Mum shaped magic in moonlight. Following the cycle, she miracled every week. New moon, first quarter moon, full moon, last quarter moon. Full moon ceremonies her speciality. We were always joined by guests, invited and uninvited. Eternally. Heraklia was celebrated. Her fame spread beyond the sacred grounds of our farm castle, which lay in the middle of the Dark Woods. Birch tree after birch tree, sparingly a pine tree. Black birds, crows, hares, foxes, beetles, spiders. You name it. They were our neighbours. The nearest human village 20 miles away. One cobbled stone road led to us and was hard to find. The entrance to the woods was hidden away. Yet enough people had been able to discover us. Well, they had found Heraklia, The Witch from Bedazzleheim.
It was Beltane: receiving the power of life in its fullness. Mum’s apprentice, I had put the selected minerals, crystals and candles at the appropriate spots, spread the herbs and put decks of tarot cards on the tiny wooden tables that stood criss cross around the courtyard. Fresh wood in the fire place, a large circle of stones, right in the centre of the square. Later that night it would become the phantom of fire. It always did. Mum’s altar held a large orange candle, a vase with orange lilies and a couple of fake, though ever so real looking, crows. The sound system was playing Enigma. Mum tended to combine what might seem unrelated, like classical byzantine music with witchcraft. Maybe it was one of the things that made her attractive. It was only seven o’clock and the first visitors were already appearing. The early arrivals wearing large black capes, dark make-up, rings with skulls and pentagrams, many pentagrams. Later on, the white visitors would join, bringing along a more uplifting energy. They always did. How binary. Dad and Joshua had not yet returned. It was still early.
Every year we embraced Beltane: the greening of the world, importance of youthfulness, the flourishing of our planet. Heraklia had ruled over our upbringing, including my dad’s. In a manner of speaking, of course. From a young age on I had wondered whether Heraklia had always been so full on with witchcraft. Why would a witch marry an accountant?! I wondered. I remembered seeing admiration in dad’s eyes when we were still very small.
We had grown up living with the moon. For Joshua and me laying out tarot cards was like brushing our teeth. Dad had always kept some kind of a distance. He would join the full-moon ceremonies, to please Heraklia, I think. In our early teens, Joshua had moved closer to dad. He had tried very hard to take me along. What initially seemed their devotion to the numerology side of tarot, turned into playing with figures the mathematical way. Dad had argued that the two of them devoted themselves to the other side of magic. Mum had said he was focusing too much on his ordinary job as an accountant. Dad and Joshua would sometimes go away, to the village and beyond, to the city, far away from our sacred space. Client visits, dad told us. Mum had become less insistent on having the two of them join into her cycles. The full moon ceremony, however, was sacred.
The night darkened. Clouds came floating by, covering the full moon in all her brightness. And yet her power omnipresent. The visitors in white started to arrive. Women wearing orange streaks in their hair. Men with orange ribbons. Throughout the square, around the fire place, the black participants moved closer together, making place for the white guests. A mix of energies. It was nine o’clock. Time to turn off the music. I looked around me. No trace of dad and Joshua.
And there she was, Heraklia. Mum was wearing her big black cape. Bits of orange daisies knitted onto it. Her long blond hair wild around her head, an aura. The whispering was replaced by silence immediately. She glided towards the fire place and stood still next to her altar. Her deck of tarot cards in her hands. She looked around. Tiny smile. She looked up to the moon, spread her arms. She looked down again and around. I could tell she was searching. She shuffled her cards. All eyes on her. A card fell. I could see her reflex, very brisk. A Great Arcana card had fallen: number 13, a karmic number: the death.
(I am doing a writing course with the IWC. This was an exercise we had to do, based on an excerpt from Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Knopf, 2011). It is a first person narrator introducing world of their childhood, one or two characters. Concrete scene with lots of specific details. Unusual. Distance. Use unique, imaginative language lyrical and create a sense of foreboding). I am interested in your comments 🙂