The Infinite Rituals of the Inapposite

What people don’t seem to realise is that when it comes to matters of minor ritual and similar, a temple warden is never wrong. Thus, when lighting the candles which illuminate the altar area, there is a set way to light them. The rule is that if you walk in from the main door and envisage yourself leaping forward and floating high above the altar, one lights them in an anti-clockwise direction. So one starts with the candle that is furthest to the right and lights that before proceeding round in order.

Should you see your temple warden light in a clockwise direction, then do not assume they are in error. Should one raise this matter with, for example, Maljie, she would merely point out that the reason is that it is one of the lesser feasts, such as is celebrated only in Ordinary Years. Indeed on one wall in the Temple Warden’s Robing Room there is a chart of feast days, allowing for years Ordinary, Unordinary, Inordinary, and Lese Ordinary.

To be fair, we are considered by some to be remarkably lax in these matters as we have abandoned the ancient practice of taking into account the phase of the moon and the tide. When I looked into it, the calculations are in point of fact, quite simple, but my first conclusion was that it only made a difference in Lese Ordinary years. My second conclusion, when Shena had run an eye over my work, that it was the Unordinary years that were mostly Impacted. But still, only one in seven years is an Impacted year.

I remember asking one hierophant with antiquarian leanings about the order of lighting the candles. He had come to the conclusion that it is something the Order has inadvertently acquired from less reputable predecessors. When conducting human sacrifice, the victim is laid with the head to the right. This ensures that the celebrant, who will normally be right handed and faces the congregation, will naturally bring the blade in at an angle that slides between the ribs. If the victim was laid with their head to the left, as the congregation sees it, the blade could bounce embarrassingly along the ribs and fail to penetrate.

The reason one lit the right candle first was this illuminated the victim’s face and thus allowed the temple warden to check whether the victim was sober or still under the influence of hallucinogens. The latter was important as under these circumstances, one might then hope for oracular pronouncements.  

Another interesting theological point comes when using ‘candles’ which are hollow and oil filled. So they burn sweet smelling oil rather than wax. Filling these ‘candles’ is fraught with theological pitfalls. So I well remember somebody asking Maljie if she had forgotten to fill the ‘candles’ before lighting them as they seemed to be burning rather low. This is to fail to comprehend the theological significance of the situation.

During the service the ‘candles’ burned down so that from the body of the church they were barely a dull glow and some may have assumed they had gone out. But, when, in the service, you approached the altar, it was obvious that both ‘candles’ were still burning. The theological lessons to be learned from this are obvious.

But as I said, temple wardens are never in error. I know one, from one of our more rural shrines, who had the combined graveyard and meditation area overrun by orids from nearby farmland. Closer examination showed that a wall had come down. So the tumbled down wall was festooned with a row of somewhat decrepit chairs, in an attempt to discourage entry. Whilst in and of itself, a successful enough temporary expedient; there is always somebody who will complain. Finally, to silence the carping, the whole thing was designated an art installation. I was asked, as a favour, to travel there posing as some sort of judge. I awarded it first prize in the category, ‘Spontaneous Pastoral Art’ and waffled in what I hoped was a convincing manner for some time, praising it for its elegance and bold use of metaphor.

When, some years later, funds became available and it was announced that the wall was to be repaired, there was uproar in the area. The removal of a prize winning artwork was described as sacrilegious. People who hadn’t entered the shrine since their doting mother carried them in as a babe in arms, wrote to the Patriarch to complain.

But it must be admitted that some do take these things to extremes. I was privileged to meet Valdor Saban. He has been described as a living saint. This is a dangerous thing to call anybody as no sooner are they widely recognised and accepted, they start publically advocating for the massacre of those who follow other sects, or who eat meat, or break their eggs at the wrong end. But Valdor Saban was the exception. He was indeed a living saint. In his presence people started tending to the poor and basically acting decently. After some years in Port Naain, he moved on. This involved him walking from place to place, often barefoot, sometimes hungry, peaching and teaching as he went. Occasionally one of his devotes would come to Port Naain to found a Shrine to Aea in Her Aspect as the Bare Footed Saint, Valdor Saban. Inevitably they would discover there was already at least one such shrine. So they would attend it, briefly. But dissatisfied, they would found their own. So we had shrines to Aea in Her Aspect as the Bare Footed Saint, Valdor Saban, the original; to Aea in Her Aspect as the Bare Footed Saint, Valdor Saban, reformed; and to Aea in Her Aspect as the Bare Footed Saint, Valdor Saban, even more reformed.

