MAIDEN MOTHER CRONE (A Pagan Short Story by Corinna Parr)
By seed and nut, bough and leaf, vine and tree; by these things, and the stars, the moon, the sun, by earth and sky:
I swear my story to be true.
I was a child when they came for me at my mother’s hearth. Blooded, blossoming, long of leg and flat of chest, Epona’s daughter in form and grace. I was a child still when they drove me away, heavy with the ashes of my own burial. Sore in heart, and body, and mind; my purpose to my people served.
Between the taking and the leaving were three days, for three is the number of the old ways and the old gods in the mountains where I lived, surrounded on all sides by rock or sky, and their bridge the trees.
Three days, filled with the passage of one life.
I was child, lover, mother, grandmother, ghost; born of earth and given back to it.
I sing the song of the sacrifice.
On the dawn of the first day, I was taken from my mother to be reborn. The grandmothers of my village came in silence, they took me away in silence.
I have not seen my mother since.
To the earth’s mouth they brought me, scolding my tears with fierce frowns and pinching fingers. It was not yet my time to cry.
With gnarled hands, they took my clothes and washed me. They rubbed my skin with fat of the bear and ochre of the earth, until I gleamed red in the torchlight of the cave.
My eyes were sealed, ears stopped, hair shorn, mouth closed. They bound my knees to my chest and my arms to my sides. Wrapped in heavy bearskins, they left me, taking their fire with them.
Alone, in the warm dark of an earthy womb.
I wish that I could tell you what thoughts came to me there in the dark, in the eternity that passed. But what an infant dreams is left in the womb, left safe in its mother’s keeping, when it passes between that world and this.
After a time— it might have been an hour, a day, a year— they came for me. Lifted and steadied, I was pushed to the mouth of the cave where my people waited, breathless and silent.
As I stumbled from my womb, my eyes were pierced with light and I screamed, for I knew it was expected of me. My scream was met with glad cries and the tears of women, for I was their child now, and we had survived the winter.
That day, all was happiness, celebration for my birth. I danced with the children, my siblings, and went from mother to mother, accepting treats and kisses. I knew their pride as I sang, and skipped, and laughed.
When I fell exhausted, as the stars began to fade with early light, I was lifted in the arms of a father and carried away to a soft bed where I closed my eyes, and in closing them, slept.
On the dawn of the second day, I was taken to the river to bathe the red earth away. The mothers of the village came with laughter, and helped wash me with songs.
This was to be the day of my wedding.
When my skin tingled from cold air and colder water, the bangles of a bride were fitted around my wrists, my ankles, throat and waist, and bells were woven through what remained of my hair. They painted me with blue spirals, marking the lines of eternity on belly, breasts, back, legs and arms.
As my mothers worked they taught me the wisdom of wives, the wisdom of mothers, the wisdom of lovers. With blushes and secret smiles, they taught me.
When they were finished and I stood dressed only in paint, and bells, and beads, we danced to the village where the men waited; my husbands, naked, painted as I was, watching my mothers and sisters, and myself, dance.
I was shy at first, dancing in the center of three circles of women, my eyes down, my face hot, my feet shuffling in the grass. I grew bolder as their voices formed our music, and I learned the invitation of a smile, of swaying hips, and outstretched hands.
Soon they joined the dance, stalking their way through the circles of woman to gain my side. I welcomed them, by spinning until the bells in my hair sang, and stamping my feet until the bells at my ankles sang, and lifting my hands to the sky, until my heart sang that it was time.
With no warning to my husbands, I ran.
The sun was still soft with morning when I raced to be caught, hardly able to hear the sounds of pursuit for the roar of my pulse in my ears.
I ran till the trees grew scarce, till my lungs burned like fire, and my legs grew weak.
But Mare’s child, gifted with speed and grace, could not outfly the Sons of the Raven. I fell to the strongest, like a mouse to the fox. With teeth at my neck, hands at my shoulders, chest to my back, I was unmade.
The feel of fire, the scent of blood, the song of sighs…
This is what it is to be a bride.
It was not all pain; in the arms of my husband I was returned to my people to enjoy my bride-feast, and give the blessing of the Mother to those children who approached me, shyly— so shyly— to suck at my breast; warding off ill health until the next spring and the next Mother.
Again there were songs, and the dancing, and the laughter and smiles. I learned the love of a husband, for he held me close, with tenderness, with care, with pleasure, while all around us man fell down with woman to share the blessing of our wedding.
In his arms, as the stars burned out, I closed my eyes and in closing them, slept.
On the dawn of the third day, I was taken to the cold hearths of the village. The children came for me with sighs, tiny fingers linked with mine.
It was finally my time to cry.
Each person cast a handful of ash on my head; I can still taste it, bitter and heavy on my tongue, stinging in my eyes, until I was the grey of a winter morning. With each handful, they pressed their head to my breasts, and wept, for mothers, fathers, children, lovers. All lost in the winter.
They whispered messages for me to carry; each was heavier than the bearskins that bowed my back, and weighted my shoulders, and slowed my steps with the illusion of years.
My tears met each whisper, my lips found their lips to press dry kisses of blessing, of promise. This was my final purpose.
As women wailed and tore their hair, I was taken again to the earth’s great mouth, where once more I was bound within skins and carried inside past the place of my birth, to a darker place.
So cold, the stone.
They left me, surrounded by bones wrapped in old scraps of bearskin, where I was to close my eyes, and in closing them, die.
Ann says: Epona was a Celtic and Roman horse-goddess, daughter of a man and a mare. She was believed to lead souls into the afterlife. This tale explores the three stages in a woman’s life: maiden, mother, and crone.
Among her many talents, Corinna Parr is a writer of literary erotica par excellance. You can find her work here.
Copyright 2013 by Corinna Parr.
Image: Epona by Susan Seddon-Boulet.