She thought her life was over—but then Thalassa called to her
That first week in Australia Stella decided that her new home was very much like her previous home in Texas. The weather was the same–boiling hot. The people were similar–tall, tanned, laid back, and friendly, although they didn’t wear cowboy boots; and everyone had two things on their minds: football, which they called “footy,” and the lack of rain.
It was her second week in Australia that brought home the difference between the two quite forcibly. Unaware that her pentacle, which she wore on a chain around her neck, had somehow slipped out to the front of her tee-shirt, she realized one morning while shopping that this tangible evidence of her religion upset no one.
When she stopped by the local market to look over the vegetables, the woman tending the stall hailed her. “Good morning, and merry meet! Haven’t seen you before. Are you new here?”
“Yes,” Stella said. “My husband is Australian, so when he retired we came back here to live.”
“Like it, do you? Or can’t you tell yet?”
“I like it very much, so far,” Stella said truthfully. Indeed she did, although some things were going to take getting used to: the fact that the government discouraged the use of clothes dryers, for example. Sighing deeply, she’d bought what Harry referred to as “clothes pegs” and hung her laundry outside to dry. Then she found she rather liked doing it: never one to take herself seriously, she enjoyed the sight of the kookaburras in the blue gum tree laughing at her struggle with the sheets.
On the other hand it was a bit unnerving having to remember to take a clean plastic bucket into the shower—the “four-minute shower”— to catch the runoff so she could water her plants, but no doubt it would become second nature before long.
At the vegetable stall after Stella bought two string bags’ worth of vegetables, the vendor invited her to a coven meeting at her house in two weeks’ time.
“Come meet the others, you’ll like them,” Sea Spirit, the vendor, promised.
In Texas, not only had Stella owned a Book of Shadows, her entire coven had operated in the shadows. They met only at nightfall, only in houses in which the other family members were out for the evening, and only indoors. It bothered them all to have to meet indoors, the Craft of the Wise being attuned to the Earth and Her creation, but they could not risk being seen by others. And even at night, the outdoors was generally too hot and insect-filled to permit focusing on a ritual.
Harry was delighted to show Stella the wonders of her new country. They drove along the Great Ocean Road to spend a couple of nights at Apollo Bay, then drove a bit farther to see the Apostles, those limestone pillars standing like lonely sentinels in the sea that crashed around them. They flew to Sydney, eight hundred miles away, and rented a car to explore the Three Sisters natural rock formations in the Blue Mountains.
“I’m told there are Witches in the hills around Adelaide,” Harry teased one day.
“Let’s go!” Stella said enthusiastically.
Adelaide in the spring was a revelation to Stella, who had never before seen trees covered with bright blue blossoms. “Those are jacarandas,” Harry said.
When they toured the country round Adelaide Stella experienced for the first time the sweet, wild smell of an Australian spring. “The wattle’s in bloom,” Harry said, pointing to some shrubs at the side of the road.
“Those little yellow star-shaped flowers?”
“Yes, that’s wattle.”
They explored the vineyards and olive groves in the hills but didn’t meet any Witches. “Oh, well, I suppose it’s hard to meet them when you’re just visiting a place,” Stella said. “At least I know a few at home in Melbourne.”
Life in Australia with Harry soon settled down into a pleasing new pattern. Two days a week she worked as a massage therapist in Melbourne. Stella quickly learned to refer to the location of her new workplace as “the city center” rather than “downtown.” She teamed up with a chiropractor, using one of the rooms in his office to see private clients, and paid him a percentage of her fees. Three clients each day were as much as she could cope with, but then, she didn’t really need the money to live on: her earnings went into their travel fund.
When he wasn’t attending footy matches to cheer on the Melbourne Demons, Harry pottered about the house and garden. He volunteered to build Stella a small temple in the back garden, which he gradually converted from a tidy but boring suburban lawn bordered by conventional flowerbeds into a much more pleasing wilderness of rosemary and lavender, roses, ornamental grasses, and grapefruit trees. The temple, big enough to hold two people at a time, held Stella’s collections of Goddess statues and her two altars.
