Caste of Initiates
Here are relevant references from the Books where the Caste of Initiates is mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
My father then spoke to me of the world on which I found myself. He said, from what he could learn from the Initiates, who claimed to serve as the intermediaries of Priest-Kings to men, that the planet Gor had originally been a satellite of a distant sun, in one of the fantastically remote Blue Galaxies.
Oddly enough, there was little religious instruction, other than to encourage awe of the Priest-Kings, and what there was, Torm refused to administer, insisting it was the province of the Initiates. Religious matters on this world tend to be rather carefully guarded by the Caste of Initiates, who allow members of other castes little participation in their sacrifices and ceremonies.
I sensed that a certain distrust existed between the Caste of Scribes and the Caste of Initiates.
For example, the population as a whole, the castes below the High Castes, were encouraged to believe that their world was a broad, flat disk. Perhaps this was to discourage them from exploration or to develop in them a habit of relying on commonsense prejudices something of a social control device.
On the other hand, the High Castes, specifically the Warriors, Builders, Scribes, Initiates, and Physicians, were told the truth in such matters, perhaps because it was thought they would eventually determine it for themselves, from observations such as the shadow of their planet on one or another of Gor's three small moons during eclipses, the phenomenon of sighting the tops of distant objects first, and the fact that certain stars could not be seen from certain geographical positions; if the planet had been flat, precisely the same set of stars would have been observable from every position on its surface.
The Chamber of the Council is the room in which the elected representatives of the High Castes of Ko-ro-ba hold their meetings. Each city has such a chamber. It was in the widest of cylinders, and the ceiling was at least six times the height of the normal living level. The ceiling was lit as if by stars, and the walls were of five colors, applied laterally, beginning from the bottom - white, blue, yellow, green, and red, caste colors. Benches of stone, on which the members of the Council sat, rose in five monumental tiers about the walls, one tier for each of the High Castes. These tiers shared the color of that portion of the wall behind them, the caste colors.
Torm, I observed, was not seated in the tier of Scribes, I smiled to myself. "I am," Torm had said, "too practical to involve myself in the frivolities of government," I supposed the city might be under siege and Torm would fall to notice.
The Home Stone of a city is the center of various rituals. The next would be the Planting Feast of Sa-Tarna, the Life-Daughter, celebrated early in the growing season to insure a good harvest. This is a complex feast, celebrated by most Gorean cities, and the observances are numerous and intricate. The details of the rituals are arranged and mostly executed by the Initiates of a given city. Certain portions of the ceremonies, however, are often allotted to members of the High Castes.
"Marlenus has fled," said the officer. "The city is in chaos. The Initiates have assumed command and have ordered that Marlenus and all members of his household and family are to be publicly impaled on the walls of Ar."
"The Initiates have pronounced their sentence," said the officer. "They have decreed a sacrifice to the Priest-Kings to ask them to have mercy and to restore the Home Stone."
As an act of charity, Initiates have arranged at various places Dar-Kosis Pits where the Afflicted may voluntarily imprison themselves, to be fed with food hurled downward from the backs of passing tarns.
Within the City the Initiates, who had seized control shortly after the flight of Marlenus, would have already tapped the siege reservoirs and begun to ration the stores of the huge grain cylinders.
"If the Assassin should take the City," I said, "the rule of the Initiates will be broken, and eventually the horde with its loot will scatter, leaving a garrison."
The men of Ar remained within their walls, under their tarn wire, waiting for the attacks to come, while the Initiates of the city sacrificed to the Priest-Kings.
It seemed probable that food and water would soon be scarce in the city and that the Initiates, whose resistance had been unimaginative and who were apparently unable to protect the city, would be forced to face a hungry and desperate population.
It was Ar's misfortune, at this most critical time in its long history, to be in the hands of the bleakest of all castes of men, the Initiates, skilled only in ritual, mythology, and superstition.
I truly believe that the brave men of Ar, in their valorous if blind love for their city, would have maintained the walls until the last slain warrior had been thrown from them to the streets below, but the Initiates would not have it so. In a surprise move, which perhaps should have been anticipated, the High Initiate of the city of Ar appeared on the walls. This man claimed to be the Supreme Initiate of all Initiates on Gor and to take his appointment from the Priest-Kings themselves. Needless to say, his claim was not acknowledged by the Chief Initiates of Gor's free cities, who regarded themselves as sovereign in their own cities. The Supreme Initiate, as he called himself, raised a shield and then set it at his feet. He then raised a spear and set it, like the shield, at his feet. This gesture is a military convention employed by commanders on Gor when calling for a parley or conference. It signifies a truce, literally the temporary putting aside of weapons.
The bargaining of the Initiates was largely to secure their own safety and, as much as possible, to prevent the utter ravaging of the city. The first condition for their surrender was that Pa-Kur grant a general amnesty for themselves and their temples. This was typical of Initiates. Although they alone, of all the men on Gor, claim to be immortal, in virtue of the mysteries, forbidden to the profane, which they practice, they are perhaps the most timid of Goreans.
Ubars have always employed the Initiates as tools, some of the boldest even contending that the social function of the Initiates is to keep the lower castes contented with their servile lot.
The officer pointed to a distant cylinder. "The Cylinder of Justice," he said. "The execution will take place as soon as the girl can be presented." The cylinder was white, a color Goreans often associate with impartiality. More significantly, it indicated that the justice dispensed therein was the justice of Initiates.
There are two systems of courts on Gor those of the City, under the jurisdiction of an Administrator or Ubar, and those of the Initiates, under the jurisdiction of the High Initiate of the given city; the division corresponds roughly to that between civil and what, for lack of a better word, might be called ecclesiastical courts. The areas of jurisdiction of these two types of courts are not well defined; the Initiates claim ultimate jurisdiction in all matters, in virtue of their supposed relation to the Priest-Kings, but this claim is challenged by civil jurists. There would, of course, in these days be no challenging the justice of the Initiates.
I could see the white robes of Initiates and the variegated colors of soldiers, both of Ar and of Pa-Kur's horde.
As the tarn had landed, her executioners, two burly, hooded magistrates, had scrambled to their feet and fled to safety. The Initiates themselves do not execute their victims, as the shedding of blood is forbidden by those beliefs they regard as sacred.
A great, solemn, hollow voice boomed. All eyes on the roof turned to the sound of that voice. The Supreme Initiate of Ar himself stood forth, separating himself disdainfully from the cowering knot of white-robed figures that cringed behind him. He strode majestically across the roof. Both the men of Ar and those of Pa-Kur fell back. The Supreme Initiate was an emaciated, incredibly tall man, with smooth-shaven, bluish, sunken cheeks and wild, prophetic eyes. He was ascetic, fervent, sinister, fanatic. One long, clawlike hand was raised grandly to the heavens. "Who will challenge the will of the Priest-Kings?" he demanded.
No one spoke. The men, of both sides, fell back even farther. Pa-Kur himself seemed awed. The spiritual power of the Supreme Initiate was almost sensible in the air. The religious conditioning of the men of Gor, based on superstition though it might be, was as powerful as a set of chains more powerful than chains because they did not realize it existed. They feared the word, the curse, of this old man without weapons more than they would have feared the massed swords of a thousand foemen.
