Glass House

My world is weirder than your world.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Circle.

I went to Greta's shindig last night. It wasn't deep in the haunted forest after all; it was in her friend Sandy's backyard. There were six girls there, all under the premise of a sleepover rather than a Wiccan ritual. Mom had to drop her off, of course. I snuck out in the bed of the truck. (It was easier than explaining that I was not going out to spy on the pajama party of a bunch of fourteen-year-old girls. I got my fill of that sort of thing when I was fourteen.)

As an armchair anthropologist, I found the ritual entertaining. This was the girls' third full moon in five months. Sandy was the "high priestess" of their little coven, and spent ten minutes lecturing the other girls on the Dianic tradition, the superiority of the sacred life force of women, and how they were all Goddesses who simply had to awaken themselves. I guess it was old news; half the witches started to look bored, and Greta actually muttered "Starhawk, yadda yadda" under her breath. Sandy didn't notice.

When the priestess judged that the moon was high enough, they all put on their cloaks and formed a circle between the candles. Greta had a wool cape she'd bought online from some RenFest site with a good chunk of her allowance. Two of the girls had cheap rain ponchos, and they drew sharp looks from Sandy. Hers was a handsewn purple robe with stars and moons in silver thread. She said something about how their ancestors would have gone skyclad, and one of the girls said "Our ancestors didn't care about assholes with digital cameras." I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

Sandy drew the circle with her athame -- it looked to me like a letter opener from the Franklin Mint with a Lord of the Rings theme -- while she intoned a welcome to the good spirits and a banishing of the evil ones. I picked sides, and stepped inside the circle while she was doing this. Four of the other girls invoked the quarters and the elements by lighting candles at the corners, reciting lines they were given, and then Sandy and Greta lit the candles in the middle to the Goddess and her Consort. (Greta was the Consort, with an artfully ambiguous gender. I believe, watching as an outsider, that Sandy was actually attempting to put some moves on her. Greta contrived to keep the lit candle between them the entire time.)

The preliminaries done, they got to the business of the ritual. Some of the witches had athames or wands or Tarot decks that needed blessing. These were duly purified with Dasani bottled water and blessed. Some of the girls shared problems with the group that they needed healing or positive energy for, and they got it. I won't repeat those details -- some of it was quite serious, and this was the one part of the evening where I felt rather guilty over invading their privacy. I got over it with the next part.

Sandy -- known throughout the ritual, no kidding, as Lady Starshine -- announced that with the close of the old year and the rebirth of the Goddess, this was the perfect time for divination. They would all appeal to the spirits of the land and air to tell them what to expect in the coming year. She poured the rest of the Dasani into a wooden bowl and spoke some florid incantations. Then they all took turns scrying into the bowl.

I meant what I'd said to Greta before: I may make fun of people, but fundamentally I respect their right to believe what they like. If people want to practice magic, I've got no grounds to tell them they're wrong. I truly wish the stuff I got involved with when I was fourteen had been this innocent. But just the same, Lady Starshine was getting pretty thick, and I was starting to understand why Greta had invited me. Gods help me, I took the bait.

Sandy was going to go last, surely so she could upstage everyone. The first scryer was one of the poncho girls. I've perfected the art of whispering over the years, and as she leaned over the bowl, I said so that only she could hear me, "You will find love this year -- and the strength to be its master." Her eyes went wide, and Sandy asked her what was up.

"I heard a voice!" she said. "A spirit spoke to me! It said -- it told me I would find strength." Sandy was skeptical, but the other girls were awed. Greta was grinning a Cheshire cat grin.

I gave similar platitudes to the other witches. When Greta's turn came up, I whispered, "You are a conniving shrew. No soup for you." She laughed out loud. Then Sandy stepped up to the bowl. By now she was a believer, and she clearly expected some major cosmic revelation. I leaned over, composing something lengthy in my head about humility and the stupidity of Lady Starshine as a name, when a voice stopped me cold.

Something whispered in my ear. It was high-pitched, either a woman or a boy, and very clear. It said, "They have always been watching you. Try to forgive them."

"What was that?" Sandy said. "I can't hear you, spirit!"

"They'll tell you you have no choice," the whisper said. "They're liars. Don't forget."

"Come on! Tell me my future!" the high priestess whined. She sounded about eight.

"Sandy, shut up," I said, not bothering to keep my voice down. "Who are you? Who are they? If you're here to help me, there's no reason to stop now." I listened intently for a while, but apparently the whisper was done.

I looked down at the circle of young women. Their faces were white, except for Greta's, which was red. Sandy seemed to think the questions I just asked were for her; she cleared her throat and said, "We will help if we can, spirit. I am Lady Starshine, and these are my sisters of the Coven of White Light!"

"Yeah, whatever," I said. My knees were shaking a little. I wanted to bolt, to find a place where I could be alone and pace for an hour or two. I picked up Sandy's athame with the pewter dragon on the hilt. She gasped and stepped back at the sight of the floating knife. One of the other girls screamed.

"Spirit," she said quickly, "if we have offended thee-- Oh god it's got my knife--"

I sighed. It was on the tip of my lips to ask what these toys were for; to tell them that I wasn't a spirit, that magic spells were pure stupidity, that if they couldn't rely on what was in them to change the world then there was no point in ever looking outside for it. I could have broken their circle easily with cold truths. But then I looked at Greta, and I bit it back. These were fourteen-year-old girls, and they were having fun. My own life wouldn't be any better off for messing with that.

I opened the palm of one of the poncho girls and put the athame in it. "Your circle was weak, Lady Starshine, because you drew it alone," I said. "That allowed your coven to bring their ghosts in with them. If you wish your magic to be greater than the sum of one part, you'll all have to share your talents and your thoughts." I thought a moment, then said, "And be careful what you summon. Be precise. The next thing you call to give you answers, may not be a benevolent as I am."

Sandy had nothing to say for once. To the poncho girl I said, "Will you cut me a doorway, Lady? I would leave this circle, if you would all allow it." Oddly, this didn't seem like a mere courtesy. There's something about ritual, about sacred space, that pulls you into its structures even if you're not a believer. I'd stop short of calling it magic, or saying I was bound by anything, but just the same, I didn't feel comfortable about simply walking across their imaginary line.

The poncho girl opened the circle for me, stammering over the words, and they all bade their farewells to the spirit. Greta actually said "Tell Mom I'll be home--" before she clapped her hand over her mouth. No one seemed to be paying attention, though.


I walked the five miles home, and did my thinking on the way about that whispering voice. If I had to lay down money I'd say it was probably the watcher in the woods. What was it? Still no idea, but another unusual seems most likely -- a telepath, maybe, or some sort of astral projector. Why did he/she speak to me this time, and not before? Maybe for the same reason I spoke in the circle: just to be peevish, and to mess with the head of someone he thought deserved it. If that's the case, then the actual content of the message could be nonsense, just like my own whispers were nonsense.

But I think it's going to stay with me. "They have always been watching you" is a hard line to forget. I'm not going to obsess about it, but I'll keep my eyes open.

I made it home, took the expected crap from my mom about sneaking off -- I ought to act my age, I ought to set a better example for Davy and Greta -- and slept. Today I got up early and did the Greyhound thing back to Atlanta again. It was gratingly uneventful.

New Year's Eve tomorrow night. Date with Callie. I'll try to get it right this time.

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