A Promise at Lammas


Beltane hijinks lead to a hurry-up handfasting on August first!


Arden entered the conference room, looked at the anxious faces of the people seated around the table, and sighed. “The news is bad, I’m afraid.”

Great Bear was the first to speak. “They voted to cut off funding?”

“Yes. Starting next week.”

“Next week is Lammas,” Elkhorn said. “How ironic! Just when we were going to celebrate Bread for All’s thirtieth anniversary in the city, they go and kill it.”

The board members of the Pagan Foundation, which worked with the social agencies in the city to meet the needs of the city’s homeless, hungry, and dispossessed, sat in silence for a moment, contemplating the import of Arden’s news.

Oakwyse said, “What’s going to happen to all the real assets? The bakery, the food pantry, the cafeteria?”

Arden shrugged. “Don’t know. I suppose they’ll be sold to someone.”

“Can we buy them?” Lochdru the Arch Druid asked.

Arden, the board’s treasurer, and Elspeth, the board’s lawyer, shook their heads.

“I’m afraid not. We’re stretched as it is, paying for this house,” Arden said.

The Pagan Foundation had recently had the good fortune to acquire a large Victorian house in one of the city’s old neighborhoods. Two blocks from a main thoroughfare, yet situated on a tree-lined street among houses that boasted small backyards, it was ideal for their purposes. Besides several meeting rooms, it had office space, a meditation room, kitchen, library, and even an extra large room that could be used for rituals.

“Besides,” Elspeth said, “I’m not sure the city would sell us those assets even if we could afford to buy them. The city government doesn’t mind accepting help from the Pagan Foundation, but if an organization with a name like ours were to buy and run Bread for All–well, ten gets you twenty there’d be an outcry.”

“Howls of outrage, probably,” Elkhorn agreed. “We ought to change our name to something less provocative but still recognizably Pagan—’Friends of Vesta,’ or something like that.’”

Elspeth nodded. “Agreed, but that’s another discussion for another day.”

“The bottom line, then,” Lochdru said, “is that the organization known as Bread for All will just die a quiet death.”

“No!” Great Bear jumped to his feet.

Everyone turned to look at him. Great Bear’s beard quivered as he said passionately, “Look, we’re Witches! What’s the point of being Witches if we can’t do some magic about this?”

“What kind of magic?” Elkhorn perked up.

“A spell to restore the funding!” Phaedra closed her eyes, the better to concentrate on remembering the right spell.

“Can’t do that,” Arden pointed out. “The moon is waning, so we can’t do spells of increase. We’ll have to do a spell to reverse the decision. “

“That’s right,” Lochdru said. “The waning moon is a time of negative energies.”
“I happen to know a reversing spell,” Great Bear said. “I did one last month with regard to a certain development in my life. We should go outside. We’ll need a candle, preferably green, matches, salt, and a bowl of water.”

“What about an athame?” Lochdru reached into his shirt pocket and produced one.

“I’ll get the bowl of water and the salt,” Phaedra offered as she headed toward the door.

“I’ll look for a green candle in the ritual supply closet,” Oakwyse said, rising from the table.

Outside in the humid afternoon the board members stood in the backyard while Great Bear arranged the bowl of water on a tree stump, placed the candle in its holder in the bowl so the water came up to half an inch from the top of the candle, and signaled to Lochdru to cast the circle.

Lochdru did so, ending the invocation with, “We are between the worlds.”
Great Bear held out his hand and Phaedra handed him the dish of salt. “When I scatter the salt on the water,” he said in a low voice to the others, “visualize sparks as the grains hit the water and then visualize both water and salt shining like a burst of sunlight.”

He closed his eyes and intoned:

With water purified by salt,
The wrongful action we will halt.

Great Bear then held out his hand again to receive the matches from Elspeth. He turned to the others and said quietly, “After I light the candle, visualize the water sending out energy to reverse the decision to cut off the funding for Bread for All. Breathe into that energy and build it up.”

He then lit the candle and said:

The wrong was done to cause great harm
To all the hungry, sick, and poor
We now reverse it with this charm
We now undo what went before.

Minute after minute dropped into the silence, broken only by birdsong and the occasional hum of traffic, as those in the circle closed their eyes and breathed into the energy, focusing on their intention.

