Chelsea says she’s invited to the Stone Wolf Camp, says they told her to stop by if she heard drumming in the night, and I can come if I walk with her by her tent first to drop off her swimsuit and pick up her smores supplies to share at the Heathen Fire.
Terror is equal to a molten curiosity in me. A cloudy night, darker than you’d ever walk back in the city, dark as entering a great sea. A post ritual exhaustion thick in the air, but radiating and smoldering coals burn on a few more hours into the night. Chelsea, the lamb in the darkness, her small lamp spilling across faded grass as she leads us on.
I’d loved her as soon as I saw her, felt her rush and she is so much like Sola I can’t hide the magnetic pull. We’d met just the night before at Gryhpon’s Nest Camp in Springfield, Louisiana, not far from my home in New Orleans. My fourth stay at this private campground, with my Pagan community for the sacred holiday Imbolc which doubles as my birthday and I now have 30 years.
All the way to the back of the property she leads me, brave and focus ahead, says we need to look for the big tires: the true entrance to the camp. Bare feet find twigs and we navigate through partially trodden bushes and briars that have been gently parted over and over again and lull loosely back into place.
Low murmer of voices in the near distance. Chelsea turns off her small light and slows her steps. A warm light illuminates her brassy blonde hair and our bare feet are grateful to find a straw softer than I knew existed, covering the large area in a thick blanket, freshly placed down as a soft and clean carpet.
Chelsea holds a last weakened vine open like a curtain for me, as the low murmers fall to a sudden halt and we are left with the songs of crickets and we know we are being watched, they know we are here.
My fear grows to an almost unbearable pressure but it is too late to turn back, we see their figures, pale faces offset with dark hair and dark clothing. They circle tightly around a large cooking fire, wooden shields and bright flags hung from the makeshift walls. A maze of temporary buildings fill a large dip in the field that is Gryphon’s nest, they stay close to the Cypress Swamp that circles us. In a collective trance they gaze deeply into the fire, ritual plants wearing off and a welcome back to ordinary reality. Women in chairs with young men on the straw floor, leaning back into the women’s laps.
Animalistic terror but I cannot turn back and Chelsea is with me,
she would not hesitate to step through the fires of hell for a lunch with Hades. Tired Viking men maintain a loose grip on their handmade axes, carved with protection sigils.
The Viking King stands to give us a booming welcome with an order to make ourselves at home. Warm, and fetching us his personally aged burnt honey mead, served in a bison horn and passed around. The men shuffle their seats to offer us the best spot by the fire, passing us apple wine and a pipe. The young Vikings pick up their conversation, lightly teasing and joking with each other. Chelsea insists I tell of the 2 dreams I had the night prior, as they are a popular tale circling Gryphon’s Nest this Imbolc holiday. I flush at the attention but speak as they watch me. Smiling, they poke fun at my eels and we laugh together.
When Chelsea’s marshmallows emerge, a man is commanded to fetch us roasting sticks, which turn out to more resemble harpoons, and the soft candy looks comically small, stabbed and perched above the flame. The king declares his boar brought out, and a large shank, hooves and hair and all is placed on the fire and he sits back, satisfied. He speaks with me for a long while as his wife dozes next to him and sweet young men shyly meet my eyes from across the heart of the fire.