The Closet of Horrors

by Toby Johnson

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Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from, the Apple iBookstore, etc.

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Finding God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Advice to Future Gay Historians

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Queer men, myths and Reincarnation

Was I (or you) at Stonewall?

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

The Nature of Suffering and The Four Quills

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

Toby's Experience of Zen

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

What happens at Death?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

A Funny Story: The Rug Salesmen of Istanbul

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch

Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism

How I Learned Chakra Meditation

Je ne Regrette Rien

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

Sex with God

Merging Religion and Sex

Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019

God as Metaphor

More Metaphors for God

A non-personal metaphor God

Jesus and the Wedding Feast

Tonglen in the Radisson Varanasi

The Closet of Horrors

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

A Different Take on Leathersex

Seeing Pornography Differently

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

My first Peace March

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Our friend Cliff Douglas

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart

Queer Magic by Tomas Prower

God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson

Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss

Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel

New by Whitley Strieber

Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong

Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten

Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney

Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis

Deathless by Andrew Ramer

The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner

Practical Tantra by William Schindler

The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal

A New World by Whitley Strieber

Bernhard & LightWing by Damien Rowse

The Mountains of Paris by David Oates

Trust Truth by Trudie Barreras

How to be an Excellent Human Being by Bill Meacham

The Deviant's War by Eric Cervini

What Is the Grass by Mark Doty

Sex with God by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

The Sum of All the Pieces by Paul Bradford

All the Time in the World by J. Lee Graham

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

Finding God
Finding God In The Sexual Underworld: The Journey Expanded

2020 Revised Version

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

The Fourth Quill
The Closet of Horrors

A mystical experience about the nature of suffering from
The Fourth Quill by Toby Johnson

Jon gradually regained consciousness. The first thing he was aware of was a terrible chemical taste in his mouth. His head was pounding like crazy and the headache hurt deep into his eyes. He didn’t want to open them. But finally did. He was startled to discover he couldn’t see anything, even with his eyes wide open. Oh my God, they’ve blinded me. Was that ether or nerve gas they knocked me out with?

The truth quickly dawned on him as he thrashed his arms about and found himself in a very narrow space. I’m locked in a closet or something. He managed to smile at the irony of ending up in a closet.

He slowly got to his feet and felt the space around him. One side felt rough like woodgrain. The door. The handle turned but didn’t release the latch. There was no light coming under the crack. It must be dark outside as well. The other side seemed to be full of things wrapped with paper. Jon reached around trying to see if he could get a grip on something he could use as a weapon or, at least, help him understand where he was. These are reams of paper, aren’t they? I must be in a storage closet for the office. How am I going to ever get out of here?

What’s going to happen to me if I don’t get out? he thought morosely and leaned his back against the door and slowly let himself slide down into a crouching position. His head was still pounding. For a moment he thought about Mark and was comforted by the thought that if he were killed as Buchanan threatened maybe he would reunite with Mark. But the comfort quickly evaporated into fear of dying and gnawing doubts about the reality of afterlife.

His thoughts of Mark brought up for him the grief he’d been holding at bay with his anger. He struck with both fists at the wood of the door he was leaning against. “No,” he shouted. The blow made a great noise that sent reverberations through his spine, but all it did was hurt the heels of his hands. Suddenly from down inside him a torrent of tears and grief welled up. He couldn’t get out of his mind the thought—the gruesome thought—of Mark burning to death.

The image that haunted him, he realized, was right out of Edward Buchanan’s collection of horrors. And with a start he remembered he was going to have to answer Buchanan’s question about the nature of evil. Oh my God, what time is it? He struggled to press the stud on his watch to turn on the back-light. “9:34” the display read. Still early. He didn’t want to release the stud and turn off the light. It was one piece of his past he could cling to. That he could still perceive anything at all was a lifeline. But as he watched the seconds slip slowly by on the watch display, he realized he shouldn’t be wasting what time he had left.