When the candle burned down to the level of the water and sputtered out, Great Bear said, “You may open your eyes now. Now listen, when I break the candle, imagine the energy we’ve created bursting like swift, clean lightning, destroying the wrongful action.” He took the candle, holding it in both hands and spoke forcefully:

This wrongful action we abate
The rightful action to create.

When he broke the candle in half, the circle of Witches released their pent-up energy in a loud sigh. “Ahhhhh!”

Great Bear broke the candle into smaller and smaller pieces, then borrowed Lochdru’s athame to dig a small hole into which he fed the broken pieces of wax. When the pieces were covered with Earth, he poured the water in a circular motion around the small burial mound. Then he handed the athame back to Lochdru.

“To you, Arch Druid. Will you close the circle?”


“Let’s run through it once more,” Passionata said nervously, looking at TigerLily.

On this first day of August, in one of the meeting rooms of the Pagan Foundation house, the Circle sisters were preparing for Passionata’s and Sylvan’s handfasting.

“Okay,” TigerLily said obligingly. “When I start the music, the guests will go through the door to the backyard and sit down in the chairs—Passionata’s friends to the left, Sylvan’s friends to the right. Ceres and Arielle will direct people to their seats. When the music has played for one minute and fifty-eight seconds, Oakwyse will walk down to the end of the yard and stand behind the altar. At two minutes forty-five seconds Sylvan and Elkhorn will walk down the aisle and take their places to the right of the altar.”

“So far, so good,” Passionata said. “You’re sure Merrilyn knows what to do?”

“Yes, at three minutes twenty-four she’ll walk down the aisle scattering rose petals from her basket. At three minutes forty-five seconds Coventina and Rowan will walk down to take their places to the left of the altar, and at four minutes forty-nine seconds you will make your entrance.”

“Good,” Passionata said. “Thanks, TigerLily! I appreciate your taking charge of the music.” She took a deep breath and turned to face the other Circle sisters who stood around her, smiling.

“I’d like to thank all of you for making this handfasting celebration possible,” Passionata said, looking from one to the other as she spoke. “Gladwyn and Ceres, thank you so much for making the wedding cakes. Arielle, thank you kindly for sewing the dresses for the bridesmaids and Rhiannon, many thanks for crocheting the daisy circlets for them.”

The three bridesmaids—Coventina, Rowan, and eleven-year-old Merrilyn–wore identical ballerina-length, sea-green dresses of cotton gauze, trimmed with white lace crocheted by Rhiannon at neck and sleeves. The color, symbolizing the element of Water, suited them all—Coventina, with her brown eyes and short auburn bob, Rowan with hazel eyes and dark brown hair, and Merrilyn, with the same gray eyes and wheat-colored hair as her mother, TigerLily. Each wore a fillet of crocheted white daisies on her head.

“Jaguar, thank you for making the garland and bouquet, Green Dragon and Ceres Vegetina, thanks for cooking the food, Brianna Hestia, thanks for organizing the drumming after the feast, and Coventina and Rowan, thanks for doing my hair and makeup and—” she stopped, out of breath.

“It was our pleasure, Witch Sis,” Green Dragon said. “I’d kiss you for good luck but I don’t want to disarrange anything.”

“You’re all wonderful for helping with our low-budget handfasting,” Passionata said. “Recorded music, homemade goodies, and all! You know Sylvan and I are trying to save as much money as we can so I can stay home with the baby for a while after the birth.”

“Darling,” Arielle said, “the Goddess wouldn’t care if you both stood stark naked in a glade under the full moon with no music except cicadas!”

“Well, that’s just what we did, three months ago,” Passionata said. “That’s why we’re handfasting today!” She giggled, which set off the others giggling as well. A sudden thought struck her. “Who’s going to alert Sylvan and Elkhorn about the time of their entrance?”

“I will,” Green Dragon said. “I’ll be right by the door, watching TigerLily’s signals.”

“Pash, will anyone from your family be here today?” Rhiannon asked.

“No,” Passionata said. She lifted her chin and said, “My family of origin has a problem with the fact that I’m already pregnant, and an even bigger problem with the fact that I’m Pagan. I notified them of our marriage only out of courtesy.” She smiled at the others. “Anyway, you’re all here! You’re my family now.”

“Of course we are, darling,” Arielle said. “What about Sylvan’s parents? Are they coming?”

Passionata shook her head. “They live in England, and they can’t afford two overseas trips so close together. They asked if we minded if they came to see us after the baby is born rather than attending the handfasting, so of course we said that was fine.”

