Monday, November 16, 2009

Chapter 13 - Winter Solstice

Nola took one last look through her ritual box. She had everything she needed. It was time to go to Owen's. She found that she was nervous. This would be the first time that she'd be doing Treguenda without her Boschetto mates. It would also be the first ritual she was doing with Owen and she didn't want to disappoint him. She was still a bit nervous when she pulled into his driveway.

Owen on the other hand was excited about his first Streghe ritual. Well, unless you counted the circle casting lesson, which had fascinated him. He met her in the driveway with a huge anticipatory grin on his face. She couldn't help but smile back at him. "Good Evening, big man."
"Good Evening, teacher." and he looked in the back of the truck expecting props then reached in to take the spool and top out and carry it in.
She slipped the wreath over her arm and grabbed the box and managed to get the cauldron in her fingers under the box. "Gosh, is it great to have help getting this inside. It took me 3 trips to get it to the truck."
He pushed the door open and set the spool down in the middle of the room. She set the box and small cauldron down. Then he walked to the kitchen and she followed. He had already opened the Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro. He poured her a glass and topped off his own. Then handed her the glass and raised his "Happy Solstice." She smiled raised her glass then they clinked glasses and she took a sip and raised her glass again as she had been taught by the German oh so long ago and said, "Happy Solstice."

As they walked back into the living room he stood back looking at that wire spool and plywood top and thought to himself, 'I should to get a slightly larger and nicer wood table.' And then he smiled. 'I know just the place the antique store had a beautiful table that had water damage. I wonder if it is still there.'
When she looked up from her ritual box she saw the smile and said, "Owen what in the world are you grinning about?"
"Oh, just excited about my first Streghe ritual."
She just smiled back at him and said, "I need to get into my robe. I assumed that you don't have one yet, so I have this one, which is probably too small but you might want to try it anyway. It's either that or you can slip into some dark sweats if you have them."
He took the robe and looked at it dubiously. It looked like it was large enough to go around him, barely. But he was sure it was going to be shorter than he wanted. What he said was, "OK, I'll try it on."
She grabbed her robe and went off to his bathroom then turned to him as he started up the stairs. "Oh Owen.... when you come back down, the only thing you should have on is the robe. Nothing underneath." Then she nonchalantly turned and walked to the bathroom to change, not letting him see her smile.
Well, he thought as he climbed the stairs, that should be interesting.

She quickly changed into her robe and took a few minutes to ground and center. Then she went into the living room and began taking the ritual items out of the box and setting the cauldron they would use in the north.

Owen came down the stairs a few minutes later. When she looked up, she had to smile. Just as she had thought, the robe fit him but snugly around the chest and it was short on him. Not quite as short as mid calf length but close.
"I don't know about this."
She walked over to him and said, "It will be fine for now. The one you ordered with be here soon. And come May 1st we go skyclad anyway."
And he thought, not that he was shy, that too should be interesting. Then she reached out for his cord which was hanging right down the center and adjusted it. He was glad that he had tied it a bit high on his waist. She said, "Men tie their cords to hang on their right side." Then she pointed to hers, lifted the ends and said "Women tie their cords on their left side."
He nodded, understanding and noting her cord color and the interesting thing she had done to the tassels on the ends.
"I have all the ritual items out, shall we set the altar?"

And she took the cloth and spread it over the spool transforming it and said, "out of the void". Then she placed the spirit flame with the pentacle under it. She reminded him that traditionally the bowl would go down first representing the spirit and the pentacle would go down after the God icons, but that she had taken to putting them down simultaneous, both the spirit and the substance of creation. Next she lifted the God icon and handed it to him indicating that he should place it on the altar and as he did she said "Desire preceded creation". Then she set the Goddess icon. The elemental bowls followed and the ritual tools, bell, blade chalice and before he knew it she was ready to cast the circle.
As she set the small evergreen wreath on the altar she said, "Do you have your offering?" And he walked over to the end table and grabbed a handkerchief.

