This year the moon is new. It makes a difference as to what the rite will be. Newly married, Morgan thought about the ceremony she would lead for the first time. Gaia, Gloria, Alanna, she ticked off those attending in her mind. It would be Alanna’s first rite of Samhain. Her brother, Harry, and her husband would complete the group unless, Melissa and Stan could find a way to make the journey down from Butte. The couple had been a source of great comfort during their pursuit of the William’s clan.
Stretching her arms above her head, Morgan arched her back against the stiffness setting in. Perhaps she’d go up to the main house and see if Alanna was up. The girl needed to be pulled out of her studies. They’d barely cleaned up after her wedding, and she smiled softly at the memory. The party had been one to remember. The Missing Seven case was over except for the trials. Her husband of one week, was stuck doing the paperwork and helping Janet build the case against Johnny Williams.
James, with his stud of a body, had grumbled when their alarm went off. Over time was the name of the game these days, and he’d pulled on jeans and a police tee shirt before grabbing his leather motorcycle jacket to head into town. His goodbye kiss lingered on her lips, regret for the lost morning together, sparking through her system.
Samhain celebrations would be exactly what they all needed. She padded across the think carpet in thier bedroom, looking for the sweater and jeans she’d thrown in the corner the night before. James never missed an opportunity to give in to his desires to make love. She couldn’t complain, her body was soft, satisfied and limber. Her baby bump already showing even though she was barely into the second month of her pregnancy.
Triplets. Alanna had sensed three, two boys and a girl. She’d bet her bottom dollar her niece was correct. It would be weeks before an ultrasound could confirm it, but she was content to accept her prediction. Morgan shook her head. She couldn’t sit there daydreaming about her babies. Juniper needed to be gathered, and she needed to make the trek to Andrew’s holy clearing and altar in the woods.
She pulled on her Aran knit sweater, tracing the intricate network of cables running up the sleeve. Her leggings were already getting tight. Triplets crossed her mind again. Would she be able to keep running and skiing? Never mind, she’d get her answers soon enough. The ER doctor had given her a referral to an OB/GYN and her first appointment was after Samhain.
Walking past the two bedrooms down the hall from the master, she reminded herself to check on bids for the work on the nursery. Andrew gave them permission to remodel, and she couldn’t wait to see what the contractor’s bids came in at. She’d do the decorating herself, except the painting.
I’ve got to eat, but I think I’m going to have to get some ginger tea, and ginger snaps from the bakery. I’ll have to see if Chin Chi has some dried ginger. I can’t keep pestering Alanna to put the morning sickness under. She’s got more than enough to do with school and her after school job.
She rummaged through the cupboard where she kept the herbal teas and settled for peppermint green tea. It would give her the boost she needed and help keep her stomach under control. Looking for saltines, she shook her head.
I used to be so organized. I’ll have to get a shopping list together. At least I’m only sick in the morning and it’s getting better.
She sat on the bench by the back door, pulled on her sneakers, and put her hand in her jacket looking for the scrunchie she kept in the pocket. Her hair was growing out at an alarming rate. She needed a trim, but she pulled it together at the back of her neck and wound the elastic material around a thick stubby ponytail. Time to run. It was only a half mile to the main house, and it would do her good.
Stretching at the bottom of the stairs, she noticed the flex in her hips. Pregnancy hormones were already beginning to reshape her pelvis. No wonder her leggings were tight across her butt. Breathing deeply, the scent of the forest with its quiet growth of pines whispering in the wind, grounded her to nature. She knew the path up the side of the hill to the clearing would be half overgrown with new juniper growth. They harvested each year for Samhain, taking the branches to decorate. She wondered if `the pumpkins her brother had planted would be big enough to carve.
Grandda liked to decorate with them, and the more traditional turnip carvings as well. He was considering the bigger rutabaga with their delicate orange flesh this year. His imagination was limitless when it came to Halloween. He’d tie them together in bunches with their silly, sometimes frightening faces staring from stair rail newels or hanging from the attic workroom rafters.
She wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere, and her pace was slow, barely more than a quick walk. The crunch of her strides hitting the gravel of the winding road reminded her to watch her step. Andrew had contracted the road crew from Billings to come up and do the yearly maintenance smooth up later in the week. There still some holes left from spring run off, and the September rainstorms had given them deeper definition. She was glad she left her car in the garage.
As her muscles warmed up, she picked up the pace. She sprinted the last quarter mile, taking the stairs two at a time. She went through the open sliding doors and walked up to the stove where Alanna was babysitting a batch of melting wax.
“What are you doing?” Morgan pulled a chair away from the kitchen table and sat to catch her breath.
“Pumpkin spice candles for Samhain. I’ve added the spices, to the wax. I’m hoping they’ll be ready for us to use for the rite. I’m going to take the big cast iron candelabra up to the forest altar as soon as I poor the wax into the molds.” Alanna blew her bangs out of her eyes.
