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Raimon Lull, the Early Years

Ramundo was a bright kid... a child of a new-rich family whose grandfather had won by blood and steel and fire the gratitude of his feudal lord. This gratutide was expressed in the gift of a hereditary fief on the lovely and haunted balearic isle Majorca.

Ah! How the blood grows thinner!

Loll, the brave and bloody man won the land by courage and warfare. Loll's son won the land by patient cultivation, planting vines, planting olives, lifting stones on his own shoulders out of the path of the gentle plough. Loll's grandson lived to enjoy the fruits of his ancestors' labours. Not for him the sword or plough; he would never need bandage the stump of a wounded comrade or staunch the sap should the storm tear a limb from a persimmon tree.

Raimond, light of the world, had a pen, which he employed in writing successfully seductive sonnets to a succession of seducible paramours. This was courtship - a flirtation with alliteration.

In his dryer moments he wrote for merchants. He had acquired the mysterious art of Arabic book-keeping. His consumption of sensual herbs, narcotic flowers, must-fermented liquors, distillates and potions from poison rot rye to mandrake root to dead man's buttons mushrooms was, to be wry, a legend in his own lunchtime.

He was a greedy child, a superbly self-indulgent brat. The consequences are predictable.

Voltaire once noted sagely that: "The prerequisite of a life of debauchery is an iron constitution".

Raymund had not died before his 19th birthday, to the astonishment of all, and in particular the astonishment of the local witch wet-nurses who had been feeding the little parasite raw strichnine, arsenic, belladonna and arnica since his first whelp.

The boy got flashes - unsolicited and unprovoked hallucinatory images, synaesthesiac whispers in the corner of his eye, pictures at the back of his ear that spun his head like a whipped top. Awful thoughts interrupted his pleasures and his pursuit of pleasure. He lost his appetite, as he lost his appetites, compounding his psychedelic existence with the massive psychotropic effect of anorexic fasting.

Raymondo puts it more gently: he says that, a dozen times the hideous figure of Christ crucified appeared just out of his field of vision until the reproach of those patient eyes became unendurable. The reproach of the reproachless unreproaching.

"Right", said Raimund, "I've had enough... I'm going to have a word with God Almighty."

The extended synaptic connections of his own preternaturally endowed brain had been stretched and disciplined from birth by astonishing intoxication. As he became "clean and sober", the unsettled cognitive pathways confirmed themselves into an extraordinary configuration. Ramund became an Alien, as if he were the caricature of a little green man with an "H" shaped aeriel sprouting from the fontanelle.

His brilliant and exceptional mind became for a brief eternal instant an antenna, a receiver, a cat's whisker crystal - a tuning fork ringing to the harmonics of the universe, and the pitch of the voice of God.

And then...

Total "Grand Mal" epileptic seizure, collapse and coma. They thought he was dead. By the time they had imported a suitably senior priest to perform the funeral obsequies, Ramon had lain in state untouched for a week. The priest refused to bury him on the very proper grounds that a week old corpse in Balearic high summer will be a festering mass of blow-flies and Raymon's body didn't stink at all.

I speculate that the priest had dreams of transporting the fragrant, undecomposed body around like the miraculously preserved body of a saint.

Where one putative miracle goes, why should not others follow? I think the good bishop was discouraged from promoting Ramondo as a Saint when he got up like Lazarus (a hard act to follow, don't you agree?) and probably said something unsuitable like: "Oh wow man - bitchin' shit - what a fucking trip - Hey man, this you will never believe!"


R: God!... God!... This is Ray speaking. Don't hide behind that cloud. I know You're in there. [Pause] Look, just come on out with your hands... well... visible, and there won't be any trouble.

G: All the universe is yours to play with and you still want something.

R: You bet I do. I want to register a complaint.

G: Raymond, if it's the thing about forbidden fruit, you cannot be serious. It's never applied in your case has it ¿ [NB God, being omniscient, can only ask rhetorical questions]

R: Cut the cackle. Come on out.

G: Sure ¿

R: Sure I'm sure!

[God draws back the shutters of the Firmanent - it creaks like a sash window]

G: Well ¿

R: What, in the name of all that's... er...

G: Expletives deleted by divine dispensation. Continue. Pray continue.

R: Well God, what do you want from me?

G: What do I want from you ¿¿

R: Well yeah... kind of... Yeah!

G: Ramond my child, it's your life. Do what you can with it.

[The crack of a dry sash window warns us that God is putting up the shutters]

R: Whoa... Hey... Hang on. [The creaking pauses] I mean, look here. You don't know the trouble I've been through to arrange this interview. [Pause] On second thoughts, sorry, I'm sure you do - but really - this is your divine injunction: "Do what you can"? Have you invented Christmas Crackers or Fortune Cookies yet?

G: Not yet, but I shall if you feel they are needed.

R: What? Look I didn't expect you to have a corner on the terminally trite, but now I see - I shouldn't be surprised.

G: Be very careful kid.

R: I refuse to accept such a silly commandment. "Do what you can". Oh really. [Pout and shrug]

G: You would prefer something a little more... demanding ¿

R: Yeah.

G: More... profound ¿

R: Yeah.

G: Sure ¿

R: Sure I'm sure...

G: OK kid - Here it comes -

[The voice of God loses its diffident and avuncular tone and becomes Grade A, Old Testament thunderclap and burning bush..]

G: [Continued] DO WHAT YOU CAN NOT DO ¡¡¡

The bishop, whom you will recall, has been contemplating the mileage he might get from Raymun's catatonia, vaguely hears a sound like a creaky sash window slamming shut and sees his dreams shatter as Raymundo lifts himself up.

R: "Oh - wow man! - what the... You will not believe this..."

Perhaps the bishop had hoped a fragrant corpse would so impress the Christian peasantry that war against the Saracen would seem preferable to their smelly lives. The residue of this thought may have inspired his answer to Ramun's first question.

R: "Hey man... Tell me something that can't be done."

B: "Well... the chance of converting Islam to Christianity is beginning to look pretty dismally remote."

R: "You mean it can't be done?"

The bishop sadly nods. [Pout and shrug]

R: "Not even by me?"

B: "No! Never! In no circumstances. Not by you!"

R: "Cool man... That is definitely what I'm gonna do!"

Raimun Lull lived to a very ripe old age still trying half-a-dozen impossible things every day before breakfast. He died in Islamic North Africa, still trying to change peoples' minds at the age of 92 (+/-). According to all available reports: "They stoned his brains out". Interpret that as you will.

In the interim he travelled widely, learned what people could teach, and taught what people could learn. He made many friends and noticed no enemies. His contribution to the world of ideas, his fluent glide between worlds of faith and realms of truth are beyond a simple description. There is only one great Art, in which all things are involved. We call it Ars Magna (the name of the book by which he is remembered) because it is superior to the knowledge of names.

His is still a name to conjure with - A name to swear by.

O Raimondo!

- Jamie Chadwick (July 94)

Mnemonic Arts of Blessed Raymond LULL  -  includes a full translation of the "Ars Magna"
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revised 24 November 2005
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