"If it is the will of the Priest-Kings," I said, "to bring about the death of an innocent girl, then I challenge their will."
Such words had never before been spoken on Gor.
Except for the wind, there was no sound on the great cylinder.
The Supreme Initiate turned and faced me, pointing that long skeletal finger.
"Die the Flame Death," he said.
I had heard of the Flame Death from my father and from the Older Tarl that legendary fate which overtook those who had transgressed the will of the Priest-Kings. I knew almost nothing of the fabled Priest-Kings, but I did know that something of the sort must exist, for I had been brought to Gor by an advanced technology, and I knew that some force or power lay in the mysterious Sardar Mountains. I did not believe that the Priest-Kings were divine, but I did believe that they lived and that they were aware of what occurred on Gor and that from time to time they made known their will. I did not even know if they were human or nonhuman, but, whatever they might be, they were, with their advanced science and technology, for all practical purposes, the gods of this world.
On the back of my tarn, I waited, not knowing if I was to be singled out for the Flame Death, not knowing if I, like the mysterious blue envelope in the mountains of New Hampshire, so long ago, was doomed to explode in a devouring blue flame.
"Die the Flame Death," repeated the old man, once again jabbing that long finger in my direction. But this time the gesture was less grand; it seemed a bit hysterical; it seemed pathetic.
"Perhaps no man knows the will of the Priest-Kings," I said.
"I have decreed the death of the girl," cried the old man wildly, his robes fluttering around his bony knees. "Kill her!" he shouted to the men of Ar.
No one moved. Then, before anyone could stop him, he seized a sword from the scabbard of an Assassin and rushed to Talena, holding it over his head with both hands. He wobbled hysterically, his eyes mad, his mouth slobbering, his faith in the Priest-Kings shattered, and with it his mind. He wavered over the girl, ready to kill.
"No!" cried one of the Initiates. "It is forbidden!"
Heedlessly, the insane old man tensed for the blow that would end the life of the girl. But in that instant he seemed to be concealed in a bluish haze, and then, suddenly, to the horror of all, he seemed, like a living bomb, to explode with fire. Not even a scream came from that fierce blue combustive mass that had been a human being, and in a minute the flame had departed, almost as quickly as it had come, and a dust of ashes scattered from the top of the cylinder in the wind.
The sentence of death passed upon him by the usurping government of the Initiates was rescinded, but because his imperialistic ambition was feared, he was exiled from his beloved city.
The Goreans generally, though there are exceptions particularly the Caste of Initiates, do not believe in immortality.
In the next flash of lightning I saw the white robes of an Initiate, the shaven head and the sad eyes of one of the Blessed Caste, servants it is said of the Priest-Kings themselves.
It was common, of course, for Initiates to claim to speak for the Priest-Kings; indeed, it presumably the calling of their caste to interpret the will of the Priest-Kings to men.
"Are you truly of the Caste of Initiates?" I asked.
"I am one who conveys the will of the Priest-Kings to mortals," said the man, not choosing to answer my question.
I was now only in the presence of a man, a fellow human being even though he wore the sublime robes of the proud Caste of Initiates.
Four times a year, correlated with the solstices and equinoxes, there are fairs held in the plains below the mountains, presided over by committees of Initiates, fairs in which men of many cities mingle without bloodshed, times of truce, times of contests and games, of bargaining and marketing.
Torm, my friend of the Caste of Scribes, had been to such fairs to trade scrolls with scholars from other cities, men he would never have seen were it not for the fairs, men of hostile cities who yet loved ideas more than they hated their enemies, men like Torm who so loved learning that they would risk the perilous journey to the Sardar Mountains for the chance to dispute a text or haggle over a coveted scroll. Similarly men of such castes as the Physicians and Builders make use of the fairs to disseminate and exchange information pertaining to their respective crafts.
Chronology, incidentally, is the despair of scholars on Gor, for each city keeps track of time by virtue of its own Administrator Lists; for example, a year is referred to as the Second Year when so-and-so was Administrator of the city. One might think that some stability would be provided by the Initiates who must keep a calendar of their feasts and observances, but the Initiates of one city do not always celebrate the same feast on the same date as do those of another city. If the High Initiate of Ar should ever succeed in extending his hegemony over the High Initiates of rival cities, a hegemony which he claims he possesses already incidentally, a unified calendar might be introduced. But so far there has been no military victory of Ar over other cities and, accordingly, free of the sword, the Initiates of each city regard themselves as supreme within their own walls.
Such contests, in which life is lost, used to be popular at Ar, for example, being sponsored in that city by the Caste of Initiates, who regard themselves as being intermediaries between Priest-Kings and men, though I suspect that, at least on the whole, they know as little about the Priest-Kings as do other men. These contests, it might be mentioned, were banned in Ar when Kazrak of Port Kar became administrator of that city. It was not an action which was popular with the powerful Caste of Initiates.
At the gate I was met by one of the Caste of Initiates, a dour, thin-lipped, drawn man with deep sunken eyes, clad in the pure white robes of his caste.
"He did not," said Vika. "He tried to prevent me but I sought out the Initiates of Treve, proposing myself as an offering to the Priest-Kings. I did not, of course, tell them my true reason for desiring to come to the Sardar." She paused. "I wonder if they knew," she mused.
"It is not improbable," I said.
"My father would not hear of it, of course," she said. She laughed. "He locked me in my chambers, but the High Initiate of the City came with warriors and they broke into our compartments and beat my father until he could not move and I went gladly with them."
"Occasionally on Gor we destroy a city, selecting it by means of a random selection device. This teaches the lower orders the might of Priest-Kings and encourages them to keep our laws."
"But what if the city has done no wrong?" I asked.
"So much the better," said Misk, "for the Men below the Mountains are then confused and fear us even more but the members of the Caste of Initiates, we have found, will produce an explanation of why the city was destroyed. They invent one and if it seems plausible they soon believe it.
The words were in archaic Gorean which I find very difficult to understand. On the surface it is spoken by none but members of the Caste of Initiates who use it primarily in their numerous and complex rituals.
The Initiates, hundreds of them, knelt in long lines to the crags of the Sardar, to the Priest-Kings. I saw their shaven heads, their faces distraught in the bleak white of their robes, their eyes wide and filled with fear, their bodies trembling in the robes of their caste.
I was pleased to see that the men of other castes, unlike the Initiates, did not grovel. There were men in that crowd from Ar, from Thentis, from Tharna, recognized by the two yellow cords in their belt; from Port Kar; from Tor, Cos, Tyros; perhaps from Treve, Vika's home city; perhaps even from fallen, vanished Ko-ro-ba; and the men in that crowd were of all castes, and even of castes as low as the Peasants, the Saddle Makers, the Weavers, the Goat Keepers, the Poets and Merchants, but none of them groveled as did the Initiates; how strange, I thought - the Initiates claimed to be most like Priest-Kings, even to be formed in their image, and yet I knew that a Priest-King would never grovel; it seemed the Initiates, in their efforts to be like gods, behaved like slaves.
