The flame of a large torch lit Ceserea’s way as she traveled fore front. When she was front and center she stopped and placed the torch she had held into the earth. With her body, she created the five-star stance.
The cool wind stopped. The world became intensely still. The conveners bowed their heads that were concealed by large hoods. No one spoke a word. The High Priestess’s voice filled the air. “Now is the season the spring plants wither and drop their fruits or seeds for our use and to ensure future crops,” she said. “Nine months from now will be the next Beltane, the birth of summer and life.”
Ceserea scanned the crowd. “Hold your neighbor’s hand and remember that each of you are connected and everything is connected to you,” she said.
Avril grasped her mother’s hand and said "May peace be with you." Her left palm tingled as energy entered, shot up her arm across her shoulders, and then down into her opposite arm and hand, out her palm into Hailey’s.
"May peace be with you," Avril said to her sister-friend.
"And you," Hailey replied with a smile.
“Mother Earth revolves around the Sun,” the High Priestess explained. “Her axis is inclined at an angle of about 23° and this axis of rotation remains inclined at the same angle throughout the revolution, thus the direct rays of Sun fall on different parts of Mother Earth at different times and the change of season results. Soon the light from Sun will slowly move across the middle of Mother Earth on its three month journey toward the Tropic of Capricorn which would make the nights longer and the days shorter, magically altering every living thing’s internal clock.” Ceserea cleared her throat then continued, “Lughnasdh is one of the most obscure of the eight festivals we celebrate. It is a time to say thank you for the bountiful grain harvest by honoring the Sun and Mother Earth for giving us the staff of life.”
Ceserea turned her back toward the conveners.
“Blessed be,” the conveners said a loud.
Avril watched Ceserea lower her arms, and then stand more relaxed. The assembly of women, maidens and children broke into an enthusiastic round of clapping and stamping. One by one each pushing their hoods to fall over our shoulders as the luminous, round body of the sun exposed its warming light. Avril turned to her left to view Priestess Angelica step up to each of the wise women. In her hands she held a large wooden bowl filled with a mixture of smoldering herbs. Avril heard the swish of her robe as the Priestess moved closer toward her. The aroma of anise, avens, bay, clove, parsley, rosemary and thyme consumed the air. Avril’s mother had told her earlier the seven herbs had been combined for purification. When Angelica stood before Avril she extended her arms outward and bowed her head while holding the bowl. Silently, Avril called upon the herbs’ energies inside to cleanse, energize and revive her. With her power hand (the one she writes with), she scooped the smoke upward over her face and head. “Earth, Sun and Invisible Powers, may I be cleansed, and pardoned. Please smile on me with tender mercy, so mote it be,” she whispered.
As the wise women dispersed they shared with each other their work, way of life, and matters of the season and the soil. Hailey and Avril passed through a crowd of women who spoke of their humble crafts or the latest trials of spinning wool, baking and cheese-making, on their way to early morning meal.
“Dew origins are truly unknown,” Hailey reminded Avril. “Wise women have yet to pinpoint where it comes from, although dew is believed to be a fairy’s trademark left behind after a visit, an offering to wise women to add power to their magick.”
As the two maidens traveled south they heard a young, serious voice say, “The dew is on the grass today, rain will not come to pass.” The young girl was glad the grass had not been dry because she did not want it to rain during the festival.
Hailey and Avril entered the eating area. Corena, Cortney, Shanna and Hanna followed close behind. Each maiden picked up a tray and placed a spoon, knife, fork and a couple of bowls on the surface. They approached a long, sturdy, wooden table filled with corn, rye, multigrain, whole wheat, white flour, and raisin bread. A fire burned close by in a pit. A metal rack lay over the flame. Slices of bread were carefully watched by the servers as each slice was being toasted to a golden brown color.
The server set their requested bread slices she had cut and toasted on their plates. Shanna quickly snatched a slice of raisin bread from her plate and bit into the toast. Hilda kitchen wise woman observed with pleasure. “A cook’s greatest joy is to see food prepared be thoroughly enjoyed,” she said, chuckling.
Corena sniffed the air. “It all smells so delicious,” she announced.
In large black frying pans bacon, ham and sausages sizzled as they cooked in their juices. Smoke rose from beneath the pots that boiled the grains, cooking the porridge and cream of wheat. Both still bubbled as they were served. Before the maidens sat, a sample of each grain in cereal form was offered.
