Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chapter 10 - Introductions

As she drove home she thought about her new student. It wasn’t as if she had never had to have a similar discussion with other students. She had. But eMail was very different from face to face. In some ways it was easier to teach in person. You could read their body language to try to get a better read on what was going on in their head. But Nola had always had a unique ability to read between the lines of an eMail and see the real issue, so this hadn’t been a problem for her. The difference with eMail was that you had time to read and reread and write and rewrite as necessary. In person the experience was immediate and intense. At least it had been with Owen this time. She’d had conversations in her head about how her own relationship fit into the Words of Aradia. But she’d never really ever said them out loud with anyone else. She felt strangely refreshed by the experience almost as if something had clicked into place for her as well as, hopefully, turned on the light bulb over Owen’s head.

Owen walked back to the house, refreshed and introspective. It was plain to see the intensity of feeling that Nola had for her husband James and, despite everything, the love and acceptance of him for who he was, not who she wanted him to be. It was pretty incredible. And he wondered if it was the woman or The Ways that contributed to this. He thought about the way she said, in love and love. It seemed an unusual distinction to make. People talked about falling in love and falling out of love as if you could only have one or the other. For Nola it seemed that love was a continuum. She had said “sometimes I’m IN love with him” but I there was no doubt that she loved him.

He wandered into the kitchen and poured himself another glass of wine and took it back to the chair in the living room. As he watched the fire and sipped the wine he thought about his relationships. Had he ever really been IN love? As he thought about it now he felt he had to admit to himself that he’d never really been in love with Lisa. And she’d probably never really been in love with him either. They loved each other but they hadn’t been in love. That was it! That explained everything. Why they weren’t together, why their breakup had been essentially painless. And why he was so happy for Lisa & Simon. Hmm. It was amazingly simple when you thought about it like that. He thought about the other women he had had in his life. He’d always been able to find female company when he wanted it. He hadn’t loved all the women. But he had genuinely liked all of them. And he had never really had a messy breakup or after 9 months not been over a relationship. When his relationships ended, they just ended. Unlike some of his friends he had never felt he had to be in a relationship and he’d always felt his life was full and rich even when he, and his grandfather, knew he was in the wrong place. Now it seemed he was finally and fully in the right place.

It was Tuesday evening and he was pacing in front of the fire place. Friday had been busy as he worked out a newly discovered problem with one of the renovations his crews were working on. Saturday and Sunday he spent a good bit of time doing thorough inspections on all his work sites. Sometimes it was easier to see where the problems might be when there was no one else around. Monday he had reviewed the jobs with the crews, complimenting some work and refocusing them on others where it looked like they might not be up to his standards. Tuesday he had reviewed inventories and reconfirmed delivery dates and adjusted the schedules as necessary. He’d also managed to unload his suitcase and restock the kitchen. He never had to worry about cleaning the house or doing laundry. He paid for that service. Right after he moved to New Orleans in 2006, maid service had been hard to find initially. But he had done some work for a local hotel and was able to get a recommendation from them for folks who had yet to find work in the still recovering city. Latasha was a godsend and in typical New Orleans fashion, now practically family.

It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to clean or do laundry. Growing up in a family with a serious work ethic who also ran ski resorts meant that he’d done room cleaning and serious laundry work, as well as bused tables, waited tables, worked the front desk and done grounds keeping. He practically had a degree in hotel restaurant and tourism by the time he was 18. Later once he was old enough and back home from college in the summers he had also bartended and done repair jobs. But he preferred not having to do the cleaning work himself. But he liked a clean and tidy house.

He finally sat down and reread the Word of Aradia, but that only made it worse. 2 more days. He got up and made a phone call using the CID button on the phone. She hadn’t really given him her phone number but he had it because she had called last week like he’d asked and so he decided to use it.

Her cell phone was ringing… she had just settled down with Jamie to watch a Star Trek Voyager DVD. For her and her daughter it was almost like going to church. She often thought how Jamie’s mythos was the Star Trek mythos with particular focus on the Voyager series. The phone was still ringing, James must be downstairs. She got up to get it.

