The Firefly

Companion's Guild

  Building community and heart into the Firefly 'verse'

The Firefly Companion's Guild  

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Bó'ài Hónglián Companion’s Guild History

Memoirs of a High Priestess

As I stepped into Second Life for the first time I was fully aware of it being a world made up of mind.. but after all what world isn’t these days. With Information Technology forming the backbone of a lot of shared knowledge and the Internet connecting up more and more vessels of knowledge (i.e. human beings) we are creating, informing and developing awareness of our world with every video, blog and post. That said, the idea of living in a virtual world so full of potential and vast differences in expression and context made me apprehensive to say the least…..

I first encountered the Companion’s Guild… a group of people roleplaying and reproducing as much as they could the character and context of Inara.. a Companion from the series Firefly by Joss Whedon.. in early 2008. At that time I had been in Second Life for about a year, learning about its functions and abilities, meeting its residents and deciding what sort of think I might like to manifest in this world. As a fan of Joss Whedon’s work since 1998 (I came to Buffy with a young adult’s mind) I was keen to discover what inspirations from his work had manifested in this dynamic world.

I started out as a Companion (we didn’t have any Pre-Registration training in those days) assisting the current High Priestess as best I could. There was little structure but a beautiful place called Metagarden where we role-played being in a very rural part of the planet of Sihnon. It was a Retreat of sorts.. quiet and humble and a beautiful place to meet and discuss what it means to be a Companion. But the role-play was just beginning… and it was up to the few of us around to figure out how to carve and shape it into something that could thrive in Second Life. As someone who has lived in contemplative communities in Real Life I had a special insight into what sort of shape it could have and what our initial aims could be. To start with we would need to have an event… and not just a disco (of which there are plenty in Second Life). It would need to be an event that was a little like an episode of Firefly.. a role-play context to provide.

In Firefly the Companions train at a Companion House from what seems an early age.. perhaps in a similar style to those of the Chinese Yueji or Japanese Geisha. This long-term building of community and strength may be in part reflected in the warmth between Inara and Nandi when they meet in the episode ‘Heart of Gold’. So we opted for a role-play surrounding a celebration of the ‘end of term’ (again no formal training was either role-played or provided at this point). Beeflin Grut provided music and the High Priestess was thanked for her activities and kindness. There was also a ‘heist’ - one of our most valued pictures was stolen by thieves piloting a ship… The event was a success.. not only in achieving what we set out to do but also in providing ample discussion In Character and Out for months afterwards.

In mid to late 2008 the High Priestess decided to take a break and passed the role onto another.. so I had a new Mistress to serve ^^ The new High Priestess relocated the Companion’s Guild to a different place which was much more urban and gave us space for new developments. We discussed where we had got to so far and decided that the idea of roleplaying a training facility held lots of potential for socialising and building our community. I became the head teacher and starting building rooms that would accommodate students and classes. We started to have regular get togethers with DJs and more opportunities for people to come develop their characters together in a casual ‘backstory’ way. Newcomers were a little perplexed by what we were trying to do.. were we whores? were we snooty ladies? What sort of power were we hoping to glean from behaving as if we had control over our own destinies? I am sure our Feminist inspiration Joss Whedon would recognise such dynamics.. perhaps with his own special inner smile.

On 24th February 2009 I felt confidently established enough to host my first class… We started with a breathing meditation - important for gathering our thoughts and laying a foundation for awareness - and then had a discussion of how we were settling into the school. Keen to involve Companions in what was going on, I added different subjects as we gradually developed, featuring different teachers as and when they volunteered. These included such things as Meditation, Building (Dance Fans), Dances of Poetry, Group tours and walks, Herbalism, Horse riding… etc. Classes were mainly provided to help establish role-play context and backstories for those training and the great debate on how progress was measured was often brought up and bantered around as we made the most of the new Sihnon sim.

Whilst the school developed I was also considering how we could coordinate such a thing as providing the role-play of providing Companion time to others in a similar way to how Inara was booked in the Firefly series. It seemed to me that while our acolytes were happy with their role in building a community at ‘home’ our Companions had not received such training and so many were emotionally detached from what was developing - and far from ready or willing to deal with clients who In Character (and maybe Out of Character too) would be strangers.

