliet could barely continue eating. Her fingers were trembling too. What had she just witnessed? Or had she imagined it? Had somebody spiked her wine?   Certainly, nobody else seemed to have noticed Craig doing anything untoward.

At this moment, Craig caught her eye. She read in his glance, Don’t worry. You’ll understand, later.

Zoe had now clearly noticed something. She looked suspicious.

Taking a grip on herself, Juliet lifted another forkful of food, trying to push down her disbelief at what she’d seen. She determined to find out later what had happened. But most definitely she couldn’t think of Craig in the same way again.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

“I can change my appearance at will,” Craig said.

Juliet felt a jolt in her abdomen. “You mean suddenly look like a different person?”

He nodded, keeping her within his gaze. “Completely different. It’s all about having a fluid and flexible ego. The shamans have mastered it. Once you’ve learned the skill, it’s like a classic sorcery tale. Shapeshifting. Close friends will fail to recognise you.”

A creepy sensation travelled up her spine. He released her. She flexed her shoulders and arms for a few moments, trying to calm her breathing. She didn’t trust herself to pursue the subject further. “Shall we sit down again?” she suggested.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

She struggled to settle her inner turmoil. But, instead, whilst groping towards some kind of exit from the fog gathering around her, she slipped further in. Now she felt a curious instability, as if she was on a jetliner that had flown into an air pocket. In the next moment she received the impression that Craig’s features had melted and re-aligned themselves.

Instead of looking at him, she believed she faced someone infinitely old and wizened, and Peruvian in appearance. The image of an ancient carved face on a rock in an Inca city, presented itself to her. It shifted again, and a new face emerged, that of a shabby, travel-stained New Age traveller.

With a desperate effort of the will, she regained her awareness of Don beside her. But he was set into a freeze frame. His hand had risen, perhaps to admonish Craig, but had then been arrested in mid-air. He wore a glazed expression.

Craig smiled, and as he did so the spell, or whatever it was, lifted. All returned to normal. Don’s hand dropped to his side.

Juliet realised she’d held her breath for several moments. She gasped the air back into her lungs. Her heart was pounding. Craig had done it again. Changed appearance. What was it with him? How did he do it? It frightened her. Her eyes were fixed upon his face. She hardly cared if he thought her rude to stare at him.

Then Don spoke. “Well, Craig? What’s your answer?” It was as if nothing had happened. Hadn’t Don noticed? She was astounded.

Craig interlocked his fingers, and laid them lightly upon his knee. “I believe we must learn to live at a high level of uncertainty,” he said.

Characters in Mystical Circles – will the Advent of the Rev.Theo Save or Shatter Craig’s esoteric Wheel of Love Community?

Juliet has already heard quite a bit about Theo from various Wheel of Love group members before he first appears on the scene. And what she learns about him raises her curiosity.  What exactly is this “wilderness experience” he has only recently emerged from? Why is James surprised he managed to get ordained? What can he possibly have in common with the members of Craig’s group? And what is he doing here anyway?

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Before we begin,” said Craig, “I’d like to make an announcement: one I feel sure will delight you all. On Monday evening, we’ll have Theo Lucas with us again. He’s agreed to come and be our guest speaker for the week.”

A buzz ran round the table.

James snapped his fingers. “Excellent. The Reverend Theo Lucas,” he said. “Splendid man. Though I still can’t believe how he managed to get himself ordained.”

There was a good deal of table-thumping and laughter at this, until Craig’s voice dropped into the swell of sound. At once, hush descended. Juliet allowed her eye to skim the diners. Craig’s presence and personal style exerted a powerful effect upon them.

“The Wheel of Love is a tribute to the dynamic power of change,” observed Craig. “And Theo fits in with that perfectly. We all bear witness to it ourselves. Which one of you can say you’re now exactly where you were on your life’s journey when you first arrived?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The group burst once more into animated chatter, alongside much clattering of cutlery and glasses. But Juliet felt faintly oppressed by her vulnerability. She had no idea what to expect over the coming days. How would she balance her commitment to do interviews with the need to keep track of Zoe?

