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One really tries to remain open and receptive, to keep the cultus fresh and alive and vibrant. So when things get unexpectedly wonky, it really shouldn’t be unexpected, I guess. But sometimes it still knocks you sideways.
I was cleaning my Apollon shrine on the 7th of Boidromion, as one does. I confess I don’t always get to the shrines on exactly their correct day, although they do all get cleaned every moon phase, but I was on target this day and just lumping along happily and not one bit attuned to any thunderclouds. I did, in retrospect, have a moment of ‘This may not be too bright’ as I set the statues of Apollon and Dionysos on the weight bench, but I waggled them and they seemed steady enough, and hey, I was only going to be gone a second to grab the furniture polish and cloth.
On my way back in I saw a bigass spider scuttling across the floor, as it happens right in front of the Athena shrine. The cats were perking up, so I ran to get the humane catcher, and I guess the vibrations of my large-ish self thumping on the floor was enough to do it. The statues both crashed to the floor. Dionysos doesn’t have a scratch on him. But my beautiful, beloved statue of Apollon shattered beyond any hope of repair.
I got the spider outside and then sat for a while among the wreckage, too stunned to react. Finally I got the broom, and as I was sweeping, realized the shield was still intact. I picked it up and put in on the shrine, wondering if it could stay there as a remnant of the beauty that was now in shards all around me. I noticed the hand was still attached, and picked it up to take a closer look. It slipped out of my hands and crashed, hard, onto the piano keys, with more force than seemed possible.
Okay, so no.
As omens go, this is about as dire as it gets.
Being way too close, and too shaken, I didn’t even try to divine this one myself, and called on a mantis whom I trust, and the response was less awful than I feared.
But you don’t take this kind of portent lightly, if you’re a portent-heeding sort, and I am. So I’m taking a lot more notes than usual, in addition to this less detailed more public blogging thing, and proceeding a lot more mindfully.
I’ve got a gorgeous cut-glass lotus where the statue used to stand. Dio is elsewhere. Artemis is still there. The shrine is still beautiful, but the absence of that statue hits me like a hard slap every single time I approach it.
I’m sorry I listen so poorly that He had to do something like that to get me to pay better attention.
As a lead-in to the Mysteries, which start later this week, and will this year be deeply focused on cleansing, purity and protection, it’s a big Slap Yo Priestess and Get Her Focused moment.
A big hawk flew over me and my coffee this morning, crying loudly and repeatedly. Still pondering that one. Any ornithomancers who might like to chime in will be heeded carefully.
The always wonderful Dver has challenged us to spend the next month writing about devotional activities instead of the latest flavor of Polytheist Drama. Since I’m completely at sea about the latest drama (other than it involves fascism, racism and other nasty isms), this is a great opportunity to a) continue to stay out of the online polytheist dramas and b) spend time writing about devotional activities.
It’s sadly true that devotional activities don’t create much of a stir in the blogosphere, but that’s okay. It’s still great stuff to write about, and I know that I, for one, am often inspired, titillated and humbled by what other polytheists are willing to share about their experiences. And my blog has been getting dusty. And it’s good to write about things other than the book (which is finished! SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!! Now in the editing phase before it goes to the aforementioned fabulous Dver for formatting and whatever editing I can coax her into doing) and rants.
So, it’s Boidromion, always a bittersweet month for me. It’s so hard to let go of summer, and this summer was so fast that I’m even more whiny than usual about losing it. It was a great summer, mind you, and time always speeds up as one ages, and I’m on the topside of middle age now. It’s required for crones to make creaky depressing noises about the passage of time. This autumn is coming early. On September 1st it was cool, with crickets drowning out the cicada song, and a flutter of gold leaves down the lane. The pool is still swimmable, but getting alarmingly chilly, even though the daytime sun is still hot. The mares are starting to get thicker coats. The herb garden is exploding in a glory of orange and red.
Honestly, if autumn weren’t so glorious, I’d never survive summer’s passing. The Gods are good to arrange seasons thus.
So this Deipnon I did the usual stuff. I swept the floors during the bright afternoon, and took the detritus to the Hekate area at the end of the driveway, the 3-way crossroads. I didn’t fast- haven’t for a long time now. I should get back to it. It was a really really good devotional activity, physically and spiritually.
