The Ritual

She had been raised by two kindly old midwives. Since her mother had died in childbirth, and no father or relatives alive, an unknown to the church, there were simply none to care for her. The midwives kept her, a ward, a daughter, new life to the dark and foreboding woodland cottage they called home. They named her simply, Pariah.
The child was exceptional from birth. Woodland creatures of every sort watched over her, birds sang her to sleep, animals brought her gifts of flowers and vegetables. Even the fiercest wolves and bear guarded the borders that led to sweet Pariah. She grew at an astonishing rate. Always eager to learn, her knowledge of nature, celestial events, numbers and language grew at unknown heights before she was seven. It was then that the midwives began teaching her the arts of healing mankind. They were Wiccans, excepted in their community as natural healers.
By the time Pariah turned 17, she was already a renowned midwife, having learned all the secrets of herblore, potions, natural healing and manipulation that her foster mothers could teach her. It was on this birthday that they also gave her the only possession of her mother and father to remain, a locked book. The townspeople were the wonder of the countryside, so full of vigor and vitality. But to the dismay of the women of the town, her beauty had also grown, surpassing her skill. Her charm was also undeniable.

To the mirrored reflections of the women in town, she had become a threat. "How could this child have all the gifts of creation unless she was no midwife, but a witch instead?" Good Witch, bad witch, it didn't matter, the word witch made sense of it all. Secretly, the jealous leading ladies of the town made their plan.
The next day a leading town father brought a homely looking, sickly child to see Pariah. The father, an elder in the town dearly loved the child. However, the step-mother resented the burdensome, sickly child. It was a blot on her social standing and a barrier to the money she would inherit. There were various vague complaints written in a woman's hand on a scrap of paper. Pariah examined the child without noting malady or malaise, prescribed fresh air and frivolity and sent them on their way. The next day the child was found dead in her sleep. As word spread through the town, tempers flared; repeatedly the word witch was used. The town dispatched an armed force to hang the witch. They searched and searched without reward.
As a priceless jewel encased by the vulgarities of nature, so it was with Pariah. Nature in her purest form changed the forest so no townspeople could ever find her; brambles and briars surrounded the cottage. Any townsmen or hunters that came too close faced angry packs of wolves or rampaging bear.
For Pariah, research in magical arts filled the solitude. It is said that she found the secrets of the universe in a single book, a gift from her father. Nature provided her wants in life. The book provided a means to find the answers in life. It was within this book that the ritual begin. At first it was simply to obtain information, the root of the cause of the dispersions lodged against her. She prepared the room just as her father had written. Red candles were placed to form a pentacle. A small cauldron received the proper amounts of Monkshood, essence of lilac, hemlock and goldenrod, the gentle glow of a black candle warmed the mixture and began the liquefaction process. Within the pentagram a solitary mirror was placed. The outside circle of the ring was carefully covered with salt to keep unwanted spirits at bay. Slowly she poured the elixir from the cauldron onto the mirror. It ran along the glass in a mercurial flow, glowing softly, reflected the light of the blue moon. She bowed to the elements, earth, wind, fire and air, calling each by names known only to those true practioner's of the craft. Names I will not repeat here. As she began the incantation, she became aware of certain demons loitering outside the circle. To leave the circle now would mean utter loss of self, both body and soul. The words echoed through the room, it was a moment lost in time where the laws of the universe no longer applied. Time itself had no meaning. Within the mirror there was utter darkness. No light reflected, no image seen. The blackness began to fade to grayish shadows, like a horrifying nightmare that lingers in our consciousness without form or recognition. As the shadows took shape, she knew what had happened, within the mirror stood the spirit of a sickly girl, murdered for the elevation of social standing. Poisoned to obscure a threat to future wealth. Pariah began to delve deeper. The stepmother was plainly in view and yet obscured by the demons that plagued her blackened soul. Pariah rubbed her eye, there was a strange watery sensation on her cheeks. It was a sensation she hadn't known until today. She was crying. There must be retribution for this callous act, but what? Pariah was unable to cause harm to anyone or anything knowingly, it was simply against the Wiccan teachings.
She closed her eyes and asked for guidance. The pages of grimoire began to turn rapidly stopping on a page inscribed in blood. She smiled sweetly, "Perfect," and began the incantation. It would be the ultimate act of retribution that the entire town would share. As she finished the incantation, the mirror glowed brightly for just a moment then disappeared completely. As Shakespeare aptly wrote, "The spell is cast, the cruel is done, time to eat and beat the drum, the charm's wound up, now look inside, who does what, who stays alive."
The townspeople began to change that day. Lunacy was rampant, as were the suicides that always took place near a mirror. The doctors untouched by the rampaging illness were baffled. People became disheveled in appearance, withdrawn and unsociable. A poor beggar, thief and murderer was found on the church steps begging for forgiveness, all the time ranting about mirrors. Mirrors that showed every horrific act he had every committed. That was the simple genius of the spell. The ultimate act of retribution for a society that based its values in the reflections of leaden glass. For those who lived did so by never looking at their reflection again. For those who died, the mirrors were covered with black cloth. A tradition that continued to this day.
For Pariah, her solitude was lightened by the frequent visits of the little girl she befriended within a looking glass, a little girl now free to explore the reflections of the universe. Pariah lived happily within the wood, sheltered from the cruel and injust we call humanity, protected within her haven by the forces of nature, the elements and a single book.

Two hundred years later, the town is gone, as are the wolves and bear, but there is still an area of the wood know as dead man's thicket, a truly haunted area that no man, woman or child dares enter. ©mj heckel

 

(Original Artwork, "Ritual" is used with permission of the artist, Dorian Cleavenger)

Original story, "Ritual" is used with permission of the author, M.J. Heckel