With Help Like This by Wesley Miller

I first thought I was simply a victim of one of Professor Moliere's Basic Sociology students. He'd often send them out breaching the norms in social situations and observing how people made sense of the disruption. In my freshman year, for example, I demanded that a local Kwik Trip clerk take twice as much money for a tube of toothpaste, and watched all the funny looks I got. It was a blast then, but not when I'm the guinea pig. But I started to realize that what happened to me last semester was just too elaborate and complex for any St. Julian's University freshman to devise. How could any student plant such a tall, dark, distinctive looking "librarian" as Brother Mallumaviro on campus and have no one else notice him but myself? How could he disappear so suddenly and without a trace? How could any student besides a geeky chemistry major produce the pyrotechnic effects that happened during my oral presentation? No, this wasn't any breaching experiment, but what other possible explanation can there be?

I suppose I've confused you already, gotten way ahead of myself a bit. Well, I'm David Tierney, a junior at St. Julian's University in Lac Marquette, Wisconsin, right near Lake Superior. I guess I'm rather typical for a St. Julian's student -- fairly bright, a minimalist, procrastinator, and weekend party-er. I do just enough work to get by, so I can spend the rest of my time in my other pursuits. Usually these habits suit me just fine, after all, it's the "C" student that rules the world anyway. However, this last semester, it seems as if these characteristics became my downfall and not just academically.

* * *

Last semester, I signed up for Moliere's upper division Sociology of Religion course. Dr. Moliere's a crusty old bird, but I always got along with him, charming him with a disarming honesty that discouraged him from expecting anything more than the minimal from me. I'd have to say he's a good guy though for a Prof. He never takes our work stoppages as a personal insult so we all get along with him.

The syllabus was fairly typical for a Moliere course -- we'd read a bit of Durkheim, a bit of Weber and then do an oral presentation and paper based on our own interests. For this course:

Each student will do a presentation, and a paper (based on the presentation) on a religious group of his/her choosing. The project should cover the beliefs and rituals of the group and the social context from which the group grew. The project will be judged on content, style, creativity, and on how well it demonstrates the student's ability to use, what Mills calls, the sociological imagination. Presentations will begin the last week in October. Papers will be due the last day of class.

After going over the assignment and asking for questions, Moliere gave his usual speech on the "evils of procrastination."

". . . Don't start work on this project the last minute! You're only looking for trouble . . .'

I always laughed whenever he said that.

* * *

Well, I never did follow Moliere's advice, for I only started thinking about the project on October 27th, four days before my presentation. I had a lot to do, I told myself -- hockey, and partying, and . . . On the night of the 27th, after practice, I finally went down to the basement of the library, found my secluded corner desk behind the stacks, collected a few books, and started my search for a topic . . . that's the state I stayed in for quite a long time.

By midnight, I was still getting nowhere. I glanced through a few of Huston Smith's works, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and even Luhrman's ethnographic study of modern day English Wiccan practices. Nothing really caught my fancy. I knew Moliere was one of those "nuts and sluts" kind of sociologists. You know, the type who is impressed with presentations on obscure and strange social groups. So I wasn't enthused about doing a presentation about Minnesota Lutherans or, even for that matter, the growing Islamic community in Rochester, Minnesota. I was tired, I was frustrated and I was starting to worry. I had less than four days to get this project done. And then, just about the time I was ready to leave St. Julian's and drive a truck, a voice from behind me startled me.

"I see you're working on Moliere's project?"

I turned around and saw a dark, tall man in a black cassock, smiling down on me. He dressed like the other brothers who taught at the school, except his distinctive appearance in the habit made him look more menacing than holy. And yet, despite his unique features, I'd never seen him before in my life.

"Yes . . .," I answered. "How did you know, Brother? . . . Have you taken this class?"

"Well, let's just say that I know Professor Moliere well . . . Oh, I'm sorry. I'm forgetting my manners. I'm Brother Mallumaviro."

I put on my winning smile and manners, "Please to meet you, Brother Mallumaviro . . ."

"That's Mallumavir-r-r-o" he interrupted, "You must roll that r."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Brother Mallumavi-r-r-r-o." I exaggerated the roll, "I've never been very good at languages I'm afraid . . . Or for that matter choosing topics for papers either. By the way, I'm David Tierney."

"Hello, David." he scanned my table, looking at my stack of books. "You look like you could use some help."

I nodded meekly at him. Brother Mallumaviro sounded and looked friendly enough in a superficial way, but something still bothered me. I thought perhaps that it was just his habit and his height at first, but I just couldn't place my finger on what really bothered me about him. Maybe it was his smile. I don't know. But at this point, I knew I needed some help with this project and I wasn't going to refuse his help just because of my paranoia.