“Oh wow, the aroma.” Morgan drew a lungful of cinnamon scented air in through her nose. “There’s nutmeg, all spice and cloves in there on top of the pumpkin.”
Alanna dipped her ladle into the rich orange wax and began to fill the candle molds. She braced her elbow with her other hand to hold steady.
“How did you get the pumpkin scent in there?”
“There’s bottled scent for that, I kind of cheated. I’m using the real spices though.” Alanna continued to let small streams of paraffin and bee’s wax mixture drip around the candle wicks suspended down the center of the slender cylinders lined up on the counter beside the stove.
“You’ve got a steady hand. I never did get then hang of it.” Morgan ruefully remembered the spills she’d created the only time she’d attempted candle making.
“Grammie dips hers, layer by layer to keep from making a mess. You should try it that way.”
“I’m too impatient.” Morgan said.
“Well, these are done, and now they need to cool. Let’s get that candle stand and bring the corn broom to sweep out the clearing.” Alanna suggested.
“That’s what I was after. Has Grandda started pruning the junipers?”
“He’s taken the shears and a wheelbarrow with him. I think dad went with him. Grammie is working on her soaps and shampoos upstairs.” Alanna told her as she turned the burner off. “I’ll be able to break the hardened wax out of the pot later.”
“Let’s go get the clearing spruced up.”
Samhain, or Halloween as it is known now, was a crisp cool day. The sun drifted toward the horizon, and Morgan paced anxiously behind her grandparents. She thought of the Catholic traditions of All Saint’s Day and giggled. The Goddess trumped the holy church of Rome, always leading the placement of their holy days. Christmas was so close to Yule and other holy days closely mimicked the most holy of their Celtic and Wiccan practices. The druids had their influence from the most ancient times.
The women with their deep black cloaks carried candles, flickering flame cast jumping shadows along the deep forest path they followed. Gloria trailed the group, and Morgan hoped her mother would keep her skeptical attitude in check. For now, she was still trying to decide what she’d say as she opened their ceremony. Grandmas advice repeated itself in her head. Let the Goddess guide you. Give yourself over to Her will.
She’d been up to the clearing earlier, and watched as James, Andrew and Harry laid the great bonfire in the center of the circle. The railings of the balcony had juniper twined in between the newels and along the top. The great circular altar stone had been dressed in the singularly spicy scented boughs of flat needled evergreen creeping bushes and Gaia’s great quartz spear stood beside the tourmaline rod Harry had placed in the center.
Harry’s turnip jack-o-lanterns hung from the pergola over the balcony and more were tied in bunches to the branches of the pine trees surrounding the clearing. The great five pronged candelabra stood at the back of the altar, her athame laid across the front between the great crystals guarding the granite stone.
She’d dressed in her white sheer robes, and like the other witches who were attending wore a black floor length cape to shield her from the breeze nipping at her her face. The men wore deep black robes, including Stan and Chin Chi. Even her mother had gotten into the spirit, dressing in deep green sheer robes, and a black cape, the hood lined in wolf’s fur. Gaia’s deep purple robes revealed her long legs as she strode along the path.
Melissa wore white, Alanna wore white as well. Morgan carried one of the slender scented candles Alanna had finished the day before. They’d put more of them at the altar to be lit as part of the rite. They’d celebrated Alanna’s birthday tomorrow, she’d been born seconds into the day, a true Samhain baby.
All together they were nine. Five women, four men, intent on honoring the Goddess at this important time of the year. Hopefully, their offerings would be accepted and the spirits who hovered close to the veil would reveal themselves. Morgan watched as Gaia led them around the circle sprinkling salt as she went. When they completed the solemn walk around the clearing Gaia placed the crystal bowl she carried on the altar and went to stand at the edge with the rest.
Great logs speared into the air, propped up like a teepee around smaller pieces of kindling and tinder. The bonfire awaited the magic touch of the one conducting the rite this year and Morgan approached the altar lighting the five candles there with quick sparks jumping from her fingertips to wicks. They blazed into flame; their light intense in the deep shadows cast by the trees around them.
“I call Gaia, Goddess of us all, to witness our gratitude. On this night, when the veil between worlds is thin, I ask her blessing. I give thanks for harvest, so fruitful and rich. I give these offerings as our rite begins,” Morgan lifted a basket of fruit, wheat and corn onto the altar. The flickering candles steadied, and the breezes quieted. The whispering evergreens sighed into silence.
“We nine gathered here honor you; all we do this time is sacred. I give light to fire bright, in candle and hearth, and bonfire wild. We honor you Goddess, and as your child, I will give forth the spark that ignites our passion.”
Morgan turned from the alter holding the athame, she nicked her palm letting three drops of blood land on the log closest to her, and using the ceremonial knife, pointed at the tinder in the center of the stacked wood.
Red, crimson, and scarlet the sparkling heat shimmered from her outstretched arm into the center of the bonfire and erupted. Yellow, orange, and blue flames leapt higher and higher.
