Twelve-year-old Merrilyn leaves childhood behind to enter the world of women
The fortnightly Saturday morning coffee hour was a casual affair for Serenissima Circle. Its members usually met at a restaurant in suburban Virginia that was easily accessible to most of them, with people coming and going as their schedules permitted.
“What news, sisters?” Gladwyn asked, slipping into the large booth where Jaguar Priestess, Arielle, Rhiannon, Ceres Vegetina, and Windsong were already drinking cappuccinos and lattés.
“Gladwyn, this is Windsong, who’s just come back from Sydney,” Jaguar Priestess said, indicating the woman sitting next to her.
“Merry meet,” Windsong said with a smile. With her short, sun-streaked brown hair, athletic build, and suntan she looked like one of the tennis players who competed in the Australian Open.
“Welcome back to the States, Windsong,” Gladwyn said. “You’re staying with Jaguar, right? We’d be happy to welcome you to our Circle if you’d like to join.”
“I’d love to, thanks,” Windsong said. “Jag has told me all about it.”
“Just think,” Ceres said, “With Windsong we’ll have twelve members in our Circle. One more and we’ll be a coven!”
TigerLily came in, smoothing her hair as she unbuttoned her denim jacket and sat down. “Dear Gaia, it’s windy outside,” she said. “I almost got blown away.”
“What news, Tiger?” Gladwyn inquired. “We all know about Passionata’s little son, born—”
“On February first!” Rhiannon said in delight. “A real Imbolc baby.”
“And Windsong is back,” Jaguar said. She introduced her to TigerLily.
“How do you do, Windsong, welcome back to the USA! News? Well…” TigerLily thought for a minute. “Merrilyn got her period for the first time last week and it was the day before her twelfth birthday. She was born on March fourth.”
“So it was a March menarche,” Rhiannon said thoughtfully. “Well, that means she can be initiated if she wants to be, and—“
“We’ll be a coven!” Arielle practically bounced in her seat. “With thirteen Witches, we’ll be a coven instead of a circle!”
“Does she want to be initiated?” Ceres asked. “Daughters don’t necessarily want to follow their mothers’ religion.”
“Yes, she does,” TigerLily said. “So far Pippa hasn’t shown any interest, but then she’s only eight. However, Merrilyn is very interested and does esbats with me all the time at home.”
“H’mm,” Gladwyn said. “Ostara is on the horizon. Why don’t we make our Ostara gathering an initiation ceremony for Merrilyn?”
“Can we get everyone to the ritual?” Rhiannon asked. “After all, Pash is nursing the baby.”
“I’m sure she can give him a bottle for those two hours,” TigerLily said. “Where shall we have it?”
The Circle sisters all leaned forward to offer their ideas as to where the initiation ritual should be held and the elements to be included.
“We should invoke Persephone,” TigerLily said. “She’s the goddess of young maidens.”
“Yes, and not only that, we should focus on the Triple Goddess during the ritual,” Jaguar Priestess said. “Maiden, Mother, and Crone.”
“Yes, they symbolize the triple mysteries.” Rhiannon nodded in agreement.
“All right, sisters, we’ll meet again in five days,” Gladwyn said as they rose to take their leave. “See you at Ostara!”
The combined Ostara and initiation ritual was to be held at the house Green Dragon shared with several members of a mixed coven.
“It’s a shame we can’t have the ritual outdoors,” Gladwyn said, looking out the window toward the inviting backyard with its large trees, swath of green lawn, and shrubbery.
“I know! I really hoped we could but it’s just not warm enough yet,” Green Dragon said. She turned as all but one of the other members of Serenissima Circle entered the room in single file. “Still, this room is big enough to hold us all and that’s the important thing.”
Tonight all the Circle sisters wore white robes. Those who had long hair wore it loose, and all wore silver fillets around their heads. They stood in a circle around the altar on which reposed a statuette of Persephone, a basket of daffodils, an egg-shaped green candle, jasmine incense in a long, narrow holder, and a goblet of spring water. Next the altar was a chair covered with a cloth of rich red brocade.
“Sisters,” said Jaguar Priestess, “tonight instead of casting the circle with an athame we are going to sing the circle into being. I’ll begin and one by one the rest of you will join in. This is a chant we all know very well.”
So saying, she took a deep a breath and sang,
“A circle is cast, again and again and again…”
Windsong, standing next to her, took up the chant as Jaguar continued to sing it. One by one the Circle sisters joined in until the power of twelve combined voices seemed almost like a roar. They sang for several minutes, building the energy to the final incantation:
“A circle is cast…a circle is cast…a circle is…CAST!”
As the echoes died away and jasmine incense scented the air, the Circle sisters felt the thrill of standing in sacred space. Jaguar walked over to where TigerLily stood. “Sister, is the initiate prepared to enter our sacred space tonight?”
“She is,” TigerLily answered. “She has meditated, taken a ritual bath, been anointed with oil, and dressed in ritual robes.”
