First a glow at the very center of the screen grows into a radiance without circumference, then an image appears, clarifies and resolves into human form: a man or woman under the night sky. It’s a fake night, projected onto a blue screen at the back of the studio, moonless, but with a few recognizable constellations. Among them, to the right of Orion’s Belt, between Betelgeuse and Canis Major, the face appears. The irises of its green eyes are flecked with dark spots, and the heavy eyeliner and Roman nose give it an almost pharaonic look. On the eyelids, ultra-long lashes rise and fall as if a butterfly were struggling to take flight.
‘I’ve heard the cry of the nymph Salmacis, and I have drunk from the same waters as the son of Hermes and Aphrodite. From the transfusion of their bodies I, Avalovara, too, have emerged, to channel the voices of the spirits of the Algonquin, O my daughters, and the absolute voice of old Baba Yaga, and the voices of Hatshepsut and of Hathor, the cosmic goddess with the ears of a cow, and the voice of the Cathars and their Lady of Thought, and of the mystic Beguine Hadewijch of Brabant and St Mary of Egypt, and the voices of Marguerite Porete and Fra Dolcino, and the voice of Tertullian with his famous phrase: “I believe in these things because they are unbelievable.” ’
In what is clearly intended as a dramatic pause, Avalovara’s eyes turn toward the audience, lips opening to reveal a tongue tinted blue by a lollipop. The camera recedes to reveal a dark mahogany table; at its center, next to the lollipop, is a desk plate engraved with the name Avalovara and a phone number for viewers seeking advice. Nearby, arrayed on a black cloth, are candles, effigies, tarot cards, crystals, feathers, a rosary with beads of imitation ivory, the skull of a horse or some horse-like animal, and other unidentifiable objects. The camera pans across an arm muscle, a broad back, a graceful neck and a black tulle dress that crosses the torso diagonally leaving one breast bare, the left one, crowned by a metal pasty.
‘And I speak to you now, my daughters, in all of these voices, in this world that seems so brutally divided. But has there ever been a time when the world was not brutally divided? Between men and women, believers and unbelievers, orthodox and infidel, polytheist and monotheist, between the little children and those who control them, the oppressor and the oppressed, those who prostitute others and those who prostitute themselves, between victim and torturer, witch and inquisitor, bourgeoisie and proletariat, delusional and sane, healthy and diseased, the world above and the world below, in an endless parade of antitheses, an infinite and uneven struggle of opposites. And now? What is happening now with the new Papesse? Why such visceral hatred of Micaela Andreína? Hear me well: despite all the deliberations of all the conclaves, the world seems indignant that someone who does not happen to be a man, someone who is a WOMAN, now holds papal authority, wields the miter and crozier, has become Holy Mother and summum pontificem and vicar of Christ and servant of the servants of God, and furthermore that this same WOMAN is so young and has a gaze that is so decisive, and especially – or so say the gerontocrats, the ancient Apostolics and Romans of the Vatican – that she once had the arrogance to approach the edge of the stage, kiss her fingertips and raise them toward the devout multitude like a mother bidding her children goodnight.’
Avalovara kisses her own fingertips in turn, and bows to underscore the gesture. The cascade of pure white hair catches the light as the head tilts in profile, listening to instructions from the hidden earpiece.
‘. . . and it seems we now have a live feed direct from St Peter’s Square, the long-anticipated moment when the new sovereign of the state is named . . . Let’s go to video.’
The cardinal protodeacon fills the screen. From the balcony, Michelangelo Bernufoni clears his throat and begins intoning the Habemus papam as the faithful join together in hymns and victory chants, holding up tapers, crucifixes and the flags of every country while shouting words of glory and blessing. For at last, after many days of media tension and electoral sequestration, the white smoke has billowed up and dissipated across the sky over the square, and now the sacred words ring out across the basilica’s facade. To the cardinal’s right is an illuminated space where at last Micaela Andreína makes her appearance. There’s a light of incomprehensible origin in her face, and her features express determination and great calm, hair falling in a smooth cascade over her shoulders. Before her a sepulchral silence falls which, from the balcony, she breaks.
‘The only human flaw that exists is this: to lack the capacity to be nourished by the light. By the flame of understanding that is radiance emerging from confusion, the light that emanates from the face of Our Lady of Magdala, an image that came to me one night and cleared my vision; the curtains were stilled, the ecstatic flame now burned unflickering. Then Her sweet breath washed over my face and eyes and She said: I have no wounds but I feel them. Then I understood the defects in my thinking, the ancestral uncertainty, the world’s atavistic fears though my own fears, and She knew I knew, and I knew this knowing was unpronounceable and that this faith and this light could not leave me to be transferred to others. And likewise, I knew that both were part of my task, to help others find it – find faith – and be nourished by it – by light. To be scout or bulwark, guide for the blind or counselor, a stronghold, an interlocutor’s voice, to be a rent in the veil of lies, allowing truth to penetrate further into the shadows so we can understand all the certainty there is in the word of the Goddess, in the extension of Her love, in the magnitude of the heroic but humble acts that flow from Her strength. For She has poured Herself into Her creation, has given Her Being to me and to all women so we may give it back to Her, so we may redistribute it for and through other women, those who do not yet hear us today but will hear us tomorrow. The past and future are the sole treasure of the woman who champions herself, waves the flag of herself, no longer clinging to spiritual dependency but renouncing it to flee the consolations of religion and of man, denying the immortality or utility of sin or final absolution, remaining all the while a creature of grace, not as promise but as fact, my sisters, participating in the divine transmutation, obedient to the order of the world, to amor fati, to the splendor of negation and renunciation, aspiring, as in St Augustine’s apophatic theology, not to knowledge of the divine but to the renunciation of such knowledge, for faith ceases to be faith if it is sustained by knowledge alone. The light that can be understood is not the true light but can only be fictitious, explicable, transcribable and therefore limiting and limited. For the true light, the absolute clarity, cannot be contained, the pure truth exists only in the infinite, unending image, in the image and the memory of the image. For the truth is one and many, and the one truth is in no way distinct from all the others, the truth is repetition and multiplication, it is that which pours forth from the ruptured seal, an embrace of the air, an idea attained by releasing the mind into dreams, and also by the word, for thought gives the word, and thought is given to us by the word, and thus we must become our actions in imagination, and our imagination in our actions . . .’