She’d answered…. Now what to say? “Hi. Nola?”
“Hi, Owen. How are you? Are we still on for Thursday or are you calling because you need to cancel?”
“Oh no, I’m not canceling. I just wanted to make sure that you’d be able to be here on Thursday.”
“Yep, I’ll see you Thursday.”
“That’s great. Are you going to be in town for the holidays?”
“Yep, we’re not leaving. James’ sisters are coming home for the holidays. His mom & dad, well dad really, can’t travel anymore.”
“Oh good. I’ll be in town too. I don’t mean good your father-in-law can’t travel.”
And he heard her laugh on the other end and say, “I know, Owen.”
Then silence on both ends. Knowing he was the one who initiated the call and not knowing what else to say he said, “See you Thursday.”
“See you Thursday, bye. Owen.”

He hung up and felt a little goofy about needing to be reassured. But he was also glad to know that she’d be in town for the holidays. If she’d gone out of town and he would have had to keep himself busy, he had already decided he would go back to see his family and spend some time at the cabin. He was feeling the need to commune with Papa Eric and he always felt closer to him at the cabin. Now, if only Thursday was tomorrow. But it wasn’t so he settled back down with the book and the Words of Aradia.

Finally it was Thursday; she’d called and said she was on her way. He’d gotten out 2 bottles of Italian wine, one red on the counter, one white in the fridge. He had the glasses out in the kitchen.

He went out front and walked around the yard, pacing like a caged animal waiting to be fed. He was making another circuit around the yard when she drove up. He pushed the button on the driveway gate and met her at the sidewalk and said: “Drive in, it’s safer.”
She nodded and pulled into the driveway behind his truck and the gate shut behind her.

As she got out she smiled and said, “I love that feature, it feels so civilized. Evening, Owen.”
“Good Evening, Nola. I’m glad you’re finally here.”
“I really appreciate being able to park in the driveway. Have you been waiting to let me in long?” And before he realized it he said exactly what was in his head, “No I haven’t been waiting long, just all week.” Then realized that made twice. Argh.
And she laughed and kidded him. “Not outside and pacing in the yard the whole time I hope!”
“No I managed to get some work done. Let’s go inside and you can decide whether you want red or white wine tonight.”
“Ok, but I have some stuff in the back that I could use some help getting into the house. I brought the altar set up so we can go through it in detail.”
“Wow, props, impressive. Wait a minute, an old wire spool?”
“Yeah, strange huh? But I think the circular altar is important, distinctive.”
“Must be if you hauled it here for a lesson.”
“Well, it might not be something everyone would do. But I remember going over and over this via eMail when I was first learning and being able to see it makes explaining it so much easier.”

She had had to make 3 trips from the house to her truck but Owen easily lifted the spool out of the truck, then grabbed the plywood top with one hand and the spool in the other. She carried the box with the rest of the altar setup and was able to just push the door open for them. They dropped the stuff in the living room and went into the kitchen. He had the red out on the kitchen counter and when she saw it she said: “Oh Ruffino Riserva. I love that wine!”
And he was inordinately pleased with himself and made a mental note to keep it in stock and try all the other wines in the Ruffino line. He opened the bottle, checking the cork and poured them generous glasses.
She swished the wine in the glass took a deep breath and then took a sip and said, “ummmm, Thank you Owen this is quite a treat, Ducale Oro.”
He just smiled at her and took a sip himself. And thought, she’s right it is pretty good. Considering that this was an Italian tradition he figured that Italian wine was appropriate. He didn’t know exactly why he had chosen this particular wine. He had spent a good bit of time wandering the aisle and talking to the clerk and he’d picked up a number of different brands, but this one wine had insisted on being purchased and was the one he’d reached for tonight and he was glad.

