Dedicated To Lady Olivia Robertson, Laura Janesdaughter, Linda Illes and deTraci Regula
Aisling looked around the stone cottage. She had to be packed up and ready to be moved to a new one by the time noon came. The morning sun came in through the leather coverings of the door and the windows. The sun was still low in the sky and wouldn’t be much higher in the hour or so before noon. Aisling really missed the sun at this time of the year.
Samhain was a few sennights past and the Chief Druid had told then that in the new year she was ready for her next step as a student. She looked around again. Had she forgotten anything? She was scared and more than a bit excited. She had finished the first three sun returns of her studies. She had studied the beginnings of every craft and lore the Druids practiced. She had studied herbs and healing, poetry and storytelling, history and the lineages of her people. She’d learn the beginnings of brewing and animal lore, she’d learned about the stars and their stories and the paths they traveled in the heavens. She’d learned the beginnings of how bodies worked and the things people and animals need to be healthy. She’d spent time learning how and what the Druids knew about how the worlds worked but now it was time to move to the next step. She had come here when she was just past 6 summers and now she was just past 9 summers and so much had happened. She had met the Fae and she had met some of the deities her stories had told her about.
She looked down at her freshly whitened tunic and new trews. She’d helped spin the wool for them and watched it being woven. She’d collected the dye plants that had coloured the wool. She loved the stripes of blues and greens with the browns. They made her feel proud that her hands had learned to do these things.
She was done packing and she grabbed the staff she had made. She wanted to go sit for awhile before the ceremony. She walked out of the cottage for the last time and up the hill. Someone would move her things later in the day.
At the top of the hill she sat down and looked over the valley. The lambs that had been new this spring were almost grown and ranged around her stolidly eating and ignoring her. The sky was the piercing blue it becomes it late fall when the sun is low. There were light clouds starting to stream by in the west. Rain would come tomorrow. The grass around her was browning this late in the year before the winter rains would set in.
Tomorrow would start her first year with the Bards. Then she would have to decide if that was what she would keep studying. She was glad that the winter would be spent with the storytellers. She knew she would be learning how to tell the tales as well as many stories. Stories that taught their beliefs, stories that taught history, stories that could make people cry or scare them on a cold winter night when some of the dark Fae might be around and you only felt safe when you had a cup of hot cider and a friend sitting near the fire.
She knew she would have to study with the Chief Bard at some point and she wasn’t looking forward to it. She thought he still was mad at the Raven. Raven couldn’t help being attracted to his pretty, shiny white hair but she didn’t think the Chief Bard cared that Raven couldn’t help liking it. Raven was circling over head in the clear sky. She would soon have to come in for the winter and be inside and Raven hadn’t liked that much last year but Raven wasn’t interested in going where other ravens went it seemed. Aisling closed her eyes to the sun and rested.
Raven landed on her shoulder with a thump and Aisling her a hoarse voice say, “GO!”. She’d fallen asleep and was going to be late if she didn’t hurry. Aisling ran down the hill and through the village, her braids flying behind her and holding her staff high so she wouldn’t fall over it.
She made it to the stone circle just as the lines were forming. Her teacher had been looking for her and grabbed her. “No, you need to go in on the other side this time.” And she pulled her around to the other side of the circle. The side the celebrants used to enter. She was coming in from the East for the first time. She joined the 5 others who would be moving on with her. She was last in line and smallest as usual. She straightened her tunic and smashed down her bangs which like to curl and stand up. She sighed to herself, almost late again.
The boy in front started to walk into the circle and the rest followed. They walked three times around in front of the rest of the village. The Chief Druid and Chief Bard were standing by the altar set up in the center of the ring. The Chief Bard looked very dour. Did he know she’d almost been late? She saw Raven land on a stone in front of where they had stopped.
The Chief Druid stepped forward. “We are gathered here to witness and bless these children and to lead them into the next step on their paths.” He turned to the gathering. “Do you so witness this and agree they are ready?”
Aisling shivered, she just new someone would say she wasn’t ready but all she heard was cheering and she relaxed just a little.
The Chief Druid turned to the six of them standing there before him. “Are you ready for to take that step on your journey?”
Aisling answered “Aye!” with the rest of them.
The Chief Bard stepped forward. “Do you swear to do your best to learn the lore of our people? To keep it safe and dear until it comes time for you to pass it on?
Aisling answered, “Aye” and hoped she would be able to do it.