“It’s ten minutes to four, sisters!” Gladwyn warned.

“I’m off!” TigerLily left the room.

Jaguar Priestess and Brianna Hestia adjusted the garland on Passionata’s head and tucked a stray tendril of hair away from her face; Coventina sprayed a light mist of rose cologne on Passionata’s neck and wrists, and Rowan picked up the bouquet, ready to hand it to the bride when the time came.

TigerLily stuck her head into the room again. “Where’s Merry?” she asked anxiously.

“Right here, Mom,” Merrilyn said, emerging from behind Gladwyn. “Did you think I was lost?”

“Here’s your basket, Merry,” Rowan said quietly, “now come and stand right here, because the music is about to begin.”


As the lively strains of “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen” filled the air the guests began to take their places. Three rows of six chairs each had been set up in the backyard to the right and left of the center aisle. During a quieter phase of the music Oakwyse, wearing full priestess robes, glided down the aisle, took her place behind the altar, and faced the guests. Today she wore her hair in two plaits with a fillet around her head. In her hands she held the cord that would bind Passionata’s and Sylvan’s hands together.

Sylvan and Elkhorn then walked down the aisle. Sylvan wore his long blond hair loose, except for a small braid high in the back from which dangled a corn tassel. His light brown cotton trousers and brown sandals symbolized Earth. Bare-chested except for a corn necklace and the yellow and red serape draped across one shoulder, he carried a broom in his right hand. Elkhorn, wearing a thin gold chain, pale blue shirt and pale green cotton trousers, carried a peacock feather to represent the element of Air.

As the music played on, Merrilyn danced down the aisle, tossing rose petals right and left and occasionally spinning round. She took her place at the left side of the altar, leaving room for Coventina and Rowan, who followed her at a measured pace.

During the wait for Passionata Sylvan trembled so much that Elkhorn felt moved to whisper, “Dude, it’s a handfasting, not an execution. Chill!”

Sylvan glared at him but as the music rose to a crescendo he turned along with everyone else to look at Passionata as she walked down the aisle. She wore a garland woven of wheatgrass and black-eyed Susans on her head and carried a bouquet of sunflowers. The red of her long hair and the dark yellow of the flowers contrasted with her white Mexican wedding dress, reminding everyone that this day, Lammas, was a Fire festival as well as the day that summer would begin to fade into autumn.

Oakwyse, beaming as if this handfasting were the fulfillment of her dearest wish as well as that of Sylvan and Passionata, waited until the music died away before she said, “Passionata and Sylvan, please hold out your hands so that you may be bound to each other for all the days of your life.”

Passionata handed her bouquet to Rowan; Sylvan handed the broom to Elkhorn.

As Oakwyse tied the cord around Passionata’s right hand and Sylvan’s left, she said,
“Today you will promise to love and cherish each other throughout your long and happy life together. Passionata, do you promise to encourage, support, comfort, and love Sylvan as long as you both live?”

Passionata looked up at Sylvan and said, “Yes, I promise all those things and more. You shall be my lodestar, my lover, my best friend in all the world. I promise you my loyalty and love.”

Oakwyse then repeated the question to Sylvan, who looked at Passionata, and said, “You will always be my shining star, my joy in good times, my solace in hard times, my lover and best friend in all the world. I promise you my love and loyalty.”

“As your hands are joined, so now are your lives,” Oakwyse said. “This cord shall bind you until the ring binding takes place. Now it is time to light the hearth fire.”

Passionata and Sylvan each lit the taper in front of them from the altar candle, then held their lit candles to the wick of the taper in the center.

“The candles at each end represent your separate lives: the candle in the middle, which you lit together, represents your lives joined,” Oakwyse said. “Now drink from the cup of love.”

She took up the chalice of cider and offered a sip first to Passionata, then to Sylvan.

“So mote it be,” Oakwyse said. “It is time for the ring binding.”

Coventina took the bouquet from Rowan, Rowan took the ring from Coventina and passed it to Passionata. On the other side, Elkhorn took the broom from Sylvan and handed him the ring.

Passionata and Sylvan faced each other as Oakwyse untied the cord that bound them. “Please exchange rings,” Oakwyse said.

Afterwards Oakwyse, still beaming, said, “Through sun and rain, through storm and peace, through good times and bad, you shall live and love together. Have patience with each other; make love often and rejoice in your chosen way of life. And now you are handfasted to each other, the Two have become One; go celebrate with your friends and enjoy the blessings of Goddess.”