As they wandered into the living room she said, “I’ve been thinking about some of basic things that distinguish this tradition from others. Other than the Words of Aradia, which are in my opinion crucial and unique, there our mythos, the way altar is set and the Lare Shrine. We’ve already started working on the Words of Aradia and we’ll review the altar set up tonight, but I think that the Lasa/Lare Shrine is an important element as well.”
“Ok, I’ll bite why don’t you tell me exactly what Lasa/Lare Shrine is and how it works?”
“It’s a portal to the past, a link to the other side via your link to your ancestors. It is also a link to the ancient past and the Old Ones.”
“Well that sounds mysterious.”
“Mysterious?, hmm I’d never thought of it as mysterious. But it can be a powerful magical tool. It can provide you a concise and consistent way to interact with the universe.”
As usual she had managed in a few sentences to totally grab his interest. What was it about this woman that totally drew him in? It was a rare cool night and he had the fire going because he liked it and didn’t get that many opportunities in New Orleans for a fire. She walked in front of the fire place and said: “Could we sit in front of the fire? Please?”
It sounded like she was asking as if it were a treat, like a kid asking for ice cream for dinner combined with an adult asking for just few more minutes in bed. He smiled and nodded, moved the large pillows in front of the fireplace, settled onto the largest pillow and patted the one next to him for her. She kicked of her shoes and settled and said “I so love a fireplace.”
The fire seemed to absorb her and he found himself watching her as she watched the fire. Until she said “The Lasa/Lare shrine, where to start?”

He took a sip of his wine to hide the fact that he’d been staring. She continued, “Many cultures and traditions from around the globe have the concept of an ancestor shrine. You mentioned that Santeria & Voodoo when we met on the plane. So maybe you have seen one of these locally.”
“Yes I have. It was rather large and elaborate and included a number of saints as well.”
“Well that setup is more akin to a Deity Altar in Stregheria than to a Lasa or Lare shrine. Those saints are Catholic links to the African Orishas or Gods of creation. A Lare Shrine is for your physical blood relatives and for those people who have passed to the otherside who have had positive impact on you and who you might want to ask for guidance.”
“You keep saying Lasa/Lare what it the difference?”
“The Lare Shrine is a Roman/Italian shrine typically to blood ancestors, to genius spirit of the male of the family or the juno spirit of the female of the family. The juno female spirit is most often associated with the hearth, the fireplace, the fire. She raised her wine glass to the fireplace and said, “Which perhaps accounts for how much I love a fireplace. I’m sure you’ve heard of vestal virgins. Vesta, the goddess of the hearth was never depicted in human form. Vesta was the fire, the ultimate juno spirit, a link to the great goddess, primal community. The Lare shrines typically look like houses, with classic columns on each side and a roof. Most of the photos of these shrines come from Pompeii. You can find them easily online. These shrines are typically built into a wall, with columns, roof and a shelf for offerings. These are Roman and associated with the state religion. Stregheria was not associated with the Roman state religion. But the Romans were famous for borrowing and the truth is no one really knows the exact roots of the Lare shrine. So for me, when I say Lare Shrine I refer to something which honors and provides a connection point via physical blood ancestors.”
She took a sip of wine and looked at him but he seemed interested in having her continue. “Historically slaves and those adopted into a family would also honor and be protected by the Lares of the house. So it would be perfectly ok for me to call my shrine a Lare shrine. And PreKatrina I did have a shrine set up with photos of my ancestors.”
“Did it survive?”
“Well yes and no. The shrine was unaffected, but it was on a built-in shelf unit in our downstairs and when we gutted the house we removed the shelf unit. I still have all the elements of the shrine. The ancestral photos are now in our library. PostK I’ve moved away from a shrine using photos of my ancestors to a Lasa Shrine which honors our more ancient spiritual connections to the Old Ones via nature. There’s still a link to the Lare because of the candle flame and Vesta and that link to primal community. But I always struggled with the Lare Shrine because I know of no physical connections to Italy or to paganism in my family. My father, the genius loci of my family, passed away when I was 14. And I really don’t have many photos of him, even fewer since my mom lost almost everything in Katrina. But he was a non-judgmental, warm and spiritual man, who I think would understand my search and my path. So I initially used 2 of his photos taken when I was very young in my shrine. Later, to honor my past and my ancestors I also placed photos of grandparents and a great aunt and uncle in the shrine. This was when I was first starting out, when I was trying to make the link. What I found was that establishing a connection to my dead ancestors was the first step in creating the link, opening the portal.”
“Portal? Portal to where?”
“To the other side via ancestors, but also to the astral, to the realm of the Gods, to the wider universe.”
“Well, that’s quite a portal.”
She laughed lightly and said, “Yes. It can be quite powerful.”
“Is it safe?”
“Safe? Wow that’s a new one.” She held the wine glass between the fingers of both hands, twirled the glass to swish the wine around in her glass and inhaled and then took a sip. He smiled and thought that he loved the way she appreciated even the smallest things, like the smell of Earl Grey tea, the driveway gate, the wine or the fireplace. Then she answered, “Well it always has been safe for me. Perhaps that is why the link is typically made via your ancestors. They know you. They love you. They protect you and the portal. Hmm. I never thought of it that way before. So yes, in my experience and in the experience of all the other folks I’ve known to have a shrine, it is safe.”
“So you think I should have a shrine.”
“I think you should think about having a shrine.”
“What do I need to make one?”
“Nothing special. A votive candle holder. I like one made of blue glass as the spirits are supposed to shine with blue light. A place to burn incense. An offering plate or glass. A small vase maybe. A photo of an honored ancestor, preferably one who would understand your search and be willing to provide a link and open the portal. Do you have someone like that?”
Owen was smiling. “Yes I think I do.”

