Walpurgisnacht (fiction)

 

Baptism 2

“The gift of flight will come at Walpurgisnacht,” Granny Magda tells me.  “We will  travel airborne upon our besoms to the Brocken.  You will then learn of your blessings, all the goddess has deemed to give you.”

“What will they be, my blessings?” I ask impatiently.  I have waited all of my sixteen years for this nacht, for the firefest of summer. It will be the first time I go to the mountaintop. The first time I, as a daughter of Hekate will become a coven member and know my true and unique power.

“Hush child,” Magda orders. “Speak of them no more! What is yours is already yours.”  She puts a hand to my cheek and smiles through crinkled eyes. “Trust me. The gifts will come.”

The month of April rolls by with its rain and wind, daffodils and tulips blooming in our meadow. On my calendar parchment I count the days, marking them off with a charcoal crayon. The time cannot go quick enough.

Two days before Walpurgis,  Peter the goat boy appears at our door. He brings me a bouquet of wildflowers, colored blooms that float like a sparkled rainbow from his hands. “For you Kathe,” he says, “In honor of your special nacht which is soon to come.”

Peter! He is an annoyance, always milling around me, nosing in my business, cheating me at games and sport!  He has been my chief nemesis for years. And now he brings flowers? An offering of peace, just as I am soon to come into my powers?  Reluctantly I accept, but only out of politeness. “What do you know of it?” I snap.

“Peter knows plenty,” Granny Magda shouts from the kitchen. “You’d be wise to listen to him.”

Never do I have a moment’s privacy in this cottage! Granny Magda is always hovering over me, like a bee to a honeyflower. She now takes Peter’s flowers and places them in a vase.

“Have a seat boy,” she nods to Peter. “I trust you will stay for supper?”

Peter shakes his head. “The invitation is most kind Frau Magda, but I cannot. I am just returning from the mountain, my goat herd outside. I fear they are most cumbersome, and I only stopped to give Kathe the flowers and wish her well.”

“Nonsense!” Magda has already placed a root stew on the table and set a trencher for him.  She glances out the window, waves a hand at the goats who then stand still as statues.

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“The animals will keep,” she says. “Kathe, fetch the ale for our guest.”

Taking a ladle to the pail I serve up three helpings of ale. Peter nods. “Most gracious.”

We bless our food, toast good health and begin eating. I sit next to Peter. His clothes are soiled and he smells of his goats. He also smells of the meadow, of earth and something more. What is it?  A sly masculinity, a scent lacking in Magda and myself. Despite my annoyance I scoot closer to him.

“Your comment, Granny,” I say later as we eat dessert, a cake with fresh berries I gathered from our orchard. “You say I must listen to Peter. Why is this?” Peter stops mid bite, red berries making a stain on his lips. His eyes, blue as the river, pop wide.

“Do not ask foolish questions, child.” Magda says. “Now Peter,” she looks out the window and waves her hands at the goats who instantly begin bleating. “I wager your goats need milking. Be off with you afore the late sun sinks on its horizon! Auf Wiedersehen.”

Peter stands and bows before us. “I thank you for the victuals, my lady.” He takes Magda’s old withered hand and kisses it. He then turns to me. “And you Kathe, I trust I will see more of you in the near future.” With awkwardness he grabs my hand and kisses it as well. I catch his eye, nod and curtsey before he exits.

I have known Peter all my life, since I came to live with Granny Magda as a two year old orphan.  We played together, leap frogging in the meadow, tumbling down the rolling hills. It was he who taught me to catch fish in the river, he who taught me to shoot a crossbow. He who, in his boyhood always shot more bullseyes than I.  But Peter is no longer a boy.

Through the window I watch as he rounds his goats, whistles to his collie dog. He has grown tall, his shoulders broad. His lanky frame casts a long shadow across the cobbled road.  As he walks away I notice his swaggering hips, his bowed legs.

“How old do you suppose Peter now is?” I ask.

“Two winters past you child.” Granny Magda puts a hand to my head and unwinds my tight braids.  “Come the Yule last he reached his eighteenth name day.”

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“He has quick grown to a man.” I glance one last time before he turns into the forest, his goats following in a gray blur.

Ja child, that he has.” She tilts her head.  “And your thoughts of this?”

