Open Air: Baphomet And The Economy Of God

I have meddled in things that man must leave alone.

Claude Rains (as Dr Jack Griffin) in The Invisible Man.

We’re ready now. I suggest that I open and close, and Stephen speaks for as long as he likes in between. He’s happy with that. I’ve got my head mic on, a black shemagh wrapped round my neck, and my black combat jacket zipped up as far as it will go. Stephen drinks a takeaway coffee, while I look up to the lowering (‘low’ to rhyme with ‘cow’, not ‘go’) sky and wonder whether we’re in for another wet one.

I’m about to begin when up comes an elderly black man, cackling away, sounding for all the world like a child copying a cartoon character’s laughter. His sober dress and greying beard are at odds with his demeanour. He points to our poster. “He he he! Ooh is dis lard den, eh? He he he!” I’m a bit baffled. “It is better to trust the LORD than to put confidence in man” the poster proclaims. After some toing and froing, it seems that he’s attempting to ridicule the idea of one God in three persons. I trot out the usual illustration/explanation, but all he has to say in reply is “He he he!” I tell him I’ve got to get on, and point him towards Stephen...

As I begin, there’s a shout of encouragement from a passerby, and then in the distance I see Peter arriving. I remark on the number of funerals I’ve attended recently, leading on to “What’s So Difficult About Dying?” Stephen has seen off his questioner; he shoulders his rucksack and goes to greet Peter, then takes up his usual position - not too far away and on my right. The first few drops of rain begin to fall.

As I get to “Like fish that are taken in an evil net”, a well-dressed young woman in a black headscarf films me on her phone, moving round to include our poster, then turning through 180° to take in the whole of our surroundings. The wind whips up, making me grateful for the warmth of the shemagh. I notice that Brendan has arrived, and he’s already in conversation with our old acquaintance, Vincent.

I scan the shop fronts. There are a few folk over there, including a woman in a long maroon coat and a woolly hat. Is it our friend Janet? She’s just a bit too far away to tell. The GoPro mic registers a hollow rumbling as the wind changes direction, and the poster sways slightly, despite the security of its moorings. There are a couple of listeners nearby, now, including a young girl in a red windcheater over a white hoodie, head down, hands thrust deep into her pockets; alas, at the mention of “everlasting burnings”, they drift away.

As we get to the usual Cohen quotation, Stephen puts his hood up against the rain. Leaves and litter blow by, and I summarise the state of the nation as we move further and further away from a Judæo-Christian worldview. It’s all a bit bleak. Still, Stephen’s tracts are flying out, and now he’s in conversation with a young couple. When they go, I come to a close on the necessity of change from within before there can be any real change without.

As Stephen begins, I wipe the water from my plastic tract envelope. Wet woollen gloves are not ideal for handling tracts, but you get used to it. The crowd thins as the rain falls faster, but that means there is a captive audience sheltering in the shop doorways. A young lady lets her purple umbrella catch the wind and it turns inside out. She shakes it in exasperation until it returns to its proper shape.

I wish I’d worn a waterproof. The rain is soaking into my jacket and my head is wet through. Nevertheless, after a slow start, the tracts are going well. The poster billows out like a sail on a clipper ship. Ah! Here comes a gent from on my left. He’s curiously dressed, in a green camo combat jacket over desert camo pants - ending way above the tops of his Doc Marts, allowing us a tantalising glimpse of striped socks. We talk for a while. I can’t remember what was said, but he goes away with a smile and a Blanchard booklet tucked inside his jacket. That’s good!

Stephen seems to be doing some improvising today. I’m trying to pay attention to what he’s saying when a young man comes in from my right. He’s wearing a tight black woollen hat pulled down over the tops of his ears so that the lobes stick out like little wings. Despite the weather, he has no coat, just a black sweatshirt over faded blue jeans and tan trainers. He carries two plastic bags and a blue plastic bottle, top off and half full… He stops and leans in towards me. “I worship Baphomet!” he shouts.

I keep my serious face on, but inside I’m smiling: I am the right man, in the right place, at the right time.