"Have a seat." and she sat down on the floor crosslegged faster than he thought possible. He took his time watching that he didn't bust a seam on the robe and seated the length was even worse."
She just smiled to herself and continued. "I thought it best for us to go over the ritual before we start. I have the ritual printed out so you can follow along. If you were a bit further along in your training, I'd let you lead the ritual. All the rituals done in the God Year are typically led by the Priest, including the circle casting. But for now I think it best that I do it."
And he sighed and said "Thank you."
"Don't worry, I have a feeling that you are a natural."
"The ritual is written to be done in a group larger than 2 so we'll have to modify it a bit. But don't worry. This is one of the rituals that I have done with only one other Boschetto mate and then again with only 2 others. It works quite nicely with 2. Have you looked over the ritual?"
"Yes." in fact he had studied it like a mad man.
"Good, then I am hoping that you will do the part where the God taken around the circle and introduced to the Grigori." And then she showed him the few other modifications that they'd have to make so it would work with only 2 people. She placed a small brass cauldron in the north. She placed tucked the wine and extra spirit liquid under the altar cloth. Checked all the other supplies were in place. And then she said. "Ready to cast the circle?"
"I guess."
"I'd like you to help me set the quarter candles" and seeing his worry, said "I'll let you know what to do. Remember we always go around the circle clockwise when we are casting and during ritual and then counterclockwise when we take the circle down. Oh and one other thing. Mistakes happen. Don't freak out. The Gods understand and appreciate our worship. Being joyful is ok. Being worried about little mistakes is not joyful." Then she paused and said, "Owen, breathe." and he did. She smiled and then said, "Ready?" and he said, "Ready."

He watched as she lit the spirit flame using the ancient words and called to the Goddess and the God in Italian. He watched as she activated the elementals. Then put the end of her blade into the spirit flame and he marveled again how the flame clung to the blade for an instant before it went out. Then she laid out the circle, walking it 3 times, once with the blade pointing down, once with the blade straight out, once with the blade angled up. Then she returned to the south end of the round altar and then handed him a quarter candle and had him charge each and take it to the north, east, south, west. And he remembered how she had lifted them up as if a signal before she placed them down and he did the same thing while thinking that the next step was for her to call the Grigori. He got goosebumps.

She grabbed the bell and blade off of the altar using her right hand and lit a stick of incense from the fire elemental candle. Then she turned to him and said, "Follow me and hold the pose for each Grigori like I do." And he remembered to breathe and followed her as she walked clockwise around the altar and started at 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 made a sign in the air with her blade in her right hand and called to each Grigori in turn. "Tago!" and she held the posture with both hands at her side. Owen held his hands at his sides and actually closed his eyes. He felt like the Tago was breathing right into his face. She moved to the east and he opened his eyes to follow and she called "Bellaria!" and held the pose arms out. He mirrored her movement and closed his eyes again. And this time he felt a strong but more gentle presence smile at how his mind worked. She moved to the south and he followed and she called "Settrano!" and held her arms up posture and he did to. This time he felt a powerful, energetic, but joyful presence, one ready to take him by the arm and show him the way. She moved to the west and he followed and she called "Meana!" and cupped her hands left over right. He mirrored her movements and closed his eyes again. He felt a swirl of warm gentle energy around him and it was as if a kitten curled up in his hands. She walked a back around to the south end of the altar and tapped the end of the wand on the altar.

They had talked in depth about the mythos and the background of the ritual. He watched as she called to the God.
“We mark now, with this sacred gathering, the rebirth of the Sun God. It is the Great Mother who gives him birth. It is the lord of life born again. From the Union of our Lord and Lady, hidden in the Realm of Shadows, we receive now the Child of Promise." And he thought about how this whole process was a part of new beginning for him.

He watched her movements closely as she performed the Rite of Union to the God statue on the altar. Then said,
“We call forth now into the Portal of the Northern Power. We call the Ancient God. He who brought forth the beasts of the field and forest. We call upon the Ancient God, He who was beloved of our ancient tribes."
Then he watched as she paused before she said,
“My Lord, we greet You O horned One, horned with the rays of the Sun by whose blessings and grace shall life always be born again. Behold, Your witches are gathered!” and he realized that he was included in this. “Bless them and the days before them! These gifts do we give you.” And she smiled as she thought to herself, witches, plural. It's nice to be able to use the plural.

And she quietly picked a small bundle from under the altar cloth and walked to the small vessel she had placed on the northern edge of the circle. She stood made the triangle of manifestation over her offering and thanked the Gods for the gift of Owen and when she started walking back he reached for his offering and as he placed it into the vessel thanked the Gods for the gift of his teacher.

