We are eating our dessert when a group of people come in. I recognize them as members of the local Pagan group and when they see us, they head for our table to sit down. It takes a few minutes to rearrange the tables and chairs so that we are all seated more or less as an organized group and then another couple of minutes while the waitress brings them utensils, napkins and menus. Once they have settled in, they all begin to speak.
“You missed a great ritual!”
“Lord High and Mighty was in fine form tonight. He really put on a good show.”
“It’s not a show, and you shouldn’t talk about him like that. He IS the God during ritual, you know.”
“Oh for Pete’s sake, he thinks he IS God all the time, so how the hell can you tell the difference?”
“So how’s come you all weren’t there? Working late?”
“He does not. You’re only pissed because you aren’t leading the rituals.”
It is like magpies chattering and just about as easy to follow. I am always amused at how you can identify them as Pagans by their outfits. It’s like choosing this particular spiritual path lets them indulge in the game of dressing up. We have a full selection of characters this evening, most of them evoking some god or goddess from various pantheons. Artemis, maiden Goddess and eternally virginal is very convincingly portrayed by a young pale woman of the same name, who is known locally as “The Ice Maiden”. She is dressed in jeans but has left her tunic on over it. I happen to know that she wears only the tunic at ritual, much to the men’s delight since it barely covers her assets. At least she is more decent out in the “real” world.
She is sitting next to a young man who is very good looking but unfortunately knows it. He goes by the fairly ponderous name of Apollo GoldenHawk and rather fancies himself a lady killer. He has tried for some time to get Artemis to go out with him but she has declined rather rudely—according to the rumor mill. He is very sincere in his Paganism and has tried to interest Zeke and me in joining the group on a more… formal… basis, but we prefer our path to not be littered with useless initiations and endless classes. He and Artemis continue the argument about the group’s High Priest. I have to agree with his assessment of Lord Candeur barr Honestus, as John Robert Schmidt bills himself. The man is an ass, pompous and egotistical, to almost comic extremes.
His wife is a brow-beaten mouse and both of his children are painfully gawky and never quite fit in. I have had some interesting talks with his daughter Sara—or as she calls herself these days, Lilith—when she stops by the shop to pick up more herbs. Apparently she is making enough incense to cleanse the entire Universe.
The others are also in clothing that is a blend of ritual and mundane, the better to portray their favorite deity. I do not understand how they can be so loudly sincere in their tradition yet wear ritual clothing outside of a ritual. It wouldn’t bother me so much except that they do tend to be rather vociferous in why “their” way is the “best” way. Oh well. We have the Nordic pantheon represented by a woman who could double as Brunhilde, complete with a cowhide cloak and blonde pigtails. She almost totally eclipses a very petit man dressed all in green, obviously doing the Lord of the Forest. He has even tried to grow the little beard, but it’s not quite a goatee and looks more like he kissed the cat after eating taffy. He apparently doesn’t know how to trim or comb it.
We have competition for the sun god position, with Apollo sitting next to Ra, the Egyptian solar deity. Ra is actually named Daniel, but he is swarthy and wearing an abaya with a prominent ankh pattern on it. His partner, Gerald, is similarly wearing an abaya but since it’s pink and has flowers, I can only assume that he is portraying the gay god of fashion. He is perpetuating stereotypes since he lisps and waves his hands around more like a caricature of a gay man than actually being a gay man. Daniel absentmindedly pats him on the thigh from time to time, like stroking a dog. It has the same effect on Gerald and calms him for a while.
I only really know one other person in the group, the rather pleasantly plump woman who was asking why we weren’t at the ritual. I have been friends with Rhyssa since I moved to Virginia and she is the one who introduced me to Zeke. That alone would have made her the main beneficiary in my will, but she is happy to baby-sit Vader on those rare occasions when we travel out of the country and he can’t go. Anyone who will put up with The Devil’s Spawn is good as gold in my book. What makes it better is that Vader loves her—and her cat. The cat doesn’t love him, but will put up with the dog for a week or so once in a while. I try not to abuse it.
“You know Friday is always a late night for us.” I tell Rhyssa, eating the last piece of my cake.
She nods, reading the menu. “I just hoped that you could make this ritual. It was very moving. I love the idea of balance at the Equinoxes.”
“I kind of like the idea of balance at the bank. You know we come to the ones that we can. So what did the old boy do this time?”
