My mind flashed back to the present. Soba was ready to go home; she was wagging her tail and waiting patiently for me to realize we had stopped. I realized my legs were aching and I was ready to head home too. We had walked in a large circle, and only had about a mile back to the house. I sat down with Soba on the wet ground to relax a little bit longer in this cool morning before returning home. As I stretched out my legs, Soba licked my face, wanting attention. After rubbing her ears for a bit, I got up and we started home. We wandered through the near by park, enjoying the wet grass, the budding trees, and the freshness of everything just washed in the new rain. The rhythm of the walk, the smells and the cool air transported my mind right back to that night.
I was a bit nervous, but I felt like I shouldn’t show it. After all, I trusted these people, and they didn’t seem nervous at all. Every time I looked at one of them I could feel their happiness coming through their smiles. Selene and Karyn went over to the pile of backpacks again, and came towards me carrying a bundle of dark cloth. As Selene handed me the bundle, she explained that this was for me, it was a robe. I was a bit puzzled, and I guess it showed. Karyn jumped in with explanations as she hugged me. The five of them had made the robe over the last year, I was impressed. I hadn’t even known I would be practicing with them back then.
“It is for you to wear when you are with us, on ……. special nights.” She seemed to stumble over the word special. Selene suppressed a smile at this, and I thought it odd. But I was quickly ushered away to the other side of the oak tree to change. At first I was afraid someone would see me. But after I looked around a moment, I quickly realized we were all alone out here. Selene had said to take my time, and linger a bit. Karyn said to look at the moon. So I stripped off my clothes, and slipped the robe over my head. I could smell the incense still heavy on the fabric. I could feel the soft cotton against my skin. Just that small act, that feeling, those smells, they did so much to my mind. They made me feel alive and present in the moment, and at the same time I suddenly felt huge, and spread out over time like a great ribbon. I looked up at the moon. After a moment’s thought, I took off my boots and wet socks too.
The moon was very bright; it looked bigger than it was in the sky. I could see plenty of stars out too. ‘The sky is so big out here’ I thought to myself. As I looked up at the moon, I almost felt like it was looking back at me. I remembered sitting around the fire with my friends a summer or two ago as Darius talked about the moon as the connection point through history. Every human on earth has gazed at that same full moon. Each priestess has lifted her arms in praise to that moon over the course of our history. All witches have looked at that moon in many times and places. And the moon is a mirror for the light of the sun, but also a mirror for each of us as we gaze upon it and bridge space and time to connect with our ancestors. I felt the weight of such a great thought crash into my chest as I stumbled slightly and fell against the tree. I shook my head to clear away the thought and started back around the tree towards the group.
Everyone had donned similar robes, and they had pulled up their hoods, so I couldn’t see their faces. Brian was standing at the little doorway we had left in our trench looking at me. It was easy to pick him out, being the rather large man that he was. I felt comforted that it was him standing at the edge. As I went to join the group around the fire, he held a hand up to my chest and stopped me. A bit forcefully I thought. Darius was down on the ground lighting the bundle of tinder. And the others were gathered around him, holding out their arms so their robes would block the wind. Just as they began chanting together, the wind changed directions, and I couldn’t make out the words. But soon there was a blaze of light from inside the little circle of robes, and they stepped back as the fire caught.
They all came to join Brian and I, and Darius and Selene began to ask me many questions. I found the answers coming easily, even though I had never heard the questions before. They were odd riddles, but I puzzled them out quickly, thinking back to the many stories my friends had told me over the time we had been together. I felt nervous each time they asked, thinking I had no idea what it could be. And then, there flowing out of my own lips as if rehearsed were answers that brought smiles to my friends faces. The riddles had all been answered, Selene nodded and stepped back slightly. Brian stepped forward and pushed back his hood. He placed his hands on my shoulders. He was very solemn and very serious. Not a look I was used to seeing on my friend’s face.
“In order to join us as a sister, you must take the same oath as we have. You must take this oath of your own accord, understanding it fully. If you wish to take this oath, we will call forth the witnesses.”
I responded that I was ready, because at that moment, there was no doubt in my heart, that this is where I needed to be, and these were the people I needed to be here with. He hugged me tight, in his big bear hug. I hugged him back, and all was joy. Then secrets passed between us, passwords and codes for entrance into this liminal space of the compass.