In Mid-Spring 2009 there were further changes. Things had been going very smoothly with people living day to day, attending classes and gradually introducing their friends to what we were up to. Discussions were held as to when and how new Companions would be Registered, and I had a few consistent teachers under me when the current High Priestess became ill. A phase of ‘lag’ followed where nothing new happened but we could all feel the change coming. Finally came word that the sim that was hosting the Companion’s Guild was going to be sold/moved/deleted and so, as a Head Mistress in the absence of the High Priestess, it was time for me to get back to the ‘drawing board’.

Over the last few years I had still been coordinating the Second Life project I had begun conducting in 2007 called the ‘Western Geishas’. This was a group of people who were dedicated to being open and providing support to others in Second Life. Being kind to others takes time and energy and to avoid the ups and downs that come from giving of yourself we were meeting once a month to support and listen to how each of us was getting on. It was the complementary aspect of this with the Companion’s role and nature, alongside the fact that the High Priestess then passed her title and duties to me, that invoked the decision to combine the two projects in a shared space and I took on a half share of a homestead called ‘Dart Lagoon’.

 Intersim and role-play IC/OOC politics being what it is I also decided that the relocation should come with a slightly fresher feel and shortly after the arrival to the new sim we had another ‘end of term’ event. It was Early Summer of 2009 and the Yoshiwara Geisha came from another sim to provide us with entertainment. It was during that summer that the High Priestess finally returned to Second Life, told me that she was unable to resume her position, and passed the role to me. I also started a new group ‘The Firefly Companion’s Guild’ with myself as the creator so that I could have full control of what was to come and contacted everyone in the old group to find out how they were and whether they were interested in continuing their relationship with us by participating in the new group. Second Life being what it was a lot of members had lost touch and/or got busy with something else. We also at this point Registered all those who wished be Companions in the new group to honour the training they had done at Sihnon and to identify more firmly those who were interested in further study. After a little break we got back on the horse’ and commenced gathering for lessons in the new house and enjoyed our stay on the sim which we role-played as the new planet ‘Paquin’.

Things were going well and the community was growing gradually… we were also able to provide a home and context for a couple of other communities in Second Life who had lost their sims or group leaders. Over the summer it seemed to me that we were worthy and also in need of our own space. Our aims stretched towards things like Polyamory, Self Assessment and having an Open House rule and such concepts can provide an interesting blend of providing both refuge and personal challenge. I now found us a homestead sim for my activities which I named Western Geisha Heaven and got ready to take on the challenge of being the sole owner of a place provided for others. In a place where we were undisturbed by the presence of other groups I felt ready to create some deeper roots to our practice and community.

This took the form of specific academic terms (there were to be two a year, Spring to Summer and Autumn to Winter) and a reintroduction of named dorms and a larger living space for those training. A library, kitchen, dining/lounge space, bathroom and office was built. We commenced the first term on Western Geisha Heaven (role-played as an island bequeathed to us by the Mayor of Paquin for a time) with our first Fire Ceremony. The Fire Ceremony was designed to highlight the warmth we create together, gather people ready for the term and role-play our wish as eager students of Love to apply what we learn assiduously. Having a firm base of ‘operations’ also helped us expand our role-play connections as we were able to exchange landmarks and invite all sorts of people to our island. We visited the Desert born of Al Raqis, the Ingenious Orions, people from the various meditation and self development communities of Second Life, residents of the slave colony of Botany Bay, Geishas and artists….. We were also able to host more events such as Bridal Showers for those anticipating Second Life partnerships.

Another ‘end of term’ was approaching.. and with the building of a community comes a building of expectations and varying needs as a community becomes more diverse with each new person. I pride myself on being able to grow things slow and steady and always being free to ‘have not quite thought of that yet’. I feel in this way every bridge gets crossed in its own time and there is less danger of panicking about things that really don’t need looking at. Taking stock of my community so far I could see that people were progressing mainly at their own rate and therefore were at very different levels when it came to the ability to provide consistently such confident social warmth exuded by the character of Inara played so beautifully by Morena Baccarin.

