(urth) The Katharine maid

Roy C. Lackey rclackey at stic.net
Wed Oct 25 13:02:55 PDT 2006

Most attempts to account for the unchanged appearance of the maid who played
the role of Holy Katharine for as long as Severian could remember do so by
supposing the use of time travel. That is certainly a possibility, but the
text also affords another mechanism whereby the same effect might be
accomplished -- aquastors/eidolons. We have the example of Malrubius, who
died when Severian was a young boy, yet pops up several times in the story,
and Severian himself, who was resurrected at least twice by the same plot
device. The machinery that supports eidolons have a range of "a few thousand

Setting aside for the moment the question of who exactly the maid might have
been, what person in their right mind who had a choice in the matter would
consent to participating in such a rite for such a sorry group as the
torturers? When did she begin playing the role? When Severian was a small
boy? Was it the same maid when Gurloes was a boy? Did her participation end
when Severian left the guild? Was she still there for the two feasts Eata
must have attended before he ran away? Alas, the text doesn't say, yet it's

If the same maid played the role for the entire period of the autarchy, it
colors the perception of her as Severian's mother. The bogus Catholic Saint
Catherine was obviously the inspiration for Holy Katharine, but of what help
is that? That Catherine was supposedly condemned for professing her faith in
an officially despised religion.

Severian the Conciliator came to Urth when Ymar was a teen, at the very end
of Typhon's rule. Ymar was present when Severian gave his little sermon
about the coming of the New Sun, and eventually became the first autarch. It
seems reasonable to suppose that Ymar's reign marked the beginning of the
Conciliator cult as the state religion. The ruined chapel in the autarch's
Citadel where the guild held its annual ceremony is evidence that the cult
was once officially sanctioned. It was ruined for the same reason that
everything else on Urth was in ruins; time took its toll and the New Sun had
not come.

So at what point did Ymar's guild start acting out the ritual, and why? The
mother of the Conciliator doesn't seem like a likely candidate for execution
by the same authority that initiated the worship of the Conciliator. If you
want to argue that the ritual was a holdover by the torturers from ancient
days long before Typhon, why was it held in a chapel devoted to the
Conciliator? If the ritual was a holdover, then what does it have to do with
Severian's mother? The torturers would have, in effect, supplanted their
patron saint with the mother of a god; traded a Catherine for a Mary, if you
will. That doesn't make sense.

It seems incredible that the maid should have begun acting her role early in
the autarchy, but if she didn't, when did she start? Who orchestrated it and
why? The Yesodians were messing with Urth at least as far back as Ymar's
time. Inire was their agent, the power behind the throne. The Hierodules
traveled backward and forward in time. They knew who Severian's parents

The guild masters knew damn well who the maid was and where she came from;
the ritual could not take place without their cooperation. They knew who
Severian's mother was. What was Ouen's Catherine's real crime? She gave
birth to the Conciliator? That is exactly what the Hierogrammates wanted --
a New Sun to usher in Ushas. That is the reward a woman gets for giving
birth to a god, getting her head cut off once a year, whether it was fake or
real? Being tortured to death, sooner or later?

An eidolon maid would simplify the whole affair; just turn the sustaining
machinery on and off as needed. At the conclusion of the feast the maid
could dissolve into nothingness, like Malrubius on the beach. Since eidolons
are always of the dead, from her point of view she has nothing to lose, and
little or no time would pass between appearances. Her final payoff would be
eventual release and the promise of new life at the conclusion of her

The external technology for the eidolons is alien, but the animating spirit
comes from a living person. The eidolon of Severian created on the Ship
differed from the original in that his bum leg was repaired. None but
Severian knew knew about Triskele, so the dog's eidolon came from his mind.
The dog's missing leg might as easily have been restored, but Severian
remembered him as having three legs, just as the maid remained fixed in his
famous memory.


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