Pale moonbeams danced across the tranquil river's silvery surface, rippling
around the trailing fronds of the willows that stood like watchful sentries
along the grassy banks. Among the waving water reeds a heron raised his
banded head, trailing glittering moon-lit water from his bright beak, then
took off, lending his distinctive silhouette to the star-studded sky that
was the backdrop to the ritual being conducted in the secluded clearing.
Thirteen figures sat in a circle around a small bonfire. Their faces
were serene, their bodies relaxed as they focused both on the dancing
shadows cast by the flickering flames and the distinctive tone of the drum
that was being played by one of the women. It almost seemed to the group
that the flames were actually leaping and dancing along to the drum's
repetitive rhythm, as if the elemental spirits of fire had decided to join
their ritual. Even the night sounds of creaking branches, burbling river
and the calls of animals seemed to fit in with the simple but powerfully
Slowly the notes of the drum faded into silence and the hands of the
woman who had played it fell motionless. In the moments of silence that
followed, the expectation of the group became palpable.
Eventually another woman rose to her feet and moved to the centre of the
circle, where the lively firelight caught her silver hair and endowed it
once more with the russet hue that time had stripped away. She was easily
the oldest member of the coven, but her slim figure and the easy grace with
which she moved gave the impression of a much younger woman - even as the
conformation of her face told of great wisdom and experience. In both
hands, she raised a chalice of wine to the moon.
"Mother," she started, "Samhain marks the death of one year to make way
for the birth of the next. Tonight we acknowledge the seasons of life and
death, honour those who have passed from this world in the seasons behind
us, and hope for better times in the seasons yet to come."
She tipped the chalice, spilling blood-red wine on the ground at her
"Like the blood of the God, Thy consort," the priestess continued, "Spilt
to bless the spent land and give promise of new life, we return this wine
to You in perfect trust that new life will come to replace the old."
A dark haired man rose from the circle and came to stand at the
priestess's side, holding a sword in his hands. He was somewhat younger
than she was, just entering his third decade, but already he showed promise
of great power and wisdom. His face was solemn, but the lines just
beginning to show around his eyes were compassionate.
Wisdom was a necessity to the High Priest of one of Salem's last
The priest held the sword aloft, so that the blade caught and reflected
the light of the full moon, then plunged it into the earth.
"The scythe that cuts down the stalk also harvests the grain that will
seed the next season's crop," his voice, like the priestess's, was clear
and powerful, "And so, when You in Your wisdom cut our lives down, You
prepare our souls to live again."
His words were having a powerful effect on the rest of the group, who
struggled to find composure against the weight of threatening tears.
"Mother," the priest continued, a slight change in the tone of his voice
betraying his own painful memories, "You who have been known in many places
and by many names, may You bless those of Your children returned to You
unjustly. I, Solan, Your son and priest.."
".. And I, Selena, Your daughter and priestess," the priestess with the
chalice added, then the two continued in perfect unison;
"We two, representatives of the twin pillars of humanity - male and
female forces in balance - do declare that we gather on this night in
perfect love and perfect trust to honour You. From You all things proceed
and unto You all things must return. Lady, we know that You will find the
souls of the loved ones we have lost and bless them. May it be!"
"May it be!" chorused the rest of the coven, then many of them broke down
into tears as Selena and Solan resumed their places in the circle, each
still holding the sword and chalice.
"Hundreds of people," one girl sobbed, "Dead, dead because of the cruelty
of the Christian God!"
"No," Selena responded, "The Christian God is but another face of our God
- like light refracting through a prism, everyone sees a different part of
the spectrum. However we see Him - or the Goddess - we're all seeking the
same thing; identification with Spirit, which is the source of us all."
No one argued with her. No one doubted that she was right.
"The hour draws late," Solan said, "Or rather, it draws early; the sun
will soon be rising. We should return before we are missed."
Selena nodded, "May the circle be uncast, but never broken. Until we meet
again, blessed be."
The coven echoed the last two words, then one by one rose to their feet
Selena closed her eyes, partly against the tears that threatened to
spill, partly so that she wouldn't have to imagine the image of writhing
bodies amidst the flames.
"I miss them too, mother," Solan said quietly, brushing her face with his
hand, "More than words can express."
"I know," Selena cupped the hand still gently touching her face, then
embraced her only living child.
/"Gone, but not forgotten, my daughters,"/ she thought, /"Like the Goddess,
whose knowledge shall soon pass into darkness if we don't do something
about it. The children of the Goddess remain strong, but who will sing to
Her in praise when we're all gone? Unless people can learn to cast aside
prejudice and discrimination, the rest is silence!"/