As he returned to her side she recited, “O most ancient provider, Lord of Light and Life, We pray You grow strong that we may pass the Winter in peach and fullness. Emanate Your warmth and Your love that the cold and harshness of Winter not dwindle your followers.
O Ancient One, hear us! Protect us and provide for during the harshness of these times. We give You adoration and place ourselves in Your care. Blessed be all in the God!"

She then moved into the Solstice Story:
"Now the time came, in the Hidden Realm of Shadows, that Tana would bear the child of the Great Dark Lord. And the Lords of the four corners came and beheld the newborn God. So it came to pass that the Great Lords were brought before the throne of the Dark One. And they spoke, saying, "Do we find You here, o Janus?" And the Great One replied "Yes, it is I. Now you have truly seen my two faces."
Then Tana spoke to the four Lords saying, "Take my son who is born of Janus, that he might bring life into the world. For the world has grown cold and lifeless." So the Lords of the four corners departed to the world of men, bearing the new Lord of the Sun. And the people rejoiced, for the Lord had come that all upon the earth might be saved.

She crouched down a bit in front of the altar and symbolically gave birth to the sun god. Then he reached down and lit the candle. They watched as it sputtered and then burned brightly. She formed a triangle of manifestation with her hands and he mimicked her. They honored the newborn light. She indicated that he should take the new born god around the circle.

As he did this he felt honored and a little silly, until he also felt the presences of each Grigori as they acknowledged the new light.

She had him set the candle on the altar in the center of the small evergreen wreath and on a small coaster hand made from the cross section of a small oak log.
"Let your spirits be joyful and your heart despair not. For on this sacred day is born He whose light shall save the World. He has come forth from teh Darkness and His Light has been seen in the east. He is Lord of Light & Life..."

She blessed the cakes, which were really Danish Wedding cookies, and then poured and blessed the wine. She took a sip and then handed him the cup, “Congratulations on your first ritual.” He was smiling as she said, ”I have something for you.” and pulled a 2 items from under the altar cloth. “This is a votive holder for your Lare shrine. I noticed you didn’t have one and were using a plate. It matches the one I have on my Lasa Shrine. I got 2 when I got mine a very long time ago. I also have this incense holder for your shrine. I no longer use it.”
He wasn’t smiling any more.
She saw his forehead and said, “You don’t have to use them if you don’t like them.”
“Oh… I like them. They are practical and simple and will work great for the shrine. I especially like that the candle holder is like the one on your shrine.”
She smiled at him and asked, “Ok, then why is your forehead wrinkled?”
“I didn’t get you anything.”
“Owen, don’t be silly. These things are things I have had for quite some time and haven’t used or don’t use any more. I just thought that tonight was the right time to offer them too you.” But his forehead was still wrinkled so she said: “Give me the gift of unwrinkling your forehead.”
And he smiled. Then he smiled a little more broadly, remember the round table idea of an altar.
“Better. Thank you. Have a cookie."
He smiled, took a cookie off the plate and said: "It's amazing how simple the ritual seems now that I have done it."
Nola smiled, "That's one of the reasons why doing it is so important. It is easier after you've done it. Even these simple alignments are powerful especially when the treguenda and veligone are done consistently. They build on each other and provide a framework for living and enjoying your life. 'Nothing is received unless something is given' is true. When I stopped to give worship to the Gods and to align with Nature, I got the gift of really learning to appreciate my life."

They spent some time talking about family holiday traditions. Nola said that her family was a "Christmas Eve" family, opening presents on Christmas Eve. "Until I was about 11 or 12 most of my family, grandparents, great aunts & uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins all lived within a single city block. My Gulf Coast grandparents would often come to New Orleans for Christmas. We were able to from house to house, through connected yards, never touching the public sidewalk. We opened presents at the giver’s house." Then she mused, "Hmm, I wonder if this is why my memory is geographical? I remembered who I got what present from by remembering where I was when I opened it." She said after presents, they went to church and there were always lots of Christmas Carols as a part of the service and then next day her family also did a huge, family, midday, sit down meal on Christmas day.

