In July, I took a trip to London. This is the last part in a series about that trip.
First, I need to tell you, I’m a spiritual person. I hate when people say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” To me, it implies new age-flakiness – a love for power and notions of strangeness, but no arduous thinking.
I went to school for – among other things – science. My mind demands evidence, experience, and radical investigation.
But since my spiritual and philosophical tradition, anthroposophy, is so full of what from the outside looks like hocus-pocus, this isn’t the place to explain why it is not, in fact, a religion (there was even a court case held to prove that). I just state all this at the outset, because there’s a chair in London, and I was told it was a powerful chair, and I believed it. And I believed it not because I’m stupid or unscientific. When you’re an anthroposophist for long enough, you start to weed through the spiritual jokes to find the truth (often, the truly hilarious.)
The chair, which sits in a little bookstore near the British Museum, was the chair that Aleister Crowley used to sit in. He’d live his crazy life, put out the noises in his head, and read books in that chair.
Later, Dion Fortune sat in the the very same chair. She was a better communicator than Crowley. Dangerous too, but not so unhinged. These people were real people; they made real use of their time as human beings. And so the chair that accepted them is reported to have some sort of…residue.
People claimed to have been paralyzed in the chair, and to have stood up from it and into the sun – a new light shining about their heads. The chair was evil or good or neutral, but always powerful and able, if you were lucky or unlucky, to cause a shift in you.
I found the bookstore. It’s on a street that looks like London – If someone were to ask you about London’s features, you’d find them there. The only things missing were the fog and long coats. It was a small store with a good selection. It was what you’d think – shelves filled with strange topics; books behind the counter that seemed forbidden; books stacked on the floor that there was no room for; some pictures on the wall of oddly blended colors, charts, planets. There was even a chubby woman with long, gray hair sitting behind the counter. And in one corner, that chair.
It’s brown leather and very old. The seat, with criss-crossing lines, rests like an open palm. There’s a dent, a welt, a track, of whomever has occupied the little space between arms and back and floor. It’s beautiful and curving and very old.
I searched around the store for the right thing to read while I sat in it. I wanted something simple but beautiful – I didn’t want to be distracted from whatever subtle things I might feel as I sat there.
After some deliberation, I settled on a book of Christian fables about animals. It seemed profound and clean. I settled into the chair and opened the book.
Then I put it down.
Then I closed my eyes and felt…something. Happening.
First, I couldn’t move. My entire body felt heavy. Then, despite it heaviness, I felt all of it. I don’t only mean my head, my toes, my eyes; I mean my organs, my cells. I knew where it all was; my heart of course, but also my liver, my spleen, my veins. I felt the nuclei in the cells tremble and the mitochondria breathe. It was a pure feeling, as my body began to feel like it was spilling over into light, into water. And I envisioned, with my eyes closed, white flames rising from my feet up around my head and into the sky, stretching to touch the sun above the building. Everything was alive. My lungs felt full and open. I felt like I was becoming something. I couldn’t move. I sat there for a long time with my eyes closed, still to anyone who saw me but blurring with motion inwardly.
I’m not sure how long it took me, and it was only with tremendous will that I finally moved.
I pulled my back forward from the divot where others had been. Then my arms, then my legs. It felt like they were being held, and I had to struggle to stand. My head was swimming.
I caught my breath and walked slowly toward the woman behind the counter. She must have seen the whole thing, must have known this happened. Did it happen to everyone that sat there? Was it just a chair to some people?
“That chair,” I said to her knowingly, “is really something.”
“Oh that chair. Yes, it’s great isn’t it?”
“It’s so funny,” she said, and laughed a little. “Someone started this rumor that Aleister Crowley used to sit in it. But it was given to me by my mother.”