“I have no thoughts, it is mere curiosity!” I hiss. Granny smiles.

Finally Walpurgisnacht arrives. I stand naked in the meadow with the other women. Magda rubs my body with unctions, a rich combination of oils and nectars that will, coupled with my own magic, give me the ability to fly.

When the sun sets we mount our besoms. Soon the wind begins to blow and we rise, steady in the air, a team of thirteen, Hekate’s witches, gliding through the sky with the skill of crows.  Higher and higher we rise. Soon we are bobbing amongst stars, drifting under the light of the moon.

On the mountaintop we land near the Bergwasser, a crystal stream that flows, now icebroken with the onset of summer.

“Your baptism will be tonight, Kathe,” Granny Magda tells me.

I have never before met the high priestess who now stands before me, clad in robes of black. “I am Lucinda,” she says.  Taking my hand she guides me down the stone steps into the water. She lifts her wand, a branch of heavy oak inlaid with rich jewels, rubies and sapphires.

“Kathe,”  Lucinda begins. “I baptize thee, in the name of the Mother, the Crone and the Holy Maiden. You, a daughter of the line of Hekate, now come full of age,  are on this evening of Walpurgisnacht to enter into our coven.”

The Walpurgis Night Alexandra Nedzvetskaya

With that she pushes me underwater. The stream is cool on my head. Opening my eyes I see an array of fish before me, yellow as lemons in the blue water. I watch as they dart and bolt, thinking of this baptism, this instant I have waited for my whole life. What is to happen? The water is a silent chamber around me.

When I can hold my breath no longer I ascend. Gasping, I lie in the grass. Magda clothes me in a white robe.

“The ability to breathe underwater,” Madga smiles, “was not your gift.”

What will it be? What will it be?

“Time will tell, my girl,” Lucinda says.  “Before rise of the May day sun you shall know it.” Lucinda’s gift is surely the reading of minds. Granny Magda’s is the taming of animals. And mine? The suspense haunts me.

Lucinda reads from the Book of Freya. She lights a great bonfire. Together we chant and dance around it. Holding hands we skip in unison.  Even Granny Magda, now well beyond her dancing years, kicks her heels like a young maiden.

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In the distance I hear a drumbeat. Approaching over the hills I see them, the tribe of Pan. They are thirteen men, goatskins over their thighs, naked from the waist up. On their heads they wear crowns of horns and masks of feathers and fur.

The balefire rages and the drums beat.  Magda leans and whispers in my ear, “Granddaughter. You are ready. You will bleed to bless the earth which has blessed you. Only through this can you find your womanhood.”

One of the thirteen men then approaches me, takes my hand and joins in the dance. All is a blur of color and sound, the dance faster and faster. Soon I am on the grass, flat on my back, the tribesman atop me.

I am not the only one. Other women have been taken as well. All around me the couples are a whirl of flesh, thighs upon thighs, breath heavy, hair streaming. Wails, screams and moans fill the night air,  voices desperate and satisfied.

Magda had said I am ready, but am I? My heart pounds, my whole body pulsed to the music. I am frightened but then the tribesman pulls me closer, his face next to mine.  His scent is of goats but also of the earth and our meadow, a musk that lures me like subtle perfume, releasing a passion I did not know I possessed.  Although he wears a mask I recognize his eyes, blue as the river.  His look is the question and I nod my answer: Yes.

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His mouth is firm on my lips, his tongue sweet, his thighs braced against me. My secrets are wet as the mountain stream that baptized me and in an instant he is inside me. It hurts but only for a moment until my hips synch in rhythm with his. My body quivers and I hear him breathe my name, feel his spill within me.

Before rise of the sun we anoint ourselves with unction again, then mount our besoms. The men disappear into the mountains as we fly away.

It is finished.

Walpurgisnacht

In the weeks after Walpurgisnacht we live quietly. I am changed but still the same, although Magda no longer hovers over me, no longer calls me ‘child’. All is well until the day the constables come, riding up our path upon their sleek stallions. They dismount and look suspiciously about the cottage.  One knocks on our door, holding a warrant for our arrest.

“Which warrant and how so?” I demand. “Arrested for what?”

