Earning my High Priest of Wicca title
On the third day of my initiation, I awoke with a start. I felt the earth shake beneath me and heard someone scream my name. Likely a dream but I will always wonder. The Sun’s rays were just peeking over the San Bernardino mountains, and I started to ready myself for the day’s uncertainties. Looking up I saw my mentor’s sword still dangling above me, swaying to and fro in the morning breeze. The sword hung from a thin braiding of only three threads; red, black and white, tied to a branch on a gnarled Black Oak. If the sword should fall during my initiation, it signaled the God or Goddess was displeased. Augury would need preforming to decipher the cause of their displeasure, and what if any, appeasements could be made.
The fire dwindled down to embers. My body was numb from the cold, but that reduced the swelling and staved off the pain if only a little bit. My eyes searched the branches for remnants of rope, or rub marks. According to my mentor, this Black Oak was once a hanging tree and a notorious outlaw buried among its roots. A local legend stemming from the California Gold Rush days. True or not, the old tree’s fearsome presence lent credibility to his claim.
It was a concentrated effort just to sit up. Stinging pain in my hands and feet as warm blood started to thaw frozen extremities. I vigorously rubbed heat back into my thighs, and on a pair of stiff wobbly legs, managed to get myself standing. I hobbled over to try and resuscitate the dying fire. With a few breaths the fire responded, and small tendrils of flame emerged from the glowing red char. I started looking around for fallen twigs or branches to feed it.
I was not to break off either branches or twigs from the tree. The Black Oak was where the dryad spirit lived, and she was the conduit for the Goddess. The fire belonged to the Horned God, and that was his conduit into my initiation. They would decide if I was to shiver or find comfort, have light or persist in darkness. More than a few times during my nine-day initiation I am convinced I heard both the tree and the fire speak.
The limits of my camp were contained within a circle of stones. Each stone was blessed by my mentor and housed a particular spirit. Unless my mentor opened a path for me, I was not to leave for any reason. During my initiation, I experienced visions of both mountain lions and bears stalking me from outside the circle. On the final night, a stampede of horses rushed toward me. All these phantoms dissipated into mist the moment they crossed the magical barrier. Devious illusions are woven by the fey to test me. Fleeing the protection of the circle meant I was fair game for them to hunt, and if I was caught, I might never return.
Every morning I made blood offerings with a razor blade. No more than a few drops on the roots of the tree, and into the fire. A personal act of gratitude for facilitating my initiation. Blood offerings are typically frowned upon in Wicca, however, in the tradition, I inherited they are essential, albeit very rare. Following my offering, I recited incantations to the Ancient Ones (powerful protean beings who are often deformed or incomplete), my ancestors, the dead, the fey, and other nature spirits for their aid and favor.
I wore only a pair of khaki shorts and a tank top. I was given a cloak for a windbreaker which also seconded as a blanket. I was allowed a mouthguard to protect my teeth during ritual combat. Past that I was completely exposed to the elements. My body was filthy, sunburnt and covered in dirt, bruises, and blood.
Nestled snugly at the roots of the Black Oak was a small lockbox. Inside was an envelope containing a couple of thousand in cash. My mentor told me the money was loaned, or instead entrusted to me, by members of my coven. That money was for rent, medical bills, and car payments. If that lockbox were taken from me, members of my coven would suffer. I swore an oath to my mentor. I would defend it with my life. Even though that trial was over, I still shot the lockbox glances and let out a sigh relief each time I saw the container was still there.
The money in the lockbox served as the incentive for individuals my mentor recruited to steal it from me. I had to prove I could embody a bull Stag, both physically and spiritually. As a High Priest, I am expected to be like a bull defending his herd. A priest who wears the Horned Crown is responsible for the physical and spiritual well being of his coven.
From sunrise to noon a group of four men would risk their safety, as well as mine, to steal the lockbox and claim the money. My mentor issued a set of rules for the ensuing ritual combat. Absolutely no weapons, nothing but bodies and clever schemes. No more than two of them may be inside the circle at any given time. I was not permitted to leave the ring. Should those rules be broken, the offender, or offenders, would be disqualified from the contest. If the lockbox were stolen as a result of the laws being broken the lockbox would be returned. My mentor made it clear he and few associates would watching a short distance away, armed with rifles and ready to enforce any forfeiture policies.
At the start of this ritual combat, the four men employed brute force maneuvers. Each taking turns trying to strongarm the lockbox away from me. I had little problems manhandling them individually, and often a trial of blood marked their exiting trajectory. It becomes apparent the one-on-one methodology wasn’t yielding them any benefit. They broke up into two teams of two and advanced on me with a dual-pronged attack.
Being outnumbered my response needed to change. I could no longer face them head on and stand toe-to-toe. I’d get distracted by one while the other made off with the lockbox. Instead, I fell upon the lockbox and clutched it in my arms. Shielding it with my body, I was savagely punched, kicked, and grappled in various combinations of those above. I proved a hard a nut to crack. While being pummeling, I was retaliating, and not the only one receiving his lumps. In the end, I was the rock they broke themselves against. Two of them decided the shared abuse wasn’t worth it and bowed out after an hour. Soon after I punched one of the remaining two solidly in the chest, and he could no longer continue. The remaining combatant was unwilling to attempt another one-on-one encounter, and he conceded the contest to me.
