Summer Solstice: Bathe in Light

Seasonal Greetings, Solstice, Summer Solstice

Today is Mid-Summer, the Summer Solstice. As penned by Shakespeare in his famous play, this is a time of high spirits, magic, and love. It is a time to surrender to the bright energy of the sun. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are living in the moments of the most light of the year. Solstice means “sun ceases,” and it is at this point that the sun stills, rising and setting at its northernmost position on the horizon the few days before and after Mid-summer, drenching us in almost unrelenting light.

I love the slowness of the solstices. The effects stretch out for a few days (unlike the equinoxes which have one moment of balance then quickly move on).

This can be helpful, for opening to the light can be a bit of a process. What do I want to show others? What do I want to illuminate on within myself? It can sometimes take a bit of time to work up the courage to look at the places within that are usually in shadow. Sometimes I take the take of “if I don’t look for it, it isn’t really there.” But, as we all know, it is there. There are the places of unresolved and sometimes ever-growing doubt, anger, jealousy, desire, greed, envy, resentment, just to name a few.

My challenge today is to hold all of these pieces of me in the light, for each precious bit adds to the being that I am. I am less than me without this. Each aspect of myself is a treasure. Let me fortify it, energize it, charging it in the sunshine. And, whole and holy, may I walk with arms outstretched and heart open into the unremitting golden light of the sun today

Bright Blessings to you –



Photo: Ian Flude. Anne and Lori in Conwy, Wales, Summer Solstice Eve.

Spring Equinox and the Full Moon: Illumination and Alignment

Goddess, spring equinox

Today is Spring Equinox, the day the sun rises and sets at exact east and west, the day when the northern and southern hemispheres are bathed in equal light. By the Celtic calendar, this is mid-Spring, halfway through the season. From this point on, the light will continue to grow until we are drenched in sunlight at the Summer Solstice.

Today, we bask in both solar and lunar energy. The full moon – so beautiful and bright this morning! — is in Aries/Libra, bringing an extra charge of balance and moving forward.

The sun symbolizes our consciousness, how we “show up” in the world. The moon is our inner world, and the full moon brings light to our innermost chambers.

At this powerful solar and lunar moment, take time today to balance and re-align. For some cultures, this is the new year; treat today as a beginning. Allow the light of the moon to shine in all the spaces deep within you. The sun, rising in exact east and exact west, shows our true path. Check your internal compass—is it true? At this time when shoots are thrusting through the earth and leaves begin to sprout, do you know what you want to cultivate? Is your cultivation in alignment with your true purpose?

We may not know the answers, but open yourself to the powerful energies of this day. Allow the sun and moon to guide your thoughts. I pray today for clarity for us all—may the pathways open, and may we feel true in each step.

Brightest Blessings to you at the turn of the wheel — Anne

Copal — 5 Things to Know

Divination, Goddess, Jade Oracle, Mesoamerican Goddesses, Mexico, The Jade Oracle

Copal is the aromatic resin from the Copalquahuitl tree (bursera bipinnata). This sacred resin was used in religious rites and healing rituals. Here are 5 things to know about Copal:

  1. Copal is from the Bursera Bipinnata tree, which grows from Mexico to Central America. In Nahuatl, this is called “copalquahuitl,” the “copal tree.” In Nahuatl, copal is “copalli.”
  2. It is used for healing. The truly magical scent of copal is immediately relaxing, balancing the body. This can reduce blood pressure as well as increase  sahumando cenoteconcentration. The scent has also been used as a treatment for insomnia and headaches as well as increasing one’s creativity. It can be drunk as a tea, sweetened with honey, as a treatment for respiratory problems.
  3. It is used as an adhesive and binder. Copal resin is found in mosaics from ancient Mexico, often used to adhere turquoise and other precious stones. It is also used as a binder for pigments in murals. The murals at Bonampak, for example, utilized copal as a binder for the pigment, making them encaustic murals as opposed to frescoes.
  4. It comes in different colors. Copal Blanco, white copal, is usually the highest quality. The smoke from this copal is white and billows out. Copal Blanco has been associated with honoring Tlaloc, the rain deity, as the white clouds of smoke call out for rain. There is also yellow, black and red copal.
  5. It is used in ritual. When copal burns, magnificent clouds of fragrant white smoke

    Traditional drawing of  a ceremonial bag of copal

    billow out. The white smoke is sometimes called “the white lady,” and the smoke itself is considered evidence of the dialogue between the heavens and the earth. The column of smoke is transformed into the axis, or center, of the world, representing the turning of the universe and all of the beings.

In the Jade Oracle deck, the divination for drawing the card Copalli is: When you choose copal, you are asked to make an offering. The deities are ready to hear you, ready to communicate with you.

IMG_2372How to use it: Light the charcoal with matches or lighter for about 20 seconds until it self-ignites. Use tongs to hold it up (never hold it with your fingers alone or you might get burned). Place the lit charcoal in a bowl or incense burner filled with sand or dirt. Let the charcoal warm for a few minutes. (It turns gray around the edges when it is ready). Now you are ready! Add a small amount of resin on top of the charcoal. The resin will burn and soon release essential, aromatic oils through the smoke. Put more copal on the IMG_2377 charcoal as it burns out and smoke decreases. If you do not have charcoal, here is a great place to get it.

Ritual uses: Use copal as a smudge to cleanse before ritual. Perfect for honoring ancient Mexican deities and for Day of the Dead ceremonies. A truly beautiful way to begin your reading with The Jade Oracle!

How to break it into smaller pieces: Put the copal into a small freezer baggie. Freeze it overnight. While still in the baggie, hit it with hammer or mallet to break into small pieces.

How to clean your hands after using:  Put a splash of olive oil in your palm and rub it between your hands. Then apply a small amount of liquid hand soap or dish soap to your oiled hands. Rub until you do not feel the stickiness anymore, then rinse with warm water.

Where to purchase Copal: You can purchase superior quality white and black copal from our store!

IMG_6430Anne, a native Texan, visited the borderlands during the 1970’s and 1980’s, but after a trip to Mexico City in 1990, she began annual sojourns and research trips criss-crossing the country of Mexico and into Central America. Her doctoral studies centered on Mesoamerican spiritual practices and the Cihuateteo, divine women honored by many ancient Mexican cultures. She and Veronica Iglesias created The Jade Oracle deck with deities and symbols from ancient Mexico to bring this wisdom to a new generation.

A faculty member in Women’s Studies, English and Religious Studies, Dr. Key is the co-founder of the independent press Goddess Ink and co-editor of two anthologies: Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses and Heart of the Sun: An Anthology in Exaltation of Sekhmet. She has two memoirs, Desert Priestess and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life Under the Albuquerque Sun. Anne resides in Albuquerque with her husband, his two cats and her snake.

For more information, visit our website and circle with us on Facebook and Instagram. Check out our newly designed store and please sign up for the Goddess Ink Newsletter for a monthly dose of inspiration.

Monsoon Season – an excerpt from Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life under the Albuquerque Sun


As we celebrate Summer Reading, here is an excerpt from my second memoir, Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: Life Under the Albuquerque Sun. This excerpt describes the glorious monsoon season that brings most of the rain for the year:

Late summer in Albuquerque is monsoon season. The word brings to my mind palm trees bending in hurricane-force winds, sheets of rain filling roads and flooding over the curbs, storm drains choked and gurgling. But nary a palm tree is to be found in this semi-arid climate, which is populated with high-desert plants like juniper and sagebrush that thrive at the city’s mile-high altitude. The average rainfall of eight to nine inches per year happens mostly during this season, sometimes in brief torrents, lowering the temperature and providing a respite from the summer heat.

