Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Hierophant's New Clothes

The story you are about to read is true.  More accurately, it is an amalgam of stories that I have seen repeated in various forms over the years.  The names I have changed for the usual reasons.

* * * * *

Many years ago, when this ancient land was not quite so ancient, there was a priestess named Wind. Not Wind like in watch, she told the chat-rooms and forums, but like the Air.

As High Priestess of Zephyr Coven, Wind loved the respect that this brought her, sometimes to distraction.  She and her beloved coven-mates could often be found in the sunny glens of Renaissance festivals and psychic fairs, dancing in ritual garb or clad in the sky, showing to all the world their confidence and their ease with themselves.  Wind loved celebrating the freedom her faith gave her, with friends and with lovers, and of watching the auras of those around her: the mixings of gorgeous reds, purples, blues, and yellows.  She was especially fond of helping others in psychic or magikal distress, and of sharing her visions and insights with others. 

Most priestesses are busy women indeed, and they must keep a difficult balance.  They give help to those they can, seeking to help others learn and learn from those others and to walk always with Goddess in whatever way their path calls for.  Wind, however, was always busy showing the world how free and humble and insightful she was, and thus she became very popular.  Many people came to visit Wind and her coven, and her life was full of celebration.

One day, Wind and her sister-in-heart Sybil were lazing in a clearing, Wind playing her pan-pipes.  A stranger came up to them both, ignoring their nudity, and complimented Wind on her pipe playing.  Smiling, she pointed out that she had no training, but had merely been playing what was in her heart.  Even as she thanked him for the compliment, he looked at her in amazement.

“I had thought perhaps another had taught that tune to you,” he exclaimed, “but now that I see you more closely, I understand.  For you see, fair ladies, I have a gift: I not only know all my own past lives, but I can see the past lives of others, as well.  I see now that you are both sisters, or were hundreds of years ago, and daughters to me.  That song was known only to our tribe, and has not been played for over a century.  We were wiped out, all of us, by a grim betrayal.” 

At that moment, his calm broke.  Even as he wept openly, the two sisters moved in vain to comfort him.  Asking him more about himself, they learned that he was Roivas, a wanderer in this life, destined never to know a place of true rest.  This was because of the call of the Naililih, the guardian-spirits whom he served.  Being house-mates, and compassionate to his plight, the two sisters invited him to their house at once. 

Wind and Sybil gave Roivas their blessings and protection, as he was their guest, and introduced him to the rest of their coven.  Raven, Heather, She-Wolf and Delilah all received him, and made him welcome.  After Roivas brought the conversation to numerology, Heather noted that his addition brought their number up to seven, a very potent number.  Roivas interrupted, saying that he could never join any coven.  The powers that flowed through him were only for the protection of women, he told them, and would overpower and outbalance any circle’s harmony.  He then retired to his guest-room, to perform his rituals of prayer according to his vows to the Naililih.  There was a brief time of silence, and then the room exploded with questions and conjecture.

Which was, of course, how Roivas had wanted it.

Day and night, he stayed in his room, working his mighty magicks on behalf of the coven that had welcomed him.  “You see,” he explained, “only I, or another trained as I have been, can perform such rituals.  I dare not perform them before you, or you could be harmed by their power, having not been consecrated to them as I have.  Please, allow me to do this, in gratitude for all you have done for me.”  His conduct seemed to give credence to his claims of a sanctified life, and the coven gave him his space.  But when he was alone, he rested and laughed heartily.  Already, the coven was coming to trust him and his mystery more than they trusted themselves.

Wind had a nagging feeling that something was awry, but she did not want to seem either rude or a fool.  Therefore, she asked Raven to speak with Roivas in his room, and quietly scan the energies therein.  She shared none of her misgivings with Raven, and told no one else in the coven of their actions.  It seemed the wise thing to do.

Raven knocked, entered, and looked about.  Lord and Lady! thought she, I can’t see what he’s been doing at all!

She strained to see, and thought that perhaps she did see something.  So fearing to lose the respect of Roivas and of her coven, she pretended to see the energies and rituals he had been creating.

“What do you think, Lady?” asked Roivas, “I tried to tone it down a little, to be subtle. Did you notice the way I wove the elemental powers together, here and here?”

“Yes indeed,” said Raven, now half-believing that she saw what he spoke of. 

