September 18

[Darkling Light]

As all do, I linger in line waiting for a morning taste of the feast spread in all directions. Even as the sun shows his face in the matin blush I am shivering. The whimsy of wispy thought drifts through my mind with as little focus of attention as my visible breath that dissipates in the chill. I am neither old nor young but somehow the tiredness I feel already in my bones is a sign of what is to come. I dwell fondly even wistfully on the memories of the bottomless well of stamina from which I once drew. I know Moondog and Gobetween are already asleep and dreaming, the feast food of their indefinable union. Soon enough I will crawl into that sleepy heap but as hoped I spot Hides-in-Holes and Tangle Root sampling the delectable delicacies.

A picturesque reflection opens before me, the image of the day that a young, soft-spoken Blackthorn girl was given over to the Twilight Women for Clan Badger. There stood a child who knew her inherent charge, stepping confidently beyond Blackthorn insularity into the dark abyss of the Badger. And while she never as much as glanced back over her shoulder I detected the predatory gaze of Hides-in-Holes affix itself on her journey into the unknown. And yet I wonder still if she wasn’t the one astutely affecting the magic in her own favor.

I stand amidst a sea of people and wonder how many. Five thousand? More? It’s a preponderance of thought that makes me realize that perhaps none except for Tangle Root and myself recognize Hides-in-Holes, he perhaps the ultimate master of shifting reality. A rumored millennia man stands among us, a corporeal Ancient One, the luminary of the ceremony poised to light up the twilight tonight. He is an average man, dancing happily in his masquerade of middle age, plainly dressed, smiling, laughing quietly, and breaking bread with his people in the sparkling coolness of dawn. Hides-in-Holes with all his remarkable plainness is in fact strikingly handsome. But no one notices or senses that an Immortal is in their midst.

The big drum sounds once, the sun now racing for the horizon. Fire keepers pull from the ashes the blaze that will guide us through this long, dark vesper to our resurrection. I watch as they construct the pyre by the same archetypal vision that has been sustained for as long as these prayers have been made. The drum sounds again as the flames climb through lengths as long as most men are tall, springing to life ecstatically.

Our people make their way from the circumfluous camps that enfold the ritual circle. The music of quiet talk drifts across the field. Women shepherd their children, they leaping about like joyful lambs. Their mothers carry armloads of comfort, mats on which these wild ones will eventually repose, skins impervious to the cold under which all will seek shelter in the sepulcher of the chill that will entomb us. The drum sounds its third call with greater prompting, latecomers picking up their pace. We are set with the fourth strike just as Hides-in-Holes enters the sphere.

He appears small and thin, silver-haired with an extraordinary outgrowth of curly moss where most would sport a beard. His skin is utterly black. We watch spellbound, caught in this vision of one whose body is twisted like a tendril. Ebony buckskin hangs limp from his shoulders, drapes incongruously long arms, and swirls around hidden feet. Hides-in-Holes is the shadow of a shade appearing and vanishing inside the lightless intermittent spaces created by the dancing fire. The quiet crescendo of murmuring speculation concerning his webbed feet drops away as Hides-in-Holes draws his spirit into the mimesis of our people.

The slight, circuitous frame droops as though consumed by a melancholic specter, the conjured plumb of lost prayer. Hides-in-Holes melts into a puddle of despair, the inception of brilliance dimming the pool of pathos. A troupe scurries into the ring, dancing a circle around him, while doing so shaking sprays laden with the seed of wild cabbage. With a singular, fluid motion he rises from the sump of hope deferred and we with him. The clowns dash about, making haste to disappear into the crowd. The inscrutable eyes of Hides-in-Holes sweep across the sea of people like a protective wind driven to shore, lifting our disconsolate hearts to new heights of originative expectation. As he does so he draws from his swishing, swirling robe a pouch of weasel’s snout, the keeper of reflective magic. All traces of deception are crushed beneath his inaccessible, impenetrable power and in that moment malevolence retrocedes into a vacuous vortex. Simultaneously firemen toss fistfuls of resinous juniper needles into the flames. Our ritual explodes with the fire. A basket containing cantlets of lungwort is passed one to another among the singers, they now powering up to high-pitched, driving purpose.

While tethered to us Hide-in-Holes lifts aloof and plucks the single fruit of one-berry from its stem and pops it into his mouth. The throng holds a collective breath aghast; knowing that one-berry is a deadly charmer. Some indiscernible dam erupts from his body engulfing every trace of aberrance that lurks in our secret places, closing the seeps that allow malevolence to corrupt our lives.