"We are blessed with such a great bounty of choices to honor the completion of the first grain harvest," Avril said to her sister-friends as they sat at one of the many picnic tables decorated with vases of late summer flowers. Also, on the wooden surface to add to their meal, were brown and white sugar, pitchers of milk as well as a variety of fruit jams, jellies and marmalade. Hailey spooned up the porridge to her mouth. Avril scanned the crowd. So many had come to re-establish and strengthen their link to nature. Women, young and old, children and maidens wore bold colors, soft fabric and deep green and brown ribbons which could be viewed through their open traditional black robes. Most had flowers woven in their hair. The little green leaves and stalks showed. All who attended seemed bright and cheerful.
Corena scraped her knife covered in raspberry jam, across her toast. Shanna poured her twin sister milk from the pitcher into a glass. Hanna took a long gulp of her drink. “I am sure Merlin’s sons should be arriving soon,” she said. Before she could give an explanation of her knowledge, Corena looked up from her meal. Hanna quickly apologized to their sister-friend. “I hope I haven’t stirred up any uneasy thoughts,” she murmured.
Corena shook her head ‘no’. “It is okay. I had pondered on conjuring a potion to win Hal's heart back but the love would not be strong. The spell would surely fade and the result would be I would become that which I dislike. I no longer care that our union hadn’t worked out. Through time and experience I’ve learned to let it be.”
“No good can come out of trying to get even with Lilith,” Hailey said to Corena.
“I could probably forgive her if I could believe she truly liked him. But we all know this is not true because Lilith, by her own actions, has proven she will twist it all around so she gets what she wants.” Corena added.
Avril smiled gently. She was pleased that there was no bitterness in Corena’s voice.
Corena leaned back and sighed. She looked at the ground at her feet. “Hal is easily led astray," she said. "His words and deeds showed he offers his affection to her. I had to admit to myself that our minds and hearts were not in accord. I accept the situation and have faith that someone more suitable will come into my life in his own time, at his own pace.”
“Congratulation sister-friend for being so mature about the whole matter,” Cortney beamed.
Corena sighed. “There is still a small part of me that likes Hal,” she confessed. “I assume it is a past life Karmic condition. I understand he is a soul mate, someone who helped teach me to express myself with a tender heart, in the midst of upheaval.”
Corena’s and Avril’s eyes met and locked. “It was a chemical reaction between us that made me weak in the knees, and tremble as my heart raced whenever I was around him,” Corena said firmly. She released her stare with Avril. “I hoped by being Hal’s friend we would both grow emotionally. He needs to learn for himself what Lilith is. The pain I had to endure, to me now is a blessing in disguise. I am worthy of a monogamous relationship because, from my experience, I found three is an emotional crowd.”
Angelica’s booming voice broke the maidens’ conversation short. She announced that there would be children’s games at the west end of the field, from ten a.m. to four p.m. The games were family oriented and there would be prizes for everyone. The sister-friends watched as the younger children scampered across the field. Hailey abruptly changed the mood of their serious talk. “We should climb up to the hill’s summit in the north and wait for Merlin’s sons’ arrival,” she offered, her eyes were wide and eager. Hysterically, the sister-friends giggled as they raced across the field. Each attempted to dodge all that stood in their way.
The music below drifted upward. The alluring tune was not too loud or too soft. A violin was played like a professional. Cellos and harps joined in with a steady beat of a loud drum. Shanna and Hanna began to dance. They swung each other to and fro, clasped their hands, swung, and released, to hook elbows then continue the movement. It was quite an elegant performance.
The sun was well up and the air was hot. Hailey, Corena, Cortney and Avril laid their capes out onto the lush clover carpet, and then stretched their bodies down on top. Black-eyed Susan’s, White Daisies, Timothy and Sweet Grass surrounded their beings. Above, a Red-tailed Hawk soared in the sunlight. Cortney plucked a strand of timothy from the earth and began to chew the bottom stem. Cortney seemed to be in awe, to view the celebration from a higher point. Hundreds of conveners had gathered and moved about in a peaceful and enjoyable manner.
Corena rested her chin on the palm of her left hand. “It’s hard to believe during the earlier centuries some people believed that women who assembled on the Sabbats participated in obscene behavior,” she said.