At that moment I suddenly realized I was ringed by Initiates.
Their codes forbade them to kill but I knew that they hired men of other castes for this purpose.
The Initiates had their way of life, their ancient traditions, their given livelihood, the prestige of their caste, which they claimed to be the highest on the planet, their teachings, their holy books, their services, their role to play in the culture. Suppose that even now if they knew the truth - what would change? Would I really expect them - at least on the whole - to burn their robes, to surrender their claims to secret knowledge and powers, to pick up the hoes of Peasants, the needles of the Cloth Workers, to bend their energies to the humble tasks of honest work?
I hoped that those humans who returned from the Nest would not be hunted by Initiates and burned or impaled as heretics and blasphemers.
"With most," he said, "it is as you think, and they are simple, believing members of my caste, and there are others who suspect the truth and are tormented, or who suspect the truth and will pretend but I, Om, High Initiate of Ar, and certain of the High Initiates are like none of these."
"And how do you differ?" I asked.
"I - and some others -" he said, "wait for man." He looked at me. "He is not yet ready."
"For what?" I asked.
"To believe in himself," said Om, incredibly. He smiled at me. "I and others have tried to leave open the gap that he might see it and fill it - and some have - but not many."
"What gap is this?" I asked.
"We speak not to man's heart," said Om, "but only to his fear. We do not speak of love and courage, and loyalty and nobility but of practice and observance and the punishment of the Priest-Kings for if we so spoke, it would be that much harder for man to grow beyond us. Thus, unknown to most members of my caste, we exist to be overcome, thus in our way pointing the way to man's greatness."
I looked at the Initiate for a long time, and wondered if he spoke the truth. These were the strangest things I had heard from the lips of an Initiate, most of whom seemed interminably embroiled in the rituals of their caste, in the arrogance and archaic pedantry of their kind.
I trembled for a moment, perhaps from the chill winds sweeping down the Sardar.
"It is for this reason," said the man, "that I remain an Initiate."
"There are Priest-Kings," I said at last.
"I know," said Om, "but what have they to do with what is most important for man?"
I thought about it for a moment. "I suppose," I said, "- very little."
"Go in peace," said the Initiate, stepping aside.
I extended my hand to Vika and she joined me.
The High Initiate of Ar turned to the other Initiates about. He raised his voice. "I saw no one emerge from the Sardar," he said.
The other Initiates regarded us.
"Nor did I," said several of them.
"I shall return to Treve," said Vika. "I shall continue there the work of a physician from Treve. I know much of his craft and I shall learn more."
"In Treve," I said, "you might be ordered slain by members of the Caste of Initiates."
Kazrak had offended the Caste of Initiates primarily by levying taxes on their vast holdings throughout the city and upon occasion upholding the rulings of the administrative courts over the courts of the Initiates. The Initiates, in their interpretations of sacrifices and in their preachments, primarily to the low castes, had led many of the city to fear that Kazrak might not long enjoy the favor of the Priest-Kings.
Portus laughed bitterly. "Without the gold of this house, how could the Administrator and the High Initiate have sponsored the races and the games that won them the favor of the lower castes?"
"But the lower castes do not elect the Administrator or the High Initiate," said Kuurus. "The Administrator is appointed by the High Council of the City and the High initiate by the High Council of the Initiates of the City."
"These councils," said Portus scornfully, "know well the way the lower castes yelp in the tiers." He snorted. "And there are many in the High Councils of the city who, if forced to decide between the steel of the hook knife and the feel of gold in their pouch, will choose gold to steel." Portus winked at Kuurus. "There is only gold and steel," he said.
At any rate, disease is now almost unknown among the Gorean cities, with the exception of the dreaded Dar-Kosis disease, or the Holy Disease, research on which is generally frowned upon by the Caste of Initiates, who insist the disease is a visitation of the displeasure of Priest-Kings on its recipients. The fact that the disease tends to strike those who have maintained the observances recommended by the Caste of Initiates, and who regularly attend their numerous ceremonies, as well as those who do not, is seldom explained, though, when pressed, the Initiates speak of possible secret failures to maintain the observances or the inscrutable will of Priest-Kings.
Everyone in the crowd seemed to be on their feet, even those who sat in the marbled tiers beneath the awnings of purple silk. I rose also that I might see. Near the finishing perches, nine of which were standing for this race, were the areas reserved for the Administrator, the High Initiate, and members of the High Council.
The High Initiate had risen to his feet and accepted a goblet from another Initiate, probably containing minced, flavored ices, for the afternoon was warm.
On the roof of the Cylinder of Initiates the High Initiate, Complicius Serenus, offered sacrifice and prayer for the speedy return of the girl and, failing that, that she might be found slain, that she might not be reduced to the shames of slavery.
"Dar-Kosis," I said, "is thought to be holy to the Priest-Kings, and those afflicted with it to be consecrated to Priest-Kings."
"A teaching of Initiates," said Flaminius bitterly. "There is nothing holy about disease, about pain, about death." He took another drink.
"Dar-Kosis," I said, "is regarded as an instrument of Priest-Kings, used to smite those who displease them."
"Another myth of Initiates," said Flaminius, unpleasantly.
"The men who attacked the Cylinder," I said, "who were they?"
"Doubtless henchmen of Initiates," said Flaminius. Initiates, incidentally, are not permitted by their caste codes to bear arms; nor are they permitted to injure or kill; accordingly, they hire men for these purposes.
On her nineteenth birthday, members of the Caste of Initiates had appeared at the door of the leather worker's hut.
It had been decided that she should now undertake the journey to the Sardar, which, according to the teachings of the Caste of Initiates, is enjoined on every Gorean by the Priest-Kings, an obligation which is to be fulfilled prior to their attaining their twenty-fifth year.
If a city does not see that her youth undertake this journey then, according to the teachings of the Initiates, misfortunes may befall the city.
It is one of the tasks of the Initiates to keep rolls, and determine that each youth, if capable, discharge this putative obligation to the mysterious Priest-Kings.
"I will go," had said Ute.
"Do you wish the piece of gold?" asked the chief of the delegation of Initiates, of the Leather Worker and his Companion.
"No," they had said.
"Yes," said Ute. "We will take it."
It is a custom of the Initiates of Teletus, and of certain other islands and cities, if the youth agrees to go to the Sardar when they request it, then his, or her, family or guardians, if they wish it, will receive one tarn disk of gold.
The High Initiate of Kassau, a town at the northern brink of the forest, sat still in his white robes, in his tall hat, on the throne to the right, within the white rail that separated the sanctuary of Initiates from the common ground of the hall, where those not anointed by the grease of Priest-kings must stand.
Kassau is the seat of the High Initiate of the north, who claims spiritual sovereignty over Torvaldsland, which is commonly taken to commence with the thinning of the trees northward. This claim, like many of those of the initiates, is disputed by few, and ignored by most. The men of Torvaldsland, on the whole, I knew, while tending to respect Priest-Kings, did not accord them special reverence. They held to old gods, and old ways. The religion of the Priest-Kings, institutionalized and ritualized by the castle of Initiates, had made little headway among the primitive men to the north.
