Come midnight, the lasses of the land would gather in the red forest, just as tradition dictated. Ailbhe had never before attended, until tonight, where she would see the ritual with her own eyes. Donned in her lace nightgown, she awaited her older sister’s call that it was time.
The maidens of the land often ventured into the woods to perform such rituals to bless the land, honor the earth, and speak to the spirits. Ailbhe had always thought they were just stories until her sister told her that she partakes in them. “After all, mother was one,” she told Ailbhe that night as they tip-toed out into the moonlit night.
Ailbhe hadn’t known her mother was one of these mystical women. Her mother was long gone but she always felt a connection to her beyond what the eye could see. She decided tonight would be for her mother. To honor her and maybe even to speak with her.
Barefoot on the mossy earth, Ailbhe followed her sister who had woven long strands of heather into her golden locks. The tint of moonlight painted the trees and plants a deep shade of blue and her surroundings yielded no sound except crickets and distant owls.
Further into the trees was a clearing. Ailbhe recognized many of the women of the town there, but they looked different, as if not themselves. She finally realized it was because they traded their bodices for loose fabric and released their up-done hair. They looked almost angelic, each holding a single candle in their hands. Angelic, but ghostly as well.
She felt a sense of unease entwined with adrenaline. Reading about these rituals was not the same as being present at one. Beginning slowly, each of the women danced, almost in synchronization. Ailbhe feared she didn’t know the dance, but it seemed as though she didn’t need to. For it wasn’t so much a dance as much as fluid movement, there in the purple pasture. Among the stars and the spirits.
Overcome with the sense of magic that undoubtedly flowed through these women’s veins, Ailbhe let her feet guide the way. She heard faint chanting in an ancient language she could not decipher. Spinning in circles, she embraced the fear and let the chanting guide her somewhere new. To a place of unity where she could see and feel and hear everything. She was omnipresent. And sensed her mother stronger than ever before. This connection to the earth and to the kindred spirits was so intense, she had to break the trance just to see clearly again. As if landing back on the earth from above.
Just as quickly as the ritual began did it end. The angelic ghosts came to a standstill and whispered the last of the ancient verses, blew out their candles, and dispersed. Ailbhe looked to her sister, finally understanding the stories of these dances.
She walked home, hand in hand with her sister, and sensed a greater connection to her world than before.