Jon focused his thoughts on the material Buchanan had showed him. Maybe there was a clue in what he showed me. Maybe this is a word game, a riddle. He remembered the story of Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx. Is that what this is about? What if I answer ‘Man’? Does that make any sense? Man is the measure. No, Buchanan would only answer man is the source of evil. He discarded that thought. What about the order of the things he showed me? The Holocaust, war atrocities, animal mutilation, nuclear weapons, anti-personnel devices, chemical and biological weapons, abortions—it seems random.

He tried to recall individual photos. Maybe there was a clue in one of them. As the images came back to him, he felt more and more revulsion: emaciated bodies, torn flesh, blood and gore, flames, explosions—horror after horror. No wonder Buchanan drove himself crazy with a hobby like that, he managed to crack a joke to himself.

And then suddenly, uncontrollably, he began to cry. He cried for the suffering of humanity. He cried for all the victims. He cried for Mark, for Pat Stratford, for Ted. He cried for himself. He began to shake violently as his mind, now getting out of his control, reeled the scenes of suffering across his visual field—but now he was the victim. It was his flesh that was torn, his body that was riddled with bullets or ripped apart by explosions or subjected to atrocities.

“You are going to die,” a voice spoke inside his head. “Buchanan is going to kill you… and probably gruesomely.” No, no, Jon tried to answer the voice, trying to push away the unacceptable reality his internal voice was announcing. “Don’t you think Charlie will love gouging out your eyes and crushing your balls in his fist… ” Stop it. “… maybe he’ll burn your cock off with his BIC lighter. Sure. He’ll flick your bic,” the voice joked sardonically.

“Or maybe they’ll tie your arms and legs to different cars and pull you apart out in the parking lot.” Jon remembered a medieval woodprint in Buchanan’s collection of a heretic being drawn and quartered.

“Maybe they’ll shoot you up with AIDS,” the voice suggested almost gleefully. “How’d you like that? Wouldn’t that be ironic?” Jon shuddered at the awful suggestion that kept coming back to haunt him. “Probably got a fast-acting version right there in one of those steel cannisters. Maybe they’ve got the rabies version. Lock you in the closet here and leave you to beat yourself to death against a wall. Maybe they’ve already injected you with the virus… ”

Jon realized how possible that was. He clutched at his arms to see if he could feel any tenderness that might have remained from an injection. The voice laughed, “Don’t you think he’d shoot it up your ass?” Shut up, shut up. But even as he tried to stop the crazy thoughts he felt his body quivering. He couldn’t help feeling infected, dirty, as though something hideous were growing inside him.

He was getting more and more hysterical. His heart was racing. He was hyperventilating; his fingers were starting to tingle. His head was spinning, his recollections and emotions running away with him. He began to fear he’d been drugged—or poisoned, that his mind was being stolen from him. He remembered the psychiatrist’s machine in The Lathe of Heaven, the Dream Augmentor. Maybe he’d been hooked up to something like that. Terrified, he grabbed at his scalp, trying to pull away the electrodes that were feeding him this nightmare. But there was nothing attached to his head. This whole thing, being in this closet and everything—it could all be an hallucination.

He tried to calm himself, to slow his breathing, to remember to be without resentment, without hate, to remain utterly unaffected by evil, to follow the way that cannot be followed…

He realized there was yet another self in him, separate from his ego and separate from the hysterical voice that had been taunting him. There came over him a calm, almost serene consciousness—“the Witness,” he remembered a term from Hindu meditation for the abstracting self that is able to view human life from a detached, almost divine viewpoint.

“Remember your study of religion,” the Witness self offered peaceably. “This is, after all, a religious question you’re supposed to be considering.”

And again Jon remembered abruptly that he was going to have to answer Buchanan’s riddle. In his fear he’d forgotten to think about that.

Now isn’t the time for riddles. No matter what I say I’m going to die.

“Then die,” the Witness answered matter-of-factly.

But I don’t want to die.

“That’s okay too,” the Witness replied as though it didn’t see what difference that made.