“For witchcraft Fraulien,” the constable says. His face is like a hard brick, impenetrable, a moving mouth with two tiny slits of eyes.

“We have done nothing wrong!” I shout.

“You both have been seen cavorting in the meadow, spreading yourselves with evil unctions and potions, then taking flight to the sky on your brooms.”

“And who has been harmed by it?” I scream.  My head is burning.

“All are harmed by it! All good honest folk. You women, by your madness and your lasciviousness, violate the very decency of mankind!”

I attempt to protest but a hand slaps my mouth. Just then another constable grabs Magda and binds her wrists. I charge at him, but the next constable overpowers me, this one tall as a tower and twice as strong. He pulls me away, knotting my arms.

“My Granny is frail,” I scream again. “She does you no harm! What satisfaction do you get to badger an old woman?”

“Hold your tongue Fraulien, lest I gag your foul mouth,” the third constable orders. I fight with all my strength but in the end they win. Granny Magda and I are put onto a rickety old cart and brought south to the village of Stuttgart.

We are thrown in a slimy, rat infested dungeon where we live in squalor for weeks. Our food is gruel and brackish water, the meals so meager I fear Granny Magda will perish.  Others join us, country women and bumpkins, some midwives, some herbalists, all innocent of the crimes they are accused. Yet when we are taken to trial the jury declares us guilty before we are given a chance to speak.

We are sentenced to be burned at the stake. “Consumed by the hell fire from whence ye came,” the judge declares.

Like cattle we are led to the pyres. A hooded executioner binds our bodies to the stakes and the fires are lit.   I hear the crowd around us yell, “Brennen die Hexen! Burn the witches!”

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Granny Magda gives me a look, hopeful in her sunken eyes. I nod. Just as the flames begin to creep around us I shout:

 “As the powers within me rise, so this man-made fire now dies!”

The flames sputter and vanish as if drenched by a thousand buckets. I watch as the crowd of people turn pale with horror.  “Relight the flame!” someone yells. “They must be burned! These witches must die!”

“Brennen die Hexen!” the crowd chants again. “Burn the witches!”

The executioner moves to relight the flames, but the embers are cold. He tries again and again, adding more wood, more torches, but the fire only sparkles and dies.  He then stares at me, eyes wide. He crosses himself and moves away as if I am carrying the plague. “Hexe!” he whispers.

“You can relight the flames all you want and they will never grow,” I say calmly.  I then begin to laugh, loud and haughty, my voice echoing on the wind. The crowd stares at me as if I were a madwoman.

“There will be no burnings today,” I say richly.

One by one they turn away in fear. Women lift their skirts, scurrying away and men run fast as their boots will carry them.

Just then I see his body in the crowd, the lanky frame and broad shoulders. Peter approaches, pulls a knife from his pocket and slices the ropes that bind me. He then rescues Magda and the other women.

“You should not have allowed it to go so far,” he says quietly.

“O, but it was well worth it!  Just to see the looks on their faces,” I answer brightly. “You must admit it was a picture.” I run a finger across his cheek.

“That it was, wife.” He smiles.  “As long as no harm comes to the child.” He lays a hand on my belly.

“The child is fine,” I assure my husband.  “Her gift from Hekate will be the same as mine. She too will have the ability to control fire, and she too will never be burned at the stake.”

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** NOTE: The real witch persecutions and Burning Times occurred in Europe during  1450-1700.  Historians estimate that over 100,000 accused witches, both men and women were killed during this time. The majority of burnings took place in Germany, in some cases wiping out entire populations of women in small Medieval towns.

The real Brocken is the highest point of the Harz Mountain range in northern Germany. The Brothers Grimm spent a good deal of time in the small villages at the foothills of the mountains collecting tales of local folklore.  From these tales came stories such as Rapunzel,  Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Walpurgisnacht (pronounced :Vol-POOR- gus-nokt)  is celebrated on April 30. Witches then gather in the Brocken and other sacred places to conduct rituals of spring.

 

 

 

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A Beltane Tale (Part Two)

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** Please read Part One first 🙂  A Beltane Tale: Part One

After Beltane the days grow bright, the summer sun golden as shadows stretch long in the early evening. There is more time for chores and tedious tasks. Marion does as she has been taught in the Priory; washes laundry in the river, sheers the sheep, brings the cows back for milking from their lazy afternoons at pasture.