“If only they could see us now,” Hailey answered, jokingly.
“It isn’t something to laugh about,” Corena said, voice raised. “Thousands of women lost their lives for participating in the wise women’s Solar rituals known as Sabbats. Wise women know the term Sabbat became regularly applied in the mid-fifteenth century to describe our eight holy days in a year that we observe a seasonal change.
The Greater Sabbats:
IMBLOC - FEBRUARY 2
BELTANE - APRIL 30
LUGHNASADH - AUGUST 1
SAMHAIN - OCTOBER 31
The Lesser Sabbats:
WINTER SOLSTICE - DECEMBER 22
SPRING EQUINOX - MARCH 21
SUMMER SOLSTICE - JUNE 22
AUTUMN EQUINOX - SEPTEMBER 21
“Those witch-hunters who preached hate did not know or understand the celebrations are to honor Nature, the Sun and Moon for the bounties given to us here on Earth, a combination of old magick, revolutionary new ideas, notions derived from the past as well as theological assumptions.”
“In this situation it proved that ignorance was not bliss,” Cortney stated.
“We all know now that the experience served as a lesson in peace,” Hailey reassured them. “Past generations, through the price of indifference and contempt, constructed a society that would be mutually appealing and mutually enjoyed. The practice of the craft has lasted throughout history against the odds. Therefore, the experience served the cause of peace.”
Shanna and Hanna skipped their way over to their sister-friends. They laid down their cloaks to join them. All was silent as maidens watched the people below. Avril saw women; maidens and children wander about through the crowd. Each person did not blunder along on their route. Each tried to relate to the other. They traveled along on their own time line, conversing with one another in a delightful manner. Ann, Mary and baby Seelie sat in the eating area with other female family members and enjoyed the plentiful food and drink. The kitchen wise woman Hilda and her god-niece Daniela cheerfully talked over a cup of tea. Daniela turned her tea cup around and around and tossed her head back each time she joyfully laughed. Avril wondered to herself if they talked about Daniela’s first few months of matrimony. The newlywed appeared in bliss. She had a rosy glow about her. Avril then spotted the young girl, Kay, whom she had met on Father’s Day. Pleasantly she played with other children in the game area. All by now had shed their cloaks, feeling the heat from the afternoon sun.
In the center of the field, on a solid oak table adorned with a bright yellow cloth, the altar candles burned in shiny gold holders. In the middle between the basic elemental tools, lay a gold pentacle, a silver blade sword, a wooden wand and a gold chalice. A huge gold candle had been erected and lit. The Sabbat scent of frankincense drifted upward from the censers. Customary samples of each grain harvest laid on the surface as an offering. Along side were nuts and berries. A few of the mothers prayed. Around the base of the altar they knelt on the earth with a small, colored, lit candle before them. Each was concentrating with positive energy to bring either peace or to heal themselves. Each followed the Time of Harvest traditions as they channeled their energy to their specific purpose. Avril saw others perform personal rituals that revolved around the change of the season and agricultural observances. They offered their thanks to the Divine Powers for their increased prosperity.
“I am sure Merlin’s sons have arrived,” Cortney said, with glee.
Avril’s heart raced in anticipation. Cole, she felt, would surely be amongst them. The leaves on the trees trembled from the vibrations of the constant repetition, beaten rhythmically by the drums. The drummers had created a harmonic progression, a series of numbered beats whose reciprocals were in arithmetical progression.
The steady beat of the drums came closer to their celebration. Women, maidens and young children became transfixed in the direction of the magnificent music. The onlookers were silent when a troop of fifty drummers arranged themselves in a pattern at the fringe of the forest. The hill vibrated as the drums were struck sharply with a wooden mallet. The impact it made with the dried animal hide covering a cylinder rim reminded Avril of intense thunder. The male drummers moved with exact, measured steps while they changed their positions and posture. The large hand-held drums moved from side to side with each blow. The drummers jumped up and down, crouched, and then sprang up into the air. The rhythmical beat became increasingly intense. Avril could feel the vibrations within. The melodic range was wide, then rose to a climax and suddenly descended to again uplift. The men, young and old, had devised an elaborate magical ritual to music. The actions had emotional highs and lows to that of their drums. The movement was interwoven with the precise beats.
