I remember meeting her. It was the beginning of September when the days are starting to gently shift into the Fall season. Mark had just broken my heart. He decided having a girlfriend our last year in college was just not doable and, well, sent me on my way. Five years, and he sends me a text saying we were done. As I look back, I know that was a gift, but right then … when it happened … my heart broke. I felt the shards ripping my insides apart. The text came when I was just about to walk through the park to meet him at the fountain … what we called ‘our fountain.’ Overly dramatic I may have been, but at that age, it definitely felt appropriate. The tears just came. Full on sobbing, nose running, tissues all balled up in my hands. I sat down on the nearest bench and was relieved that no one else was around to witness my breakdown. Just me and my broken heart and snotty tissues.
When I ran out of tears, my eyes began to refocus and there on the bench across from me sat an old woman feeding the pigeons. She had long, thick white hair, french braided that fell across her shoulder. I saw all the laugh lines around her blue-grey eyes. She was quite stylish in black cotton gauze overalls with two deep front pockets and wide legs and a light grey long-sleeved tee underneath. A dozen silver bracelets gleamed brightly from her wrists.
I watched fascinated as she fed the pigeons. She was making sure each one got enough, and somehow, I heard her in my head telling them there was no need to push or bully. And then the even stranger thing ~ I heard her tell me all would be well, that my heart would heal, and life held many new, exciting adventures. At that point, I thought I was going crazy, but when I looked over at her again, she smiled, and a warmth filled her face as she called me out to come sit with her. As an introvert, going and sitting with someone I didn’t know wasn’t my usual, but I didn’t hesitate.
“I’m Maude Carrington Holbrook,” she told me, patting the space next to her. “Sit with me a bit. Tell me why you’re hurting.” She handed me the bag of sunflower seeds she had in one of her pockets which she used to feed the pigeons and, as our hands touched, I noticed a spark fly out … blue as flame … and then quickly disappear. I found myself drawn to Maude, her face full of welcome, and I just started talking away like we were old friends and felt my sadness begin to melt. There was a calm about her, an invitation that I had never experienced before with anyone, even my very best friend. When we noticed the light changing and the pigeons had gone their way, I thanked her. Somehow my heart felt whole again, I felt whole again. She handed me her last tissue and then asked if I’d like to come to a celebration at her house on September 22, “I do believe you’ll enjoy yourself,” she added. “You are a seeker, and you may find what you are looking for there.”
Even though we just met, even though I really had no idea who this woman actually was, I said yes. As we exchanged contact information, she cheerily said, “The celebration will be in my ‘she-shed’” and we both giggled. “It’s to the right of the house. You won’t miss it.”
At home, when I added Maude’s celebration to my calendar, I saw that the 22nd was Autumn Equinox. I wondered (and hoped) if that was what the gathering was for.
The morning of the 22nd, I made my famous luscious lemon bars using my Gran’s recipe to bring to Maude’s. That evening, with the nights now being cool, I wore my slim black pants with my tall black lace-up boots over them, and a light sweater the color of Fall and a long leather vest. Maude’s place was within walking distance, so off I went. The massive Victorian was easy to find. It was a bold yellow and green with the most fabulous, inverted butterfly roof. And there was a whimsical garden with a fantasy of blooms that gave me a feeling there were definitely Fairies hiding in there. It was all undeniably romantic. If this was her home, I wondered about her she-shed.
I followed the yellow brick path to the right side of the house and thoughts of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz ran through my head. A huge black cat was sprawled out on the path. She opened one luminous golden eye and blinked a welcome. The she-shed stood right where Maude said it would be. It was small and nondescript on the outside … but … when I opened the door, my breath was taken away. It was a grand space with the fragrance of Fall ~ apples and cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg ~ as Fall-colored candles filled the room with light and a feeling of tranquility. To my left was an entire wall of work bench made of oak with deeply carved winged Fairies and all phases of the Moon. Above was open shelving, holding a banquet of jars and bottles, bowls and pitchers, cauldrons and mortars and pestles in every color and shape. Some held potions and oils, salves and lotions, and others held herbs and dried flowers from allspice to vervain. Crystals, the rare and common, the healing and soothing, seemed to make the wall shimmer. Bundled flowers hung from the soaring ceiling to dry. I knew I had stepped into a world I had yearned for since my Gran taught me small spells for protection and for finding lost objects and other bits of Magic.
I heard Maude’s voice again in my head, but this time, it felt quite natural, “Ah yes, Catherine has arrived. Welcome child.” I turned and there she was, walking toward me. I went right into her arms, and she whispered, “How happy I am you decided to join us tonight.”
A circle of women was forming around the altar. Citrine, moonstone, and smokey quartz crystals surrounded statues of the Goddesses Persephone, Demeter, and Inanna. A bowl of apples, another of nuts and a vase filled with marigold, pansy, and black-eyed Susan were also placed on the altar along with sacred objects representing the four Elements ~ Air, Fire, Water, and Earth ~ a feather, sage, a water-filled bowl, deer antlers. The room was lit with Fall-colored candles, radiating a feeling of tranquility.