He was flanked by minor initiates, in their white robes, with shaven heads. Initiates do not eat meat, or beans. They are trained in the mysteries of mathematics. They converse among themselves in archaic Gorean, which is no longer spoken among the people. Their services, too, are conducted in this language. Portions of the services, however, are translated into contemporary Gorean.
The initiates are an almost universal, well-organized, industrious caste. They have many monasteries, holy places and temples. An initiate may often travel for hundreds of pasangs, and, each night, find himself in a house of initiates. They regard themselves as the highest caste, and in many cities, are so regarded generally. There is often a tension between them and the civil authorities, for each regards himself as supreme in matters of policy and law for their district. The initiates have their own laws, and courts, and certain of them are well versed in the laws of the initiates. Their education, generally, is of little obvious practical value, with its attention to authorized exegeses of dubious, difficult texts, purporting to be revelations of Priest-Kings, the details and observances of their own calendars, their interminable involved rituals and so on, but paradoxically, this sort of learning, impractical though it seems, has a subtle practical aspect. It tends to bind initiates together, making them interdependent, and muchly different from common men. It sets them apart, and makes them feel important and wise, and specially privileged. There are many texts, of course, which are secret to the caste, and not even available to scholars generally. In these it is rumored there are marvelous spells and mighty magic, particularly if read backwards on certain feast days. Whereas initiates tend not to be taken with great seriousness by the high castes, or the more intelligent members of the population, except in matters of political alliance, their teachings and purported ability to intercede with Priest-Kings, and further the welfare of their adherents, is taken with great seriousness by many of the lower castes. And many men, who suspect that the initiates, in their claims and pretensions, are frauds, will nonetheless avoid coming into conflict with the caste. This is particularly true of civil leaders who do not wish the power of the initiates to turn the lower castes against them. And, after all, who knows much of Priest-Kings, other than the obvious fact that they exist. The invisible barrier about the Sardar is evidence of that, and the policing, by flame death, of illegal weapons and inventions. The Gorean knows that there are Priest-Kings. He does not, of course, know their nature. That is where the role of the initiates becomes most powerful, The Gorean knows there are Priest-Kings, whoever or whatever they maybe. He is also confronted with a socially and economically powerful caste that pretends to be able to intermediate between Priest-Kings and common folk. What if some of the claims of Initiates should be correct? What if they do have influence with Priest-Kings?
The common Gorean tends to play it safe and honor the Initiates.
He will, however, commonly, have as little to do with them as possible.
This does not mean that he will not contribute to their temples and fees for placating Priest-Kings.
The attitude of Priest-Kings toward Initiates, as I recalled, having once been in the Sardar, is generally one of disinterest. They are regarded as being harmless. They are taken by many Priest-Kings as an evidence of the aberrations of the human kind.
Incidentally, it is a teaching of the initiates that only initiates can obtain eternal life. The regimen for doing this has something to do with learning mathematics, and with avoiding the impurities of meat and beans. This particular teaching of the initiates, it is interesting to note, is that least taken seriously by the general population. The Gorean feeling generally is that there is no reason why initiates or only initiates, should live forever. Initiates, though often feared by lower castes, are also regarded as being a bit odd, and often figure in common, derisive jokes. No female, incidentally, may become an Initiate. It is a consequence, thusly, that no female can obtain eternal life. I have often thought that the Initiates, if somewhat more clever, could have a much greater power than they posses on Gor. For example, if they could fuse their superstitions and lore, and myths, with a genuine moral message of one sort or another, they might appeal more seriously to the general population; if they spoke more sense people would be less sensitive to, or disturbed by, the nonsense; further, they should teach that all Goreans might, by following their rituals, obtain eternal life; that would broaden the appeal of their message, and subtly utilize the fear of death to further their projects; lastly, they should make greater appeal to women than they do, for, in most Gorean cities, women, of one sort or another, care for and instruct the children in the crucial first years. That would be the time to imprint them, while innocent and trusting, at the mother's or nurse's knee, with superstitions which might, in simpler brains, subtly control then the length of their lives. So simple an adjustment as the promise of eternal life to women who behaved in accordance with their teachings, instructing the young and so on, might have much effect. But the initiates, like many Gorean castes, were tradition bound. Besides, they were quite powerful as it was. Most Goreans took with some seriousness their claim to be able to placate and influence Priest-Kings. That was more than they needed for considerable power.
Portions of the hymn were taken up by four delicate boys standing outside the white rail on a raised platform. Their heads were shaved and they wore robes resembling those of the initiates. Choirs of such boys often sang in the great temples. They were young male slaves, purchased by initiates, castrated by civil authorities and, in the monasteries, trained in song.
How hard to me, and cruel, seemed the face of the High Initiate. How rich they were, the initiates, and how little they did. The peasant tilled his fields, the fisherman went out in his boat, the merchant risked his capital. But the initiate did none of these things. Rather he lived by exploiting the superstitions and fears of simpler men.
To the amazement of the crowd, at a sign from the High Initiate of Kassau, two lesser initiates opened the gate to the white rail.
Another initiate, sleek, fat, his shaved head oiled, shining in the light of the candles, carrying a small golden vessel of thickened chrism went to each of the four men of Torvaldsland, making on their foreheads the sign of the Priest-Kings, the circle of eternity.
The crowd gasped. It was incredible honor that was being shown to these men, that they might, themselves, on the platform of crossed spears, carry the body of Ivar Forkbeard, in death penitent, to the high steps of the great altar. It was the chrism of temporary permission, which, in the teachings of initiates, allows one not consecrated to the service of Priest-Kings to enter the sanctuary. In a sense it is counted an anointing, though an inferior one, and of temporary efficacy. It was first used at roadside shrines, to permit civil authorities to enter and slay fugitives who had taken sanctuary at the altars. It is also used for workmen and artists, who may be employed to practice their craft within the rail, to the enhancement of the temple and the Priest-King's glory.
The High Initiate now turned to face the congregation. In his hands he held the tiny, golden, rounded box in which lay the grease of Priest-Kings.
Weapons are not to be carried in the temple of Priest-Kings but I had been taught, long ago, by Kamchak of the Tuchuks, at a banquet in Turia, that where weapons may not be carried, it is well to carry weapons.
The Companion Contract, thus, had been duly negotiated, with the attention of scribes of the law from both Fortress of Saphronicus and the Confederation of Saleria. The Companion Journey, then, when the auspices had been favorable, as they promptly were, these determined by the inspection of the condition and nature of the liver of a sacrificial verr, examined by members of the caste of Initiates, had begun.
Initiates, inept and cowardly, then holding power in Ar, had surrendered the city, an act which to this day in Ar has tended to damage the prestige of that caste.
I stepped to one side to make way for a procession of initiates, who, with a ringing of bells, and shaking of bowls on chains, containing burning incense, passed me on their way to the palisade. An initiate in the lead carried a standard on which was mounted the sign of the Priest-Kings, a golden circle, that which has no beginning or end, the symbol of eternity, the symbol of Priest-Kings.
They were white-robed and chanting, and shaven-headed. The caste of initiates is rich on Gor.