One thing was for sure. She certainly wouldn’t be seduced by Craig’s brand of healing and wholeness, if that was what it was.

She turned to Don. “Have you met Theo?” she asked in a low voice.

“No. But this lot seem to give him high marks. Doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it?”

Leaning forward, Rory supplied some new information. “I met Theo at a talk Craig gave in Tetbury last November. Chatted to him for twenty minutes. Wondered what he was doing there. Then I discovered he’d had a wilderness experience. Lasted eighteen months. Crisis of faith. And I understood.”

“You did?”

“Yes. Felt I’d met a soul mate.”

This startled Juliet. “He doesn’t sound like a regular sort of clergyman.”

“He isn’t,” said Rory. “Though of course my knowledge is limited.” His lip curled. “Haven’t darkened a church door for years.”

“Theo sounds more than a little unorthodox,” she remarked, “if he’s willing to come here.” She heard Don chuckle.

“Oh?” Rory queried.

“Well, for instance,” she said, “it’s clear from the brochure that Craig believes we’re in charge of our own destiny.”

“Quite right, he does,” agreed Rory. “But Craig welcomes anyone who’s in retreat from the outside world.”

This intrigued her. “What of you, then, Rory? Are you here to renounce the world?”

“Sort of.”

“You do it in style.”

Before he could reply, Don distracted her, holding out the dish of risotto Beth had passed him.

“Like some, Juliet?” he asked.

“Oh, yes please. That smells and looks very good,” she said.

Rory, she noticed, had handed the serving dish on without helping himself, and his plate remained empty. She wondered whether he knew something about it the rest of them didn’t. He put his water glass down, and continued. “After Theo was ordained he served for a couple of years, then vanished from the face of the earth for several months. When I met him, I understood he’d not long returned.”

James interjected. “He visited us here in February. Rory missed him that time. You remember that was the week you fell ill, Rory?”

“Oh yes. Dreadful week.”

Laura spoke. “We’ll all be delighted to see him again. Such a dear man. Not a spark of hellfire in him. He knows all about me. He’s very forgiving.”

Rory fiddled with his linen napkin. “I expect you’ll find him interesting, Juliet,” he said. “And you too, Don.”

“Last person to judge.” Don shrugged. “Count me out.”

Before Juliet could say more, Don added, “Put it this way. When Theo shows up, he may need protecting. From my influence.”

She started at this. Rory took upon himself the task of satisfying her curiosity. “Why?” he said. “You’re not tattooed with the number 666, are you?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

When they were ready to set off, Juliet looked straight at the clergyman.

Theo wore an open expression on his face. “What your sister wants,” he said, “is to experience the spiritual reality here on this earth, in her own body.” He opened the door and stepped out.

She followed. “And has Craig delivered on it yet?” she asked.

There was a pause, as she wondered how Theo would take this question, together with all its implications.

Theo smiled. “I don’t think so. If he had, I imagine she would have told you, Juliet.”

He began to stride across the car park. Juliet had no time to consider her riposte to this evasive answer. She hurried to keep up with him, holding the omnidirectional mike. She checked the sound levels as he walked briskly past the north side of the house, and across into the orchard. It looked as if he’d settled on the same route that she, Al and Laura had taken last night on their trip to the top of the valley to look at the stars.

“Zoe’s told me nothing, Theo. So I’m relying on you. How do your beliefs and certainties stand up against Craig’s?”

“Certainties?” Theo’s tone continued amicable. “I’m human. And God’s God. He doesn’t need me. He chooses me. So sometimes I say: What’s going on? and Why am I doing this? or Why is it so hard?

“And yet,” she said, surprised, “you seem to have it all together. Mostly.”

He smiled, and headed on through the orchard, toward the gate at the other side. “I’m glad it looks like that to you,” he said.

“If this isn’t the whole picture,” she said, matching his pace, “how come you’re in the position you are?”

“A long story,” he said, “and one my bishop’s probably running through right at this moment.”

