It was the middle of May and Nola was struggling. Owen... Her student Owen... her friend Owen... her boyfriend as far as Owen's crew and family were concerned... and because he kept asking her to stay she had slept in his bed after the May Day Ritual... Owen, was messing with her head.
It was too much fun being with him. It was too easy, too relaxed, too natural. And then she smiled at herself because very few people would think the reason for their relationship was natural. She was writing an email to her teacher as a mind dump to help her sort out what was going on in her head and to provide enough background to get some help on what to do next. Owen was effectively acting as High Priest to her 3rd Degree Priestess. It was high time he was initiated. He hadn't even thought to ask about initiation. He was just learning and practicing and very happy about all of it. But considering the level to which they were taking the rituals it only seemed right to initiate him. The sooner, the better. One of the problems was that he was far too comfortable with her. Part of the initiation ritual was about using fear to open up the initiate. She was having a hard time imagining herself making Owen nervous or uncomfortable. The ritual might have to be modified. As she thought about it, she mentally asked the Grigori for help unsettling him just enough to open him up for the initiation. They heard her. She pressed send on the email and waited for a reply.
But she kept thinking about her student. She had asked for someone who she could fully practice the rituals and the universe had given her Owen. She should just be grateful and not complain. But Owen... Owen would creep into her thoughts at the oddest moments. She had been married for 17 years. She had been in love with her husband for at least 7 of those years, 10 if you counted the 3 before they got married. Even when he had broken her heart and made her miserable she had been in love with him. But for the last 10 years she had been in and out of love with him. She loved him. But in love? In love had been harder. Sometimes much harder. And now... It's hard to be in love with someone you can't fully trust with your heart. She had passed through a stage of being angry with James. She had passed through a stage of just not caring what he did or thought. She had moved to a state of numb acceptance with no real expectations for their relationship. What would be, would be. For awhile he had moved in and out of OK with the status quo of their marriage to upset with her for the status of their relationship. Then it was as if some light bulb had come on and he decided to be in love with her again. This Nola, who had held on to being in love and loving James for so long, found more than a little ironic because it was so out of sync with where she was. It was as if the universe had turned the tables. James wanted more from their relationship but was too content, too reluctant, too lazy, that might not be fair, too much in his own head, to take it to the next level and at every turn Owen seemed like he was upping the ante beyond the student teacher relationship. She sighed and asked herself who she was kidding. Owen was just being as thorough with and committed to his studies as he was with ever other aspect of his life. There was nothing special going on here. The fact that her marriage was good but less than perfect was, well, it was what it was. And Meana looked at Bellaria as if "What the..!!!' Nola had been doing so well. Bellaria shrugged as if to say, 'What more do you want me to do? I can help lead her to water. You have to make her drink.' And if Grigori could stamp their foot Meana did.
The answering eMail came back from her teacher. Her teacher was impressed with the fact that they were so consistently and completely doing the rituals and agreed that, given his level of participation and development and the fact that he wasn't a kid, taking him to 1st degree was OK. Stregheria didn't have the standard requirement of a year and a day. Most students took much longer than a year to get to first. Some never made it. Adjusting the 1st degree initiation was an option as long as key elements were maintained. Doing the initiation with more than one person was always best but her teacher was in the middle of a big move and couldn't come to New Orleans. Owen going to her teacher wasn't an option either because she was in the middle of a big move from one state to another and into a house that needed significant renovations. Too bad Owen wasn't working in Minnesota.
Her teacher was glad that Nola finally had someone to share the rituals. She knew how hard it was when there were no other Streghe around and she knew how Nola, how they both, cherished the chances she had to be in ritual with other Streghe. So initiating Owen made sense and she supported it.
And Nola thought, Good. Perhaps initiation was the way to get the teaching back on track. Not that it was really off track. It was just too… too… personal. But No, that wasn’t right. It was too… interwoven with how they were living their lives. And she heard Bellaria say, “And why is this bad?” Because I have a life I’m trying to maintain. Maintaining my actual life and Owen’s pretend life is too difficult. It’s not being his teacher. It's the rest of it. And she heard Meana say, "There are other options."
And she thought, "Yes, I can finish his training and stop pretending."
And Bellaria and Meana both shook their heads. And Tago counseled "Patience" again.
She would have to find out if initiation was what Owen wanted. This week was the time to ask.
Settrano couldn't be happier. Owen was on cloud nine and planning a pool party. He wanted to have all the guys and their dates over to celebrate the new pool and the addition of landscaping to their business. He had a few key clients he was inviting as well. No Lawnmower Landscaping had picked up 2 new jobs this week. His life was good. His business was good. Having Nola in his life was too much fun. And it was time to celebrate. He had picked the date for the party and just needed to confirm that Nola could be there. He could do that tomorrow when he saw her.