"Yep, I need a lot of help, only three days and I'm up in front of the class and I haven't even started yet."

He rubbed his chin and "hmmmed."

"Well, David, we need to start from the beginning, don't we? What type of group would be interested in studying?"

"I've been looking at Luhrman's book," I pointed to it. "I think I'd like to do something on a group like she studied. You know, some type of magic cult like the Golden Dawn or Gareth Knight's group. But I want to work on a group no one else in the class would ever choose."

"You do know Moliere pretty well, don't you?" he smiled, looked up at the ceiling, and paused. ". . . Well, there is one group I could suggest, but most people think it's fictitious: The Esoteric Order of Dagon. Of course, not much is written about it so, I guess, if you so choose, you'll have to use me as one of your main sources. Are you interested?"

"Sure I'm interested," I answered and took out a pen and notebook. "But I need to know more about it."

Brother nodded slowly. "Good. I'll tell you a little about them and then lend you two books that'll get you started . . . Well, the Esoteric Order of Dagon has its origins earlier in this century on the north shore of Massachusetts, although if you ask any of its present-day devotees they'll say their roots are centuries older. They claim that the ancient Canaanites worshipped the god Dagon as well as some Polynesian groups, but like the Wiccan's claims of ancient descent, most scholars see this as pure fiction. They were supposedly wiped out in the 1920s, although today you can probably find a coven in any major urban area near a large body of water: either ocean or lake. They supposedly wish to become one with their god Dagon and other aquatic deities and will someday return to the sea as new creatures. At this point, they believe, Dagon will rule over all the earth . . . Now I have two books that will get you started on your presentation. One is a socio-historical study of their Massachusetts coven of the 1920s and another is supposedly a fictional horror story written by H.P. Lovecraft. Some of the Dagon devotees believe that Lovecraft's short story is actually real, and that he was some type of prophet. You'll have to judge for yourself. If you're interested, I'll lend you these two books."

"Yes . . .," I said with some unexplainable dread pulsing through me. There was something in Brother Mallumaviro's dark eyes and smirking face that seemed to scare me. For a Catholic religious Brother, he seemed to get too much joy talking about the workings of an occult order, I felt. He went off to his office and returned with two books: one containing the best short stories of Lovecraft, the other a field study by Ralph J. McIntyre called Submitting to Dagon: A Social History of a New England Cult.

I thanked Brother Mallumaviro, packed up and went back to my dorm-room to sleep.

* * *

I didn't get to read the books Brother lent me until the 30th of October. On the 29th, I had just too much to do. I suppose you know how it is.

On the 30th, I skipped all my classes and spent the whole day in the library going through the resources I had. I must say that the beliefs of this Dagon cult were initially a jumble to me. The Dagonist theologians were no Thomas Aquinases I concluded. The best I could make out was that this religion believed in a group of "Great Old Ones" like Dagon, and some creature named Cthulhu, who were imprisoned on earth millennia before by these evil Elder Gods. Dagon and Cthulhu were imprisoned underwater with their minions, the Deep Ones and Shoggoths, awaiting to be wakened and take their rightful place as rulers of earth. The human race was called to bring the start of this new kingdom about through arcane rituals and sacrifices. The worshipers of Dagon, themselves, would become like the amphibious Deep Ones and live in eternal bliss in one of the Dagon's underwater cities. Everyone else on earth would meet a horrible death. After reading about what the Deep Ones looked like, I wasn't too anxious to become one, but I suppose some people will do anything for eternal life.

The McIntyre book talked extensively about the rituals of the order. The media claimed that they sacrificed human beings on May Eve and Halloween, although no conclusive proof of such rituals had been documented. McIntyre did state that they were ritual fundamentalists of sorts who believed that if a ritual wasn't done exactly as it should be, the ritual would fail. However, once the ritual was begun, only the main celebrant could end it. Any interference from outside would lead to disastrous results.

This was all very bizarre to me but, in the case of a Moliere course, the bizarrer the better. I had a lot about its history, a lot about its beliefs, and a little about its rituals. Now I needed some angle that would really impress old Doc Moliere.

I leaned back in my chair, contemplating my next step. It was ten at night and knew I still had plenty of time for my project at nine the next morning. And then suddenly, I heard a polite clearing of the throat behind me.

"Well, David, how goes your project? I trust you found the Dagonists interesting?" said Brother Mallumaviro, his dark eyes gleaming as he loomed over my desk.

"Oh, yes, Brother Mallumaviro!" I answered.

"That's Mallumavi-r-r-ro" he rolled his r with stern emphasis. "Please pronounce it correctly!"

"Yes, sir. I'm sorry Brother Mallumavi-r-r-r-o," I said, a bit startled by his sudden anger.