This first Wednesday morning in August begins as a typical monsoon-season day. Ben and I are sitting in the backyard, hands around warm mugs of tea and coffee. Our chairs face east, and over the tops of the mulberry trees and cottonwoods we see the day begin on the eastern horizon with a few cumulus clouds edged in vivid orange and pink over a bright blue sky. In only a few minutes, the clouds turn golden as the sun rises. One moment more and the entire sky is awash in light, white clouds against sapphire: a beautiful start to the day.

I cannot believe that it is already time to prep for fall term. At mid-morning I take a break from setting up my online classes and go outside to drag the trash can up the driveway and back to the garage. A little of the morning coolness lingers, but it is quickly being burned off by the sun, shining completely unimpeded in the cloudless sky. I squint upwards; some clouds lie on the distant eastern horizon, seemingly chased off by the blazing sun. Inside the house is warm and stuffy. I turn on the swamp cooler (the colloquial name for the “evaporative cooler,” a device that cools the air using evaporation of water) and hope the humidity outside doesn’t negate its effectiveness. It is going to be a hot day.

By noon, as I get in to drive to yoga, there is no lingering coolness. The inside of the car feels like an oven and the searing sun commands the sky. Every now and then a breeze musters enough strength to carry a bit of cool moisture, but all else retreats under the fierce midday sun.

Later in the afternoon, a few white puffy clouds appear on the horizon; by 5 o’clock, half of the sky to the east is crowded with clouds. A gray-ness grows. We have skylights throughout the house, and as the clouds cover the sun, the house dims. I turn on the light over the sink and peek out the kitchen window. The clouds darken and, as their edges merge, they deepen to gun-metal gray and lose their individual shape, banding together and covering the sky. I turn to look at the western horizon, seeing white and puffy cumulus clouds form, belatedly mirroring the earlier pattern in the east. I’m loading the dishwasher, wiping down the counter, surveying the contents of the refrigerator for dinner, when suddenly the smell of rain floods my nostrils.

Rain in the desert smells of dust and longing, heat and relief, and the security of knowing life will continue. I swear I can feel a part of my brain being triggered at the smell of rain. I am awash in a sense of well-being. Does this activate my endorphins somehow? Fixing dinner and cleaning the counter are completely forgotten as I am drawn outside. More than drawn—I cannot help but be outside to witness the coming storm. A fresh cup of jasmine tea in hand, steam wafting the delicate scent toward my nose, I get comfortable on the front porch, ready to watch the show.

Ready to read more? Find it at our store and on Amazon.

FINAL_Key225.jpgIn Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love, author Anne Key invites us to walk along the glittery rhinestone encrusted path of self-discovery as she confronts, and transcends, the established norms for middle-aged women. Set in picturesque Albuquerque, this memoir explores what it means to connect the body, mind, and spirit through yoga and burlesque. By the end of the book, you will find yourself traveling outside of the shadowy corners of fear toward a brighter light where there is freedom to be found in accepting yourself and learning to love what you find. Find it at our store and on Amazon.

Anne’s first memoir Desert Priestess recounts her time as the Priestess of the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet in Nevada. She co-edited Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses and  Heart of the Sun: An Anthology in Exaltation of Sekhmet. She performs with Unicorn Productions in Albuquerque, New Mexico under the stage name Annie O’Roar.  She teaches under the name Dr. Key as an adjunct faculty offering courses in women’s studies, religious studies, and English. As well as writing, she is also the co-founder of the independent press Goddess Ink.

Anne blissfully resides in Albuquerque with her husband, his two cats and her snake. When she’s not writing or grading papers, you can find her pushing taffeta through a sewing machine or strapping on her heels for rehearsal.

For more information about Goddess Ink, visit our website and circle with us on Facebook and Instagram. Check out our newly designed store and please sign up for the Goddess Ink Newsletter for a monthly dose of inspiration.

5 Sacred Sites in the Maya Lands

Dance, Divine, Goddess, Goddesses of the Americas, Jade Oracle, Mesoamerican Goddesses, Mexico, Priestess, ritual, sacred sites, The Jade Oracle

There are so many beautiful sites in Mexico, but the Maya Lands are truly stunning. Deep verdant jungles, carved stone temples, turquoise waters and white sands, and over all the spirit of IxChel, Maya Goddess of medicine. GettyImages-165804300_comp

For this blog we are doing a “virtual tour” of the sites on the Sacred Tour of the Maya Lands  and Winter Solstice Priestess Retreat at Isla Mujeres with Anne Key and Verónica Iglesias. This December join Sacred Tours of Mexico and Dive Deep into the Beauty and Mystery of the Maya Lands. Are you ready to make this Winter Solstice the moment when you dive deep, breathe it all in, and return renewed?. Book before July 31 and save $300!

  1. Chichen Itza

chichen-itza-ruinsOne of the largest Maya cities, Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan, near the colonial city of Valladolid. The site is resplendent with fine stone temples that exemplify the height of Maya art. “El Castillo” is the largest pyramid, and the shadowed shape of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, can be seen rising the stairs at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. The “Cenote Sagrado,” a pilgrimage site for ancient Maya peoples, is 200 feet in diameter, surrounded by sheer cliffs. These ruins and this cenote retain the deep beauty and sacred vibration that stems from millennia of ritual.

The feathered serpent, Kukkulcan in May and Quetzalcoatl for the Mixtec/Aztec, represents the highest level of precious knowledge. When Quetzalcoatl appears, you know that you have reached your highest peak. You are the master-creator, able to move between worlds. You can stand at the center of the four winds, strong and able to handle any situation. You are in control of your life.

  1. Tulum

These impressive ruins are situated along a cliff, overlooking the turquoise waters of thetulum Caribbean. Because it faces east, Tulum is also known as “the city of dawn.” As one of the best-preserved coastal sites, the architecture and frescoes is stunning.

Many who have climbed the steps of this pyramid talk about its power to release the old, allowing the seeker to return to the earth renewed.

  1. Ek Balam

ek-balam-pyramidLocated north of the city of Valladolid in the Yucatan, is Ek Balam. The stucco work, such as the jaguar jaws leading to the palace, is unforgettable. Cenote Xcanche is very near main pyramid. From the top of the pyramid, the vista is the gorgeous canopy of the jungle.

The name Ek Balam means “black jaguar, one of the most important animals. A nocturnal hunter and excellent swimmer, the jaguar symbolizes the night and the underworld and is associated with water. Usually spotted, but sometimes black, the jaguar is a symbol of power, and many deities sit atop a “jaguar throne.” While the eagle is considered masculine energy, the jaguar represents feminine energy.

Jaguar brings you the power and understanding of the underworld, amplifying your intuition. You are invited to embrace your feminine side and the magic of the cosmos. The jaguar brings the energy of personal empowerment through divination and ritual; if you are a woman, this power is amplified. Above all, jaguar opens the door to transformation, assuring you that you can safely walk through the dark underworld.


  1. Isla Mujeres

For millennia, Isla Mujeres has been sacred to the Mayan Goddess Ixchel. Surrounded byDSCF3345 turquoise waters and ringed by white sand beaches, Isla Mujeres holds the energy, and an ancient temple, dedicated to Her. We will spend Winter Solstice on the beaches of Isla Mujeres, with a Temazcal and rituals to Ixchel.