The situation could have continued, with a new shrine every decade, with some of the older shrines limping on and some closing, but then Valdor Saban returned. Initially he had thought to spend his last few years in his shrine, but on discovering there were at least half a dozen, he came to us and asked us to help him discover what was going on. Maljie and I paid quite searching visits to the various shrines and came to the conclusion that most of the differences were matters of ritual. So Valdor Saban invited them to our shrine. There the incumbents of each could demonstrate their ritual to him and he would judge which was best.

When the day arrived, we’d already armed our mendicants because there were strong rumours that one shrine was planning to kidnap Valdor by force to ‘rescue’ him from the heretics. As it was we were also forced to use some of our more elderly female mendicants. It is my experience that these ladies know no fear, have a fine command of vituperation, and will not be browbeaten. Thus they were ideal for keeping the incumbents apart.

Under the stern eye of Valdor Saban, our Incumbent, Maljie, Laxey, and sundry other temple wardens, the various incumbents went through their rituals. Rarely have I see such twirling or such half and double stepping. Indeed several did not merely bow to the altar, they prostrated themselves in front of it, some bared their breasts and beat them, some tore their hair. One even wailed!

Next day, we brought in those who lived near the shrines and Valdor, now the kindly old man, questioned them. Finally on the third day, the incumbents were called back in. Valdor was seated on the formal chair every shrine has in case the Patriarch should visit. We felt in his case it was appropriate. We’d managed to find a suitable robe for him, and he was at his most magisterial. Without even looking at his notes he went through what each shrine had done. How many had been fed, how many sick had been treated, who had been given a roof over their head. Finally, having covered all the shrines he fell silent and looked at the incumbents gathered before him. Some of them were growing noticeably agitated. I did wonder whether any of them would speak, but they managed to hold their nerve and stood in silence waiting. Finally, he leaned forward in the chair. He rested his elbows on the chair arms and steepled his fingers together in front of his face.

“All in all, most commendable. I think you are all to be congratulated, you seem to have grasped the basics.”

The tension started to go out of the assembled clerics. Then he added, “But.”
At this point the tension visibly increased again.

“It was a fine display of ecclesiastical folk dancing you all put on the other day.” He paused again. “All in all, I’ve found that some ritual can be useful. It can steady folk, make them feel at home. Done properly it can create a familiar safe space into which they can relax and grow closer to Aea. So stick with what your little bands of worshippers are used to.”

He leaned back in the chair again. “Anyway, thank you for indulging the curiosity of an old man. There’s a city full of homeless and hungry people who need your help, don’t let me keep you from your work.”


Should you want to learn more of the world of Port Naain,

As a reviewer commented, “

I am a fan of the writing of the very English, Jim Webster. Although his books are set in the fantasy Port Naain, there is a strong and delightful flavour of the best of English life and humour that flow threw in all of this author’s works.

Poor Laxey finds himself firmly entwined in the objectives of Maljie, and everything he does and every punishment that comes down on his surprised head as a result of his foolish actions, is exploited for personal gain by the dexterous Maljie.

Maljie, a strong and determined woman, who lets nothing, with emphasis on that nothing, stand in the way of her achievements, has taken ill. The ill fated, Laxey, who just cannot keep himself out of trouble, is tasked with travelling to a distant mountain monastery in the Aphices Mountains in search of a therapy for her ailment. Laxey’s journey is full of surprises, the greatest one being what happens when he arrives. He does, however, make it back to Maljie to enjoy another day. He brings her a tonic wine from a monk, but this does not stop Maljie from seeking her own interesting cures, including covering her painful area with a concoction made from a hot spice, called The Devil’s Pomatum. Having applied this exotic mixture, she sets off to attend a public hanging with rather unexpected consequences.

Maljie is a fascinating character as she manipulates her way through life, taking advantage of unexpected accidents and career opportunities to progress her goals. This is the first book in the Maljie series and I thoroughly enjoyed this new and spicy character, all the more because she is female and keep everyone, male and female, who crosses her path very firmly in their place. She is not past resorting to getting rid of unwanted people and disposing of their remains in the most peculiar places. Building alterations take on a whole new purpose when Maljie is around.

I recommend this highly entertaining short read for people who enjoy fantasy and a jolly good laugh and the lighter side of life … and death too.”

9 thoughts on “The Infinite Rituals of the Inapposite

  1. Now I see what we have been doing wrong during our regular sacrifices over on Beetley Meadows. We have been lying their heads to the wrong side once they are prone on the picnic table. This has resulted in many botched jobs, with us having to cast them into the River Whitewater still alive, and have to tolerate their cries of pain as they float off in the direction of North Elmham.
    My thanks to Tallis for putting us right. The Beetley Parish Council will be eternally grateful too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

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