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The Well and the Flame

This is a story under consideration for camp 2016; to see the other stories go to:!Potential-Stories-for-2016-Camp/c22ml/56c3c99a0cf2fe0269b3828b!

The Well and the Flame

By Starhawk, from Circle Round

Circle round and I’ll tell you a story

Once there were two children, a sister and a brother named Brigit and Alex, who lived in a land where winter brought deep snows and much cold .The children loved to play in the snow, to make huge snowmen, and dig tunnels in the high banks, and have snowball fights. But every year they waited eagerly for Brigit’s holiday to come around, for they knew it meant the days would be getting longer and that someday, spring would come again.

One year winter was especially harsh. Day after day clouds filled he sky and the snow piled up on the streets. Night after night wind howled around the corners of the houses and blew smoke back down the chimneys.

Bridget and Alex grew very tired of staying in the house, for on many days the air was to cold to play outside for vey long, even when they wore their warmest jackets with wool sweaters underneath and snow pants over their jeans and an extra pair of wool socks in their boots and all the hoods and scarves and mufflers they could put on. When they did go outside, they were so bundled up that they could only waddle like penguins and they were very tired of making snowmen and snow forts.

“How long will winter last,” they asked their mother.

“Only the goddess knows, their mother said, “where can we find her to ask her? Brigit asked.

Their mother smiled. “Light a candle on Brigit eve, look into the flames with an open heart, and wait. Who knows maybe she’ll come to you! After all, you are named for her!”

So, upon Brigit eve, the two children lit a candle with their mother’s help, placed it on the table, and looked deep into the flame.

After a while, the flame seemed to grow and grow, until it filled the whole room with a glorious light, and a beautiful woman appeared. Her hair was bright as living fire, her face, dark as old wood, her cloak, golden as a sunbeam. “I am Brigit of the holy well and sacred flame, she said. “Why have you called on me, my children?”

“Oh Brigit, I am named after you,” said the little girl… “We called to ask you a question. How long will winter last?” Alex asked.

“Winter will last until clean water rises in the sacred well and bright flame burns on every hearth.” The Goddess said. And then she disappeared.

“What does she mean?” The two children asked. They went to their mother, but she could not say. They asked their father, but he only winked, and said, “That’s the trouble with the Goddess; it’s hard to get a straight answer from her.”

So they went to bed unsatisfied.

The next morning, they woke up early and decide that they would go from house to house in their village and see whether or not a good warm fire was burning on every hearth and they would ask everyone if they knew of a sacred well. So they did!

They bundled up in their warmest jackets with wool sweaters underneath and snow pants over their jeans and an extra pair of wool socks in their boots and all the hoods and scarves and mufflers they could put on., and went outside, waddling like penguins. From house to house they went, all through their village, on every hearth, a warm fire burned. And while people were very kind to them, and offered them good things to eat and warm things to drink, nobody knew about any sacred well.

At last, they had visited every house in the village. The only one left was the cottage of Old Man Maddog, which lay across the frozen fields at the very edge of the forest. Nobody liked Old Man Maddog, he was crusty and mean, and did not appear to bathe very often. And, he was a stranger, who had come from far, far away. When children came near his cottage, he yelled at them and shook his big wooden walking stick, and when all the other people in the village were working hard, Old Man Maddog simply sat on his porch, rocking in his old chair and smoking his pipe. “Stay away form him,” parents told their children, “he’s a foreigner, he’s lazy, and dirty, and probably dangerous.”

And the children stayed away.

But now, from the very edge of the village, Brigit and Alex could just see the roof of Old Man Maddog’s house. There was no smoke coming out of his chimney. “Surely the goddess couldn’t have meant that were supposed to light a fire on his hearth, “ Alex said, “I’m afraid off him!”

“He’ll probably yell at us and shake his stick, “ Brigit agreed, “but still, I think we should go and see if he has a fire.”

So they did, wading through the deep snow that covered the fields so thickly they seemed to be walking in a tunnel as high as their heads. At last they came to Old Man Maddog’s house. The door was closed, and there was no smoke coming out of the chimney. “Maybe he’s not home, “ Brigit said, “maybe we should just go away.”