"Oh, please forgive me," he composed himself, and feigned a meek smile. "I am a bit touchy myself about mispronunciation. I guess it comes with being a Brother."

"No problem." I grinned, not wanting to chase Brother away before he finished helping me with my project. "I guess I'm a bit nervous, too. I got all the background material I think Moliere wants, now I just got to think of some entertaining way to present it. I'm not going to settle for a lame Power Point presentation. I don't think I could find any images of the Deep Ones anyway."

He laughed and took the chair next to me. "No, David, I don't know of any photographs of them myself. But perhaps I can help you out here. Like I said before, I know your professor and I know just the type of presentation that would really make him take notice."

"Really . . . oh, please tell me!"

"Well, let's see," he rubbed his smoothed, neatly shaven chin. "If I remember Moliere, he's one of those Weberian verstehen sociologists, isn't he? You know, the type who believes you really know a group when you experience face-to-face something about them. Well, why don't you bring a little of the Esoteric Order of Dagon into the classroom, David?"

"What do you mean, Brother?"

He grinned widely, almost evilly. "Well, why don't you do one of the their rituals as authentically as possible right in class tomorrow morning? It won't be all that difficult. I got most of the things you need and the rest of the materials are easy enough to get."

"What rituals are you talking about? Didn't they practice human sacrifice?" I asked, beginning to wonder whether I really wanted an "A" on this project in the first place.

"No, no, no," he shook his head. "That's just anti-cult propaganda. They no more practiced human sacrifice then Catholics practice cannibalism in the Mass. It was all play-acting. You just need to get someone to lay out on a table while you go through the ritual."

"Don't we need to be near some water? Aren't the rituals calling on those Deep Ones to receive our sacrifice?" I asked, still not convinced I wanted to go through with this and look like a geek.

"We're right on Lac Marquette, aren't we?" he laughed. "Anyway, we're no more than ten miles from Lake Superior."

"Oh, Okay," I said and resigned myself to go through with this.

"Good, let me go to my office and get a few things."

Brother Mallumaviro went to his office and returned not more than five minutes later, as if he had everything prepared for me beforehand.

"Here, David. This is what I want you wear."

He handed me a long greenish robe and peculiar-looking tiara of a kind I'd never seen before.

"Well, at least I'll have a Halloween costume for tomorrow."

Brother Mallumaviro did not laugh. In fact, he looked a little too serious, as if this project I was doing were the most important event in the world. He gave me careful instructions on how the presentation room should be set up, the necessary paraphernalia for doing the rite, and a detailed choreography of my movements during the ritual. He told me I needed someone to serve as a ritual sacrifice as well. Finally, he handed me a folder of yellowed sheets of paper.

"David, these are the words you must read during the ritual. They're taken from a copy of Alpregxoj de Dagono . . . I know Moliere. He demands, above all else, authenticity in his presentations and these are authentic. You must say them word for word, slowly, correctly enunciating each word if you wish a good grade from Moliere."

To be honest, at this point, Brother started to scare me. His dark, hypnotic eyes blazed with an inner fire. His words were too formal, his authoritative way too seductive. I shook my head in obedience, as he went through the invocation with me, demanding that I pronounce each word carefully and correctly. By one, I was exhausted physically and mentally, yet he still demanded me to see him tomorrow morning at six o'clock, so that we could go over the words again. I promised him I'd see him, went off to my room, and collapsed on the bed.

* * *

I overslept and missed my appointment. In fact, I didn't get up until eight o'clock. I got dressed hastily, and ran off to breakfast, reading the notes and papers Brother Mallumaviro had provided me. My presentation was at 9:15, so I'd only have enough time to set up the room before doing my thing.

Luckily, the hot, stuffy classroom was empty, so I had plenty of privacy as I set up. I placed the chairs in a circle around an ordinary table, just long enough to allow Marge, a friend I conscripted during breakfast, to lay out across. I made sure there was a enough space so that I could circumnavigate around the room as I read the invocation. I placed and lit candles in random spots all throughout the room. I also placed a brazier full of incense in the front corner of the room. I turned off the lights and was rather pleased with the effect.

I put on the robe and tiara that Brother had given me, just before people started filing sleepily into the room. I felt like a "geek" at first. I felt like a reject from the Rocky Horror Picture Show . . . "Nice dress, Dave" . . . "I have a gown just like that one, David, you want to borrow mine?" . . . But my anxiety eased as other people came to class dressed in costumes as well. After all, it was Halloween! Dr. Moliere, finally, got to class and sat in the back, grade book and index cards in hand.

I went over the words of the invocation, still a bit confused. They were in a language I didn't know, but Brother said that didn't really matter as long as I pronounced them correctly. Marge, eyebrow rings and all, finally arrived and I had her lie across the table.

