"LESSONS IN WITCHCRAFT"
SUMMARY: The Charmed Ones discovers the limitations of their knowledge on witchcraft. Set after "The Staff of Fire" - AU between S5 and S6.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, thankfully, are my creations.
NOTE: This story was written out of my growing frustration with the series' portrayal of witchcraft and the supernatural.
Paige Matthews read the last page of her new book and slowly closed it. A sigh left her mouth. She had purchased it during her trip to Scotland, two weeks ago. After reading the book, she came to the realization that her knowledge of witchcraft was at best . . . minor. Worse, she could honestly say the same about her more experienced sisters.
A feeling of inadequacy overtook her. Paige had not experienced such a feeling in over six months. Not since last fall. Back then, her great desire to learn about the Craft had been about escaping the long shadow cast by her late sister, Prudence Halliwell - namely the uberwitch of the Halliwell family. The one sister who knew everything and could kick butt like no one else. This was the sister whose place that Paige had allegedly usurped. Who, in at least Piper's eyes, could not replace. After nearly a year, Phoebe, Leo and Piper had finally convinced Paige that Prue had not been as perfect as she had originally been led to believe. They also convinced Paige that she was regarded as a member of the family. But they still continued to treat her as a novice witch. Even after two years.
Slowly, Paige made her way downstairs and found her family watching television in the Sun Room. Piper glanced up at the younger woman and frowned. "Hi honey. Is there something wrong? You look a little upset."
"It's nothing." Paige settled in one of the empty wicker chairs. "I just finished reading my new book."
Leo gazed her. "What new book?"
"The one I had bought in Scotland, last month," Paige continued. "'Drawing Down the Moon'. Olivia's mom had recommended it."
Phoebe asked, "Is it any good?"
Paige heaved a mournful sigh, drawing stares from the others. "It's great. It . . . I don't know. I guess it's made me realize how little we know about witchcraft."
Her comment drew protests from the two older Halliwells. "What are you talking about?" Phoebe demanded. "Uh, may I remind you that we're the Charmed Ones? The most powerful witches, ever? And after five years, we're not exactly amateurs anymore."
"I thought that Wyatt was the most powerful witch, ever," Paige commented. She gazed at her nephew, wriggling in Piper's arms.
Piper heaved a sigh. "You know what Phoebe meant. I mean, c'mon Paige. We had defeated the Source. Three times."
"Piper, did you ever think that being the Charmed Ones doesn't exactly mean we know a lot about magic? Besides, as the Bearer of Aingeal, Olivia is just as strong as the Power of Three." As she spoke those last words, Paige noticed that her sisters' bodies had stiffened. "And the other McNeills are also pretty strong. And very talented."
Piper began to rock Wyatt. "Really? And I thought we were the talented ones. Right Leo?"
The whitelighter, whose attention had returned to the TV, looked up. His blue eyes widened. "Huh?"
"Didn't you once tell your old whitelighter friend, Natalie, that we were talented witches?"
Leo nodded. "Yeah, I did. And I was right."
"See?" Piper flashed a triumphant smile.
"Of course, I have to admit that the McNeills are also talented," the whitelighter added. Piper's smile disappeared. "I mean, they do know a lot about witchcraft."
Disbelief creased Piper's brow. "Are you saying that we could learn a lot from them? Even now?"
"Well . . ."
Piper continued, "Well what? Is that what you're saying, Leo?"
Paige came to her brother-in-law's rescue. "I would say that. Heck, I've already learned a lot from Olivia during the past seven months."
Uh-oh, Paige thought. Trouble. She recognized that arch tone in her oldest sister's voice. And judging from the expression on Phoebe's face, the latter did not obviously care for her praise of Olivia McNeill. But Paige realized that someone had to speak out. She took a deep breath. "Look, have you guys ever considered asking the McNeills to teach us more about witchcraft? Considering their long experience?"
Both Piper and Phoebe stared at Paige, as if the latter had grown a second head. "You've got to be kidding?" Phoebe retorted. "Right?"
