Knowing your place

At the Shrine of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm we work hard at maintaining the correct relationship with our superiors in the order. Ideally those in authority who have little to do with us will regard us fondly. This is easily arranged. Those who like preaching are invited to preach, those who have choirs are invited to bring them. Those who like good company are invited across for a pleasant supper. But for those who do have oversight, our association with them is more delicate. Ideally there should be nothing which might spoil the relationship. Yet at the same time it is good if you can engender a certain vague nervousness. When the name of the shrine is mentioned we want them to twitch slightly and change the subject. It is not that we want them to fear us, because that would cause its own problems. Rather we want them to feel some vague existential unease at the mention of our name, thus encouraging them to change the subject and to go off and do something more interesting. Let them go and bother some other fane. Let that establishment bask in the warm glow of their curiosity. Let others answer their interminable questions and fill in the endless paperwork. Let us not be forgotten, but rather let us be tacitly ignored. It is worth exploring how one manages such a relationship.
For temple wardens our position is based on the declaration we make to the patriarch (or his representative) which states that “I do solemnly and sincerely declare, that I will faithfully, and willingly, discharge the duties of the office of Temple Warden, within the fane to which I have been elected, during the period of my appointment.

This is of course fine. But what actually are the duties? This is where one delves deep within the rules of the order. Finally, in a dusty portfolio, the text written in a crabbed hand, one reads,

“Temple Wardens, when admitted, are officers of the Patriarch. They shall discharge such duties as are by law and custom assigned to them; they shall be foremost in representing the laity and in co-operating with the incumbent; they shall use their best endeavours by example and precept to encourage the worshipers dwelling in the vicinity of the fane in the practice of true religion, and to promote unity and peace among them. They shall also maintain order and decency in the Fane and such grounds that surround it, especially during religious festivals.”

As even the most cursory reading of this will show you, this was drafted by a Temple Warden of genius. Phrases such as ‘by law and custom’, ‘best endeavours’, ‘true religion’ do not spontaneously arise. They have to be inserted, carefully and precisely, otherwise their full utility will be lost.

The first area to look at is ‘by law and custom.’ The law is, obviously, unclear. Doubtless intentionally so, because such a cloud of obfuscation and potential contradiction could not occur by accident. Yet we temple wardens know our place. When matters of law come up we ask the advice of a number of advocates and jurists. Indeed we have been known to take the point of law that concerns us to judicial scholars, so that we can benefit from their wisdom. The advantage of this approach is that the advice one gets back is normally conflicting, often unclear, and sometimes incomprehensible. Thus depending on your wishes you can either do nothing, or do what you were going to do anyway.

Custom is tackled differently. Custom is a long term venture. Customs change and evolve over the years so obviously one needs some sort of record that can act as the definitive guide to custom and practice. So the wise temple warden will spend time with the oldest inhabitants of the area, and by gently plying them with a little white wine to lubricate the memory, hear their tales of the customs of their youth. These tales are then written down. Over the years, as generation succeeds generation, a fane can accumulate many volumes of these memories. This wise procedure means that no custom is ever lost. Thus and so, an afternoon’s quiet reading in the muniment room should provide you with the evidence you need to justify virtually anything you wish to do.

Then we come to ‘best endeavours.’ I discussed this term with a legal friend and it was defined to me as, “the courts have recognised this formulation as being an onerous obligation requiring a party to take “all those steps in their power which are capable of producing the desired results” although it is by no means an absolute obligation and the concept of reasonableness still applies.”

This fits in well with ‘Custom.’ So when the individual known to the younger mendicants as, ‘Creepy Blirt’ started attending our fane, Maljie merely had to pull him to one side. She then pointed out that if we ever saw him again, we would nail him upside down to the main door. Custom indicated that in the past, this had been considered a suitable penalty. Our best endeavours meant that when Maljie had finished warning him, I could show him the hammer and nails kept for the procedure, and introduce him to a collection of remarkably athletic and hairy mendicants as the individuals who personified our best endeavours.

Then we have ‘true religion.’ Here I will stress that it is not the place of a temple warden to get involved in theology. Frankly we don’t need to. The field is already cluttered with those fiercely disputing. So when the issue of true religion raises its head we can, with a clear conscience, pass the issue over to those far more accomplished in the field than we are. All you have to do is ask several of them and it is unlikely that you’ll get an answer back in the same decade.

