Sunday, December 20, 2009

Earth, Air, Water, Fire; In This Circle We Conspire

In A Swiftly Tilting Planet (appropriate for a time of axial tilt, isn't it?), Madeline L'Engle (as devout an Episcopalian as ever cracked the Book of Common Prayer, and, yet, unbeknownst to her, as true a witch as ever turned the wheel) wrote of a witch craze in colonial New England. The woman accused was a Native American who had married a colonist.

On the morning of the execution Zylle was returned to the settlement. Infant Brandon was taken from her and given to Goody Llawcae.

"He is too young to be weaned," Goody Llawcae objected. "He will die of the summer sickness."

"The witch will not harm her own child," Pastor Mortmain said.

. . .

"Tie the witch's hands, " the man from the city ordered.

"I will do it," Goodman Higgins said. Hold out your hands, child."

"Show her no gentleness, Higgins," Pastor Mortmain warned, "unless you would have us think you tainted, too. After all, you have listened to their tales."

Goody Llawcae, holding the crying baby, said, "Babies have died of the summer sickness for years, long before Zylle came to dwell among us, and no one thought of witchcraft."

Angry murmurs came from the gathered people. "The witch made another baby die. Let her brat die as well." . . . The people of the settlement crowded about he gallows in ugly anticipation of what was to come. Davey Higgins stayed in the doorway of his cabin.

Goodman Higgins and Pastor Mortmain led Zylle across the dusty compound and up the steps tot he gallows. . . . And then Brandon cried aloud the words with Zillo had taught him:

"With Zylle in this fateful hour,
I call on all Heaven with its power
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath -- "

Thunderstorms seldom came till late afternoon. But suddenly the sky was cleft by a fiery bolt, and the church bore the power of its might. The crash of thunder was almost simultaneous. The sky darkened from a humid blue to a sulfurous dimness. Flames flickered about the doorway of the church.

The Indians stepped forward until the entire settlement was aware of their presence, silent and menacing. . . . Pastor Mortmain's face was distorted. "You are witches, all of you, witches! The Llawcae boy has the Indian girl's devil with him that he can call lightning! He must die!" . . . And then Davey Higgins came from the door of his cabin and stood on Brandon's other side.

Ritchie broke away from the men who were holding him, and sprang up onto the gallows. "People of the settlement!" he cried. "Do you think all power is of the devil? What we have just seen is the wrath of God! He turned his back on the crowd and began to untie Zylle.

The mood of the people was changing. . . . "Stop them -- " Pastor Mortmain choked out. "Stop the Indians! They will massacre us -- stop them --" . . .

Zilo raised a commanding hand. "This evil has been stopped. As long as nothing like this ever happens again, you need not fear us. But it must never happen again."

Murmurs of "Never, never, we are sorry, never, never" came from the crowd. . . . When there was no one left by the empty gallows except the three children, Zillo barked a sharp command and the Indians quickly dismantled the ill-built platform and gallows, threw the wood on the smoking remains of the church, and left, quietly.

All that it takes to stop the persecution is a Goody Llawcae, a Brandon, a Davey Higgins. All that it takes is a spell (and surely L'Engle's use of St. Patrick's Breastplate is a spell), all that it takes is people, scared people, people afraid for their own lives, who step forward and say, "No." And, so, on the Winter Solstice, I will say the words of the spell and do what I know how to do to pluck the Web "here" so that it reverberates "over there" in order to call those who will say, "No," in order to call the rain.

What will you do?

Picture found here.

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