  1. Kaxan Xuul Eco Village

At Kaxan Xuul Eco Village, we will partake in Mayan rituals such as the Balche Ceremony and a Temazcal. Balche is a fermented beverage made with honey and the bark of the kaxansacred balche tree. When the Spanish arrived, they quickly banned the making and drinking of balche because of its strong religious significance. However, when the Maya showed the Spanish its healing properties, the ban was lifted, In ritual, the drink balche has healing properties, both for self and society. When drinking it in ritual, balche connects us to the cosmos, bringing messages from spirits and ancestors.


IMG_2258Join Anne Key and M Verónica Iglesias and Sacred Tours of Mexico this December and Dive Deep into the Beauty and Mystery of the Maya Lands. Are you ready to make this Winter Solstice the moment when you dive deep, breathe it all in, and return renewed? . Book before July 31 and save $300!

Mid-Summer Illumination by Anne Key

Goddess, Gratefulness, Priestess, ritual, Seasonal Greetings, Summer Solstice

Today is Mid-Summer, the Summer Solstice. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are living in the moments of the most light of the year. Solstice means “sun ceases” (originally from Latin), and it is at this point that the sun stills, rising and setting at its northernmost position on the horizon the few days before and after Mid-summer, drenching us in almost unrelenting light.

Many times, I view the unrelenting light as invigorating, life-affirming, and joyous. This year, the unrelenting light brings exposure. The politics of the day shine a thousand watt beam on the inequality, injustice, and inhumanity that is often unseen, or that we choose not to see, or that we cannot take in without our hearts breaking.

Today in this moment of stillness as the sun bathes us in its light, I open myself to seeing all that is illuminated and accepting my place in it. I see my power and privilege, and I see the limits of my own capacity. I don’t allow myself to be immobilized by guilt or shame, and I acknowledge what I have done to better the world. I take this day to see the big picture, to see my path in it. And I take this moment to open myself to the illumination of the solstice, without and within, and accept myself as whole, holy.

Whatever you do today, take a moment to truly see what is being illuminated, both without and within.

Blessings on this brightest and longest of days —


Note on Dates: Astrologically, Mid-Summer may be calculated as the date the Sun is at 0 degree cancer. Summer Solstice (Latin: “sun ceases”) is known as Mid-Summer or Litha (from the Anglo-Saxon name for the month of June) and St. John’s Day (the feast day of St. John the Baptist).

For more information, visit our website and circle with us on Facebook and Instagram. Check out our newly designed store and please sign up for the Goddess Ink Newsletter for a monthly dose of inspiration.

11698910_10153125848983220_7989607679311699491_o (1)A faculty member in Women’s Studies, English and Religious Studies, Anne Key is the co-founder of the independent press Goddess Ink and co-editor of two anthologies: Stepping Into Ourselves: An Anthology of Writings on Priestesses and Heart of the Sun: An Anthology in Exaltation of Sekhmet. She has two memoirs, Desert Priestess and Burlesque, Yoga, Sex and Love: A Memoir of Life Under the Albuquerque Sun. She and Veronica Iglesias created The Jade Oracle deck with deities and symbols from ancient Mexico to bring this wisdom to a new generation, and they lead tours to sacred sites in Mexico. See more at  Anne resides in Albuquerque with her husband, his two cats and her snake.

Four life-changing ways to encounter the Sacred in the Maya Lands by Veronica Iglesias and Anne Key

Divine, Goddess, Mesoamerican Goddesses, Mexico, Priestess, ritual, sacred sites, The Jade Oracle

The Maya Lands of Mexico offer many ways to encounter the sacred. Here are just a four sacred experiences that are, literally, life-changing.

Being “in-situ”:

It is one thing to see artifacts in a museum or book, and it is a completely different experience to be on the land, at the places where people have performed ritual and honored the ancestors and deities. Walk through the temples of Chichen Itza and hear the echoes of songs and the petals of flowers from ancient rituals. Climb the pyramid at Ek Balam and look over the surrounding verdant jungle, breathing in the prana of the plants. Sit at the altar of the goddess IxChel with the waves of the turquoise ocean lapping nearby. This is the time and place to reach from the past to the present and feel yourself between the worlds.

The Balche ceremony:

Balche is a fermented beverage made with honey and the bark of the sacred balche tree. When the Spanish arrived, they quickly banned the making and drinking of balche because of its strong religious significance. However, when the Maya showed the Spanish its healing properties, the ban was lifted, In ritual, the drink balche has healing properties, both for self and society. When drinking it in ritual, balche connects us to the cosmos, bringing messages from spirits and ancestors. Join us in December for a balche ceremony at Kaxan Xuul Ek Balam Colectivo De La Cultura Maya


Cenotes are deep underwater pools. The name cenote is from the Maya ts’onot, which refers to a “sacred well.”. When we swim in these sacred pools, we are connected to all the other waters of the land. These turquoise and mineral-rich pools represent the womb, a place where we are reborn. The Maya would make offerings to these pools, and they were a part of their most sacred rituals.
Hear Veronica Iglesias talk about the beautiful and soulful things we will experience on the Tour of the Maya Lands:…


Experience a temazcal in the jungles near Ek Balam and again on the island of Isla Mujeres. The temazcal is an ancient ceremony used throughout Mesoamerica. This ritual takes place in a round structure, like a womb. On the south wall, on the outside, is a fireplace. The fire heats the wall and volcanic stones are brought inside. The temazcal ceremony brings purification and healing. When you leave the temazcal, you enter the world reborn. Imagine leaving the dark womb of the healing temazcal and walking over the white sand into the bright sunlight and turquoise ocean of the beach at Isla Mujeres.


Join Anne Key and M Verónica Iglesias and Sacred Tours of Mexico this December and Dive Deep into the Beauty and Mystery of the Maya Lands. Are you ready to make this Winter Solstice the moment when you dive deep, breathe it all in, and return renewed? 

Visit our website and circle with us on Facebook and Instagram. Check out our newly designed store and please sign up for the Goddess Ink Newsletter for a monthly dose of inspiration.


Summer Reading: Legacy by Kerrigan Valentine

Goddess, Story

This week we have the first chapter from one of our favorite fantasy reads: Legacy, by Kerrigan Valentine.  Purchase in paperback from Goddess Ink or Kindle on Amazon.


My mother died before I was born. It sounds odd, saying that, but I can’t find any other way of explaining.

She was fifteen when I was born, the first in a long line of unwelcome daughters. A year later, my mother had Beth. The following autumn brought the twins, and then with each year came all the rest. The one boy that Mother bore brightened our father’s life for only a few days. We buried him in the men’s graveyard, my father grieving more for this untouched soul than he ever did for his other living, suffering daughters.

Women lived hard in the Valley. Married at twelve, first childbed by thirteen, they were bent-backed grandmothers by the time they were twenty-six. My mother must have been despaired of when no baby appeared those first years of marriage. Father could have divorced her, on grounds of barrenness. He was nearly thirty then, home from warring, and ready to start a family. But in the Valley, a family meant sons. Daughters were of no importance, except to grow up to breed and rear sons. Those like my mother, who failed to do even that, were truly worthless. As I grew, she turned from dead to a ghost.
I played in the grass one morning, after the twins were born, while my mother drew a stained shirt up and down the washboard. A butterfly lifted from a flower and I laughed, clapping my hands, turning to see if she had noticed. Her dead eyes were still as stone, frightening me. I knew one day those would be my eyes. Their emptiness would be just the same.