"We are not Initiates," said another man. "Our status, prestige and livelihood do not depend on the perpetuation of ignorance and the propagation of superstition"
Too, however, I knew the urt people could, and did upon occasion, as in their rare contacts with civilized folk, communicate in a type of Gorean, many of the words evidencing obvious linguistic corruptions but others, interestingly, apparently closely resembling archaic Gorean, a language not spoken popularly on Gor, except by members of the caste of Initiates, for hundreds of years.
Most Goreans seem skeptical of an afterlife, or, at least, seem content to wait and see. The only Gorean caste which, as far as I know, officially believes in an afterlife is that of the Initiates, and they believe in it, it seems, only for themselves, and seem to believe it is connected with such things as the performance of secret rites, the acquisition of secret knowledges, mostly mathematical, and the avoidance of certain foods. Initiates commonly wear white and have their heads shaved. They also, supposedly, and perhaps actually, on the whole, abstain from alcohol and women. They count as one of the five high castes, the others being the Physicians, Scribes, Builders and Warriors. In some cities they are quite powerful, in others it seems they are largely peripheral to the life of the community. I have never been in one of these temples. Slaves, like other animals, are not allowed within. It is felt they would defile such places. They may wait, however, in special, small, walled areas outside the temples, usually at the back or sides, where their presence will not prove distractive or offensive to free persons. I have looked within some of these temples, from the street, through great opened doors, or through the open colonnades, such temples being roofed, but not walled, upon occasion. Some are lavishly decorated, even ornately; others seem very austere. It depends on the city, I suppose, or the tastes of the community of Initiates, those who care for the temples, in a given place. The Chief Initiate of Ar claims to be chief of all the Initiates of all the cities, but the other Chief Initiates, in the other cities, do not, it seems, at least on the whole, acknowledge this claim. I have gathered that in these temples there are no chairs or pews, or such, unless for Initiates near the altars. Goreans perform their rites, recite their prayers, and such, standing. The Gorean tends to regard Priest-Kings not so much as his masters as his potential allies, who might, if he is lucky, be flattered, wooed with gifts, and such. On the high altar in each temple there is supposedly a large golden circle, the symbol of Priest-Kings, a symbol of eternity, of a thing without beginning or end. The "sign of the Priest-Kings," similarly, is made with a closed, circular motion. The teachings of the Initiates, their recommendations, exhortations, and such, seem to be taken most seriously by the lower castes.
The traditional high castes of Gor are the Initiates, Scribes, Builders, Physicians and Warriors.
I had learned, of the Builders, one of the five high castes on Gor, the others being the Initiates, Physicians, Scribes and Warriors.
We could now smell the incense. In the lead of the procession were two lads in white robes, with shaved heads, who rang the bells. Following them were two more, who shook censers, these emitting clouds of incense. These lads, I assumed, were novices, who had perhaps taken their first vows.
An adult Initiate, in his flowing white robe, carried the staff surmounted with the golden circle, a figure with neither beginning nor end, the symbol of Priest-Kings. He was followed by some ten or so Initiates, in double file. It was these who were chanting.
"The Initiates do not seem as welcome in the streets now," he said. "Men avoid them. Even some women avoid them. Some even demand they remain in their temples where they belong, away from honest, healthy folk."
"Interesting," I said.
"Now they often ring their bells and swing their censers to deserted streets," said Marcus. "In vain they chant their litanies to indifferent walls."
"I am sure it is not so bad as all that," I said.
"Are you so fond of the unproductive, parasitic caste?" he asked.
"I do not think much about them," I said.
"Surely you regret the minds they have stunted and spoiled," he said.
"If there are any such, of course," I said.
"They prey on credulity, they exploit fear, they purvey superstition," he said.
"It is their way of making a living," I said.
Marcus grunted angrily.
"And doubtless many of them, or at least the simpler ones, do not even understand what they are doing. Thus it is hard to blame them, unless, say, for stupidity, or a failure to undertake inquiries or, if undertaking them, a failure to pursue them in an objective manner."
Again Marcus made an angry noise. He was one of those fellows who had not yet wearied of denouncing hypocrisy and fraud. He did not yet see the roll which such things served in the complex tapestry of life. What if some folks required lies, as the price of mental security? Should they be nonetheless denied their comforts, robbed of their illusions? Is their happiness worthless than that of others? Is it not better to tell them, if they are capable of no more, that the illusions are reality, that the lies are truth? If many desired such things, and cried out for them, is it any wonder that fellows would be found, perhaps even from noble motives, to sell them such wares, keeping the truth to themselves, as their burden and secret? I pondered the matter. I knew, as Marcus did not, of many civilizations which were unnatural, which had taken wrong paths, which were founded on myths and lies. Perhaps that is why Marcus disapproved so sternly of the Initiates. To him, they seemed anomalous in the world he knew, pointless, dangerous and pathological. In the end few things are real, perhaps the weight and glitter of gold, the movement and nature of weapons, a slave at one's feet, and, too, perhaps in spite of all, if we will have it so, defiant, honor, responsibility, courage, discipline, such things, such baubles, such treasures.
The high castes are normally accounted five in number - the Warriors, the Builders, the Physicians, the Scribes, and the Initiates. The Initiates are sometimes thought of as the highest of the five high castes, and the Warriors commonly produce the administrators and ubars for a city.
The crowd parted to my left and I saw, making its way through the crowd, some sort of standard, a golden staff surmounted by a golden circle. The circle I would later learn was the sign of the Priest-Kings, the symbol of eternity, that without beginning or end. Emerging through the crowd first were two boys, one ringing the bells and the other shaking a censer, wafting fumes of the incense about. Behind these two came another boy, he bearing the standard of the golden circle. Behind him came a gaunt, hideous man. His features frightened me. I did not doubt but what he was insane. Behind him in double file, side by side, came some twenty other men. Each carried, before him, a golden bowl. They made me uneasy. Something in their appearance seemed to me unhealthy. They seemed pathological. Some looked simple. Others appeared to be of unsound mind. Some mumbled to themselves, prayers perhaps. They certainly did not look much like the normal men of this world. They were too pale. Were they strangers to the sun and fresh air? They moved poorly. Did they never leap and run, and wrestle? Were they ashamed of having bodies, or of being alive? Had they somehow sought refuge in pathetic lies? Did they think that absurdities conferred dignity upon them? Such, I thought, might not function well in this demanding, hardy world. But then they had perhaps found a way of surviving. Perhaps they, who might otherwise have been dismissed as pathetic misfits, as simple failures in nature, had managed to construct a social niche for themselves, perhaps by inventing and providing a service. They seemed so smug, so furtive, so sly, so sanctimonious, so hypocritical! How serious they were. Did they fear that the world might suddenly find them out and burst into laughter? All these men had shaved heads. All wore robes of glistening white. These were, I gathered, "Initiates," supposedly the highest of the high castes.
