Part One: Fate
I was only young when my mother began to teach me of Weaving. As a girl I used to fight with my brother, as children do. Wrestling in the dirt like animals, naked and laughing. But as we grew I began to notice the differences between us. And then one day as we fought he held me down, sitting on my back and pushing my face into the mud. And though I struggled I realised I could not move him, however much I tried.
I wept that night, and though I forgot it in the morning, and we still played together, from then on I realised there was a gulf between us, and I was wary around him.
In the summer we ranged far and wide about the village and the woods, exploring the brooks and pools, the grottos and dells of our world. In the winter we huddled under furs in our hut, soaking up the warmth from our mother’s hearth until, irritated by our squabbling, she kicked us outside and told us to bring her a stone from the river. It was a game we played. We would run as fast as we could through the snow and frost to the river and search with our nimble eyes for the largest stone we could find. And then, huffing steam from our nostrils and grunting with exertion, we would drag and push and carry that stone to our mother’s hut. The largest stone would win one of my mother’s metal coins, a wondrous prize. I was a few years older than my brother, and often I would beat him, though not always.
But I remember the day when he stood up from the river, his shoulders rippling with muscles I didn’t have, and carried a stone back to mother on his back that was a full hand larger than my own. I laid mine next to it, embarrassed. And when I tried to move his I could barely budge it.
It took me a week of humiliating failure before my child’s mind even tried to think it through. But then came the day when I walked back, strutting like a peacock, two boys from the village carrying my stone beside me, for a promise of a share of the prize. It was twice the size of my brother’s.
I remember my mother standing at the threshold in her furs, her eyes upon me, and I almost faltered before her silent appraisal. But I stood before her straight-backed, and unbowed, as she had taught me girls should stand, and met her eyes with mine. She gave me a coin, and then one each to the boys I’d recruited. And she never asked me to bring her a stone again. She sent my brother out alone thereafter, and when he was gone she made me sit before the hearth and she taught me of Weaving. Of the Warp and the Weft.
My brother was told instead to bring back the largest stone he could, and he would gain a reward only if it was larger than the one he had brought back before. Poor lad, he was never the brightest, even for a man. He brought back the largest one he could, panting, and sweating, with a look of foolish pride on his face. He got his coin that day, but the next day he realised his mistake. It took him a month of struggle before he could bring back one bigger. And six months after that to bring back a larger one.
I asked my mother once about men, remembering vaguely the terror of being held down and unable to move. I asked her why they didn’t rule themselves, why they obeyed the Queen and the Ladies. Why the God King did not give orders, except through the Queen’s voice. It was before I had been taught of the secrets of the Moon and the Cave. So my mother smiled, but she did not strike me for my foolishness, not then.
She told me that men were simple folk, and too emotional to rule themselves. They were strong and proud of their strength. And that was good, for the Goddess gave men their strength, as she gave women our wisdom. But they had no control of their passions, and must be tempered with hard work and strict laws.
She told me that there had been times, far away and long ago, when the men of a village had lost their minds and ran wild. Refusing to obey the rule of their women, they lifted up their clubs against their Queen and spilled her blood upon the earth. And they made up their own laws, and did abominable things under cover of the moonless night, for Lady Moon hid her face from them and would not come out.
And then, sated with depravity, the Wildmen lay down to rest. They slept and then woke, but the night still lay upon them. The sun had not risen. And though they pleaded and begged, the Sun could not rise, and the Moon refused to shine. And, terrified, and blind, the Wildmen fled into the mountains, abandoning their homes and hearths, their clothes, their names, their speech. And they became wolves, caring for nothing but their hunger and their loneliness. For men do not know the Weaving of the World; neither the Warp nor the Weft. And so they could neither create nor could they rest. For only Women have this power over life and death. Only Women have been blessed by the Goddess.
When I had been taught of the Warp and the Weft I was permitted to join the Lady’s Night. Once a month, when the Lady reveals her full splendour, and stands naked and unashamed in the sky, the men are confined to their hall, where they drink too much and play games of chance, and tell their stories of wars won and oaths upheld. And as they hide themselves from the Lady’s Glory, we gather before her, and stand tall and straight-backed, and unashamed before her, as women do.
We gather at the Sacred Grove, before the Great Hearth, and we sing the songs only women know. We wear our most finely-woven gowns, shimmering like silver in the firelight and moonlight, and beautify our temples and ankles and wrists with our most precious and bejewelled broaches. No man looks upon us then, for our dances are for ourselves, and our beauty is for our own delight.
But once a Year, when the Lady is at her weakest, and her sister Sun has become old and tired. Then we let the men come to us. And we sit in a circle around the grove, dressed in our finest robes, and most precious adornments. And then as we sit wrapped in our warmest robes against the cold the men come and dance for us, naked and splendid, throwing back their hair, stamping and wailing, and leaping high, their naked muscles gleaming in the firelight. Whooping like birds and bellowing like bulls.
Round and round they go, leaping higher and higher with every pass. Exhausted, one by one they fall, gasping for breath, crawling away into the shadows, ashamed at their own weakness. Until only one is left, the strongest, the most vigorous, the most virile. And the Queen embraces him and anoints him as her King. And the Kindly Ones take him to the Tree of the World. Where they prepare him for Godhood.
And we raise up the men who fell, and comfort them, and give them bread and salt, water and wine from our own hands, and wrap them in warm wool as we did when they were squalling babes. And when they are whole again we lead them from the Grove, through the darkness of that darkest night.
And when we reach the Tree of the World, we see it in its full savagery. Dressed in blood and bones. For the truth that all women know is that Life and Death are one and the same, the Weaving is made of both Warp and Weft, there can be no one without the other. And the men understand this deep in their hearts, and are afraid, though they cannot comprehend it in their minds. But we hold them, and whisper into their ears, and they are comforted.
And the Savage Tree, under the dying Moon, dripping with the innards of birds and beasts, stands tall and stark against the deep black sky. And the Ladies bring forth the Old God, and hang him from the highest branch. And as he hangs, gasping and struggling for life, the Queen steps forward with her knife held up to gleam in the last light of the last moon.
And she takes the knife to the Old God’s belly and the Kindly Ones and the Ladies raise up their voices to the stars and to the earth and to the Moon and the Sun, their keening wails terrifying to hear, and their blood-streaked faces terrifying to behold. And though the men quail we must stand tall and fearless, as women do.
And as the Savage Tree pours forth the steaming lifeblood of the Old God upon the earth, the rest of us women join the song, the only song of women that any man is allowed to hear. A terrible song without words, a song that calls forth new life from old blood, a song that shakes the darkness and makes it know that its time is at an end. A song that gives new light to the Moon, and new strength to the Sun.
And from the steaming soil the New God rises, blood red and screaming, and the Queen wraps him in her own cloak, and the Ladies help her carry him, to lay him naked before us, as the Queen mounts him and ushers him to his fullness. And we all bow and praise the Goddess and the God, strength from weakness, new life from old. And as the Queen completes her sacrifice and we bow before her glory the Sun rises before us. And the Weaving continues.