As time went on Stella realized she was altogether happy in her new country. After a few years it no longer seemed strange to go into a shop and hear a salesperson say, “You right, love?” when she began looking around at the merchandise, or to hear “No worries,” when she paid for the articles she’d bought. She grew so used to the absence of tipping when she visited a hairdresser or when she and Harry ate out that when they went back to Texas for a six-week visit she experienced culture shock.
On a winter’s day in early June when Stella was making Lamingtons for Harry’s tea she heard knocks on the door. Harry had driven into the city center to do some shopping just an hour ago, so he couldn’t be home already. Anyway, he wouldn’t have knocked as he naturally possessed a key. Thankful that she had just rolled the last of the little chocolate-iced cakes in desiccated coconut, she quickly rinsed her hands, dried them on her apron, and went to the door.
She opened it to find two police officers standing on the front step. “Mrs. Mannering?” the older one asked.
Suddenly terrified, she nodded. Had something happened to Harry?
“May we come in? I am Officer Rhodes and this is Officer Higgins.”
She held the door open, searching their faces. Both men looked somber.
“Mrs. Mannering, we’re sorry to inform you that there has been an accident. Your husband—“
“Where is he? Where’s Harry? Is he all right?”
Officer Higgins looked at his feet while Rhodes sighed and said, “I’m sorry, but there was a collision on the Tullamarine Freeway. Your husband, unfortunately, is deceased.”
“No! NO! Not Harry!”
Suddenly overcome, Stella sank onto the sofa and burst into tears. Rhodes proffered a handkerchief and jerked his head at Higgins, who saluted and said, “I’ll make a cup of tea.”
It was forty-five minutes before Stella regained control of herself. Higgins looked as if he wanted to pat her on the shoulder but confined himself to offering her the box of tissues from an end table in the lounge.
“Mrs. Mannering, after you finish your tea, could we ask you to come with us to identify…”
“Yes,” Stella said dully, looking at the floor. She felt like a robot, responding automatically when someone said something or did something. Surely this was all a mistake. Harry couldn’t really be dead. Probably he was somewhere else and soon he’d walk, laughing, through the front door saying, “What’s a pretty little thing like you doing in a place like this?” just as he always did when he’d been away for an hour or two.
Numbly, she allowed herself to be helped into the police car. She could feel nothing, think of nothing except the awful possibility that her husband was dead, their ten years of happiness together suddenly at an end.
The visit to the mortuary banished her doubts. Yes, there was Harry, still and white, eyes closed, with a bloodied forehead where his face had hit the steering wheel. Officer Rhodes had said it was a head-on collision, with both drivers killed. An investigation was pending as to the cause of the accident.
Whatever or whoever had caused the accident, Stella thought with fierce conviction, it hadn’t been Harry. He’d always been an expert driver and the car was new–or rather, the car had been new. The officers told her little was left of it now.
At home again she called Harry’s ex-wife and daughter who lived in the Richmond area of Melbourne. She rang all her coven sisters, two of whom immediately rushed to the house to help her; two more promised to stop by later in the day.
That day and the next two weeks brought tears when she felt her loss, laughter when she recounted the good times with Harry to her coven sisters, and seemingly endless matters to see to, from the nature and timing of the memorial service to the legal and financial details of Harry’s life and death.
Harry had said he wanted to be cremated, so that was arranged. For the memorial service she created an altar that displayed his cherished possessions. He had, of course, supported the Melbourne Demons football team when in Melbourne, so she set out his Demons scarf, his Dallas Cowboys coffee mug, his woodworking tools and a bowl he’d carved. A portrait of Harry as a young man was flanked by slender tapers on each side; cone-shaped incense burned in a holder, and Harry’s wedding ring reposed on top of a copy of their marriage certificate.