Later in the evening I washed meticulously, cleaned the shrine with love, and burned two incenses- sapphire for devotion, and a cone of Dver’s Dark Woods which is awesome. Then I trudged out into the moondark night with my offerings of an ear of corn, buttered and salted, 3 of the prettiest organic strawberries I could find, 3 pomegranate dark chocolates, and some wine. Now, I rarely offer wine on the Deipnon. I celebrate it as a kthonic event, Hekate wearing a variety of masks but primarily as the Guide of the Dead, and Goddess of ghosts and magic. I love to offer raw milk, but don’t get up to PA as often as I used to, so usually offer plain water from my good well (and its good well wight.) But tonight I felt nudged to go with the wine I bought to offer to both Demeter and Hermes for completing the book (Stampede, by 14 Hands Winery with its beautiful label of horses.) Dithered over what chalice to use, and was rather strongly guided to the pottery cup with an owl on it.
I left the old dog in, to his disappointment, as I don’t think the chocolates would be good for his old self, but both my girl cats came out with me. They love ritual. It was a strange night. There was a light veil of thin cloud drawn over the glittering sky, and it seemed to catch an awful lot of light. I live in a formerly rural area, which still looks rural from my place but is becoming increasingly surrounded with civilization, including several towns and a big prison less than 10 miles away, all of which emit too much ambient light. It all seemed to get caught up in the clouds, so over the dark, star-studded night was this strange glowing skein of light.
I bypassed Tyr, standing sentinel in the corner of the orchard, and opted to enter it by way of the Gates of Avalon, two apple trees which gave up the ghost this past winter, standing bare and forlorn. We’re going to have to take them down, which makes me sad. As I passed between them, one of them reached out with its bonefinger and flicked me in the face, hard. I needed it. I was going into the sacred space with too much monkey brain chatter, not the calm, clear, receptive mindset required. I stopped in the middle of the orchard and spent some time just breathing, letting go all the mundane thoughts, letting the sky and trees and loud cricket song take over. When I was ready I went the rest of the way down the driveway.
In the grass, right before the place where I lay the offerings, there was a light slowly brightening and dimming, over and over. A firefly, bravely pushing back against death, sending its message of light into the world defiantly with its last bit of energy. How perfect for the night of Hekate Phosphoros, with Her torches held high. He guided me right in.
I’ve spent a lot of time during the last year trying to dig down into Gnothi Seaton, really Knowing Myself. Who is my true self, and does that self have anything at all to do with the Suz I’ve been becoming for almost 6 decades now? It’s a much harder question than I thought it would be when I was a young woman. What I keep coming back to is the thrumming, expansive feeling of ekstasis I get when I’m in ritual. Not always. Not even most of the time. But sometimes, and as time goes by, it happens more. That singing jolt of connection that dissolves the barriers, and lets Them all the way in.
It didn’t happen for long during this Deipnon ritual, but even a few seconds is enough to keep the current active, and deepening. I poured my heart out to the Goddess, so much thanks and praise, gratitude and love, worship and ongoing devotion. Ivy was at my feet, crying so sweetly that it sounded like a song. I think she was offering praise too. I so love Hekate. I hold to the ancient proscriptions about lingering after laying down the offering, and not looking back, so after I finished thanking Her I set down her meal, and left. But I paused back in the middle of the orchard, and there it was, the ecstasy. Just for a bit. Then Marley wrapped herself around my ankles, and we all went companionably back to the house.
It’s strange how I live for those moments of connection, but can’t yet live in them. Maybe it’s a mortal thing. I never know when I’m going to hit it. It’s usually at night, and I tend to associate it with the numinous places on my farm because that’s where I spend so much time, but it’s also happened at the beach, and in the mountains, and in the desert. And during the day. Earlier this year, and I can’t even remember what festival I was celebrating, but damn, it was thrilling. I was cutting irises to give as an offering, and there, under the golden sunshine of the early afternoon, my arms filled with fragrant purple blooms, I was bathed in so much divine love that I could feel my outlines blurring and softening, the magnetic force that holds my cells in Suz shape starting to let go, dissolving me into a blinding shaft of unity that made my blood sing. And it went on and on, way longer than I usually get. It was amazing. I live for those moments.