Fuck you! he hurled the epithet at the abstracting self. What good is all that crazy spiritual thinking now? I need help.

“You’re feeling hatred. Balance it with love.”

Love—the word burned through Jon’s consciousness. “Love is letting go of fear,” he remembered the name of Jerry Jampolsky’s book. But he felt so bereft, lonely, lost. He felt himself swept with memories of pleading for love and finding none. His heart ached. He couldn’t manage to remember the good times, the times when Ted and Mark and countless others held him and told him how they loved him. Those memories seemed to linger at the edge of consciousness but he could not grasp them. He could only recall the pain and emptiness.

“You’ve been a stupid shit,” the taunting voice resurfaced, “a worthless homosexual, a pervert. Of course nobody loved you. You’re ugly. You’re abnormal. You’re a freak.” Recollections poured into him of his childhood, of the kids in school teasing him with shouts of “sissy” and “queer.” He felt all over again the pain of longing for love but feeling it unnatural, feeling himself dirty and unlovable, scorned even by other queers. His whole life seemed like a torment of homophobia.

“God is life, God is love,” the Witness rejoined. “To love God means to love life.” Jon struggled to find such love in his heart. He tried to love his life, but right now his life seemed anything but lovable. It had all just been too much. I just can’t take anymore, he complained bitterly. Where is God? He was swept with emptiness and hopelessness.

“Jon, remember,” the abstracting voice called out to him. “What did you think it was that needed to be loved?”

He thought about that epigrammatic question, then about The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment, the little book he’d looked at on the airplane, about the conversation over breakfast with Jeff Kettner, about the advice he’d given so many of his clients. What does need to be loved? he asked himself.

The answer was obvious: This.

Again he remembered the ironic suggestion of the taunting self. He was going to be infected with AIDS. Images rushed through his mind of friends and lovers, clients and patients—all of them dead. A phantom memory suddenly assaulted him, a dread event that had never happened but that, in spite of reason, he’d kept waiting for: the discovery of KS lesions on his legs. He cringed in abject terror. Now it seemed as though the unthinkable had happened. He clawed at his ankles and calves trying to feel the sores he feared were forming. I am going to die.

Well, death is an escape. Better to die than to suffer the agony of this disease. But it is not a disease I’d be escaping, he reminded himself, but the responsibility for confronting and beating Buchanan’s plague. No, I don’t choose death, not now, not while I can still fight. I’ve got to come up with the answer to his riddle.

In his delirium Jon felt AIDS wasting his body, draining his life force away as he’d seen it drain so many. He remembered what he’d told the guys in the group: to accept reality, just as it is, with equanimity.

The philosophical attitude burned in his mind, bitter like vinegar, no consolation at all. But he urged himself to fight the temptation to anger and despair and to go on, to grieve for what was being lost, but not to resist its inevitable passing, to “love it the way it is.”

“Jon, the possibility of final enlightenment stands open to you at this very moment,” the abstracting self announced peremptorily. “Don’t fail now.”

What do I do? the vestige of Jon pleaded.

“Remember who you are. Remember to feel compassion.”

Jon remembered his Catholic upbringing, the teaching to live like Jesus, to become one with Christ, “so that no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” The Pauline quotation then merged with a recollection of Jesus’s prediction of the Judgment: “Whatsoever you did to the least of these, that you did to Me.”

Suddenly he was racked with pain and guilt. He was ravenously hungry and burning with thirst. “When I was hungry, you did not feed me. When I was thirsty, you did not give me to drink.”

He heard the definitive words of Jesus proclaiming damnation.

Have I failed to recognize You? Am I being damned? He writhed with fear of hell. In his imagination flames burned at his soul. And then he realized the hell that had tormented him and his kind had not been imposed by God, but by other men, by homophobic bigots. The epithets of “queer” and “faggot,” the rejection by parents, the beatings by fag-bashing teenagers, the persecution by police, the loss of jobs and homes, the indignities of secret, guilt-ridden sex, and AIDS, overriding everything, the unconscionable way that people with AIDS were being treated—all these were the hell that the self-righteous had imposed on “the least of these.”