"No, I'm serious!" Paige protested. "Didn't both of you once believed that you needed to learn more about the Craft?" Out of desperation, she turned to her brother-in-law. "What do you think, Leo?"
The whitelighter squirmed with discomfort. He looked as if he wanted to bolt for the nearest door. "Well . . . um . . ."
"Leo, don't tell me that you agree with Paige," Piper demanded.
Coughing discreetly, Leo finally said, "Actually, it's not a bad idea." Both Piper and Phoebe greeted his words with dismay. He interrupted, "However, I have to admit that you've all accomplished a lot on your own, these past few years. So . . . maybe you don't really need further lessons."
Disappointed by her brother-in-law's stance, Paige glared at him. "Chicken," she muttered.
"Leo's right," Phoebe added. "We're doing okay on our own. Actually, we're doing more than okay. So, I don't see why we need 'lessons' from the McNeills."
Paige retorted, "Oh really? I seem to recall Olivia teaching you how to summon a premonition, when Portia Della Scalla had kidnapped Bruce. And you ended up doing it without straining yourself."
"Paige . . ."
Frustration building within her, Paige shot to her feet. "Well, I'm going to ask Olivia if she's willing to help."
Piper rolled her eyes. "Help you do what? Become a witch? I thought Phoebe and I had already trained you."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Piper. But after reading that book, I realized that all of us don't know enough." Paige paused, as she stood over her sisters, hands-on-hips. "If you guys are gonna let pride get in the way of more knowledge - fine. Be my guest. But I won't." She marched toward the door, imagining the dark expressions on her sisters' faces.
"Honey, I'd love to help you," Olivia declared over the telephone. "But am I the right person? I doubt that I know everything there is to be a witch."
Paige replied, "You know a hell of a lot more than any of us. Since tonight's Thursday, can I come by your place on Saturday morning?"
Olivia hesitated. "I'm sorry Paige, but I don't think that Saturday would be a good day. Cole's taking me to this antique auction in Modesto. We probably won't be back until later that night."
"Oh." Paige tried not to sound disappointed.
"However," Olivia continued, "I think my grandmother might be available on Saturday. Let me give her a call."
Keeping her enthusiasm in check, Paige said, "Could you call me back, as soon as you get her answer?"
"Sure. But I'm certain that she wouldn't mind giving you a few lessons. I'll get back to you in a few minutes. Bye."
Paige said, "Bye," and hung up.
Two days later, Paige found herself seating opposite Elise McNeill, in one of the wicker chairs situated in the McNeills' garden, on a bright Saturday morning. The elderly woman eyed the younger one with a thoughtful expression. "When Livy told me about your desire for more lessons in the Craft, I was a bit surprised. Didn't Piper and Phoebe already teach you, when you first started practicing magic?"
Paige nodded. "Yeah, they did. But after reading that book, 'Drawing Down the Moon', I realized that I didn't know enough. And after knowing your family for the past seven months, I figured Olivia or the rest of you would be the perfect ones to teach me."
Nodding, the older witch said, "I see. Well, let's start the lesson, shall we? First, tell me what you know about being a witch."
Paige hesitated. "Oh . . . okay. Um, a witch is a practitioner of magic."
A silver brow formed an arch. "That's it?"
Feeling slightly unsure of herself, Paige added, "Oh, ah . . . and a witch is also a protector of the innocent. You know, saving the world from magical evil bei . . ." Her voice faded, as she became aware of the stunned expression on Mrs. McNeill's face. "Is there something wrong?"
"Goddess!" the old woman declared heavily. "Do you honestly believe that a witch is some kind of supernatural crime fighter?"
Paige's sense of worth sank a few notches. "Well . . . isn't that supposed to be our duty? Kicking evil's ass?"
Mrs. McNeill replied in a sardonic tone, "I doubt it very much, considering that being a witch is not what one would call a duty."
Paige blinked. "Oh."
