Lorn is a 34-year-old native New Yorker, a powerfully built, soft-spoken black man who makes his living in computers. Recently I discussed with him the ontology of the soul, the ethical resonances of astro-travel and the other implications of the religious doctrine of Spiritism to which he cleaves. "Lorn" isn't his given name, but rather his special Spiritist moniker. Like other Spiritists, he's in possession of what would seem to be a stupendous truth: that his soul leaves his body nights while he sleeps and "astro-travels" around the world, protecting the helpless and the needy, intervening in fraught situations?performing the "nightly job" to which he refers.
"Everybody really astro-travels," he says. "We just made up a term for it. Basically, when you go to sleep, you wake up and you go out and you do things and you find out what's going on at night and you come back in the morning when it's time to go to work. Some of us remember it and some of us don't."
"There are reasons for that... Let's say, for example, there's a fire, and there's a child on the first floor... You've heard about miracles happening, where for some reason the fire was held at bay and they made it [out] alive? How did that happen? Well, people acknowledge that angels come by and basically hold the fire at bay, and do what they can to save the child. The only difference in Spiritism is that we acknowledge that we're one of them."
"You're one of the angels?"
"We do that stuff," he said. "You may not want to claim responsibility for it, but the fact of the matter is, you go to sleep, your supervisor taps you on the shoulder, gives you a list of responsibilities. You complete the responsibilities. You do what you can."
The body, then, stays behind while the spirit makes its rounds?
"Exactly. It does whatever it's supposed to do."
There's a complication, however?which is why Lorn had introduced the scenario of the child in the burning house in the first place.
"Let's say," he now continued, "you were one of those people saving the child. Now, say your alarm clock rings." Lorn assumed the troubled voice of a spirit that's forced to return immediately to its awakening body. "Oh, wait, he's just going to have to burn. I have to go. That's why you don't remember. If you were to remember everything, you simply couldn't function."
Spiritism isn't an organized religion, with the hierarchies and rituals and architectures that that phrase implies. Sort through the Web resources about it, and it appears rather complicated and hard to get a handle on, a supple, grab-bag belief system that isn't burdened by a redacting hierarchy, like Catholicism's. Spiritism seems first to have been developed by a Frenchman named Allan Kardec who, in the mid-19th century, became interested in what the world of spirits could teach the living. "Spiritism is a science which deals with the nature, origin and destiny of Spirits, as well as their relationship with the corporeal world," Kardec wrote. A gentleman named Gerald Polley, who lives in Fargo, ND, is an eminent contemporary Spiritist who's been important in Lorn's own spiritual progression.
I asked Lorn who the "supervisor" was to whom he'd referred before.
"Ah, well," he responded complacently. "I don't know your personal supervisor. My supervisor's Zeus. That's basically the Olympian head."
Apparently the universe is adjudicated by 11 Lords of Light?Zeus, Mohammed, Odin and the Buddha among them. Jesus, perhaps by virtue of his huge historical significance, is central among these equals?Lorn refers to him as "the Big Cheese." But Lorn, despite having been raised a Baptist in upper Manhattan, fell in with Zeus' organization, which is, naturally, headquartered on Mt. Olympus. Beginning in his high school days, he'd felt a mysterious affinity with the members of the Greek pantheon.
"I felt comfortable with the name Zeus. I felt good about the name Hera. Athena, Apollo, Hercules."
So what was happening on the other side? And had he ever visited Olympus? What was it like?
He responded: "I would see houses, I would see basically some grassy-field areas. But mostly you would see the illuminating energy before you go in. I would see the people that I'm talking to, some people in modern clothes, some people in old clothes. I wouldn't know them all..."
"It's like going home," he explained of the experience of Olympus. "I wouldn't say it's a great, life-changing, wonderful, come-save-the-world thing. It's just a matter of oh, I've been there... A 'yeah, this makes sense' kind of feeling."
As for his activities on the other side, Lorn says: "I'm basically like a cop. I go to places where there's a criminal, and I take 'em away... If someone is basically causing a problem, they're taken to an area where they stay and [don't] cause problems. The hope is that they'll sit there and they'll learn and they'll change."
Sort of like theological after-school detention, effected in the great mysterious spaces beyond the ether.
Had Lorn experienced, as a "cop," any particularly meaningful incidents?
"Not really," he shrugged. "It's a job. There's a different rapist every day. You just go in and do your thing?
"I do remember a Middle Eastern episode. There's an awful lot of spiritual demons out there fighting over the Israel thing."
But he didn't seem to want to go into it.
There's a moral/apocalyptic component to Lorn's Spiritism, too. Jesus, who plays a sort of Shaquille O'Neal to Zeus' Patrick Ewing?who's a spiritual giant among giants?seems to have left the building, so to speak.
"Jesus is basically terribly upset about what's going on in this country," Lorn says. "He has left. He's gone. Lord Peter's in his place. He's upset about a number of things that are going on in this country that church leaders aren't speaking about."
It was hard to tell whether this meant that Jesus, who used to live hereabouts?in Yonkers, perhaps, or Ozone Park?had literally moved away to somewhere else, or whether the situation involved rather a spiritual absence?the absence of God.
Was Jesus angry about the predictable things? Abortion? Gay marriage?
And, Lorn says, "If Christ does not return, if he doesn't take his post, this planet is screwed. In a nutshell."
Spiritism offers a pretty nifty theology. Individual spirits work as the world's night watchmen and after-dark caretakers, traveling the planet, weary and without illusions but unbowed, stoically performing ceaseless duties toward the perhaps never attainable goal of purifying the universe's spiritual energies. There's a grandeur to it. The Spiritist possesses great, terrible truths. I was reminded of T.S. Eliot's line: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?" And also of Rancid's: "I had a dream I was a vigilante's sidekick."
"There'll be times when I wake up in a cold sweat," Lorn admitted. "I'm not all-powerful. I'm just one dude."
Then he left. He had to get back to his day job, and he probably had a big evening ahead of him.