And yet in a way, I don’t. Maybe that’s a mortal thing too, the fact that we get such a relatively short time to taste and wallow in the specific tactile pleasures (and challenges) of being a mortal with a mortal lifespan, and if we spent too much time disappearing into one god or other, we would just let go. I hit these heights, and then come thumping back to earth with a bubble bath, a book, chocolate, stream some Firefly or Dr. Who. It’s wonderful too, the coming back to earth, but I’m puzzled sometimes at how I soar, then flee to a small, comfortable, manageable joy. Maybe on some level I’m reasserting my place as a still-living servant of the Gods, and distancing myself from the rapture that dissolves.
So, that was Deipnon. This is a big month for me. Even though I’m not teaching this year, there’s the autumn work of getting the barn filled with hay, the wood room stacked with (non-spidery, please gods) wood, getting ready for my Utah trip, training for the run, planning Mabon with Gabs, starting to put the gardens to bed, and most of all, planning this year’s Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, one of the high points and most involved, deep rituals of my annual festival cycle. Now it’s time to go let the mares out, and hit the bubble bath.
Maybe spend some quality time in the orchard, under the stars, and see if I can tap in to the Noumenia energy.
I’d link Dver’s blog post but as usual I’m too technodeficient to figure out how to do it on WordPress. Copying and pasting the link doesn’t do anything. Heh.
He stood where I was used to seeing him. As usual he gave no indication of being aware of me. I felt sheepish, but took a deep breath and plunged on. ‘Hi, I’m Suz.’ Silence. ‘I just wanted to – um – say hello. Introduce myself.’ Still nothing. ‘Okay. Have a nice day,’ I managed, and foxtrotted away.
The next day it was as if he hadn’t moved. This time I said nothing, just paused next to him for a few moments, let myself get absorbed in the pastoral scene ahead of us, then nodded to him and went on about my day.
This continued for a long time, until it became the norm. At some point I stopped feeling ignored. The silence became what we did, no judgment attached. I honestly don’t remember how long it was before I felt his eyes actually focus on me for the first time. And it wasn’t for long. I saw him see me, and just for a moment his eyes crinkled merrily at me, and then it was back to the pleasant complete disassociation with my presence.
Don’t you love eyes that crinkle like that when they smile?
From that time I stopped having even the slightest angst about whether or not he would ever actually speak to me. We shared the same space for a little time on most days, and that was enough.
I got in the habit of leaning on him sometimes, just lightly. He’s big, and sometimes it’s windy. I don’t remember for sure if it was wind that prompted it. But it felt natural, and he was clearly fine with it.
In a summer dusk I stood close, but not touching him. We were watching the fireflies spiral up like sparks from a bonfire, up from the shaggy grass and into the soft dark tree line. The stars weren’t out yet, and the sky was a vivid unsettling mauve. A finger tentatively touched my hair and withdrew.
‘Hello,’ he murmured. I smiled into the twilight and didn’t reply.
The stars came forward. The night breathed in. As I turned to go I felt that little touch again.
‘Good night,’ I said.
One autumn evening I found him on his knees peering myopically at the grass. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked as I approached.
He blinked at me. ‘You see close things better than I,’ he said. ‘Do you see something here?’
I knelt down beside him. The chilly grass around us was alight with dying fireflies, gleaming and fading so slowly. I told him what they were, and we knelt there together for a while, our knees getting soaked.
‘Why are they here?’ he asked me at last.
‘Maybe they like you,’ I replied. ‘Be in the presence of those in whose company you’d be proud to die and so forth.’
His brows twitched, then smoothed.
We danced together in the full moonlight of winter. At least I danced, while he hummed and swayed as I twirled breathlessly around him. I stopped, panting, my hands on my knees, and threw back my head to look up at the sky. He was staring down at me with two moon-shaped possum eyes. I shrieked and clutched my chest.
‘What the hell?’ I demanded.
He grinned a white feral grin.
One fine spring day I found him splendidly decked out, preening as I approached.