Hailey interpreted the connection she had felt to the drummers’ dance. “The dance and rhythms represented the eight seasonal changes, the Eight Grove Festivals which Merlin’s sons celebrate. I am sure their music and dance had been passed down over several generations,” she reported excitedly.
“The drums control the pace of the magical dance while the drummers invoke Deities and thank them for their presence,” Cortney added. “Their music attempts to restore harmony and order in both the natural and supernatural realms. The sound is to clear our minds so we can hear ancient wisdom that will uplift our spirits.”
Avril was transfixed as the drummers danced to the magnificent sound. “None of the drummers seemed to lead the dance. They all display great skill as they perform their music and dance with perfection. Each move with confidence as they show their body strength to drum up the energy from the four quarters - North, West, South and East, to provide a very intense emotional experience. The music and dance of their magical ritual had a powerful effect on all who watched. There is a sense of well-being among the crowd.”
To signal the end, the drummers suddenly stopped and collapsed on to the ground. Their movement had raised and released powerful energy. The High Priest was the first to emerge from the shady woods. He was dressed in a long, gray ceremonial robe. The crowd below parted to make way for him and the males who filed out behind. Great grandfathers, Grandfathers, Fathers, Uncles, brothers, sons, cousins and nephews carried hand woven baskets that overflowed with ripe grains, nuts, berries and fruits from their harvest. One by one, families greeted each other.
Avril’s sister-friends quickly jumped to their feet, clapped and cheered along with the people beneath the hill. Avril accompanied in the show of appreciation all the while scanning the crowd for a glimpse of Cole.
Parents, family members and friends walked to the drummers to congratulate them on a performance well done. Cortney abruptly decided to join the others. She started down the hill, then paused to cast a look over her shoulder. “Let’s go,” she said quickly, and dashed down the hill. She held her cape behind her to resemble large bat wings flapping in the wind. The maidens eagerly followed, except for Corena. She turned toward Avril. “I’d like to stay here for a little while yet,” she said.
Avril stayed seated, looking at her and agreed.
Corena lay on her stomach on top of her cape. There was a pleasant and cozy aura that surrounded her. She was silent as she viewed the activity below the summit. She, too, marveled over nature’s beauty and the friendly interactions.
Avril was proud of how her sister-friend had changed her outlook and aptly expressed a mature temperament. The hardships Corena had endured due to Lilith’s wants had not broken her spirit. She refused to allow the experience to spoil her view on life. She had reached happiness and personal growth. Corena had empowered herself, by her own free will, to harm none in the situation.
Corena glanced over at Avril and with a cool manner she asked, “Avril do you, see Lilith and Hal by the fringe of the woods?”
Avril looked in the east, there she saw Lilith openly flirt with a young man who stood at Hal’s side. “Life continually brings us back to where we began, only changed a little,” she smirked.
“I contemplated the problem between Lilith, Hal and myself from various standpoints and decided that, rather than assert an all-or-nothing opinion on the matter, I would let nature take its course,” Corena said with a peaceful tone in her voice. “Hal had not been a jerk nor was he dishonest with me. His only crime was that he had shown everyone in public that he wanted Lilith. Even though I still do not believe in Lilith’s and Hal’s relationship, I wish them well.”
Avril was appalled. “Lilith interfered,” she claimed. “You and Hal never had a chance!”
“Recently High Priestess Ceserea read the Tarot Cards for me,” Corena said. “The High Priestess told me that Hal and I will not be together now or in the future. It had been predicted, once Lilith decided to release the spell on him, there would be other maidens which the temptation would be too great for him to deny. Hal’s heart may be big but his mind is weak. He will stray for mere ego and physical pleasure.”
Avril gave her sister-friend an encouraging look. “Lilith’s love for Hal is not true but I am sure Corena, you cared for him. That would never change, just your expectations of the outcome.”
“I have learned a valuable life lesson,” Corena said her voice kind and gentle. “That there were many aspects to love and life. There’s destiny, compassion, pain, hate, greed, jealousy, trust, betrayal, faith and friendships.”
This gave Avril pause.
“No worries sister-friend,” Corena said after a moment. “I am determined to pursue happiness wherever the path happens to lead me.”
Avril was amazed at how much her sister-friend had emotionally and intellectually grown. Corena no longer wore the pain of her broken heart on her sleeve. She had become so much wiser and now experienced the joy of release.