Nola smiled back at him as if to encourage him to share.
“My father’s father, Papa Eric. He would find you fascinating and he would probably say that Aradia was his kind of woman. He loved being in nature and didn’t go to church except on special occasions as warranted by his deep respect for the beliefs of others. Papa Eric has probably been on the other side just waiting for a portal. As a matter of fact…..” He trailed off, got up and went into another room and came back with a picture frame and handed it to Nola. “Meet Papa Eric.” She held a picture of a man standing at the top of a ridgeline at sunset or was it sunrise… hard to tell. The man was an older, slightly smaller version of Owen. The same smile, hair totally white. He looked strong and happy and content with his life. Lord of his domain. She said, “He seems like quite a gentleman.”
Owen said, “Oh Yes. He was an amazing gentleman. He was charming and easily liked by everyone. He knew how to listen. The man had insights into anyone he met that could be scary. He knew things. I think that he would be honored to be a part of my Lare Shrine.”
“Yes, he sounds perfect.”
“So where do I set this up?”
“Typically in the West. The west is where the sun sets. The west is where the full moon sets. The west is the direction associated with movement from this world to the other side. It’s where spirits go before they return to this world or move on to the next level.” She was looking around and thinking about the layout of his house and as she spoke and then said, “Perfect.”
“Yes, perfect. Your fireplace is in the West. You could have your shrine on the mantle. Spirits like to be in a place that is used, a part of the household. If I were you I would try your shrine on the mantle. You will know if Papa Eric is happy there, if the portal is working. I tried mine in a number of places before I found the right spot.”
He set the photo on the mantle and said, “OK. A candle holder. A place to burn incense. I bet I have what I need lying around here somewhere just waiting to be used, but I don’t have any incense. I’ll have to get that.” Then he stopped and smiled again and asked, “What do I use as an offering?”
“Well the standard offering is one part wine, one part honey, one part milk.”
He wrinkled his nose and said, “I’m not seeing Papa Eric drawn to that, it sounds disgusting.”
She laughed, “I know I never really understood the appeal either. I worked out a mental explanation of why these 3 things would be put in combination, honey for the wild, milk for the hunting/herding aspects of our past, wine for the agricultural aspects. But to be perfectly honest I never felt like my spirits responded to this mixture. But it is traditional.”
“So what do you use?”
“Oh wine, incense, Florida Water, flowers, herbs, Dr.Tichener’s…”
“Whoa, Dr. Tichener’s?!”
She laughed, “Yep, Dr. Tichener’s. It's a locally made peppermint antiseptic. It reminds me of my grandparents who lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They used it on mosquito bites and they even used it to splash down with when it was really hot or when we had a fever. Smell is a very powerful link to our memories and therefore our past.”
“Oh I get it.” And he was up again and into the kitchen and came back with a shot glass and a bottle of Jack Daniels. He poured some JD in to the shot glass said “To Papa Eric.’ took a small sip then set the glass with the remainder on the mantle next to the photo.
She smiled and said, “I definitely think you get the idea. There is a section in the second manual, chapter 2 if I remember correctly, that talks about the Lare Shrine. It includes activating it. But I think that you are right and your Papa Eric has just been waiting for an invitation.”