‘Whoa,’ I said admiringly. ‘Nice.’
As I got closer I got a whiff of something pungent. ‘Dude! You may want to rethink that fragrance.’
His eyebrows shot up, then drew together.
‘Why does everyone say that?’ he said, half to himself. He sniffed, hunched a shoulder at me. ‘I like it.’ And I got no more out of him that day.
I ran up to him in the rain, thrumming with excitement, so eager to share my good news that I didn’t care about the cool drizzle plastering my hair in soggy strands across my face.
‘Guess what?’ I shouted as I neared him. He was staring off over the heads of the trees, eyes unfocused.
‘Hey!’ I skidded to a stop in front of him. He didn’t look at me. ‘Hey,’ I said again, patting, then tapping, then thumping on his shoulder.
No response. Finally I stalked away, half expecting or hoping that he would call after me. But he didn’t.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked him not long after he began speaking to me. It was one of many questions I asked him to which he did not reply. Long after I had given up hoping for an answer he said thoughtfully, ‘Tyr,’ as we watched a herd of deer drift like ghosts across the pasture.
I was watching the lame doe lurch after one of her recalcitrant twins. ‘What?’ I said, wincing.
‘You can call me Tyr,’ he replied.
I stopped watching the deer and gaped at him. ‘Is that your name?’
He crinkled his eyes at me. ‘No. It’ll do, though.’
Most of the time he’s maddeningly laconic. But sometimes he surprises me. We spent the better part of one Summer Solstice night arguing the difference between introspection and narcissism, and how xenia and common courtesy affect them both. I can’t even remember now who took what positions, but after the discussion heated up and cooled down I whacked him in the ribs and told him he was an inflexible ogre, and he poked me in the belly and called me a callow dilettante. We grinned at each other.
I sighed one day as we stood together. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked.
I thought about it. ‘I don’t know,’ I said.
He contemplated me for a while. ‘You miss your kids,’ he pronounced.
I was taken aback. ‘I don’t know if that’s it.’
‘Yes,’ he said. He put his arm around me. I leaned into his trunk. A few tender leaves brushed my cheek.
Bees buzzed in the clover at our feet.
We don’t like thinking about Love. We think we like it. We tell ourselves we like it. But Love makes us so uneasy, so fearful, so desperate, that we put lots of rules around it, and try to tame it. It’s too wild, too dangerous, too destructive. But if we define it as thus-and-such, and rule out any form that doesn’t conform with the safe, acceptable mask firmly in place, maybe we can confine it, constrict it, keep it pretty but fangless, bloodless, pain-free, tamed.
It’s good that we teach our kids, boys and girls but in these days it’s okay to add more emphasis to the girls- as always, they’re in greater danger- that Love should be a Positive Thing, and that they need to have their own boundaries in place, and the necessary tools and practice so that they learn to maintain those boundaries under pressure. But it’s a process, and only useful so long as one keeps its parameters in mind. One can define a ‘healthy love relationship’ in fairly concrete forms, at least as each person to some degree modifies it subjectively, but who the hell really thinks that all love is healthy and positive?
Love is not patient. Love is not kind. It does envy, and boast, and hurt, and lash out, and shatter. Sometimes. Love is wonderful, but it is also ghastly. Super-damaged people can love. They probably don’t love well, or appropriately, or according to anyone else’s moral code. But most people are capable of love of some sort, and experience it in some fashion, even if it’s twisted and awful. Even when the outcome isn’t happily ever after.
I recently read a Facebook meme about Romeo and Juliet. You’ve seen it, I’m sure. How anyone who’s actually read it knows it’s not a love story but a dysfunctional saga about two deluded kids who get dead and dead everyone around them. It’s a popular stance. Pretty much any time I taught R&J I could count on parents winking at me conspiratorially and sotto voce-ing about how annoying the angst and drama of teenagers can be. I get it, I guess, but I disagree. You’d have to completely skim it, not read it in any sort of depth at all, to come away with such a facile comprehension. It’s a classic myth in its depiction of Love. Fiery, all-consuming, ecstatic and sometimes cataclysmically destructive. I’m forcing myself to resist the impulse to quote Juliet’s witty sophisticated flirting at the masquerade, her heart-soaring impatient longing, then her shattering honesty at the balcony, the journey she makes in such a short time from little girl to young woman. (I confess to finding her more interesting than him, but he’s a sweetie too.) Anyone who thinks a 13 year old can’t be in love never experienced it. The passion of the awakening young is full and rich and drowning and gorgeous. I’m so sorry for those who missed out on it. It was agonizing and wonderful. Fortunately most of us survive it, and the fact that we grow up, cool down and move on does not mean it wasn’t real.
