Admonishing Lady took some time off from live gigs to prepare for Her now-legendary "Northern Lights" tour. Empires had risen and fallen; she had a whole new potential audience. The scene had changed, too. Gone were the heady days when the gigs were small enough that everyone could dance and touch the Goddess directly - people nowadays were used to massive concerts where they sat quietly whilst dancers on stage did tightly choreographed routines.
The other side of the coin, though, was that the new audience hadn't heard Her old standards before. Something different always attracts new devotees. Admonishing Lady gathered a few close friends together and they went off to a studio in the country. They rewrote some of the old lyrics in the new style and added some totally new material. Gone were the complex chant sequences: the new material had a fashionable hypnotic other-worldliness.
They ditched most of the old imagery too. The album covers and tour tee shirts featured only the old ears of corn, blazoned with new stars and flames. They booked a trial run of concert halls in the Cologne area, repainted the battered old tour bus and eased it onto the road. The first couple of concerts were fairly quiet, but word began to spread and as they headed down the Rhine a few of Her old fans, who'd been meeting in corner bars to listen to the old stuff, joined in. The further away from the cities they got, the bigger the crowds were. Soon, word reached the A&R guys in Rome and they flew up to catch the last concert. They were somewhat mystified, but knew a lucrative market when they saw one, so they pronounced it good.
Some modern academics have gone so far as to suggest that everyone turning to "heresy" in the middle ages was seeking a more balanced place for femininity and sexuality in their religious life. Whilst the truth was probably not so extreme, it's certain that some of them were doing precisely that. The Church of Rome had suppressed a core part of the life of the laity, and something that important would eventually surface again.
At the end of the German tour, Admonishing lady pocketed an advance from a new record company and booked the studio once again. The band had been having a few problems with the material, and they were anxious to get to work, but still they negotiated carefully. The folks in Rome should have read the contract on residuals more carefully, for now they just wanted in on the action fast. The gigs for a tour of Flanders and Brabant were already booked and no one was looking too carefully so long as the box office figures stayed healthy.
The old fans wanted the snake back - it was a very old symbol of the power of the earth but had first achieved public notoriety on the "Apokalypse" tour, back in the days of free love and unlimited mind-altering chemicals. Now the fans wanted it again. The juniors at the record company were dubious, but giving the punters what they wanted had to be the way to go. So long as the new snake imagery was politically correct, A&R would probably go for it.
Smoke effects, back-projected flames, and Admonishing Lady silhouetted in a figure-hugging costume, standing on a huge snake (and with apologies to John Brunner, Admonishing lady was gigging here and could afford a real snake). The fans knew what they were seeing, even if the A&R boys didn't.
The band had also found a new phenomenon on the Cologne tour - the Love Song. It was hypnotic, repetitive ambient stuff with voice-overs about the ecstasy, the longing, the bitterness and sweetness of Love. Coupled with the snake, the fans lapped it up. It was powerful stuff. The band extended their tour of Flanders and even played a few sell-out gigs in France. The money rolled in. And since Goddesses usually have pretty astute contract lawyers, She kept a great deal of it. Times were good.
Probably their financial success was the undoing of the mediaeval Christian mystic movements. They fell from favour with the Vatican at about the time they started to become rich. Revenues must have been falling and what happened next was too convenient to be coincidence. As the sects became rich, the inquisition started taking "ordinary" mystics, with ideas that had previously had papal sanction, and charging them with offences connected with real, hard-line heretics like the Free Spirits, who certainly were into what would nowadays be called sex magic.
It wasn't long before the rumours started. The company might have fed them directly to the tabloid press - certainly they didn't seem too upset by the publicity their erstwhile favourites ere now getting. There were rumours of drug taking on the tour. This was nothing new: fans had always found it easier to understand the songs with a little chemical help. Although it wasn't widespread - and certainly some fans seriously disapproved - alcohol and drugs had been part of the scene since Admonishing Lady first gigged out.
The same went for the stories about sex. Sex has sold since a cave man carved the first pornographic figurine, so it was natural that a few well-documented cases of licentiousness amongst the fans made the headlines. Gradually, story topped story until descriptions of orgies after gigs became commonplace.
Locals were naturally worried about the concerts, but the tales of orgies didn't really upset anyone too badly - and they attracted new fans. The crunch came with a number of kiss-and-tell stories by fans claiming to have had sex with Admonishing Lady herself. This was too much for the event organisers, who pressed charges against some of the ringleaders. The popular backlash was harsh and, not for the first time or the last, religious violence broke out.
Many "heretics" died - witches formed a very small proportion of the fabled "nine million" (in reality perhaps three hundred thousand, but that figure doesn't scan anywhere near as well) victims of the inquisition. And the dead were by no means all women, however much the feminist movement might like it to be so.
Strangely, after the fuss had died down, the A&R guys from Rome discovered a little gold-mine. Corporate lawyers met, as corporate lawyers do, and a few hundred years later remixes of the Admonishing Lady classics, including Apokalypse and Northern Lights, were back in the charts, with Rome pocketing the mechanical reproduction rights. Now Rome was getting rich again, Admonishing Lady's fans were back to meeting in bars, and all was right with the world. Le plus ça change...
One woman who burned at the stake is particularly special to me. Was Marguerite Porete a Free Spirit? Almost certainly not. Did her readers think she was? Some of them most certainly did. Which leads to the intriguing prospect that the mainstream church may have partly funded a modern translation of a sex magic primer. And once the inquisition had died out, Admonishing Lady's followers went back anyway to doing what they always had, with official sanction. She is, I'm sure, smiling.