I looked for an outfit that could be given and worn in different colours to reflect this.. Once chosen the next step was to create ‘grades’ that could reflect the stepping stones towards Registering as a Companion. At the very first Grading Day I had 6 acolytes to give grades too; the two who were ready to represent the first stage were given blue robes and awarded Peacock grade and became mentors for those who had very recently joined us, the two ready to represent the second stage were given pink robes and awarded Flamingo grade and became those who would teach in the next term (the colour for this stage for male Hummingbird acolytes is green), and the last two represented the final stage of the training of an acolyte and were given red robes and awarded Phoenix grade. Although these levels and roles were laying the foundation for a greater and better established community in the future, in general the acolytes at this first Grading Day were directly helping me to demonstrate the potential path we were offering. I thank them for putting aside their egos in a gesture of kindness for all those who have come after.. and who have been able to have their progress measured in a more personal way ^^

Our first official ‘term break’ followed, allowing me time to take stock and consider what the next term would bring and how I should fulfil my role as a High Priestess to these new grades… To the Peacocks I delegated newly enrolled acolytes.. placing new bunks beside theirs and encouraging them in understanding what they had learnt over the last term (where the bathroom is, how the boats work, how to edit and rez simple items etc). To the Flamingos and Hummingbirds i provided class outlines and encouraged them in leading small groups of people… That left me with the Phoenixes… what was I to do with them? How does one function as a Companion in Second Life? These are the questions I bounced around my head during the winter…. that, and upgrading Western Geisha Heaven to a full sim, Dakini Land.

It was certain that people wanted to behave authentically like a Companion in Second Life, and that others were keen to have authentic Companions as part of their role-play. What was also certain was that people were uncertain as to what we were.. during our first few forays into role-play we had encountered a fair amount of us being treated as ‘weak women’ - after all we were non butch female well off pacifists.. surely in a dramatic situation that meant we were the ones who would be kidnapped, abused and in the centre of some struggle somehow brought on by our state. It was interesting how working out such a simple character seemed to be touching on so many issues; women’s issues, empowering the individual, the freedom of an individual to love and care without being owned, sexual liberation, the line between plots that would be an 18 rather than a 15 in the cinema, the right to be an adult.. and other social quandaries. As they say… if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.. in creating a new role and context I did not want to fix something that wasn’t broke and therefore end up making complication rather than providing a service. I got to work.

From my experience gleaned from my being a High Priestess so far and also from relating to others in the vast contexts of Second Life I could see various problems with relating to others intimately. People tended to go from one extreme to another in all sorts of contexts.. I had already witnessed this aplenty in helping my Western Geishas.. a person would be open and supportive to others, perhaps becoming closer to others as part of that process, they would stretch beyond their centre of emotional gravity and get hurt.. and then they would shut down - some being able to open their hearts again after a time of healing and some not. During their shut down and defensive phase they were likely to attract someone in an open phase and… hurt them.. creating another person in a shut down phase, maybe in the meantime healing and becoming open.. or maybe not. And so from what I could see many people in Second Life, although it is a realm of ultimate possibility, were scared and unsure as to how to proceed - do you ask that lonely person at the edge of the dance floor to dance.. or would that open a supermassive black hole?

In order to protect my Companions from this cycle I would have to come up with a very specific way of conducting themselves, so that the basis of Companion practice was more like a 1 or a 0.. we are either Companioning.. or not. I also realised that people in their fight for intimacy rarely take time to identify, hold dear and adhere to their own emotional limits, so that was an important aspect of booking a Companion on the side of both Companion and Client. Also there was the aspect of levels of intimacy.. my experience of relating with people (mainly men but I am only going from my limited view) was that they tend to go from 0mph to 60mph in 5 seconds.. missing out romance entirely sometimes as they leap at the opportunity and permission for sex. This is no way to get to know someone and I have noticed that relating this way rarely establishes a long term connection that can provide benefits beyond the couple and even into their ‘slutty’ community.

