This series of articles summarizes and explores the classic (1896) book, Wanderer in the Spirit Lands. I try to preserve the original meaning in the summary (which is regular type). My observations and comments are in italics.
Ch22. Franchezzo, guided by his faithful friend, stands on a black, rocky tower overlooking another city in this dark, hellish world shrouded in this black mist that they can see through. There are great palaces and little hovels, all in decay… all blended together like the intense feelings that tied the inhabitants together during their earthly lives. The mutual envy, disgust, and suspicion, which seemed to push people apart on Earth, now pull them together like magnets in this dark afterlife… proud patricians with their pawns, parasites and panderers all tied together by their tyranny, suffering, and ill will. Again, lurid flames and phosphorescent, steel-gray smoke enshroud the city, kindled by the fiery passions, powerful intellects, and corrupt desires of the inhabitants. As they descend from the tower and enter the city, Franchezzo realizes that he knows this city… and this square… and this familiar protest against tyranny that is underway. It’s like a living copy of a movement that was going on in Italy around the time of Franchezzo’s death… a dark copy. The proclamation is being met with yells, hoots, and fighting, which strengthens the hold of the dark, malevolent beings who rule this realm and whose job it is to stir up more fighting among the spirits, so that during times of strife on Earth they can rise en masse and further stir things up in our world. Then, when the hatred on Earth finally gives way to grief, powerful beings from finer realms descend to Earth to sweep away the demons, leaving a wide swath of ruin and suffering from which we humans will have to heal and rebuild. Meanwhile, the demons revel in war, misery, hatred, and bloodshed at every opportunity. Again his friend explains to Franchezzo that this is just the lowest and darkest template of various astral copies of the city on Earth (It’s probably Genoa, where Italy’s socialist party was founded in 1892 amidst great debate about liberation and human rights), and it continues to evolve slowly here in the darkest hell, even as the architecture on Earth decays. Two of the dark spirits in the crowd recognize Franchezzo from lifetime, approach, and give him a false welcome. They claim that during lifetime they’d tried to serve him but were not just rebuked, but maliciously deceived by Franchezzo. Now they give him an ominous welcome into this dark city inhabited entirely by murderers and mass killers, and they accompany him into a large house at the edge of the square, past elegant furniture, now rotting, and up a wide, decrepit staircase to a large, magnificent room with tattered, blood-stained draperies.
Vile, degraded men and women, reminiscent of the proverbial evil witches, eat, drink, shout, dance like banshees, play cards, and quarrel bitterly. One young woman seems to be a relative newcomer to this depraved community, trapped here by deep shame and remorse for having killed her illegitimate child on Earth. Franchezzo whispers to her that if she’s truly remorseful and wants to leave, he can help. She brightens immediately, causing many in the crowd suddenly to turn their attention on the two, furious that this intruder wants to abscond with their young victim. Holding the woman’s hand, Franchezzo backs against the wall as the murderous crowd comes down on them. Suddenly the wall opens, the faithful friend and another spirit pull them to safety, and the wall closes. The young woman is rescued, and Franchezzo and his faithful friend head out of this nightmare version of his beloved city.
Ch23. Leaving, they reach the outskirts of the city and come to a palace in ruin, again, a nightmare version of a magnificent palace on Earth that Franchezzo had admired in his youth. Here it’s tarnished and mildewed, its statues broken. They climb the wide stairs to a set of doors that open automatically, spilling out a stifling heat and bright, red light from a big room crowded with dark spirits who flit around and welcome the two newcomers as expected guests. Again, Franchezzo has to experience this alone. His friend departs, to rejoin him later. The bright, red light slowly fades to a dull glow as a chilly, steel-gray mist sweeps through the room… all created by the waves of fiery passion and cold selfishness of the lord of the manor, who sits on his stately chair above the crowd. On Earth this man had been driven by a fierce intellect, passion, and self-interest that dominated the men and women around him, just as he now rules with absolute tyranny over the dark spirits in his palace. His ruthless life force has turned his throne, tapestries, velvet curtains, and paintings into corrupt, hideous furnishings. Tables are covered with big silver goblets, expensive vases, and a phantom feast. When the lord stands to greet him with open arms, Franchezzo is horrified to realize it’s his ancestor… a legendary family hero who’d amassed a great fortune through cruelty and sensuality in an era when such Machiavellian qualities were not just tolerated but admired. As a child Franchezzo had been told by proud family members how much he resembled that great ancestor in appearance and bearing. The lord still has his haughty good looks but with subtle lines of shame, dishonor, and corruption showing