She watched him smile at the photo of his grandfather and get lost in his thoughts. Eventually he came back and said. “More wine?” She nodded. After filling their glasses he said, “So what’s next professor?”
“Well, I hauled the altar stuff here so let’s move on to that. Here take a seat in the east while I demonstrate.”

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to any Wiccan rituals. Have you?”
“Yes…” and he trailed off. “A few. There was this bartender in the French Quarter who was Wiccan and she invited me to their rituals. A Full Moon and one in August, what was it called Litha? No Lammas.”
“So what were the altars like? Can you describe them for me?”
“Well the Full Moon altar was set all in silver and black, with white roses and a Goddess Statue and silver candlesticks.”
“And the Lammas altar?”
“Let’s see, they had a yellow altar cloth, a cornucopia, lots of fruits and vegetables, candlesticks with orange candles. Come to think of it they always made a big deal about how the altar would look, as if they were figuring it out for the first time each time.”
“And the altar what shape was it?”
“And was it set up along a wall or in the center of the room or?”
“It was along the wall.”
“Ok, good. I think it helps to be able to compare and contrast. In this tradition the altar is set up the same way every time.” And she waited for it because it always came.
“Isn't that a bit boring?”
She smiled, there it was. She moved the wire spool into the center of the room and put the circular board on top of it.
“Some might say so. But it isn’t as if there aren’t ways to highlight the season. The streghe’s altar is circular. It is the center from which we create our sacred space for ritual. It represents the endless universe, the never ending circle, and perhaps the first altar associated with the base of a fallen tree. The altar is placed in the center of the circle. On top of this circular altar is placed a black altar cloth. The cloth is always black. It represents the void at the beginning of creation.” And as she said that she spread the black cloth over the altar top.
Then she set a small stainless steel bowl in the altar. "This will hold the spirit flame, a representation of the source of all things, the spiritual essence of the universe. Then, because desire always precedes creation, we set the God icon on the altar” and she set statue of a man with a pan flute and a wolf skin draped over him onto the altar and next to that a fossil cast of a ammonite that looked a lot like a man’s penis. And then she next to the icons she placed a silver candlestick with a white candle in it. “Next we set the Goddess icon on the altar." It was a half bear breasted, half covered in a pelt female holding a jar and some grapes. She also placed the fossil cast of a clam shell which looked surprisingly like female genitalia. "We must have both male and female energies for creation to take place.” And she placed a matching candlestick with a white candle. “These are placed on the north side of the circle, because north is considered the position of power."
“Interesting so God first…”
“hmmm umm, God first, because desire precedes creation. These are set on the north end of the altar. Next we set the pentacle under the spirit bowl in the center of the altar. This represents the substance from which the universe was made.”
Then she began to set smaller bowls, holders around the pentacle.
“These are for the elementals. In the North we place Earth.” And she placed a small covered crystal bowl next to the pentacle but to the north of the spirit bowl. This contains earth, real dirt. Mine is yellow from a place in Canada sacred to native peoples. In Stregheria yellow is the color associated with earth and north.”
Next she placed a small blue bowl of sand next to the pentacle but to the east of the spirit bowl. Into the sand she placed an incense stick. “In the east we place something for the air elementals. The smoke and smell of the incense provides a place for the elementals to reside while they are in our circle. When we invite the elementals into our circle we have to provide a comfortable place for each of them. In Stregheria blue is the color of air and of the east.”
Next she placed a small silver votive candle holder holding a red candle and a piece of black obsidian, volcanic glass. “In the south we place something for the fire elemental. In Stregheria red is the color of fire and the south.”
Next she placed a white shell holding a small green bowl into this she poured water. “In the west we place something for the water elemental.”
She then took out a small silver chalice and set it to the west of the shell and water and on the same side of the altar as the Goddess icon. Then she took out something small and black it looked like a woman in a long wide skirt with a red cord around her waist. As she moved it rang like a bell. It was a bell! Odd. She set this to the east of the incense holder. Then she placed what looked like her wand outside of where the bell was set. Lastly she placed a ritual blade to the south of the candle for the fire and the small piece of obsidian, along with a long silver refillable lighter.
“What we have now is a representation of the creation of the universe, the endless circle, the black void, the male and female energies, the spirit of creation, a place for the elementals and the tools necessary to cast the circle.”
Then she poured a bit of clear liquid into the bowl set on top of the pentacle.
“When we cast a circle we start with the Spirit Flame.” She said 3 words that sounded like Latin and she lit the bowl of clear liquid on fire.
“Whoa! That’s impressive.”
“Yes it is. It is the living representation of spirit in the center of the altar which is the center of the circle.”
“What does whatever it was you said mean?”
“Awaken Ancient Spirits.”
And he nodded and said “Ok.”
“Next we honor and invite the God & Goddess”
She lit the Goddess candle and said in Italian,
“Beautiful Uni, Goddess of the moon and beyond, think even for a moment upon those whose gather in your name.”
She lit the God candle and said in Italian,
“Tagni, God of the sun and beyond, think even for a moment upon those who gather in your name”.
