“You have been summoned by the Council of Elders,” Elsbeth blurted out as soon as she stepped into Olivia’s studio. As soon as she had seen the look of fear that crashed down her daughter’s face, she wrapped her arms around her. She kissed her hair trying to soothe her trembling. She hugged her as tightly as she could. Elsbeth knew that she may not get many more chances once whatever was coming towards them began to unfold.
“Why?” Olivia asked with a small voice as she looked up at her mother. “I have done everything I have been asked to do. Both of my cords are intact. I have been diligent in my studies. You know that I can do so much more than the other first degrees!” Olivia complained, as the panic over being summoned made her stomach clench. Her voice sounded whiny even to her own ears. It was never a good thing to get called before the elders and she knew it. She worried that she had done something accidentally and had not been aware of it.
“I don’t think it is that. Your birthday just happened. This might be for a Calling,” her mother said softly as she continued to smoothed her daughter’s dark auburn hair.
“A Calling? They still do those? I thought there had not been a Calling in decades. Why now?” wailed Olivia. The idea horrified her. This was not something she had prepared herself for in any shape or form. For most witches, the Calling was a theoretical obligation that disappeared after the critical twenty-eighth birthday. For her, that was a year away.
“We won’t know until you speak to them. They expect you there by moon rise. Please prepare yourself so that you can be presented to the Council. We all must do as we are told. We all serve the Goddess,” Elsbeth said softly and she tried to give her daughter a reassuring smile.
Olivia envied her mother’s calm. She wished she could feel that way. “Yes, Mother. I will do as you say,” Olivia answered in the subdued tone she always used when she wanted her mother to know she was not happy whatever the edict would make her do. The idea that this summons was for a Calling scared her even more than if she was in trouble again. She started cleaning up the paints she had been working with, her worry ratcheting up with each minute that passed. She had not done anything lately, she did not think. The last time she had gotten into trouble it was because she had reached entirely too far with her magic. She had known it at the time, but being a pre-teen, she had led with her heart and not her common sense to disastrous results. She had seen the images of the cattle starving and the ranchers crying over losing generations of hard work on TV and felt like she just needed to do something. So, she had conjured a tropical storm by combining the elements or air and water in attempt at big magic to help to ease the drought in the Texas panhandle. The particle waves had wobbled out of shape, drifted south, and combined with a much stronger storm coming out of the Gulf causing catastrophic flooding of the Llano River flood in Texas. As a First-Degree Witch, she should not have had enough power to even be able to attempt such a spell much less cause such devastating effects. She had just hoped to give them a little rain. She still felt bad about the results every time she thought about it which of course, was every time it rained. She had not anticipated the power of the quantum gravity on the storm particles, so she had not compensated which allowed the storm to wobble. She had made amends to the Earth by drying things out quickly to prevent the damaging molds and told no one of her foolhardy attempt. Of course, she could not do ever seem to anything using even one-tenth of that effort under her instructor’s watchful eyes so that she could advance to the next level. The magic just refused to cooperate.
Olivia had become quite an accomplished artist instead. Her commercial work helped to support the entire Columbia Coven. Although witches no longer lived together, they mutually supported one another emotionally, socially, and financially. At one time, all witches sworn to a specific coven lived in single community for protection. There had been safety in numbers for several millennium. The tumultuous 1960s had rippling effects that had reached beyond sexual mores and racial equality. With the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, no group had been more effected by the alignment of the first six planets, the Sun, the Moon, and the constellation Aquarius than witches. The Astrological Age, which impacted all inhabitants of Earth equally, had started its transition from Pisces into Aquarius in the mid-1960s, heralded by a time of great upheaval. The Age of Pisces had been heralded by the birth of John the Baptist and solidified by the birth of Jesus Christ. The Age of Aquarius had been heralded by the Civil Rights movement and solidified by the extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include age, gender, and sexual orientation to all persons. The information age assured that however the United States treated its citizenry, so to the world followed. Now firmly with the Aquarian era, witches were already fully integrated into mainstream society. Witch children were no longer home schooled. Living in coven collectives became unnecessary. Funds could be easily pooled digitally now. The biggest challenges that witches faced were those caused by the fact that they aged so slowly. It was easy to manipulate the perception of the few people that they encountered a simple spell. They kept minimal digital presences so when they had to change identities, a simple glamour was sufficient. Most of the Elders where several-hundred years old. The other paranormals in existence would be coming into the light soon and no longer be forced to hide during this two-millennium cycle. One of the main influences of any air sign, which Aquarius was along with Libra and Gemini, was communication, honesty, and humanitarianism. Aquarius also covered computers, democracy, non-conformity, and freedom. There would be no place to hide in the information age.
What had not changed with the influence of the Astrological Age, was the hierarchy of influence within the culture of witches. Respect for Elders still essential. Age meant power and power was respected. The Council of Elders represented the eldest witches from among the Covens. The High Priestess and the Council ruled them all and made all the major decisions just as the Coven Priestess and Elders made the major decisions for the Coven. Being summoned meant that something significant had happened regardless which group did the summoning. Or someone had done something significant that had affected them all. Olivia took great care in her every action to follow the rules, a few accidents notwithstanding. Her mother had always preached that with great power came great responsibility. All though Olivia was considered to have somewhat weak magical skills, she still had much more power than the humans around her. She was careful never to take advantage of that fact.