The Chief Druid took a cup from the altar. “This water is a symbol of the blood that moves through all of us. It is a symbol of the water that runs though and over the land as its blood. It is a symbol of what relates us to the land and every being that lives on it.
The Chief Druid marked each of their hearts and foreheads. He smiled at Aisling and winked just a tiny bit and he turned and nodded to the Chief Bard.
Chief Bard took the small bowl of salt and raised it. “This salt also ruins through our veins and the veins of all living beings. Too much can kill as well as not having enough. It can burn in a wound or season our food. May you always know when and how to use it.” He motioned for them to stick out their tongues as he dropped a few grains on them.
The Chief Druid moved forward again with a small bottle. “This oil is scented with the herbs and gifts of our goddesses and gods and is a symbol of their caring for us. May this oil bless your hearts, minds and tongues. May it bless your feet as you walk upon the Earth. May it give you strength when you need it. May it give comfort when you are filled with fear or grief. May it give you wisdom and the sight to see your path. May it bless you all of your days.”
“What gifts do you bring you goddesses and gods?” Time he turned to Aisling’s end of the line for the answer.
Aisling was terrified for a minute and thoughtfully answered, “My heart.” The Chief Druid smiled at her and once again she was relieved. She’d given the right answer. It was all she really had after all.
The Chief Druid went down the line asking each the question. And Ailsing looked at the rest of the village gathered around them. Aislng thought that there were a few extra people in the back but she couldn’t be sure as she turned her attention back to the Chief Druid and Bard.
The Chief Bard took a wreath from the pile on the table. It was made of fir, pine, holly and sage. He placed it on Angus’ head and held his hand on the crown of Angus’s head without saying anything. He moved to Catriona and did the same. Aisling wondered what was happening but knew she’d find out soon. The Chief Bard moved down the line until she came to her. She was almost afraid to look at him closely. He’d never been particularly nice to her but he smiled and placed the wreath on the brow and his hand on her head. She felt warmth spread over her and she smiled. That wasn’t so bad.
The Chief Druid held his staff in front of him. “This staff is a symbol of finding your way. It will keep you on solid ground, it will protect you from harm, it can be a guide to inspiration as you walk. May it be a comfort when you are alone and a symbol of your learning that you are not alone.”
The Chief Bard took something from the table and moved to Angus as he dropped the talisman around his neck. These are a symbol of your path. They are all different as our paths are all different. The Chief Druid and your teacher selected the symbols. Do not look at them until we are done.
It took all Aisling’s might not to look at the talisman. She wanted to know so bad what it was but they were trusting her to be grown up enough not to look.
Aisling was getting tired of standing there in front of everyone. She knew she was supposed to be reverent and absorbed in the ceremony but now she just wanted it over so she could think about it all. She looked up and the Chief Druid winked at her. Did he know how she felt? Did he ever feel the same way?
The Chief Druid and the Chief Bard turned to the village. “Behold see your new Bards, listen to their stories, hear their songs and welcome them to your hearts!” The village cheered and started to move towards them. Time for hugs and time for the feast and she hadn’t done anything to disgrace herself for once. Aisling was just starting to enjoy it when the Raven swooped down and grabbed her wreath from her head and flew off.
“Hey! Come back here you thief!” She cried and started to run when she felt her shoulder grabbed.
“Stay! She’ll return it if it’s meant to be returned.” Aisling turned around and her eyes widened. She’d been right about the extra people. Brighid, Lugh and the Green Man stood before the initiates.
“We’ve come to bless these children on their path. These are the blessed ones, whether they believe it or not.” Brighid smiled down at Aisling. “Go forth in sunshine and in shadow, in twilight and moonlight, by hearthfire and bonfire!’
The goddess and gods stepped back in the crowd and were gone. The village stood around in silence. That had never happened before. Even the Chief Druid looked a bit bemused.
“Aisling, I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. You have the most interesting friends.” He turned and picked up his staff and led them out of the stone circle.
Aisling hugged the moment to herself. She was a Bard.
The oak leaf swayed in the breeze. It was a pleasant spring breeze and the tree was enjoying the slow back and forth swinging the breeze gave her. She was waiting because it was almost time for her yearly spring visit from the Druids that lived nearby her.
Every spring the Druids gathered and circled her. She was loaded with mistletoe and couldn’t wait for them to harvest it and have it gone. Most of the time she didn’t mind sharing her branches with the mistletoe but when it got heavier and heavier to hold up and when it started to steal too much of her water and food she was glad to be rid of it.