“I don’t imagine your bishop’s very pleased that you’re here at the Wheel of Love.”

Theo gave a chuckle in response to this. “I’m a renegade,” he said. “I’m all about working with people on spiritual journeys. I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.”

“How do you find Craig’s teachings?” she asked.

“Some have wisdom in them,” he replied crisply. “And you?”

“I admire Craig’s idealism. I don’t accept all his theories. Nor do I believe in God.” They reached the gate.

“What sort of God don’t you believe in?” asked Theo.

“The Judaeo-Christian one, of course,” she replied, feeling slightly ruffled by this question. “The fire and brimstone one. The one who punishes the children for the sin of the fathers, even to the third and fourth generation. The one who is supposed to be so loving, not even a sparrow can fall without Him knowing about it, but He still lets the good suffer and the evil go unpunished.” She stopped. “You know the one I mean.”

“I certainly do,” he said. “And I’ve known what it’s like to feel very angry with Him.” Theo unlatched and opened the gate. “Are you angry too, Juliet?”

Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet Rory, a Member of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love who Believes he has “A Thorn in the Flesh”

When Juliet first meets Rory Anstruther-Jones, she is intrigued, but doesn’t trust him. He speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh” – but what does this mean exactly?

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Then Juliet’s glance was drawn on to the next diner. He for his part gave her a watery smile. His pink shirt was teamed with a blueandwhite polkadot bow tie. Even though seated, he was head and shoulders above his neighbours. How, she wondered, did he manage with all the low ceilings in this farmhouse? She tried to recall the date she’d seen engraved above the front door. Ah yes – 1532. Certainly they must have been shorter in those days.

“Rory. Anstruther-Jones,” he said.

Ah-ha. The one she had to handle with caution. “Good to meet you, Rory,” she replied.

Tall as he was, Rory presumably managed somehow. She observed too that he’d blow-dried his blond hair. He leaned forward, across Don, extending long, slender fingers to clasp her hand. She registered the slippery quality of his touch. She was also struck by the curious unreality of his porcelain complexion.

He drew back into his seat. “I suffer from a thorn in the flesh. Won’t tell you what it is right now. You can guess as you get to know me a bit better. Do I suffer from migraines? Am I epileptic? Or gay, perhaps? I don’t have one leg shorter than the other. You can see I’m not a dwarf. So, each time we meet, you might get a little closer to guessing my problem.”

“Well, Rory, what can I say to that?” murmured Juliet. She was unsure how she felt about his remarks; certainly, she didn’t trust him. But there again, neither did she trust anyone else.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Rory lowered his voice to a confidential whisper and again leaned across Don. “You’d be surprised what fits in with Craig’s teachings.”

She raised her eyebrows, careful not to commit herself.

“Since I arrived here,” Rory went on, ignoring her caution, “many strange things have happened to me. Now, I think that has to do with the effect of being in Gloucestershire, which is renowned for occult activity.”

“Planning to bite her, are you?” said James from across the table.

Craig silenced him with a look. “What kind of occult activity, Rory?” he prompted.

“Such as,” persisted Rory, “the fact that things started going wrong for me as soon as I arrived. You remember?”

“I do. Very well,” said Craig cryptically.

“Last June it was. You told me you had no room.”

“Not true. I simply asked you to commit to a short fixed-term stay.”

Juliet looked from one to the other, alerted. Why had Craig not been keen for him to stay longer? Clearly Rory had ignored this and stayed on anyway.  If Craig wasn’t happy about it, why hadn’t he chucked Rory out? She didn’t doubt the strength of his personality. She found it difficult to believe he wouldn’t deal firmly with wastrels and hangers-on, if such Rory was. But for now, the matter must remain a mystery.

She turned back to Rory, who continued unperturbed. “I remember opening my mouth to give Craig a piece of my mind, and my words came out all wrong. I was jabbering incoherently.”

“Yes,” said Craig.

A sharp silence fell. James applied butter to his bread roll in short, terse strokes of the knife.

