Minor Keys No. 2
So, the first significant minor character we meet in Azimuth is the High Priestess who is the first woman to influence the thinking of the young Magus. It is she who drugs him, changes him momentarily into a woman to give him the experience of motherhood and the realization that the world he inhabits is dominated by male power. She only appears on a couple of pages in Azimuth and she is described by the boy’s father as follows:
They were lying on their beds. The night candle spluttered, offering an intermittent yellow light.
-What is she?
-The wisest, noblest woman you will ever meet. A true shaman.
-What does she…? He couldn’t think what he was asking.
-It is best to think of her as a high priestess but one who has no god of her own. She offers wisdom to those who come to her. For many she is the difference between joy and despair. But for others she is someone to hate. It is only because she is protected by the ruler of this territory that they have not moved against her.
-How can anyone hate her?
-They have their gods.
-For her all true gods are of the same essence. She says that a true god is a conduit for love. Some choose gods of war, some vengeance and some the oppression of the poor. These are many kinds of gods. Not all are true.
-This is obvious.
– It is. But men who seek to have power over others choose their gods carefully. She says that they make gods out of their own tribal histories to justify their futures.
-I have no sense of any god, said the youth.
I sense now that this female pope is ageless, one of those individuals in a generation who has had an uncanny wisdom since birth such that she learned quickly how to manage her parents demands. She left her family in the night when she was fifteen to follow a burning inner directive and travelled, disguising her femininity, to places where holy men and women gathered willing crowds around them. In these arenas her questions confounded with their sharp insights but as soon as the credulous supplicants tried to install her as their new seer, she left again. She took lovers. She learned the relationship between gold and men’s hearts and their chosen deities. With ease she used her powers to establish herself, protected by a Lord who venerated her wisdom, in a modest palace filled with aesthetic artifacts brought to her as gifts by those seeking her counsel. Here she became a kind of oracle, a pre-Sufi intent on supporting and developing all that is good in the hearts of humankind whether practical or spiritual. She favoured no one god.
After the events involving her meeting the young Magus in Azimuth she continued her benevolent work until the army of a despot ravaged the land and took the Lord prisoner. Refusing to flee she was imprisoned in a cave and became an anchorite but the despot dared not kill her for all knew of her power to change the path of fate. Here she remained until she died, meditating on goodness and aware that every thought to that end was a breath in the wind that battled with the storms of evil. Her thoughts reached out to untold numbers of seekers of truth who assumed they were of their own making, unaware of her existence.