by Katrina Townsend
Between sunset and starlight spans the twilight, and that is when we witches gather to dance in the garden. Live by the sun, love by the moon, so goes the old saying. A catchy soundbite, a t-shirt slogan, but truer now than ever before, as the solar panels swallow greedily the last peach-red-golden rays on the horizon, as the city sighs its relief and prepares to settle into slumber. The suburbs come alive with a patchwork of lights. Music and laughter spill from open doorways with the smell of cooking onions.
The September evening is balmy-hot and rich with insects. I know that as the stars unfurl their petals the lilac sky will teem with bats, hungry for moths. The garden runs from the back of the house to the cemetery, and rats and pests and other night creatures will be awakening. We have learned how to love the sun, how to let it love us back; our heating and cooking, growing and moving, all our daily hustle and bustle has come to depend on wind, water and most of all sunlight.
Even though we humans have at last learned to live in tune with the earth, to hear the voice of nature, these liminal times of dusk and dawn, the black of deep midnight, these are still the wild hours, witch hours. We feel the web that interconnects all life, we raise energy, we offer our love and gratitude to that which sustains us.
And so tonight we come from the house to dance in the garden, night creatures, wild things. Our skin glows, burnished by daylight, and we slip softly together into the dark.
A lifetime ago, not long after my grandmother was born, humanity’s collective blindness and voracious, grasping greed pushed our world to the brink of extinction.
There was war. There was loss. There was great hunger. Many species - hundreds a day - were lost to extinction. Islands fell beneath the waves. Peoples moved across the land, seeking shelter, seeking food. Governments rose, fell, rose again.
Before all of this and in the cracks in between, there were witches, and there were druids. There were shamans, and there were indigenous people from many countries, who still spoke to the land and heard its voices. Who understood the cycle of the seasons in their bones. Who knew that taking must be balanced by giving.
As the situation became more desperate, there were more and more who heard the call. Call it Goddess, call it a wild god, call it energy, the universe, oneness… The voices of the earth were crying out. A thousand voices raised in outrage, in defiance, a warning and a lesson to the species that had raised themselves up above all others and would take all others with us when we fell.
It was not too late. Not quite.
My grandparents can still remember the way things began to change. How people at last began to pull together. How factories and banks and corrupt governments began to crumble, as humanity’s will to live erupted through the concrete like dandelions. Where there was power and imbalance we built community. We learned how to listen to the voiceless. Where there was consumption we relearned freedom. And all the while the wheel turned and the witches danced.
Our coven is part of a co-operative. Magic is not in the waving of a wand, the purchasing of a crystal, the reciting of some meaningless rhyme. Magic is balance, is relationship, the influence of focused thought and energy upon the weaving of the great web. Like most other elements of real and true human existence - love and trust, grief and delight - magic works best when it is not commodified. When you make it yourself, with your hands and with your heart.
The garden where we dance belonged to my mother’s father’s parents. I live with my coven in the house that they owned. We grow food here for our community; we take care of one another’s children, we nurse one another through illness. One neighbouring group - not witches, no. It’s still a choice to be a witch, just as it has always been. Most of us are just humans, working together - keeps bees, another group tends an orchard.
These pockets of land that were once separate, compared, competitive, are now co-creative. Here on the outskirts of town, no substantial rebuilding has yet taken place. Our existence is ramshackle, our turbines and water butts bolted on here and there where they are needed. In the cities, the buildings are sleek and beautiful, functional and practical but verdant with greenery. In the suburbs, we build with what we have to hand, and wait patiently for change to spread outwards from the centre. In the meantime, we look after each other. No one is a burden; no one is alone.
When I persuade my grandmother to talk about the times before, she uses words that have no place any longer: pollution. Litter. Consumerism. Waste. A dictionary of words that make no sense for the world we have built together. These words will become extinct, and be forgotten.
And the wheel will turn.
The grass beneath my feet still holds the warmth of the day. I am breathing hard, sweat-slicked, my head thrown back and my arms flung up in ecstasy. Two of my witch-siblings have tumbled together on the grass in laughing exhaustion, an unselfconscious tangle of limbs, their feet dust-coated.
Above, the sickle moon is rising, a slim white curve above the yew tree in the cemetery. How old is that tree? How many civilisations has it seen come and go? And now us, the remnants of the human race, who were almost the first species to stare down the barrel of our own ending.
For us, tonight, the dance is done. But the earth is dancing still, revolving joyously on her axis, dancing in harmony with the rest of the cosmos. Even the bats, the bugs, the rats, the pests, the wild things on the edges. All are welcome. All are one.