How odd, I thought, that it should supposedly be they who had the ear of the mighty and mysterious Priest-Kings. If there were Priest-Kings, I wondered if they knew about the caste of Initiates. Perhaps they would regard them as a joke. Why would the Priest-Kings, I wondered, if they really required intermediaries, and were unable to deal directly with men, and, indeed, if there was any point in them dealing with men at all, have chosen to achieve this end with so eccentric and improbably a caste? Why would they not have chosen some other caste, say, the Metal Workers or the Leather Workers, as intermediaries? Those casts, at least, seemed to be populated with men. The leather workers were excellent at piercing our ears, for example, the metal workers at fitting shackles to fair limbs.
Kneeling, partly bent over, I watched this procession wend its slow, solemn way, bells ringing, incense smoking, in front of the crowd. It went to the end of the docking area and then turned about, and made its way back, before the crowd, but between the tarns and raiders on one side and the captives, on the other. The captives, in their chains and shackles, kept their heads down. I noted, spying on their progress, that the members of the procession were fastidiously careful, even scrupulously careful, to avoid any contact with the captives, even so much as the casual brushing of a bared foot, a shackled ankle, a small shoulder, a lovely thigh, with the hem of a robe. Those in the crowd, too, with but few exceptions, exhibited extreme deference to these robed individuals, whom I took to be "Initiates," both free men and women assuming attitudes of deference, most standing with heads respectfully inclined. The slave girls, those near the front of the crowd, whom I could see, as the procession passed, had thrust their heads down to the stones of the docking area. Some trembled. I gathered that a slave's failure to yield suitable deference to such individuals might be regarded as a peculiarly heinous omission, one perhaps jeopardizing not only the girl, who, after all, was but a mere slave, but perhaps the city itself.
The procession had now stopped, in such a way that the twenty or so men with their golden bowls, on the other side of the captives, were now in a single line, all facing the crowd. Before them, toward the center, were the three boys, novices, I supposed. He with the golden standard, that surmounted with the golden circle, was in the center. To his right was the boy with the bells. To his left was he with the censer. Before them, now, was the gaunt man, the standard of the Priest-Kings behind him.
He lifted one thin arm to the sky. A clawlike hand was revealed, the sleeve of the robe falling back to the elbow.
"Praise be to the Priest-Kings!" he called. His voice was sonorous, and wild. In it I thought there was more than a bit of madness.
"Praise be to the Priest-Kings," murmured the crowd.
"Behold," cried the gaunt man. "We are favored by the Priest-Kings!" He half turned to his left, and then to his right, gesturing expansively behind him, first in one of these directions, and then the other, indicating accumulations of treasure, among and before the tarns and raiders, piles of it, boxes of it, chests of it, bulging sacks of it. He then faced the crowd and lifted his hands to the left and right, indicating the captives, now having been separated from the other loot and brought forward, closer to the crowd, both those in lines, they accounting for the largest number, and those kneeling separately, all bound, many in sirik, in the general vicinity of their captors.
"We thank the Priest-Kings for the favors they have bestowed upon us!" he cried.
"Thanks be to the Priest-Kings," said the crowd.
"We thank them for the gifts they have given us!"
"Thanks be to the Priest-Kings!" said the crowd.
We thank them for the riches they have given us!"
"Thanks be to the Priest-Kings!" said the crowd.
"And we thank them, too, for these slaves!"
A tremor and moan went through the captives. They were, at this point, of course, free women.
"Thanks be to the Priest-Kings!" said the crowd.
"Our offerings have been accepted, our prayers have been heard," he said.
Now it seemed that these Initiates or at least he who appeared to be chief amongst them was implicitly suggesting that the success of the expedition might well be attributed to their offerings, doubtless ultimately supplied by the faithful, and their prayers, uttered in the safety of their temple precincts. I looked up to see the faces of some of the raiders. Those faces, some of them so young, seemed solemn. Did they not think their own efforts had been efficacious in these matters? Who, after all, rode the mighty tarns, who did battle, who risked their lives, who, sword in hand, bestrode the corridors of burning palaces? And how must such words sound to the lovely captives? Surely they, if none others, must know who it was who gagged and bound them in their beds, and carried them off, surely they must know who caught them, and flung them down and put chains on them, who fought over them with curses, with sweat and steel, who carried them helpless though the smoke of burning houses to waiting tarns. Surely they were under no delusions as to who it was who fastened them on their backs over saddles, who thrust them naked into cage baskets.
"Let us again give thanks to the Priest-Kings!" cried the gaunt figure.
"Thanks be to the Priest-Kings," said the crowd.
The gaunt figure now lifted his grasping, crooked hands to the clouds. "Praise be to the Priest-Kings!" he again called.
"Praise be to the Priest-Kings," repeated the crowd, a low murmur.
"May the blessings of the Priest-Kings be upon you," said the gaunt figure.
"Praise be to the Priest-Kings," said again the crowd.
"It is now time to demonstrate your gratitude to the Priest-Kings," said the gaunt figure.
"Perhaps that might be done by filling up the golden bowls," speculated a fellow, under his breath.
"Hush!" said a frightened free woman.
"The Priest-Kings love a generous giver," said the gaunt figure.
"Certainly the High Initiate does," said the fellow.
"Be quiet," said the woman, terrified.
"You will see, I trust," said one of the fellows in the crowd, "that this coin is turned over to the Priest-Kings, and does not end up in the temple coffers."
"I did not know the Priest-Kings needed money," said another fellow.
"I wonder what they will buy with this," said another.
"Be quiet!" said the free woman.
The Initiate himself made no response to these remarks. He may not even have understood them. I did note that the fellows who were engaged in this raillery did, all of them, however, place their coins in the bowl. They were, I suspected, taking no chances. What if, for example, as an outside possibility, but one they were not willing to discount, there might be some mysterious connection between the Initiates and the Priest-Kings? Why not, then, put a coin in the bowl, particularly if it were not to valuable a coin?
The Initiates then reformed their double line and, bells ringing and smoke wafting about, fragrant, from the censer, took their way from the docking area. To be sure, there was at least one significant difference between the procession as it had arrived and the procession as it left. The twenty or so golden bowls which had come empty to the docking area were now leaving it heavy with coin, with jewels and jewelry.
"They are gone!" said a man, relievedly.
The presence of Initiates, I have noted, tends to have a somewhat depressing effect on most people. It is generally a relief when they have taken their way elsewhere.
While not engaged in obtaining their livelihood from more productive elements in society, Initiates, as I understand it, spend a great deal of time in selfpurification. In this, interestingly, the study of mathematics seems to be essentially involved. It is not only women, incidentally, which are forsworn by Initiates but also, interestingly, beans.
Slaves, incidentally, as other animals, verr, tarsks, and such, are not permitted within the precincts of the temples, lest the temples be profaned.
"But here, on this world, I have come to realize the baselessness and fatuity of such speculations," said Mirus. "We have no evidence whatsoever of the existence of Priest-Kings, nor have we encountered any who have such evidence. It is clear, now, that the myths and legends of Priest-Kings have been invented by the caste of Initiates, in order to exploit superstitious terror and live as parasites on the earnings of others."