She had heard the Druids talking among themselves at the harvest about the uses they would have for the mistletoe. She was glad it was useful to someone. It didn’t communicate with her much. She heard the Druids talk about using it to help the people who came with breathing problems or problems with their sap.
She was anxious for them to come and take the mistletoe away. It had gotten very, very heavy on one branch and she was afraid it was going to break if they didn’t come soon.
From a distance she heard singing and the chiming of soft bells. They were coming! It was funny because some of the Druids addressed her directly and told her what they were going to do but there were other Druids that seemed to not know that she could see and hear. She wondered if they were blind to all plants and trees or just her. She sensed it made them uncomfortable when she tried to communicate. She wondered why that was so.
The Chief Druid stood before her in his trews and long grey tunic. She normally saw him in his long robes but this day he always came dressed to work.
“Darach, we come to ask you to grant us the pleasure of removing the mistletoe from your branches.”
The oak tree said, “Yes!” with all her might. The Chief Druid nodded and ladders were put all around her and the youngest in the group swarmed up into her branches and started carefully removing the great masses of mistletoe that had grown during the year. She felt lighter and lighter as they removed more and more.
She got so excited she dropped the last of the acorns that were left from last year. One bounced off the head of one of the smallest and youngest druids.
“OW!” The tree started to giggle and then the small Druid did too.
“You can hear me?” The tree asked. This made the tree very excited.
“Yes,” whispered the small Druid. “Can’t everybody?”
“No, only a few can hear me. I think the Chief Druid can but I’m not sure who else can. He is the only one that comes to talk to me besides when you are harvesting. I get lonely sometimes standing here.”
The little Druid moved down the branch she was sitting on toward the trunk. “Is is alright if I come talk to you? I will if you want me to.”
“That would be so nice. I’d really like to hear what you are studying and what you see in the other parts of the forest. Squirrels don’t tell me much and the birds never stay long enough.”
“I’d love to talk to you. Sometimes I get lonely too and the sheep don’t want to listen because they are too busy watching their lambs. Do you know any stories?”
“I know many stories. I can tell you about every thing and everyone that lives in the wood. I can tell you about all the people that have lived around here. I can even tell you were the best mushrooms grow and where the nearest honey tree is if you are brave enough.”
The tree and the little Druid heard her being called from far below. They wanted to begin the ceremony thanking the tree and the earth for providing healing and magic plants.
“I have to go but I’ll visit you soon.” And the little Druid slid down the ladder to the ground and joined the circle of bigger Druids around the tree. They sang the trees favourite song and she swayed with the breeze. That was as close as she could come to dancing with the Druids. The Druids circled around the tree singing and ringing their bells and soon they were on the way back to their village loaded with the mistletoe they had harvested. The last one in line was the little redhaired Druid who waved at the tree shyly when no one was looking.
It was going to be a good summer.
Blessed Samhain, Samhuinn, & Hallows!
Originally a celebration of 3 nights to a week to allow for travel time and the moon to move since this festival was originally determined by the moon. The idea of months is relatively new to the Gaelic peoples. The Gaelic words for the months are a new addition to the Gaelic language. They went by seasonal names and groups of days not a day at a time on the calendar. The word weekend for instance is an American invention from beginning of the last century. In Britain, fortnight and sennight instead a week or two weeks spans. So Samhain is simply the word for Summer’s end. There is no Lord Samhain some nitwit with no knowledge of Gaelic made that up and now Christians use it in tracts to defame pagans. Repeat: THERE IS NO LORD SAMHAIN! And by the way it is not pronounced Sam Hane like some strange man. It’s Sow-in in Ireland and usually Sav- in in Scotland. MH dipthong is pronounced as a “v”. So is BH, by the way although if in the middle of the word they may be silent.
So for the Gaels it was a matter of honouring their family dead and setting a place for them at the feast. It was also a night of fear of the Fae. Not pretty Victorian fairies but full size or bigger and dressed for the Wild Hunt. If you didn’t pay homage to them you were liable to be taken away or hunted by the Wild Hunt and never seen again. Alone on the moors in the Highlands was no place to be on Samhain Night.
So light the bonefires and know that if the crops are not in by now they are the ransom paid to the Fae and no longer belong to you. Farmer, you had best be sure to have the last of the turnips and beets in. This is the harvest of the root vegetable, the harvest of nuts from the woods and the harvest of the animals you can’t feed through the winter. Tonight is the feast to prepare us for tomorrow’s winter. We celebrate the eve because we know that light follows dark as spring follows winter. We know that loss comes before gain and indeed from death comes life.