After the initial period of never-ending activity and the stream of constant telephone calls, e-mails, and condolence visits, Stella found herself alone once more, only to be swept away by a tidal wave of grief into a sea of sorrow.
Strange, really; she hadn’t had time to cry a lot during those first couple of weeks After—that was how she thought of time now, Before and After—there had been so much to do, so many people to see. But now, doing the simplest things brought on the floods of tears; hanging out the washing, doing the shopping, going back to work.
She lost interest in food, so after a few weeks her clothes hung on her. One day, as she welcomed a client, who also happened to be in her coven, into the massage room, the coven sister exclaimed, “I can see Harry standing behind you!”
But when Stella breathlessly turned around, she could see nothing.
“He’s still with you,” Arianna, her coven sister, said comfortingly. “You may not be able to see him but he’s watching over you.”
Even the feeling that he was somehow near did not comfort her very much. She wanted him—warm, teasing, inexpressibly dear. She wanted him alive, back with her. What was there to live for? Harry’s daughter by his first marriage was grown up and living her own life in Melbourne; Stella’s children were also grown up and fully launched on their careers on the other side of the world.
“Come back to Texas,” they urged during Stella’s weekly Skype session with them. “We’re here, you know people here, you can live with us until you get a place of your own.”
But Stella didn’t want to go back. In Australia, possibly the most secular country in the world, she felt free to be herself. She liked the climate, she had her house and her friends and a pretty good life. If only Harry were still here to share it, she mourned. And then she would burst into tears all over again.
“Stella, dear, you must go on. Harry’s waiting for you in the Summerland, but the Goddess still has work for you here on earth.” Aurora, the high priestess of Seven Wands Coven, patted Stella’s hand. She was visiting one Saturday morning, and the two were drinking steaming mugs of tea in Stella’s kitchen.
Stella sighed, tried to smile, and failed. “I know you’re right, but somehow nothing seems important any more.”
Silence reigned for a few moments, after which Aurora said, “You know, there’s something the coven has been talking about. We want to establish a collective. We’ve got a couple of members looking into the legal and financial aspects.”
“A collective? To do what?”
“Well, we’d conduct seminars, workshops, and retreats for our members and for anyone who wants to be initiated. We’ve thought of doing Pagan choral music and selling CDs of it. And we could have online discussion groups for people who want to learn about the Craft of the Wise.”
“It sounds like a worthwhile project,” Stella said, aware of a faint glimmer of interest. “Have you thought of a name for the collective?”
Aurora grinned. “Indeed we have. We want to call it ‘Pointy Hats.’”
Stella smiled, a real smile this time. “I like that. We’d need a Web site, of course, who’s going to do that? And is there going to be a Ritual Adviser?”
Aurora broke in. “We’ve been hoping you’d consent to take the role of Ritual Adviser. We could really use some formalized rituals to be written down as a jumping-off point. People always like to add their own little touches to rituals, but a lot of people, initiates especially, haven’t a clue how to begin.”
“Yes, I’ll help,” Stella said.
So in the weeks that followed Stella met with her coven sisters not only at the usual sabbats and esbats, but also for many planning sessions. Somewhat to her surprise the days sped by, turning into weeks, the weeks into months. Although never free of grief, she found she could “put on a show” as she thought of it, in public, and give vent to tears only when alone.
Spring settled delightfully over the country, with trees and shrubs bursting into jubilant blossom. Even after almost four years in Australia, Stella still felt bemused by the fact that Down Under, Samhain brought warmth and flowers rather than early darkness and falling leaves. The solemn rituals of the season, with their emphasis on loved ones who had passed into the Otherworld during the past year, reawakened the grief that seemed never to go away. It’s like a scab, she thought. I thought I was healing but beneath the scab the agony of loss is as strong as ever.
Early in December Aurora stopped by Stella’s house to bring her some lavender scones she’d just made.
