Hardscrabble #10--July 1994

Letter from Hardscrabble Creek: "Amy's Night"

Chas S. Clifton

Almost everyone in the encampment except Amy knew what was going to happen to her that night. She was running around with some older friends, going topless in the section of the campground away from public view, smoking cigarettes, and generally acting like she was 15 going on 28. She had no idea what was coming.

The main public ritual started just before sunset. It had a "quest" motif, and participants wound off through the edge of the forest and back to the central fire ring at twilight before dispersing to their individual tents, vans, and trailers. Some campfires were started, kerosene torches and Coleman lanterns lit.

Amy had not been at the public ritual; she had agreed to do some babysitting for some of her stepmother's friends.

It was fully dark when the priestess from Vancouver walked the circular road that ran around inside the ring of campsites in the pine forest, beating a bodhran, and calling that anyone wishing to participate should come to the central fire ring.

About this time, one of the women explained things to Amy.

We assembled as follows: The inner ring, standing inside the permanent benches, consisted of her stepmother and stepmother's friends--godmothers, in effect. Next was a circle of other women from the encampment (and one man who preferred to be with the women), seated on the heavy, backless plank benches. Behind them, the men (and one woman who preferred to be with the men), standing almost outside the light. Behind them, at the quarter points in the cool darkness, stood four more men: her father, her older brother, another member of the home coven, and one of her father's close friends. All told, perhaps fifty people or more came.

One of the women brought Amy, wide-eyed in the firelight, to the circle. The priestess explained what was happening. There was no formal circle-casting; it was not necessary. Beginning with her stepmother, the women of the inner circle began giving her things: a length of cloth, a fancy antique key, other small items, and a traveling bag to put it all in. Each item was accompanied by a few words about its symbolic significance.

Standing straight with the cloth draped like a blanket over her shoulders, Amy wept and wept, and the women laughed softly and said they should have included the sacred Kleenex.

And then her father came and spoke to her; the male covener spoke as a teacher (she had, on her own, already accepted the Craft); and her father's friend said his household would always be there for her safety. Her elder brother gave her a walking stick that he had carved, saying that he would be there as her support. (Later, Amy's stepmother explained to me how much family business was taken care of in that gift: he was promising to be less critical of his sister from then on and more truly supportive.)

Finally, leaning on her stick, wearing the heavy cloth, and carrying her bag, Amy walked through a break in the circle and out into the darkness of the forest.

Standing in the outer circle, holding the cup of whiskey I had just been starting when the summons came, I too felt tears coming. "Amy," I thought, "you have no idea how lucky you are, how many kids will never get what has been given to you tonight."

I must not have been the only one thinking that way, for I heard later that another young woman (single, in her late teens with a 2-year-old child) had been emotionally overcome after the ceremony, and the priestess and several other women went to sit with her.

Later that night, someone said, Amy was "dancing for herself" at one of the campfires where there was drumming and music. About eleven o'clock the Moon, two days past full, cleared the tops of the pine trees and lit the campsite. Amy's stepmother, the priestess from Vancouver, and I sat sipping our drinks, talking a little, and staring into the flames. They said there had been more people there than I could have counted--the presences of discarnate relatives and such as that--but what I saw was enough.

Around midnight I went to sleep, only waking once before dawn when three coyotes started howling from different quarters, setting all the camp dogs to barking and baying in return.

Chas S. Clifton lives in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado. He edited Llewellyn Publications' Witchcraft Today series, which included The Modern Craft Movement (1992), Modern Rites of Passage (1993), Witchcraft & Shamanism (1994), and Living Between Two Worlds (1996) and was the co-author with Evan John Jones of Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance. He is now writing a history of American Paganism tentatively titled Her Hidden Children for AltaMira Press.



"Letter from Hardscrabble Creek" is a self-syndicated column furnished on a non-exclusive basis and copyright © 1994 by Chas S. Clifton..

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