Winnie knelt down on the grass and closed her eyes. Kat’lana knew that she always gave thanks to Brighid, the Shining One before beginning her teachings. Even though the sun was warm on their shoulders, Winnie still wore many layers of clothes on her considerable figure. White hairs shone like strands of glistening silver as she composed herself.
Kat'lana crossed her legs and found a comfortable place in front of the wisewoman-crone. The sandy soil cushioned her light form and the regular cadence of the waves on the nearby rock gave her breathing a rhythm from which to align. She awaited the teaching, already knowing the topic. It was the day before the midsummer day, the longest day of the year. Beginning at midnight the Solstice fire would be lit and a vigil kept until just before the dawn, when the entire clan would walk to the stone circle to witness the rising of the sun between the two dark signal stones. Understanding the ebb and flow of the wheel of the year was integral to the spiritual life of her people, Winnie would remind her charge that the passage of days was a sacred thing.
|"Imbolc" by Jenny Dolfen |
Kat’lana nodded, “Yes, wise one.”
“What is the most important day of our year?”
“The Dark Day, the Mid-winter solstice.” Kat’lana remembered their last Dark Day with the tribe from the south, before her journey northwards into the Norland clans. Snow had covered the village, well-trodden and hard, a sharp frost already crisping the air. Yet, on the evening before the Dark Day, the tribe extinguished every fire, every lantern and fire-pot, closing out every source of heat. She knew that across the whole country, this same process was being repeated, throwing the entire land into darkness, until the time of the lighting of the bonfires the next day. “It is when we throw our very existence into the hands of the Goddess” She remembered the dhruid’s staff as it touched the edge of the bonfire, watched in awe as the spark from the wooden tip had lit the dried grass, grinned as the divine favored their village once again.
“And what is the next most important day?” Winnie prodded.
“Tomorrow,” Kat’lana smiled, holding her head to the warming sun, luxuriating in the hot afternoon rays. Her face had already colored this summer, giving her skin a healthy brown hue. “The summer solstice, our longest day and a celebration of the Sun God, king of the summer lands.
Winnie held her staff in both hands, showing the pattern of notches on four sides. “Each year holds four quarters of ninety days.” She said, rotating the staff to show the four scored sides. “Plus one day of celebration.” “The other quarter days are planting time and harvest.”
Kat’lana anticipated the next question, touching the top notch on each side of the long rowan staff. “The equinoxes; the other edges of the square.” Kat’lana drew a square in the sand in front of her, and stabbed each corner. “After each quarter, we celebrate.”
Winnie smiled, as proud as any mother would have been. “Without the counting of the days, the sowers would plant wrongly, and the gods would be displeased.” The teacher watched the eager face of her pupil as she showed genuine thrill at the simple teaching of the Counting Days, one of Winnie’s favorite lessons. She remembered holding the Iceni child under her skirts after the fall of Boudicca, the long days trekking north, away from the Roman retaliation against the rebellious tribe, the long months of hiding. Kat'lana's heritage shimmered brightly in the eyes of this already wise warrior maiden. “How do we give the four seasons their boundaries?”
Kat’lana’s answer was already on her lips. “The Cross-Quarter Days." She made indentations at the midpoints of her square in the sand, then drew a diamond inside it.
|Wheel of the Year Stamp by CherryPieArtStamps|
“Imbolc, the time when the lambs are born” Kat’lana said, her words precise. "winter's wise crone
is once again a maiden, her belly swollen with the babe that shall be the summer king.
Winnie could find her own phraseology in her pupil’s words. “The beginning of summer?”
“Beltane,” Kat’lana clapped her hands together, anticipating the feasts that would follow tomorrow’s ceremonies. “A time to dance, and for the joining of young couples…” She stopped, the next part of the lesson dry on her lips. No youth in the clan had approached her this year, and although she spurned male companionship for the most part, she had hoped a brave one would attempt to attract her.
“Lughnasadh,” Kat’lana’s words were now somewhat distant, her concentration not on the lesson, but searching, wondering where her male companion would appear.
“Kat!” Winnie snapped, her sharp tone shaking Kat’lana from her thoughts. “The meaning of this day?”
“Sorry, wise one,” her head fell, her chin on her chest. “Lughnasadh is the wedding of the Sun god Lugh to the Earth goddess, causing the ripening of crops.”
“Well done, and the last Cross-Quarter day? The end of autumn, and the beginning of our year?”
Kat’lana lifted her head, her composure returned, her words strong and confident. “Samhain is when time is not time- the veil between the worlds is lifted and our ancestors who watch us from beyond draw near again. It is also the time when we cull our herds and bring the meat in for the winter.
The old woman looked at her Iceni charge, a young woman blossoming into womanhood, yet holding onto the last vestiges of her childish self. “The lesson is over.”
Kat’lana stood, bowed her head. “Thank you, wise one.” And she was gone, sand spinning from her bare feet, bow in hand, legs pumping with the energy of youth.
Authors Note: If you would like to journey further into the world of ancient Scotland, my just released prequal to the Caledonii series, Caledonii: Birth of a Celtic Nation. Druid & Iceni it is now available as a FREE eBook on Amazon and Smashwords.