Who I really am is Christ, Jon realized dramatically.

The symbolic flames of that hell unexpectedly brought back to Jon the real flames of the fiery crash that killed Mark Hartman. And the memory seemed to pull him up out of the hellfire. He thought lovingly of Mark and of the young man’s innocence and insight. Then, just as he was starting to grieve, his gentle joke with Mark—“Avalo - be - walla - walla”—came back to him, and he thought of the bodhisattva who discovered that the world’s suffering was the greatest treasure of all. He recalled the story Jeff Kettner had told at the Jung Institute. What does this mean? he thought and reluctantly imagined in his own hand the treasure-seekers’ fourth quill.

“The treasure of the ages,” the Witness announced excitedly.

Jon was perplexed, then felt a pang of realization. Recognizing suffering as treasure turns upside down all the self-serving desires that inadvertently become intentions for other people’s misfortune, he answered his own question, and felt the quill drop from his fingers.

Okay, okay. I embrace the whole of human experience, Jon shouted to himself, to share the burden of the sins of the world with Jesus and with Avalokiteshvara.

Jon felt himself part of the ocean of consciousness, “… a drop of water in an endless sea,” he observed blissfully, once again letting the Witness self absorb his awareness.

“Jon,” the Witness spoke intimately, “you’ve seen the path through suffering.”

“When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven,” Jon remembered the words of The Lazy Man’s Guide.

Suddenly God was all around him. A little voice in Jon’s consciousness asked quizzically, “What’s happening? Something’s really strange. This is the most wonderful experience of my whole life.” A feeling of wordless joy permeated his being.

In his mind’s eye, he looked up to see dawn upon him the glowing light of what he knew could only be the Beatific Vision of God’s face. He wasn’t sure if his eyes were open or closed. Indeed the brilliant light seemed to shine right into the depths of his soul.

He had the odd sense that this spiritual light was actually illuminating the closet. Though his vision was dazzled by the streaming brilliance, out of the corner of his eye he thought he could see reams of paper piled neatly on shelves; he thought maybe he could read the names of the colors of paper on the ends of the reams, so many different colors. He thought about peripheral vision hallucinations and remembered they were often a side effect of psychoactive drugs. He wondered again what Buchanan might have done to his brain.

“It is said no man can look upon the Face of God and live,” a voice announced—the taunting voice, Jon surmised.

“Do you mean I’m dying right now?” Jon asked with equanimity.

“The Face of Glory and the Face of Anguish are one and the same.” A Voice spoke in stentorian tones from out of the light burning before him. “To live on you must let go, Jonathan Stiers. You must let go.”

“Unless a man die, he shall not have life in him,” the abstracting voice added, providing a proper Scriptural footnote to the revelation.

“Have I been judged and found victorious?” Jon asked, feeling more strength and self-confidence now. “Was Buchanan wrong?”

“I know no right and wrong,” the Voice spoke. “Edward Buchanan was no more wrong than right.”

“How can you say that?” Jon objected, daring to challenge God. “He allowed thousands to die because of his bigotry and error.”

“Edward Buchanan is an incarnation of the bodhisattva, too.”

Jon felt a pang of joy for having known Mark Hartman. Avalo-Bu-chanan-chanan. He too had noticed Buchanan’s repetition quirk. He’d have laughed if this all hadn’t been so serious.

“If you judge him and make him wrong, you only repeat the error you accuse him of,” the Voice spoke.

“You mean I must forgive him for what he’s done?”

“You may forgive,” the Voice said matter-of-factly.

“Maybe this is the answer to the riddle,” said an eager voice in Jon’s consciousness. “He wants you to let him off.”

“How can I forgive genocide?” Jon bellowed in rage, “Forgive that bastard for killing my people and risking the extermination of all human life?”

“This outrage is just your self-importance, Jon,” the Voice spoke. “I have forgiven the universe without end because I have never known sin.” Jon recognized those words as something he’d read by modern American mystic Thomas Merton. He remembered Robyn McCullough saying, “Forgiveness means realizing the sin I thought my brother committed against me never really happened at all.”