By the time I was eight, her hair was white and broken, with spots of scalp shining through like scattered coins. Her head withered into the stalk of her neck, her bloodless arms sunk to bony hands. The pale blue of her eyes had leached away, until they looked as white as her hair. She was an apparition that wisped and disappeared when I turned to see. Rarely speaking, never smiling, never scolding. In our tiny living room full of noisy little girls, she simply vanished.

I looked at my father, tanned from the sun, robust at his work, and yet he was so much older than my mother. One day, I stood up from my child’s game and began helping. Not as much as I could have or should have, but some. If I had expected her to express thanks, I would have been disappointed. It was Father who approved.
“Maybe you’ll be a proper woman yet,” he said once, watching me sweep the floor as he downed ale.

Something dark and evil within me rankled at his praise. For I had made a promise, that day in the grass with my mother washing. I did not know how, but my life would be different. Her eyes would never be mine.

Chapter One – Going Home

I’m twelve past a quarter and already an old maid. The thought made me giggle, though at this vast age, I knew I should be beyond childish laughter. San and Teff looked shocked, their insult falling flat beneath my snickering. Beth elbowed my side.
“It’s not funny!” she said prissily, fussing over the pleats in her skirt. “Look at you, Shannon! A few more months and you really will be an old maid.”

I mussed her thin hair with my free hand. “Better that than a wife, eh, boys?”

Teff’s mouth fell open as San stiffened and moved back from the fence they were leaning on. I hefted the market basket up to my shoulder.

“Well, we’re off!” I said too loudly, pulling Beth along the road. “Why should I bring a husband’s children into the world to starve, when there’s not enough food to keep my father’s from hunger?” I smiled in satisfaction at the sound of three throats choking.
“I can’t believe you said that!” Beth hissed while San and Teff muttered behind us.
“You’re not natural, Shannon Wrightsdaughter!” one shouted. The wet sound of spitting followed.
“What if someone heard you?” Beth flinched away from me and tried to fix her hair.
“Spinsters’ cursed empty womb, brings lonely life from home to tomb!” the boys called as we neared the end of the Trel farm fence.

I rustled around in the basket. “Think I could peg Teff with an apple from here?”
“No!” Beth said, slapping my hand away.

“It’d be a waste of an apple,” I said sagely. “Pity their wives one day. But then who’d marry those cracked brains? I wouldn’t.”

“Well, you have to marry someone,” Beth said.

I started to retort, but she had already begun to wheeze. Children born in the Dark Winter never fared well. Beth and then the boy, both Dark Winter children. And irony of ironies, Beth, the too-early hard birthed baby, translucent-skinned and kitten-weak, had lived. The full-born, rose-colored boy born eight years later had not. Father, the odd time he looked at any of us, made sure to let his eyes skip over Beth. Had she been healthier, more of his rage would have poured down upon her. As it was, his anger was thoughtfully doled out in equal parcels to me, our mother, Beth, the twins, and the others.

Beth tried to even her breathing. I slowed and pretended not to notice her rasp. The sun was setting over the Valley, turning the crop fields a fiery gold against the flame red of the sky. Threads of darkness spread like talons behind us. The road was pale yellow beneath our feet, and the colors of land and sky together were as lovely as Jadan Trelson’s paintings before he had gone to war.

“Marriage,” I grumbled, hoping to draw Beth into conversation. It wasn’t thoughtful, with her trying to breathe and all, but I couldn’t bear the silence.

“What else are you going to do?” Beth said with a shrug, sounding exactly like Old Mother Nhilde in the market. “Cut off your braid and take up a plow?”

“Oh, don’t be tiresome,” I said. “I just don’t want to marry, that’s all. I mean, honestly, do you want to?”

Her voice was tired. “Of course I do. It’s not a question of wanting to, anyway. It’s a matter of doing what we should.”

“Goat drops to that! I’ll do what I please!”

“And that’s why your life will be so much harder than mine,” she said. I made a horrible face at her and shifted the basket to my other shoulder. We’d gone to market that afternoon and were late returning.

“We’re really late.” Beth said. I nodded, judging a mile or so left. I loved going to market, the bustle in the square and commotion from the stores, haggling down prices as Beth tugged on my sleeve in embarrassment. Her face would get redder still when some charitable man with many sons gave us a coin for our poor, unlucky father. Poor Father, naught but daughters. Poor Father, unable to plant all his fields with no sons to help. If Father ever found out we had accepted the money, would his fists fly! I always smiled my gratitude to the giver and pocketed the coin. I had one hidden in my dress right now. Taking it out, I watched the deep blue coin flash and sparkle in the last of the afternoon sun. I went to flash the light in Beth’s eyes, but thought better of it. I stroked its smooth surface instead and slipped it back into my pocket. A full twenty-pence piece, compliments of San and Teff’s father himself.

The road wound south. Suddenly, a rabbit skittered over the yellow gravel and vanished into a patch of thick grass. Beth grabbed my arm before I could give it chase.
“You’re no fun,” I scolded. “I wouldn’t have done it, really.”

“Yes, you would have,” Beth said. The catch in her voice made me look back. Her face was deathly pale, and beads of sweat trickled down her cheeks to drop onto her dampened collar. Her brown eyes slid around sickly, going in and out of focus when they tried to steady on me. She clutched at me to keep herself from falling. Ignoring her protests, I made her sit down along the side of the road.

The Dark Winter came with a vengeance every eight years, with icy winds scrabbling at the cabin walls and the Valley in near blackness for months at a time. Candles and fires gave the only light while thin blankets gave too little warmth. The oldest and youngest quickly died of lung illness and, by the time spring rolled in, the hale and healthy were near death themselves. I had been too young to remember the winter Beth was born, but I could remember the next one with crystal clarity. Father’s mother, Old Luol, sat in the rocker, going back and forth, back and forth through the days and nights. I could not tell one from the other. Firelight flickered on her lumped fingers twisted over the armrests. The only sound but for the shrieking wind was her voice, mumbling stories to us about the beasts in the Beyond. I had been nine, Beth eight, and the boy child lived to see his third day before dying. Had there been some light, Father no doubt would have gone to the tavern. But he had to remain in our cramped, tiny cabin until travel was possible. Beth and I huddled with the twins in a cold corner to avoid his rampaging about, while the rest of our sisters shivered along the other wall. Mother was still bed-ridden in our parents’ room.

“Dead! Dead! Dead!” he screamed. “Look at my son! What have you done to my son?” He held the bundled body to his chest, poking at it now and then, as if to make sure. I had only caught a glimpse and gotten slapped for my trouble, the boy’s whitish face eerily still in its swathe of wool blanket.

Dark Winters were long and hard. Had they come about more than once every eight years, I would probably go mad. That first spring day, when the sun gave the earth no more than a late evening’s dimness, we all spilled outside and would not go back in until nightfall.“Don’t worry, Shannon,” Beth said. I jumped at her voice. “I don’t think San and Teff will tell anyone what you said. They know it was just foolishness.” I stared at her in confusion.

“I wasn’t thinking . . .” I began to protest, but realized she didn’t need to know what I was really thinking. I helped her to her feet.

“I’m better now. Do you want me to carry the basket?” she asked.

“No, I’m all right,” I said as her chin got a stubborn set to it. “Maybe you could carry one or two of the loaves, that would lighten it some.”