This is the time now for stories. Summer is for play and for work outside, Now we enter around the fireside and listen to the tales of the Seanchai or Fili. Listen to the tales of your tribe, the tales of the wise Druids, the tales of the heroes and heroines, listen to the words of your ancestors. Listen to the wind outside for their tales too. Roast the nuts and watch the women waulk the cloth. Listen to the songs of the people who came before you and rest. Your heavy work is done.
Listen to the piper, listen to the Bodran and the whistle. Come bring the bairns and watch the smoke rise from the peat. It’s Samhain night, It’s Samhain Night, IT’S SAMHAIN NIGHT!
Aisling sat at the edge of the turnip field, a pile of perfect turnips piled beside her. She only needed one more. Her teacher had sent her out here to select the nine turnips that would be carved into lanterns to represent the skulls of the people who had died in the village for the procession on Samhain. Her teacher had told her that they used to use the skulls of people who had died. She was glad they had switched to turnips. She knew death was a part of life but she didn’t want to see the skull of her friend Beith that had died this year. She missed her so much. It still hurt to lose her.
It was an honor to be picked for this job. She had to find the biggest and most perfect turnips for the lanterns. This wasn’t easy because turnips grow underground and she had to choose hers before they started harvesting the field. She was supposed to pull the turnips that called out to her and those would be the right ones and she had one left to go. She wanted the absolute most perfect one for Beith.
She closed her eyes and reached her hands out trying to feel which one in the field was calling her. She felt a tug from the left and started to walk that in that direction. She kept her hand out and cautiously walked across the field. She closed her eyes and stood still and put her hands out again. It was close by, she could tell and someone put a turnip in her hand.
Aisling’s eyes flew up and a woman smiled at her.
“I think this is the one you need for Beith.” The woman said as she handed Aisling the turnip. It was a lovely one. Beautiful clear white and just an edging of purple around the top and it was clean with no soil clinging to it.
Aisling knew she had been alone in the field but it was the gloaming time and she was well aware anything could happen in the between times and for her it usually did.
Aisling studied the woman and was trying to figure out who she was when the woman said to her, “I’m Anann. I’m the one who came for Beith. She wanted you to know she is doing well but she still loves and misses you.”
Aisling felt a lump in her throat. She swallowed trying to keep it down. She didn’t want to cry in front of the goddess. Anann reached her hand out and smoothed Aisling’s hair which really didn’t help at all.
“She’s happy and safe and not in pain anymore?” Aisling finally got out.
“She is happy and safe and not in pain anymore. She and the priestess you helped have a message for you.”
“They do?” Ailsing wasn’t sure how that worked.
“They want you to know they are always around if you need them and that someday they will be back.” Anann told her.
“I so want to carry Beith’s lantern in the procession. Do you think that they will let me?” Aisling asked beginning to relax.
I don’t think the Chief Druid would have it any other way but you know you will be the youngest in the procession?”
Aisling nodded. She really wanted to honour her friend and not do anything wrong. Samhain was too important a time and she wanted Beith to be proud of her and know she still loved her.
Anann spoke and it was if she had heard Aisling’s thoughts. “She is proud of you all the time because you don’t give up and you’re always learning. Do you know what my job is?” asked the goddess.
Aisling thought and remembered, “To comfort the dying, and to make the fields fertile and to protect the cattle.”
Anann laughed, “Good! That’s some of it. I also teach the dying about their existence after they die and help them get ready to return. You know how your teacher told you that you are supposed to rejoice when people die because they are being born into the Otherworld?”
Aisling nodded again. She still didn’t feel like rejoicing that her best friend in the whole world was gone and it made her choke up again and start being angry. How was that something to rejoice about?
Anann looked at her. “The rejoicing part is the hardest, isn’t it? You still want and miss your friend. She still wants and misses you too but part of life is learning to let go and rejoicing when someone dies hurts. There is no way out of that but you need to know that that is you hurting and she doesn’t hurt any longer. No pain and no strife, she is at peace.”
Aisling was beginning to see the pain was about her. “Am I being selfish when I miss her so much?”
“No, you’re being human and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’d worry about you a lot if you didn’t.”
