A Solemn Requiem

for Sir Laurens van der Post

by Charles Cameron

This text provides the script for a non-denominational liturgical celebration of the life and work of Sir Laurens van der Post, who died in London, Monday December 16, 1996. The liturgy is modeled on the Glass Bead Game described by Hermann Hesse in his novel of that title, and consists in the juxtaposition of texts which illuminate van der Post's life and the archetypal themes which run through it, coupled with formal silent meditations upon them.


The structure of this liturgy takes the form of the writer's TenStones variant on Hesse's Game, and the liturgy accordingly takes place on the ten stations of the Sephirotic Tree in traditional Jewish cabbala. The celebrants include ten Readers, one for each text presented in the liturgy; a Narrator, who identifies the source of each reading and provides a narrative background exploring the links between texts; and the Ludi Magister, who officiates by leading the Readers to their positions and pronouncing the topics for the meditations.

The Readers read their texts in the carefully articulated, quietly hieratic but not overly dramatic manner with which we are familiar from the traditional Festival of Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge.

The Narrator has the freedom to present information about van der Post, his writings, and such other people as Carl Jung who figure in the liturgy, thus giving context to the texts and making links between them: the narration is unscripted and the tone informal and informative.

The Ludi Magister pronounces the topics for meditation humbly and quietly, as one bidding to prayer.


The Narrator eulogises Sir Laurens van der Post, and briefly describes the nature and purpose of the ceremonial.


Station 1: Sir Laurens van der Post: a life and work.

The Ludi Magister conducts the first Reader to his place.


It is tempting, if you ever met him or know his extraordinary writing, to think of Sir Laurens van der Post as the last best hope for our battered world -- the one person whose vast mental and spiritual resources could help us fathom and bridge the quicksands of racial polarity sucking at men and nations as the century draws to its close.


Notes that the first text is taken from Ken Ringle's Washington Post article, "Appreciation: A Man Among Men", then speaks anecdotally of Sir Laurens and his work as he knew them.


Let us meditate on the life and work of Sir Laurens van der Post, a gift to this world.


Station 2: Africa


But then it was suddenly as if a voice within him was commanding him to look up at the forbidden summit and as he did so he saw, in the light of one of the greatest of mythological African sunsets, a pure white feather fluttering down from on high towards him. He put out his hand and grasped the feather and, they who told me the story said, he died content. When I asked them what the name of this great white bird was, they told me: 'The bird has many names but we believe it was the Bird of Truth.'


Comments on the second text, a story the Bushmen told Sir Laurens, and on the links between van der Post's life and work and the continent of Africa. Perhaps closes by citing van der Post himself: "Africa is my mother's country. I do not know exactly how long my mother's family has lived in Africa; but I do know that Africa was about and within her from the beginning, as it was for me."


We meditate on the phrase -- "one of the greatest of mythological African sunsets" -- which aptly expresses the sense that the continent of Africa, cradle of our humanity, is of a physical beauty which enforces a more profound love than the rational mind can easily assimilate: that to know African earth is to know earth as the root knows, soil as soul, and thus to regain location in a world, this earth, everywhere adrift and dislocated.


Station 3: Carl Gustav Jung


When the first ray of sunlight announced the onset of day I awoke. The train, swathed in a red cloud of dust, was just making a turn around a steep red cliff. On a jagged rock above us a slim, brownish-black figure stood motionless, leaning on a long spear, looking down at the train. Beside him towered a gigantic candelabrum cactus.

I was enchanted by this sight. It was a picture of something utterly alien and outside my experience, but on the other hand a most intense *sentiment du deja vu*. I had the feeling that I had already experienced this moment and had always known this world which was separated from me only by distance in time. It was as if I were this moment returning to the land of my youth, and as if I knew that dark-skinned man who had been waiting for me for five thousand years.


Comments that this text is drawn from Carl Jung's account in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, of a visit to Kenya and Uganda -- of which Jung also said "There the cosmic meaning of consciousness became overwhelmingly clear to me". Speaks of the friendship which sprang up between Jung and van der Post, their common interest in dreams, the invisible but ever present world of the archetypes, van der Post's Jung and the Story of Our Time, etc.


We meditate on the friendship between Carl Jung and Laurens van der Post, and the gift which a friendship of equals brings to those who are otherwise surrounded by disciples.


Station 4: Trevor Huddleston, CR


Without sentiment or any foolish regrets it is most necessary to try to evaluate one's feelings, to try to discover and to relate that strange but deeply real truth which so many have experienced -- the witchery of Africa: the way it lays its hold upon your heart and will not let you go. There are many exiles from Africa whose heart is still there and always will be. Why should it be so? I shall soon be one of them, so I must know the answer.


