"But I thought all witches were wicked," said the girl, who was half frightened at facing a real witch.
"Oh no, that is a great mistake. There were only four witches in all the Land of Oz, and two of them, those who live in the North and South, are good witches. ..."
L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
My name is Raven Lenore, and I am a witch -- although I prefer the term Wiccan. I am twenty-seven old. I am not ugly, in fact I've been complimented on my good looks and figure by many a man. Also I am not wicked, or at least its debatable depending upon your definition of wickedness. Witchcraft is not what most people think. It is an earth religion, a linking of the human soul with the life force of nature, both on this planet and in the stars and space beyond. I meet with my coven periodically to raise my energy and commune with natural forces. I honor the old Goddesses and Gods as symbols of immanent nature.
Among the goddesses that I pay homage to is Hecate, goddess of the dark moon, the underworld and magic. Hecate is often pictured riding in a chariot pulled by dragons and is the goddess of witchcraft. We've named our coven after her, The Mystery Coven of Hecate. Among Her other aspects, Hecate is the guardian of crossroads. Little did I know that the evening would indeed be a crossroads for me. Appropriate coincidence or prophetic omen? Only Hecate knows. For whatever mysterious reason that gods and goddesses do what they do, She chose me to experience events that changed my life dramatically.
It started on a blustery night in early March. The moon was new and dark; the sky sparkled with a myriad stars. I roared up on my Harley to my friend Rachel's home to honor, with others of our coven, Hecate. Earlier that day the Tarot had foretold that I was about to enter a period of change and danger. I had dismissed this with amusement and forgot about its warning. Other times the cards had reported the same and nothing particular had happened. Thus, I climbed the steps of Rachel's porch without the faintest premonition that I was about to embark on a journey of terrible trials and emotional trauma. My only thought was to escape the brisk March wind that chilled me to the bone.
I lifted the skirt of my ceremonial robe to avoid dragging it through the dregs of dirty leftover snow and tapped the door three times, then five, the secret signal that would let Rachel know that a member of our coven was at her door.
After I entered, Rachel embraced me. "Welcome Raven, may Hecate find you well."
The house was dark except for the flickering light of candles set in a circle on the living room floor. They surrounded a thurible in which lay a glowing hot coal. In the gloom the women in various positions on the floor were mere shadows. Their raised hands in greeting, the warm air and the spicy odor of incense comforted me after the bitter cold outdoors.
"And may She find you in fine health and good spirits," I replied as I hugged my friend. "Is everyone here?"
"Yes, you're the last to arrive."
"Sorry I'm late. Heavy traffic leaving the city," I said as I removed my leather jacket and motorcycle helmet.
"No problem. We were about to begin."
I adjusted my black robe and touched the scabbard in which my athame, or ritual knife, rested. Women widened the circle to allow me to squat down among them. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I nodded to several dimly lit faces. All were familiar, except one. I assumed that she was a prospective member of the coven.
Rachel started the ceremony by staining our palms and soles of our feet with henna. I noticed that the newcomer waved her away. When Rachel finished this ritual, she raised her arms, gazed at the ceiling and said, "Tonight we do praise and honor the goddess Hecate, protectress of flocks, sailors and witches. The dark mother, sender of night visions. Most lovely one, distant one, silver-footed queen of night."
In reply, the rest of us called, "Who, who," in the manner of owls, as the night-calling owl is Hecate's messenger.
After Rachel sprinkled incense on the thurible, which smelled of sandalwood, cypress and peppermint, she lit a torch, Hecate's symbol, held it aloft, and said the following invocation:
"Hail great Hecate! Goddess of the Moon,
Goddess of witches in the dancing ring,
To thee all roads must lead us, late or soon
The end, and start, of all our wandering,
Thou offerest the never-ending choice
Left, right, or onward; every path is thine.
O great Hecate, let us hear thy voice!
Lighter of darkness, give us a sign!"
We responded with more "who, who's." This ended the ceremonial part of our gathering. Rachel turned on the lights, doused the torch and thurible and blew out the candles. She and two other women went to the kitchen and brought out goodies, little cakes, pretzels and potato chips, cauliflower and broccoli florets for the diet conscious, snack crackers, hors d'oeuvre, dip, beer, wine and soda.
Except that we wore black robes, carried athames and participated in a ceremony at the beginning, our meetings are not much different than any gathering of women friends. We gather together for an evening of spirituality, conversation, gossip and nibbling. We talk about our diets, the latest sales at Wal-Mart, our boy friends, husbands and our children, those of us who have them, as well as arcane subjects such as spiritual growth, magick, psychic healing and the occult. But, even non-witches discuss these subjects.
That evening I sat on Rachel's worn sofa near the bowl of chips with a Molsen in one hand yakking with a group about a recently enacted law and its effect on women. After a few minutes, however, Rachel tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "There's someone I'd like you to meet."
I excused myself and followed her into the kitchen. The stranger leaned against the counter sipping a glass of white wine. Her hair was streaked with gray, and she had laugh lines around her eyes and mouth, but was otherwise extremely attractive, well put together and expensively dressed. I imagined that when she was younger she was a real heart breaker, a gal who men fawned over. I guessed her age as late forties, early fifties, and the wife or girl friend of a man who was loaded. I soon learned that my hunches were correct.
