On the way to Winter Witch Camp, once we figured out how to close the fucking car windows, Colleen asks what it feels like to me this year, the call of camp. She told me it feels to her like a vortex, sucking her in. “Yes,” I say. I tell her that I feel a little bit of foreboding, almost. Hags are scary. They are the theme of this year’s camp. The day before, I’d looked them up in the OED, trying to find some root that made sense to me. What I found was mostly along the lines of “witches who sucke the bloude of children in the nighte.” Associations with goblins, ghouls and other “infernal beings.” Then I looked up “infernal” hoping for some relief from the Vatican propaganda there. And found only “associated with hell.”
As Colleen drives and Betsy dozes, I look out at at snow-covered field after field, bordered by hardwoods, birches, with the occasional oak standing out. The oaks hang on to their leaves longest; they look rusty and vivid in this white and grey world. We pass a wide field full of geese, hundreds of them sitting black and bellied down into the white, as if they were swimming in a snow pond.
I am actually feeling nervous enough about what is waiting that I ask my allies to come along for this ride. Freya, the Norse Venus,queen of beauty and desire and fierce protector, who is always at that camp and also here in my heart. Brigid, the Celtic goddess of smithcraft and poetry, who says “Okay, but write every day.” And Kali, creative destructrix, who feels like a member of the Hag tribe, or maybe a goddess who sits on the Hag board of directors.
I put my phone on airplane as we pull in to the camp, and see my friend Sayre, who I haven’t seen since we said goodbye in the Redwoods in July after wandering the myth of Baba Yaga for a year together. I tell him I’ve been falling for someone, and have lost my feet, and am trying to get them back and he wants to know if we have all the connections, the head and the heart and the body. And I say I think so, and he tells me about his life and his heart and then we talk about what it’s like to not know, and to want, and to not know, and I am so glad I am here.
Then “I don’t really know what ‘hag’ means,” Sayre says.
I tell him what I found on the OED.
“Sucks the blood of children?” Sayre says, raising his brows. (Apparently I didn’t pronounce all the extra vowels.)
“Through their dreams,” I say. “But all this is from during or after the Inquisition. I couldn’t find anything that was earlier,” I say. And then pause… “I think it’s… it’s a naming of the worst, most fearsome shadow of female power… and I think what’s interesting is what is underneath that, what that covers up.”
“Well. Whoever comes will only be as bad as the worst fears in the room,” Sayre says, with typical Sayre offhandedness. This does not actually comfort me, which must show on my face, because he says “What? If everyone has been doing their work, doing their laundry, it will be fine…. You know, just that pair of dirty socks…”
“That rag that I spilled milk on two weeks ago and forgot about,” I say. Sayre wrinkles his nose at me and we both laugh.
Tonight is the opening ritual. We will call in the Hags, and so will the teachers who have been working within their mythic reach for months. And we will see who shows up. So for now, I will walk the island, walk the fields of snow, walk on the lake and feel what’s underneath and waiting for us.