“Only a few more.….”
I snapped back to the present, as I realized we had just walked past the house. Soba was pulling the leash back the other way. Feeling a bit sheepish for spacing off, I turned with her and went back to the house. The evening still hung on my mind as I put the leash away and fixed Soba’s breakfast. I fixed a glass of ice water and sat down on the couch to continue my musings.
As I began to think through the rest of the amazing evening, I unconsciously recited the words of my oath out loud to the room. And like a thunder clap, there it was, as plain as day! The thing I was searching for, that empty spot that had been heavy on my heart for the last season. It had been several years since I had to part ways with my group of friends and I missed them terribly. Selene had passed away only a year ago, and the thoughts of her funeral tempered the joy of my discovery with bitter sweet reality.
I knew what I had to do. It was so plain now, just like all of those riddles that night. I went back into the bedroom, and took the lantern off of my bedside table, given to me by Karyn to light my way. She had said, when the time was right, I would know how to use it. This lantern would serve well as a beacon to anyone who needed to find me. I opened the little drawer in my desk in the living room, and pulled out the little tinder box with the flints that Darius had given me. ‘Sometimes we need warmth, and sometimes we need a signal fire’ he had said.
As I worked carefully over the small bundle of tinder with the flint, saying the proper words, Soba came to sit and watch me. The tinder took a spark and I cradled it and nursed it to a flame. I touched the flame to the wick in the lantern and turned it down so that the flame was bright yet controlled. As I walked the lantern out to the hook in the back yard, I spoke to the little delicate flame inside.
“The old magic needs to live here again. It is time for the fire to spread, and for me to pass on what I was taught. Light the way for me to find the next in our line. Be a beacon to them that they may find me on their walks. Let those who are called awaken to the knowledge that a warm hearth fire has been lit for them, and that the door is open for them to come home now.”
With that, I went back inside, and gathered up my jacket, purse and keys. I had a feeling that I just might bump into someone interesting at the local coffee shop today.
I brushed off the thoughts and got out of bed. After my shower I took the dog for her morning walk. This was the best part of my day. Off we went through the city, wherever our feet took us. The cool wind on my face, the steady rhythm of our walk, the smells of budding spring all around and the joy of finding something delightful just around the corner. Perhaps we would find a bird’s nest, or a new tree we hadn’t seen before, or some flowers, just waiting for us to come along and enjoy their delightful scent. Soba led me on as we trotted from block to block, and I let my mind drift. I thought of the group I had encountered back in college. They had said they were magicians, and they performed some rather odd rituals. But the more I got to know them, the more I realized the rituals weren’t odd, just unfamiliar to me. I had spent several years hanging out with them, and occasionally catching glimpses into the other world they seemed to live in. After a while, I realized I was learning from them, and soon yearning to join them there. I caught the smell of the wet grass under my feet, and I remembered the night they asked me to join them for the first time. It was the full moon, and I remember the walk to the field.
It was spring, like it is now. The wind was cool that evening, and the air was wet with the rains of April still in the air. We were walking quietly in a line, following Darius at the front. He was leading things tonight, and he had picked out a location for us. We were out in the back woods of Montana. We had all driven out there together that afternoon. The drive had seemed like any other road trip, lots of fun songs in the van, junk food and jokes. But after our picnic dinner, things began to take on a solemn tone. We went back to the van and drove off onto a back dirt road filled with holes. After stopping at what seemed to me a random point we gathered our back packs and set off in a line for our ritual site. I hadn’t packed any of the bags, but the one on my back sounded like it might contain some metal wrapped in cloth. It wasn’t heavy, and I was curious as to what it was we were carrying.
I looked up ahead again, bringing my thoughts back to our trek. Darius had stopped and was surveying the land and sky. He seemed to be looking for something. It struck me briefly that we might be lost, a bunch of college students out in the middle of nowhere as the sun set. But soon he turned to the right and set off to the East with a definite purpose, and my mind was reassured. Selene fell into step beside me. She was Darius’s partner in the group. They both had lovers outside of this little circle of friends, but together they lead the group. She looked at me in her way, which was to look deep inside my eyes and ask questions that she found the answers to. I never quiet knew what her questions were, but she seemed satisfied. She gave me a reassuring smile, which quickly burst into a grin of joy. I returned her big, glowing smile, feeling warm inside, despite my wet socks. And I had the feeling we had just had a conversation, but I didn’t know the words. She picked up her pace a bit, quickly closing the distance between her and Darius. They put their heads together and talked in low tones.