Comments that Trevor Huddleston wrote these words from Naught for Your Comfort shortly before his own departure from South Africa. Draws linkages between the respective works of van der Post and Huddleston, who despite their very different political opinions, both showed in their lives the outflowing of love toward those around them, irrespective of color or creed.


We meditate on that faithfulness in service which Laurens van der Post and Trevor Huddleston in their different ways exemplify, and the gift it brings to those who are touched by it.


Station 5: HRH The Prince of Wales


How he solicits Heaven,
Himself best knows; but strangely-visited people,
All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
The mere despair of surgery, he cures;
Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
Put on with holy prayers: and 'tis spoken,
To the succeeding royalty he leaves
The healing benediction.


Comments that while the healing of the King's Evil by the touch of the royal hand, to which these words of Shakespeare refer, has fallen into disuse since the time of Queen Anne, the sense that the royal state is one which by its sacral nature confers health and wellbeing on the realm is of age old provenance. Alludes to van der Post's relationship as mentor and friend to HRH, their sojourn together in the Kalahari, and their mutual interest in that aspect of medicine in which, in Prince Charles' own words, the physician has "the 'feel' and the 'touch' which makes it possible for him to be in sympathetic communication with the patient's spirits... his ability to inspire the patient with confidence and to mobilise his will to health..."


We meditate on an ascending order of virtues: gentility, nobility and royalty.


Station 6: The Dream


You know, there is a dream dreaming us.


Mentions that this remark was made to van der Post by a Bushman, "one of the first men of life" in van der Post's words. Discusses the nature of dreams as visitations of the night and as the "grails" towards which our human hearts turn, their importance to Jung, to van der Post, and to the Bushmen. Quote also van der Post's rephrasing of Jung's motto (Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit): "Man is never alone. Acknowledged or unacknowledged, that which dreams through him is always there to support him from within."


We meditate on the depthful wisdom of the dream.


Station 7: The human mind again


Though grave-diggers' toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscles strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back into the human mind again.


Discusses Yeats' suggestion that the acts and words of humankind carry a sort of immortality with them, that the dream well-dreamed as a life continues. Recalls Ralph Waldo Emerson's remark, "The world is yet young: the former great men call to us affectionately."


Let us meditate on memory, myth, legend and story as great storehouses of past wisdoms and virtues.


Station 8: Merlin


I will consider the outnumbering dead:
For they are the husks of what was rich seed.
Now, should they come together to be fed,
They would outstrip the locusts' covering tide.

Arthur, Elaine, Mordred; they are all gone
Among the raftered galleries of bone.
By the long barrows of Logres they are made one,
And over their city stands the pinnacled corn.


Mentions this poem, "Merlin", is by the living British poet Geoffrey Hill, and speaks of van der Post's love of poetry and of Britain.


We meditate on the Britain of myth and majesty: Logres, Camelot, the royal court of Arthur, once and future King, Blake's Albion.


Station 9: Loss

The Magister Ludi leads the ninth Reader -- representing Sir Laurens as he is most fondly and deeply remembered -- to the ninth station, but there is neither text nor narration for this station, for our loss is beyond words.


[Stands silently, sits.]


[Rises, stands silently, sits.]


Let us each meditate on loss as we may, and grieve.


Station 10: Feather Fall


Gradually I have formed the impression, now a certainty, that Laurens van der Post is a member of a vast family which constitutes a community of spirit and heart that has existed throughout our history. Like those wells in the desert that are so difficult to find and so far apart, yet are linked beneath the ground and combine invisibly to quench one's thirst, this vast and ever growing family of fellow-travellers is the company in which, step by step, century by century, we can all join in the ultimate quest, following the flight of the great white bird of truth, ready in heart and mind for its eventual feather fall.


Mentions that these words come from Jean-Marc Pottiez, editor of van der Post's Feather Fall.


Let us meditate on words which van der Post once wrote of Jung:

There is clear implication in his writing... that the self achieved lived on at least as image and incorruptible core of new being. Death freed it only from what was false and provisional and sent it on indestructible in time to serve in another season of itself.

At the conclusion of the final meditation:


May his soul rest in peace.



The Game Board which follows shows the stations to which the various Readers would be brought by the Magister Ludi to read their respective texts.

The lines on the game board link together stations which show some parallelism or associative connection, and those who wish to do so are invited to meditate privately on these connections.

The intended effect of holding, for example, van der Post's account of an African sunset with Jung's account of an African sunrise together in the mind's eye, is to bring about an equivalent of stereoscopic vision or stereophonic sound, in which both images fuse into a greater whole.

Appreciative thanks to Terence MacNamee for ideas concerning the liturgical presentation of Glass Bead Games.

Go to "Why a Requiem in the form of a Glass Bead Game?"
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