But Marion is changed and now she grows restless, She thinks often of the green-hooded man she met in the forest. Was he real or merely a dream? She wonders this only to herself, sharing the story with no one, for on Beltane all manner of illusions and trickery are like to happen.  And yet, there is the lock of hair she found beneath her pillow, along with the note etched in green cambric. Surely they must be his,  and surely he is real. Real as the flesh she has touched, real as his seed that spilled within her. She has taken that lock of hair and that swatch of green cambric and placed them in a locket that she wears beneath her kirtle, keeping them always close to her heart.

She knows only that she loves him. She longs to see him again.

The Prioress seems to read her mind. “What irks you, my child?” she asks one morning as they break the night’s fast. The matrons have brought fresh honey, cheese and pannam, but Marion can eat none of it. Instead, she stares at the Prioress. She longs to tell everything! But how could such a woman understand?

The Prioress  takes Marion’s hand and nods knowingly. “You traveled alone to the Greenwood on Beltane, did you not, my child?” Marion nods timidly. “And stood you in the ring of mushrooms as well?”  Marion nods again. She cannot lie to the Prioress.

“Ah well. You had been warned against THAT.” The Prioress cocks her head. “THAT is a thing which brings trouble and mischief.” The Prioress purses tight lips. Marion expects a reprimand, but instead the Prioress softens. “The Greenwood,” she sighs.  “I know it well. You are of an age, daughter, and such things of the flesh beckon you. I understand.” She clasps her hands together. “Although you may find it hard to believe. I too was once young.”  Marion blinks wide eyes. She feels her cheeks grow hot. She thinks of the touch of the man who called himself Robin.  How could the Prioress, so gentle and proper, in her stiffly starched robes, ever possibly understand?

“I was not always living in this nunnery.” The Prioress smiles. “I know something of desire, my girl.”

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She winks a sly wink and Marion is near come undone!  The Prioress has raised her since childhood. She is indeed the only mother Marion has ever known.  Yet to speak of this, to speak of these intimacies, it is more than shame!

“What keep you in the locket, child?” the Prioress asks. “The one you wear beneath your kirtle since the Beltane.”  Still embarrassed, Marion pulls out the locket, revealing the lock of Robin’s hair and the stitched note. “Well, it is settled then,” the Prioress says.  She runs her fingers over the cambric swatch. “You must go to the Greenwood and find him.”

Just then comes a knock at the door. Sister Jude-Thomas leaps to answer it. Behind the heavy oak lurks the Sheriff Nottingham.

“Reverend Mother.” He approaches and gives a bow of greeting to the Prioress. “Forgive me for disrupting your break of fast, but I have urgent news. I fear there is trouble in the village.”

“Trouble?” the Prioress asks coolly. She hides Marion’s locket in her lap.

“Aye, Madame,” the Sheriff continues. “It seems a band of hoodlums have been caught poaching game upon Lord Weatherly’s manor grounds. Two deer have gone missing and quiver of stray arrows found on the land. I seek only to warn you, Madame, and alert you of the danger, for this band of outlaws are most despicable. One wears a cloak of green. All are armed with bow and arrow.”

“Thank you Sheriff,” the Prioress answers. She gives him a tight lipped smile, one that suggests the visit has ended. Sister Jude-Thomas leads him to the door and he exits politely.

“Quick now, Marion,” the Prioress whispers. “You must go to the Greenwood.  He waits for you there.” Marion is taken aback. She almost refuses, but the Prioress presses the locket to her hand. Marion feels  Robin’s hair, thick and smooth on her fingers.  Yes, yes! She must go.

Marion runs through the forest, May grass soft against her slippered feet. In the bramble she spies him, a flash of green cloak, the hood that covers his face. “Robin!” she dares call his name and he turns. “My lady.” He smiles and runs toward her, pack of arrows jiggling on his back. She falls to his chest, his long, strong arms circling around her.

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Just then there is a rustle of leaves, the clap of horse hooves upon the dirt road. It is Constable Sloane, the Sheriff’s man, come to capture him!

