By H. Byron Ballard
'Dickon, love, bring some fire.'
(A candle is lit with a sputter and sparks. Lights up on a woman older than old, wrinkled, toothless, sitting on a stool. She is a caricature of a witch and is having a great time. She is dressed completely in black, except for her white collar and cap. Her pointy shoes have pewter buckles. She's tearing fabric for bandages.)
'I can't stay long. I promised my Barbry I'd bring these bandages down by dawning and I haven't much time.' (Rip) 'She's off to the Big House this morn to see to Lord Westmoreland's foot. He's very particular who tends his foot - my Barbry's been doing it for years. M'lord tells everyone she's like a member of the family. Truth to tell, Barbry and M'lord are of an age. Born a season apart, her a wee bit older. His mother died in his birthing, but, as you see, I'm still here. The old Dowager'd be here as well if I had tended her.'
(Rip. As she tears long strips, she rolls them into a ball and drops each into a basket.)
'But when my Barbry was born, I felt a need to tend only her for the first bit. She was my only, you see. I knew it then and wanted to take my time with her raising. She was a right witch from the start. Fierce at the tit was my Barbry. And she's fierce still. But kind. A kinder soul you'll never know.'
(She squints toward a window and sees it's still dark.) 'Seems I've time for a quick pipe before I go.'
(She hobbles over to a dresser and takes out a pouch of tobacco and a stubby clay pipe. She crosses to the burning candle and lights her pipe with a twig from her broom. She puffs satisfied for a moment, then returns to her stool.)
'Now, Barbry's only fault is she's no Sight. O, she's not blind - eyes like a hawk, that girl. No, I mean, she can't see what's to come. No good at it. My family's had the Sight since the long ago time, down the line of womenfolks from the Mother herself, I reckon.' (She puffs.)' Barbry's girl has it, young Elspeth. Aggravates Barbry, having her old mam and her young'un knowing what she'll do afore she does it. We've used it to our advantage; I'm not ashamed to say.'
'Last May Eve, Barbry was to meet a young man and have the use of him all through the festival. Now Elspeth knew and I knew but Barbry hadn't the Sight. She got stern with us when we bathed her in the dew and brought sweet herbs for her gown. O, we made a fuss. Crowned Barbry with garlands of hawthorn blossom, made her chew birch twig 'til her breath was sweet. We knew, Elspeth and me. And we wanted her ready for her young man. And, by the Lady, she was ready. Sweet and perfumed like a priest, but with a temper on her like a rutting ram. The last we did was leave a hamper of edibles - fresh loaves and butter and such, and a jug of May wine - and pat her on the head like a child.
By gum, she looked every inch the May Queen. She's always been a looker but that Maytide, she was the Lady reborn. And, true to Sight, she had the use of that young man day and night 'til the last bonfire. He's the young smith from over at Morton-on-Wye. He left with a smile on his face but we've not seen him since. Wore out, I expect. Sated but happy in the doing of his duty.'
(She puts out the ash from her pipe and checks the window.) Almost time.
The priest was by yesterday. I make meat pies at the mid-week and he always manages a quick look-in. He's a fair man, this new priest. Not like old Stodges. Now, he was a curse on us - the whole village danced on the green when he was called to Oxford. He was responsible for all the troubles, you see. Came here with a face like sour apples and started preaching against the old ways. Said we ought to be made to pull down the stone circle. As if mortal hand could. Said anyone who celebrated the festivals was worse than a heathen and deserved to burn. Burn! I've heard they burn them like stove wood in France, but then the French have never been what you'd call civilized, have they? Too many priests, if you ask me. Men who don't have the use of women get soured and start to make everyone as miserable as they are.
Anyhow, that sour-faced priest caused a mess of grief here, looking under every hedgerow for witches. He latched onto the Flower family and had 'em all hanged and their cottage and orchard burnt to the ground. I never cared much for the Flowers but nobody should be treated like they was. 'Twasn't right. And the great foolishness was that the Flowers was one of the few village families who didn't practice the old ways. You wouldn't catch Mother Flower or any of her brood jumping the balefire. O no! they were too good for our country ways. Turned their noses right up!'
'I say the old ways be the best ways and I'll never budge from that. I celebrate the Wheel turning and dance under the new moon. My daughter and my daughter's daughter and my daughter's daughter's daughter will gather the herbs and dance the ring. I've got the Sight - I know how my familial go. We'll be with the Lady and her Green Man through all the turnings of the Wheel. We're blessed. Always have been.'
(She picks up her basket and rises.)
'It's time.' (She crosses to the door and turns back.)
'There will come a time - you hark to these words now - when the old ways is almost forgot. Almost lost. The Lady will sleep and have the use of her Goat Man. Seasons will change and folk will almost forget the Maytime and the Harvest and Midsummer. Almost. It'll lay in the hearts and souls of the people, quiet and still, 'til they've almost lost the knack for it. They'll be wars and evil-doing, and the priests will torment the people. And the Great Lady will sleep.'
'Then the time will come when She'll rouse herself and put aside her young man. She'll be dressed for the May-time with a crown of blossom and a gown of softest green. Her perfume will be the richness of the dark soil and the orchards. She'll bath herself in the dew of the Maytide and reach out again to her people.'
'And the people will remember.'
(She opens the door.)
'Come along with you, Dickon. Our Barbry is waiting.'
"Mother Goode" is part of H. Byron Ballard's play "The Burning Times: a Study of the Continuing Inquisition". Ballard is a traditional Witch and a Wiccan priestess from western North Carolina."