“Aisling, you are going to be a very good druid, maybe even a great druid and the best druids have felt all emotions and know that other people feel them too. They learn that everything isn’t about them. It’s about the all, everything and everyone that exists.”
Aisling was quiet for a bit. “Is it okay if I still miss her a lot.”
“Always, it will just hurt less and you will start to have more happy memories than sad ones.”
“Really?” Ailsing asked.
“Really and it’s even alright if you cry during the procession and the ceremony. It shows you loved someone.”
Anann hugged Aisling, “Don’t you need to take these and go help carve them into lanterns?”
Aisling grabbed her sack and started stuffing the turnips into the bag she’d brought.
“Not so fast, you don’t want to bruise them.” Laughed Anann and she helped Aisling put the turnips in more carefully.
“I’ll be watching tomorrow night with the rest of your dead. Be well, Aisling, you will be fine,” and Anann walked to the end of the field and was gone.
The next night Aisling lined up with the others. She was last in line with her lantern. She was very proud of the carving she had done. She thought she had captured Beith’s smile just right. They started the procession and Aisling started to weep. She missed her friend but it was going to be all right. She thought she got a glimpse of Anann, Beith and the Priestess in the crowd but it was hard to see by the light of the turnip lanterns and she couldn’t be sure. When she got to the hall where they were going to have a feast and celebrate the lives of their dead, the Chief Druid caught her eye and winked.
“What was that about?”
This post references the events in this story: http://thelittlestdruid.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/the-littlest-druid-learns-about-loss/
I’m in a fall kind of mood.
Once upon a time there was a tree on the side of a hill and on this tree there was a bud, the bud of a new spring green leaf. This leaf was soooo excited to be on the tree. As spring went on he slowly unfurled from his tight bud. Each day he was a little more open. He was going to be the best leaf that ever was! He was going to be greener and prettier and he was going to see everything there was to see from his tree.
Everyday he looked out on the Earth. He felt the sun on his surface. He liked the way that felt. All warm and wonderful, he could feel the warmth turning to sugar to feed the tree and it made him proud to be able to do that.
He liked being near the other leaves and the rustling sounds they made together when the wind came. It was a soft lovely noise.
He liked it when the rain came and got him and his friends all wet and how the rain slid down from one leaf to another before it hit the ground. The leaves liked to play a game to see how long they could hold a drop of water before they had to pass it on to the leaf below.
He liked all the weather although thunder and lighting was kind of scary with all its loud bangs and bright lights. He was a little afraid of being burnt.
He liked talking to the squirrel that lived in the tree. The squirrel was always so busy. Running up and down, gathering nuts from nearby trees and talking to other squirrels. He always had the latest news.
He liked talking to the raven with his deep hoarse voice that came by occasionally. He had wonderful stories of the places he went in winter. Those stories were scary. All the other leaves told him they would be gone by winter but he decided he didn’t want to leave the tree so he listened to those scary stories carefully. What would this winter be like?
He talked to the owl that flew silently in at night. The owl made him jump and shake a little because he never heard the owl coming. Once the owl dropped a feather when he took off quickly to hunt and it landed on him. It was so soft and warm. It made him feel special to be able to touch the owl.
But time was passing every day and the days got longer and then one day they started to get shorter and shorter and he felt a change inside himself. He noticed that he and the other leaves had started to change colour. This wasn’t good at all! He wanted to stay green on his tree forever and he tried to stop is but it just kept happening and he got redder and redder each day. The other leaves started talking about some one called Hecate and they were very excited. All they talked about was going to be with Hecate and would she choose one of them. “Choose them for what?” he thought. “I’m staying right here. I want to see winter even if it is scary. I want to see snow. I want to see things turn white. I want to see the animals go to sleep.”
The leaves around him started letting go. One by one they dropped away with an ecstatic “Whhhhhheeeeeeee!” and away they would spin in the fall breezes and gales but the leaf held on tight to his branch. He started to get lonely but he waited and waited. Soon everyone was gone. Maybe this was going to be lonelier than he thought but he knew it was the only way he was going to see winter. He could see the leaves on the ground under the tree. Most of them blew far, far away, farther than he could see. Was that where this Hecate was? Was that where they really went?
One day he had a big surprise. A woman appeared below his tree, a woman with deep lines in her face and long wavy hair the colour of clouds after the rain. She wore thick clothes in all the colours of all the trees in the woods. Her shawl alone had the deep green of the firs and the yellows of the cottonwood and the reds and oranges of maples, beeches and birches. She stood looking up at him with a kind look on her face. “Time to come down now.” She said quietly.
