To Craft a Coven—Shelly Jones

Materials: Wool, heather, fennel, salt, water, willing initiates  

Directions: 

Draw the curtains before you begin, so cowans cannot look upon your divine magic. If you feel a shuddering at the door, wood shimmying as the wind whips, slip fennel in the keyhole: no demon will scry on your covenstead. 

Soak and scour the wool in salt water. Let it dry in the chimney, a cloying trap for any bad spirits invading your work. 

Spin the wool with a sprig of heather from a besom, speaking the incantation of the All-Maker with each undulation of the treadle. 

Blessed be the cord that will unite the coven. 

Weave the binding cord around the wrists of each initiate, turning the cloth widdershins. Repeat the pattern until all initiates have been grafted to the All-Maker like scions to the rootstock, two lives bound as one.  

Remember those whose life already feeds the earth, feel the connection to them through the trailing ends of the binding cord sweeping the dusty ground. 

Steep the athame in the fire until its blade glows, like the starry oracles of Asteria, mother of Hekate, born in the dark. Run the steel across the binding cord and wait, breathless, to see if the cord unravels: the crossroads of a coven. 

If the cord breaks, scatter the unworthy, driving them from your home, and salt your doorstep to prevent their return. 

If the cord holds true, blessed be the union knitted in the name of the All-Maker.    

Shelly Jones is an Associate Professor of English at a small college in the Catskills, where she teaches classes on mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work can be found in PodcastleThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. 

photo by Ksenia Yakovleva (via unsplash)

A Soaking Rain—Shelly Jones

The villagers used to call her a fool, gawking from their homes and storefronts as she stood arms akimbo in the rain. Waves crested over her cotton dress, hanks of hair clung to her face. They’d shake their heads, murmuring portents of chills in her bones, colds settling in the nape of her neck, her chest, her back. 

“She’ll be dead by winter.” 

But winter came and she stood firmly in the gale. 

Legs spread, she stood transfixed in the muddy field, her toes squinched in defiance as the rain soaked the earth, flesh, bone. Her skin puckered, fabric taut over her breast – a deluge enveloped her, delighted, entranced. The girl slipped the clinging dress over her hips and danced naked across the drowning crops, until the clouds thinned and she curled her body around the stalks of hay, her life sinking into the earth. 

Now they whispered a different word, a serpentine slur that slithered from the villagers. But they never uttered such slander except at night when they spat the word into their pin cushions, pricking the wool with their disdain. Or sometimes in the field, when their scythes hewed the brittle stalks, that bitter word might have tumbled from their dry mouths and drifted to the very bottom of haystacks with each churn of their pitchforks.

But they should have remembered the girl, the sparkle of her labradorite eyes, as they slipped beneath the mud. They should have expected her to sprout once more like last year’s bulbs, expected the root of her flesh to germinate in her lover’s arms. And in the night, they should have expected her breath: a torrent, piercing its way through the cracks of their houses, under door jams, sagging windows, uneven eaves – splitting the tenderest seams of their houses before devouring them from below.

Shelly Jones is an Associate Professor of English at a small college in the Catskills, where she teaches classes on mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work can be found in PodcastleThe Future Fire, and elsewhere. 

photo by Emma Peneder (via unsplash)