I looked around at the others I was walking with. I felt good about each one of them. After all, these were my close friends. We had been hanging out together for nearly four years now, and we had become a tight knit group. There were three others besides Darius and Selene; Karyn and Bacchus, who were a unit unto themselves. And then there was Brian. It was the obvious arrangement that he and I were working together tonight, since all of the things we had done seemed to happen in pairs so far. He was older than the rest of us, in his early forties. Doing post-graduate work in philosophy, I had met him first in the library. There was an instant attraction, not of the sexual kind, but something there piqued my interest. Since then we had become close friends, even though he was still mysterious to me. We studied together, and hung out on the weekends. He had introduced me slowly to the others, and carefully they had introduced me to their world.
I turned around and stumbled backwards a bit, to get a look at Brian. As I turned around, he was already smiling at me, as if he knew I was thinking of him. I had gotten used to that look, and shrugged it off. I winked at him and as I turned back around I stumbled right into Karyn. We had stopped, and she was staring up at the huge oak we were near. It was an amazing sight. It looked ancient. We were down in a little sort of valley, sheltered on three sides by hills. It was rocky here and there was moss on everything. The moss on the tree was caught by the last rays of sun and seemed to glow. I heard the rustling of the backpacks as they were set down and looked over to see Darius and Selene unpacking in what looked like a big dirt circle not far off. I walked over and set down my backpack with the others. No one talked, but everyone still communicated. I stepped back out of the way and let them go to work unpacking, waiting to help if I could. I knew from having been to less formal events like this to just step back until I was asked to do something, and besides, I was learning a lot by watching all that was going on.
Out of Bacchus’s pack came a small cauldron. I had marveled at it before. It was a dark black, iron I guessed. There were relief vines and figures all around it. He set it near the center of the circle, as Brian returned with an armload of rocks. They began to build a small fire pit. Karyn came over with what looked like a little bundle of poles. She deftly extended and assembled them into a tripod. She set this over the fire pit they had built, and unwrapped a chain from the center. On a little hook attached to the chain she hung the cauldron. Soon Darius came back to the circle with a grin on his face that could only be described as triumphant hunter. He was carrying a piece of fallen wood. It was forked in the middle into three branches, with a longer piece coming off the bottom. He was breaking off smaller twigs as he was walking. Brian and Bacchus, armed with camp shovels, quickly met him and walked to a spot outside of the circle with the branch. There was some discussion and counting and pointing, and I assumed they were trying to figure out where to put this new acquisition. I looked back to Karyn and Selene. They were laying out bowls, knives, and food on a cloth near the fire pit. I saw that it must have been the bowls I was carrying; each was wrapped in a cloth that was tucked back in the bags. They began to pour the contents of several jars into the cauldron, and I started to move closer to see what it was they were doing. But I was stopped short by Brian. He handed me a camp shovel, and told me we were going to dig a little trench.
Knowing Brian, I was a bit skeptical of the word little. But it didn’t turn out to be that bad. We dug a small trench around the outside edge of the circle about three inches wide and four inches deep. The ground was soft here, and there were no rocks. As I worked around I realized this had been dug a time or two before. We left a wide gap in the circle toward the branch that was now sticking upright out of the ground, with the three prongs at the top between our dirt circle and the large oak tree. As we finished with our digging, I looked up to see that all seemed to be ready. There was wood collected and laid next to the fire pit. A bottle of what I guessed to be wine was sitting next to a simple wooden goblet, along with the bowls and knives nearby. There was bread on a plate, and a little piece of cloth with a flint and tinder box, a bundle of what I knew was dry tinder, and the odd little bottle that Darius called old fashioned lighter fluid. There were two big ladles, and a tin lantern with some long matches beside it. Selene and Karyn were sweeping the edges of the dirt circle smooth. Brian and I returned our camp shovels to their little bags and took them over to the pile of backpacks out on the edge of the circle. I could feel the anticipation thick in the air, and I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. This was really it, I thought to myself. I was going to be initiated.