Clan Badger moves in to the cantor of their deep Earth mysteries bearing the ancestral beauty of vivid memory and confident power. They sweep away the poison overtaking Hides-in-Holes plucking away the apparitions that stand between the benevolence of our Holy Mother’s ambassadors and ourselves. Hides-in-Holes shudders, shivers, anchoring his confident demeanor to our horror-filled eyes. As Clan Badger keeps up its retrieval of our sacrificial son Deer and Ram enter the circle; collocated feet rise and fall to Earth to the melodic chorus emanating from our singers. To that rhythm dancers rattle the clatter of milkvetch seedpods, infusing the tool of defensive spirits that protect us from the theft of our dreams. The Ancient Ones move in our midst shielding our lives against that which waits to drain away our hope. Our ancestors feel like an impervious downy cloak that safe-keeps our hearty, happy hearts. Moose, clad in extraordinary antlers, loom over us, wielding bundles of marsh marigold, thwarting the ambitions of the undesired attention that Clan Badger drives away. The exorcismal concentus reaches for the apex as the magic of boar’s throat works its blessing, the catalyst that launches us into the rapture of serenity. Deer, Ram and Moose whirl like spires of incantatory snow.

Fire keepers work the blaze amplifying the depth of our perception. At once together we grasp the kaleidoscopic nature of an adept of pendulating matter. Hides-in-Holes winks and smiles as though to assure us that restitution has been paid and our stolen prosperity returned. The trifoliate blessing of clover rains down on us, circumventing the intent of spirits. They are foiled, failing to rob us of the inclination that insures that abundance is dished out in equal portions.

The ruminant clans form a circle as Lynx and Hare burst into its midst with their outlandish antics, gorging on clover, gorging on each other with the elusive trickery that plunges all into the three-leaf blessing of quintessential balance before vanishing. And in that poof we feel the reach of nature’s spirits tinkering with broken hearts, organizing our stumbling steps to the rhythm of sacred cycles. Hides-in-Holes blesses us off with the smoke of smoldering clover, expelling, repelling all traces of invidious spirits determined to hitch a ride into our new lives. Fire keepers stoke the blaze with the intrepid spirit of alder as Hides-in-Holes dashes to energetic bits all hints of bewitchment with a bundle of toadflax.

Exclamatory halloo escapes the crowd as the mythic Wolf Clan makes its way into the ring, demonstrating in their harmonic steps, their implicit yet playful strength. Sprigs of starchwort are tucked into their fancy clothes urging us to awaken to the taintless cycle. Bird clans float in to dance, they taking the lead into the unknown, mystical world before us. The Bear joins the requisite expression bringing us the assurance that folded reality is no more scaresome than the dreamtime. Hides-in-Holes pulls a clump of lady’s slipper from his robe, it a keeper of spiritual clarity and profound, prophetic dreams. He blesses us and in doing so shatters the spirits of stagnation and misdirection. We move step by step into a virgin life, creative and determined.

A troupe of Fox creeps on tiptoed feet emerging from the crowd, buckjumping, cavorting. We watch, even laugh as they skulk around the perimeter, looking this way and that, peeking under tunics, climbing absurdly on each other. They remind us with a clutch of hare’s foot that our most ordinary day exists at the edges of mysterious places, that the realms of dreams create the pillars that sustain our world. We don’t venture into the dreamtime as though it were a place of refuge, we recede from it into tangible actuality where the ability to act on the council of dreams materializes. The Fox vault and leap about with bundles of frog orchid, the medicine that hones the skill to exist equally in two worlds. The singers rebound the rebus of the nightblack; the cyclorama that endues us as readily as fog bedecks the Lifeblood.

Owl Clan medicine men, holding sprays of boghorn in their imaginary beaks, pump their cumbersome, heavy wings as they move to the persuasion of our singers. Elk spirit handlers join them, painted up, dressed down in magnificent skins and antlers. These are the power brokers of sanctity, crushing parasitic malevolence, exchanging calamity for clarity, casting the seeds of love, and discarding the burden of every ominous deficiency to which we grant safe harbor.