Real love can and often does strengthen and grow into a lifelong commitment. I’m so grateful to have found a lover with whom I got to experience the hot melty youthful lust, and the steady fires of decades of monogamous entwining. I like that Love looks that way to us. This is some good Love.
But it’s not the only Love.
Heathcliff and Cathy were not good Lovers. But wow. There’s all sorts of sturm und drang over the recently popular Twilight lovers (in addition to ‘real vampires don’t sparkle!!!!!!’ which makes me giggle uncontrollably, there’s lots of suppositions of stalker-ish behavior which modern folks translate into It Can’t Be Love) and the horrible Shades of Grey which still somehow taps into an almost ubiquitous longing for Love. Which may or may not come with whips and chains and nipple clamps. NOT LOVE proclaim many modern feminists, since anything with Power Over cannot be Love.
(Disclaimer- I’m a modern feminist. Just not always in lockstep with my brothers and sisters in feminism.)
Maybe it can’t be Love for everyone. Maybe it can’t be for you. Maybe you’re too well-adjusted to permit power inequity, jealousy, mental instability or poor judgment to cross your good boundaries. I applaud this. I’ve worked hard to achieve this. I’m reasonably sure that destructive unhealthy Love is unlikely to make it over my hard-built battlements ever again.
But fucked-up people love too. Adolescents love. Old people love. Inappropriate people love. MacBeth, that bloody psychopath, and his terrifying vicious wife are atrociously, irrevocably in love. Scarlett and Rhett. Didn’t last, but Love isn’t always forever. Jane and Rochester. Happy ending notwithstanding, talk about a social and power inequity. He’d be pilloried in the press today.
We ‘reclaim’ the old myths, turn the Kore and Hades into a romance with an oppressive mother, not an abduction, because we can’t bear for Love to be so terrible. We find ways to demonstrate compliance in the many mortal and semi-divine women in myth because we can’t get past the rape narrative to find the underlying truths, which are often harsh and unpalatable to modern sensibilities. There’s a value in this that can’t be denied. It’s a hugely positive step that rape and coercion are no longer acceptable in humans. (At least in some places. But that’s another post.)
But Love is greater, more all-encompassing, and more stark than even positive human societal evolutions.
We might like Aphrodite to bestow all her gifts upon us in the form of rose petals. It’s so wonderful when She does. There are lovely examples throughout Nature of ganders twining their necks lovingly around their mates, of elephants touching each other gently and wonderingly, of stallions devoted to their lead mares beyond the needs and behaviors of the herd. Heck, don’t slugs mate for life?
But that’s not all. Aphrodite is also present in rough animal couplings, the fiery sploodge of volcanoes, the lightning strike that wipes out a forest in roaring conflagration, the drowning of a coastline in a tidal wave.
She is greater than political correctness. You don’t get to put Her in a box, hem Her about with musts and nevers and carefully crafted definitions.
Love is greater and far, far more terrible than you. Keep your standards high, but don’t kid yourself for a second that your healthy happy definitions are all of the story.
Nobody puts Aphrodite in the corner.
Today I celebrated my personal festival of the Iaisonia, remembering the union in the thrice-ploughed field of Demeter and Iaison, his destruction, and Her mourning.
Ritual mourning is taking on a greater impact in my annual round of festivals, rather to my surprise. For the last year or so, its role as bringing crisis and catharsis has startled me with its deepening impact on my overall development and path. I’d never really thought about it much before, it felt more commemorative than immanently important.