She and her mother lived simply. Olivia sold her art and her mother sold herbs and vegetables at the local farmers market. They shared a small farmhouse not far from the Coven House in Columbia, South Carolina that had once belonged to her grandmother. They had two acres to grow vegetables and herbs. The weather made it possible to harvest three out of the four seasons, giving the ground time to heal itself during the winter. Her mother having a deft hand at growing things, had a side business growing rare and costly herbs and flowers in the hothouse on their property that witches around the globe sought for their spells and medicines through the Coven’s website. Olivia’s paintings had started becoming coveted after her first art show in high school and frequently garnered several thousand dollars each. She was quite happy with their life and tried to avoid the scrutiny that might take it away from them. It made the summons even more disturbing.
Olivia showered and dried her hair, fixing the thick waist-length auburn tresses into the traditional braid worn by all Neophytes and First-Degree witches. She had the same Magic stripe of color in her hair that had appeared indicating that she had mastered all the first skills learned by all Neophytes witches. The color in the stripe typically appeared at the tip and grew up the hair to the root as all witches mastered their skills in the element that they were most adept in. Most witches could only generate a small amount of color until they had finished their Second-Degree Advanced training. But there were a few Third-Degree witches who had only a pale color, indicating mastery but limited strength. Olivia’s stripe was unusual in more ways than one, causing no end of insults and derision from other witches in her coven, both skilled and Neophyte. It was significantly wider than the normal one inch. She was forever trying to twist it to make it appear smaller. The most disturbing difference was the color of her stripe. It just added to how different she was from the others. Normally the stripe took on the color of the witch’s primary element. It typically was either yellow for Air, green for Earth, red for Fire, blue for Water, and white for Spirit. A rare witch might have orange for a combination of Air and Fire or even teal with a combination of Water and Earth. Olivia’s was purple. Bright, neon purple from the roots to the tip. The red of Fire and blue of Water cancelled each other out and was never a primary-secondary affinity combination. Yet another example of her failings as a witch. One that her peers had no problem rubbing in every chance that they got. Most girls her age were Second-Degree if not Third-Degree at this point in their training. She had not been advanced forward yet because the Coven Priestess, Isabelle, did not think she had “matured enough” to handle the additional knowledge. It still bristled Olivia when she thought of it. She tried to be accepting of the Elders’ decision not to advance her graciously, even if she did not like it.
The practice of witchcraft took a lifetime to learn. Fortunately, witches aged differently than humans and lived thousands of years giving them the time they needed to master their craft. Despite the countless movies to the contrary, witchcraft was not sitting in a salt circle and calling the four cardinal corners for some kind of super-entity to grant them assistance nor was it flinging love spells at the unlucky. It was about using your intent to manipulate the energy that made up everything in the universe. Spells were just a way of focusing intent. Each witch simply used the element they had the most affinity for to reach the intended goal. The older the witch, the less likely she needed to rely in spells. Some spoke simple commands, others used rhyming verse. The words did not matter. Only the intent behind them. A Neophyte Witch could manipulate the cardinal element of fire to light a candle by exciting the particles around the wick so that it would burn. The intent was to create a flame. The action was exciting the particles to cause the flame. A Second-Degree Witch could fill a well with water. The intent was to collect water. The action was coalescing the water molecules together inside the empty well. A Third-Degree Witch could create a small house. The intent was the create three-dimensional object you could live in. The action was pulling particles from the air, water, earth and combine them with fire to make the components necessary to build the house. For example, a tree was used to create the wood for the frame and fire was used to cut the timber into planks. The earth sent forth the metal and fire forged it into nails, and so forth. An Elder Witch could pull particles together in a manner to manipulate the energy to do something like create a hurricane or change the particles around a person to impact their mood or perceptions only do it to every person in a football stadium at once. Quantum mechanics was flexible and endless.
Witchcraft followed a predictable development pattern in almost every witch ever born. Powers started to manifest as puberty started and frequently presented with such mundane things as lighting a candle, ringing a bell, and turning the pages of a book. That was how the famed Witch’s Test came into being because those were skills that all witches possessed. A Neophyte Witch could do all of those and call an element successfully such a s filling her palm with water or make a strong breeze. Most First-Degree witches had mastered the ability to manipulate the particles enough to cause some action with a cardinal element such as water plants by manipulating water or levitating objects by manipulating air. Or the witch could deconstruct particles and move them to another location or grow a rose bush by manipulating the particles to generate plant maturity. A Second-Degree Witch could grow an entire forest. Every witch tended to have an affinity to certain intentions. A witch who could manipulate plants was called an Earth Witch for simplicity’s sake. She could grow things, combine plant elements into medicines or lotions, or manipulate the soil and weather conditions to ensure the desired result. A Fire Witch could manipulate temperature, change states of things such as solids versus liquids, or cause objects to attract or repel. A Water Witch could change the course of a hurricane or make it rain. An Air Witch could levitate herself or objects, and some could even teleport. The difference between degrees would be the Third-Degree Witch had mastered multiple intentions in more than one affinity such as build the house and create a garden around it.