“Thank you for being my friend in my hours of need,” Corena said. “I found talking about the pain brought tremendous comfort. Just by being close by and listening was a great help.”
“I wish you nothing but true happiness and remember, there’s no guarantee in love but it is a gamble worth risking. The win is priceless, the loss unforgettable,” Avril told Corena.
Avril sat up with a jolt. She was excited to see him. The expression on her face showed the pure delight she felt that he had finally arrived. “Corena and I have become fond of this place,” she quickly replied.
The two young men stood in the sunlight. Cole dressed in dark brown knee shorts and a tight-fitting white T-shirt had a friendly disposition. The other young man was tall, lean, with bushy brown hair and brown eyes and great skin. With a lovely grin, Cole did the introduction. “This is my friend, Ethan. Last April he and his family moved into the farm next to my grandparents,” he explained.
“I like my new town,” Ethan said. “There is so much to do there.”
Corena sat with her feet drawn cozily beneath her. She folded her arms across her chest and glanced up. Ethan’s eyes met with hers. Avril watched as Ethan stepped forward. Corena was simply frozen to her spot. Ethan asked, “May I?” then plopped himself down crossed-legged beside Corena, his back straight, and angled his body toward her. “I’m pleased to meet you.”
Corena was speechless as he plucked an eyelash from her cheek, closed his eyes, made a wish, and then blew it from his fingertip into the wind. She blushed with a large smile of sweetness. It was obvious to Avril that Corena was attracted to him. Cole moved toward Avril then took a seat on her cloak and gently took her hand in his. “Merry we meet,” he whispered in her ear. Avril couldn’t resist him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his upper body and hugged him with complete joy.
Ethan focused on Corena and asked, “Did you enjoy the Swinging Drum ritual?”
“Yes,” she shyly answered.
“The drummers worked hard for months to perform before the conveners and the Greater, Invisible Powers. They wanted to offer thanks and honor the continued fertility of Earth,” he said. “It is to remind all that nothing in nature is constant. The movement is ever changing to sustain life.”
“The drummers accomplished their goal,” Corena assured her new friend. “Their message was heard, loud and clear.”
Avril turned to face Cole. “Tell me, what did those of Merlin’s teachings do this morning to celebrate Lughnasadh?”
Cole settled himself close to Avril side still holding her hand. “Just before sunrise we gathered in the woods to honor the Irish heroic Solar God, Lugh. Known as the Bright, Shining One, Lugh is the God the festival Lughnasadh is named after for he is associated with agricultural fertility and protection. Legend states, that Lugh spared a captured enemy leader named Bres’ life in exchange for all of his knowledge on plowing, sowing and harvesting. Lugh then became very powerful because he held all the secrets of agriculture.”
"The sunlight,” Ethan interjected, “is Lugh’s light, a powerful energy restorer for all to harness and use.” The clouds shifted above as he jumped to his feet. “There is too much fun below to be had and I want to enjoy all of it.” He offered his hand to Corena. He seemed to be smitten with her. Corena stood and brushed the wrinkles from her wear and accepted. Ethan clasped her hand. The two rushed down the hill to be with the others.
Cole must have sensed Avril’s anxiety. He pulled her closer. “Tell me what's bothering you,” he said.
She felt shame that she had thoughts he would betray her.
Cole continued to coax her into talking. “Please,” he said, “tell me what the problem is. Secrets will rot the soul and there is no merit in suffering.”
She finally told him about Lilith’s accusations. There was complete shock on his face. “How can you believe what Lilith claimed,” he said defensively. “You should never let Lilith’s version of the situation define the truth. I’m not courting other maidens. I freely admit I have quite a few female friends, but none of them want a date me. They know my heart belongs with you.”
Avril looked at him and whispered, “Honest?”
“Chasing other females would never bring me peace or happiness. Do not fill your head with so much doubt. My heart and mind are in accord. You are the one for me,” he said affectionately. “You have that special something that makes me tick like a well-oiled clock.” He looked at the ground then into her eyes. After a moment he said, “Close your eyes and give me your hand.” He placed Avril’s palm on his heart. “Feel…my heart beats only for you.”
Avril quickly wrapped her arms around Cole and drew him to her. Her heart began to pound in rhythm with his. She felt their heartbeats were as one.
Avril asked playfully, “Are you going to miss me?”
“More than you know,” he admitted.