“Can you account for that experience of Rory’s, Craig?” asked Juliet.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet Craig, Charismatic New Age Guru who Leads the Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love

Craig McAllister leads the New Age spiritual group “The Wheel of Love”. Here, he promises, “you may take your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven.” (with apologies to Philip Pullman). Personally, when I was investigating New Age philosophies, groups and lifestyles, I would have found it hard to resist that promise. I heard many alluring promises during my years of spiritual research. And I discovered that inspirational speakers, gurus & esoteric teachers are, first of all, skilled in the use of words. 

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

The buzz of conversation from the other side of the inner door increased. Juliet knew the group were already taking their seats at the dining table, ready to start the meal. She glanced through the doorway, entranced by the many candle flames. How sensuous the room looked in this light; the gleaming timbers held even greater depth and richness. And the fragrance of the roses and apple logs in the fireplace seemed more intense.

At that moment, Craig appeared before her, hand outstretched, a smile of greeting on his face. She stopped short, disconcerted by a tingling sensation in her stomach. If not for the evidence of her eyes, she could have sworn she’d just brushed against a lightly charged electric fence.

“Welcome to your first evening meal with us, Juliet.”

“Thank you.”

“Come in, come in,” he said robustly. He took her arm. “Do sit here, close to me.”

Juliet was still recovering from her initial reaction to his appearance. She wondered whether her being invited to sit near Craig would upset Zoe. But not at all. Instead, her sister touched her shoulder. “I’ll slip in, opposite you.”

“Sure,” said Juliet. She looked for Don. Perhaps pinpointing his location would ease her mind and her nerves. Then she saw the Yorkshireman, near the top of the table. Zoe was already seating herself.

Juliet followed Craig past The Lady and the Unicorn. Craig moved with a fluid grace. For her part, she hoped her manner gave no clue to the insecurity she felt. This would be her first official introduction to the group. As she glanced around those sitting at the table, it suddenly occurred to her that the only non-speaker was the large, hand-carved wooden Buddha which sat in the chair opposite where she stood. How bizarre, she thought.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

She struggled to settle her inner turmoil. But, instead, whilst groping towards some kind of exit from the fog gathering around her, she slipped further in. Now she felt a curious instability, as if she was on a jetliner that had flown into an air pocket. In the next moment she received the impression that Craig’s features had melted and realigned themselves.

Instead of looking at him, she believed she faced someone infinitely old and wizened, and Peruvian in appearance. The image of an ancient carved face on a rock in an Inca city, presented itself to her. It shifted again, and a new face emerged, that of a shabby, travel-stained New Age traveller.

With a desperate effort of the will, she regained her awareness of Don beside her. But he was set into a freezeframe. His hand had risen, perhaps to admonish Craig, but had then been arrested in mid-air. He wore a glazed expression.

Craig smiled, and as he did so the spell, or whatever it was, lifted. All returned to normal. Don’s hand dropped to his side.

Juliet realised she’d held her breath for several moments. She gasped the air back into her lungs. Her heart was pounding. Craig had done it again. Changed appearance. What was it with him? How did he do it? It frightened her. Her eyes were fixed upon his face. She hardly cared if he thought her rude to stare at him.

Then Don spoke. “Well, Craig? What’s your answer?” It was as if nothing had happened. Hadn’t Don noticed? She was astounded.

Craig interlocked his fingers, and laid them lightly upon his knee. “I believe we must learn to live at a high level of uncertainty,” he said.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet James, a Shady Academic with a Dual Personality

This is the first in a series of character studies from my mystery romance novel Mystical Circles.

Meet James Willoughby, a shady academic with a dual personality, signalled by unexpected appearances as a tramp. In James’ “socially acceptable” personna he has high social status; a don at Edinburgh University, and Craig’s former PhD supervisor, he is an imaculate dresser, urbane, charming and turned out in Saville Row tailoring. But when will James swap this personna for the reek of the gutter? When will he descend into the ranks of the squalid, the hopeless, the marginalised? Meet someone for whom Jung’s theory of “The Shadow” is a reality:

EXTRACT no. 1 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Come in,” called Edgar. The door banged back, and a dishevelled figure lurched through the doorway, dumping a well-stuffed plastic carrier bag down onto the quarry tiles.