She took three and started off. We went the rest of the way in silence. She shouldn’t have come with me to market, as fast as she tired, but it was better than being home.
We turned off the road and walked down the dirt path to the cabin. No cook fire came from the chimney.

“What do you. . .” Beth stopped as two of the Nameless ran for us. After Roaninblue were born, Father had forbidden us to waste even names on other useless baggage. I had names for them, but only when Father wasn’t around.

I looked over their heads at the cabin. The door was ajar. Father started shouting.
“Come on,” I said. “We’ll go into the barn and play games.” I gestured to the other Nameless, huddled on the porch. They clambered to their feet. All of them ducked when a particularly loud shout cut the air around us.

“Hurry, hurry,” I said as I ushered them into the barn, glancing at the cabin. It wasn’t much, uneven boards and cracked glass windows that never seemed to get clean. Old Luol’s rocker lay in a heap in the front yard. I pulled the barn door shut and counted . . . seven, eight, nine. Everyone was here. Roaninblue each took a hand of another sister and tried to pull them into a half-hearted ring game. Roan or Blue gave up, and then the other twin followed suit. Father never called either one by the same name, so they became Roaninblue, like a single identity.

“Come on, let’s play hide-and-seek!” I said loudly to cover the sounds from the cabin. “I’m it!”

Beth took the basket from my shoulder. I had forgotten it was there. I ran to the barn door and pressed my face against it, counting noisily. The three youngest shrieked and footsteps pounded away. Beth chuckled. I heard her sit down with an exhausted sigh.
“Twelve!” I called out. Two giggles came from the horse’s stall. Greda and Keluu, probably. They always hid together. The twins’ voices whispered behind me.
I opened my eyes and looked out a crack between the boards. For a moment, Mother’s face was barely visible through the gray glass of the cabin window.

“Why doesn’t she just hit him back?” I had demanded of her, when I was Greda’s age.
My mother looked out over the market. One of the Trelson boys had slapped his mother and ripped a coin from her palm.

“Thirteen!” I shouted, looking at my mother’s eyes. Her face disappeared. I turned back to the musty barn.“Ready, steady, on I come!” I ran blindly into the dust motes.

The Trelson mother had pressed her hand to her stained cheek. She looked down at the ground. Mother didn’t do anything for a moment. Everyone had paused at the ring of that slap, and then they were in motion again around us, slightly faster than before, to make up for the time they had lost.

I ran, not caring if I tripped, keeping my hands in front of me to push off posts and sagging doors and bales of hay. Why had the other girls been so pleased when it was time to put our hair in braids? Who wanted to be a Valley’s woman?

I stumbled over a loose board and fell, skinning my knees and tearing my dress. I scrambled to my feet. This time when I ran, like a foolish little child, my eyes were closed.

Want to read more? Purchase in paperback from Goddess Ink or Kindle on Amazon.

Author Kerrigan Valentine was born in Wisconsin and grew up in California, where she lives today with her partner. She has a bachelor’s degree in Classical Studies. After graduating from college, she worked for several years in education with mildly to severely disabled children, and now divides her time between writing, occasional teaching and seasonal viticulture positions, and learning how to cook with limited success.


Summer Reading: Dancer for the Goddess by Diana Rivers

contemplation, Dance, Empowerment, Fiction, Goddess, Priestess, ritual, Story, Vision, Women

Dancer for the GoddessThis week we have the first chapter from one of our favorite fantasy reads: Dancer for the Goddess by Diana Rivers, author of The Hadra Series.  Purchase in paperback from Goddess Ink or Kindle on Amazon.

Chapter 1: The Temple of Kernoss

By walking past the Temple at that exact moment on that particular morning,
my life was changed forever and set irrevocably on its new course. I
had been sent out on some errand or other. Later I couldn’t even remember
what it was because I never reached my intended destination. I was very
young at the time, ten perhaps, certainly no more than eleven, just barely old
enough to be out in the streets alone. My older cousin, Renairi, the one who
should have gone instead of me, was ill. I had been allowed to go in her place with the strict understanding that I was to come straight home afterward.

Of course I’d been on that street many times before with my family,
but we’d never lingered in front of the Temple of Kernoss. My mother was
so contemptuous of the Goddess and all things holy that we always passed
by quickly, often with my mother making disparaging remarks. I knew my
father had once been head gardener at the Temple, but that was long ago,
even before my parents married. Sometimes he still spoke of it with longing
and affection. My mother had no such feelings—and in our family, my
mother held the power.

Those other times, the outer courtyard had been a bustle of activity,
crowded with celebrants there for the holy days, or merchants who had
business with the Temple. Throngs of people passed in or out of the gates,
some from the city and some from the farmlands beyond. The Temple of
Kernoss was immense, almost like a town within the city of Urshameel,
with many to be fed and clothed and much sacred business being conducted
there everyday. This time, however, it was early morning. For once,
the front courtyard of the Temple was empty.

Feeling very daring and a little frightened, I stepped through the open
gates to take a quick look into this forbidden place. I had only meant to stay
for a moment or two, but I found myself lingering there, tempted by the
beauty of the flowerbeds overflowing with spring blooms. I was also tempted
by this unexpected freedom. After glancing around to make sure no one was
watching me, I craned my neck to find the source of the waterfall that started
from some high place in the polished black stones of the Temple wall. From
there I followed with my eyes as the water fell, flashing and sparkling, into
a shallow pool where gold, red and bronze fish swam in lazy circles. Past the pond the water flowed on into little streams that meandered about and
watered the gardens. Of course, I had to stop for a little while and watch the
fish. Then, humming to myself, I had to dip my fingers in the water and run
my wet fingertips lightly over the flowers.

Drawn by curiosity, fears forgotten and responsibilities as well, I began
walking further and deeper into the courtyard. At a bend in a low, curving,
brick wall, I came upon an enormous stone statue of Great Mother, The-
Mother-of-all-Things. She was surrounded by a multitude of tiny animals
and humans made of painted clay. I sucked in my breath with delight.
Wonderfully round and full of power, Her features were almost worn away
from the touch of many hands. Awed, I stopped before Her and bowed. Then,
feeling very daring but unable to resist, I scrambled up on a bench. With
tentative fingers I stroked Her face. I wanted to pluck a flower and set it on
the altar in front of Her with all the other offerings, but Temple ways were
unfamiliar to me. I was afraid I might do something forbidden.

The courtyard was paved in dark stone with an inset of lighter stones
in the shape of a spiral. Stepping with care, I followed this spiral pathway
to its center where a small, round pool reflected the sky like an unblinking
blue eye. From that center, I looked up in wonder at the pointed archway of
black polished stones leading into the inner courtyard and the Temple itself.
My eyes were instantly captured by the symbols carved around it, each one
painted in a different bright color.

Errand long forgotten, I began moving toward the archway as if in a
trance. I was reaching out my hand, intent upon touching one of those mysterious symbols, when a sudden movement caught my attention. A young woman, far back inside the archway, was bending over to fasten her sandal.

Fascinated, I stopped to watch. Just then she stood up and swung her long
dark hair back from her face with one sweep of her arm. Sighing deeply, she
took an unconsciously graceful pose and stood looking past me into the
outer courtyard as if lost in thought.