Nola pulled into the driveway and shut off the truck. Owen was on the phone inside making plans for his party and didn’t realize she was there. She got out and wondered around the garden looking at the plants and making sure there were no issues. Everything looked good. She ended up by the fountain. It was the soothing place she had envisioned it being. It tended to shade in the evening because of how the sun set. It felt like it had been there forever. It fit with the house. She was glad Owen had gone with a simple edged approach. It fit better with the working class neighborhood and the age of the house. She was sitting on the broad bench edge looking in the fountain. Was that a fish? No 2 fish! He had gotten 2 koi. Fun.
Owen had seen her truck and came out to find her, knowing that the garden always called. She was so wrapped up in the new fish he was able to sneak up on her.
“Oh!” and because he had surprised her she was a bit breathless. “Yes.”
And he put his arms around her. “Your heart is beating fast.”
“You startled me just a bit.”
“Oh I thought it was me.”
And she smiled at him wryly. “You are charming, but…”
“Oh” and he grabbed his heart in mock dismay, “after such a successful dinner.”
She laughed, “I’m assuming that your family had a good time and that all is well with mom.”
“Oh yes. Stella and Ryan get it and are considering letting Eric come and work with me. Probably not this summer. He has basketball camp. He wants to make the varsity team as a freshman. But I’m hopeful about next summer.”
“And my mom has relaxed significantly. She’s convinced I’m happy and since I have a female in my life, she’s content to let me stay here without undue grief.”
Nola laughed, “Happy to help.” And then changed the subject, “When
did you get the koi?”
“We got them last Friday. Eric picked them out and was responsible for the official release. It’s a good thing he’s gone home. I thought they were going to be fed to death.”
She laughed again, “They are fun to watch. And I hear they can be trained to come and take food from your hands. They can have unique personalities.”
“We’re talking about fish.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Well you’re trainable, student. Why wouldn’t nature’s other creatures be trainable? You should try it.”
“You are comparing me to a fish?”
She laughed again, “I reminding you that you are only a part of the Web of Life.”
And he laughed, “Yes, Yoda.”
And she laughed because it was not the first time someone had called her Yoda.
She smiled and thought this is as good a time as any to talk about initiation. “Owen, have you thought about being initiated?”
“Oh you’re changing the subject?”
“Well not really. I’m talking about your training. Have you thought about being initiated?”
“Sure. But I figured I needed a year and a day.”
“Stregheria doesn’t have the year and a day rule.”
“Really?” And he did sound very interested.
“Initiation can be done if the student wants it and the teacher thinks the student is ready.”
“Well, if I need to go on the record officially, I want it.”
“Well, as your teacher and, considering your level of participation, I think that you are ready.”
“Yes. If you agree I was planning on initiating you to first the next full moon.”
“Yes if it is ok with you.”
“Absolutely!” and he pulled her into a hug and said, “Come on let’s go inside and celebrate with a toast.”
“Owen….” but his enthusiasm was impossible. He took her by the hand and headed down the path, into the kitchen and opened the Prosecco.
She prepared herself as he poured.
He handed her a glass and said, “To first degree initiation!” and then clinked her glass and they took sips. He completely forgot about the kiss and she smiled at him as he said, “So what do I have to do?”
“Have you read the dedication rite in the manual?”
“Well you need to find some rue, which can be difficult as it is hard to grow down here. And then you should do the dedication rite on the Sunday before the Full Moon. I really should have had you do it earlier.”
“I did my dedication in my backyard in August. The mosquitoes were impossible. We had a small wading pool for Jamie and after the rite I slipped into the pool to stop the mosquitoes from eating my bare flesh right off my bones. Getting into the pool caused ripples in the water but I stayed still for a while and the surface calmed. There was this incredibly bright white light reflecting in the pool. At first I thought it was a street or house light. I tried moving around to the adjust the brightness of the light. Then because I was listening for the universe’s response to my dedication, I was still again, which isn’t always easy for me. I realized the bright light was the moon reflecting in the pool. What I realized then was that I needed to learn to be still and listen. In the process of trying to get rid of the interference of the world, the non-existent street light, I had disturbed the water and had to be still again so that I could listen and hear the answer in the reflection of the moon. It’s been a theme for me through out my experience as a Strega.”
And he was entranced and intrigued by the story and wondered what his would be like. Then he realized that he had Prosecco and that he had broken tradition and kissed her. She was still remembering her own dedication and unprepared.
