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Shemhazai Library   Content managed by our Librarian, member      Damiane de Mereliot

TdA Member Contributed Articles
Alyssum House: “Sin,” “Shame”/ Elua and his Companions

by Averet Abrahil
Royal Emissary





After reading the posts within the forums regarding the Houses of the Night Court and reading the entire series of novels (several times), I have come to believe that there is something centrally D’Angeline about Alyssum House, the essential tenants of which are modesty and humility.

The questions posed by the posts and the literature is an intriguing one in that modesty and humility, while they exist in D’Angeline society, do not seem to be values that D’Angeline society embraces, at large. In fact, they seem somehow quintessentially un-D’Angeline in character.

With that in mind, I have turned to a treatment of D’Angeline religion and history in order to better explain my thesis that, in fact, Alyssum House and its precepts are more in keeping with a deeply held belief system that is part of D’Angeline life. I recognize that, of course, opinions may vary as to these matters and merely wish to pen this humble article in the hope that it will generate discussion, debate, dissent, and food for thought (as it were).

So, let us begin at that most natural of places; the beginning. Fundamentally, Elua did not know shame or fear. He was compelled by a love of earthly desires, because he was born (through a blending of blood and tears) of the world and the intervention of a Mother Earth long estranged from her heavenly husband. Heaven is bloodless, and Elua is decidedly not. He is filled with love, desire, and passion. He dances, and where he dances, flowers bloom. He sings and plays in the world at large, and, love him or hate him, he cares for things that are entirely earthly. He fathers children, has sex, knows love and is loved, all in an entirely primal earthly way. He is a product of the Earth and embodies all the passions of living in it.

Elua’s companions are another matter. They are bloodless. They are not of the Earth, although we are given to understand that they (with one exception) come to revel in earthly things, such as having children, sex, love, etc.... They are defiant angels who chose what they believe is right regardless of what the One God thinks of their choice. They think it is right to come to the world out of love for the One God’s neglected grandson. They aim to correct what they view as a deficiency in the moral judgment of the One God. Naamah is no exception.

I think it is reasonable to conclude that one source of the background tension of the novels is that the companions of Elua embody angelic virtues and understandings. They retain notions and experiences of a god to whom they must ultimately answer and also a higher morality against which they should ultimately measure themselves. They retain notions of divine love, justice, accountability, and sin.

“Sin” in the D’Angeline world comes in three flavors. First, there is “sin” in (what I will call) the classic sense, which amount to disobeying the One God or his edicts. Second, there is a species of “sin” that involves simply not doing the right thing. The second flavor of “sin” seems to be what guides Elua’s companions to leave the One God’s service and follow Elua. To fail Elua would not be right (the second kind of sin). Third are fierce and ennobling excesses that the companions have which are part of their essential characters and help them to make the choice they think is right with respect to Elua. They are virtues that lead them to disobey one allegiance (i.e. service of the One God) while promoting or fostering another (i.e. doing what is right and following Elua). Thus these are “sins,” because they are qualities that animate disobedience (i.e., classic sins as I have termed them). However, these qualities are not “sinful,” when they lead the companions to the morally correct choice of following a higher right and wrong with respect to being companions to Elua.

One example is Azza’s pride. This third brand of “sin” is celebrated by D’Angelines, because it is through that excess characteristic that they as people came to understand Elua and his companions. If Azza was prideful, and he is an example of how to live, then pride is given greater credence.

In the literature, we see that those of Azza’s line understand that Azza’s sin was pride and, by extension, so is theirs. However, this is not the same as sinning against the One God (i.e., disobedience). It may well be the cause of the second kind of sin (i.e. doing the wrong thing). Conversely, it can be said that it is this third brand of D’Angeline “sin” that is a source of pride (i.e. when it does not lead to the wrong choice and is thus celebrated or tolerated). When the Lioness of Azzalle is convicted of treason she is unashamed, because she does not believe she had another choice (i.e. she thinks she was right; that the king, in her place, would have done the same). She believes her actions were not wrong even though they were animated by pride. Her pride is not the source of wrongdoing, in her opinion, and thus she is not ashamed. When her husband explains that he knew of the plan and did nothing, perhaps he thinks that the pride of his line has grown beyond a virtue into something detrimental, because it has led to the wrong choice (i.e. perhaps he thinks that doing nothing about the treasonous plot was wrong).