“I’m glad,” he said warmly, “that you think it might help. You know, most people couldn’t grasp the intricacy of this work, as you have done . . .”  They spent the next few hours talking, and Raven returned to Wind and told her how marvelous his magik was.

A few days later, Wind was again curious about how the work was progressing. Something seemed not quite right.  Still, she didn’t want to offend her guest, or hurt Raven’s feelings.  Therefore she quietly sent Heather to view his craft, again telling no one else in the coven of her concerns.  As had happened with Raven, Heather could see nothing, but betwixt her uncertainty and his flattery returned to Wind aglow with tales of Roivas’ power and insight.  So it went with She-Wolf and Delilah, as well. 

Over the next few weeks, Roivas further revealed that Heather had been a Highlands wise-woman, and his lover in a past life; that She-Wolf had always been a hunter and warrior, and that Delilah had been a priestess of Atlantis, helping him with the sacrament of the Old Gods.

Then Jane came to visit.

Jane was not a pagan, nor a witch, nor a sorceress of any stripe or hue.  She was the owner and operator of a health food store down the street from Wind and Sybil’s house, and had been friends with them for years.  The sisters told her how wonderful and insightful Roivas was, and Jane immediately smelled a rat.  She said as much, and advised them both to get rid of him.  Shocked by their friend’s attitude, they of course refused.

Jane shook her head.  “I don’t trust him.  It’s your business, you’re both adults, but for God’s sake be careful.  This sounds a bit too down pat, somehow.”  As a compromise, the two sisters invited Jane to their house to meet Roivas.  Surely if anyone could bring out her hidden talents in the mystic arts, it would be he. 

The evening went well at first, if a bit guardedly.  Then, Roivas began talking of the difficulty in mastering more than one style of magik, as he had. 

Jane didn’t care, and wasn’t concerned with spells.

“Of course not,” Roivas agreed.  “You have always been pragmatic.  Centuries ago, when you were in the Italian court—”

“I’m Christian,” Jane cut in.  “I don’t have past lives.”

Still later in the discussion, Roivas told her of his vows to use sex only in its highest, most pure and magikal form.  Jane didn’t care if he was found naked in a bathtub of lime Jell-O with two hippos and a hummingbird, and said as much.  Dinner went on in this vein for some time, and ultimately Jane left only after quietly asking her friends to kick out the fruit cup, sooner rather than later. 

When Wind and Sybil returned to the living room, they found Roivas sitting on the couch, hands clasped together, devastated.  Looking up at them with horror-struck eyes, he confessed that he had seen his worst fears realized.  For the traitor that had killed their tribe lifetimes ago had returned, masquerading as their friend!  This was why Jane denied having any past lives, he explained, and why she pretended not to be magically active.  It was the fate she had bound herself into—to destroy them all, life after life, so long as she got the chance.  She had probably tried to turn them against him, divide the three of them, hadn’t she?  So much the better pick them off later, now that they had re-united as a family.

That night, Wind slept badly, her few dreams sorely troubled.  Yet, morning found her awake and with newfound resolve: she would see his spells and energies herself, and judge him by his actions rather than by anyone’s words.  She gathered the whole of the coven together, and as one they went to see Roivas in his room.  There were serious charges on both sides, and it was time to see for certain.

She knocked.  He answered.  When she explained, he let them all in with good grace, understanding and compassionate.  All were in awe at Roivas’ magikal workings.  Even Roivas himself half-believed his stories by this time, and he joined them in the dance of words, always adding but never contradicting, describing the mastery of his magikal works.  “Magnificent!” said Wind’s coven-mates.  “How elegant, yet so simple . . . no wonder it takes so long to prepare!”

Wind, in the middle of it all, saw nothing.  Inwardly, she moaned, thinking the fault must lie in her.  Yet she put on a brave face and joined her voice with the others.  ”It’s dazzling, beautiful,” she chimed in.  And everyone agreed.

Change came quickly over the days that followed.  As Roivas’ vows forbade him from ever working against a woman, the coven worked without him.  They crafted spells against Jane in the name of defense and justice, and sure enough, her health began to suffer.  For his own part, Roivas spent little time in his room anymore.  He had explained that the magikal structure therein needed the space to grow during its last stages, and so he alternated sleeping in Wind’s bed and Sybil’s.  Of course, he knew that this would only be for a short while.  The rest of the coven was nearly convinced that his magik could only be taught through lovemaking, and soon he would reveal that the original, Atlantian Great Rite was an act of group sex.