As Passionata and Sylvan turned to face the guests, Elkhorn laid the broom in front of them, six inches away from their feet. “Jump!”

Holding hands, the handfasted pair jumped over the broom.

“Again!” the guests called out.

Passionata and Sylvan looked at each other, nodded, waited until Elkhorn moved the broom another six inches, and jumped.

“Eight more times!” someone shouted.

“No,” Sylvan said, pretending to cringe. “We can’t afford ten children!”

“Gaia can’t afford them, even if we could,” Passionata said, shaking her head. “I think two will be plenty!”

“Orinoco Flow” began playing as Passionata and Sylvan walked back down the aisle, smiling and waving at their friends.

After the legal documents had duly been signed both principals and guests made their way to the Great Room, where the food was laid out on long trestle tables. In one corner Aidan and Kieran were dispensing wine, beer, and soft drinks; in another corner, Gladwyn, Rhiannon, Green Dragon, and Ceres arranged the plates and cutlery.

The omnivore guests could choose chilled gazpacho, grilled chicken, corn pudding, and peach-blackberry crisp. The vegans had a choice of mushroom-barley soup, vegan corn muffins, mixed greens with apples and walnuts, and gluten-free, vegan lemon crème cupcakes.

When the newly handfasted pair walked in, hand in hand, friends surrounded them and lights flashed from mobile telephones and cameras.

“That’s the most unusual wedding cake I’ve ever seen,” one guest commented to Passionata.

The cake was a large, round spice cake with no icing except a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar over the top. Smack in the middle was a small nest made of desiccated coconut, colored green, inside which reposed a single foil-wrapped chocolate egg.

“I didn’t want a huge traditional wedding cake,” Passionata said. “This is more of a handfasting cake, and the egg in the nest, of course, is the baby that’s coming.”

“What will you call him or her?” Arielle asked with interest.

“Rowan Belenos if it’s a boy, Sylvia Bella if it’s a girl.” Sylvan had come up and put his arm around Passionata’s waist.

“Why a spice cake?” someone else asked. “What does it signify?”

“What do you think it signifies?” Passionata and Sylvan said together, and laughed.

As Elspeth and Brianna Hestia strolled past, hand in hand, Gladwyn laid a hand on Elspeth’s arm. “Ladies, thank you so much for your advice with regard to breaking the lease on the country house,” she said. “I didn’t lose any money, for which I’m very grateful.”

“You’re welcome,” Elspeth said. “Glad we could help. What’s the latest on the perps?”

“Oh, they all pleaded guilty,” Gladwyn said. “They had a choice of 90 days in jail or paying a $1,500 fine each, plus court costs. Two of them paid, the third is in jail, and the other two have been given suspended sentences and community service. And the insurance company agreed to cover the damage to the furniture and Jag’s clothes.”

“What about pain and suffering?” Brianna asked. “Are you going to sue them for that?”

Gladwyn shrugged. “I might. The lawyer Elspeth recommended is going to look into that possibility. Anyway, how are you two doing?”

Elspeth and Brianna Hestia exchanged glances. Then Brianna said, “We’re talking about getting handfasted ourselves soon, either at Mabon or Yule.”

Gladwyn smiled. “Congratulations! I hope you’ll be very happy.”

Elspeth looked fondly at her fiancée. “Thank you. I suppose it is just possible that we could happier than we already are, but I’m not sure.”

“We’ll work on it,” Brianna said, and planted a kiss on Elspeth’s cheek.

As people began lining up with plates in their hands, ready to collect their food, a delicious aroma of freshly baked bread wafted into the room. In the next minute the door to the kitchen opened to reveal Arden and Great Bear marching in, each bearing a basket of small loaves, still warm from the oven, on his arm. Both men were grinning.

“We have just received word that the City has restored the funding for Bread for All!” Great Bear announced.

“And not only that, they’ve promised that the funding will be safe for the next five years!” Arden said.

Under the buzz of excited conversation that ensued, Arden explained to Elspeth, Lochdru, and Oakwyse, “The City found a way to reduce expenditures in several other areas, like personal vehicles for the mayor and his staff, security, and so forth. I’m so relieved. Thank Goddess!”

“A promise at Lammas,” Oakwyse said. “A promise at loaf-mass that Bread for All will be safe for the next five years. That reversing spell was really powerful.”

The others nodded. “So mote it be.”

The End


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