“Whew. You really shouldn’t do that when I’m not ready. I thought you had forgotten.”
He smiled "I had for a minute. But you were so … I don’t even know… I hope my dedication is a good as yours seemed to be.”
And what could she do but smile at that, “Me too.”
He beamed back, “Just how hard is it to get rue?”
“Hard. But you should spend some time trying to track it down. Perhaps there is somewhere in your yard it can be successfully grown. I’ve only had luck with it once. It does not like our summer heat.”
“Oh. Can I do it without the rue?”
“I don’t recommend it.”
“Oh, so it’s like a test.”
“Well I don’t think it was intended to be, but it can be. It has been for others.”
“Well, what if I can’t get the rue?”
“Do you want to be initiated?”
“Get the rue.” And she smiled at him because she had already requested that her teacher send some from her upper MidWest garden where rue grew like a weed. It was literally in the mail. She could drop it at his house sometime on Sunday. A little bit of fear would be good for the process.
“But what….” and she put her finger on his lips. “You’ll figure it out.”
“But that’s….” and she put her finger back on his lips. “I know this isn’t a typically pagan saying but, have a little faith.”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“Ok.” And his brain started buzzing with all the people he now knew that provided landscaping and he began to make a mental list of who he needed to talk to. She just smiled and sipped her Prosecco and then she said. “You want to make a list or some phone calls?”
And he looked at her as if she had read his mind. “How did?... Yes.”
“Go ahead. I’m going to wander around and look at your library shelves.”
He smiled walked with her to the library and then bee lined it for his office. He came out to find her not in the library but out by the koi.
She smiled at him. “I found the fish food. I thought I’d give training a try. The one with only the orange spot on its head seems to be getting the hang of it. Watch.” And she moved her hand over the pond and the one fish followed it. When she dropped the pellet into the fountain the fish gobbled it up.”
“Fish training.” And he shook his head because it did seem like the fish understood the reward process.
“Well is your rue secured?”
“No, but I have options in play. We’ll see.”
She nodded. “You also have to figure out what your initiate circle name will be.”
“But I like Owen and its link to the tradition.”
She smiled, “Well, I do too, but it is traditional to have a circle name. Is there some animal or herb or concept or stone or even color that has always seemed aligned with you?”
“Well sometimes the color is a color and a stone name like Jet or Amber or Carnelian. Sometimes the names of animals are combined with herbs or stone names. People get creative. Often Latinized names of animals are used. Italian names have been used as well. You’ll have to think about it.”
“Well not for most pagans. Lot’s of folks have names that they have used in the past. But I admit it was a bit of a test for me.”
“Because I had always been happy with my name and being me. I never wanted to be anyone else. It was hard to say that I was committing myself to something and then to do it under a different name. But the name I chose was right for me. My 3rd degree initiation proved that.”
“Really?” and he looked at her expectantly.
And she smiled at him as she said, “No, I am not going to tell you the story. But I will tell you that if you choose something to which you have always had a natural alignment it will be fine. And if you decide you want to change your circle name you can. But don’t choose arbitrarily. Spend some time thinking about it.”
“Ok.” And he sat there before he said, “You are sure loading me up with things to do aren’t you?”
And she nodded. “It is your initiation. I think that’s fair. You’ll need the other items as well: Ivy, salt, water, wine.”
“Well salt and water and wine shouldn’t be too hard. But I don’t know about ivy.”
And she smiled. “You’ll figure that out too. I was in Wisconsin when I was initiated and was sent out to find ivy in a place I'd never been before in my life. I ended up driving around and pulling it off a brick fence in front of some stranger's house. It works out.”
“Ok, so rue, a circle name, ivy. Anything else?”
“No, I can take care of the rest. I’ll see you on Monday.” And she brushed off her hands and got ready to leave.
“Wait, you just got here!”
“You have things to do and think about. I will be back on Monday.” And he saw that she had her purse in her hand and that she was determined but, damn it, she wasn’t supposed to be leaving. He took her arm, “Nola, please stay a little longer.”
“No, Owen. I am leaving. You’ll be fine. Think about what we’ve talked about. Prepare. I’ll be back on Monday.” and she looked down at his hand and he released her arm. She ran her hand on his cheek because his face looked more like big disappointed man face rather than a 10 year old. And she kissed his cheek and said, “I promise.” And turned and walked quickly to her truck leaving him standing at the fountain.
“She promised, son.”
“Yes I heard her.”
“You have things to do and think about to get ready. You’re being initiated.”