Olivia had not followed the normal development pattern at all. She had started shaking things in the womb. She had set her crib bedding on fire, more than once. She turned the pages of her pictures books by just looking at them before she could really walk on her own. By the time she had started pre-school, she could put together her own French toast breakfast without touching the stove. She had made things grow in unusual ways as far back as she could remember. She could not make just a single rose bloom, instead she grew a brier patch of raspberries. If she tried to light a candle, the fireplace roared to life. She tried to water her mother’s herb garden and created a flood. Her results had been so unpredictable using the spells and techniques that they had taught her, that they had been forced to put a binding bracelet on her to prevent her from doing really damaging magic. It had been embarrassing. Just one more in a long line of embarrassing things. Control was essential as a witch and she failed at that. When she was left alone, she could clear the leaves in the yard with a simply wave of her hand and send them to the composting bin. She could prevent the rain on her deck if she wanted to paint outside with a simple thought. She could make a lightning storm on a cloudless night just to watch the bright arcs skitter across the sky. She had not washed her clothes in years. A simple thought and they were cleaned, folded, and put away. She could make the Earth part from itself to make planting easier. The only place she had followed the skill level as she should was when she was calling spirits. She could call them and speak with them, she could even banish them if need be, but she could not forcefully master their behavior yet. It was something in the way the energy particles around them behaved that was vastly different than living beings that she had yet to figure out. They certainly did not behave the way her instructors had said.
She dressed in her black long-sleeve lace gown. It was fitted around her bodice in the corset-style showing off her thin waist and an ample amount of cleavage. She hated wearing it because she always felt like her breasts were on display. Not that her modest B-cups where much to look at, but she did not like showing that much skin. She also did not like how tight the skirt felt. It fit her hips snugly and fell to the floor from there. A slit from the hem to her right knee enabled the ability to walk smoothly and kneel in the close fit. It was never optional to appear before the Council of Elders in anything less than a floor-length gown. She already owned a ridiculous number of them. Who need four gowns? Olivia figured it was a throwback to the time when it was the only option open to women. They had spent more time being forced into dresses than they had been given the freedom to choose pants, which had not been socially acceptable until WWII. She applied mascara to her dark lashes, making them stand out around her violet eyes even more. She was always self-conscious about them since they looked so different than anyone else’s. She must have gotten them from her father. She had gotten her mother’s features in everything else except her mother’s eyes which were an emerald green. She added a light blush and lip gloss. It was a good as it would get. She never wore much. She sent a prayer up to the Goddess that she would have the strength to accept whatever the Elders ordered with grace. She did not want to embarrass her mother.
Olivia slipped on her black granny boots and slipped the button loops over the buttons. They were a throwback style, but she loved them. The three-inch heel helped to add some height to her five-foot two-inch frame. Between her short height and small frame, she was rarely taken as a serious threat by anyone. How could they. There were middle school kids bigger than she was. She needed any advantage she could get today. She took one last in the mirror. She frowned at what she saw. There were just too many flaws she noticed. She would never be a great beauty. She just sighed and turned to head downstairs.
Her mother was ready and waiting for her. She wore a black gown also, but the cut and style were even more conservative than Olivia’s dress. When the women were standing side-by-side, they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter except her mother’s hair was loose about her shoulders with a bright blue stripe that started at the crown of her head like most witches and not from the base of her skull like Olivia’s did. Her mother was a Third-Degree Water witch, so she had no restrictions on how she wore her hair. She certainly did not look like she was nearly two-hundred years old. Not a single gray hair was present. Even if one had shown up, a simple spell would have covered it, but Olivia knew her mother would not bother being that vain. Even so, Olivia would be able to see the spell if it had been there. She had one unique talent that she had kept hidden from everyone except her mother. She could see the spell of any magic cast by another and unravel it. She had been able to see the presence of a spell long before she could cast them herself. She had told her mother about her ability early on and they had both decided to keep that detail quiet. Her mother had told her that other witches would be afraid of her if they knew and insist that she have her magic bound. Olivia was not going to be put in position. It was bad enough she was already bound by the cord. The shame of being completely bound would be too much to bear. The seven-knotted cord had been placed on her when she turned nine years old after the flooding debacle. The binding had been put in place by the High Priestess herself to control Olivia’s budding magic and emotional wreckage caused by puberty. All young witches were corded. It kept them all safe by preventing accidental uses of magic as they matured. Using magic in front of humans could be disastrous. The fact that it had taken more knots than her peers had needed still rankled her every time she looked at. Typically, once a witch had advanced from being a First-Degree, the cord would have a colored bead placed that curbed the hormones and desire to assist in maintaining chastity until the witch passed the critical birthday. When Olivia had turned twelve, she had received two Chastity beads, one colored and one clear. Olivia just viewed it as another way that she was different than other girls her age.