“Robin, you must flee!” Marion whispers desperately in his ear. “They accuse you of poachery. They will lock you in a cell!”  He should fear for his life, but he only smiles flippantly. “The Sheriff’s men have no claim to me,” he says.  “But you, Marion…” He runs a finger across her cheek. “There is a possibility, my fair maid, that you may have many a claim upon me.”

The Constable Sloane then spies them in the thicket. He rides closer, halting his horse and pulling a sword from his sheath. “Outlaw!” he yells. “Outlaw and poacher! Make not a move or I’ll slice you in two!”  He points the blade to Robin’s neck. Marion’s heart beats fast as a rabbit’s, but Robin only smiles. He gently pushes Marion away. “Run now, run quickly,” he commands but she cannot move, her feet firmly on the earth. Oh no.  She will not leave his side, that she knows.

“Girl, move away from that villain!” the Constable shouts, but Marion does not budge.

“Lay down your arms, Sloane,” Robin says calmly. “Lest you injure this maid.”

“If she be one of yourn I’ll not lack to kill her too!” the Constable retorts.

“She is of the Priory,” Robin says.  “An innocent.” That should be of some status, surely. Yet the Constable keeps the blade firmly pointed under Robin’s chin.  Just then Will Scarlet and Alan of Dale emerge from the bushes, their brown garments blending like extensions of the trees.  In one swift move they aim arrows, surrounding the Constable.

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“Lay down your rapier, Sloane!” Will Scarlet commands, but instead the Constable pierces the blade closer to Robin’s neck, drawing a pinch of blood.  Marion winces, then throws herself in front of him. “Take me first!” she shrieks.  “Stand down, Marion!” Robin commands.  In that very moment Will Scarlet shoots his arrow. The Constable, struck, tumbles from his horse like a sack of lumpy flour.

“Quick now Marion!” Robin shouts. He grabs her hand and the two run through the forest till they come to the place where the mushrooms grow wild in a ring.

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Robin holds her close. The purple sky swirls around them like a fierce tornado. In minutes they fall through, down the hole of the earth to a soft landing, the place where on Beltane the fairy folk danced and played fiddles.  Even now Marion hears strains of their music in the distance.

“’Twas a narrow escape,” Robin says. “But Nottingham’s men, they’ve got nothing upon me. Not a stitch.” Marion looks into his eyes. Dark as kohl, they seem to swallow her as the earth itself has swallowed her. “Who are you?” she asks, her mouth dry as dust.

Robin only smiles, pulls her closer and runs splayed fingers through her hair.  He kisses her, his lips warm satin against her cheek.  It is as though the earth has stopped in its orbit and time itself stands still. He kisses her again, full and wet on the mouth. In that moment she forgets her question, forgets her very self and falls deep into his arms.

She knows only that she is loved and safe, here in the underworld with this man they call ‘outlaw’.

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A Beltane Tale (Part One)

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On Beltane eve Marion goes to bed early. She places sprigs of heather and mint  beneath her pillow. Her room in the priory is sparse, with a lone straw bed and one window where the beloved moon shines its silver light.  Marion, an orphan, has been raised here by the good Prioress. She has been well  cared for. But she longs for more, she longs to be free of the confines of the walls, the trap she never asked for.

If Marion wakes in this night surely it will be the fairies come to take her away to their underground home. Each year she prays for this; each year it does not happen.

On Beltane morning she rises at dawn. She goes with the other girls to the gardens  where they collect hawthorne and wild flowers. They weave  garlands to wear on their heads.   They return to the village where the men have built a maypole. Large and mighty, the pole towers, decorated with ribbons, every color of the rainbow. At noontide the matrons serve a great feast; mutton, spring greens, porridge and violet cakes.

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There is a legend that on Beltane the Green Man comes to the forest to claim his lover, the May Queen.  She is wife of the Winter King, and he is lack to give her up. But the Green Man persists and eventually wins the lady. The Winter King is defeated until Samhain when all things of summer will die.  The mummers in the town square reenact the story and Marion watches as the lovely May Queen is taken by the Green Man.  He sweeps her in his strong arms, her long hair cascading against his bare chest. Marion is jealous. When will such a love come for her? Surely now she is of age, having reached her eighteenth name day.  The Green Man and his lady then retire to the forest, for nuptials of their own.