“Why should I leave my tree?” the leaf asked. “I want to see winter.” The leaf was going to stay right where he was, he thought stubbornly. “What does this woman know anyway?”
“You need to come down now, it’s time.” she said firmly.
“Time for what?” the leaf said sullenly. “I see no good reason to go. I want to see winter!”
“No leaf can see winter from their tree. It’s just not possible and it’s not the way things go. You need to come down here and be nourishment for the Earth. Leaves have just as big a job when they leave their trees. They fall to the Earth to make her strong and so trees will grow new leaves in the spring. If you see winter it must be from down here.” She said softly.
“Who are you?” asked the leaf. He wondered how this woman knew what happened to the other leaves and why she cared.
“Didn’t you hear the other leaves talking about me before they jumped? I’m Hecate and you really need to come down here to me.”
“Don’t wanna.” The leaf said. “I’m gonna stay right here. I want to see snow and see the animals go to sleep and I want to see it through to spring.”
“Well, you can’t.” And Hecate started to rise up through the air to him until her eyes were level with his branch and she could see him clearly. “I’ve never see such a stubborn, curious little leaf “
She looked at him carefully and she could see him shivering in the breeze. He could feel his anchors letting go. “No! NO NO!” he cried. “I won’t go!
“All leaves go sooner or later. This is later for you. It won’t be so bad. It’s just a new adventure.”
He let go of the branch and floated free. Hecate floated with him. He slowly spun through the air, whirling and turning. He could see he was going farther and farther from his old tree.
“Where, oh where was he going?!” But he saw that Hecate was going with him. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad if she went too. He liked her kind brown eyes. They were the same colour as some of the nuts the squirrels collected and he could see the whole wood reflected in them.
“Will you be there with me?” he asked her.
“Always.” She said. “I’m always in the winter wood. I watch over everything and all things and make sure they go at the right time and the right place and I make sure they aren’t alone on their new adventures.”
“Really??” The leaf asked.
“Really!” Hecate replied.
“Then maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.” And the leaf floated away on the fall winds with Hecate next to him all the way.
I was born as I flew from the flint down through the air into the straw in a bowl many hundreds of years ago. The bowl was carried by a woman to a lamp and I have been tended by women ever since, a constant parade of ever changing and ever the same women, always 19 at a time.
Women of all sizes and shapes, at first they were mostly women with red hair like my flame or hair dark as the soot I leave behind or hair as grey as ash. I burned year after year tended by these 19 women but every 20 days and I was left alone. Then I was tended by the Goddess who seemed as ever changing as the women. Some times she was young as a spring lamb and as fresh as dew chanting poetry and singing as she kept watch. Sometimes she was older and had muscles and would come in blackened and sooty and smelling of iron and sweat. Sometimes she was much older and came in smelling of flowers and leaves and had a peace in her face as she tended me that soothed my fiery spirit.
It went for years like this first tended by women robed in white or green who sang to their Goddess and of the people they prayed for and much later the women changed to a somber black robe and were swathed in cloth and only their faces and their hands were visible to me. They sang different songs. Songs that didn’t always seem to be about their Goddess but the Goddess still came. She used to wink at me and tell me stories. She said they didn’t always know who she was anymore but she loved that they still faithfully tended her.
Then the men came, men in steel like the Goddess smelled of, men reeking of hate and with ugly looks on their faces and they tried to douse me with water and leave me as a steaming and cold thing. They didn’t know that the women had taken a gift from me and hidden me in a lantern and took me in a boat over the water. I burned and burned in that new land for hundreds of years and then, not so long ago more women brought me home and I am tended again in this place near a well, ever tended by women but now every once in awhile a candle dips into me and I’m taken to a new lamp or a new candle or even sometimes a radiant and lovely bonfire and I am tended by new people. People of all colours and races, people whose faces shine back at me all over the world and not just women but men too. People whose face shines with love for their Goddess or saint, people who pray for other people to be well and strong or whole in what ever way that needs to be even if well and whole means a quiet ending.
And every twenty days my Goddess, Brighid returns to me. Telling me stories and smelling of herbs or of hard work before she goes out again into the world and the people she loves and I shine in many places, on many hearths and I shine for my eternal Goddess.
This story is also available in my book The Heart Town Witch and Other Stories.
