Chapter 22: Can Spring Be Far Behind?
The weather war is over, but it’s a pyrrhic victory, as every member of
the circle is sorely wounded. When Herta proposes that they invite the
Wintergreens to their Imbolc celebration, her friends do not take it well.
They cannot understand what happened, or why, and the circle is irretrievably
fractured as Bertha, Hannah, and Macha walk out. Brooke, who is still afraid
of her feelings for Matthew, visits Cairo for advice and comfort. When
the Wintergreen sisters come to the Imbolc ritual, they reveal their true
nature. They drag out their enormous tangle of thread, cut one thread,
and nick another. Having done what they came to do, they depart.
The title of this chapter comes from a line in “Ode to the West Wind”
by Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
The size of the wing feather hints at how enormous the attacking ravens
were. The ambiguity about realities during the weather war is intended,
as in fact there are many different realities.
Although it is possible to be physically exhausted by energy work, the
extent of the injuries suffered by the crones and the cat is exaggerated
and made more physical to serve the plot.
Television news might well present such outlandish speculations as to
the cause of the storm. “Eyewitless news” teams and weathermen are likely
to say anything, but they would never think of mad Norns or other supernatural
causes for bad weather.
Herta’s argument about the victors being merciful is valid, if overly
optimistic. Perhaps she is remembering the
Marshall Plan following World War II, wherein the U.S. gave foreign
aid to even the defeated nations.
The circle discusses some extremely difficult issues. How can a loving
Mother Goddess permit such awful destruction of Her daughters? Why did
She let the Inquisition persecute innocent women? Why didn’t She prevent
the Burning Times? The crones cannot explain the unexplainable except to
say that life and death go together, the world is a “bloody mess,” and
no one has the answers. Margaretta cites Kali, India’s destructive and
loving mother goddess, as an example.
The acceptance of the fact that there are things we cannot know—or control—is
a basic difference between the Craft and mainstream metaphysics (especially
the New Age philosophy), where white light is supposed to solve and fix
everything. Other differences were shown in chapter 9 and 10.
“Blood, toil, tears and sweat” comes from a speech given to the English
people by Winston Churchill at the beginning of the bombing of London by
the Nazis in World War II. Churchill seems to have gotten it from Giuseppe
Garibaldi, who uttered the phrase in Rome a century earlier. It obviously
means very hard work. Love can be very hard work.
Love as the glue of the universe is one possible answer to unasked and
unanswerable questions. At least it suffices for these old women.
George Santayana (1863–1953) was a Spanish American philosopher, poet,
and novelist. People often quote his comment on history, but they seldom
seem to really get it.
Brooke and Cairo discuss other thorny issues that worry modern witches.
What is the place of men? Much of modern Wicca is as patriarchal as the
standard-brand religions. I once met a high priest who “hired” a new, very
young, high priestess every year or so, a girl he could dominate. Some
Dianics I know say that men have no place at all in feminist spirituality
and allow no kind of male energy (not even transgendered persons) in their
rituals. The women in
Secret Lives prefer balance, although Cairo (a lesbian) says that
the gender of one’s lover doesn’t matter because the energy arises from
several sources, only one of which is libidinal. The Goddess’s thoughty
devotee also advises Brooke to stop analyzing and “snap out of it.” This
is good advice for all of us.
We learn that Bertha is a virgin crone. Cairo alludes to the connection
between celibacy and power, something the Vatican seems to believe. It
could be true. In
Women’s Mysteries (1955), however, Jungian psychologist M. Esther
Harding writes that a virgin (of any age) is “one unto herself.” True virginity
has nothing to do with an intact hymen.
Sex magic is a very controversial topic. I once interviewed a modern druid
priest for a magazine article. He used a young woman as his altar. When
I interviewed other modern druids, they condemned his practice. About the
time I was writing this novel, there was also a famous “priestess of Isis”
who was on TV talk shows a lot. She wore a short skirt and no underwear
and liked to flash the audience. (All the cameramen soon learned to focus
on her face.) She claimed that if a man brought her to climax, he had been
initiated. If I remember correctly, she was arrested and charged with prostitution.
Imbolc (February 2) celebrates the year’s renewal and the return of the
light after a dark night. This is exactly what the circle needs. As Herta
points out to the Norns, it is also the time when the crone is symbolically
reborn (recycled?) as a virgin.
The cat’s return in the Tiffany/Spielberg bubble is both comic relief
and further evidence of her magic. Ruffles and Flourishes is the fanfare
played for the President of the United States. When I was in college, I
heard Eine Kleine Nachtmusic played by the marching band at football games.
(In the movie
Amadeus, this is the tune the priest visiting Salieri in the
asylum recognizes. Salieri did not, of course, write it; Mozart did.) Tchaikovsky’s
1812 Overture is of course nearly always accompanied by fireworks. We see
that Madame Blavatsky is still on the job and that she’s not afraid of
“Shuffle off to Buffalo,” sung by Ruby Keeler in
42nd Street (1933). “Here’s looking at you,” spoken by Humphrey
Casablanca (1942). “Hooray for Captain Spaulding,” sung by Groucho
Animal Crackers (1930). “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” sung by Groucho
At the Circus(1939). The three songs are also on YouTube—they’re
wonderful. I have no idea where in Tibet this cat might have been watching
Marx Brothers movies. Don't even ask.
It was Queen Victoria who is said to have said, “We are not amused.” Possibly
in reference to a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
The circle must see the Wintergreens transform into Norns (and back again)
without any kind of magic or ritual or chanting or invocation. When Hazel
says they are not coreligionists, she is correct.
To serve the plot, I have obviously conflated the Scandinavian Norns with
the three Fates of classical Greek mythology. Lachesis, Clotho, and Atropos
were the women who spun, wove, and cut the threads of our lives. In the
art I’ve seen portraying the Norns, they’re mostly just sitting or standing
around. They seem to mope a lot. The Greek Fates seem to be more active.
The tangled mass of life-yarns is symbolic of the Norns’ madness, but
they can still find the threads they seek. Do they make Emma Clare die?
Do they make Bertha get Alzheimer’s? Causality is another unsolvable issue.
It is possible that even the Wintergreen sisters are subject to fate.
They did what they came to do. Now they must go back to their frozen home.
In a new book,
Barbarian Rites (2011), which I have just read, the author, Hans-Peter
Hasenfratz, Ph.D., writes, “When confronted with fate, a human being has
no choice but to submit. A person can indeed make use of rituals, namely
magic … to ascertain his or her fate, but fate cannot be altered. Even
the gods are unable to do that” (p. 117).
What is your philosophical explanation for the presence of evil in the
world? Did the gods put it here? Why is the Goddess apparently uncaring
Is sex magical? Is sex magic good or bad? What various kinds of energy
can be used in effective magic? How do these energies differ?
Put yourself in Herta’s place. What would you do?
Copyright © 2011 by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Permission
granted to print this page of the
Secret Lives Reader’s Guide for personal use only.