A ray of early morning light fell on her in the darkness of the archway.
It flashed on the gold links of her necklace and lit the richness of her Dancer
costume, red and purple with a blue vest and several multi-colored sashes. In one hand she held a glass tube or wand in which brilliant colors swirled and shimmered in constantly changing patterns. With the fingers of her other
hand she absently twirled some strands of her dark hair. I stood gaping at her
with my mouth open. Her beauty took my breath away—the Goddess Herself
in earthly form. Flooded with admiration, in that instant I fell in love with
my whole heart as only someone very young can fall in love. At the same
moment the Dancer glanced down and noticed this little girl, staring at her
so openly. She turned her full attention on me.

“Have you never seen a Dancer, Child?” I blushed and stammered, “Yes, often, at festival times but always Dancing, never just standing still like a real person.”

The Dancer threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, I’m real enough.
Watch…” She did some quick intricate Dance steps ending with a slight bow
in front of me. “You see, I’m very real,” she said again, reaching out and
touching me on the wrist. “I’m a Dancer for the Goddess and I’m training
right here in this Temple.”

I trembled at her touch and went on staring up at her, my eyes wide and
unblinking. Words came tumbling thoughtlessly out of my mouth: “What’s
your name? Mine is Zaia. How old were you when you started Dancing? Can
someone my age do those steps? Are they very hard to learn?” Then I glanced away, going suddenly shy and silent.

I think the longing and intensity in my questions must have touched
her heart. It was certainly not my manners. “My name is Kendrin,” she said
with a smile. “I started when I was nine. Come, I’ll show you where the
girls your age practice. Melanthia is the Dance Mistress and she’s very strict
so we have to be quiet and not let anyone see us there.” Kendrin slipped her
wand into her sash. Then she reached out her hand and I took it without
thought or question.

Together, hand in hand, we made our way through the Temple. To my
young eyes it was a place of wonders, a vast jumble of vivid impressions. I could see now that the Temple was not just one massive black-stone building, as it appeared to be from the street but many interconnected buildings of different shapes and sizes. Kendrin led me through courtyards, gardens, archways, halls.

I could hear bells and chimes in the distance and, from another place, the swell of music. Peacocks and other brightly colored birds strolled about like walking jewels. There was a constant flow of people moving purposefully, as if to some important task. They nodded to Kendrin and looked curiously at me, but no one blocked our way or stopped us to question my presence.
Off to the side I saw a long processional walkway. It was made of colorfully
patterned tiles and lined on both sides by a row of carved columns.
Beyond that loomed a huge ceremonial chamber hung with bright tapestries.
Soon we turned from the main way and entered a series of twisting narrow
passageways. “This is a way that few outsiders ever see,” Kendrin told me.

We passed shops where weavers, carvers or potters were bent over their work. From around a corner came a loud rush of sound, much clanging and bustling and the clamor of raised voices. In passing I caught a glimpse through a wide doorway of a huge, steamy kitchen.

Soon we were out again, hurrying past terraced kitchen gardens. Chickens and geese were running loose. There were pens of sheep and pigs. What I remember best were the flowering fruit trees growing flat against red brick walls in the shape of giant harps. Next we came to an especially beautiful flower garden. Because of my father I knew much about gardens. I was tempted to linger at this one, but Kendrin urged me on, saying: “They’ve
already started. You’ll miss it all if you wait. The young ones are going to do
The Dance for First Harvest here in the Temple Dance Court. It’s for this they
practice. You must get your parents to bring you at mid-summer.”

I nodded, but even as I did a shiver went through me. My parents in the
Temple? Not much hope of that! I pictured my mother’s face contorted in
anger and saw my father cringing at her bitter words. Then, with a will, I shut
out all thoughts of my parents, shut out everything but what was happening
right at that moment. I knew there might be trouble later but I told myself
that no matter what happened after, this would be worth it.

At some point the way grew narrow and Kendrin stepped in front of
me. It was then I noticed the woven knot of thick silken cord she wore in her
hair. Intricately shaped and bright red in color, it was nestled at the back of
her head in a cluster of small tight braids. I was just going to ask her about it
when her hand went up to touch it. As if she had read my mind, she turned
back and answered my unasked question: “That is my Dancer’s Knot. We
wear it any time we’re not sleeping. It is one sure way to recognize a Dancer
no matter what else she may be wearing. We earn it when we graduate from
Novice to Apprentice.”

With an odd little tremor, I touched the back of my own head as if I felt
a weight there. My mother had always kept my hair cut short. She said it
was too unruly and she didn’t want the bother of untangling it. Looking at
Kendrin’s fall of long shiny black hair, I vowed to let mine grow. Of course
it would not be quite the same since mine had red mixed in with the dark.
Besides, it was wild and curly instead of straight.

Finally we came to a large Dance Court, a circle of short, well-tended,
bright green grass. The Dance Court itself was sunken, with a few tiers of
seats rising around it. At the very center it was open to the sky and surrounded y two sets of wooden pillars that supported the curved roof, each
pillar carved with a representation of the Goddess. Three musicians were
seated on a low stone bench at the edge of the court. Twenty or more girls of
near my age were Dancing, while a stern-looking Dance Mistress put them
through an intricate set of steps, using a wand like Kendrin’s for emphasis.
“It’s so big,” I whispered to Kendrin, gazing in awe at the court.

“This is just the practice court. The formal one is much larger,” she
answered. Then she released my hand and whispered in my ear: “We can only go a little closer, just by that pillar there. Then we must stand very still.”

I did as I was told and watched in silence as the other girls moved through their steps under Melanthia’s direction. She was indeed an imposing-
looking figure, tall and spare with a lean, well-muscled body. Her silver
hair, pulled back tight, was in stark contrast to her dark skin. I found myself
listening so intently to her words that my ears ached with them. Soon I could
feel the music moving in my body. Though I was standing still, the Dance
began flowing through me like an irresistible force, pulling and pulling at my
core. I could do those steps; I knew I could. It was as if I already knew them,
as if I had Danced them in my sleep.

Suddenly, with no thought and no intention on my part, I found myself
walking or rather floating down to the Dance Court. I suppose Kendrin had
been absorbed watching the Dance. Too late she must have realized that her
charge had slipped away. To call me back or try to grab me would only have
caused more disruption. I slipped in to join the others. Moving like someone
in a dream, I began doing the steps as if my body had suddenly been freed to be itself. Some of the others girls saw me and hesitated with a look of shock on their faces.

“Please continue,” Melanthia said sternly. “This class is not yet finished.”
Then she walked over until she was standing directly in front of me.
I was concentrating so intently on following the steps of the other girls that
I was hardly aware of her presence until she tapped me sharply with her
Dancewand and asked in a loud voice: “Who are you, Child, and what made
you think to intrude this way? Has no one taught you any manners?” The
voice was severe, but there was an appraising look on her face. Most of the
other girls moved away quickly, all except one whose name I later learned
was Thesali. This Thesali looked to be a year or so older than I was. She
stepped up right next to me as if to offer protection.

Startled, I looked up at Melanthia then quickly glanced away again,
blushing deeply. At that moment I was aware of everyone’s eyes on me. My
tongue glued itself to the roof of my mouth and my stomach curled into a
knot. I was frozen in place, unable to move or speak.

“Answer me!” Melanthia snapped. “I am not used to my students keeping
me waiting in this way.”

“Zaia, of the House of Anzor,” I mumbled, glancing down at the floor.
Then I took a deep breath and with a burst of courage looked up into that
stern visage. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble, but I couldn’t help myself.
Something came over me. The music called me.”

