The Little Witches have a difficult problem, an uncomfortable problem. Quite familiar with the unusual, the Little Witches are used to coping even playing with the mysterious; this time, however, they are not quite sure what to; they are not even sure they have a problem. A coven member has disappeared and the manner of her going was so ethereal, so transcendental, so downright occluded that the Little Witches are bemused and ambivalent, and yet they are not quite as worried as some of them believe they ought to be.
It all began at Samhain, a most strange Samhain, a Samhain that the Little Witches Coven and Marching Society celebrated much, much deeper in the woods... in the dark... in the deep, dark, earthiness of Ancient Forest. I guess the whole mystery really began at the coven's Saturday Night Samhain Planning Meeting and Chicken Pluck, when the Little Witches all got to bickering, and to complaining about last year's Samhain, and to speaking vehemently about the way "Samhain was supposed to be."
See, very few of the Little Witches actually enjoy chicken plucking and at the monthly Pluck their demeanor often turned fowl and their comments pithy. Then too, several of the Little Witches were still annoyed that last year's Samhain had been so subdued. Last Samhain, a majority of the coven (this was before they switched to consensus rule making) had voted against keening. There was no keening that Samhain.So the he would-be keeners sulked and the non-keeners felt guilty, and well... it hadn't been a very successful ritual. And though everyone had left the ritual feeling better, it seemed now that some unresolved irk was going to make this planning meeting cantankerous. And the smell of singed feathers arose from more than just the chickens.
So, when the newest coven member, Niamh, suggested that she pick the ritual spot and do the pre-ritual site cleaning and preparation, everyone quickly agreed. Niamh hadn't been part of last year's controversy and she had now been in the coven just long enough that it was time she start one of the coven rituals. As the youngest coven member both in age and in time with the coven, Niamh was given the honor of setting up the initial stages of this year's Samhain celebration and of choosing the altar site and putting some of the ritual tools in place. The really important tools would be brought by Lamprey and the coven elders and placed properly on the altar at the start of the ritual.
Because Samhain was Niamh's first time leading a ritual for the Little Witches, everyone was anxious that she do well. So everyone gave her bits of advice during the week before the ritual, and many gave her emphatic advice about whether there should or should not be keening involved. And each Little Witch felt that Niamh had listened and appreciated and understood the importance of their input.
Even at this point, Niamh was something of a mystery, as can be appreciated by the ease with which everyone soon accepted that they had all agreed that Niamh would lead the entire Samhain ritual. No one remembered exactly when this was decided but they all knew it had been. Even Lamprey, who does not relinquish leadership easily and who had already given a fair amount of thought about what to include in this Samhain celebration, was sure she remembered making the decision to leave this ritual entirely in Niamh's hands.
Being around Niamh sometimes provoked this kind of confusion; she was a wee bit perplexing. Everyone felt as if they had known Niamh "sometime before," remembering her from somewhere just beyond the tip of memory. Whenever one of the Little Witches had a personal conversation with Niamh, the Little Witch came away with the feeling that something very important to their wellbeing had been discussed within the subtle depths and layers of the conversation, some vital knowledge eluding them.
Even how Niamh had arrived and where she had come from was a bit unusual. She had arrived at the Little Witches farm at Panther Creek three months earlier with a request that she be allowed to study with Lamprey. She said she had come from a small island off the Hebrides in Scotland. After Niamh attended an open circle the Little Witches decided her energy was so "present" that she was accepted on probation for a year without dissent. Now Niamh was ready to lead her first ritual for the Little Witches.
Perhaps a description of Niamh ni' Etaceh might be in order so that if anyone should meet her or knows what finally became of her, they could send a note to The Little Witches and put an end to some of the worrying and mystery. Niamh is not tall. Her hair shines black; her eyes twinkle blue. Her temperment feels chameleon, but her accent is definitely Scottish. Her age is hard to estimate but Chester swears she could not be over seventeen or eighteen, though he may not be the best judge. One month after Niamh's arrival, Chester could be found wandering around the Little Witches' farm at Panther Creek humming "Black is the color of my true love's hair."
As the dusk of Samhain opened the veil on the Other World, Naimh began the procession while the trees of the forest dripped and the golden leaves of the aspen fluttered on their way to the ground. Already winter storms crept through the Coastal Mountains turning the firs eerie and the forest floor squishy. Brushing a fern during the ritual procession anointed Little Witch robes from the waist down with a water blessing and the smell of wet wool to mingle with the odor of soggy forest and the aroma of smoldering sage.