But I think it is. From the Adonia (which of course has a lot of overlapping elements with my festival, as well as some significant differences) to the Anthesteria to the Thargelia, even the regular practice of sacrifice (which is of course always ritual for me as I don’t perform traditional animal sacrifice) it continues to resonate, sometimes overwhelmingly.
And perhaps because I was somewhat expecting to be overwhelmed with the mourning aspect today, it didn’t really happen. They always keep me off-balance.
What I got in full measure was the ekstasis, the enthrallment, a sense of the heart-pounding breathtaking dissolution. Everything seemed to throb and ache with beauty and longing once I was fully into the ritual mindset. It was a gorgeous day, still early enough in spring to allow me to move easily through the woods, with their early fuzz of pale green and vultures circling idly overhead.
I rarely go into the band of woods between us the next door property, and I so loved being there today. But it was creepy too- a scattered, almost full set of large bones. No skull so I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing it was a deer. I can’t believe the farm didn’t reek with it. Maybe it got dragged in. There are several banks under sentinel pine trees that are soft, mounded and elongated, alarming like graves. What ARE those neighbors up to? Dangerous deadfalls, and the random surprising hits of sweet forest scent. Those always strike me as gifts from Her, expressions of love and regard.
Those woods were filled with the feeling of Him. I scattered barley through them, picked up trash, let waves of wonder wash over me over and over.
In the back woods, our wild acre that’s given over almost entirely to the fae and nature spirits, there was a greater feeling of loss and sorrow, but not overwhelmingly so. The multiflora rose is dying back a little as the trees get bigger, but it still makes it difficult to get through some spots. In another month most of the paths back there will be inaccessible. I stood in the midst of a clearing, tall slender trunks all around me, and suddenly I realized that they were aware of me too, in a way I’ve never before perceived. For a few glorious moments, we were all in synch, the trees and I, dancing together in the wild spring breeze, while fat fluffy clouds raced overhead in the heartbreak blue sky. It was wonderful. I hope it happens again.
I found more construction trash back there. I can’t imagine how much junk the former owners must have thrown back there. For 16 years I’ve been clearing it out, and more still comes up out of the earth from time to time.
I thought I’d get overwhelmed with the sorrow back there, as it’s happened back in the Telesterion area during Demeter rituals before. Not so much though, just a big feeling of being part of it all, the female cycle through the stages, the male death and rebirth. The cosmic magnetism. The eternal return.
I love being a Hellene.
Chapter 6 On the Beach
The thick dark that precedes the dawn presses down on the two inert forms crumpled together on the crest of the hill above the sea. A wolverine, grinning and hungry, pads close to them, ears lifting. He pauses, sniffs, freezes in place, then hurries away.
There is no further movement on the hill other than the faint breathing of the pair of bodies. Not until the eastern horizon pearls ever so faintly and a light cold breeze stirs the girl’s matted hair do they stir.
Lykeios comes to consciousness first. He stifles a groan, but the slight sound is enough to rouse Kiri. Her eyelids flutter, then fly open, freeing the terror that was trapped behind them. Before she can shatter the pre-dawn stillness with her scream he wraps his cloak around them both. ‘Hush! We’re alive. Be still.’
He can see the effort it takes for her to wrestle the panic back down her throat. After a moment she croaks, ‘It was real. What we saw. The- the children.’ She shudders convulsively. ‘How did we get here?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. We saw that- those things. And I don’t remember anything else until I woke up here, just now.’
The distant murmur of the ocean rolls in their ears. A glimmering line spreads in the east, separating the sea from the black sky. It is too dark for Lykeios to make out Kiri’s face but he can feel the waves of agony rolling over her.
‘Lykeios. Patrokles was there.’
His words stick in his throat. He has to swallow several times before he can force them out. ‘How could you tell?’
She drops her face into her hands. He can feel her shoulders shaking although she makes no sound. Finally she lifts her head and says thickly, ‘I know him. Even without- his face. I know him. It was my brother.’ Her voice stumbles to a halt. Then, on a rising note of horror, ‘He was trying to carry a baby. It was Eleni’s baby. And she was too heavy for him. He’s so small, almost a baby himself, but he was trying to take care of Eleni’s…….’ She begins to sob violently, furiously.