"Raven, I'd like you to meet Melody Ellul. Melody, my friend, Raven Lenore."
As I shook her hand, I thought, Ellul? Could this woman be any relation to the famous astrologer and psychic who disappeared a couple of years ago? "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Ellul. Are you interested in joining our coven?"
"Melody, please. And I'm happy to meet you, although I feel as though I already know you. We had a mutual acquaintance, Morgaine Fabiano. She spoke of you often. As far as joining your coven ... well, I'm a Catholic ... "
"Oh, we have Christian members. Nothing about Wicca really precludes a belief in your Christian god, as long as you can accept our Pagan ones as well. You knew Morgaine Fabiano?"
"Yes. I was present at her passing. It was a terrible tragedy. But I suppose it was her fate."
I gaped at her. Morgaine had been my friend. Although she was older than me, it was I who introduced her to the craft. Although she was a bit on the wild side and unpredictable, I admired her greatly, maybe because she and I were a lot alike. I lost touch with her after she became involved with Michael Ellul. Later I learned that she had committed suicide. That is what startled me about Melody's words. What the hell did she mean when she said that she was present at Morgaine's passing? And that remark about it being her fate; was this woman such a fatalist that she believed that the taking of one's own life was beyond the person's control?
"Are you saying that you saw her die?"
The Ellul woman crossed herself. "I'm afraid so. It was a horrible moment that I'll never forget."
"Couldn't you stop her? Wasn't there anything you could do?"
She shook her head. "Not under the circumstances. But please, Raven, I'd prefer not to discuss it right now. If you like, some day I'll tell you the whole awful story."
"Okay. But I'm holding you that. Smoke?" I took out a pack of Camel Wides and offered her one.
But as she reached for it, Rachel cried, "Not in my house. If you must, it's out in the cold with you."
"Oh, I'm sorry Rachel." I started to put the pack away.
Melody said, "I could really use one. I don't mind going out on the porch. We can talk while we ruin our lungs and freeze our buns."
I was curious as to what this rich woman wanted from me, since she had no interest in joining the coven. "Okay."
I grabbed my jacket, and Melody took an expensive fur from the closet. We lit up out on the porch. "Melody, are you related to Michael Ellul, the astrologer?"
"He's my husband. He is who I came here to see you about."
"I believe the papers said that he'd disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This was a while ago."
"It's been two years, and the police have come up empty handed. I didn't know where to turn until I remember what Morgaine told me about you. She said that you were a detective with the NYPD. When I contacted the police department, however, they said that you had quit the force to become a private investigator. Morgaine thought highly of you, described you as 'investigatively gifted.' I want to hire you to find my husband."
I inhaled a deep breath of smoke and blew it out. So that was it. My boy friend Keith and I are in the PI business. To tell the truth, it wasn't doing well. Solving the disappearance of a famous astrologer could give us the publicity we needed to get our business off the ground. "What about the police? Have they given up?"
"They say not, but I don't see any evidence of activity on their part. I believe that they now think that he left of his own accord."
"What do you think about his disappearance? Was it is voluntary, kidnapping or foul play?"
She shrugged. "I don't know for sure. I went to work one morning, kissed him good-bye and that's the last I saw of him."
She flipped her cigarette into the darkness, took out a hanky and dabbed at her eyes.
"I don't want to upset you," I said, tossing my own butt into the dirty snow, "but if I take your case, I have to know; had you been quarreling just previous to his disappearance?"
"No. Everything's was fine between us."
"Any suspicions about him cheating?"
"No. If he had been having an affair, I would've sensed something."
They all say that, I thought. "I see. Okay, we'll probably take the case. You know PIs don't come cheap."
She smiled at me. "No worry on that score. Michael left me well off. I just want to find out where he is and whether he is alive."
I handed her our agency card. "Call me at your convenience, and we'll get together to discuss the details of your husband's disappearance. I'll need to pry into your private life somewhat."
She shook my offered hand. "Thank you, Raven. You may be my last chance to find him."
"I hope I don't disappoint you."
As I rode my Harley back to the city, I mentally went over our conversation. There seemed to be a lot the Ellul woman hadn't told me, but if we took her case, I figured I could pry the truth out of her. For one thing, I didn't buy her story about why she chose me. I wondered just what her relation to Morgaine really was. They seemed like opposites. I was also curious about the real facts behind Morgaine's death? I had a premonition, that there was more to the case than finding a missing husband -- a lot more. Oh how right I was. If I had only known. Anyway, I knew Keith would be happy when he learned that she was loaded. I was sure he'd want to set our fee high. And why not? She seemed rich enough.
The Morgaine Series of E-books can be obtained at Renaissance Page Turner Editions On Page Turner Editions, click on Futures/Past SF/F/H and then on Fantasy. At other booksellers search on Author - Vadalma. Also available on Page Turner Editions and other booksellers, Raven Lenore, Psychic Investigator, a series featuring the character Raven Lenore from the Morgaine series.