"Mr. Tierney, anytime you're ready," Moliere said with an uncharacteristic formality.

"Thank you, Dr. Moliere." I cleared my voice and looked down at my notes. "I'd like to start off a little differently than past presentations, if I may. Before I even tell you the name of the religious group I studied, I'd like to give you taste of what it might be like to attend one of their rituals."

I proceeded to turn off the lights, amidst nervous giggles and yawns. I heard one person mumble "Helter Skelter" under her breath.

I moved to the middle of the room, in front of the table, smiled at Marge and raised my hands and eyes toward the ceiling and chanted:

"Ni pregxu al Dagono!"

There were more giggles amongst the students, but when I looked over at Moliere's face, I saw something quite the opposite: a look of tense fear as if he was ready to spring up. But I continued, slowly circling the table five times while carefully reciting monotonously:

"Tio ne mortigxas, kio povas kusxi eterne,
Kaj gxis post strangaj eonoj, ecx morto povas morti eble."

As I circled the table, strange changes seemed to come over the room. A breeze, cold and damp began to waft through the open window, making the lit candles flicker. At first, this, in itself, produced more nervous giggles until my third time around the table, when the increasing chill of the room no longer was considered amusing. I took a quick glance out the window and noticed that the clouds had begun to darken in the distance, somewhere over Lake Superior, I suppose.

I continued around the table, chanting slowly, carefully. I heard a hum begin, as from a broken fluorescent light, but no light was on. I wondered if someone left the computer on in the classroom.

By this time, the class was deadly quiet, all too quiet. My voice seemed to resonate in some way beyond the classroom, my listeners seemed somewhere outside of the classroom. Marge shivered. Moliere watched me carefully, as if he was memorizing every word from my mouth. I finished circling the table, raised my hands and eyes to the ceiling again and said:

"Ni alpregxas eternan Dagonon,
Ni al vi donas belegan virinon.
Auxskultu! Auxdu!
veku nian Majstron! . . ."

Then I paused and said . . .

"Oops! I'm sorry, I should have said Majst-r-r-r-on!."

The class laughed, I acted like a clown, and Moliere appeared relieved. Yes, I goofed. I forgot to roll that r in Majstron. The spell broke, the room warmed, the hum stopped, the weather cleared and so I went on and talked about the history of the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

I stayed to talk to Dr. Moliere after the class. He quickly handed me an index card with his comments and grade on it and immediately gave me the "third degree."

"So David, where did come by all this information about Dagonists?" He frowned.

"Well, to be honest, sir, one of the Brothers in the library helped me out," I responded.

"Brother Ernest gave you this information?" he asked with increasing surprise.

"No, no! Not him . . . you know that new, tall Brother . . . Brother Mallumavi-r-r-ro."

"Brother Mallumaviro?" he pulled off his glasses and looked intently into my eyes. "I know no Brother Mallumaviro . . . Are you sure?"

I told him I was. He squinted, stroked his beard and turned abruptly to pick up his grade book. "That's all David . . ."

Before I could thank Professor Moliere for the "A-" he gave me, he was scooting out the door.

* * *

The next morning, I went off to breakfast happy that one assignment was at least done. The talk at my cafe table was about a freak storm over Lake Superior yesterday morning, just about the time I was giving my presentation. According to the Lac Marquette Post-Shopper, a number of boats sank with lives lost.

I hurried off to the information desk at the library in order to return the materials I had borrowed from Brother.

"Dr. Wright? . . .," I inquired of the librarian at the desk. "Is Brother Mallumaviro here yet?"

"Who? . . .," Dr. Wright responded annoyingly. Her day hadn't started off well, I thought.

"You know . . . Mallumavi-r-r-r-o. That new Brother librarian. I have some things of his I want to return. Mallumavi-r-r-o," I answered impatiently. I was already late to class as it was.

"Listen, David. Stop joking with me. There is no librarian by that name . . . Furthermore, I know Esperanto myself, so don't be disrespectful of our Brothers . . . There is no sinister Brother Dark Man, here or anywhere else at St. Julian's!"

"You're kidding, right?" I sheepishly smiled.

"Do I look like it?"

I dropped my copy of Alpregxo de Dagono, ran out of the library and to my room . . . I left St. Julian's after the semester and started seeing a local shrink in my hometown. I thought I was losing it for awhile, but I've decided my experience with Brother Mallumaviro or whoever he was, was just a result of stress or one too many checks against the boards during the hockey season. I still have nightmares, and a fear of large bodies of water . . ., but one thing I know one thing for certain, sometimes it pays to put as little effort into your work as possible.

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© 2003 Edward P. Berglund
"With Help Like This . . .": © 2003 by Wesley Miller. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998-2003 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: May 3, 2003; Updated: August 9, 2004