Maude led me to the circle where about thirty or so women were now settling into seatbacks. Maude motioned for me to sit next to her. She held a rose quartz crystal singing bowl, tapping the side gently, and the vibrational sound filled the room and each of us.
Maude spoke ~
“Sisters all, here we are once again together, to celebrate the turning of the Wheel ~ Autumn Equinox ~ the time when there is balance between light and dark, day and night, inner and outer, masculine and feminine. It is a time to give thanks for the power of the sun, for the harvest bounty of all that nurtures us. It is also the time to honor our own inner harvest … our creativity, our wisdom … all that we planted, nurtured, and sown these last few months.”
A rhythmic drum’s heartbeat began as Maude softly continued,
“Gently close your eyes, and allow the seatbacks to hold you. Let the rhythm of your breathing bring your focus inward, letting the sound of the drum draw you deeper into yourself. Know that the Air around you is a cloak of comfort and the Earth beneath you is your place to center and ground.”
Maude’s voice became filled with strength as she called out,
“Guardians and Guides, Devas and Angels, Goddesses and Gods we ask You to join us in this circle. Guide us to love beyond our fears and to walk in balance each day.”
I felt the energy of the room and myself changing, growing, becoming fuller in a way I can only describe as powerful. Every cell in my body felt awake. And I knew without a shadow of a doubt there were Beings standing behind me, watching over me.
I admit, I had to open my eyes and watch as Maude called out,
“Elements Air, Fire, Water, Earth hear our call,
be known within this Magic circle and fill this hall.”
And as the Elements were called, I felt my hair lift, watched the candles’ flames spear right up, felt the Earth quiver, and saw the water in the bowl on the alter begin to bubble! Holy Goddess Bat Girl, at that moment, all I could think was that I wanted to learn all I could from Maude. And when that thought ran through my head, so did Maude’s scolding voice, “Yes, child, I will mentor you, but for now, close your eyes and be still.”
The drumming stopped and softly, Maude spoke,
“My Sisters, allow the sound of the singing bowl to bring you to a place of gratitude for all the wonders you brought forth this past season, even if some didn’t quite come to fruition as you wanted, as we learn and grow from all we do.”
The singing bowl rang out clear and pure, creating a dome of silence. From some far off place, I heard Maude tenderly say, “Welcome back all.” I have no idea how long we stayed inside tha t vibration, but who cared, I felt so at peace and grateful.
Maude then asked us all to stand and hold hands. I looked around that room, and we all seemed to glow. “Before we close, let’s call into the circle what we want for ourselves this season. See your words take form and watch as they drop into the cauldron.” And, to my wonder, there in the center of the circle sat a cauldron (I took note of one more thing I wanted to learn from Maude). “I’ll begin,” Maude said, “growing community,” and then each woman began calling out … health, love, flexibility, a new job, peace, laughter, joy, a lover, and on the intentions were spoken. Finally, I found my nerve, my voice, and I called out, ‘new friends.’ And, yes, as I spoke those two words, I watched the letters take form and coalesce in a radiant hue of magenta above that cauldron and drop right in, along with the other words. My entire body was alive with hope.
“This cauldron holds the intentions for yourself and each woman in this circle. Know that Magic is possible, that all we desire is a definite possibility. Let’s fill this room right now with yeses and ways to go and you got this, you betchas, and right ons.” And as we shouted and cried out and held those intentions in our hearts, and as we acknowledged and confirmed our desires and dreams, we began to dance in joy around the cauldron, raising the energy higher and higher and soon shafts of bright golden light rose from the cauldron, up to the ceiling, turning into sparkling stars. And then the room fell into a hush.
“Come now Sisters … it is time to close the circle.” Maude took my hand and I took the hand of the woman next to me, and we gathered in circle once more. We stayed in silence until we were all breathing in rhythm.
I then watched as Maude and the other women placed their hands over their hearts, and I did the same. Heads were bowed.
“And now to the Elements Air, Fire, Water, Earth and to the Guardians and Guides, Devas and Angels, Goddesses and Gods who joined us, blessed us, guided us, we bow and give our deepest gratitude. Stay if you will, go if you must, but know that you are ever welcome in our hearts. So mote it be, and so it is. The circle is open.”
Over a loud call of ‘Blessed Be’ from us all, Maude proclaimed with the biggest grin, “And now we feast!”
And that’s how I came to meet Maude, that old woman in the park, feeding the pigeons. Over the last twelve years together, when we weren’t in the park feeding the pigeons, she has taught me so much about Magic, energy, and, of course, how to speak with someone in their head and make a cauldron appear (very cool).
I’ll leave those stories for another day.
Patricia R. Antolino was born and raised in the Bronx in the 1950s. A self-avowed hippie, she couldn’t have asked for a better time to grow up. The civil rights movement, protests against the Vietnam war, and the women’s movement kept her engaged and solidified her desire to bring peace and remembrance of our connection to each other. After she retired, she moved to Tampa where she considered herself lucky to connect with Marilyn Myerson’s Imaginative Writing Group, and became a member of her “Crew.” Patricia’s lifelong desire is to bring hope, joy, and a smile to those she meets and through the stories she shares.
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