The Thirteen Houses Project: Balm

[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.]

It’s the thirteenth and you know what that means, another post for the Thirteen Houses Project! We’re nearing the end of the project, and I had to flip a coin to determine whether I would discuss Balm or Gentian this month (Mandrake and Valerian are being saved for last).

The motto of Balm House is “Rest and be soothed,” and it’s canon is compassion. They hold that Naamah lay with the King of Persis out of compassion, to heal the pain in his soul. Adepts of Balm House are trained in the healing arts (particularly massage). In Phedre’s trilogy, Phedre comes to understand Balm house’s perspective when she sleeps with Hyacinthe after he loses a woman he loved. In Kushiel’s Scion, Imriel’s first experience with the Night Court is at Balm House, where the adept helps him heal from his traumatic experiences while being held captive in Darsanga. His trip to Balm House does not magically deal with his trauma, he (literally) bears the scars of his ordeal all his life, but it is an important step in healing emotionally for him.

Whenever I’m asked to choose my favourite Night Court house, it’s always a tie between Balm and Gentian (although I think Gentian just manages to get the top spot). I love the idea of Balm House, I love the idea of a place where patrons can go to rest and heal, where they can find a shoulder to cry on and words of comfort, and, yes, sex, if they’re up to it.

From the description above, you might be tempted to dismiss Balm House as the “house of the magic healing penis/vulva” but I do think that while Balm House does play a role in Imriel’s healing, it doesn’t magically “cure” his trauma. Balm House offers compassion and understanding, not necessarily a panacea for all that ails. This is what I take from Balm House, the importance of compassion and empathy: understanding the pain and suffering of others even if I might not experience that pain and suffering myself.

We don’t hear a lot about compassion in Heathen spaces. I’ve heard it said that things like compassion and moderation are “weak” Christian values and most definitely not Heathen virtues. I have to admit I’m pretty baffled by this lack of empathy for others. (Although I must confess, the complete xenophobia of some Heathen groups in general baffles me.) This is part of the reason why I find the Nine Noble Virtues inadequate as a kind of moral compass. It’s not that things like Courage aren’t great virtues, it’s that some Heathens seem to have this slavish devotion to it to the point of dismissing other excellent qualities as “weak” and you know what? Embracing values like compassion doesn’t automatically make you a Christian, either. To me, feeling compassion for others, and then acting to eliminate the cause of their suffering is a virtue, whatever your religion.

Melissa officinalis L. by Gideon Pisanty (via Wikipedia)

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