At the mention of my name a strange expression passed over Melanthia’s
face and she muttered, as if to herself, “The House of Anzor? Goddess, how is that possible?” Then to me she said in a gentler tone: “The Dance called you, Zaia, that is what drew you here. Never forget that.”

Kendrin had come forward and was looking back and forth between us,
flushed and confused, twisting her hands in distress. “It was all my fault. She
asked if girls her age could Dance. She seemed so eager I thought to show
her. I imagined we could stand quietly behind a pillar and not be noticed. I
had no idea she would…”

Melanthia put a hand on the girl’s arm. “It’s alright, Kendrin. You did
well to bring her here. The Goddess moves Her will through us in mysterious
ways. This was meant to happen—but don’t think to ever do it again.” After
that Melanthia signaled, by a nod of her head, that I was to continue Dancing
with the other girls. I shivered with excitement, very conscious of her shrewd,
appraising eyes watching my every step.

Fortunately for me it was my father who came to look for me—or, more
likely, he was the one who was sent. If my mother had come she would probably have made a dreadful scene. Likely she would have thought there was some intentional insult there, that her daughter had been lured on purpose by the Temple. Even my father sounded unusually gruff. “What are you thinking of, Zaia? The whole house is in an uproar. You were supposed to come right home. Everyone is out looking for you. If a little boy playing ball
by the garden wall hadn’t seen you go through the gates I would never have
known you were here.” He looked distraught and his hands were shaking.
“Melanthia, my apologies,” he said with a quick bow. “What a strange way for
us to meet again.”

“Do not be too harsh with her, Tomaire. I think she is drawn to movement
the same way you are drawn to making things grow and with the same
passion. She’s a born Dancer. You must send her to the Temple soon for
training. I see the hand of the Goddess in this, that Zaia came to us here in
spite of all the…” Then she stopped in confusion and they both looked at each other strangely, almost as if they each wanted to reach out and touch, though neither moved to do so.

“Please Father, please. You must let me come.” I reached up and tugged
on his arm.

“Later,” he said almost harshly. “We will speak of this later, Zaia. Now we
must go home quickly. Everyone is worried about you.” Turning to the Dance
Mistress he made a slight bow again. “Melanthia, please forgive this intrusion. I’m sure the child meant no harm. She’s young and impulsive. It was a mistake to let her out on her own this way.”

Melanthia shook her head. “It was no mistake Tomaire, it was meant to
happen. Remember what I said. Bring her here for training. Such a talent
should not be wasted. There are not that many natural Dancers in the world.”
Impulsively, I reached out and touched the older girl’s hand. “Thank you,
Kendrin. I’m sorry for the trouble I caused you. I didn’t mean you any harm.”

Then, gathering my courage, I said to Melanthia: “I’d like to come back to the
Temple and Dance. I’d like that more than anything in the world.”
She shook her head again. “Be very sure. Don’t think it will be easy, Child. It
will be very hard, I promise you. It will take everything you have, mind and body and soul. Look deep into your heart before you make that choice. Goddess bless you. Now go home quickly. You have frightened your people.”
“Yes, quickly, the whole house is in turmoil,” my father said urgently as
he took my hand and hurried me out of the circle. I gazed back filled with
longing, stumbled and would have fallen if my father had not grabbed my
arm. “Look where you’re going, Zaia,” he said gruffly. “You’ve already caused
more than enough trouble.” But as soon as we were out in the gardens his
whole manner softened. “So, Melanthia thinks you have a natural talent for
the Dance. She’s not known for being generous with her praise, in fact quite
the opposite.”

“Can I do it, Father? Can I come here to Dance?”

“Not now. We’ll talk later.” As he said that, he seemed more shaken than
angry. Then he turned to look at the gardens and his manner changed again, a smile spreading across his face, a smile that had some sadness in it. “Did you ever see such beautiful flowers? It’s a joy just to stand here among them.”

“Father, did you plant these gardens?”

“I designed most of them. I even planted some with my own hands. I’m
glad to see them still thriving. These trees were no more than little dry twigs
and look at them now, spreading out over our heads and giving shade.”

There was such a tone of longing in his voice it made my heart ache.
“Did you plant this garden?” I asked, eagerly drawing him over to my
favorite part of the gardens that Kendrin had just rushed me through, a place
with several fountains and many little stone-paved paths that wound through
the shrubs and flowers.

“Everything. From the very beginning. I still have the drawings for it
rolled up somewhere.”

And so, instead of rushing home, we wandered through the gardens on
our way out of the Temple, with me asking endless questions about everything that grew there and my father answering patiently. At that moment I was trying not to think about home and what waited for me there. It was well
worth it, I told myself again, No matter what happens, it was well worth it.
Finally, we reached the street. On sudden impulse I grabbed my father’s
arm, wanting to stop him. “Do I have to go back? Why can’t I just stay here
and learn to Dance? They want me. You heard Melanthia. I want to be just
like Kendrin. I don’t want to go into the family business. I have no head for it.

He looked away and shook his head. “You can’t always do what you want
in this world, Zaia. There are other people involved. You mother would never
allow it. You know how she feels about the Temple.”

“Please, Father!”

“No more! Not another word! Come with me right now, Daughter! Right now! We have tarried here long enough. You have worried everyone with your thoughtlessness. Now we must hurry.” With that he took hold of my arm and rushed me down the street. Before we went around the corner I turned back for one last glance at the Temple gates. Kendrin was standing there watching us. She raised her hand in a farewell gesture and then disappeared inside.
Once home it was even worse than I had imagined. My mother’s relief at
seeing me safe quickly turned to anger and then rage when she realized the
extent of my betrayal. “The Temple of all places!” she shouted. “You know
how I feel about the Temple! You see what comes of all your stories about the Temple gardens, Tomaire? Or have you been secretly influencing her behind my back?” She was pacing up and down, spewing out furious words and then stopping suddenly to glare at my father or me, first one and then the other.

“All our neighbors have been out looking for you, you little monster! And
there you were lolling around the Temple, making fools of us all. You have no
heart and care for no one but yourself.” Quickly, she resumed her pacing, as if all that anger could not be contained in a still body. Then she whirled on my
father again, shouting, “Do those witches have nothing better to do than lure
our children in off the street? I’ll bet Melanthia was behind all this. She can’t
have you so she wants my child, my eldest daughter at that, the one who is
destined to take my place in the family business.”

With the courage of desperation I burst out, “But Mother, I’m no good
at it. I have no head for numbers. Let Yanin take my place. I yield it to her
willingly. She can be the eldest daughter. All I want is to go to the Temple and
Dance. Melanthia says I’m a born Dancer.”

That, of course, was the wrong thing to say. My mother whirled on me
with her hand raised. She was so angry she would have struck me if my
father had not stepped between us. “Thea, think what you’re doing. She’s
only a child.”

My mother lowered her hand and said with barely suppressed fury,
“Never! I will never give my consent. Put such ideas out of your head right
now, Zaia! You will take your place in this family as you are supposed to.
Melanthia cannot have you. I won’t allow it. Now go to your room and shut
the door. You can spend the day there thinking on all the trouble you’ve
caused with your selfishness. As for you, Tomaire, you have undermined me
in this family and made a fool of me in the Temple world. You know I won’t
forget it—and I will never forgive you.”

I crossed the garden court with a heavy heart, tears filling my eyes so
that all the flowers ran together in a blur of colors. As I was about to close
the door to my room I heard my father say, “Thea, I want you to know there
was no intention to hurt you in this. She’s only a child. The sight of a young
Dancer standing in the archway caught her fancy, nothing more. Pay it no
mind. She’ll forget this notion soon enough.”