Cassiel, alone, still gives credence to the first brand of “sin” (disobedience to the One God) and is prepared to be damned for his beliefs, rather than accept the ‘pardon’ of going to the “true Terre D’Ange which lies beyond.” He is, in many ways, the most tragic of characters, because he will do what he believes to be right with the full knowledge that he will also accept the most severe punishment for his principles. So Cassiel must accept that the greater wrong lies in not doing what he believes to be morally right (i.e. following Elua). Moreover, it must be the case that he believes doing what is right is at least marginally more important than serving the One God from a moral prospective. Nevertheless he retains a sense of obedience so great that he willingly suffers damnation anyway. Perhaps this is why the Cassiline Brothers/Sisters take extreme vows and live in a way slightly out of step with the rest of society. They do so because they follow the example of Cassiel.

Thus, if the forgoing is true, there is a fundamental difference between Elua and his angelic followers. I do not think that Elua sins in disobeying the One God’s plea to come to heaven. He has sworn no allegiance to honor the One God’s precepts and has, in fact, been shunned and forgotten by him. What duty does he have to a god that did not create him? And, if the answer is none, then how can disobeying that god be a sin?

Next, the question is whether there is any evidence that Elua has ever done something that is morally inappropriate enough to be called a “sin” simply because it is wrong on its own merits. We know so very little about Elua that to argue that there is support for his having sinned in this sense is difficult if not impossible. I would assert that Elua seems incapable of both the sin of disobedience (type 1) and the sin of doing something morally wrong (type 2), because he never seems to have any thought on his mind other than loving as he will and that principle does not lead him to any wrongdoing that we know about. Finally, Elua does not have an excessive characteristic that guides him to leave the service of the One God and leads him to a higher moral calling to serve himself, so he can be excluded from the “sin” of the final variety.

However, Elua’s companions retain a notion of sin, as do their descendants. Where did D’Angelines learn to have a sense of “sin” if not from Elua? This simple answer is they learned it from his companions. Thus, Terre d’Ange (the earth of angels) must also contain a strange and buried mix of innocence and sin. How could people pride themselves on licentiousness if they did not know that they were licentious? This is a world were passions are embraced as a commandment (Love as thou wilt) with the knowledge that embracing passion is a choice that may lead to ruin. If your passions are sadistic, then be sadistic. If you love beauty, then follow it to the point of vanity. Elua’s single commandment to love as thou wilt is not as delicious (for some) without knowing that what you love in your heart of hearts may be both flawed and beautiful at the same time. Indeed, the example that the companions of Elua set is one in which you follow your heart regardless of what the outcome may be. This notion of the flawed and beautiful cannot come from Elua, but must, in the novels, come from his companions. His companions know that they have gone against everything they have known (for the right reasons) and delight in what they think is the right thing to do despite the opinions of the One God.

In the first book of the second trilogy, Mavros explains to Imriel that he and his Shahrizai cousins unnerve people because they hold up the dark mirror of their desires. In other words, around the Shahrizai, people begin to feel the inkling of desires that they do not necessary know that they have, or want to have. Yet, this dark mirror is of value. It counsels those who gaze upon it to follow their passions without fear. Those who look upon it, see themselves for who they really are, despite what they may have believed before. There is a heady thrill in embracing your desires wherever they may take you. For some of us this thrill is redoubled by an understanding that what we wish to do now is something we also, in some small part of us, think is distasteful or wrong or that others might view as wrong. Yet, Elua’s earthbound sensibilities counsel us to follow our hearts, to love what we love, as our only duty. This does not detract from the thrill of doing something we think may be a little crazy or more plainly wrong. But, in Terre d’Ange there is a proper place and an accepted means of acting out these darker desires (at least those of a sexual nature). That place is the Night Court, where those who participate consent to play the game with you and allow you the freedom to be who you are, to love what you will. What distinguishes a servant of Naamah from a prostitute or a victim is that in doing what they do they not only help others, but also find peace, grace and serenity in following their own passions.

Which brings us back to Alyssum House, a house which holds the cannon of “with eyes averted.” It is a house whose adepts believe that Naamah trembled to lay aside her modesty; a house whose members tellingly dress for the Longest Night as Yeshuite priests and priestesses. What are we to make of such a house in the world of Terre d’Ange?