Owen remembered that his family did a large family gathering on Christmas Eve, then of course the obligatory church service, which occasionally even Papa Eric attended. In his family presents weren't opened until Christmas morning. Stockings were a big deal. Later in the day his aunts, uncles, cousins and friends would had meet at his Papa Eric's home and that's where the rest of the gifts would be opened with another more buffet type meal served once the presents were finished.
Nola said: "That sounds a lot like how James family does things. I didn't have a stocking until I joined James family. Getting a stocking was a big deal. Each stocking was uniquely decorated for the individual. It's strange how the holiday is the same, but it can also be so different."

The spirit bowl sputtered out again and Nola said, "I guess it is time to take down the circle." She added just enough fuel to the spirit bowl and relit it. As she picked up the spirit blade she nodded to Owen just to stay put and then she walked the circle and poured the energy back into the spirit bowl. He was amazed at how quickly the circle came down. And once it was down he was noticed quickly the temperature of the room cooled.

Nola sighed and said: "I'm going to change from my robe while the altar things cool off."
Owen decided that getting out of the ill-fitting robe sounded like a great idea and dashed up the stairs to change. By the time he was coming down the stairs Nola was already packing up the altar. How did she do that? Most women took forever to change.

She looked up as he entered and said, "Owen I was wondering if it would be OK to leave this box and the altar here at your house. I'd prefer not to have to drag these things around in the back of my truck."
"Sure, no problem." And he smiled as he remembered his idea about the table.
"Great." She stood up and picked up the chalice and wine glasses they had used before ritual and took them to the kitchen. She dropped the glasses on the counter. As she rinsed the chalice and dried it she said:
"I think tonight was a very successful, first ritual. How about you?"
"Oh yes, well except for that robe."
She smiled, "Well, here's hoping that the one you ordered arrives in the mail soon. Are you interested in doing a full moon ritual this weekend? The moon is actually full on Sunday. But I know there is a play off game on Sunday. We Streghe consider the moon full for 3 days. If I can’t do ritual on the middle, actual day I prefer the day before. So if you’re willing we can do it Saturday night."
He was stunned, “You’re planning Full Moon around an NFL Playoff game?”
She laughed at him, “I’m teaching you that Streghe consider the moon full for 3 days. And that the preferred day to do Ritual is the day before actual full because the energies are still building and not beginning to wane. I happen to think it’s appropriate for your first Full Moon. But, yes, I figure you’re a football fan and I’m planning around the game. I saw the 2006 reopening of the Superdome. I understand that football has its own mythic magic. So… are you interested?”
"Yes! Absolutely! I just assumed that you’d be busy with family."
"No, not really. I'm not the last minute shopper type. I'm on vacation. All my chores are done. All I have to do is bake some apple pies, which I can do with my eyes closed. Family gatherings are easy when they are right next door. It pays to live next to your in-laws. It is also understood by my family that they will see me on Christmas Eve, so they aren't any other family obligations I have to worry about."
As she walked around the counter and headed back to the ritual box so she could put the chalice in it, he realized that she was practically out of the door. The antique brass covered coal storage bin she used as a ritual box and the altar were staying but she was going.

She hooked her arm in his and started walking to the door. She felt somehow that she had to use what momentum she had to get out of the door or Owen would try to get her to stay longer. He relaxed as she hooked her arm in his and then as he walked with her to the door tried to think of a way to get her to stay. But given she would be back in 2 days, he couldn’t think of anything.

She reached up and kissed him on his check before she climbed in the truck. “Good night Owen, Happy Solstice. See you soon.”
“Good Night, Nola.”

She pressed the button to open the gate and drove off with a way. She was pleased and relieved that the ritual had gone well. You really never knew how the energy in the circle was going to feel. But tonight it felt good, comfortable, warm, relaxed. And she smiled remembering how that wasn’t always the case. But while Owen had been keyed up he had relaxed and shown himself to be a natural. And out loud she said, “Thank you Old Ones for the gift someone to practice with right here in my own city.” The new year and a new cycle had begun.

The night was crisp and cool and bright from the almost full moon. This wasn’t the great, white north. New Orleans didn’t have, well rarely had, snow or hard freezes. Winter cool was welcome in a way that summer heat could never be appreciated. Here it was the changing of the light that marked the season. It was either deep dark during the extended nighttime or strangely blue white in the moonlight. Sunlight was often almost painfully sharp and bright in the short daylight hours but the little bit of warm it provided in the cool dampness was usually welcome. They really wouldn’t notice the light beginning to return for another week or 2. But by the time Epiphany and King Cakes rolled around, spring would already be on its way.

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