We already had a booking form for enrolling acolytes which was very helpful for many reasons including understanding my new acolytes and setting up good Older Sister/Brother relations within the school. So I created another form for booking Companions and gradually made that available to the roleplaying community. In the form the Client was asked what level of intimacy they required in the form of 4 Enjoyments; Gazing, Smiling, Holding Hands and Union.

 To begin with we started taking appointments for Gazing (which is a non physical booking of time - most useful for role-play where a Companion character is needed as part of the conversation and action). As I started teaching the Phoenix acolytes to become ready to assume the role of Companion in a deeper way than the Companions we currently had I explored in my mind what the other Enjoyments would consist of. In Firefly it is made very clear that an important part of a Companion booking is the Tea Ceremony.. so that is what is used to represent the Enjoyment of Smiling, a Companion encounter that contains 3 or 4 Enjoyments always starts with Smiling in this way. In canon it is important to establish this as it separates the Companion from the ‘whore’.. something we are often called incorrectly (but after all many characters in Firefly series itself who do not understand call Inara this so it is not our place to be upset). It took me a while as I am not an amazing builder but I created a Tea Ceremony that my Companions could work with ^^. Holding Hands is the name for the extremely important phase of early touch.. massage and dance for example and Union refers to a sexual Union.. hopefully of people who have taken the time to get to know each other ;)

Looking back I find that just as it is worth the Companion and Client taking the time to get to know each other through the process of 4 Enjoyments so it has been worth taking the time to train as a Companion. My acolytes train for at least a year in real time and during such time pass through varying stages of growth, both in community context and in themselves. To date I have Registered 17 Companions and each one has gone on to achieve great things in varying realities. We all have the time to appreciate and support each others growth, eagerly anticipating the time that a acolytes graduate as a Companion and some acolytes enjoy the process of learning so much that they remain in a certain grade for a very long time, just happy to ‘be’ that. By the time my first training Phoenix completed his training he had been established firmly in the roleplaying community and had lots of siblings in the Guild and well wishers from beyond the Guild happy to welcome his Registration as a Companion.

Obviously what was needed was another celebration.. on the level of the Fire Ceremony and the Grading Day. Searching for Chinese terms… (in Firefly the theory is a future time where the most powerful influences come from America and China) I found ‘Wo Men Dakai’ which means ‘I open the doors’. In the Bó'ài Hónglián Companion’s Guild (we also sourced a specific Chinese name once we realised that the community and practice we had built was quite specific) every Registering Companion has a Wo Men Dakai the function of which is to invite all those who have anticipated the time of Registration (and their friends) to come and enjoy the new Companion’s hospitality. Each one so far has been a complete delight - and so very varying and different! Famous courtesan have always been renowned for their individuality and so it is with great pride that I witness my Companions choosing the style of their path and also what level of Enjoyment they are happy to provide for others.

As our community grew.. and as our Registered Companions spread out into the ‘Verse and various other contexts in both Second Life and Real Life our Dakini Land started to heave ho! Our events often filled the sim (the max for mediocre performance for the sake of varying computer ability is 40ish) and our community was starting to diversify as my Companions provided encounters for all sorts of different clients. It was time for another expansion… for the birdies to fly the nest! We already had a few Companion houses dotted here and there on different sims in Second Life, often opened at the request of the sim owners who were starting to see that we were good at providing consistency and attracting interest. It was with a churning heart that I decided to return Dakini Land sim to the ocean of love from which it sprang and start to use my own energy and the energy of my community to encourage further bring our warmth to others in Second Life. Having a ‘home’ is all very well when one is small (or maybe even when one is huge) but when a community is at middling size I could see that it provides too much weight at a time when my social conscience was telling me we should still be pioneers ^^

We had 6 months of notice for Dakini Land going down (in role-play we were returning the island to a non human reservation for the flora and fauna we had much loved and enjoyed whilst living on it). This was enough time to establish 9 Companion Houses throughout Second Life of varying styles and functions.. some have a dorm and training focus.. some have an Open House focus.. some have a retreat focus. Thank you Dakini Land for supporting our growth and nurturing us when we were learning to fly.. you are always in our hearts.. May our Companions grow and flourish.. and May we warm the world so that all beings can feel the burning of love forever in their own hearts…

Ad infinitum….

Varahi x