“Stella, as Ritual Adviser, we’d like you to take the role of High Priestess for the initiation. You may remember that our coven granted the request of two aspirants for initiation at Summer Solstice.”
“What an honor! Thanks, Aurora,” Stella said. For a moment the intense pain of loss rushed back as she remembered anew that Harry was not here to rejoice with her that she was to serve as High Priestess. Joy mixed with sadness as she set about gathering the ritual tools and garments she would need.
The place chosen for the combined initiation and Litha ritual was Fairy Point, a deserted beach that contained caves and tide pools, but the coven had to wait until the tide receded before they could approach it. At six o’clock in the evening of Midsummer Day, the coven members and initiates made their way to the beach carrying hampers of food and drink, bags of ritual tools, and baskets of wood and kindling for the Litha fire.
While Stella cast the circle inside the cave and Aurora set up the altar on a stone ledge, outside the rest of the coven drew a large pentagram in the sand, chanting as they did so.
We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain,
Flowing to the ocean.
The two aspirants removed their clothes and stepped into a tide pool, the water of which was still warm from the sun. Laughing, they finished their bath by splashing each other with water. Then the two stepped inside the pentagram on the sand while the coven sisters, each holding a candle, circled them. After that, Aurora handed each aspirant a cloak. They put on the cloaks and walked slowly toward the cave.
Stella, cloaked and hooded, stood at the entrance to the cave with her arms crossed against her chest, a crystal athame in one hand and a crystal wand in the other.
“Who seeks to enter these gates?” she called out in ringing tones.
“We who would know the mysteries,” the two replied.
“Have ye been purified by earth and water, fire and air?”
“We have,” the two replied. “The seawater cleansed us, the air dried us, the coven sisters circled us with fire, and we stand upon earthsand.”
“By what names shall ye be known in this circle?”
“I will be known as Tamsyn of the Woods,” the first woman replied.
“And I will be known as Mélusine,” the second woman said.
“You have studied for a year and a day. The Goddess finds you worthy, so you may enter the circle.”
Inside the cave Stella as High Priestess disclosed the new roles and duties the two new members would be expected to perform and ended with a benediction.
“You, Tamsyn of the Woods and Mélusine, are no longer seekers but dedicants, joining the Seven of Wands coven to share our journey through this world and the next. May you know the blessings of Goddess every day of your life. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” responded the coven sisters.
Stella snuffed out the Sun candle on the altar and led the others to the beach. Willing hands built the solstice fire, which soon burned steadily. Champagne appeared, along with strawberries, cheese, and bread. The coven sisters toasted the new members, the sabbat, and the warm, blue-green waves that rose and fell endlessly behind them.
Stella noticed that even on this longest of days the light was fading. Twilight, she thought. The hour of magick. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she told the others. She got up, walked down the smooth, wet shingle and into the sea.
As she stared out at the gathering dusk with little ripples of water lapping round her ankles, she saw the waves rise and gather themselves into the face of Thalassa Herself, Goddess of the Sea. The eyes in the huge face beamed at her, the huge lips broke into a smile. Then the vision disappeared beneath the waves and nothing was left but the music they made, the endless, atonal music of the sea.
Cold chills ran down Stella’s spine and she felt the gooseflesh on her arms as she stared at the sea. This is a sign, she thought. This is what I am meant to do and to be—Her priestess, learning Her wisdom and imparting it to those who would know Her mysteries.
She turned as darkness fell and walked back to the beach. I’ve come out of the sea, she thought. Out of the sea of grief.
“Welcome back,” Aurora said, shifting to make room for Stella to sit down again in the fire circle.
“Sisters, our new members are not the only ones who took a new name tonight. I have a new name too,” Stella said. She looked around the circle. “I am now Stella Maris.”
“All hail Stella Maris!” Aurora said, raising her glass of champagne. “Hail and blessed be, Stella Maris, Star of the Sea!”