“Next we awaken and call the elementals.” She lit a stick of incense and placed it in the air bowl and lit the red candle in the south.
She rang the bell over each of the elemental bowls and said,
"I call out to the mist of the Hidden Realms and conjure you spirits of Earth” and she rang the bell over the earth bowl, “Air” and she rang the bell over the air bowl, “Fire” and she rang the bell over the red candle, “and Water” and she rang the bell over the shell. Then she tapped each elemental bowl 3 times.
“Now that we have all the elements of creation we can cast the circle.” And she took the spirit blade and placed the tip into the flame burning in the center bowl. She focused on the end of the blade and the fire in the bowl. Then she raised the blade from the bowl and for a short time it had a flame on the end of the blade. Then she walked clockwise around to the north of the altar and began to place the edge of the circle and said,
“In the names of Uni and Tagni and by the Old Ones I conjure this circle of power. Become a sphere of protection, a vessel which shall contain the energy raised within, wherefore do I charge and empower you". And she walked the edge of the circle 3 times creating a sphere of protection with the charged blade. She finished setting the circle and returned to the southern end of the altar facing north.
“We are now inside a circle of protection. Next we charge the quarter candles with the energy of the elementals and spread their energy to the edge of the circle.”
And she took out 4 small white votives in holders and lit one of the candles and held it over the earth elemental and walked north, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge of the circle, and returned and lit another candle and held it over the air elemental and walked east, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge and of the circle and lit a candle and held it over the fire elemental and walked south, held it up as if a beacon and set it down on the edge of the circle, and returned and lit another candle and held it over the water elemental and walked west, held it up as if a beacon and then set it down on the edge of the circle. She walked to the north and around Owen, clockwise around the circle and returned to the south side of the altar.
“We always walk clockwise around the altar when casting the circle and when working inside during ritual. Only when we are taking the circle down do we walk counterclockwise. How are you doing? Ok so far? Any questions?
He just shook his head no.
“Next we invite the Grigori. The Watchers. Have you read about them?
“Do you think you are ready to be introduced?”
She giggled. "You said that you had read all of manual number one, right?” He shook his head yes. “So you read about the Grigori?”
“Well yes, but I didn’t think they were going to come into my living room tonight!”
“You’ll be fine. You are inside a circle of protection and on top of that they know me, I’ve been doing this a while now you know. And they aren’t a physical presence; it isn’t as if you have to feed them dinner, although we do provide the candles as portals and the incense as substance for them. The Grigori watch over Streghe for the Gods, they are warriors, protectors, guides when we need them, another link to the ancient past, a kind of universal Lare for Streghe. You’ve seen Wiccans call the Watchtowers right?”
“Well yes, but that always seemed so benign. The watchtowers were simply earth, air, fire, water and you’ve already got those in the circle. This feels like something more.”
“Well you’re right. It is. Do you want to stop now?”
“No.” and he looked at her as if to say no way, I’m NOT stopping now!
She smiled at him and lit another stick of incense and held it in her left hand. She stood at the altar and said,
“I call to you, O ancient ones! You who dwell beyond the realms. You who once reigned in the time before time. Come! Hear the Call! Assist me to open the way. Give me the power Open wide the gates of the Gods and come to me by your ancient names.”
She then grabbed the bell and blade off of the altar using her right hand and holding the newly lit incense with her left and walked clockwise around the altar to the north. She waved the incense in the air, then switched the bell to her left hand with the incense and rang it 3 times. Then she lifted her blade in salute and said “TAGO!” and stood upright looking out of the circle with both hands on each side of her. She held that position for a minute. Her mind called out to Tago. He was the tough one in the bunch. She thought of him at bit like their commander and leader but with a soft heart underneath. Despite the fact the he was aligned with Owen's earth sign, Nola felt that if any of the Grigori would give Owen a hard time it would be Tago. She felt him come, a strong but gentle presence and then bowed slightly, saying thank you in her mind and moved to East. She did the same thing with the incense, bell and blade and then said “BELLARIA! In her mind she could feel that Bellaria was already there an interested in a new mind to work with and protect. She stood upright looking outside of the circle with her hands held straight out at her sides and thanked her coming then bowed slightly and walked to the south where she did the same thing except this time she said “SETTRANO!” and held her hands straight up in the air. She felt Settrano’s excitement and energy and so she bowed and thanked him and then walked to the west and repeated her actions saying this time a little more gently “MEANA” and held her cupped left over right in front of her. Meana was the Grigori she had thought she would have the least rapport with, but she was wrong. Meana was the Grigori she had needed most to balance her energies to soften her and now they shared a strong bond. Meana came and smiled and said ‘I am happy he is here for you.’ She bowed a little more slowly this time and then walked around the circle and back to the south side of the altar where she took the wand and rapped the altar 3 times and said. “The circle is cast.”
She was lost in thought when he said “So are they here?”
And she smiled and said, “Yes”
“Oh… well… I guess that’s not so bad.”