I successfully invoked the spirit of the Horned God; embodying a staunch stag, the frenzied boar, a wild bear, and conquering lion. The prize surrendered, and the defeated crawling away to lick their wounds, I was granted victory by my mentor. In the cool of the evening, my mentor appeared with a hot meal. He also brought herbs, ointments, beer, and red wine. The wine was probably laced. I sank into deep and painless oblivion, lured by visions of becoming half man/half animal.
That was yesterday. Today I was to earn my sword.
My mentor arrived this morning with a bowl of oatmeal and a jug of water. He examined my wounds and injuries. Each day of my initiation he asked if I wanted to end this, and each time I replied with a defiant “no.” We then discussed my dreams, and visions, as I recorded them into a book. On completion of my initiation, that book was presented to me as my Book of Shadows. Within it, handwritten by my mentor, all the rites and rituals secret to my tradition of Wicca.
My mentor leads me out of the circle, and we silently marched to a clearing in the woods. As we entered, I saw a tall pyramidal rock pile, and thrust into the top was a sword with a sash tied around it. My path to the sword was barred by a small band of men. I recognized most of them as associates of my mentor, but standing off to the side was a group of three men who I did not know. Each of the three was as big or bigger than me. One of my mentor’s associates came running up behind us and handed him the lockbox from underneath the Black Oak.
My mentor leaned in and whispered to me he had been supplying the three with cocaine, and cheap hookers. He promised them even more coke and better-looking hookers if they could prevent me from earning my sword. My mentor then opened the lockbox and flourished the cash in front of them. The three men salivated and jittered at the sight of the money like starving dogs upon seeing a raw steak. My mentor told them he was going to sweeten their agreement. Not only would they be supplied more cocaine and hookers for defeating me, thus ending my initiation forever (one chance), but whichever of them personally took me out would claim the cash. Their excitement peaked. Crazed smiles grew over their faces, and their already wild eyes became wilder. Lastly, my mentor pointed out where I was most injured, and encouraged them to focus attacks there.
I was to face them all in one-on-one ritual combat. My mentor clarified the rules of engagement. The battle would continue until one of the combatants were either unable or unwilling to continue. The ritual combat would be an anything goes contest save for the use of weapons, or gouging the eyes, and it stayed one-on-one. They were to decide among themselves the order in which they would face me. My mentor’s posse encircled us, brandishing rifles and promising to make sure the rules of this combat would be strictly enforced.
A fight nearly broke out among the three of them as they argued about who would go in what order. My mentor took me aside and told me to be smart, use the situation he created to my advantage. Sure, the aggression of these three was being both chemically enhanced and stimulated by financial gain, and they knew where I was most injured; however, I realized I had at least two night of sleep on them, and I knew, most likely, where they would be attacking. This simple shift of perception enabled me a viable plan, and with that came the confidence that I could prevail.
At this moment despair ends and tactics begin….my mentor’s motto that I have made my own.
My mentor saw I had sorted out the conundrum he put me in. He drew a pistol and fired a shot into the air. The gunshot startled the three men, and my mentor shouted it was now or never, one of them must start the ritual combat with me. The largest of the three rushed me. I turned my hands into bear claws and kept my arms up like the antlers of a stag. I circled with him and maintained both my guard and my distance. After a few short exchanges, and feeding his face a couple sharp jabs, the pain from the day before melted away. I could feel the heart of a lion roar inside me. I kept him agitated with stinging lead jabs and dropped my guard a little to bait him. He began to tire from his wild swings and attempts to charge me. I saw my opening and covering myself with a fake right hand, I shot in for his legs to wrestle him to the ground. A short, dirty grapple ensued, and very quickly I was sitting on his chest hammering his face with my fists. He signaled he was beaten before I turned him into a paste.
Immediately my mentor fired another shot into the air, and screamed “next!”.
My second opponent played things a little smarter. From how he conducted himself I surmised he might have wrestled in high school. He tentatively played for control of my hands and did his best to punch and kick me from a distance. I allowed this dance to continue until I recovered my wind from the first contest. I engaged him in another round of hand fighting and interlocked the fingers of my right hand with the fingers of his left. I was teleported to my younger years dominating the schoolyard mercy-game tournaments and abruptly flipped my wrist under, leveraging him up on his toes through pain compliance. I brought my left hand up and crashing down on the bridge of his nose, like a grizzly swatting down a deer. With my heavy mitt on his face, and his balance uprooted, I drove him down onto his back. I quick seated myself on his chest just as my opponent before, but this time I clasped both hands around his neck and sealed his windpipe with my thumbs. I lean in and ground my chin against the damaged bridge of his nose, further compounding his misery. Soon his hand patted the earth, and he surrendered.
