Category Archives: Pop Culture Paganism

The Companions Project is No More

I know I just posted the entry for Eisheth and it seems silly to post it and then scrap the whole thing, but to be honest I’m not really feeling it anymore. The one entry’s been sitting there for ages and to be honest I feel as if it isn’t very useful to anyone but myself.

No, the author and publisher didn’t track me down and demand that I stop. I’m just feeling like my work with the Companions needs to be a bit more private. The Thirteen Houses Project is staying where it is, however, so there’s that, and I might start something similar with my own fictional deities.

If you’re interested in stuff involving the Companions, I’d encourage you to read the source material (that is, the Kushiel’s Legacy series) or you can message me about it on tumblr or Facebook.

The Thirteen Houses Project: Valerian

It’s the thirteenth, and by now you know what that means, but now we’ve reached the final entry in the Thirteen Houses Project. Seems like it’s been awhile since I wrote that introduction, and now here we are at the end. On the one hand, it’s been a long journey and a job well done, but on the other, I’m kind of sad to see it go.

Valerian House’s canon is algolagnia and submission. It’s motto is “I Yield,” like Mandrake House, we don’t learn about what they hold transpired when Naamah offered herself to the King of Persis, but i think you can guess. Valerian House has an interesting way of selecting apprentices. They are given spiced candies, and are told that the pleasure from the candy is derived from the pain of the spice. Those who understand this lesson are kept, others have their marques sold to other houses. Valerian House also maintains an altar to Kushiel, in Kushiel’s Dart, Phedre learns that many Valerian adepts are dedicated to him.

Although Valerian adepts are recognized as Servants of Naamah and perform the same sacred duty as the other Houses, Valerian adepts don’t get a lot of respect in canon. Characters compare them to dogs and refer to them as “whipping toys for ham-fisted noblemen” even Phedre, who has been divinely ordained to be so masochistic she can never be broken by torture, looks down on the adepts of this house. The only characters to give Valerian adepts a measure of dignity and respect are Imriel and Mavros.

Valerian’s lessons are submission and surrender. These can be hard lessons to learn, especially since many people (at least, in North America) seem to want to take Mandrake’s lesson to heart, to assert control over every aspect of their lives when there are some things that are always going to be out of control. I feel like Valerian adepts know how to go with the flow better than any other house, they learn to trust their patrons in ways that other houses do not. In Heathenry, there’s a sizable contingent of Heathens who assert that “we don’t kneel before our gods” this despite numerous references to people kneeling and prostrating before images of the deities. It seems like there’s at least one meme every week echoing that sentiment, and it’s no less annoying every time it happens.

At the same time, I feel like some groups, perhaps reacting to the former view, push too far in the other direction at times. I don’t think I have to name specific names, but I’ve found that some people seem to expect everyone to have 100% godslave=like devotion to their deities at all times, and, quite frankly, I find this notion to be utterly ridiculous. Not everyone is going to have the exact same relationship with their deities, some might not even interact with deities at all, instead focusing on local land spirits and ancestors, not wanting to devote one’s life 200% to the deities doesn’t make you impious, it means that you have other responsibilities, and few people in this day and age can really afford to devote 100% of their time to their deities. It’s not uncommon to see reactionary movements that respond to one extreme by going to the other extreme, and I don’t think that either extreme is really helping in this case. It is possible to say “It’s okay to kneel, it’s okay to have an intense relationship with your deities,” without expecting everyone to be the same way, sometimes you might need to just go with the flow, but other times, other times you need to help yourself. My deities aren’t all-powerful and are frequently busy, so I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

This project has taught me that there are many ways to serve Naamah. That might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but even Phedre didn’t fully understand this until Kushiel’s Avatar, and she was born and raised in Terre D’Ange. I know some of the entries are rushed because I really wanted to get the post done on the 13th, but overall I had fun with this project and it provided a nice framework for discussion topics.

Thank you for sticking with me through this project. I don’t know when I’ll be doing something like this again, but until that time, enjoy all the reviews, rants, and random mutterings.

Image credit: “Valeriana officinalis” by Kurt Stüber (via Wikipedia)

The Thirteen Houses Project: Mandrake

[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 Friday the 13th and a full moon, and because it’s the thirteenth of the month, you know what that means! It’s time for another entry in the Thirteen Houses Project.

This month’s House is Mandrake. Mandrake’s canon is dominance and sadism and its motto is “Yield all.” Unusually, we don’t learn what they hold occurred when Naamah slept with the King of Persis, but we do learn that they believe Naamah “chose her patrons like victims and whipped them to violent pleasures, leaving them sated and half dead”. At the Midwinter Masque during Kushiel’s Dart, the adepts are costumed as the Court of Tartarus.

When I started this project I had an idea for a topic for Mandrake but now that I’m almost finished it I can’t think of what to write at all, especially since, in my mind, Mandrake and Valerian are so intertwined that they’re two halves of the same coin. I have more headcanons about Valerian and Mandrake than I do for any of the other houses, or, well, every other aspect of the series besides the deities themselves.