“Yes.” And he perked up a bit. “Yes I am.” Then his shoulders slumped again. “But she wasn’t supposed to leave so soon.” And he got up and went back into the library.
“Why not? Do you have her on some kind of timer? Did she agree to spend all evening with you once a week or to teach you? Are you sure you aren’t thinking of her like a toy?”
“Now Pop, that’s not right! And you know it. Nola is not a toy. She’s a warm, loving, wonderful woman. I know she’s not a toy.”
“I see. And she has free will too. Just like you. And if she isn’t a toy she can come and she can go. She didn’t ask you for anything. She is preparing to give you initiation. Yet you mope. What is the problem?”
“Damn it! I don’t know.” And he stomped back through the kitchen out the back door. Pulled his clothes off and dove into the pool. 30 minutes of laps later he was trudging up the stairs to shower. As he stepped and grabbed the soap he remembered his birthday and there she was back in his head again.
“Why do you think that it, son?”
“Because the sex is great and I’d be an idiot not to think about it.”
“Well that’s one reason.” And Papa Eric looked with dismay at Bellaria.
He quickly soaped up and rinsed off. He went back downstairs to make dinner and ate it in silence. As he sat he thought about a circle name and found himself thinking about Nola’s circle name. And the perfect circle name came to him. He went to his office and used Google to look up the Italian form and he smiled at its similarity to his own. Bellaria smiled knowing it would give Nola more than a little bit to think about. She nodded to Tago who nodded and smiled to Papa Eric. Patience.
It was Sunday and he couldn’t find the damn rue. He had one last chance and was taking a ride to a nursery on the West Bank. The rue had arrived from her teacher late Friday afternoon in the mail. Nola had opened it and made sure that there were snips of rue for Owen’s dedication. She had also potted the root balls in the hope that she could get some started in Owen’s yard. It just felt like the right time to drop it off at Owen’s so she told Jamie where she was going and drove to Owen’s and was relieved to see his truck wasn’t there. She left the rue on the doorknob of the kitchen door and just to be on the safe side she put the potted plants next to the front door near some other potted plants. She figured that he would panic and call if he couldn’t find any. So far, no call. Perhaps he had already found the rue. But she also knew that he was taking this as a test and wouldn’t want to give up until he had no other choice.
She drove off before Owen started crossing the bridge back from the West Bank. He had failed. He was going to have to call her and say he couldn’t find the rue. He pulled into his driveway and moped to the kitchen door. What was that on the door knob? He opened the package it had a Wisconsin return address. Rue. He looked around and said out loud, “That woman." How did she do that? She sent me on a wild goose chase when she had the damn stuff on its way all along. Then he smiled as he realized that she had made certain he had what he needed to complete the dedication ritual.
It was after 11PM. The moon was up high in the sky. Owen was in his backyard naked and he had the book with the ritual and the things he needed including the rue. He was now worried that he wouldn't hear the appropriate response. Dogs barking happened often enough and he figured he could sit outside in the pool or jacuzzi all night if he needed. He completed the dedication and slipped into the pool. He looked for the moon's reflection, found it and waited. The night was quiet, he had been sitting for about 15 minutes it was quiet when he heard a strange clop, clop, clop from the street. What was that noise? It sounded like a French Quarter carriage. They usually weren't in the Marigny or the ByWater. Clop, Clop, Clop. "'Yup!" and a bit faster clop, clop, clop and then a horse neighed.
"Well there you go, son. You got your answer."
And a dog barked at the horse. "2 for one, pop." And he smiled and relaxed.
Nola was planning on doing the initiation outside. She thought that changing up the location would help shake him up a little bit. There was a round table on the back porch that she could move outside. And she thought being near the pool could also add a bit of fear to the process. Her plan was to have him wait in the downstairs bathroom until she was ready. She figured that changing into her robe and setting up and casting the circle would take no more than 30 minutes. By this time he should be good and impatient which she hoped would also increase his anxiety. The fact that he was so comfortable with her was something she was trying to work around. She arrived in his driveway on Monday a little after 9PM.
As soon as she pulled in he opened the backdoor. He was smiling.
As she got out she said, "I take that smile as an indication that the dedication ritual went well."
"Yes, it did. Thank you for the rue. How did you know when I wouldn't be here?"
"Witchy wiles." And he gave her a hug. "That was sneaky."
"Well I wanted to make sure that you had what you needed. There are also some potted plants on your front porch that I need you to keep watered until I figure out where to try them in your garden. I'm thinking that since rue is a God plant that they might grow better here at your house."
"On the front porch? I didn't see that."
"I dropped them there yesterday. Can you keep them watered for me?"