I’m terribly sleepy with cracked lips due to stupidity from forgetting my lip balm and insanely happy and at peace. I also have slightly blue hands because I did some tie-dye. I never do it for myself but D asked me so I did it. This was the camp reunion for the Catholic girls camp I worked for many eons ago before the ice age and I was the Arts and Crafts Director there. I’ve never been able to use gloves. I hate them. The only thing I have ever used gloves for was acid etching in glass work but for tie-dye or candlemaking or anything else I have never used gloves. I won’t even use them for gardening. I need to feel and be in touch with what I’m doing. It’s like wearing earmuffs and trying to perform music. I feel too removed from the process with gloves. This used to lead every summer to having what I used to call my asbestos hands because I used hot Rit dues and hot candlewax for dipping and pouring. You combine this with several times a day of playing a steel string guitar and you have a set of very calloused mitts. So I’m blue in the hands but no where else.
It was lovely to be up with old friends and campers and new friends that were staff other years. Some people had been there since Wednesday, we couldn’t go up until Friday morning. Glad I remembered my cane because the mountain has been cranked up since last year, at least that was what it felt like. According the scale in the cafeteria at work I lost 6 lbs on those mountains.
The long time camp maintenance man died this summer so we had a memorial and dedicated a tree to him Friday night. I will always be grateful to Mr Ken because in a story that is now funny but it wasn’t at the time. I was the non-Catholic in camp. They thought I was Protestant but I was reading through the book my first HP had given me Positive Magic. Anyway, I was almost always excused from attending Mass on Sunday afternoon when the priest came. So I decided on Sunday I was going to take a nice hot shower. Arts and Crafts and the Convent shared a shower that used to hang over the San Andreas fault and I was always afraid of going over the side in an earthquake naked but I should have been worried about other hazards. I undressed and got in and took a nice hot shower, something that was a real luxury and was nicely clean. The tiny building just contained the shower stall and a very tiny dressing area. I pulled the shower curtain back and was about to step out when I noticed a friend (?) had entered the shower after me. There was a rattlesnake coiled up on the dressing area floor. Now, I’m not afraid of snakes at all but when confronted naked as a jaybird in the shower when as far as I knew every one was in Chapel at Mass is a bit scary. Because he was coiled he could easily reach me in the shower stall. I managed to grab my towel from a hook and leaned over far enough to get the door open so I could see out by pushing it with my toe and waited. Luckily, after about 15 very long minutes hoping that the rattlesnake would not find me as the warm body closest to him, Mr Ken and Mr Mike (his assistant) went by on the road on the way to the tool shack. Mr Ken was very devout but for some reason he wasn’t in Chapel probably because if everyone was in Chapel, he could get something done.
I got their attention and of course, it was kind of funny to them, they weren’t in the shower starkers with the snake but they did get a shovel and take care of the naughty thing and I got dressed. Now I know it must have looked really funny but at the time it certainly wasn’t and if he hadn’t come along I don’t know what I would have done because I think I was the only one in camp with snake killing experience because they always called Mr Ken to do it. I am eternally grateful I did not end up the naked counselor dead in the shower like some camp horror story to scare small children with around the campfire.
There once was a bear named Bella. She lived in the woods of the National Forest and she was very content except for one thing, she wanted to learn to dance.
Bella lived near a large campground. She watched large groups of people come and go all the time but one group came every year and this group intrigued Bella. The people there sang and danced all weekend. They sang to the trees and they sang to the sky. They sang to the animals of the woods. They sang and drummed at night to the stars and they sang to each other and they danced…
Bella loved to watch the dancing and she loved to watch the groups of women who danced wearing beautiful colours and sparkly gold discs and she wanted to be like them. The other bears near her thought she was nuts. They caught her deep in the woods trying to sway and move like those women and no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t do it.
She decided it was because she didn’t have the pretty clothes like the women so she did something naughty. One of the groups of women liked to hang some of their brilliantly coloured clothing around their camp site so she took some.
She watched them from behind the trees and decided she wanted a bright yellow and maybe the blue one that was like the mountain sky. She snuck into the campsite while they were out on a hike but she got scared and ended up just grabbing a bunch from the lines and lumbering back to her den.
When she got there she spread them out to see what she had. She had one of those funny things the women wore on top but she couldn’t put it on. So she put it around her neck instead. It was covered in gold round things and made a tinkling noise. She found a paid of filmy bright red pants that were very stretchy and she did manage to pull those on and she was excited to find a pair of the chimey things the women used when they danced in the pockets.