"First of all," Mrs. McNeill continued, "a person generally chooses to become a witch. People become witches because they want to, not out of some family or supernatural obligation to battle evil."
Shaking her head, the Charmed One asked, "But if witchcraft isn't for fighting evil, what . . .?"
Mrs. McNeill heaved a sigh. "My dear Paige, do you know what the word 'witch' means?" When the younger woman shook her head, the former continued, "It means 'wise one'. Witches are basically healers, teachers and spiritual leaders."
"But what about fighting evil? Vanquishing demons?" Paige demanded. "Isn't that important?"
Hesitating, Mrs. McNeill gave Paige a look that seemed to tinge with pity. "Paige? Why is it so important for you to fight evil? What do you think you're going to accomplish?"
Paige opened her mouth . . . and then closed it. Mrs. McNeill's expression left her feeling slightly uneasy. Then, "Well . . . to protect innocents from evil. Right? I mean, aren't we supposed to be in a war against evil?"
"Are you referring to a war in which we'll never win? Or lose? A war that the whitelighters are so determined that we take part in?"
"But we're supposed to help people!" The outburst came out of Paige's mouth before she could stop herself.
The elderly witch smiled wryly. "I never said there was anything wrong in helping others, Paige. Why do you think witches are healers, teachers and spiritual guides? In fact, our role as healers makes it important for us to learn the art of herb craft, in the first place. Yes, we might have to deal with the occasional daemon, warlock, or whatever that crosses our paths. Just as they have to deal with us on several occasions. It's the price we all pay for dealing with the supernatural. But the primary function of witches isn't to fight them."
Paige's first instinct was to reject Elise McNeill's words. They went against everything that her sisters and Leo had taught her. Besides, the idea of being a witch who protected the innocent and fought against supernatural evil, appealed to her. Gave her a purpose. And the opportunity to atone for the past, which included the misery she had caused her late step-parents and old friends. Quite simply, being a witch gave her the chance to erase the image of that adolescent troublemaker/alcoholic.
"But . . ." Paige began. Unfortunately, she found herself tongue-tied at the moment.
A sigh left the older witch's mouth. "Look Paige, I realize what you're thinking. I gather that the idea of being some kind of supernatural heroine must be very appealing. But that is not what being a witch is about. It's about giving us the opportunity to reach out and experience the oneness of all Life through our honor of the old Gods and Goddesses, through magic - whether we're Wiccan, Stregheria or any other kind of Pagan religion. In other words, it's about spiritual self-realization." She paused, as a small smile formed on her lips. "And not about 'kicking evil's ass'."
Paige finally found her voice. "In other words, we shouldn't bother to fight demons?"
"If we have to . . . sure," Mrs. McNeill replied with a shrug. "Mind you, not all daemons are evil. After all, I've dealt with my share of the supernatural evil over the years. Daemons, warlocks, trolls, wizards, sorcerers, witches and God knows what else."
"Witches?" Paige frowned.
Mrs. McNeill nodded. "Well, yes. I've encountered witches who have turned away from the path. Gwen's sister, Rhiannon, was one example." She peered at the younger woman. "Has Olivia ever told you about her?"
Paige nodded. "Only that she was the one who had killed Olivia's fiancé. Piper was the same way . . . after Prue's death."
The elderly woman added, "And don't forget Nick Marcano." She sighed. "But the main thing I wanted to point out is that being a witch is not all about fighting evil. It's much deeper and personal. Spiritual."
"Oh." Paige felt silent. She glanced around the room.
Shrewd blue-gray eyes observed the younger witch. "Is there anything else you want to ask?" Paige shook her head. "Okay. As you know, many people trace modern-day Wicca back to a scholar named Gerald Gardner, in the early 20th century. I'm sure you know that it goes a lot further back. The history of Wicca goes as far back as the pre-Christian era . . ."
Paige barely heard the older woman's words. Her mind continued to brood on Mrs. McNeill's views on witchcraft. The Charmed One knew that once she told her sister what she had learned this morning, they would have a fit.
END OF CHAPTER 1