I get a very pointed sideways glance, since she hates the fact that I do not revere Lord Kiss My Ass, as Zeke always calls him, nearly as much as most of the female members of the group. The men in the group are about evenly divided as to whether he is the Father of them all or the biggest asshole this side of the Grand Canyon. I suppose I will never have any position within the group since I refused to assume the position of the camel with two backs during what was supposed to be an introduction to the group’s tradition. It might have gotten very nasty very fast if Zeke had not come along at that precise moment–John Robert is not used to being told “no” and he was not listening to me say it. Zeke saved him from being permanently a soprano—and I have been very careful not to ever be alone with him again. We feel no need to belong to their coven and I think this irks John Robert. I’m glad it does.
It is obvious that he uses being a High Priest to impress or intimidate women into having questionable relations with him. He is a very successful businessman who puts a lot of money into the community. From all accounts, he uses that power to get laid as well. He can’t keep a secretary more than about a month and the few women who do work for him stay at arm’s length from him. Mrs. Schmidt doesn’t seem to mind his inability to keep himself zipped up but since she has about as much presence as a wisp of smoke, perhaps she does mind and he just ignores her. I’m not sure how he has gotten away with it for as long as he has—at least as long as I have lived here, and probably longer than that—but even I can admit that he does manage to … exude… a certain fascination. He is an undeniably good-looking man, but it’s more like the attraction of a colorful but extremely poisonous snake that you don’t want crawling around.
I don’t bother trying to convince Rhyssa of that; she has steadfastly refused to believe that he was after the nasty with me that day in his office. I’m not sure how she can rationalize away the fact that the man was pulling out his dick while I was standing there flabbergasted, but I have given up trying to convince her that he was doing anything other than trying to help me…spiritually speaking, of course. We don’t talk about it and I try not to get too vocal about him around her. She returns the favor by not gushing too much.
“The ritual was very stirring. He has such a way with words. I feel so, so—I don’t even know the right words for how wonderful it was. We did a fabulous centering meditation.” Rhyssa burbles at me and I try not to sigh audibly. “The energy levels were phenomenal. It’s always so liberating to work skyclad.”
This was news to me. Usually enough of the group bucks at getting buck naked that I thought John Robert had given up on trying it. I ask her how he managed it.
“Oh, not everyone took off their clothes. There are some who just will not let go of earthly things. But those who are secure in themselves removed the shackles of modern society to return to the state of grace and unity.” Rhyssa tells me with a very serious face.
I try very hard not to laugh and I can feel Zeke trembling beside me with his fight to do the same. I have to hand it to John Robert to use the concept of peer pressure and personal vanity as a way to get everyone naked. That way he can check out the competition from the men (whose is bigger?) and see where he would like to *ahem* poke around with the women. Slimeball. And meditation means that while everyone else’s eyes were closed and they were having holy thoughts, the HP was able to look at his leisure—and everyone else’s goodies while having distinctly unholy thoughts.
“I have fucking studied for over a year and a day. I should have goddamned been initiated, and I am supposed to be leading the fucking rituals!” Apollo shouts and storms out, yanking our attention back to the rest of the group.
Everyone looks at any place but each other and the rest of the customers slowly turn back to their meals. I am thankful that it is so late in the evening and there aren’t a lot of Mundanes around. I don’t want bad publicity for my shop or for the local Pagan community and I can tell that the people in here think we’re all loonies. Zeke taps my arm and tips his head towards the door. I nod, and we make our escape. The good-byes are falsely hearty and I am glad to get out of the charged atmosphere. Back home and in bed, we talk about what happened.
“What the hell was that all about?” Zeke asks me as he pulls me against his chest.
“Oh, Eric has worked to be—“
“Apollo. Eric is his real name. They all take craft names after the second initiation.”
“Oh, right. So he’s worked to be?”
“He has worked to be initiated as a High Priest. He has studied for the year and a day required and done pretty much any task Lord Kiss My Ass set for him to do. When Lord KMA feels that Eric, excuse me APOLLO, is ready, he will conduct the ritual that confers him with all the power and honor of being a High Priest along with its attendant duties. At least, that’s how Rhyssa explained it. More or less.” I snuggle against him, running my hands over his chest and belly.
“John Robert is going to hand him as much power as he has? I don’t see that happening.” Zeke begins to touch me in the same places as I am touching him, distracting me from thoughts of the sun god and the priest and making me think about another kind of ritual.
“Mmmm. You’re right. John Robert isn’t going to do it, that’s what Eric was so pissed about tonight. According to my spy within the hallowed halls, he doesn’t think that quote Apollo has applied himself adequately and therefore would not be able to function as High Priest for at least another 3 months unquote.”
“So he’s getting this guy to do shit work and leading him on about a promotion, but he’s not going to follow through?”
“Looks like that. And if you don’t follow through what you’re doing, I am also going to be pissed. Shut up and—“
His mouth on mine ends the conversation and we find our own sacred unity once more.