"Few would deny that the caste of Initiates are parasites," said Portus Canio, who held no great brief for that caste. Supposedly the caste of Initiates praised Priest-Kings, offered regular and special sacrifices, interceded with them on behalf of men, interpreted their will to men, and such. Famines, plagues, floods, storms, meteors, comets, eclipses, earthquakes, lightning, and such would all receive their interpretations, and would be dealt with by means of prayers, spells, mystic signs, the brandishing of fetish objects, the ringing of anointed, consecrated bars, and such. Ritual performances, ceremonies, and such, abounded. Most cities had their temples. High Initiates might receive gold from Ubars, low Initiates copper from the poor.
"It is obvious," said Mirus, "that this world exists, for we are upon it. But what is not obvious is an explanation for its nature and location. To be sure, similar puzzles might exist with respect to any planet, or world."
"Priest-Kings do not exist," said Mirus.
"Even so," smiled Portus Canio, "I would advise you to keep their laws."
"They do not exist," said Mirus.
"I do not know," said Portus Canio. "But do not be afraid."
"I do not understand," said Mirus.
"If they do exist, perhaps in the Sardar Mountains, as many claim," said Portus Canio, "I think it is clear that we have little to fear from them, indeed far less to fear from them than from the caste of Initiates, which claims to speak in their name. The Priest-Kings, it seems to me, have little or no interest in us, in our kind, in our form of life, little or no concern with the doings of men, other than that their laws be kept."
On Gor a caste exists, which we may refer to as that of the Initiates. The "Initiates, in virtue of the study of mathematics, the adoption of various abstinences, such as the eschewing of beans, and a variety of spiritual exercises, and such, claim to be on intimate terms with the Priest-Kings and to be potent in their influence on them, for example interceding with them on behalf of generous clients, and such, say, calling down blessings, averting poor crops, prospering businesses, calming stormy seas, assuring success in warfare, and so on. They are also skilled in deciphering the secret messages encoded in the entrails of sacrificial beasts, prognosticating the meanings of the flights of birds, seen over one shoulder or another, interpreting the bellows and rumblings of flatulent tharlarion, and so on, all feats beyond the average layman. Their offices and efforts are invariably successful, and their predictions and prophecies are infallible, save when unforeseen factors intervene, which occurs not infrequently. My own suspicions in these matters is that the Initiates know as little of the Priest-Kings as anyone else, but they have hit upon an economic niche which may be profitably exploited. There are many ways to make a living and superstition affords a vein easily mined. It has much to commend it over honest labor. To be sure, one supposes the simpler of the Initiates take their nonsense seriously. Let us hope so. Too, doubtless they fulfill a need, if one which might seem to be something of a source of embarrassment for a putatively rational creature. Too, the average human might feel deprived, if not actually lost and lonely, if deprived of his superstitions. He is, after all, well aware of his vulnerability and the hazards of fortune. He is likely to appreciate any help he can get, or thinks he can get, or hopes he can get. And, too, who can prove that there are no secret messages lurking in the warm, bloody livers of slaughtered verr? And if the Priest-Kings choose to invest their intentions or reveal their will in the flights of birds or the emanations of discomfited tharlarion who is to gainsay them?
"Agamemnon!" said Cabot.
"Yes," responded the Kur.
"Perhaps he is a liar," said Cabot.
"No one would dare to lie about such a thing," said another.
"There is a precedent for such claims," said Cabot.
"Not amongst us," said a Kur.
"Unthinkable," said another Kur.
Cabot may have had in mind the caste of Initiates, on Gor, who claim to speak in the name of the Priest-Kings, to be privileged in such ways, and so on.
As the inquiry of the man of Peisistratus might have seemed to some readers somewhat anomalous, it should be mentioned that on Gor slaves are not permitted in many public buildings, rather as other animals would not be permitted in them. Accordingly, public slave rings are frequently available in piazzas, plazas, squares, forums, agorae, and such, and along public streets, for the convenience of masters, to which their slaves may be conveniently chained. One sort of building in which slaves are never permitted, and may be slain if found within, are temples. It is felt by Initiates, the alleged representatives and servants of Priest-Kings, understandably enough, that the presence of a slave in such a place would be a profanation of sacred precincts. Provisions are made for their caging or chaining outside such places, in nearby lots, removed to a decent distance.
"There are intermediaries betwixt the Sardar and the worlds," said Grendel.
"Initiates?" asked Cabot, skeptically.
"Certainly not," said Grendel. "They have nothing, truly, to do with Priest-Kings. They merely inhale fumes, starve themselves, interpret dreams, and such, and think the Priest-Kings communicate with them."
Too, the caste of Initiates, which claims to mediate between humans and Priest-Kings, with their sacrifices, and such, would obviously prefer for Priest-Kings to remain as invisible and mysterious as possible. Thus they can interpret their "will" as they please, as the wind blows, so to speak, or, perhaps more accurately, as the gold depresses the scales. To be sure, many Initiates doubtless take themselves seriously.
"To serve our lords, the masters of the Sardar," he said, "one needs know no more than they deem suitable."
"Perhaps they are your lords," I said. "They are not mine."
"Are they not the lords of us all," he said, "are they not the gods of Gor?"
"And are the Initiates not their ministers and servitors," I said.
"One must allow all castes their vanities," he said.
"Doubtless," I said.
The golden circle, incidentally, is taken as the sign of Priest-Kings. Such circles are often carried by high Initiates, on golden chains about their necks. Too, they are likely to appear on the walls, and over the gates, and such, of temples, and, within temples, they invariably surmount altars. Staffs surmounted with this symbol are often carried by Initiates, as well, and such staffs invariably figure in their ceremonial processions. The gold is the symbol of that which is rare, is precious, is constant, and does not tarnish. The circular form is a symbol of eternity, that which has no beginning, that which has no end. The blessings of Initiates are accompanied by the sign of Priest-Kings, a circular motion of the right hand. These blessings, on feast days, may be bestowed on the faithful without cost. Sometimes, of course, such blessings must be purchased. The favor of Priest-Kings is not easily obtained, and Initiates, as other castes, must live.
Colors in the Gorean high cultures, as in most cultures, have their connotations or symbolisms. Too, in the Gorean high culture, certain colors tend to be associated with certain castes, for example green with the Physicians, red, or scarlet, with the Warriors, yellow with the Builders, blue with the Scribes, white with the Initiates, and so on.
Then I thought, "No, the Priest-Kings would not build such mortal frames, and, if so, not of wood. Stories had it that they rode within ships, but strange ships, round, flat ships, like disks, disks of metal, which moved like clouds, swift as thought, in silence. Some claimed to have seen them over the palisade of the Sardar. But such stories must be false, as they were denied by Initiates, the white caste, highest and worthiest of all the castes, as they were intermediaries between Priest-Kings and mortals. How wise they were, and how powerful they were, how sacrosanct and holy they were, to have the ear of Priest-Kings, to have at their disposal the prayers, the spells, the rituals, the devotions, and sacrifices by means of which Priest-Kings might be swayed, by means of which their favor might be garnered. It was no wonder that that they were consulted by Ubars bearing baskets of gold, and simple Peasants, with a handful of suls. They were celebrated by cities and villages. They were petitioned by Merchants embarking on bold, uncertain ventures, by gamblers with an interest in the summer tharlarion races. Assassins sought their blessing. Some of the loveliest buildings on Gor were their temples. They lived well. They were frauds, laden with corruption.
