We five stood in a furnished basement in the suburbs of Saint Louis, next to a plastic Christmas tree and a Frazetta painting. We held hands like we have since we were children, when the adults wouldn’t let us talk during the ritual for fear that we would invoke the spirits of Bugs Bunny and Luke Skywalker. We snickered as the priestess called the quarters of the Yule ritual by pressing play on a boombox. We told ourselves that this is not how we were supposed to worship the Goddess and the Horned God, that this was something foreign, silly. We pursed our lips and were dissatisfied with our inheritance.
Our parents’ living room was our church. That’s where our families would gather on the full moon. With our wooden athames and rayon robes, we would follow along as Eric’s mother cast a circle around the couches and coffee tables with an iron scimitar, while his father traced pentagrams in salt and water. We would follow the path from the east to the north calling in the spirits of elements: Megan’s sister in the south, perhaps, Joe’s father in the west. We boys would watch the girls join their mothers and invoke some aspect of the Great Goddess: “I am a violet, poking up from the fallen leaves,” Sarah would say. We girls would watch the boys transform into the Great God: “I am the stag galloping through the forest,” Alaric would say. We children would sing our hymns: “We All Come from the Goddess,” “She Changes Everything She Touches,” even “The Lord of the Dance,” which our Christian friends would tell us actually belonged to them. We would sit on the hardwood floor and eat sacred cakes and sip sacred wine, whispering to each other in serious voices: “May you never hunger, may you never thirst.”
We five were once more than five, were seven or eight. That was before Aimee’s parents quit coming, before Bridget became an atheist. We five grew up, moved on, moved away, scattered to work or college or other distractions. We came home for Yule and found something sad and childish. We wondered what was missing, what had been lost.
We sat in the den of the house in the suburbs, chewing on scalloped potatoes and roast beef, and wondered what to do. We longed for the mystery we felt when we were young. We longed for the magic that turned TV rooms into temples. We longed to feel something again at the moment the scimitar carved the mystical from the mundane. We talked, and we frowned, and we decided that next year, we would take the festival of Lughnasadh.
Lughnasadh, Lugh’s feast—Lugh of the big hand, the clever wit, the bright-shining sun. Lughnasadh, the first of August, when Lugh sat at the peak of his powers and looked already to his decline and his fall. We found some special romance in this holiday that we could not express; perhaps it was simply the dream of summer, a place far away from the cold we felt on the longest night of the year. We went to the kitchen and told the adults. We read the surprise on their faces.
We spent the first turn of the Wheel of the Year looking through libraries, making reservations, deciding what to cook. We booked a pavilion in Tower Grove Park and forgot to pay the reservation fee. We found another shelter in another park and went there instead, amid grumbles about irresponsibility and inattentiveness by our elders. We wrote the ritual and assigned the parts, and we waited impatiently for August.
The patriarch was waiting for us on Lughnasadh, already sitting in his wheelchair at the picnic tables when we arrived. He told us stories while we put out the tablecloths and plastic forks: stories of the early days, when his coven was just one of many magical projects with names like the Phoenix Temple and the Ordo Templi Orientis. His coven, Watersmeet, had vanished years ago, but its children, our covens—Pleiades, Watershade, Hollyoak—remained. We smiled, and half-listened, and tried to get ready for the show.
We went over the script once more before our parents arrived. Eric prepared to work the salt and water, as he had watched his father do so many times before. Sarah examined her curved cavalry sword and walked around the edge of the clearing. Her brother Joe was dressed in white with a leafy crown, and we could all see Lugh hiding behind his lean, serious face. Megan lay down in the grass and we surrounded her with wheat, outlining where she would lie when she, as Lugh’s mother Tailte, would die during the course of our rite. Alaric tapped expectantly on the head of his drum and hummed to himself: This is the tale of Lugh the Sun King, who lost his life on solstice day…
We looked up and saw the first of the sedans and minivans parking outside the pavilion. We saw the first of our aunts, uncles, mothers, and fathers carry plates of feast-food to the picnic tables. We made our altar on a tree stump, where we placed the candles, incense, salt, water, knives, the cavalry sword, the wine and bread. We looked through the heat shimmerat the pond at the edge of the woods, and at the sun, and at each other. We marveled at this dream of summer.
We had not found what was missing; we had not found the magic of innocence again, our naïve dreams. Time had rid us of them; things are never as we remember. But there are things we can only discover about our parents when we take their places, things to learn about magic that only magicians can know.
We five took deep breaths and joined hands, pleased, at last, with what we had been given. We walked up the hill to the pavilion, and we welcomed our parents to Lughnasadh.