By Danielle Dulsky
I descended into the depths of my feminine psyche and took a walk with Her. The flame-hued leaves were falling, and I could smell the smoke of her cook-fire from miles away; She had left it burning just for me, and I knew I would wake from this fallow, forest landscape a changed woman. Her wild familiar shadowed us, purposefully letting its paws fall heavy on ground to keep me on edge. Shivering with a bone-deep awareness that this black wolf would feast upon my flesh if I so much as looked at its mistress without the utmost respect, I fixed my gaze on the holy ground.
The walk was endless, and my thoughts drifted to and from my mortality, my lover’s hands, my children’s safety, my grandmother’s cooking, and my darkest, most insidious secrets.
Do not be afraid, my daughter She spoke finally. The scent of burning cedar-wood and spicy, Witch’s brew was overwhelming now, and I knew we had arrived. The air was thick with spell-craft, wayward ghosts, and rotting fruit.
Come! The Ancestral Moon is begging you to lift your chin! A heavy door creaked open, and I swallowed, raising only my eyes and swallowing a gasp. She had taken her woolen hood down, grey-wire hair framing a skeletal, skinless face. Only Her lidless eyes were alive, and they saw straight into the red, writhing pit of my soul’s desire. She saw into my ache, and I let Her be my wound-voyeur.
Ah, I know what you seek, my love. She spoke with a phantom tongue and lips I could not see, jawbones cracking infinitesimally. Come inside. I have a New Year’s gift for you.
Her wolf nudged me aside and entered. I followed, welcoming the warmth but fearing the Mystery. This House of the Wild Woman was small and decorated with nature’s elemental beauty. A holy fire cast the whole scene in an orange glow, and I swore I could hear the house’s heartbeat. She bid me to sit next to Her beast in front of the hearth, and I was in no position to protest. I knelt, readying myself, and She wrapped her fleshless hand around a thick book with a black and fraying cloth cover, taking it from the mantle.
My own heart-drum was pounding, and the wolf nuzzled closer to comfort me. I waited, listening to the Wolf-Woman mutter to Herself in a language I did not yet speak while She paged through the ancient text. On the mantle were dozens of bottles and jars, plants with creeping branches, jagged crystals, and creaturely bones. I crushed my eyes shut, steadying my breath and trying to remember why I had come to this place.
Open your eyes, Witch! The Wolf-Woman snapped, clapping the book closed. Look at my face, and hear my words, for I speak with all the wisdom of your Mother-Line.
I did as I was told, straightening my spine and surrendering to this fearsome ritual with all that I was.
She dipped a finger-bone deep into a pot full of soil and held her hand in front of my face. Taste the Earth, my love. Taste the fertile nest that will hold your mortal, decaying body while your soul warms itself in the cosmic ether.
The scent of primal iron was tempting, I’ll admit, and my lips quivered while I licked Her cold finger-bone clean.
Taste the water, dear one. She ordered, taking a curved rose-quartz vile from the mantle and pressing it against my flushed cheek. Drink, and taste the holy rain that will cleanse the memorial stone they carve for you. Taste the tears of those that love you as they weep for your absence.
I did as I was told, and the elixir nestled into the driest places in my so-parched, so-dusty soul desert. I started to cry softly then, and my own tears fell into the bottle, mingling with the salty spell. I remembered why I had come now, and my whole body underwent an inner earthquake as I recalled my desperation, my loneliness, and my Witch’s want.
The Wolf-Woman cast off Her robe, and it fell to the floor in a grey, tattered heap of mud-caked wool. She was a stalwart skeleton, standing in front of the fire and embodying every holy healer’s ghost. Kneeling down, Her jagged spine toward me and joints poking out in all directions, She dipped both hands straight into the fire.
When She faced me, She held smoking ashes and crackling coals so close to my face that I wanted to pull back, but I did not. She painted an ashen symbol on my forehead with one hand and cupped the smoldering remnants in the other.
Taste the fire, blessed one. Taste the funeral pyre and know the transmutation of your life force. You have come here seeking life-lust and invigoration while all of nature drifts to sleep. Few women make it through Autumn without feeling they are sinking into their depths, without longing for the sensual sparks of Spring. You are not alone in your dark-moon depression, and every woman of your matrilineal line wipes the tears from your cheeks when you cry yourself to sleep on these colder nights.
The wolf howled softly with me in solidarity while I surrendered to full-guttural weeping. I wailed, my body becoming a channel for the purest agony I had ever felt. When I calmed, She moved the smoking coals closer to my face.
Taste the fire She commanded, and I did. The burning stuff tasted of scorched Earth and my charred past; I would not mourn for it, and each bite made me more abuzz with self-compassion, more alive with a profound knowledge of the magick in my marrow.
I fell back on the ground, full, fed, and no longer in agony, and the Wolf-Woman read to me like I was Her baby granddaughter curled on Her lap. She read from the ancient book, and She bid me to wake vigilant, alert, and alive. Her voice and the wolf’s snores lulled me to sleep, and I dreamt of stone circles and processions of costumed ancestors while She offered me this benediction:
On this Witch’s New Year, I beg you to relish the heat of your flesh and the electric life that pulses through your soft body. Know the elements of your soul; the fertile Earth that fortifies your bones, the slick and holy Water that waves in and through your womb, and the wild Fire that fuels your passion and your work. Make love to this life with this body while you still can, and look the looming void of inevitable death square in the eyes. Tell death you are not done. Tell death you have come here to rage mercilessly against the strong wills and closed minds of the ego-mad, and you are not leaving until you have finished your work. Tell death you will go gracefully when it is your time, but your time is not now, and tell death you are a bone collector, a holy shadow-walker, and a lover of the cosmic Mystery. Tell death you are the Wolf-Woman who walks in sacred solitude with her beast, learning and discerning with every sacred step of skeletal foot on hallowed ground.
All is coming, and all blessings be.