“Then let us welcome her.” Jaguar Priestess cut an invisible door into the circle with her athame and Merrilyn stepped inside. Jaguar then closed the invisible doorway as Merrilyn, dressed in a simple white gown and wearing a circlet of fresh daisies on her long, wheat-colored hair, walked to the altar.
Ceres, Brianna Hestia, Arielle, and Coventina called the quarters, after which Jaguar Priestess raised her forearms, palms outward, to invoke Persephone.
“Persephone, also known as Kore, goddess of spring and youth, you who return to the world in this bright new season to waken the sleeping earth into light and life, be here with us tonight as we welcome our new member. Goddess of all that is fresh, new, and innocent, please guard our rites and bless our circle. So mote it be.”
“So mote it be,” the Circle sisters echoed.
“And now,” Jaguar Priestess said, turning toward Merrilyn, “let us speak of the three blood mysteries of women—menarche, childbirth, and menopause. Our initiate has just experienced the first of these mysteries in the form of menstruation.” Jaguar turned to address each member of the circle as she walked around slowly, holding a frame drum and striking it occasionally to emphasize a point. “There are those who would say that the monthly flow is a curse. It is not.” She struck the drum.
“Long ago,” Jaguar said in a voice that gradually took on the quality of chant, “patriarchy attacked the Goddess. Her temples were burned, her altars smashed. Her name was mocked and she Herself decried as evil. Men feared the power of the Goddess so they vanquished her. Everything sacred that belonged to Her was vilified, including her sacred monthly bleeding.”
Jaguar turned to address Merrilyn directly. “Rejoice in the appearance of your moonblood, maiden, for it means Goddess has blessed you with the gift of fertility. Yes, it is a gift—for without moonblood, you and I and all the others in this room would not exist. No one would exist without Woman and her sacred monthly blood.” She struck the drum again.
“Many years will pass before you will experience the second of the mysteries, that of childbirth, and you may never experience it at all. There are many other ways of fulfilling your creative potential than the physical fact of motherhood. But know this: the day will come when you will celebrate the third blood mystery, that of menopause. Your blood will no longer respond to the tides of the moon; instead your wise blood will stay inside you and you will become Crone.”
Jaguar struck the drum again, softly. “Let us now acknowledge the Triple Goddess—Persephone the Maiden, Demeter the Mother, and Hecate, the Crone!”
Merrilyn moved to one side as Passionata, now wearing a red cloak that covered her white ritual robe, came to stand beside her; Gladwyn, wearing a black cloak that hid her white ritual dress, stepped out of the circle to stand beside Passionata.
“Behold the Goddess in Her triple aspect—Maiden, Mother, and Crone!”
“Maiden, Mother, and Crone,” the Circle sisters responded. “Blessed be the Triple Goddess!”
Passionata and Gladwyn stepped back into the circle and removed their cloaks.
“And now,” Jaguar said, “if our initiate in her aspect of the maiden goddess Persephone, also known as Kore, will sit on the red throne, we will bestow our gifts.” She began to tap out a light, lively rhythm on the frame drum.
Merrilyn sat down and looked up as one by one the Witches stepped out of the circle, bearing gifts wrapped in red paper.
Coventina, who up until now had been the youngest member of the Circle, stepped forward. She handed her gift to Merrilyn, who pulled off the red crepe-paper wrapping and held up the present for all to see.
“As you see I have given you a box of raspberry-leaf teabags,” Coventina said. “Although your sacred moontime is a time to be celebrated, it is not without occasional discomfort. This tea will ease that discomfort. Know that the tides of women’s blood are ruled by the moon, even as the moon rules the tides of the sea. There are thirteen moons each year. Long ago, as Jaguar said, patriarchy wished to obliterate the Goddess and the mention of anything belonging to Her. They condemned the number thirteen as unlucky, for it was associated with Her. But thirteen is actually a powerful number, for most women bleed thirteen times a year. Blessed be.”
“Thank you,” Merrilyn said. “Blessed be.”
Coventina stepped back into the Circle as Passionata stepped forward.
“I bestow on you the gift of passion,” she said. “A passion for truth and what is right. Your passion must burn through injustice, oppression, and misery and right the wrongful balance. As well, when you grow up, I give you the passion of romantic love and the right to love whom you will. Here, then, is my gift to you.”
Merrilyn pulled off the red sparkly paper to reveal a small, heart-shaped red satin box. When she opened the lid she giggled and held the box up of tiny red candies for all to see. “Look, it’s red-hots! Thank you, Passionata.”
“That’s what passion is—red-hot,” Passionata said with a wink, and stepped back into the circle.
Jaguar Priestess stopped tapping the frame drum and came to stand before Merrilyn. “I give you the gifts of assertiveness and self-defense. Let no one encroach on your rights nor invade your boundaries. Assert your right to believe as you will, and so that you will learn to defend your physical self, I give you this.” She handed Merrilyn a red envelope.
Merrilyn smiled as she took the gift certificate out of the envelope and held it up so the others could see. “Twelve lessons in martial arts! Thank you, Jaguar Priestess.”