With great glee clowns pelt the crowd with a spray of celery seed, the enchantress of dreams, the centrum of awareness. We stand in the stillness, arm in arm with our relatives, our ancestors, and the hope we hold in our unborn, they the provocation of determined resolution. Our pursuit of restitution is not sought from each other but from that which remains hidden in the surreptitious chambers of our own hearts.

The melody of magic sustained by the singers reaches a soft refrain allowing us moments of retreat. Some move away, collecting in small soft-spoken groups visiting or fussing with little ones. Nests are straightened, reorganizing heaps of blankets and mats where some will dream on until dawn. Others attend to the frail ones searching out new arrangements of comfort, knowing relief for them is transitory. I marvel at their reservoir of strength, they upholding an assiduous vigil that exceeds dubitable belief.

Turning back to the circle I watch the Lynx prepare for an appearance, they the thing of living legend. They are making prayers with sea holly, insuring that their spirit handlers are pure and potent, incorruptible, yet tranquil. As people make their way back to the containing edge others with extraordinary tenderness bring the most afflicted into the center. The drum starts up; then singers on the offbeat as the Lynx step in to repulse insidious cause. They shake bouquets of brittlestem as they peer into the depths of infirmity and pluck out its baneful spirit. The Ram join the Lynx bearing horns filled with the sun-colored extraction of liverwort. They dab strips and spirals on to the doctored parts, vividly creating a territorial defense against the return of malevolence. A splashing of broom grass follows; faces smile some secret, knowing relief.

The Antelope people bequeath the happily healed with prayer sticks tied up with the herbal treasure of white gentian, the blessing of astuteness. While tranquil in its disposition, fallen lives are invigorated, caught up in the sacred, cyclical mystery of the natural world of which they are a part. Celandine clarity brings renewed vision, illuminating dreams where pain and affliction are transcended.  The juice of bluebell affixes special plumes to the embellished wands, it an agent of energy and direction. The objective of our lives flashes in the moment like a salmon leaping into the sunlight. Bearwind binds the bundle together, refreshing the harmony of even the most grievously harrowed.

The Bull Clan lumbers into the ring wielding clutches of meadow softgrass, drawing out the invisible projectiles that impair our sense that the knowledge of the Ancient Ones preserves us still. Deer dancers dazzle us with stems of pipewort, it crushing the hope of spirits that thrive amidst paralyzing losses of vision and expression. The Ram resumes its prayers with goat’s beard, it the protector against ruthless predacity. Equanimity stands in the wing as malignity is dispelled, restoring ineffable balance. Here too resets the euphony between prey and the predators that insure power-packed, confident blood. Small groups of Deer depart to offer our gratitude in the groves that flock the surrounding hills in rich, green omnipotence.

Hides-in-Holes steals himself to the firelight as the others fade away. We watch as he extends his arms, reaching for the flames, embalming his soul as he devours the spirit of blue rocket. Holding an embracing breath we wonder if he will simply fly away with hearts still grieving. But no, he moves his hidden feet to the harmonic beat of the drum, suddenly spinning, whipping the air with a yew wand. We watch spellbound as he twirls, then stops mid-motion precipitously engulfing us with a tidal wave of power. The spell of knowledge has been cast, the secrets of symbols, and the empowerment of wisdom. The private abyss of despair transmutates to promise. The attitudes to which our spirits cling collapse in the tremor. Safe and secure we play with the idea that change is not so bad in light of the continuity and clarity we stand to gain by the sacrament. Invocation illumes the lessons forgotten, they the keys to reach objectives. The amassed spiritual release guards the journeys of the deceased and brings comfort to those of us left behind. We are a single, sanctified spirit, strong and fortified, as we dance our way around into the new cycle.

Enveloped suddenly in a waft of catmint we detect Hides-in-Holes dropping it on the coals that encircle the fire. That which dines on the havoc it creates drifts up and away and we sense the benevolence of our ancestors replacing it with beauty. Parasitic spirits flee, obstructive forces crumble. We are safe and healthy. Even as the Mother of the Night flows into our rituals we know in our souls that this cycle ebbs into the record of antiquity. It is the cue to the handlers of secrets that attunement to cyclical mystery pins the magic to purpose. These characters of cures, the troubleshooters of impacting factors, stand silent as old women dust them down with yellow loosestrife. They know that beyond all else the gifts with which we are endowed must be safeguarded, they the premonitors of our lives.