Niamh lead the Little Witches far into the forest. Her path meandered under the upturned roots of fallen trees, around fairy circles of purple mushrooms, even through an arch of leaning stone slabs. Each Little Witch would have sworn they know all the paths within a mile of the forest junction at Bob Cat's Revenge and Turkey Vulture's Feather. Yet this night was not like any other night and nothing looked familiar. Each Little Witch followed Niamh holding their clay pot candle up trying to recognize landmarks in the dark. But the forest shed shrouds of mystery this night, a forest place unlike any other place.
Awe and wonder cloaked the coven as they journeyed further into the unknown. After a ritual march which lasted twenty minutes or two hours, each Little Witch had their keenest night vision and could see ahead the glints of light from a fire. Stepping through the blackened hole of a snag long ago hit by lightening, the Little Witches entered a forest glade which reflected the light from the ritual fire. With senses scrambled by the darkness of the forest, the hidden twistings of the path, and the heavy odors of wet witch the warmth and light of the fire was appreciated by them all.
The ritual meadow was laid out differently than the Little Witches expected. To begin with none of their usual house ritual tools were in use. Instead gleaming on a wooden altar were tools that Niamh had apparently made especially for this celebration. Each and every athame, cup, or salt and water holder was not only unique and serpentine in design but made of wood so highly polished they had a light of their own. Near the edge of the meadow was a second wee fire with an old black pot full of the scintillatingly Autumn smells of a good Winter herb soup.
As each Little Witch stepped through the hole in the snag and looked around astonished, Niamh walked the witch to "a special place." Though no one could explain then or later what was so special about the spot they were led to, each knew that their spot had been intended for them alone, a sacred grove spot radiating with knowledge of their uniqueness and each Little Witch became absorbed in personal discovery. When Niamh walked the circle greeting each witch in their special place she handed them a carved wooden bowl full of steamy forest soup. Usually at times like this, when everything wasn't pre- planned and practiced ahead of time, witch would look at witch and try to decide whether to drink the soup now or wait. But not this Samhain, the soup smelled so wholesome and inviting no eyes searched for reassurance from a neighbor. Little Witch noses inhaled; Little Witch eyes closed and Little Witch aura blossomed with health as they drank.
Slowly, deeply, Niamh began to chant; not a familiar chant, which Lamprey or the other Little Witches recognized. The words felt old and strange and profound. The rhythm felt even older, [archaic] a rhythm that might have been recognized at a gathering of the first peoples deep in the untrammeled Ancient Forest of the past.
Niamh began the Samhain ritual. Not the ritual the coven had planned and not the words of the ritual that Lamprey had taught her. How to put this? The ritual had a sense of time and age and emotion and longing and community and perhaps most of all a profound sense of continuity. Each Little Witch participated. They knew what to say and what to do and when to do it though none of it had been said or done before in Little Witch celebrations.
When the drum and pipes came from the forest the dancing began. Not a wild and frenzied dance that might be expected of the Little Witches when they really get into their paces. This was almost stately at first -- dignified. There was no moon that Samhain and only the stars and the fires lit the circle. For an hour or more the dancing was slow, rhythmic, and personal. A body facing body kind of dancing that was not meant as a joyous expression but rather as a communication of being. It went on until gradually the intensity of the drumming and the piping increased. The pace of the dancing kept with the call of the music and the Little Witches danced, body to body, in a line, in a circle, in a huddled group bent low to the ground.
The music from the forest stopped. The dancing stopped. The Little Witches stood each with unexpected thoughts and unrecognized emotions. They were standing around Niamh in a circle and she looked at each of them. One by one she handed them a cup of wine and then she said goodbye. She walked softly into the forest and The Little Witches suddenly noticed that dawn had come. They made their way home and most of them slept throughout the day.
No one at The Little Witches Coven and Marching Society has seen Niamh since Samhain and they are more than a bit worried about her. Lamprey is most concerned because she feels responsible for her novices safety. There is seventy miles of forest between The Little Witches farm and the coast and her novice walked into that forest at dawn with no preparation at all.
The night of November 1st the Little Witches went to the Witches Ball. At 11:40, twenty minutes before the ritual was to happen the bomb threat cleared the hall. Strange things sometimes happen in the forest but stranger things happen in the city.
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