Lykeios is at a loss. He is so stunned by her words, after the unthinkable insanity of the past evening, that he cannot even reach a comforting hand to her.
Suddenly she stops crying mid-sob and flings herself to her feet, tears flying from her face and hitting Lykeios like tiny blows.
‘I’m going back. I’m going to get Patrokles. I’m going to take him and Eleni’s baby out of there.’ She whirls, dark against the still-starred sky, and grabs her pack. ‘I’m going to get them all.’
Lykeios gapes at her as she whirls her cloak over her shoulders and strides off. A protest flutters in his throat, then he leaps up and runs after her.
They do not go back down the hill and into the woods. Without exchanging a word they head north, staying on the crest of the high ground, keeping the sea in sight. The eastern sky turns gold, then green and rose. As the sun slides smoothly up, they reach the edge of the bowl and stare down.
Lykeios half expects to see nothing. Perhaps the nightmare scene was part of the same hallucinations as the gargantuan stallion who had led them there. Maybe the fear and exhaustion of their long trek culminating in colony of spiders had overwhelmed their senses. Probably the beach below was inhabited by fisherfolk, or a herd of deer, or nothing at all.
But what moves on the grassy meadow near the beach are not things that a rational man can accept.
Children stagger through the short tough grass. Some lie together in forlorn heaps. The horse heads nod and sag on necks too thin to support them. A few of the bigger ones are on hands and knees, trying miserably to graze.
Guttural noises drift up on the bright morning air.
On the beach the waves are rolling in, and there are forms in the white foam of the gentle breakers. To Lykeios’ astonished eyes they almost seem to be girls, lithe maidens with flowing hair and limbs of pearl. Armfuls of soft seaweeds, alive with small silver fish, are thrown onto the wet sand. Crabs busily haul it across the beach, depositing the glistening cargo onto the grass of the meadow.
Some of the grotesqueries are trying to nibble on it. The fishes flop and then lie still.
Where the woods meet the meadow there is a small band of wild mares, a few grazing but most huddled together, stamping, restless.
‘Where is he?’ breathes Kiri, eyes frantically searching the impossible scene. Lykeios sees a small boy leaning exhaustedly against a boulder by the sand. He points. The boy is pulling strands of the seaweed free and bringing them one by one to his small muzzle. At his feet lies an infant girl, her tiny filly head moving fitfully. A crab scuttles up to her, clutching a tiny silver fish in its claws, and seems to offer it to her, but she ignores it. It drops the fish at the boy’s feet and hurries back to the waterline.
‘Patrokles!’ Kiri leaps forward, then freezes.
‘Oh, little doula. Still braver than you are wise, I see.’ The voice is rich, melodic, rippling with a hint of humor that causes the hair on the back of Lykeios’s neck to spring erect. They both spin around so quickly that Kiri falls into Lykeios and they almost go down in a heap, but he grabs her, and they find their feet and stare open-mouthed at the figure which has come up behind them.
Lykeios battles back a shout of fear when he sees the great dark stallion before them. But even as his body twitches in terror he realizes that this is not the massive beast from before.
It is indeed a black stallion, but where the other one bulged with rock-like muscle, this one is lean, lithe, long of limb, and slender. The mane and tail are as green as the dawn sky before the sun rises, and so are they eyes that peer at them from under the silky forelock. And in those eyes are a gleam that can only be amusement.
Kiri’s jaw falls open. ‘It’s you. The foal. The foal from the cave. Out of the grey mare. You spoke then too.’
The elegant head dips in an ironic bow. ‘Of course, little doula. I could never forget the girl who helped my mother bring me into the world. and I didn’t think it likely that you would forget me.’ The lips stretch into an unsettling semblance of a smile. ‘And of course you also remember my sister.’
Kiri cries out, ‘The baby with the horse’s head,’ and the stallion again dips his head, a parody of courtesy.
‘Which brings us to our present unfortunate circumstance.’
Lykeios brings a hand to his head. ‘I don’t understand. How is it that you can speak?’