“Dance in joy, my friends. Glory in the power of this night,” Morgan shouted over the crackle of the fire. Dropping her cape, she stepped around it raising her hands to the stars.
The rest followed dropping their capes, the men in their black robes accenting the ethereal gauziness of the women’s robes which accent their curves and joyful cavorting.
They raised their voices as they pranced, no words, but pure tones and humming throbs of sound became a harmonious weft of music, as individual as the witch or wizard who’s hands fluttered above their heads. They shuffled to the right and then the left as they celebrated the joy of plentiful stores, of the generosity of the earth as it gives substance to her children.
Whizzing light joined them, weaving its way between and around them, and quiet wavering figures began to pour from the forest. Spirits of those who had gone on before, women, children, men joined the dance. Wavering through and shredding as they moved around Alanna, she stopped to gaze at them, her eyes wide with wonder.
“Who are they Grammie?” she asked.
Morgan felt shivers run down her spine, as goosebumps stood on her arms and thighs.
“Those who honored mother nature before us,” Gaia responded, “Welcome to the Niitsitapi nation, we are honored to have you join us.”
“You honor mother earth as we do,” said one of the spirits.
“Aye, we do. We honor the Goddess and all the spirits of the living breathing planet we share,” Harry answered.
“We are the Sisika, the Blackfoot nation. You dance where we buried our ancestors,” The shimmering ghost wore a long feather headdress. His right hand carried a peace pipe, and his left a tomahawk.
“I knew the land here was more. The great granite circle stone drew me to make a sacred space,” Andrew told him.
“Do swear to keep it holy? To give my people the right to come and visit their dead, to make their spirit journeys from this place as they seek guidance?” The chief raised the tomahawk above his head.
“We swear to protect this place. It is a sacred to us, as it is to you,” Morgan placed her right hand over her heart. Hoping these spirits would understand the depth of her commitment to magick and the great Goddess.
“Then let us dance.” The tomahawk dropped from its threatening stance, as he replaced it on his hip.
The throbbing beat of rhythmic native drums pounded through the night. Joyful screams came from the ghosts and the darkness ached with joy. Chin Chi danced with abandon, beside the proud members of the ancient nation. Morgan watched his steps mirror theirs with ease. Where had he learned? The drums seemed to own the wizened Chinese herbalist.
The bonfire burned higher, ghosts, witches and wizards wove in measured steps around it, bringing elation to all. As the embers glimmered, glowing under collapsed logs, blue flames white hot licked at charred remains. Exhaustion brought Morgan to her knees on the soft loam of the circle.
“I close this circle, in joy and peace. Our friends we promise, you are always welcome. I’ll contact the chief, who leads the tribe now.”
Coal black eyes met hers, as the ancestral chief began to fade. He turned and placed his pipe and ax on the altar. “Take them to him. Tell him Chief Crowfoot sent them through you.”
“We will keep our word,” Morgan promised.
“Your children will be the ones who bring healing to us all” The chief disappeared, wisps of fog flowing into the trees as his people followed.
“Are they real?” Melissa plodded to the altar stone, sinking to the ground as she pulled her cape around her.
“By the grace of all we believe in, they are manifest.” Morgan said as she rose to her feet. Picking up the peace pipe, she examined the artifact. Ashes dropped from the bowl, as she turned it over.
“This is the real deal,” Stan told his wife. “I’ve got one like it in the display in the diner. I’ll help you on your mission, Morgan. I know the chief. I’m half Blackfoot myself.”
Stan reached down to grasp his wife’s hand, pulling Melissa to her feet. Beside him Chin Chi still swayed to an unheard rhythm, a smile flickering across his visage.
“I thank you for allowing me to attended this celebration, Gaia, Alanna,” he bowed to each in turn. “Morgan, I have seen friends who’s memories were but faint etchings of my childhood.”
“Then let us seal this night in sacred duty.” Morgan watched as the candles sputtered, dimming as their tiny flames consumed the last of their wax.
They joined hands in a circle once more, bowing their heads, as each of them made vows, personal and powerful, to make good on the promise they’d been moved to make this night of Samhain. Morgan raised her hands, Harry on one side and Chin Chi on the other.
“The circle is closed, our thanks to the Goddess. We will honor this night, with all within us,” Morgan declared, squeezing the hands of two of the wisest men she’d ever known, before releasing them as the great logs of the bonfire dropped into the center of the fire pit. Blue heat flickering along them as the gave their last to the Samhain blaze.
Chin Chi turned to the alter, reaching a gnarled finger forward, he traced the leather bindings of the tomahawk. “They were our brothers and sisters in suffering. I too will keep this promise. I knew of Chief Crowfoot when I was a child. He was a leader beyond compare.”
“How?” Alanna asked.
“His grandson was my friend.” Chin Chi’s eyes sparkled with the memory.