But he was wrong. I didn’t forget. I could think of nothing else. And now,
of course, I was not sent on any more errands. In truth I was seldom allowed
out, even with the family. And, if I did go with them, it was never by way
of the Temple. My mother barely spoke to me and then only in the coldest
tones; my father seemed awkward and embarrassed around me; and my
little sister, Yanin, mocked me with sly looks and cruel words. I was a virtual
prisoner in my own home, expected to study diligently to make up for my
betrayal. But I had a hard time studying. Where before the work had bored
me, now I loathed it. It seemed like part of the punishment.

All I could think of was the Temple: the beauty of the courtyards, Kendrin standing in the archway caught by that ray of sunlight, the Dance Court, the other girls my age being allowed to Dance, and Melanthia saying that I, Zaia, was a born Dancer. Even when I tried, the numbers swam before my eyes and sometimes in my tears. Then I would lay my head down on the table and let the visions come and of course there would be more trouble. My only comfort and my only confidant at that time was my cousin Renairi, the only person I could talk to. Though my mother had warned her to keep away from me, she managed to find ways to sneak into my room. Or we would meet in secret in the far corner of the garden under a tree whose drooping branches hid us from sight. There I would pour out my heart—all my grief and longing and my anger at the unfairness of things.

Whenever my father came to encourage me in my work, I would beg him
to intercede for me. Then he would shake his head and look sad. “You know
your mother will never agree. She has already told you so. Now you must
accept that in your heart and make the best of it. There is a long-standing
feud between your mother’s family and the Temple. Thea is a proud woman.
If nothing else, her pride would not allow it.”

All that trouble with the Temple had happened so long ago it seemed like a myth to me. It was well before I was born, when my mother was a very young woman or perhaps still a girl. Her parents, who were also merchants, had had some dealings with the Temple. They felt they had been treated unfairly cheated actually. When they went to the Temple for redress of grievances, they found themselves met with arrogance and contempt, or at least that was how they perceived it. Anyhow, in their eyes, the matter was never made right. That was the story I was told, the source of all that anger.

Now, these many years later, those involved were likely all dead, my grandparents as well as the High Priestess and others at the Temple, but because of what had happened back in that misty past, I was not allowed to go there and Dance. I raged against the injustice of it and often cried myself to sleep.

Finally, in tears, I begged, “Please, Father, ask her again for me.” I knew
my father loved me, but he was under my mother’s power. He had come into
the marriage as a poor man and he was never allowed to forget it.
“Are you very sure, Zaia? Your mother is a strong-willed woman. She
does not forgive those who go against her. You may make an irreparable
separation with this insistence.”

“I’m very sure. It’s all I want in my life.”

“But you’re so young. You can’t know all the consequences. How do you
really know if…?”

I grabbed his hand. “Please do this for me. I know what will happen if I
stay here much longer. I’ll die!”

He must have gathered his courage to ask because an hour or so later my
mother stormed into my room. “So now you have taken to threatening your
father with your own death. What kind of heartlessness is that? You know the
man loves you and you abuse his love that way. Unnatural child! Understand,
Zaia, I will never give my consent. Never! Get that into your head!” Then
she left, slamming the door behind her so hard things fell off the shelves
and crashed to the floor. I was in despair. Later my cousin Renairi found me
asleep at the desk in a puddle of tears. She shook me awake. When I finally
raised my face it was all crisscrossed with a design of wet ink marks. She
showed me in the mirror before gently washing them away.

I had not planned it as an act of resistance or a last resort. It was simply
what happened. I lost my appetite and stopped eating. I stopped studying. I
no longer cared what was happening around me. My father’s pleading and
my mother’s threats could not reach me. My cousin’s worry had no effect.
My aunt tried to scold me back to life and got no response. Nothing seemed
to touch me. I had disappeared inside myself into a semi-dream state where
I wandered freely in the Temple gardens, which seemed far more real to me
than the rooms of my family home. Night and day began to blend together. I
was sunk so deep into my stupor that I was hardly aware of anything until a
loud shouting argument broke out. My aunt, alerted by my cousin, had come
to confront my mother. “You will let your daughter die in your house just to
satisfy your cursed pride, and then what will people say? Where will your
pride be then, Thea? Have you thought of that? Let her go! She’s not yours to hold. She has her own life. Let her go quickly before it’s too late.”

My mother shouted back, “You always thought you could tell me what to
do, Veraine, but this is my family and none of your business.” “She is my business! She’s my niece and my Goddess-child, the one I’m honor bound to guide and watch over and keep safe. I have no choice but to intervene. You’re killing her with your stubbornness.”

“No! She’s killing herself with her own stubbornness.”

“What does it matter, Thea? It will all come to the same thing very soon
and then it will be too late!”

I felt myself slipping into a sort of dark pool and didn’t hear any more
until suddenly my mother and aunt and father all burst into my room. “Get
up, Girl and get yourself dressed,” my aunt Veraine said urgently. “You’re
going to the Temple to learn the Dance. Anyone who wants something so
much they are willing to die for it should have it.”

I saw the look of implacable hatred on my mother’s face. “You will go to
the Temple to live there like one of the country girls. I won’t have you in my
house anymore. The Temple can have you and good riddance. I won’t pay
them a single coin for your keep there. You are not my daughter anymore.
Your sister Yanin will take your place in this house.” I could see my sister and
cousin crowding in the doorway, their eyes big and round. My father reached
out his hands for me. “It has been decided, Zaia. Come, it is time to go.” My
heart was pounding wildly in my chest. I took his hands, struggled to my feet
and instantly fainted dead away into total darkness.

I remembered nothing of my trip to the Temple. When I came to myself
again I was lying on a bed. I was in a little white room I had never seen
before, with colorful hangings on the wall and a blue vase of bright flowers at
the window. Kendrin was sitting next to the bed, leaning over me. In back of
her I saw Thesali, the girl who had stepped up next to me in the Dance Court.

Her eyes were wide and she was looking anxiously over Kendrin’s shoulder.
Kendrin was smiling down at me. “If you are going to Dance, Zaia, first you
must eat,” she said firmly. Then she held out a bowl of food to me. And that is how I came to the Temple of Kernoss to be a Dancer.

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Author Diana Rivers is a Lambda Literary Awards finalist and a winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction. Find something inspiring to read this summer–see all of our books in our store.

Greetings and Welcome to the Season of Light!

Beltane, Goddess, Seasonal Greetings

Greetings! Saturday is the First Day of Summer, the cross-quarter day between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, often called Beltane or May Day. If we think of the summer as the Season of the Light, then we can see that now it is definitely lighter in the mornings (am I the only one waking up at 5am?).

We are entering the season of light. It is a moment to allow the life-giving light of the sun to energize us to the very marrow of our bones. It is a time to breathe in the vitality and vigor of the season and allow it to move us forward on our path and bring our dreams to fruition.

As we enter through the gate of Beltane into the light of summer, what is your heart’s desire? How and where do you want to light up and shine? Open your heart’s petals to the rejuvenating and revitalizing light of the Sun, and may your blossom bring grace, beauty, love and power to all.

Note on Dates: Traditionally Beltane is celebrated on May 1st or the eve before. Astrologically, the First Day of Summer may be calculated as the date the Sun is at 15° Taurus (Tropical system), which currently Falls around May 4th to 5th. See more here.