“Lets look in the window first,” Alex suggested. They peered in the small glass window, and saw Old Man Maddog, lying on his bed. “Maybe he is sick,” Brigit said, “We’d better go in and see.” The door was not locked so they entered the room. It was cold as the cold air outside, and dirtier than any room Brigit had ever seen. Old Man Maddog lay on his bed, moaning and shivering with fever.

“We’ve got to help him,” Bridget said. She brought him a drink of water while Alex took an old blanket and shook it outside, then covered the old man. They ran out in to the forest, and gathered fallen wood until they had a big pile. Then they lit a fire on the hearth, and soon the room began to grow warm. They found some potatoes and carrots and unions in a bag and cooked up a nice hot soup. While it was simmering, they cleaned the house and swept the floor, and washed the dishes.

Finally Old Man Maddog was warm enough to sit up and drink some soup. “Pesky children,” he said in a gruff voice. “I never did like children, still, I suppose I ought to thank you.”

That would be polite, Brigit told him. “but what we really want to know, is if you’ve every heard of any holy well around here.”

“Holy well, jingle bell, Old Man Maddog said. “The only well I know of, is that fallen in well in the woods, and it’s all full of garbage.”

Brigit and Alex looked at each other., Garbage? That didn’t sound very holy. But, still, it was the only well anyone had told them about all day. “I guess we’d better go look for it,” Alex said. “we’ll bring in some more wood before we go, and when we get home, we’ll send our mother and father to take care of you.”

“Don’t do me any favors,” said Old Man Maddog, but they felt he didn’t really mean it.

Once again, they bundled up in their warmest jackets with wool sweaters underneath and snow pants over their jeans and an extra pair of wool socks in their boots and all the hoods and scarves and mufflers they could put on, and went outside, waddling like penguins. They went deep into the forest, following the openings between the trees. And at last they came to small clearing. In the center was a ring of stones, all tumbled down and scattered. They looked inside and saw nothing but a small puddle of frozen mud, all choked with stones and leaves and garbage.

“Could that be the holy well?” Brigit asked.

“It doesn’t look much like it” Alex said. “But maybe if we clear it out a bit, we’ll be able to see some water.”

They began prying up the stones and pulling out big lumps of things, which turned out to be cans and bottles and old rotting papers. Brigit took a big stick to clear away the fallen leaves, Alex took of his mittens and scooped out the mud, and soon, clear water began to rise through the mud.

“We can’t d much more,” Alex said, “It’s starting to get dark. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and bring a shovel.”

“But, at least we’ve begun,” Brigit said.

“You’ve done well,” a voice said from behind them. They turned, and saw the beautiful woman, with hair as bright as flame, and a face as dark as old wood. “You’ve begun the work, and that is all that anyone can do.”

“Is this your holy well?” Brigit asked the Goddess.

“Yes, it is. A long time ago the people tended my well carefully, keeping it clean and dressing it with flowers in the spring, but now they have forgotten their way here, just as they have forgotten the law of kindness to strangers. Without the warmth of loving kindness, how can the days grow warm again? And when my clear springs are choked with dirt, how can the rains of spring fall?”

“We’ll remind them,” Brigit promised. “We’ll bring everyone out here to finish clearing up the well.”

“And we’ll make sure to keep a warm fire burning on Old Man Maddog’s hearth,” Alex added, “even if he’s not a very nice man.”

The Goddess smiled. “Good. You have lit my fire, and cleaned my well. And now I will tell you a secret. Inside the heart of every child is a holy well, full of the waters of love and joy and new ideas. That is the well you must keep clean. Because it can easily be choked by hatred and greed and selfishness. And inside of you is also a sacred flame, the flame of life, that is the fire you must tend and feed, and keep burning, so you will grow to be strong and wise and brave. Will you do that?”

“We’ll do our best,” they promised. “And now will spring come?” Brigit asked.

“Spring will come,” the Goddess promised. And she winked at them. “Spring will come; as soon as winter is over.”

And it did.

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