“James!” cried Laura. “Why must you do this at meal-times? Every time you do, I swear you get filthier and filthier. It’s a good thing Craig never saw you in this state up in Edinburgh. Otherwise, I’m sure none of us would be here now.”

3 

Being Drawn In

James wore a filthy, tattered gabardine coat, and his hair hung in oily dreadlocks. He seemed to have smeared his face with greasepaint. His teeth were a sickening mixture of black and yellow. The eyes he turned upon Juliet were filled with undisguised curiosity.

It was those eyes which gave him away. Despite being bloodshot, they fizzed at her, keen and intelligent – totally out of keeping with the rest of his image.

“So you’re Juliet Blake, our radio interviewer?” His tone was unmistakeably cultured.

“Yes,” she said, astonished.

“James Willoughby. We’re all on first-name terms here, so call me James. I used to teach Craig at Edinburgh.”

Teach him? She was appalled. But, controlling her feelings, she remained cool. “How do you do, James?”

“Excellently, thank you.”

She tried not to flinch as they shook hands – especially as his needed washing.  “Would you mind telling me why you’re dressed like that?”

“Ah,” he said. “You haven’t had the chance to meet me in my socially acceptable persona yet have you?”

She shook her head. Did he have a socially acceptable persona? It seemed barely believable.

“Well, let me tell you,” James said, “I dress very smartly when I’m in that guise.” He dragged back the seat next to her, and slouched into it. Juliet tried to avoid recoiling.

“I “I first started dressing up like this,” he continued, “shortly after I was appointed to my position at Edinburgh.”

“Why was that?”

“I saw that everyone around me hunted honour and prestige. So it seemed a good idea to try shame and squalor instead. My plan was to do it every few days.” He paused. “And then, well, I must admit I got hooked.”

“That sounds fascinating, James, but I still don’t see how…”

The Shadow,” interrupted Edgar. “That’s what you call it, don’t you, James?”

“Exactly.” James seized upon the prompt Edgar offered. “The Shadow is Jung’s term for the dark side of ourselves. And in my case, it’s had one or two extra advantages. I’ve picked up a few cameo roles from film production companies – and not least when the BBC’s been filming up my way.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” Juliet asked. “Earning money from it?”

“Not if you’ve got an Equity card it isn’t.” He leered at Juliet, displaying his ghastly dentures once more. She could only speculate that he must have a very well-stocked stage makeup kit.

He grabbed the cheeseboard, smearing it with grimy marks.

“No, James,” cried Laura. “Wash your hands first.”

“If you say so, lady.” He scraped his chair back, lurched to his feet, and sloped across to the sink, where he began to run the hot water.

“So,” Juliet said, when he returned with cleaner hands. “You were Craig’s mentor, were you?” She struggled to suppress the laughter bubbling up in her.   

“Oh yes,” James said, becoming serious. “I met a need in him, one of the many unmet by his father, I might add.”

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EXTRACT no. 2 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

A current of approval rippled up and down the table. Over the other side of the Beaujolais, next to Zoe, a smartly-turned-out man in his forties banged on the table with his spoon. “Well said, Craig.”

“Thank you, James. Why don’t you start the introductions?”

James! Juliet could barely believe it. He was so different from the vagrant at the lunch table, she would never have identified him as one and the same.

From his neatly-combed hair, distinguished features and elegant bearing, to the shiny brass buttons of his navy blazer, he looked like the sort of person who might command respect anywhere.

She quickly recovered from this slightly troubling reflection. “I met your alterego at lunch, didn’t I, James?”

“Indeed you did, Juliet.”

She glanced at the dark smear from his collar up to his cheekbone. He evidently hadn’t washed all traces of his disguise off.