The fire sputtered out in the spirit bowl so she poured a bit more clear liquid into the bowl and relit it, repeating the ancient Latin and making the same symbol over the bowl.
“No” she smiled, "it’s not so bad. They are aware of you now. One of the things you will have to do is work to have rapport with each of them. They are related to the elemental and have qualities similar to those associated with the elementals when we anthropomorphize the elementals. The hand signal and postures I used represent their elemental links: a solid pillar as if stone for Tago, Hands out to the side like you were pretending to be a plane flying through the air for Bellaria, Hands up like a flame leaping up for Settrano. Hands cupped as if hold water of Meana. But in Stregheria the elementals are allowed to be elementals. And the Grigori are personalities, spirits. They can guide and protect and aid your magic or prevent it from working if they feel it necessary. They are powerful allies and unique to our ways. Meana is glad that you are here. Tago is accepting but watchful. Bellaria thinks you have an interesting mind and Settrano would like you to join him, play and be happy.”
“They told you that?”
“Well not in so many words, but yes.”
“Ok” and he swallowed and looked down at his wine.
She took a sip of her wine. So he felt he could too and she said, “Ok, that is a basic circle casting. Every time we do ritual we cast the circle the same way. No changing colors of the altar cloth, it is always black. Candles are usually white although in some rituals they can be green or red or black. There are usually flowers set between the God & Goddess and these can change seasonally. Especially if you have an altar a little bigger than a wire spool. During the winter Solstice a small evergreen wreath is set on the altar. At Cornucopia we set a cornucopia with fruits and vegetables. During a Full moon we often use white flowers and herbs. But the altar set up and circle casting do not change. Each time we have ritual we recreate the creation of the universe and call to the God & Goddess, the Spirit Flame, the elementals and the Grigori. So do you think it’s boring?”
“No. I think it is very much like a remembering to set a proper foundation before you begin to work on other aspects of the house. I like it.”
She smiled at him and said, “Taking the circle down is a bit easier than setting it up. We essentially do everything in reverse.”

She let him absorb that then she stood up at the south side of the altar and said, “Hear me Old Ones, we honor you for your attendance and bid you depart to your sacred realms. With peace we say, Ave Vale.”