The Crones bring hedge parsley to the blessing, inciting the complimentary powers of potency and recipience; the mystery between our Mother’s copiously holy well and the abundance that brings us life. Their ritual richness is the umbilical tie between ancient wisdom and immortality. In fifty years or a hundred, maybe more, the same prayers will be whispered and the same herbs brought to the circle to carry those imperishable words to the world of the Unborn.

As the old women make their way back to the gallery equally aged men move toward the fire. They call in all those who have poked fire these last long nights, blessing them with a mossy brew. The ancient fire keepers tend to their progeny like delicate newborns, washing away the contrasting bale of the comforting fire that illuminates our purpose. Desiccated wild daffodil soothes their distress, purges them of opportunism and refreshes the protection they need to manage the consuming power. Each takes a taste of Clan Oak’s mushroom magic served up on the verdurous wood it creates. Some are washed with saxifrage; the water blessing that cleanses away the perniciousness that obstructs the flow of life to theses stouthearted firemen restoring their ligature to design.

Young girls cradling baskets of iris strew the contents here and there; warding off the spirit of illness that lurks always. Hides-in-Holes cups a share and gives it to the fire. The smoke searches amidst us for those that hunt the mystery of our Earth, cloaking them with that which shields against predacity, the potentiality for all empowered. We know in our hearts that this rainbow of blessings, at once confrontational, then again gentle and mysterious, are the fancy clothes of ancestral wisdom, the shaking down of that to which we too easily succumb. Shedding by specks and flecks the worst of human nature, we will spiral into our pristine life strong and renewed, patient and quiescent.

We detect the bouquet of smoldering sweetgrass, the gatekeeper of our Mother’s beneficent spirits, bathing our souls. Its delicate breath carries us transcended into the shifting realities of Her elusive wonder. We grow to understand that our foresight is founded not in magic but in the knowledge of history and there can be detected the simplistic clover in which the Ancient Ones reveled. They understood that comfort and security could be found in elemental mosses, in the strength making power of cradles woven from surf grass, in the productive rest infixed in the spirit of privet that aligns our energy to the rhythm of sacred cycles and the revelations of dreams.

Firemen pile up the coals with that grand spirit poplar, its celerity stoking our resolve to make our way to dawn, and the power of what we can achieve in the nightglow of compassionate hope. The smudge enhances the perception of resolute handlers to perceive the subtle influences determined to thwart our intent. Their hands, our bodies are fortified, hallowed. And in the smoky evanescent, protective blessing our safe passage is secured. Breaches in our spirit are sealed up and in doing so the spirit of debility acquiesces, we are restored to the harmony of our cyclical essentiality. Staggerweed wafts about conveying its blessings of clarity and vitality. Then candytuft smoke brings order to disarray and peace to untenable agitation.

Intensity escalates as horehound rounds up quick thinking and robust voices reaching for the purging pitch, releasing the emendatory magic for which we hunger. We are strong from this good medicine, like the spurge laurel of hearty hearts that beat in sync with that of our Mother. We feel resurgent warmth as though emerging from steamy, watery places that pool from deep inside Her. Hides-in-Holes displays one timber mushroom, offering it to our Mother, to our soul as first light creeps in and the fire falls to its own rest.

Much pain has been resolved and in doing so the energy of direction takes its rightful place. That single, simple mushroom appeases any hidden fear that we might be cut adrift. We stand sleepy and secure that our stunning expense leads the way to abundant blessings. These days and fallen lives are the journeys of warriors, the guardians of the outposts of eternity.

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Responses to “September 18”

  1. Angela Cheetham Wilkinson September 20th, 2013 - 5:58 pm

    Whilst I enjoyed this chapter I’m still holding on a little to Chapter 47 and the wonderful transmutation of Rosebay, the introduction of so many people bringing such a variety of offerings to the ceremonies – including the amazing Dreaming Twins.
    After all the ritual and the resultant exhaustion the last paragraph resolves the chapter to a meaningful close.
    Only the reader’s thoughts, maybe of an event, ritual, ceremony, spiritual experience or deep love in their own life with which to draw parallels.

    • Often long rituals reel in the spectators with a great deal of pageantry before the ritual gets down to the business at hand. A four day or eight day ritual is somewhat brutal for all concerned. Everyone is pretty much shredded to the core by exhaustion and repetition. That is its intention. Rebirth requires that nothing is left lurking, that nothing is carried into the new life. Such deprivation and challenge has become unknown to Western society and is for the most part incomprehensible to us.