I am walking through a forest in the moonlight. I don’t see any animals, but I am aware of the movement, the rustlings behind the leaves. I come to a clearing and there is a large black snake coiled in the center of it. It looks at me and while I don’t like it, I am not afraid of it. As I stand there, I realize that I am naked and the snake is looking at the vee of my legs.
I start to leave the clearing when a doe steps out of the bushes beside me and walks towards the snake. I cannot move and cannot make a sound, but I am trying to stop her from approaching this evil creature. She walks lightly up to the snake and licks its coils. Its eyes glow and it slowly unwinds itself to slide around her. It slithers up her hindquarters and its tongue is flicking over her, like it is seeking where to bite. I can see the white flashes of its fangs as its mouth opens and closes.
The snake continues to move its head back and forth on the doe’s rear end, and then it dips down, entering the vaginal slit. I watch horrified as the entire snake disappears into the doe. She is trembling, but makes no move to flee. She stands there with grotesque swelling where the snake is in her. Other animals come into the clearing and form a circle around the doe. A fox sits at my feet, staring first at her and then at me.
Rabbits gather in little clumps, and a badger waddles to stop just in front of the doe. There is a bear next to her, and a wolf has taken up a position on the other side of the doe, gazing across at me. I realize it has Zeke’s eyes and is the only animal besides the fox that is watching me and not the doe. I become aware of humming, like the animals are just barely vocalizing. It’s the sort of sound that you can feel more than hear, but it’s getting louder. The moonlight seems to be getting stronger, like a spotlight being turned brighter and brighter.
The doe is rocking back and forth, and I realize that she’s in labor, struggling to give birth to the snake. There is a gush of water from her vagina, and then a human baby pops out. The doe transforms into a young woman that is vaguely familiar to me, and takes the baby into her arms. The animals are still, watching her and the baby. She puts the child to her breast and it becomes the snake, and sinks its fangs into her breast.
She screams as the blood pours down her body and I can feel the pain in my throat as I struggle to scream with her. The other animals try to take the snake off of her, but it just holds on tighter and tighter. I reach to help, but the wolf jumps at me and knocks me back, putting me on the ground and standing over me, growling and baring teeth. I lay very still. His body blocks the rest of the scene and I can hear noises but can’t see what it happening.
After some time, the wolf moves and when I rise, the woman and all the animals are gone, but the snake is still in the center of the clearing. It has been killed and there is a wooden spear pinning it to the ground. I slowly walk towards it, the wolf at my side. The eyes are wide open, black and staring but with no sign of life. The mouth hangs open and I can see something green inside of it. When I bend closer to look at it, I realize it’s a piece of mistletoe.
A flutter catches my eye and I look at the shaft of the spear to see leaves sprout out of it. It is an oak tree and as I watch, it grows right through the snake’s body. I look up, my eyes following the tree’s growth and when I look back down at the ground, the snake is alive again, opening its mouth and sinking its teeth into my foot. I begin to scream…
“MATTIE! WAKE UP!”
Zeke is shaking me and Vader is bouncing off my body, trying to get me to wake up. I gasp, clutch onto Zeke and sit up. Vader burrows his way onto my lap which takes some doing, as I am trying my best to get into Zeke’s skin. He holds me tighter and tighter, until I can almost not breathe but I don’t complain. Vader licks whatever skin he can reach, and Zeke is rubbing me and murmuring as he keeps me tight against him. My heart is pounding and I am just beginning to catch my breath. I pet Vader and gently push Zeke back a little so that I can breathe again. My heart is coming back to a normal rate and the tears have stopped. Zeke pulls my chin up and looks at me.
“Want to tell me what is going to happen?”
He always knows when my dreams are precognition. I hate this aspect of psychic gifts because the bad ones are the only ones I can remember after I have dreamt them—and they always come true. The good ones only show up as déjà vu as they are happening.
“It’s going to be real bad, whatever it is.” I grimace and then try to describe the dream to him. I have done enough dream interpretation to know that we dream in symbols but sometimes I wish that we could just do straight forward, “this means exactly this” instead of trying to figure out what each aspect is supposed to represent. Zeke is good at this, and pulls details out of me that I didn’t even know I could remember. I am aware that he is writing it all down, but it’s still so raw that I am almost reliving it. He stops several times to hold me and reminds me that it’s just a dream. I know how important it is to get it all down but I am so glad when we are done.
He puts his notebook away, and then rolls over to face me. He is so gentle, touching me with almost feather light fingers, watching my face very intently. I reach out and pull him onto me and he uses his body, his mouth and his hands to soothe and comfort me. He is tender and insistent and skillful, using our love making to ease the horror and help me relax back to a peaceful and uneventful sleep.
Vader guards the bed until we are done and then takes his place at my feet.