clearly through the mask. He invites Franchezzo to share his palace, since he’s been following with interest the life of his wayward heir during lifetime. He’d actually been hoping that Franchezzo would have become more ruthless during lifetime so that he, the lord, could be pulled out of this wretched hell and move in close to Franchezzo to meddle in and rule over the affairs of Earth once again, a life he had enjoyed so much in an earlier century. (It’s not unusual for a mysterious living connection to endure among family members across the generations and across the veil, especially in the case of ancestor worship in which strong reverence and reminiscence of dead loved ones pulls their attention to Earth like a magnet.) “Oh well,” says the lord (paraphrased), “you died before you could really grab power and get rich, but now you’re here. Join me, and I’ll teach you what I know about power and wealth. Maybe together we can once again, somehow, be a force to reckon with on Earth. Meanwhile, behold the pleasures I’ve prepared for you!” Franchezzo accepts his ancestor’s hand, which burns with fevered passion, and reluctantly sits at the table, praying for protection against temptation. Instead of offering food and drink, which he somehow knows Franchezzo will reject, the lord uses his power of thought to play a wild, sensuous, intoxicating music that’s both beautiful and horrible. He shows Franchezzo (through a “black magic mirror” or computer screen) his vision of vast armies and nations on Earth that he, the lord, should rightfully be controlling by influencing tyrants and despots on Earth. Franchezzo is shown how he, too, could help shape art, literature, and music and stir passion on Earth by influencing sensitive, mortal minds. Franchezzo watches picture after picture of how spirits here can stir the lust for power and sensual pleasures among humans on Earth. When a beautiful, seductive woman appears on the screen and captures Franchezzo’s full attention, a misty angel forms in front of the screen showing the face of his loved one on Earth. He immediately realizes that the sexy woman on the screen is just an empty attraction that would draw him into savage pleasures. Disgusted by himself and the situation, Franchezzo jumps to his feet to flee, but is locked in place by invisible chains formed by his own carnal thoughts and desires, which have been stirred up by the lord of the manor, who’s now laughing with rage and triumph. A gray cloud of smothering phantoms closes in around Franchezzo to drag him down to a dark dungeon, when suddenly a star appears above him, a ray from the Brotherhood drops from it like a rope, Franchezzo grabs it with both hands, and he’s wrapped in light and pulled up and away from that dark place.
Ch24. The two friends visit one more city in this dark realm, where a man with lifetime experiences and a disposition similar to Franchezzo’s has been stuck for 10 years since his death. This spirit’s name is Benedetto. Only recently was Benedetto found by the Brotherhood and emboldened to join, and he’s about to ascend from this level-7 hell to the light. So Franchezzo gets to see what his own afterlife might have been like had he not been so lucky with his lady love on Earth. In search of Benedetto, they glide quickly to Venice, which of course is the dark, nightmare version of that treasured city of canals. Mists of gray and red hover over the black water and the beautiful architecture oozing with blood. Below the water lie countless skeletons of victims of assassination and murder. Basement dungeons throughout the city are filled with dark spirits with fierce eyes gleaming with malice and tyranny. Along the walkways move crowds of repulsive men and women with haunted faces—spirits of corrupt city officials, aristocrats, soldiers, seamen, slaves, merchants, priests, and fishermen. Out in the lagoon are spectral galleons driven by oars pulled by chained slaves—spirits of the ruthless taskmasters who during lifetime had consigned their prisoners and victims to this grueling death. All of the good and noble citizens of Venice have long since moved on to finer spirit realms after their death, leaving only the most savage here to be trapped in this dark template of the city. On a famous bridge sits a hooded man wearing a dark, gray robe of the Brotherhood of Hope. Benedetto. Franchezzo recognizes him as a celebrated Venetian painter he’d known casually from childhood, as Franchezzo too had dabbled in art and exhibited a talent early in life. Now he sees the man’s backstory: As a popular, handsome, talented artist from a poor family, the young man fell in love with a charming, beautiful, aristocratic lady and dreamed of marriage. But she, loving only to be loved, basked in the artist’s attention while plotting to marry a wealthy, middle-aged nobleman whom she despised. When the artist insisted they get married, she coolly dismissed him for being foolish; she needed money and position, not some silly life of poverty. Broken-hearted, he fled to Paris and gained fame and fortune, while she married the Marchese and had affairs with some of her many, many admirers. When the artist returned to Venice years later and ran into the woman, she said that losing him was a huge mistake, she was excited to rekindle the romance, and they had a passionate affair. It was the happiest period of the young man’s life but soon ended as she shared her love with many other