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Announcing my collection of Pagan stories, Master of the Starlit Grove.

Come into a world where the old gods are returning, where Odin’s wolves cavort, where maenads dance, where wild imaginings become real, where the sinister mingles with the absurd. Let these stories take you there. They will leave you perceiving reality in a new light. The book is published by Vanadis Texts and is available via Amazon or from the Vanadis Website: http://www.vanadis.org

To whet your appetite, here is the first story in the book:

The Lecture

Ahem! Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please. Welcome to the Pobbelstedt Prehistoric Museum.” The speaker was a man of about thirty-five with a squareish head, neatly combed dark hair and black-rimmed glasses. With his portly physique, white shirt, tie and dark suit, he might have been a CDU politician or an insurance salesman. In fact he was Dr. Hubert Muschelhauber, Assistant Curator of the Prehistoric Museum on the outskirts of Pobbelstedt in Schleswig-Holstein. Despite his youth he had already made a name for himself in the world of archaeology with his assertion that there was no such thing as a Germanic prehistoric civilisation. He had made it his mission to prove that his remote ancestors were rude barbarians with only the most primitive tools and no culture to speak of. As for their so-called religion, they had possessed none other than the crudest form of animism. The so-called Nordic pantheon, the temples, the seasonal festivals and the ritual practices had been largely invented by medieval Christian chroniclers and later by Romantic writers and folkish crackpots.

– some mature students from the Folk High School doing a course on prehistory, a few families with small children, several elderly couples out from Hamburg for the day in a hired bus.

“In the grounds of this museum,” he said “you will find some prehistoric remains, mostly everyday things. For example, the space that you see outside this window was supposed to have been a ritual place …” He didn’t even bother to turn his head to look through the window. “And the flat-topped stone in the middle is alleged to have been an altar. In fact it’s now obvious from the markings on it that it was merely a kind of work table for chipping away at pieces of flint to make primitive weapons and tools.”

The group turned to look briefly through the window, then back to the speaker – all except for a little boy about nine years old, who continued looking at the grassy expanse with the stone in the middle, set against a backdrop of birch trees that danced and shimmered in the spring sunlight. He was mesmerised by two very large ravens that circled for several minutes before landing on the grass and standing still to the north and south of the stone as though waiting for something. Then he saw two German shepherd dogs trot into the arena and sit down on their haunches in the east and west. But wait, they didn’t look like regular German shepherd dogs – more like wolves with their shaggy grey coats and mass of fur around the neck.

The boy felt he should be trying to focus on what the speaker was saying, but Dr. Muschelhauber’s voice was droning and monotonous. “Take this object, for instance.” He turned and pointed to a stone bowl in a glass display case. “This used to be described as a ‘blood bowl’. Supposedly the worshippers stood in a circle and the priest went around and sprinkled them with blood from the bowl, using a bunch of twigs. But we now know that this was simply a mortar for pounding herbs or grain.”

Bored by the talk, the boy slipped away and found a door giving on to the lawn. As he emerged he saw a procession enter the circle formed by the ravens and the wolves. There were four young women in loose linen dresses whose colour somehow reminded him of green moss lit by moonlight. They wore girdles of some glittering, silvery material and headbands embroidered with a pattern of interlacing knots. Their plaited hair hung down almost to their waists. They were the most beautiful, radiant beings he had ever seen. They were accompanied by four men – big bearded fellows in fur hats and tunics of various colours. They wore broad leather belts with heavy bronze buckles, and their shoes had long leather laces that criss-crossed over their linen trousers. And there was a fifth man, whom the boy took to be a priest, judging by his long white robe and authoritative bearing. One by one they passed the flat-topped stone and placed various objects on it: bread, fruit, chunks of meat, a drinking horn, a pair of pine cones and a great wooden hammer with a short handle.

The priest carried, cradled in his left arm, a stone bowl like the one in the glass case. In his right hand he held a bunch of twigs, like the egg whisk that the boy had seen his grandmother use. The priest dipped the twigs in the bowl and sprinkled the faces of the worshippers with a dark red liquid, which the boy knew must be blood. The boy went closer. He desperately wanted to be part of them, to be sprinkled with blood from the bowl, but he stopped a few paces short of the circle, glancing nervously at the wolves.

He could hear the priest intoning something in a strange language. It reminded him a little of the Low German that his grandparents sometimes spoke, but he could recognise none of the words. Nevertheless the sound and rhythm of it felt deeply familiar.

The priest, walking round the circle of worshippers, came opposite to where the boy was standing, stopped and looked directly at him. His eyes were light blue and intensely penetrating, his grey-bearded face lined and weatherbeaten. He smiled, raised his hand in greeting and began to speak. All at once the boy could understand him.

“Greetings,” he said. “What is your name?”

“Felix”

“Welcome, Felix. Come into our circle. Celebrate with us.”

The boy looked nervously back through the window to where his parents and the others were still hanging on Muschelhauber’s words. He wanted to join the worshippers, but felt he should go back to the tour group and his parents.

Another group of museum visitors came walking across the lawn but appeared not to notice what was going on around the stone. One of them, a teenage girl in jeans and a tee-shirt, came close to where one of the wolves was sitting, stopped as though encountering some invisible barrier, then gave a puzzled frown and turned back.

“Come, Felix,” the priest repeated. “You belong here, with us.”

One of the women opened her arms wide and smiled at him. He stood a step closer then hesitated again, sensing that once he crossed into the circle he would never come out again. He felt he was facing the most momentous choice of his life. He could go back into the museum, to the guide’s droning voice, his parents and their expectations for his future. Or he could walk away from all that for ever by joining the worshippers, who had now begun to sing and dance in a circle, leaping, turning, waving their arms and clapping their hands. The ravens had taken to the air and were circling and swooping overhead, and the wolves were running excitedly around in a wider circle.

Now Felix could no longer resist. He would go with them. He stepped resolutely towards the circle of dancers, but at the moment he felt his mother’s hand grasp his wrist and pull him back.

“Felix, what are you doing? Why did you suddenly disappear like that?”

“I only wanted to join the dance,” he said.

“What dance? Come back immediately.”

As she dragged him back towards the museum, he glanced back over his shoulder and saw the priest wave and give him an encouraging smile as though to say: “You’ll be back.”

As he and his mother re-entered the building Dr. Muschelhauber was concluding his lecture. “And so you see that the prehistoric people of this region were a backward people, focused on little more than survival. Their utensils were crude, their lives were brutish and short, their so-called religion consisted of sacrificing to primitive idols. It is futile to romanticise these people and even more futile to try, as some people do, to revive the worship of their deities. Those gods and goddesses – if they ever existed – are now well and truly dead.”

Felix smiled and knew otherwise.

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