A final gunshot rang out, and my mentor screamed “next!”.
The last man declined. My mentor aimed the pistol at his head and instructed the man to either fight me, as per their agreement or bow and address me as King. A few tense moments passed before the man took a knee and muttered the word, ‘king”. My mentor yelled “proclaim it louder!” stepping closer with his weapon still trained on him. My mentor’s posse leveled their rifles on the other two men in kind. The man seeing my mentor played no games, lowered his eyes to the ground and in a decidedly louder voice declared me King.
“Go claim your sword…”, My mentor said to me in a deadly serious tone, his gun still on the kneeling man. I bounded up the rock pile and pulled my sword from the stones. A piece of parchment had been impaled on the blade which read, “behold the once and future king!”. Waving my sword overhead, I declared my victory with a thunderous cry! My mentor re-holstered his pistol and informed the three he would still deliver the cocaine and hookers, but only if they leave without incident, and not return. The three men agreed, and where escorted away by the entourage of armed men. My mentor unwrapped the sash fixed around the sword, and then tied it around my waist.
Directing me back to the pile of rocks and motioning me to sit, my mentor said, “the earth is your throne, and from it, all that you see is your kingdom. The only question is what kind of King will you choose to be?” An associate of his came carrying something draped in black fabric and handed it to my mentor. My mentor turned to me, “you have claimed the sword of a king, but you are not king until you wear the Horned Crown,” pulling away from the fabric he revealed a rugged crown topped with a set of alters. My mentor placed it upon my head, and then he and his associate knelt before me. I did not relish seeing them kneel, but he demanded I consider the more significant implications of authority. They did not kneel before me out of fear but respect, in turn, it was my duty to continue earning that respect and living like a king worthy of being knelt before in adoration.
What followed was an intensely private moment between my mentor and I. To truly understand, not just “know,” the mystery of the sword, I needed to wound him and be wounded by the sword, in a manner that made us both extremely nervous. This act ensured I really understood the power I now wielded. A dire lesson born in blood, and signifying consequences of the power’s misuse.
My mentor directed me to return to camp. Upon arrival, I discovered a tent had been erected and inside was a bed made up for me. My mentor’s sword also no longer hung from the Black Oak. I tended to the fire and rested the afternoon away. As the sky darkened, and stars began to announce themselves, an associate of my mentor brought me a plate of deer meat, ale, and more water. I ate and drank in silence. When the time was right, I performed a secret ritual aligning my astral body to the North Star, so that I may never be lost. The bed felt so good, I was fast asleep the moment I settled in.
I was stirred from sleep by the sound of a sweet, haunting voice calling my name. Opening my eyes, I saw a beautiful woman from my coven. She was naked except for sacred symbols painted on her body and wildflowers adorning her hair. She had been taken over by the dryad spirit of the Black Oak, and in her dreamy trance, she appears to float over the ground. She carried with her a silver chalice and gingerly set it on the ground next to the bed. Taking my hands in hers, she told me she bore witness to all my actions. Seeing me defend the livelihood of my coven to earn the Horned Crown, and claim my right to wield the sword of a king, intensely aroused her. Now she and I, in the presence of the Ancient Ones, the fey, and the other nature spirits, could perform the Great Rite as God and Goddess. The chalice and the blade, the lance and the grail.
She leads me to a basin of water, essential oils and fresh linen. She washed my body, wiping away all the dirt, grime and blood from my skin. There under the Black Oak, she performed the rite of Drawing down the Sun, invoking and enticing the spirit of the Horned God to rise up within me. For the rest of the night, we manifested the sensual pleasures of God and Goddess, over and over again (we fucked…a lot). With each climax, my semen was collected in the silver chalice. When the Sun started to peek over the San Bernardino mountains, we stood naked together and bathed ourselves in the first rays of sunlight. She instructed me to make my blood offering into the vessel and mix it with my semen. We then offered the mixture as a Holy Eucharist, to God and Goddess, the Ancient ones, the fey, and all the nature spirits.
The daylight increased in strength and I watched the dreamlike trance fade from her eyes. The dryad spirit was relinquishing its hold over her as the Sun climbed into prominence. I carried her back to the bed in my arms and watched over her as she slept, the otherworldly beauty of the dryad still lingering around her. Gradually I was overcome by the whole experience. The most recent night coupled with the many hurts I incurred over the previous days. I started to gently and openly weep.
I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked to see my mentor standing beside me. Walking out of the tent he beckoned me to follow. Under the Black Oak, he pronounced that I was one of the hidden children, child of the fey, and a “once and future king.” Next, bestowing the title of High priest of Wicca on me, he hung around my neck a talisman bore on a necklace made from braided ribbons. Red, green, white and gold. He congratulated me on completing the first leg of my initiation. I had shed the four great substances of a man; blood, sweat, semen, and tears. It was the proper shedding of these fluids which paid the price for my admittance into the mysteries of Hoof and Horn, Vine, and Grain.
Together my mentor and I walked out of the circle of stones. I followed him deeper into the woods and further into the ancient mysteries.