As a matter of first principles, let me say that there must be (and obviously is, for some) a thrill in seducing those who seem to be unwilling to be seduced. The reward is at once the pleasure of seduction itself and the thrill of being the recipient of that person's pent up or reluctantly given passions. There is something enlivening about overcoming what is shy or modest in a person to get to the point of intimacy, with the full knowledge, of course, that these adepts are members of the Night Court and “adept” at what they do, once their modesty and humility is overridden by their passions. It may be fairly assumed that Naamah did not lie down to be raped, for Naamah seems incapable of being raped. However, if the House canon is to be believed, then we must assume that when she trembled to lay down her modesty, that was part of the thrill, the thrill of fear and indecency. It was the thrill of lying with a mortal man and giving up her modesty for a higher purpose. The thrill was in surrendering what she previously had. This is, in many ways, very similar to what the adepts of Valerian House must do, save for the fact that they delight in surrender of another kind. Each of these two houses have a canon that demands a yielding of sorts, but the way in which this occurs at Alyssum House is far more subtle.

To return to the central thesis of this article, let me say that Alyssum House and its beliefs fit squarely into D’Angeline culture. They are a mix of blamelessness and an exciting brand of shame. Elua’s commandment to love as thou wilt renders the act of seducing the seemingly reluctant blameless and acceptable. That portion of D’Angeline culture (the portion informed and animated by angelic example) that embraces, somewhere deep down inside, notions of a higher right and wrong (in such matters), engenders a feeling of shame.

For those who doubt that such an element exists in D’Angeline society, allow me to point to the most obvious example of such impulses and feelings. The chastisement offered by the priests of Kushiel. Why are people being chastised, unless they believe that they did something wrong? Surely, in the literature those that lived during the time Kushiel dwelt upon the Earth, and revered him, must also have learned that he was a chastiser for the One God. Thus, chastisement is given direct legitimacy by one the companions. Kushiel’s choice to follow Elua (because it is the right thing to do) lends credence to the argument that Kushiel only does what Kushiel believes is right. Thus, chastisement is right in certain instances where one seeks to do penance.

In the literature there is a profound release (a cleansing) that follows the ordeal. People are made whole and better through this act. They are made better, because they believe that they have paid for the transgressions they have committed. Again, there is evidence that some D’Angelines possess a strange duality with respect to the issue of “sin” and, moreover, some embrace that part of themselves that believes in abasement and shame. They not only believe in it, they revel in it. The fun in whipping Phedre is not in swinging your arm, but in the mastering of her will and exciting her ardor. Similarly, the fun in seducing the ever shy, seemingly unwilling member of Alyssum House is in pushing or plying her (or him) to do what she (or he) is seemingly unwilling to do and is a form of control that bears a striking similarity to that exercised by Mandrake House adepts.

So Alyssum House bears a striking similarity to the houses that cater to those with “sharper appetites,” but is far subtler in the way that it does so. Certainly power and control are part of the mix.

But, what of the adept herself (or himself)? In Alyssum, one would expect demure behavior in the extreme. These adepts would have the ability to feel or feign (in exacting detail) a renewed form of modesty and shyness, not unlike a Japanese geisha, perhaps. Nonetheless, Alyssum House adepts would still be well versed in the art of giving pleasure, as all members of the thirteen Houses are taught these skills. However, even in the acts of love I would expect that the adept of Alyssum House would be able to convey that they are at once going to perform those acts and at the same time going to do so with reluctance or even shame. Perhaps, within that reluctance or shame there is something exchanged that is quintessentially D’Angeline. It is an embodiment of the idea of allowing the patron the fantasy of taking what is forbidden, which in the end is perhaps an entirely human desire (however one may feel about it). Moreover, the adept of Alyssum House follows his or her own nature. Some people, however beautiful or amazing or fun, are also shy and standoffish. So, beneath the modesty there is a pride (ironically a pride in modesty) that is staggeringly D’Angeline in the most profound way.

"There was pleasure in it, and it was a pleasure akin to the violent ones I had known in Valerian House, though it was different, too [...] And yet, I could not relish the shame. For her, it was purging. For me, it was not" (KJ 48).

Learn more about Alyssum House.

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