suitors, and his fiery passion evolved into furious jealousy until he finally killed himself. He awakened as a prisoner in his coffin, tied hopelessly to his body until it decayed after several years. Then he became an earthbound spirit, tracked her down, and found her slightly older but still enjoying indiscriminate affairs among her many admirers. Feeling himself a victim of her flamboyant life and indiscretions infuriated the artist and made him determined to drag her down. Largely as a result of his invisible influences on her and on those around her, she lost her wealth, her honor, and her many loves as her reputation as a vile temptress came to light. Through it all she was baffled about why her life was unraveling so badly, her schemes thwarted, her secrets made public. It felt that some unseen power were trying to crush her. Then she remembered the artist’s last words to her: “If you drag me to despair, I’ll go to hell and drag you with me.” She shuddered at the thought… and all the while the artist stood beside her, whispering in her ear, reminding her of their sweet love that had turned to burning hate. At last in a weakened state, she saw his hate-filled face and wild, menacing eyes, was stricken with terror, and died. The satisfaction Benedetto felt at that moment immediately turned to horror. His plan to drag her to hell was replaced instantly with a need to escape himself and his own abomination. His unbridled shame and grief pulled him down to this darkest of realms. Now he waits for the arrival of the woman, who is also being drawn to this realm because of her life choices of self-gratification at the expense of so many others. Franchezzo wonders, will the painter Benedetto and his lady love reunite and rise together? No, explains his friend, they have no real affinity between them, only passion, pride, and wounded self-love. It’s just one of those grueling lessons of earth life that the two individuals had to learn. They’ll both be helped toward the light along their own appropriate paths. Franchezzo approaches Benedetto sitting patiently on the bridge and introduces himself, reminds him of their time together in childhood, describes his own troubles and growth since his death, and welcomes him to the Brotherhood. The painter lights up and pumps Franchezzo’s hand vigorously with friendship and recognition, and then Franchezzo and his friend leave Benedetto, who will shortly be meeting the woman of his dreams and nightmares. On the way out of the city they encounter two miserable spirits sprawled on the ground, begging for help. As his friend ignores them and continues along the way, Franchezzo stops to help. As he bends down, the two spirits jump up and attack him, biting and clawing at his throat. Infuriated, Franchezzo shoves them away, and in so doing nearly falls backward into a deep, dark pit that’s suddenly opened up behind him. Then he remembers the warnings from his earlier training, not to arouse his lower passions. He calms his mind, turns to the two spirits (whom he now recognizes from earlier encounters), fixes his eyes on the vicious pair, and focuses all his will to the conviction/warning that they should come no closer. They suddenly stop, roll over, and snarl like wounded wolves. Finally he catches up to his friend, who laughs and reminds Franchezzo that “a strong will can be a useful and valuable quality as long as you don’t use it to domineer over the just rights of others.” The forces of darkness can’t really present any danger to the forces of finer character and determination.
“…the forces of darkness can’t really present any danger to the forces of finer character and determination….”
Messages like that, referring the inevitable victory of light over darkness, can be confusing here on Earth, where physical principles often seem to outweigh spiritual principles… where darkness often seems to win out over the light:
- A cold-hearted sniper or assassin can be recruited to kill a person of noble bearing such as Jack Kennedy, Olof Palme, or a loving spouse with a lot of money.
- An innocent child can be abused and murdered by a pedophile.
- A happy family can be killed by a drunk driver.
In cases like these, the forces of darkness seem to win… but that’s just one of many painful illusions here on Earth. The reality is that the spirits of those noble people simply leave the physical body and find their way quickly to light realms of paradise, maybe after a short time on the “earth plane” or shadow world of Earth. The snipers, assassins, pedophiles, and drunk drivers who kill others, however, all have an afterlife fate that is much darker and agonizing. THAT is the greater truth, the reality of spirit, according to this book: the timeless victory of light over dark.
It’s apparent from these chapters that when we on Earth make choices about art, literature, music, pastimes, habits, career paths, associations, and relationships, we invariably attract spiritual influences appropriate to our choices. We can make noble choices (love, peace, trust, good will, service to others…) that stir the soul and attract light spiritual forces from finer realms, or we can make savage choices (fear, chaos, greed, thoughtlessness, carnal pleasure…) that stir the hormones and attract dark spiritual forces. From day to day, year to year, lifetime to lifetime, the more we choose the light, the better off we are in the “long run” (which includes our afterlife experiences).