Windsong gave Merrilyn the gift of reverence for the creatures of the sea: the porpoises and the whales, the sharks and the serpents, the octopi and the squid, and all the fish in their beautiful forms, including sea anemones, lionfish, and jellyfish. Merrilyn thanked her for the gift certificate for a visit to the Aquarium.
Green Dragon promised Merrilyn lessons in aromatherapy and presented her with a small red basket containing lavender water to spray on her sheets, a bar of homemade lemon verbena soap, and rosemary-scented hand lotion.
“I give you the courage to follow your own path and find your own truth, whatever that may be,” Rowan said. When Merrilyn lifted the top off the red box Rowan gave her, she held up the objects one by one: a magnifying glass for examination, a flashlight to light her path, and an athame to use in ritual.
Ceres Vegetina bestowed three small flowerpots containing basil, oregano, and tarragon seedlings as well as a book of vegan recipes.
Gladwyn gave Merrilyn a small red pail containing a tube of arnica cream, soothing peppermint gel for tired feet, feverfew tablets for headaches, and a small book on medicinal herbs.
Rhiannon conferred the gift of listening, meditating, and writing, and gave Merrilyn a grimoire in which to write her own spells.
Brianna Hestia offered Merrilyn lessons in how to beautify her personal space and a promise to make three cushions for her room, in colors of Merrilyn’s choosing.
Arielle presented Merrilyn with a deck of Tarot cards and offered lessons in how to read them.
The last to approach Merrilyn was her mother, TigerLily.
“My child, I gave you the gift of life. At your birth and forever after I gave, and will continue to give you, the gift of unconditional love. You are my first-born, one of the chief joys of my heart. I give you now this chain and pentacle. The five points of the pentacle represent birth, initiation, ripening, reflection, and death—for as the Wheel of the Year turns in the heavens, so do we spin into life and out again.”
TigerLily slipped the chain over Merrilyn’s head and handed her a mirror. “Daughter, look well into the mirror, for the face you see there is the face of Goddess.”
No one spoke for a few moments; then Merrilyn rose from her chair and faced her Circle sisters.
“Thank you for your wonderful gifts, my sisters. Know that during my meditation this afternoon my Witch name came to me: I am Hippolyta, once Queen of the Amazons; Hippolyta, whose magickal girdle was sought by Heracles during his twelve labors. You know I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up and I also want to help save the environment. Therefore my matron goddess shall be Artemis, Goddess of the moon and protectress of all wild things.”
As Jaguar Priestess again began tapping the frame drum softly, Hippolyta walked around the circle to each Circle sister.
“Welcome to the world of women, Hippolyta,” Coventina said, and kissed her cheek.
After each Circle sister had welcomed Hippolyta and kissed her, the four Witches who had called the quarters thanked them and said farewell.
“We’re going to devoke by singing the Kore chant,” Jaguar Priestess announced.
Everyone joined hands and sang, “She changes everything She touches, and everything She touches changes!” thirteen times.
Once more Jaguar Priestess held up her hands in the attitude of veneration. “Persephone, Goddess of Spring, we thank you for your presence here tonight. Stay if you will, go if you must—hail and farewell.”
“Hail and farewell,” the Witches responded.
“We’ll keep the Circle open until after dinner,” Jaguar said. “Come, let’s go into the dining room.”
The dishes of food spread out on the dining room table included roasted red pepper hummus with asparagus wrap, spicy marinated vegan “chicken” cutlets with roasted onions and apples, and a salad of mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette.
There was a general murmur of conversation and laughter as the Circle sisters ate their dinner.
“What a feast,” Rowan said as, replete, she leaned back in her chair and sipped her cup of Happy Spring tea. “What’s next?”
“Hummingbird cake or Ceres Vegetina’s vegan carrot cake,” Green Dragon said, emerging from the kitchen with Rhiannon. They carried the cakes in and set them down. “Hippolyta, will you do the honors?”
Hippolyta took the cake knife Green Dragon handed her and cut slices of cake for her new sisters.
While the table was being cleared afterwards, Jaguar Priestess left the room. When she returned a few minutes later she was wearing a blue crescent on her forehead. Carrying the crescent template, a tiny pot of iridescent blue eye shadow, and a small paintbrush, she went round the table, painting a blue crescent on the forehead of each Witch in turn. When she reached Hippolyta at the head of the table, she painted the crescent on the girl’s smooth pale brow, then took her hand.
“All rise, please,” Jaguar said. When all were standing, she looked at each Witch in turn and said, “Now there are thirteen of us, we are no longer Serenissima Circle—we are Thirteen Moons Coven!”
Everyone clapped and cheered. Then, at Jaguar’s signal, they joined hands while she spoke the closing words of the ritual.
“The Circle is open but unbroken
May the peace of the Goddess go in our hearts…”
The Witches of Thirteen Moons Coven raised their joined hands and chanted,
“Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again!”
“A Circle is Cast,” © Anna Dembska, from “A Circle is Cast” by Libana, 1986.