Thursday, October 15, 2009

Religious Views on Gender: A Historical Perspective

Mera, being a girl raised in a devout household, had always dreamed of serving the gods. To percieve and channel the will of Those that raised the sun into the sky, sent the moon to light the night, and brought forth rain to nourish the earth; oh! What a glorious thing it would be!

Her parents, though faithful worshippers of the gods, disagreed with Mera's optimistic assesstments of the life of the priesthood. Mera was unable to sway them to her point of view, though she argued it for weeks upon end. So, entirely naturally, midway through the twelfth summer of her life, Mera ran away.

Mera chose for her destination the great city of Ur, where she had heard the worship of the gods was a great occupation. It was not far from Mera's home to the great city of Ur; fortunate, this, for it was a troubled age, and the roads were not safe for a lone traveller. Still Mera made the three-day trip safely, subsiding on a loaf of bread stolen from the house before her departure. It was farther than she, or any of her family, had traveled before.

So Mera gawked as Ur appeared upon the horizon, draped lazily over a small hill, leaking smoke from a myriad of fireplaces to make a mark of its presence even upon the sky. She marvelled as she entered the streets of the city, staring at the clamouring crowds, the shouting street merchants, the closely-packed buildings - some of them two stories tall! (Supported by the hill, of course, but still.) Guards armoured and armed with glittering copper patrolled the streets, on the watch for thieves and false idolaters; Mera spoke to one, managed to pry from him directions to the Great Temple of Ur, though both she and he had to strive to understand each-other's thick accent.

As Mera walked, she thought of a story her father had told her, passed from his father (now dead); that Ur held within its confines, not hundreds, but thousands of people, all living and working and fighting within the same city. At the time, Mera and the rest of her family had not believed the tale; even her father had told it with the air of a fable. But now - !

The Great Temple sat near the top of the city, the Palace visible above it. Mera was panting for breath in the moments before she caught sight of it, passage through the narrow, winding, uphill roads of Ur having taxed her in the summer heat; upon seeing the temple, she stopped dead. Everywhere on its walls were colors: blue, green, yellow, illustrating the gods and their many escapades and powers. Pilgrim and city worshippers filled the front courtyard, giving offerings the statues of the gods and speaking to the brightly painted women that preached the words of the gods. (Or so Mera presumed; the noise of the city was that she could hardly hear anything said more than five feet away from her.) Looking on the spectacle, Mera was entranced. "Ah!" she thought. "Certainly this is the life I would lead!"

With some difficulty, Mera succeeded in gaining the attention of a temple acolyte; he directed her into the temple, through several narrow corridors lined with orange-glowing braziers, and into a small room, where another acolyte directed her to wait. She waited, squatting on the floor, noticing as she did so that certain of the murals on the walls were... to put it politely... unusually risque. Mera had many times seen animals in the field, and heard her parents in the night, but - the unusual nature of many of the acts portrayed... she was glad of the poor light that the braziers cast, when the priests finally beckoned her inwards, so that they could not see the blush that coloured her face.

Three old men sat at a table, dressed in temple robes. There was a stool across from them; Mera sat on it, feeling awkward. The old men looked her up and down, appraising her. Mera flinched slightly.

"I've come to join the temple," she said, stammering slightly. The confidence that had filled her during her departure from the farm seemed to have entirely deserted her.

"Hmmm," one of the old men said, still examining her. "So we were told. You seem a bit young for it. Has your night blood come yet?"

Now Mera blushed bright red. "Of course!" she said. "I'm not a child."

"Yes, yes," another of the old men said dismissively. "You certainly look it, though. I doubt more than a fraction of the men would fancy you. Of course, it might be a fraction that wouldn't be interested in any of the more mature women, anyway..."

"What?" Mera asked. "What does my desirability to men have to do with anything?"

This took the old men aback. "You said you were here for the position!" one said.

"I am!" Mera replied. "Like I said, I want to serve the gods and become a priestess!"

"Impossible!" the first old man told her. "Only those born to the priesthood can serve in it! Women from outside can only serve as sacred prostitutes!"

"Sacred prostitutes?" Mera asked, incredulous. "If that's all you'll allow, then, then - I refuse! I reject it! I'll form my own priesthood!" She fled the room.

"We wouldn't have given you the job anyway!" she heard one of the old men shout in departure.

Safely outside the temple, Mera found a corner to sit down in. She sat. She sobbed. Then she thought.

"I said I'd start my own religion," Mera thought to herself. "And that's wrong. The gods are the gods; An, Ki, Ninil, Enki, all of them. I would never start a cult to oppose them."

A fire burned through Mera; a fire of resentment, and frustrated optimism, and of faith. In its path she was consumed, and reborn.

"But the priests are fat and old and cruel," Mera's thoughts continued. "They do not represent the gods. So if I will not start a new religion, what I can do, what I should do, is to start a new priesthood; name myself the Prophetess, and turn the priests out of the house they have forfeited through their acts."

The fire within Mera burnt itself out fully; in its wake Mera, now the Prophetess, stood, tear-tracks still drying on her cheeks. She stared toward the temple. "O Gods, when I return, I will raise a feast and a jubilation in your honor; I will offer all that I have to your service and your glory," she promised. "Now I have nothing; I must leave you with only this promise. I am pure and steadfast in my faith; it must suffice."

The Prophetess left the city of Ur.

She travelled; not back to her home, but elsewhere, through farm and field. She came unto a wilderness, and a cave that would shelter her; there she lay her burdens down. "Here I will live and pray," she said, "living the ascetic life, until the gods show me the path I must take."