The green eyes rest on his face for a moment, then dismiss him and turn back to the girl. She is poised on her toes as if ready to run. ‘You cannot go the them. No,’ as she moves convulsively. ‘If you truly wish to help the victims of my sister’s rage you will listen to me. For I will give you the only hope you have, and I assure you it is a slender hope indeed.’
Kiri swallows hard, but meets his eyes with a direct gaze. The green eyes blink. ‘I will hear you. And I will do whatever I have to to free my brother. To free them all. I will not leave these children here. I will not leave without them.’
Leaf-shaped ears swivel back, then flick forward, tips almost touching. ‘You will. For if you approach them in that place, they will all die. My sire is displeased at the violation of order and keeps them in a state of prolonged existence while a solution is sought. But intrusion by a mortal is not permissible. You are fortunate indeed to have survived the very sight. Indeed, had I not intervened on your behalf, you would surely now be standing before the throne of the All-Receiver.’
Lykeios feels Kiri stiffen, then slump beside him. A fierce sob tears from her, then she tosses back her matted hair and steps toward the horse, fists clenched. ‘I don’t believe you. I must go to them.’
Lykeios puts a hand on her rigid arm, looking at the stallion. ‘You said a solution is being sought. What do you mean?’
The stallion shakes his forelock from his strange eyes and takes a step forward. ‘Ah, bard, that is the right question to ask. The Mother is enraged, and in Her rage She has produced the Daughter Who Must Not Be Named. And this daughter is enacting Her rage throughout the land. My sister cannot be approached. Do not dream that you can. But maybe- just maybe- our Mother can be. Because She may remember you, there is a slender chance that you might be the one who can appease Her.
I will not lie to you, little doula. The danger is grave beyond your imagining. She is terrible in Her wrath. Death is the gentlest outcome most can hope for in Her presence. And as you know, far, far worse is possible.
But my Mother bore me too, and there I am not born to bring terror and perversion. If you are willing to face more danger than ever have in your life, you may be the one human who can help bring order back to the world.’
Kiri gapes at him. ‘Worse danger than I’ve already faced?’
Lykeios swallows fear like a lump of charcoal in his throat. He puts a hand on Kiri’s shoulder, feeling it tremble. ‘What must we do?’ he manages to say around the lump.
The stallion eyes him, measuring. Suddenly he arches his neck, the green mane lifting then settling like a line of seabirds on a wave.
‘Go find Pan.’
Almost here again.
I’ve been celebrating the Anthesteria for a lot of years now. Almost ten, I think. It’s quickly becoming one of the most important festivals in my annual calendar, right up there with Samhain and the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries and Yule.
At first I just sort of stumbled through bewilderedly, grateful to have Sannion’s ‘Anthesteria for the Lonely Soul’ to give me a template. Basically putting the kleos and the prayers out there and hoping I’d get a better clue over time as to how to do it in a fashion the Gods and spirits would actually find useful.
And it’s happening. Every year adds layers and colors and complexity to it. Not always to the same degree. Last year’s was fairly quiet. The year before was jolting and scary and wonderful. But whether His touch is fierce or subtle, it’s there, and I crave it.
The Lenaia is the opener of the way, it’s become more and more clear. My private Lenaia this year was quietly ecstatic, but falling as it did on the blizzard, my energies were divided. I actually felt the effects far, far more strongly at and after the public ritual at the CUUPS event, which is odd because public ritual is usually much more about service than personal transformation. Just goes to show that you never know what’s going to jump you up. That it’s happening, that it keeps happening, is what keeps the Work so breathtaking.
The spirits are definitely stirring. I could feel it so strongly last night during the Deipnon, and today, walking among the trees in the falling snow. The Avalon trees are waking up. Tyr is almost fully alert. But what are gathering still on the far side of the portals aren’t ancestors, they’re older and wilder and more dangerous. It has a somewhat similar feel to Samhain, but not really.
I hope this year is one of radiant ones. It’s falling at a fortuitous time, so I should be able to concentrate on it almost exclusively.
But you never know.
I’ve been Working consciously to keep myself in a Hermes sort of space, and it’s mostly successful and pretty wonderful.
But I also thrill that Dionysos has been so very present for some time now. Even when He’s not all up in my stuff, He’s prowling around the edges, teeth gleaming.
I like it.