So, for today, Mandrake’s lesson is about control and assertion. Mandrake House demands that its patrons give up control in its very motto. To give up control is something that frightens a lot of people, but that’s going to be explored in the next–and final–entry in the Thirteen Houses Project.

I have a confession to make, I am absolutely the least assertive person in the world. I’m very shy and withdrawn and I still find it difficult to look people in the eye. I get really nervous when calling someone on the phone for the first time, about the only place I feel free to express myself is the Internet, which is why this blog exists. People can say what they like about how the Internet is horrible and ruining everything, but for me, the Internet is the most comfortable way I have to communicate with other people.

A Mandrake adept, I imagine, is someone who, either naturally or through training, learns how to take control of their assignations. This is something I was never really taught to do, and I suspect this is true for many women. We are not taught to be assertive, we’re told that we’re being “bossy”, “bitchy” or “ball-busters”, even within kink, it’s often assumed that submissives are women, in fact books on kink are one of the only places where I’ve seen writers default to feminine pronouns when discussing submissive partners (rather than using androcentric or gender neutral pronouns). Even if it does accurately reflect the dominant dynamic in kink, it’s still pretty messed up when you think about it?

Mandrake’s lesson is a very hard one to learn, for me, maybe at this point it’s impossible to learn, at least, not without unlearning a whole slew of things. It’s tough to unlearn things that institutions and the people around you have pretty much drilled into your head from day one. This is something I discussed previously in the entry on Alyssum House. It’s interesting how I’ve essentially come full circle since then.

Next month marks the final entry in the Thirteen Houses Project, Valerian House! I’m excited that I’m close to being done, but in a way it’s kind of sad. Oh well, there’s still the Companions Project to do.

“Mandrake roots” by Spacedive (via Wikipedia)

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)

The Thirteen Houses Project: Orchis

[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.]

This is a short post because I seem to be out of inspiration for the day.

This month’s House is Orchis House, one of my favourites. The canon of Orchis House is humour and its motto is “Joy in laughter”. Orchis House holds that Naamah lay with the King of Persis “for a lark”.

The lesson of Orchis House is that joy and religiosity need not be (or appear to be) mutually exclusive, that sometimes even goddesses do things “for the lulz” and that too, is sacred. (Even deities need to have a little fun.) That sometimes, you just need to pause in the middle of a ritual and laugh at how silly you sound. Orchis adepts, in my mind, have little use for solemn rituals (such as a Cassiline brother might perform) joy infuses everything that they do, including paying homage to Naamah. I like to think of them as gently teasing their patrons, engaging in a joke or two at their expense, perhaps singing a bawdy song or two.

Some may see this behaviour as irreverent, but for an Orchis adept, it’s as much a part of serving Naamah as healing is for a Balm adept and pleasure is for a Jasmine adept, there’s no separating one from the other. There are many people who are serious about their faith who will still make endless jokes at their deities’ expense, and it doesn’t mean they’re any less serious about what they do.

And I’m sure some deities enjoy jokes at their expense, very much so. I mean, you know what they say about not being able to laugh at yourself, right? Deities aren’t necessarily exempt from that just as they aren’t immune to petty jealousy or taking cheap shots at each other.

I’ve already talked about this in my post on “Faith and Fun” and I feel that that post perfectly captures what Orchis House is about, and I think this sense of fun is something that tends to be looked down upon as lacking in spiritual value.

“Orchis italica” by Lumbar (Via Wikipedia)

The Thirteen Houses Project: Heliotrope

[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.]

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day so it seems like an appropriate time to talk about Heliotrope House. The canon of Heliotrope House is devotion and love, and its motto is “Thou, and no other,” Heliotrope House holds that when Naamah slept with the King of Persis, she “basked in love as in the sun”. It is said that a patron who spends a night with a Heliotrope adept will feel as if they are the only one to have ever touched their heart.

Elua’s Precept, “Love as Thou Wilt” informs every aspect of D’Angeline society (at least, ideally, whether D’Angeline society lives up to it is up for debate). While all of the Houses of the Night Court have their own ways of expressing love and desire, Heliotrope House makes love (particularly the devoted love of lovers towards one another) front and center. To spend time with a Heliotrope adept is to experience this sort of love.

Of course, there are many different kinds of love, erotic and romantic love being only two of them. There’s familial love, love between friends, love of one’s country, love for one’s deities, love of a favourite food, place, or other thing, love can be intense or fleeting, you might love animals, or love an idea. There are so many different ways to love, and for some, certain kinds of love will be more important than others. For some, love of one’s deities eclipses all other concerns, others may have no use for love that is romantic or sexual in nature, either by choice or orientation. For some, love of things is superficial. Philosophers have argued since forever about “higher” forms of love, but for me personally, there are so many different kinds and ways of love and expressing love that it’s up to each person to decide where their priorities lie in this matter.

There’s a whole lot more I could say on this topic, but for now, enjoy tomorrow by whichever name you wish to call it, including simply “Friday”.

Love as thou wilt.

Image: Heliotropium peruvianum by Algirdas (via Wikipedia)