It was my understanding that a dialect of Gorean was spoken at the World's End, that the Priest-Kings had seen to this. By their mysterious power, and secret sky ships, it seems they had long ago placed Initiates amongst the Pani, perhaps centuries ago, who had taught them Gorean. These Initiates, as the legends went, had sought to exploit their prestige in an attempt to secure power, and had been done away with.
I saw two Initiates in their snowy white, with their golden pans held out, to receive offerings. Commonly they do nothing for coin received, but, occasionally, they agree to bless the giver, and commend him to Priest-Kings. Among their many services, for a sufficient fee, they assure success in business, politics, and love, which successes are unfailing, it is said, unless they not be in accord with the will of the Priest-Kings. On the docks, also for a sufficient fee, they sometimes sell fair winds and clear skies, which also never fail, it is said, save when not in accord with the will of the Priest-Kings. The Pani, discovering that the Initiates were not marketing their golden pans but expected to receive something for nothing, as it were, or nothing tangible, asked them to step aside, as they were impeding the way of honest tradesmen.
The caste of Initiates, it is said, act as the intermediaries between Priest-Kings and men, appointing festivals, prophesying, uttering oracles, accepting offerings, selling blessings, performing sacrifices, and such. Much remains unclear, however, as I understand it, concerning the actual relationship if any, between the Initiates and the Priest-Kings.
"And might not gods," he said, "be the children of the world, or universe, as much as sleen or kaiila?"
"I know little of such things," I said. "I am not an Initiate."
"Initiates," said he, "are frauds and hypocrites, living off the superstition of the lower castes."
"Perhaps," he said, "the ost, the sleen, the hith, the panther, the river shark, the larl, was created in their image."
"Such words might have you impaled," I said.
"Only where Ubars fear the white caste," he said.
Of the five "high castes," I saw no representative of the Initiates. They regard themselves as the highest of the high castes, presumably in virtue of their claimed relationship, a very privileged relationship, apparently, to the Priest-Kings, the "gods" of Gor. I do not know whether Priest-Kings exist or not, or, if they do, if they are aware of the existence of the Initiates. Initiates are easily recognized by their shaven heads and white robes. They maintain temples and conduct services. They bravely stand between the power, mystery, and formidableness of Priest-Kings and ordinary people, on whose behalf they will intercede, for a fee, with the Priest-Kings themselves. If one wishes good fortune and success for oneself or one's enterprises, or woe, even disaster, to one's enemies and their projects, or such, one need only contact Initiates, whose fees are, I gather, commensurate with the amount of good fortune, or woe, or such, desired. The projects need not be mighty of course. Whether one is interested in the success of a supper, a happy outcome at the tarn races, or merely wishes to melt the heart of some aloof free woman, or such, the Initiates, humble in their holiness and concern, earnest and sympathetic, stand ready to take action, notifying the Priest-Kings of the matter and, if all goes well, securing a favorable result for the petitioner. If all does not go well, perhaps there might be some flaw or fault in the petitioner. Too, even in the best of cases, it must be admitted that the will of the Priest-Kings is sometimes inscrutable, even to Initiates. The awesomeness of the caste of Initiates is further enhanced by the fact that they refrain from sex, devote themselves to mathematical studies, and eschew meat and beans. Some Initiates dabble in signs, omens, and such, the formations of clouds, the flights of birds, the eating habits of sacred fowl, the livers of sacrificial animals, and so on, but that work, which commonly pays less well, is usually surrendered to augurs, haruspices, and such. In any event, there were no Initiates present. Perhaps this was because only relatively unimportant matters, mundane matters, were at hand. Initiates do sometimes have, however, a certain political power in various municipalities, largely in virtue of their influence on the lower castes, in virtue of their hints, warnings, demands, exhortations, denunciations, and so on. It seems they have occasionally toppled Ubars. In any event, whatever one thinks of Initiates, many of them, particularly in the larger, urban temples, make a good living at their business. Many individuals, particularly in the lower castes, need, or think they need, their Initiates, which view, it seems, is encouraged by the Initiates.
Many humans do not believe in the existence of Priest-Kings, supposing them to be no more than an invention of Initiates, to deprive the simple and trusting of their coins, but no Kur doubts their existence.
"Thank the Priest-Kings," said Aktis, "that you have not encountered the intruders. Indeed, hire Initiates to petition the Priest-Kings that you do not do so."
"Merchants buy and sell," said the Tarnkeeper. "Initiates eschew beans and charge for prayers and spells. Scribes ink scrolls, Builders build, Physicians heal, Bakers bake, Metal Workers work metal, Leather Workers work leather, Players battle on the kaissa board, Warriors, in the kaissa of steel, battle on the field and in the sky.
We then heard, to our right, a ringing of bells.
"It is a procession of Initiates," I said, stepping back. "Kneel," I whispered to Iris.
She knelt, frightened.
"Be at ease, slave," said Seremides. "You have nothing to fear, at least in public. They shave their heads and garb themselves in white robes. They eschew meat, beans, and women. They purify their minds with meditation and mathematics. They do little and reap much. They accept offerings and solicit donations. They sell prayers and spells. Supposedly they intercede between mortals and Priest-Kings, an enviable skill. They are holy fellows and deal with sacred things, and money. They are monsters of superstition, hypocrisy, and greed."
"They are also," I said, "a high caste, and are taken seriously by many Goreans, particularly of the lower castes."
It was a long line, in single file. There were perhaps sixty or seventy in that line.
Usually processions of Initiates are not that long.
I could not see the faces of those in the procession. Most commonly the features of an Initiate are pale and somewhat drawn, perhaps from an overindulgence in perfection, or perhaps because of a lack of sunlight and fresh air, or perhaps from a surfeit of mathematical purification. Too, the bodies of Initiates often seem awkward, spare, linear, and frail, bordering perhaps on a studied, professional emaciation. These fellows, on the other hand, seemed tall enough, strong enough, and coordinated enough to be carrying rocks or loading ships and wagons.
A thousand rumors raced about, like scampering urts, rumors vague, and rumors improbably specific and clear, jostling about with contrary rumors, similarly specific and clear. It seemed the Home Stone had been won back from emissaries of deceitful, purloining, hated Cos, that it was never stolen but only mislaid, that the Priest-Kings of Gor themselves, in answer to the prayers and sacrifices of Initiates, had caused it to reappear in its chamber, that the very thieves who had stolen it had, in remorse and contrition, at the enormity of their crime, returned it to the city, that a magician mishandling a spell, had rendered it temporarily invisible, that it had been a test contrived by patriots to see if the citizenry of Ar would be devastated by the prospect of its absence, and so on.
"What is that thing?" cried Decius Albus.
"A tarn!" cried one of the scribes.
"Of metal?" cried the other scribe.
"It is a sign, a warning from Priest-Kings!" said a man.
"The Priest-Kings are angry!" said a man. "We must heed the Initiates, and increase our donations to the temples."
"Let us double them!" cried another.