Thursday, 29 March 2018

Witchlines: The Dance In The House

Here is the second of my creative pieces written as part of my Witchlines study (the first is here). This story explores the inside of a Neolithic house, and the people who lived in it.

Model of a Cucuteni–Trypillia house (source: Wikimedia: by Cristian Chirita) 
The Dance in the House

The golden light of late afternoon passes through the open door, falling on my form, making the white lines on my body glow. In the shaft of warm light, dust rises—the dust of clay, soil, dried herbs, and the skin and hair of people, and animals, and life. It rises and dances as the air shifts with  the approach of night. The pots in the corner throw great bulbous shadows against the walls, and the weaving on the loom gleams, jewel-like, in the corner.
The room I stand in is empty, the oven beside me almost cold. There is a smell of earth, ash, the rich fragrance of bread recently baked, nut-brown and crisped around the edges. Silence inhabits the air, cradling the clay walls of the house, which sing out the last of the day’s warmth from their earthen skin.
The first to return is the mother, with the baby tied securely on her hip, a basket of greens in her hand. She looks in my direction and nods a greeting marked by familiarity and trust, before preparing tinder to relight the fire, to stave off the approaching darkness and chill, at least for a while. She lays the baby down on a well-worn sheepskin rug, giving her a crust of bread to chew, and then the mother crouches by the hearth, assembling cooking pots and ladles, grain from her store, and what food she has gathered from the wild hills just past the bend in the river. Her crouching form, wide of hip and graceful, shines in the bright sun, radiating life.
Next to return are the children—a girl and a boy—who, despite having run and tumbled and played all day, are scarcely out of breath. They bustle in, giggling, tummies rumbling, with faces brown and clear. They look in my direction, shy and awed, as children often are, before washing their hands in a basin of water, watching the dirt swirl away. They play with their younger sister, who is delighted that they are home.
Then comes the father, with his dog at his side. He tousles the hair of his children, kisses his wife, and sighs as he eases his sore muscles back onto a bench lined with a faded woollen rug. He pours water from a pitcher and drinks long and deep, then looks towards me and listens for what I might say, of the goodness of what is, what has been, what is to come. He is trustful, this man, who smells of sheep, who built this house with his own hands*, who has fathered three children, and who loves his wife.
Last to return, bringing cool night on her heels, is the grandmother, gratifyingly tired from her work at the temple, making in clay the image of myself and this world. She sits her old bones down on the bench by the standing loom, and drinks the cup of ale the father brings her. It is she who made me, who shaped me into being, and I have given her a good life, filled with beauty, children and grandchildren. As she sits and rests, her eyes on me, a draught through the doorway makes the loom weights jangle and clack together, and the light dims gently into dusk.
Now the house is full, with this family, these people, who have smoothed clay onto cracks in the walls, who have broken pots, and made new ones, who have eaten and laughed and loved within these walls, and without. I watch over them, eyeless, my earthen body my all-encompassing vision, my knowing. I dwell here, under this thatched roof, as under the sky, as everywhere, my wings spread in blessing.
They eat—the mother, the children, the father, the grandmother, and the dog—savouring the taste of herb and grain, meat and life-giving fat, filling their bellies with the gifts of the earth. The baby feeds from the mother’s breast, and a hush descends. The patterns on my body, and on the pots in the corner, shimmer in the firelight, circling and weaving and dancing a song of life. I pulse through the bodies of the people, the dog, the vessels of clay, the earth-made walls, and the world outside. They know me as themselves, and in the fading light, are lulled toward night’s embrace.
The children, suddenly exhausted, with eyelids unbearably heavy, make their way into the next room, falling onto their pallets and into sleep almost instantly. The grandmother, who has risen from her weaving work, tucks blankets around them like cocoons, before she yields to her own rest.
I watch the mother and the father, and the infant now sleeping softly in the crook of her father’s strong arm, and tenderness fills the room. Joy dwells alongside sorrow, and in my body they join, spiralling into the centre and out again, in the dance that does not end. The mother and the father, together, move into the next room, to sleep, to dream. And here, in the fading firelight, my shadow dances against the wall—against the clay which is my substance, my source—until, with a last wisp of rising smoke, darkness descends.**

* I’ve since been reminded in my reading that women were often the house-builders in early matrifocal cultures, so this detail may not be entirely accurate.
** This story is written from the point of view of a clay ‘Goddess figurine’, representing the Bird Goddess, who stands by the oven, overseeing daily life and entwining it with the sacred.

Bird Goddess (inspired by a Cucuteni figurine from 4050–3900 BCE), watercolour pencils


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