"How did I miss them?"
"Well they are tucked behind the other large pots."
She smiled, "They were well watered, as long as they are watered with the other pot plants until I can get them in the ground they'll be OK."
"OK." And he waved toward the kitchen door.
"So tell me about your dedication, what did you hear? A dog bark?"
"Yes" and he smiled again "after the horse neighed a dog barked at it."
And he laughed, "Cool, huh? A French Quarter carriage must have been going down my street. I heard the clop of his hooves. The driver was urging the horse along and the horse neighed and the dog barked at it."
"Well... I guess we can count that. But technically those are mules."
"Aw! Come on. What's the chance that anything would neigh in a city neighborhood in this century?"
And she laughed because she was kidding, "Slim I admit. You can definitely count both."
"So I'm cleared for initiation?"
"Well what do I do?"
"You go into your downstairs bathroom, get undressed, dim the lights and wait for me until come and get you."
"You're locking me in the bathroom."
"Is that possible? Can I lock you in the bathroom?" she said teasingly.
"From the outside? No."
"So I'm not locking you in the bathroom. But if you come out before I come in to get you.... No initiation."
"Well unless the house is on fire. You can come out if the house is on fire."
"Owen I have things to do to set up the circle and prepare for your initiation. Typically this is not done at the initiate's home. So it makes set up a bit easier. There are also typically other initiates around to help. I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances and what I really need is for you to cooperate."
"Ok." And he sighed, "That sounds reasonable. But why can't I wait in the upstairs bathroom. That is where we have the altar and your Harry Potter box?"
"You can't because I say you can't. You're going to stay in the downstairs bathroom until I come and get you. Ok?"
"Ok. Here." And she dug a small bag out of her purse and 4 small ritual items. You'll need these."
"What are these for?"
"I'll tell you after initiation. Now get in there, get undressed, dim the lights and wait. OK?"
"But first I need to get my robe from the closet."
"Wait, you get to wear a robe and I don't?"
"Well...." And she waited and watched as he tried to figure out what to say then decided to say nothing. She smiled, grabbed her robe and then he stepped into the bathroom and she started to close the door.
"How long will I be in here?"
"Until I come and get you." And she closed the door.
She went outside to the porch and moved the table to the patio. The moon was perfect. Then she slipped upstairs as quietly as possible and brought down the ritual box. She changed into her robe in the kitchen, then did the Rite of Union to settle down before she set the altar. She was glad that Owen was keeping his ritual blade in the ritual box. She would need the extra blade it to open the circle to get out and let him in. She set up the altar and made sure she had what she needed inside the circle and then slipped back to the kitchen to make sure the path was clear to the back patio. She cast the circle and then cut it open and closed it behind her and went to get Owen.
When she got him out of the bathroom he was definitely appropriately anxious. Doing the ritual outside helped a great deal. She could tell that he had not expected this. The initiation went well. She knew from previous rituals and his experience casting the circle that the Grigori had already accepted him. His circle name was a surprise. She'd have to ask him why he chose it and if he had intentionally aligned it with hers.
He was in the bathroom getting dressed and she was slipping into her street clothes in the kitchen. She would let him pick the circle items up after she left. He was coming out of the bathroom as she was folding her robe. "Well how do you feel?"
"Glad that it's over. I had no idea what to expect."
"Well it's kind of designed that way."
"I thought you were going to toss me in the pool."
"Well... it was an option, but I thought better of it. I didn't see any reason to risk drowning you." she teased again.
"Thanks." And he smiled knowing she was kidding.
"What made you choose that particular circle name?"
"You like it?"
"Well… yes, but what drove you to choose it?"
"Well you said to choose something that I've always had a natural alignment with and I thought about the number of times folks had commented on my animal like form," and he smiled and she smiled because she liked his burliness "and then I thought about your circle name and I liked the way they fit together."
And she nodded. "It suits you."
"Can you pick up the ritual items outside for me?"
"Sure.... Wait... you're leaving?"
"Because, I came to initiate you. You are definitely initiated. My work here is done."
"But it's early."
And she laughed "It's after 11PM and I have to go to work tomorrow. You are just spoiled because most of the time I end up staying until 1AM. "
"But...." and he couldn't think of anything to say.
"You'll figure it out eventually, son."
And he thought, "You are not helping, pop!"
"Congratulations." And she kissed him on the cheek and he hugged her and said, "I don't want you to leave yet."
"You'll survive until next time. See you soon."
"She has to leave, son."
And knowing that she would be back on Thursday he said the only thing he could, "Ok, see you Thursday."