After I suggest several other famous figures from the world of the occult whom he might care to try worshipping instead of the Goat of Mendes, he goes up a gear and out it all comes, just as expected, and we cycle through the usual suspects, from the Rosy Cross to the Roll Right Ritual, from Kabbalah to Crowley. It’s a gift, especially when we get to “the wickedest man in the world”. “He was the Antichrist!” he chortles. Having read three biographies of the man, I have no difficulty in disabusing him.

By the time we get to the Golden Dawn, he’s beginning to change his tune. For my part, I’m beginning to feel a curious kind of affection for him, and a concern for his welfare. Gently, I indicate the half empty bottle of white cider in his hand, and suggest that his enthusiasm for the occult has brought him little in the way of real rewards. He hesitates, then puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a blister pack of Diazepam. A third of the blisters are empty... No wonder he’s just that little bit out of sync in his speech and his movements.

He takes a Blanchard booklet and says he’ll read it; then he has to go. He shakes my hand, and apologises for his aggressive approach. I tell him I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to talk to him. As he steps back, I note how pale his face is. “May God bless you,” I say. “And God bless you, too,” he replies.

I return to the world around me and I see that our friend with the white stick has come to listen to us again. The rain is easing off, and Stephen is cruising through “The Story Of The Bible”. A couple of folk ask me which church we’re from, and seem disappointed when I mention its location. A small man with a white beard approaches. He’s about my height, sheltering under a big, black umbrella. I’ve seen him before: in fact, I’m sure we mentioned him in the newsletter, and asked for prayers for his son. Yes, it’s him. He’s pleased to see me, and asks me to thank everyone who prayed, since his son is now in a much better state, and then he goes on his way. It’s most encouraging.

My envelope is empty, but, no matter, it’s my turn again. As I ready myself, here comes a man for a free bible. He’s tall, smartly dressed in a black anorak and neat jeans, and wearing well-polished shoes. “Thanks very much!” he says. “Hang on, before you go…” - and I find him a copy of Blanchard’s “Ultimate Questions” to take with him. “He’s a good writer,” I tell him, “ideal for the intelligent man…” “Oh, that’ll do for me!” Yes, I thought it would.

Stephen looks wet. I’m soaked, and so is our amplifier, which is still working, nevertheless. I begin again. A young man in a black puffer jacket is leaning on a bollard, looking as wet as we are. As I mention Crowley, he gets up and comes to ask a question, but I send him straight to Stephen. That pale young man is still on my mind, as I consider what many folk will one day have to confront, in the cold, grey light of dawn… and by degrees, I return to a familiar theme: the Three Great Questions Of The Human Heart. I use the American girl illustration again. The man with the white stick appreciates it - he sways from side to side, raising his stick moment by moment, as if in assent. I end on the blessing of free and full forgiveness, still thinking of that youthful occultist.

There is no way that we can dry off the equipment, so it goes in the case any old how, to be laid out later on the radiators at home. When dry, my bible will be placed under several barbell weights to flatten out the wrinkled pages. Janet - for it is she - joins us for prayer, and accompanies us to the Arndale for rest and refreshments. Then, the long climb up the steps to the top of the car park, and we’re on our way home.

Later, in the cellar, as I work my way through the second stage of a full body three way split, trying to ignore my aching knee, I think again of my pale-faced friend. I pause for a while to pray for him. I’m glad I knew enough about his chosen subject to be able to talk to him sensibly and then turn his thoughts in another direction.

Occasionally, my various preoccupations and pastimes will come in for criticism from one brother or another. “You’re wasting your time!” they wail, like the whiskery old postman in “Oh, Mr Porter!” Well, one of them came in useful today, I’d say.

 Nothing is wasted in the economy of God.


If you’ve come thus far - and it was quite a way, wasn’t it? - then you might as well go just that little bit further, and spend a moment or two in prayer for some of those mentioned above. We will be out again next Wednesday, God willing, and would appreciate your prayers on that occasion as well.

Every blessing!