The eldritch screech reverberating around the peaks and valleys turned their blood to ice. Shaking uncontrollably, the boys looked at each other and wondered if this was such a good idea. It sounded easy sitting in front of the fire. No one really believed witches were real, did they? That’s what made this lark feasible but now? They were sure that it was not a normal human voice. What had they stumbled into now?
They thought back. It was only yesterday when they had decided to prove that the stories of witches meeting in the area were make believe. But when yet another screech echoed around, they decided this was not the right time to be proving anything. They ran pell-mell down the forest track until they reached the cottage where Gran lived.
The door creaked as they pushed it open. Ben called out. “Gran, are you here? We heard some noises and thought it might frighten you.”
There was silence. No Gran to comfort them, to make hot chocolate. Even the fire in the grate was cold. Where could she be? They were sure Mum had mentioned nothing about Gran going away. They clumped noisily upstairs to see if the old lady was asleep. No, the bed was neatly made.
They decided if Gran was not here, they might as well make their way home. At least there Mum would make them some hot chocolate and give them a cookie or two. They raced down to the little hamlet and bust into the house. Dad was sitting dozing by the fire, but where was Mum?
“Dad, wake up. Where’s Mum? We heard a noise, so we went to look in on Gran to see she was alright and she wasn’t there.”
Dad looked at them then said, “I thought I told you to go to bed hours ago, so what are you doing up and running around the forest?”
Bernie, the eldest, said, “Dad, we told you we heard a noise and went to see if Gran was alright.”
“No, my boys, you are lying you went out against my strict orders to stay in and go to bed. Now I will not give you any pocket money on Saturday.”
Mike whined. “Dad, how can you do that to us? It’s Halloween, and all we wanted to do was see if there really are witches in the woods.”
“You are both far too young to be trying to find out, there might be and there might not be but you are going to bed right now.”
Bernie, ever the one to push boundaries, said, “Please, Dad, can we have some hot chocolate first? We heard some strange noises, and it frightened us.”
Dad laughed. “Serves you right there are reasons why I told you to stay in tonight, but I suppose since you’re up, we can all have a drink. Then you have to promise to do as you are told.”
They chorused. “Yes, Dad, we’ll stay in from now on.”
Meanwhile, near where the boys had stumbled around their sister Anna and a few other ladies laughed. “That recording did the trick. We should use it more often.”
Gran looked thoughtful. “No, we should only use it for our Halloween meeting. Otherwise, people will get complacent. Now let’s get on with the ritual I’m getting cold and could do with the cakes and ale or even a decent cup of tea. I think I’m getting too old for all this larking around in the middle of the night.”
Soon the ritual began as it had from time immemorial. First, they stood while the High Priestess (Mum) held a smoking bundle of herbs, mainly sage. As each witch stepped up, she smudged them. What’s that you ask? The smoke cleanses the aura, so each member stepped into the circle purified. Traditionally the entrance is on the eastern side. A bit of a nuisance as the sanding stone leaned a little and the ground was always muddy there. After the smudging, they walked deosil (clockwise to you) until they reached their assigned positions.
Once everyone was in place, the coven maiden (Anna) lit the candles and stood back as the priestess approached the altar. She lifted the double-edged blade called an athame. She bowed to the Goddess, then holding the athame up high she asked the Goddess for power. The blade shimmered, the priestess lowered it and walked deosil around the circle, creating a safe, sacred space. All the members watched the flickering blue flame tracing the line which enclosed them.
Then she called the witches who were the guardians of the elements, fire, earth, air and water to say their words. Each one called on the nymphs, fairies, salamanders and dwarfs belonging to their specific element to join, to guard the circle and keep the members safe.
Then the principal part of the ritual took place. In that sealed sacred space nothing could be seen from the outside, so no-one can tell what went on.
Gran, as the crone of the group, stood up to talk about the traditions of witchcraft. Then she spoke of more prosaic matters affecting the hamlets represented by the coven members. When she had finished, there was a general discussion and specific duties were assigned to each member.
The guardians thanked their elementals and dismissed them before the priestess took up the athame and closed the circle by walking widdershins (anti-clockwise to you). Still in their positions, the coven maiden brought around the cakes and ale. The chat was relaxed and soon it was time to pack up.
Next day the boys raced up to Gran’s cottage she was pottering around in the garden, talking to the resident Robin and all the other woodland creatures who visited her daily for a chat.
“Gran, where were you last night? We came round after we heard a strange noise we thought it might frighten you, but you weren’t here.”
The old lady smiled. She would have to tell Anna her unearthly recording had done its job. “Oh, boys, that’s so kind of you to be concerned. I went to spend the night with a friend who wasn’t very well.”
“Dad was very cross with us and said as we disobeyed him, we had to go without our pocket money this week.”
“Quite right, too. You should never disobey your parents, but would you like some cookies to make up for your loss?”
Later, when Anna called in to see her Gran, the old lady said, “Your recording scared your brothers away last night. You did very well as coven maiden. I think as the boys are so nosy you should leave your books and notes here, after all, we don’t want to undo the mystery do we?”