But one also has to deal with individuals. There are archhierophants who have specific responsibility for a number of fanes and temples. Our shrine falls within the jurisdiction of one such individual. Because of their authority and obvious wisdom, it is necessary to consult them from time to time. Obviously they are very busy, their minds filled with weighty matters. So the last thing they need is distracting with our petty concerns. Our respect for them and the mighty works they accomplish means that we consult them as rarely as is possible. But still occasionally it has to be done.

Thus on this instance I was the individual sent to raise two pressing matters with our archhierophant. I was ushered into his office to discover that I was not going to meet him face to face. Apparently, to ensure that he wasn’t unduly swayed by the appearance of those he had to deal with, they were kept in a separate sub office. This is a tiny cell just large enough to stand in, provided both doors open outwards. The door between the office and sub office doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling, so it was possible to hold a conversation. But as I raised my points, it was obvious the archhierophant was at times distracted, and I’m sure I could hear the scratching of a pen as he wrote. Was he writing down everything I said? This seemed unlikely as that would tend to focus his attention on me. The fact he was so distracted indicated he was doing something else. Anyway he gave me suitably vague answers which I jotted down (on the back of a final reminder from a wine merchant, using indelible pencil. Unlike quills and wine merchants, they make no noise.) I then left, deep in thought.

When dealing with the lofty, it is always wise to be sure what has been decided upon. Thus when I arrived back at the barge I wrote a letter to the archhierophant stating what had been agreed.

So firstly there was the building of the Mendicant’s Bathhouse. The circumstances behind this are elucidated elsewhere,

But we needed the permission of the archhierophant before we could go ahead with the work. As the mendicants had already raised the money, this was a formality.

Secondly there was the matter of a creation of a new liturgy for a festival of purging. The festival is not performed every generation and when the incumbent looked at the liturgy we had in our records she felt the language was so archaic as to be incomprehensible. Whilst incomprehensible language can, at times, be advantageous, in this case we felt she had a point. So I was to ask the archhierophant whether he had a suitable liturgy or whether the incumbent could create her own.

When I raised the first issue, the archhierophant had grunted in a way that I could take as an affirmative. With the second issue there was a long silence, broken only by the scratching of the pen.

So in my letter, I started by thanking him for agreeing to the bathhouse and promised him that work would start immediately. With regard the issue of the liturgy I merely thanked him for his wisdom in this matter and promised that our incumbent would be guided by his comments.

But between ourselves I have noticed that some remarkably busy and important people struggle to cope with long letters. It is as if the amount of time they can give to studying your problem is somehow in proportion to the importance of your problem in the general scheme of things. Thus as they read, their minds will be returning to the weighty matters they were wrestling with even as they do you the honour of perusing your pathetic missive. Thus and so, it is my unfailing practice to ensure that my letter is of a good length. I have no doubt that they will never reach the third page and are unlikely even to start the second.

Hence in my letter, when discussing the bathhouse I went into considerable detail, quoting the architect’s report and discoursing widely on the nature of the tiling and proposed decoration. Then with the issue of the liturgy I managed to incorporate, probably in a meaningful manner, some theological terms I’d heard the incumbent use.

This all means that I was on the third page when I finally thanked him for his kindness and generosity with regard to little Evie. She was one of our younger female mendicants and was blessed with a pleasant voice and considerable musical talent. We had found a teacher for her, but obviously this sort of thing costs money. Especially when you need the very best teacher. Now I knew that the archhierophant did have a fund which went with his office, from which he could pay for the training of those within the order who needed tuition in specialist subjects.

So I thanked the archhierophant for volunteering to pay for Evie’s training out of his education fund.

Admittedly the subject had not been raised, but had he been listening, and had I raised the matter, I’m sure he would have agreed to fund her lessons. Then, a fortnight later, I went round to the archhierophant’s office and presented a copy of my letter to the archhierophant’s secretary. This worthy looked at my copy, compared it to the original now in her files, and paid over the money that had been agreed to pay for Evie’s training.

Now you see why we walk a fine line when dealing with our superiors within the order. If they genuinely feared us, they might read the letters we send to them all the way to the end and would worry about possible implications. But if they suffer mere unease, they are more likely to just file things and try to forget us. Thus and so, a shy young girl with genuine gifts will get the training necessary to ensure that those gifts are nurtured and will blossom.



Should you wish to spend a little more time with Tallis,

In paperback or on kindle

As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”

16 thoughts on “Knowing your place

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