She had grabbed several large scarves and she tied those around her. She went to the near by pond to look at her self and she thought she looked just like them.
She tried to dance again but it still wasn’t any use. She couldn’t do it. She tried and tried. She was trying to dance long after that group of campers had gone home. They had come the first week of summer and Bella was still trying to dance when fall came and it was time for her to sleep. This made Bella very sad.
She dreamed of dancing all winter long in her den surrounded by the beautifully coloured clothes. They now were a bit tattered and torn but still beautiful in Bella’s eyes. She knew if she watched enough she would be able to do it and she vowed next summer she would watch some more when they came again so Bella waited.
She waited through the long groups of loud kids that made her hide. She waited through the bird watching group. She waited through another group that sang to the sky and talked a lot about a book but they weren’t near as happy as “her” group for she now was thinking that the group was hers. She waited until the first week of summer and she was so scared. She was afraid they wouldn’t come but they did. They came with their laughing and singing, and their happy children and set up their camps and Bella was overjoyed to see that the dancing women had come again and set up their area with their sparkly shiny clothes and their drums and other mysterious objects. Bella put on the clothes she had taken, now a lot worse for the wearing and hid in the woods near by. Every time the women got up to practice Bella would try to imitate them. She finally sat down with a thump. She just couldn’t do it. And she put her head down and she cried.
What Bella didn’t know because she was normally very quiet was that the women had heard her trying to dance in the woods and a couple of them had been watching her try to dance. They hurried back to the other dancers and whispered what they had seen to the other women.
Now these women were very special women and some of them worshipped bear goddesses and they loved any one who wanted to dance and it had made them sad that Bella was trying so hard. Some of them were scared and didn’t want to be near a bear so they moved but the other women went to Bella where she was crying.
“Mistress Bear. Mistress Bear,” they whispered. “Are you alright?”
Bella looked up and saw all the beautiful dancers around her. She noticed some of them were shaking like they might be scared and she felt sad. She shook her great brown head and looked at these lovely women. She saw that they loved each other and that they were looking at her they same way they looked at each other. They were all different shades, some were her rich brown colour, some were pale like the morning sky before it turns blue, some were somewhere in between but they all looked kind.
They noticed she was wearing their clothes that they had missed the year before and they realized she wanted to be a dancer like them and it moved them.
One dancer spoke up, “Mistress Bear, would you like to dance with us?” This made the bear cry harder because she had tried and it hadn’t worked. She put her head down again and wailed. She felt gentle tugging then and she raised her head. The women gently pulled her to her feet and pulled her to their camp circle. A couple of them went to get their drums and started drumming softly. Some of the others went to the clothes lines and got new pieces of cloth and wound them around Bella. Bella stood shyly not moving and some of the women started to sway to the music and motioned for Bella to join them. Bella’s eyes grew round. They wanted her to dance with them! She didn’t know what to do so she stood there. Two of the women grabbed her paws and drew her into their circle. They were all swaying back and forth. She could do that! So she did.
One of the women bravely moved behind her and held her big waist and started showing her how she could move it. She couldn’t move it like them but she could move it as bears were able to. So she shyly started to dance with the women. This brought huge smiles to the dancing women and they motioned to the drummers to speed up and they did. This frightened Bella but she was so happy and joyful she kept dancing. She even tried some turns with the women. Soon the women had her weaving in and out with them and dancing as best as she could. Finally she was so tired she stopped and dropped to all four feet and women stood around her clapping and cheering for her. Bella was happy.
The women told her to come again the next night and she surprised herself and she did. The women brought their new dancing partner to the main circle which made some people run in terror but the rest joined in the dancing with Bella and the women and all their beautiful colours and shiny golden, gleaming jewelry and decorations and Bella too. Everyone danced and Bella was filled with joy. She could DANCE! When the dance was over the women led Bella back to their campsite.
She knew it was time for them to go to bed and time for her to go back into the woods. The women crowded around her and hugged and patted her. “Would you come dance with us again next summer?” Bella nodded eagerly.
“The women smiled at her. One laughed, “But you have to practice every day just like we do.” Bella nodded again.
“We’ll miss you until we will see you again! Merry Meet, Mistress Bear!” and Bella went to her den. She was so happy. She could Dance! She had made friends and she could keep dancing until it was time for the women to come dance again with her. She was going to practice every day to make them proud of her. Bella was happy.