* * * * *

The months passed for the coven in a rushed, dreamless sort of way.  Between lessons in Atlantian sorcery, Ninjitzu, and sex magik, not to mention all their jobs, there was little time for reflection—or thought at all, for that matter.  All too soon, it was weekend of the great Faire.  Here the protections he had placed upon them all would doubtless be most sorely needed, the training he’d been giving them best displayed.  

They walked out in full glory, proud of the powers they had gained from beloved Roivas, wishing he had accompanied them.  Practitioners of a hundred arts, not to mention a variety of groupies, fell silent to watch Zephyr Coven pass by.  Word had spread of their newfound powers, of their angelic auras and impenetrable shields, and everyone strained to witness.  No one could quite see these shields or angelic auras, of course.  There were echoes, born from their belief, but that was all.  But as each person there was afraid to be thought a fool or headblind, everyone strained to see, and many “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” sighed through the crowd.

Children had been brought to the fair, of course, as they were every year.  One little girl kept jumping up and down, trying to see as the procession went by.  At last she made her way to the front of the crowd.  And there, head cocked to one side (and in a much louder voice than she thought she used), she exclaimed, “But there’s nothing there!”

Slowly at first, but with rising speed and clarity, all present began to realize the truth.  The magikal wards were only dream-stuff and shadow, no more substantial than a promise made in wine.  Wind realized the truth, as did her coven, but they kept their heads held high as they finished their procession.  They would count on short memory to repair their tarnished reputation and ease their humiliation, made no less painful for having been shared.  By the time they returned to Wind and Sybil’s home, Roivas was gone.  So was all their cash, many of their valuables, and several credit cards.

Wind fled to her room and locked herself in.  “It’s all my fault,” she sobbed, “I’m not a priestess!  I’m not worthy of anything!  I’m nothing!  I should die!”  

Eventually, Sybil managed to pick the lock.  The sisters held each other until the tears stopped, and they could think again.  Late that night, the coven met, purified the house top to bottom, and somberly cast circle.  And, after much discussion, each member resolved never to allow herself to be duped again.

* * * * *

Zephyr Coven still exists today, though it has never been the same. It‘s the Walking Wounded Coven now, and while people meeting them can see the love and trust to be found there, it’s nothing like it was. 

Wind stepped down from her role as High Priestess the night that Roivas left, despite her friends’ protests.  She has never forgiven herself for “betraying her friends.”  Later, she left the Craft and the Goddess behind her entirely, and went into a business partnership with Jane.  To this day, she tries not to think too much about her days as a priestess, or the friends she needlessly left behind.  Jane is still trying to get Wind to talk about what happened, to no avail.  Wind trusts herself little, loves herself less, and is weaker for it. 

Sybil is High Priestess now, as she has been ever since Wind stepped down.  She rarely laughs anymore.  She takes full responsibility for her own decisions, and for the decisions of everyone around her.  This leaves scant time for laughter.

Raven and Heather were married six months after the Faire disaster, and are completely devoted to one another.  Raven trusts no one now, save for Heather.  Heather, for her part, continually looks for ways to force her wife to trust again.  Between them, they have established a cycle that could go on forever.

After Roivas, She-Wolf learned to harden her heart, and resolved that all men are evil.  She holds now that love, especially love for a man, is a weakness that corrodes the will.  This is the creed that she taught her daughter, Lilith, born nine months after Roivas fled.  Her coven-mates have always done their best over the years, but there’s a limit as to how much they can do to soften such bitterness.  Further, while Lilith knows she can talk to the rest of the coven, she dreads the day her boyfriends are discovered.

Delilah can no longer feel whole or loved unless she is in a sexual relationship, basing her self-image solely on the pleasure she can give men.  She and She-Wolf are still friends, each determined to help the other learn and grow through these trying times. 

All these psychic scars naturally caused their own problems in due course.  But, that is a story for another time.

(Thanks to Ms. Pamela Coleman-Smith, who illustrated A. E. Waite's designs for a tarot deck, as published by the William Rider & Son of London in 1909.)

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