The Universal Religion 7

At the banquet which followed, I sat next to a Cao-Daist colonel, who informed me, with a secret, knowing smile, that he was head of the secret police of this Universal Religion of the Age of Improved Transport. The meal was vegetarian and although the French visitors had been told that they could order eggs if they wished, no one dared to do so. There were seven courses, six of which were based on soya, which I first mistook for some kind of overstewed and tasteless meat, that had, somehow or other, been served by mistake. The Colonel and I got on very well together and helped each other liberally to soya. Although intoxicants are equally forbidden to the Cao-Daist faithful, I noticed many of the dignitaries present stretching the point, and the Colonel, himself, had several help¬ings of red wine, after which he genially discussed the technique of his profession.
On my left was a young man who asked me if I was familiar with the works of Victor Hugo. I nodded, without emphasis, barely remembering the first lines of a poem beginning: Mon pere, ce heros au sourire si doux-
‘I am a reincarnation of a member of the poet’s family,’ the young man said. I congratulated him and asked if he also wrote. The modest reply was that he would have considered it an impertinence to do so after the tremendous reputation of his kinsman, who, after all, was generally admitted to be the greatest poet who ever lived. Did I, by the way, realise that the master’s sublimest works had been written after his death, or, as he put it, since disincarnation? My informant then went on to explain that he was the official editor of Victor Hugo’s posthumous work, a task simplified by the fact that only certain of the highest ranking members of the hierarchy were permitted mediumistic contact with such saints as Li-Tai-Pe, Joan of Arc and the poet. All Victor Hugo’s communications were given in verse and this, plus his life’s work, would ultimately form a corpus to be memorised by candidates for high office. Much intrigued by this adaptation of the old Chinese system of literary examinations for the mandarinate, I asked for a sample of the poet’s most recent production and was given the account of the Creation as described in a seance to the Ho-Phap, or Pope. I reproduce a few lines.
HO-PHAP (referring to Victor Hugo’s use of the word ‘water in his description of the creation):
Est-ce bien la forme de l’eau parlee dans la genese chretienne? VICTOR HUGO:
Oui, c’est cette sorte de gaz qu’on appelle hydrogene,
Plus ou moins dense qui fait la partie la plus saine,
Dire que l’Esprit de Dieu nage au-dessus des eaux,
C’est a ce sens qu’il faut comprendre le mot,
Avec son astral qui est de lumiere,
II anime par sa chaleur ces inertes matieres,
Une couche d’oxygene produit, se met en action,
Le contact des deux gaz donne une detonation.
– Mais vous avez, Ho-Phap, une crampe a la main,
Renvoyons notre causerie pour demain.
At the very hour when these junketings were in progress at Tay-Ninh, French troops were under fire from Cao-Dai’sts in the Province of Mytho, about seventy miles to the south. The French said that the Cao- Dai’sts had turned to banditry and that a battle had developed when they had called upon them to give up their arms. The Pope, Pham-Cong-Tac, promptly repudiated all responsibility, pointing out that the insurgents had left his fold and joined one of the eleven schismatic sects that refused to recognise his authority. The schismatic sect can be as politically useful to the Cao-Da’ists as a racial minority elsewhere.

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