[TW: The following post discusses slut-shaming, sex-negativity and misogyny. There’s also a bit of fat-shaming.]
[Once a month for the next twelve months, I will be doing a post on the 13th of each month based on one of the Thirteen Houses of the Court of Night-Blooming Flowers from Kushiel’s Legacy.]
Fair warning, I go all over the place in this post. Please excuse all the jumping around.
It’s the 13th, so that means another post in the Thirteen Houses Project. This month, I’ve chosen to cover Alyssum House.
Alyssum House’s motto is “With eyes averted,” and the House canon is modesty. Alyssum House holds that when Naamah lay with the King of Persis to secure Blessed Elua’s release from prison, she “trembled to lay aside her modesty”. Innocence and shame (or the illusion of such) is the bread and butter of this house.
In Kushiel’s Justice, we learn that men and women enter Alyssum House through separate doors and there is no mingling of the sexes. Each patron is then asked to whisper their desire into the Second’s ear, who then goes to fetch the adept, or has the patron choose from a lineup. As the adept Mignon says “There are those among us who believe that Naamah trembled at what she did when first she lay with a mortal man–at the audacity of it, at the shame of it, at the glory of it.” (pg. 60) Unsurprisingly, Imriel compares adepts of Alyssum with those of Valerian, who are also embrace shame as a part of their particular art (although in a different way than Alyssum).
Being ex-Catholic, I consider myself to be well-acquainted with both shame and modesty. Although men and women alike are expected to be modest, unsurprisingly, women are the ones who usually hear the most about it. As girls. we are taught to dress modestly lest the boys turn into lustful cockmonsters, because, as we all know, boys and men are animals who aren’t capable of controlling themselves, amirite? Of course, to be “shameless” is equally a bad thing, because being shameless is for sluts and whores, not “good girls”.
In and of itself, dressing modestly (or, shall we say, conservatively) isn’t a bad thing, it’s all the kyriarchal garbage attached to the idea that stinks.
The other side of the Alyssum coin is shame, and Alyssum House, Imriel muses, is one place where adepts and patrons alike can be purged of it (or, you know, get off on it). Shame is, as Mignon says, a “spice”, the thrill of doing something forbidden, and this too, is one face of Naamah, maybe a strange face to some, but love, Imriel notes at the close of his visit to Alyssum, takes many forms.
However, shame is also something that can hurt. We can be made to feel ashamed of ourselves (and not in a “Baby, I’m so hot!” kind of way) over a variety of things. My parents like to poke fun of my *ahem* “Mennonite ass” (I know, sometimes my parents can be terrible). Fortunately, I am way too proud of my amazing squishy posterior to care very much, but other people may not feel the same way, and remarks like that can hurt, they can hurt a lot.
So, while Alyssum House definitely isn’t one of my favourite houses, there is, I feel, something to take away about shame, and, more broadly, about how something can be shameful, audacious, and yet, glorious. (That quote, by the way, is typical Carey.)
That’s it for this post. Next month, I’m leaning towards Byrony House and discussing my complicated relationship with money, or perhaps Camellia and perfection. Hmm, decisions, decisions….