She wondered when he got his Equity card. Presumably he’d fitted his drama training in prior to acting as Craig’s PhD supervisor.

Extract From the First Two Pages of “Mystical Circles”

This is the first in a series of extracts and character profiles  from Mystical Circles.

 

1

Arrival

Juliet was trembling. It had all happened so fast. The explosion of anger between the two men. The rush for the car park. The engine roaring into life. As the rear lights picked her out, she dodged aside just in time. The next thing she heard was a loud bang. And the sickening crunch of metal giving way. And a fountain of fragmenting glass.

He’d slammed on the brakes too late.

And it was all her fault.

 

**********************************************************************************************************************

 Ten days earlier

Juliet’s palms were slippery on the steering wheel; she wiped the sweat away from her upper lip. The air conditioning might offset the strong heat of this June day, but not the burning anxiety she felt. Even the spectacular beauty of the high limestone hills and deep valleys as she headed west from the A417 had failed to calm her. A sign half hidden by the trees proclaimed that she’d found ‘The Wheel of Love’. She turned in at the entrance.

Further down the valley, she could see the two steeply pitched gables of the farmhouse with its mellow honey-coloured stone. It looked idyllic. But that held no pleasure for her; her stomach twisted with apprehension for Zoe.

She drove round the house to the gravel parking area at the back. A Bentley and a Saab were parked up against the woodland fence. She was about to nose her Renault Mégane in between them then realised there wasn’t quite enough room, and reversed into the space on the other side of the Saab. She drew to a halt and turned the engine off.

She pulled a copy of an email from the door pocket. A few phrases leapt out at her with the same force as when she’d first read them.

Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds…massive change of plan…I’m in love…Craig invited me out for supper…got to know him a whole lot better…gorgeous, sexy, intelligent…all I ever dreamed of…moved to his place…fantastic farmhouse a few miles from Cirencester…group called Wheel of Love…changes people’s lives…won’t be coming back…glad to leave London…paradise here…staying for ever…why not visit?… Material for a documentary here!..I’ll tell Craig you’re ringing…know what you’re like with a story.

See what you think!

Love Zoe.

Juliet bit her lip, folding the sheet of paper. Zoe’s tone still needled her as much as when she’d first read it. Zoe knew her sister wouldn’t be able to resist coming to find out what was going on. And the suggestion about a documentary had worked out just as Zoe had proposed. Still, Juliet didn’t like it, not one bit.

She was deeply suspicious of this Craig guy, for a start.

Do Creative Writers Ever Feel they’re On the Inside? Or are they Always On the Outside of Everything Looking In?

This morning I was listening to Howard Jacobson, comic novelist and Booker Prize winner, on Desert Island Discs, and among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this, “I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.” He gave this reply to the interviewer’s question, “Now you’ve won the Booker, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”

What a wonderful response she received to this question! And this seemed to me a true writer’s response. I identified with it absolutely. This is what I have spent my life doing. When I was researching for my newly-published novel Mystical Circles, I was an observer. I was on the outside looking in. I investigated many New Age spiritual groups and lifestyles and philosophies, and I always saw myself as being on the outside looking in – just as Juliet does in my novel. How anxious Juliet is not to get involved, not to be drawn in, to keep her objectivity as a journalist. It almost seems a personal threat to her to get involved. Yet as more than one character says to her,  “You have to come alongside us to truly understand.”

My character the Rev. Theo sees this clearly. “I’m all about people on spiritual journeys,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.” It is no contradiction to him, a young clergyman, to enter a New Age spiritual group and to come alongside the members of the community and to live as one of them.

So you, my readers, will probably have spotted the apparent contradiction here. Do I believe in being an outsider looking in? Or do I believe in getting involved, coming alongside? The truth lies in paradox. And this is the paradox Howard Jacobson embodies. Of course he is on the inside! Of course he has arrived! And yet – he has the soul of a writer. And so he feels always on the outside looking in.

Do you identify with Howard Jacobson at all when he describes himself feeling like this, despite being successful in the eyes of the world?