There is dancing. The revelers braid strands of the maypole together and step to the music. Lass, lad. Lass, lad.   Even the Sheriff and the Friar and Prioress join in.   Great fires are lit as the sun sets low. Those brave of heart and long of leg dare jump over the Beltane fires. Not Marion, for she has been raised to be cautious.

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After the maypole dancing, when the embers of the fire grow low, many a couple traverse to the wood. There, they too will bless the land in their own way, making it fertile for the summer.  Although Marion has no man to claim as her own, she follows.   Alan of Dale and his girl Eleanor hide in the bushes, as do Will Scarlet and Lucy Sprint.  Marion knows what they do and she dares not look. Instead, alone she walks deeper into the forest, her flickering rushlight guiding her way. Orion’s constellation twinkles above her.  It is then she comes upon the ring of mushrooms.

Oh, she knows the legend well.  Were she to stand in the middle of that circle for long enough — so goes the tale — the fae folk will come for her.  And never will she see the mortal world again.  She has been warned, all her life she has been warned of this.  And yet, it is what she has longed for.  But is this tale true?

Marion stands, still as rock till the sky swirls purple around her. And then, like a fall down a well, a sweep of wind and soft landing, she is there, in the underworld.   They surround her, these peculiar people, bent of ear and wide of eye.  It is then Marion sees him, a man in green robes with a hood. He is handsome. Dark eyed  with thick hair that brushes his shoulders.  “Milady,” he bows, “I am called Robin, and your escort I shall be.”

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What follows is much merry making and drinking of elder flower wine.  The fairies play fiddles, music loud and jaunty. There is Dancing. Dancing in a circle, faster, much faster than ever at the maypole in the village.  And Robin. He takes Marion’s hand, spins her in a reel and she twirls beneath his arm.  Then he leads her away to a place of seclusion, a place in the meadow where the ground around is soft.  There, he removes her kirtle and skivvies  and she lies mother-naked before him.

He plays her body like a harp, plucking its strings and secret places, a thousand butterflies released as his seed spills inside her.  One time is not enough to satisfy either of them and they repeat the act, again and again until at last they fall to each other’s arms exhausted.

Oh, how she loves him! Truly and deeply. She loves him as she has loved  the moon and her dreams, for he is the forest itself. He is animal and outlaw, dangerous and forbidden. He is all of life and all she desires.

Finally the sky splinters pink daybreak and the sun peeks its gold rays.  She sleeps in Robin’s arms.

In the morning of May 2nd  she awakens in her priory bed. The sprigs of heather and mint still reside beneath her pillow. But there is more. A lone lock of hair, and a note stitched on a green cambric swatch. “To my May Queen ,” it reads. “From Robin, with love.”

She sighs.

It will be a long wait until the next Beltane.

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Want to read more Marion?  Continued here: A Beltane Tale: Part Two

An Invitation at Beltane

 

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Will you follow me                                                                                                                                                         Into these diamond skies?                                                                                                                          Breathing air of lilac as the                                                                                                                              Beltane fires rise

 

Will you follow me                                                                                                                                                  Into this thunder clap?                                                                                                                                           April rain ensuing and the                                                                                                                                   Aries sun entrapped

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Will you take a look                                                                                                                                                Into this  glint of spring?                                                                                                                          Mushrooms sprouting rampant in a                                                                                                                    Faery circle ring

mushroom

 

 

But if you follow me                                                                                                                                          Things will never be the same.                                                                                                                        Whole soul  transformations and                                                                                                                      You’ll scarce know whence you came.

If take this route                                                                                                                                                   You’ll be vapid and confused.                                                                                                                        Journey down a rabbit’s hole                                                                                                                                   Be challenged and abused.

Opening your mind                                                                                                                                              You’ll be senseless and distraught                                                                                                                   Garrulous and punchy and                                                                                                                               Forget all you’ve been taught.

If you dare the risk                                                                                                                                     Life has never been so true                                                                                                                                       A mesh of  flesh and color like                                                                                                                               An artist palette  hue.

 

If you share this path                                                                                                                                             Love will show you all its parts                                                                                                                             Connected and perfected in                                                                                                                                     The opening of hearts.

fairy collage