She considered the sum total of her burdens: a small knife, a thin blanket, and half a loaf of stale bread.

"I will also," the Prophetess noted as an aside, "have to learn to hunt."

This was difficult!

When the bandits accosted her, the Prophetess had grown somewhat better at hunting, and rather noticably thinner. She sat at her fire, roasting a skeletal rabbit over the flames, as she considered.

"There are three of them," the Prophetess thought to herself. "They are armed; I am not. Certainly I cannot fight, and there is nowhere to run. Therefore I will trust to the gods to guard me."

"Hello there, little lady," the first of the bandits leered down at the Prophetess. "They call me Syram; my brother, here, is Jude, and his brother is Bilon. What's your name?"

"Some called me Mera, once," the Prophetess told them.

"Ain't that nice?" Syram asked. "Now, little girl, we all of us are tired and hungry and been too long without company of the friendliest sort. So my thought is that, now that we've gotten to know each-other proper-like, you'll give us all your food and valuables, and maybe give us a little hospitality on the side, eh? No need for anyone to get hurt or anything."

"Now, though, I am named the Prophetess," the Prophetess told the bandits, proceeding as though she had heard not a word they had said. A light burned within her eyes. "I am the voice of the gods, gifted by Heaven to right the wrongs wrought by man. Should any man take any possession of mine without right, their hands shall blacken and rot off; should any man harm me in any way, the creeping death shall come upon them, killing them and all around them. If any many should strike me down, then he, and his children, and his children's children, down to the seventh generation, shall be cursed with sorrow and bloodshed; yea, and there should be no redemption for they, not even beyond the gates of Death itself. So sayeth Sin, so sayeth Nann, so sayeth the en-zu."

The bandits backed away, cowed.

"...maybe we oughtn't rob her, brother," Bilon suggested in a hushed whisper.

"Y'don't say!" Syram snapped back.

Cautiously Jude approached the Prophetess; he sank to bended knee before her. "O Prophetess," he said, "we are sorry to have offended you. We are poor, and hungry, and barely manage to feed ourselves from day to day; we are ever on the brink of starvation. We ask only this from you; that you give us your blessing, and whatever scraps you can spare, if you so desire. Then we will leave you in peace."

The Prophetess hesitated at this request; but an impulse moved within her. "You may have my blessing," she told the bandits, "On this condition: that you swear to me to hold ever to the path of the Gods, and rob only those less needy than yourself, and harm others only in self-defence. This you must swear!"

"I do, O Prophetess," Jude said.

"I do," Bilon and Syram agreed, mumbling.

"Then you may have this blessing," the Prophetess said. "That so long as you hold to your oath; fortune will favour you. That adversity will bend its knee to you, and hunger stay its wrath; that, so long as your wits remain with you, there will ever be a way to turn the situation to your advantage. Carry this with you!"

"And also," she said in a burst of pity, "this rabbit, here; it is not much, but it will tide you by for a time."

The bandits bowed, awed; Syram reached forward, taking the rabbit off the fire, and bundled it into his search. Then he, with the others, departed.

The Prophetess, watching them, sighed.

She looked at the heel of long-stale bread placed on the center of her blanket.

"I hope I was wise in giving them that gift," she said to herself, "because I am very hungry, and it was very hard to catch that rabbit."

Time passed.

A farmer stumbled into the Prophetess's cave; there was a look of desperation in his eyes. "Are you the hermit-prophet said to live here?" he asked.

"I am," the Prophetess replied. "Why?"

"My family has been stricken by a terrible sickness," the farmer told the Prophetess. "They lie on the ground, rolling and moaning, their skin warmed by a fever that burns like fire. The other villagers have barred the door and left them to die; they shun me, too. Ask the gods to aid me!"

The Prophetess considered.

"The illness has already come too far," she told the farmer. "Some of your family will and must die. But your wife will survive, and a child; with this you must content yourself. This is how it is and must be."

The farmer stared at her, wordless; then he turned and left.

Days passed; the farmer returned. With him were other villagers. They spoke to the Prophetess, telling her that their priest had left, off to Ur; there had been a great battle, and confusion reigned. All had heard of the Prophetess's words of the farmer's family, which had come true; they invited her to live in the village, taking the priest's place. The Prophetess considered, and accepted.

It was there that she was when three great lords came, some time later, escorted by a retinue of copper-armed guards. The Prophetess emerged from her hut to greet them; her gaze was grim.

"If you come to kill me, claiming false idolatry, know that you are wrong, and will be punished for it," the Prophetess began. "I am the Prophetess; by the gods' will, any that harm me will suffer plague, and any that - "

"Ah!" one of the three lords cried; all were startled. "O Prophetess, fear not that we seek your death! Do you not recognize us!"

For they were the three bandits, who had, finding advantage in every situation, rose in the chaos of war to become lords of Ur. And they had come - "to raise you up to the throne of the Great Temple," Syram told the Prophetess, "and let all lesser priests prostrate themselves before you."

"Let that be so," the Prophetess said, a cold delight showing through at the thought of her victory. "And as for the oldest among them, who select candidates for the sacred prostitutes - "

"Yes?" Jude asked.

"Let them serve as they had others!" the Prophetess declared.

"...seriously?" Syram asked.

The Prophetess thought. Images passed through her mind.

"...perhaps being placed within my service would be punishment enough," she conceded. "Let it be so!"

And it was so.

3 comments:

Calvacadeofcats said...

that would have been a very interesting story but i was too busy getting distracted being jelous of that womon

Calvacadeofcats said...

i mean that priest womon

Calvacadeofcats said...

the one that is so hot