She then walked counterclockwise to the west and kissed her blade, lifted it to the air and bowed and then put out the quarter candle. She did this at each quarter ending at the north. She then used her blade and walked counter clockwise around the circle from the north collecting the circle’s power into the blade. When she returned to the south side of the circle she touched the blade to the spirit flame and allowed the energy to be returned and flow back into the flame. She then snapped her fingers 3 times over the water in the shell in west, snapped 3 times over the red candle in the south and put it out with a quick wave of her hand, snapped 3 times over the incense stick and turned it upside down into the sand, snapped 3 times over the yellow clay and covered the north elemental bowl. She then said, “Bella Uni we thank you for your presence” and put out the Goddess Flame. “Tagni we thank you for your presence” and put out the God Flame. Then she sat back and watched the Spirit Flame which sputtered out after only a few seconds. And she “Ave Vale.”

He just sat there thinking, this wasn’t even a ritual. This was just casting the circle and a small “wow” escaped him.
She turned to him and smiled. “It’s the same every time.” And she began to collect items from the top of the altar and put them back in her box. It was amazing how fast everything was put away. They only let the spirit bowl sit out for a little while to cool off.
And he said, “Pretty convenient, having that pentacle under the hot bowl.”
And she smiled and said “We streghe are a practical folk.”

They settled back on the pillows in front of the fire and he put on another small log. She yawned. Then said, “I am so glad that I am able to take every Friday off for the rest of the year, as well as the entire last 2 weeks of December. Tomorrow I can sleep late.”
What he heard was that she was off tomorrow. Not working. What he hoped was that he would be able to see her again on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. “So I’m exhausting am I?”
“No you are strangely invigorating, it is just that work and teaching and the rest of my life sometimes catches up with me.”
“Do you think that you could come here again tomorrow or sometime before next Thursday?”
“Well I was wondering if you would be available for the Winter Solstice on the 21st and the Full Moon on the 23rd?
“Oh sure, absolutely. But those are 2 weeks away.”
And she smiled and said, “Oh the fire of a new student. The only thing that I have planned for this weekend is getting tree.”
“A Christmas tree? But you are a pagan!”
She laughed, “Yes and a Christmas tree is 100% pagan" and she put her finger to her lips and said, "but don’t tell the Christians. When you have children you have a Christmas tree. We have a sun on top of our tree instead of a star. It is pretty much the only decoration we were able to save from the flood waters. I hang symbols of the elementals, birds, seashells, apples, golden globes, golden snowflakes from the tree. It is very pagan and a lot of fun. My daughter was taught that her mom honors the seasons the return of the solar sun and her grandparents go to church to celebrate the birth of the son. It works for us.”
He was thinking a Christmas tree might be a fun surprise. “So when will you do your Christmas tree shopping?”
“I’m not sure, yet, just sometime this weekend. I’m actually hoping we can do it tomorrow.”
“Can you come back on Saturday?”
“I’m not sure. Jamie may have things she needs me to do that she hasn’t told me about. Sometimes being mom means you have to be very light on your feet. I’ll have to make sure and let you know” And she saw him deflate a little and laughed lightly. “If I can I’ll try and arrange to come back sooner. If not, I’ll see you next Thursday. I will call you tomorrow and let you know.”
“Ok then big man, could you please help me get this stuff to the truck?”
“Aw, going already?”
She smiled and said, “If I don’t leave I can’t come back.” And she finished packing up the rest of the stuff. As she was packing the last bits into the box she dug around and said, “Here are a few votives and some pine incense. You said you didn’t have any. Pine seems appropriate for a woodsman, like your Papa Eric.”
“Thanks… is that like some kind of Harry Potter magical tent, bigger on the inside than the outside”
She laughed, “No, but it is pretty well stocked. I wouldn’t have taken you for a Harry Potter fan.”
As he placed the stuff she’d given him on the mantel he said, “Oh I have a 13 year old nephew. I’ve read all the books and seen all the movies.”
She smiled and nodded and grabbed the box and he grabbed the plywood top and spool and they walked to her truck.
He put the spool and top in the back and then gave her a bear hug before she got in saying, “Thank you for introducing me.”
“You’re welcome. Good Night Owen.”
“Good night, Nola. See you soon.”

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