By Lisabet SaraiOur topic for the next two weeks is "Saints Preserve Us". We'll be discussion religious imagery, Christian and other, and how we use it in our fiction.
Bringing religion into erotica is a risky business, because you don't know whether you'll offend your readers. I had one of my stories (Communion) rejected by a publisher because they had a firm policy: no clergy in erotica. It didn't matter that my nun and priest were twelfth century - they were verbotten.
Coming Together: In Vein contains a wonderful story (My Soul to Keep, by Kimber Vale) in which a vampire seduces and turns the priest who took her virginity before he made his vows, and led her to suicide. It's a powerful story, at least partially because in the Christian tradition, spirituality is associated with denial of the flesh - but vampires cannot be denied.
I've always wanted to write an erotic story about Jesus. I'm certain that he must have had that sort of irresistible charisma that draws and excites both men and women. Not to be disrespectful, but the Messiah must have been as seductive and desirable as today's vampires. Beauty, intelligence and power - how could he not be desirable?
I haven't dared write that yet. But I've used the New Testament quite a bit in my tales, partly because I believe there's much in common between surrendering to a dominant, and having faith in a deity. Higher Power, my story of a stage magician and his devoted assistant, turns on one of my favorite verses:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. (John 4:18)
I've come to feel that perfect surrender - perfect trust - would completely eliminate fear - no matter how terrible the external circumstances.
Anyway, as it happens, we're approaching a saint's day, though for most people Valentine's Day has no religious significance. (However, I recommend Simon Sheppard's harrowing BDSM tale "St. Valentine was a Martyr, You Know", which appears, among other places, in my anthology Sacred Exchange.)
I happen to have a piece of short fiction that imagines the origins of Valentine's Day from a religious perspective. Valentine was a Roman in the reign of Emperor Claudius, who embraced the "new religion" and became a priest. His proseletyzing was politically inconvenient and ultimately he was executed for his beliefs.
So how did we get from there to sentimental cards, flowers and boxes of candy? Here's my take.
The Origin of St. Valentine’s DayThe priest Valentinus lay on the straw pallet in his cell. Final rays from the setting sun pierced the slits in the stone walls and made gold streaks on the floor. Valentinus sighed at the thought that this would be the last he would see of the glorious orb. Soon, though, I’ll will be with Christ, in the heart of glory, he reminded himself. Still, his heart was as heavy as the granite enclosing him.
Claudius had just left in a fit of pique, after failing again to make him recant. Despite the emperor’s epithet, “The Cruel”, Valentinus understood that the august ruler respected him, and did not want him to lose his head. It was all political for Claudius; he hadn’t a spiritual bone in his body. The new religion offered too much of a challenge to the state to be tolerated. If the priest would renounce his faith and publicly bow to Jupiter, Claudius would free him in an instant, an example to the self-righteous rabble who followed the new prophet.
Valentinus was a different sort of man. He believed in divine love and ultimate resurrection. His faith had kept him strong and pure for more than fifteen years, since the trip to Ephesus when he had first encountered the True Church. For his faith, he would lose his life. But he would save his soul.
Dusk deepened to full night. The pitch torch smoked and sputtered. Valentinus prayed, there on his back. He knew that his Lord did not require the discomfort of bony knees on a hard floor.
The iron door squealed. Valentine sat up. It was too early for his last supper. A slight feminine figure swathed in white linen slipped into the cell and pushed the recalcitrant door shut behind her. She approached the pallet and removed her outer wrap.
Golden curls tumbled down over her shoulders, brilliant as the vanished sun. A chaplet of myrtle bound her brow. Youth shone in her eyes, but the body he glimpsed under her finely-woven robe was the ripe form of a woman. Ancient desire stirred in him. He suppressed it with the ease of long practice.
“Who are you, lady? Why have you come to disturb my final meditations?”
“Lord Valentinus, I am Lydia, priestess of Juno. The Holy Mother is affronted by your stubborn refusal to pay her homage. Tonight is the festival of Lupercalia. Tonight, maids and youths throughout Rome will be celebrating the marriage of Juno and Jupiter, the rulers of heaven. Yet you languish here, refusing to accept the gift of love, scorning the generosity of the gods.”
“Your gods are not mine, lady. I neither honor nor scorn them. They are irrelevant to me.”
“Relevant enough to take your head.”
“My body is unimportant. Soon enough, my soul will be with God.” Despite his brave words, though, her beauty was working her spell on him. The rod of flesh between his legs grew stiffer by the minute.
Lydia untied the sash that fastened her robe. The diaphanous garment floated to the floor, revealing her lush, perfect body. “I’ve come to offer you Juno’s gifts, nevertheless.” She approached the pallet and took his face in her hands. “I know I cannot change your mind, Valentinus, or make you renounce your faith. But allow me to provide one last taste of the pleasures of earth, before you leave it.”
“No, wait. I am sworn to celibacy...” Valentinus began. Yet he did not resist when she gathered him to her sweet breasts, when she pushed away the ragged cotton robe that covered him and laved his aching nipples with her tongue. He cried out, but did not push her away, when she swallowed the stubborn pillar jutting from his groin. He grabbed her hips and arched into her when she straddled him and settled his shaft in the liquid depths between her thighs.
They moved together, not speaking aloud, but joined in spirit. She is not like the other Romans, realized Valentinus, even as pleasure surged through him in ecstatic waves. She does not care about material things. She is a creature of faith, a true daughter of her gods. I can touch her soul as well as her body.
Moonlight crept through the window-slits, painting their skin silver. Their passion rose and fell, smooth and silent as the Tiber rolling toward the sea. Their pleasure crested and ebbed and then climbed again. They never broke the connection. Through the night he remained within her, their limbs entwined, their minds and hearts united.
At last they slept. At dawn came the squeal of the rusty hinges and the guards, unexpectedly gentle when they saw Valentinus and Lydia together. Without shame, ignoring the lustful gaze of the centurions, Lydia rose and donned her robe. “Remember me,” she told the priest, with a final kiss. “It will ease the last pain.”
“And remember me,” said Valentinus, unfazed by his apparent fall from grace. “Here, take this.” He handed her a scroll, his copy of the scriptures. “I know I will not woo you from your gods to my God, but let this be my keepsake.”
“Sign it,” she said, and he did, before the guards led him to the execution ground.
Lydia returned to the temple, rejoicing in the trickle of Valentinus’ seed running down the insides of her thighs. She did not wish to see his final moments. She knew that she would be in his thoughts as the sword came down. She made her obeisance to the majestic gilded image of the Mother before returning to her modest room. There, she unfurled the scroll and read her lover’s dedication.
To my beloved Lydia whom I look forward to meeting in heaven,
For I know that no God or gods would be cruel enough to separate us.
From your devoted Valentine.
Tears fell on the parchment, smearing the charcoal-based ink.
They were tears of joy.