Jon began to weep. “But I must tell the story. I must reveal Buchanan and the Liberty Bell Foundation. I must expose them. How else can I save my people?”

“Would you believe your forgiveness might be the source of the antidote? It might be the means to change the universe,” Jon said to himself, beginning to lose the distinction between the Voice of God, that of the Witness Self, and that of himself.

“How can I believe that?” he begged, and realized that once again suffering surrounded him. This was perhaps the greatest pain of all, he realized: to forgive your enemies.

“Oh God, oh God,” he wailed. “How can I do this?”

“Evil arises from ill-wishing. Good people will evil into existence when they measure their own good by judging it against what they perceive as others’ evil,” the Voice explained. “You end the evil by forgiveness.”

“You mean the disease will disappear if I forgive Buchanan?”

“Edward Buchanan promised to release the antidote if you answered correctly.”

“He never really admitted there was an antidote,” Jon objected.

“Does that matter? What matters right now is healing your attitude.”

“Do you mean that ‘answering correctly’ means absolving him?”

“You must make that choice yourself, Jon Stiers,” the Voice said. “The ultimate human suffering is, after all, the freedom to make choices.”

“What difference will it make anyway?” Jon objected. “Buchanan’s still going to kill me to keep his secret. Forgiving him isn’t going to change anything.”

“All minds are joined,” the Voice answered. “You are not alone in experiencing the effects of your seeing.”

Jon recognized that idea as one of the principles of the Course in Miracles Robyn talked about.

“You mean my thoughts now can affect Buchanan?” he quizzed the Voice, but there was no answer. “Well, if my death can affect Buchanan’s plan, of course, I’d die willingly.” He shuddered as he made his declaration. “But how can I believe that?”

Spiritual anguish burned in Jon as he had never known it before. “How can I forgive the suffering he’s caused? How about Ted?” he begged pitifully. “How can I forgive Mark’s death? How can I bear that humiliation?”

“Love as much as you can from wherever you are,” the Witness reminded.

“Will I remember what I’ve done?” Jon asked the question as an aside, almost as though inquiring of a parliamentarian a point of procedure.

“Who cares?”

“I fear I cannot live with that memory. I fear I cannot live without the memory. How can I keep Buchanan’s plot a secret?”

“Your announcement would just change the villain from one to another. But the treachery of wrong-making and ill-wishing would go on.”

“But people must know the truth. They can’t live in illusions.”

“No one is ever free of illusion. Not God even,” the Voice answered.

“I’d rather Buchanan were the villain and not me and not the people with AIDS.”

“Then nothing changes. If you give up self-importance and forgive—it will be as though none of this has happened,” the Voice said kindly.

“You mean AIDS will have disappeared?” Jon asked excitedly.

“I do not promise that. The Face of Glory and the Face of Anguish are one and the same,” the Voice thundered, flashing again with blinding Light. “You cannot have one without the other. That’s the way it is and you must take things the way they are.”

“Then it is You I must forgive, isn’t it?” Jon asked humbly but courageously.

“You have answered correctly, Jon Stiers. Now you need only say the words.”

“ ‘I forgive you’ and it’s over?” Jon asked quizzically.

“And forgive yourself,” the Voice said gently. “Remember, Jon, I’m you; you’re me. Forgive me… ”

Is this going to satisfy Buchanan? He looked at his watch. “1:30.” My God, he could be here any minute. Jon felt the press of time—the last of the human sufferings, he realized.

And how easy to forgive. How easy. “Oh God, I forgive you, yes, I forgive You.”

Jon felt very, very tired. His fear was gone. It didn’t matter what Buchanan would do anymore. He slumped back against the door and let himself relax. Er’ perrehnne, he thought and smiled. He slept.

To read The Buddhist Tale of The Fourth Quill

To read about Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven and the meaning of Er’ perrehnne.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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