Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
—first there was a dark eye at the window. Then a tap-tap-tapping. Then a long black beak came around the edge of the slightly open window. Then the raven hopped inside. “Oh, goody,” said a gravelly voice. “Eyeballs! I dearly love a tender, juicy eyeball.”
The wicked witch looked up from the quaint and curious volume she was perusing. “Oh, Kahlil,” she said, “those are grapes. And,” she added, “do come in.”
Already in, the raven speared a grape. “Pfui! I hate grapes! Back in the city,” he added, “there’s so many dead bodies lying in the streets all the scavengers think it’s a feast day everyday.” He paused and dropped the grape on the floor of the tiny room. “It’s awful in the city. It’s awful everywhere. No sign of yer husband, either. Witchie-pooh, how ya doin’ out here in the country?”
She sighed and pushed the book aside. “Not well. Not well at all. There’s no more room in my house for refugees, and yet they keep coming. The storehouse is nearly empty, and we need to find new seed to plant. I’ve put some of the men in charge of the farming. They’re waiting for the season to change.” She waved one hand over the table. “And I’ve still trying to learn how to be properly wicked. I’ve got all the books I can find. I’m looking for a spell that works. One that will bind el presidente. And his army. Kahlil, has it ever been this dark?”
The raven looked around. The tiny room at the top of the tiny wooden house was filled with books and papers written in a dozen ancient languages, which the wicked witch was reading by the light of a sputtering oil lamp with a nearly empty reservoir. “Well,” he told her, “we’re only six weeks past the solstice. Yeah. It’s dark all over. Girlfriend, you could do with a little more light—”
“—both literal and metaphorical.” She rubbed her eyes. “Illumination, in every sense of the world, is needed.”
“Girlfriend, how’d you get so educated?”
“I had a good upbringing. But what good does it do? What can any of us do in this everlasting darkness?”
The raven hopped across the table and stopped between the lamp and a small crystal ball. “Like all ravens,” he said, “I am a Prophet and an Oracle. I prophesy that change will come.” He tapped his beak against the crystal ball. “It always does, y’know.”
“Well, I can’t see it.”
“’Course not. You’re only human.” He picked up a grape in his claw and examined it, then dropped it back in the bowl. “Let’s you and me do some spellwork. Make it wicked good.”
She ate three grapes. Supper. It took some persuading on the bird’s part, but soon she was willing to cast a circle with him. Following his instructions and her own knowledge, she cleared the table and set the sputtering lamp in the center. Then they both looked at her shelves. An orange and a red rock were set on the side of the table facing the east. Her cup of water was set in the south. The raven donated a feather for the west, and the bowl of grapes went in the north. “That’s all I’ve got,” she said. “Is that enough for real magic?” Still wearing her patched and ragged dress, the wicked witch (who wasn’t, to be sure, feeling very wicked right now) stood beside the eastern side of the table.
“Sure it is. It’s intention that counts more than props.” The raven considered perching on her shoulder, but settled himself on the table instead. Then he walked around the edge of the old wooden table, muttering to himself and making a light but unmistakable groove in the wood with his beak. “Circle’s cast,” he said. “You can call in the powers now.”
“Let’s do it together.” And so two hoarse voices began the invocations. “Powers of the East, Elemental Fire, be present with us in this morning of the year. Let the sun rise! Let us be enlightened and inspired.” They paused, then walked to the next quarter. “Powers of the South, Elemental Water, be present with us in this morning of the year. Lend us the courage to do what we must in—for this sad land.” After a second pause, they moved forward again. “Powers of the West, Elemental Air, be present with us in this morning of the year. Bring us the intelligence and wit to solve as many problems as we can. Bring us Deep Thought.” (If a raven can grin, this raven grinned.) Another pause, then a few more steps forward. “Powers of the North, Elemental Earth, be present with us in this morning of the year. Bring us groundedness and the practical abilities to do what we must do.” The raven rose almost soundlessly into the air and flew to the window on the eastern side of the room as the wicked witch said, “Great Elder One, be present with us…because we have to…we have to…well, we gotta keep on keeping on…with Your help.” She shook her head. “That was kinda lame,” she whispered. Suddenly the lamp lit up as if filled with new oil. Did the light leap up to the ceiling and further up into the sky?
“Ya done good,” the raven said. And then he pushed the window open and they both looked out. The sun was rising. The light was spreading across the fields, and both wicked witch and raven could feel seeds sprouting tiny roots. Plants were thinking about flowering. Hibernating animals were leading their newborn offspring out of holes and caves. Ewes were getting ready to drop their lambs, cows, to drop their calves. People were waking up to see the light spreading across the land, and now a cheer went up across the land. “Imbolc has arrived! Spring is at hand! There is hope for us now! And maybe our hope will bloom also in the city.”
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the Neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.