A chapter from “Broth from the Cauldron.”
Bear with Me
When I was twenty-two, a few months after I became involved with Wicca, I went on a camping vacation with my family. Our vacation spanned the date of August 2, which is the Celtic festival of Lughnasad, the harvest of the first fruits. I had been raised agnostic in a scientific household; religion was the opiate of the masses, not something for smart people like us. But I was the wild card kid, intensely psychic, awash in past life memories, and drawn to the forbidden world of spirit. Meeting my first Witch and attending Wiccan rituals that spring was no conversion for me, it was coming home. But I knew better than to discuss my spiritual path with my parents. Nonetheless, I wanted to honor Lughnasad with a ritual, so I decided to sneak off to the lake after my parents and younger brother and sister were asleep.
Late that night I slipped out of my sleeping bag, stealthy as a snake, and soundlessly drifted with my small knapsack of magical tools and an offering of apples to a clearing beside a lake surrounded by woods. The heavy dusting of pine needles muffled my footsteps. The moon was just a night past full and the lake shone like a mirror. I was a novice, and nervous about my ability to do magic on my own, without the support of an experienced circle. But as I breathed in the silver moon over the lake, and heard the owls calling, a familiar enchantment stole over me. I folded my clothes, placed them under a tree, drew a circle in the dust and invoked the four directions with the invocations I had written. The texts say that when describing a circle in the air, the ‘practitioner’ should visualize a line of blue fire coming from the tip of the athame, the black-handled knife used by Witches for this purpose. As I drew the circle, it was as if I were making an incision in the deep blue night, a line of electric blue bleeding through. As I finished the circle of blue light and heard it click shut as one end connected with the other, I also heard a rustle to my right. Out of the bushes emerged a large adult bear. It walked towards me and connected with the outer edge of my circle at the North, walked the entire perimeter of the circle around me, completed the circle in the North and continued walking, now around the edge of the lake, into the shadow of the trees.
I completed my ritual with a wild joy—my magic was accepted! The moon Goddess had sent a bear to me! I dismissed the circle and left the two apples by the lake for the bear to find on his return. I knelt to touch one of the tracks the bear had left in the dust, then dressed and began to retrace my steps. But I had only gone a few steps when another large shape emerged, standing, from the bushes.
It was my father.
“What are you up to, little girl?” he asked gruffly.
I was appalled. How long had he been there? Had my father actually sat and watched me doing a ritual nude under the full moon? If he had, there was no hiding now.
“I was doing a harvest ritual, Dad. I’m a Witch.”
He walked over to me, his pale blue eyes shining silver in the moonlight.
“Well,” he conceded grudgingly. “That was a pretty good trick with the bear.”
As we walked back to the campground together he asked no more questions and I volunteered no more information.
At last, my father cleared his throat. “Could have been worse. You could have been a Jesus freak. Or a Harvey Krishna.”
Coming from my fiercely agnostic, highly critical father, this was extraordinary. We reached our campsite. He gave me an unreadable look—as if seeing me for the first time and being intrigued by what he saw– and again muttered, “Pretty good trick with the bear.”
Back in my sleeping bag, watching the silver wheel play hide and seek through the treetops, I wondered which was the bigger miracle.
The bear responding to an invisible circle drawn in the air? Or my father’s almost complicit, grudging admiration?