"LESSONS IN WITCHCRAFT"
NOTE: In the previous chapter, the three Halliwell sisters' knowledge of herbal craft were extended by Bruce and Barbara McNeill. The story picks up with Olivia McNeill recruiting her younger brother, Harry, to assist her in the next lesson.
An audible silence filled Olivia's ear, as she waited for her brother's response to her request. Then Harry finally said, "Help you give a lesson on witchcraft? Why?"
Olivia said, "What do you mean . . . why? Because Paige had asked me to give her and her sisters some lessons. Apparently, they feel they don't know enough. Ask Gran or Bruce. They've already helped me."
"Are you saying that after nearly five years, they still need lessons?"
Heaving a sigh, Olivia retorted, "C'mon Harry! You know better than to ask that. Learning the Craft is a lifelong experience for all of us."
"Yeah, but we're talking about the basics here," Harry shot back. "What the hell have they been doing all this time?"
Olivia retorted, "Saving the world from evil, what else?"
"And that's supposed to impress me?"
Another sigh left Olivia's mouth. "Harry . . ."
"Next question," Harry said, interrupting. "Why do you want . . . 'me' to help you?"
Olivia quickly answered, "Because the next lesson will be on altars, circles and pentagrams. You're very good in this area. Especially about altars. And I need you to draw a diagram of one."
"In other words, you couldn't find anyone else to assist you."
"Harry!" Olivia paused, before she finally capitulated. "Okay, that's the real reason. But you are very good when it comes to altars, right? Besides, Paige will be there."
Olivia heard a tremor in Harry's voice. "So?"
"C'mon Harry! I'm not blind. I've seen the way you've been hovering over her, when you think no one else is watching. And when you two are around others, you pretend she doesn't exist."
Harry's voice hardened slightly. "What are you getting at, Livy?"
She heaved a large sigh. "Let me put it this way, little brother. Nathalie Gleason told me what had transpired between you two at her party, last April. Shall I go on?"
"You can go on forever, as far as I'm concerned," Harry retorted. "And as far as I'm concerned, you're imagining things."
Olivia paused. "Does that mean you won't help me?"
Silence followed. Then, "Yeah, I'll help. What do you need?"
Relieved that her younger brother had finally agreed to help, Olivia proceeded to instruct him on a few errands.
The following Friday evening saw Olivia and Harry arriving at the Halliwell house. Olivia held her large knit bag, while Harry carried several yellow envelopes in his arms, as they climbed the stoop toward the front door.
After ringing the doorbell, Paige opened the door and ushered brother and sister inside the house. "Hey there," Olivia greeted. "Ready for your next lesson?"
Paige smiled. "Ready and eager!" The two McNeills stared at her, as if she had grown a second head. The Charmed One's face turned red with embarrassment. "Okay, that did sound a little too chipper, didn't it?"
"More like a lot," Harry muttered sardonically.
Olivia gave her brother a swift and subtle kick in the shin. Then she smiled at Paige. "So, where are the others?"
Paige revealed that her sisters were in the Solarium, waiting for the visitors. "Wyatt is in there, as well. Sleeping. Leo wasn't available to baby sit, this evening."
"Did you get a small table, like I had asked?"
Nodding, Paige replied, "It's in there, as well."
Once inside the Solarium, Olivia began the lesson. "The first thing we're going to discuss is the Wiccan altar. Uh, do you guys have one?"
The three sisters exchanged confused looks. "Wiccan altar?" Piper asked.
A slight smirk curved Harry's lips. "Well, I guess the answer is no." He received another kick in the shin from his sister.
Olivia turned to the three sisters and smiled. "The altar is a principle part of magic, rituals and daily life. It's like a sacred space in the home, set aside for major spells and rituals. You've seen one, Phoebe. Right?"
The middle Charmed One blinked. "I did?"
"That little closet inside Cole's old apartment, where he used to live," Olivia continued. "When you two first met."
Apparently, Phoebe had not remembered. "Anyway, do you guys have a table that you sometimes use, when conducting major spells?" Olivia continued.
Piper pointed at a small round table in the middle of the room. "We sometimes use this, when we're in the attic."
Olivia nodded. "Okay. This is good. In fact, some witches prefer to use a round table, because they believe it represents the circle of life. Now, there are many ways to set up an altar. And Harry," she lightly slapped her brother's arm, "is going to hand you a diagram of the altar at our parents' house."
On cue, Harry opened one of the yellow envelopes and passed the contents to the Charmed Ones. "Oh God!" Piper exclaimed. "This looks complicated."
Olivia shook her head. "Not really. It can be quite simple." She removed a large piece of blue cloth from her bag and spread it over the round table. "First, you need an altar cloth. You also need a specific color that relates to your purpose of the altar. It goes on the table, first. The second thing that goes on the table is the working cloth." She removed a cheap piece of gray cloth from her bag. "This cloth keeps wax, oil and other stuff from dripping on the altar cloth."
"Next," Harry continued, "you place four quarter candles on the table. Each candle is in the color that represents an element . . . and a quarter." Olivia removed a red candle. "Red for the Fire element and the direction, South. White for Air and East. By the way, the white candle is also supposed to represent the Goddess." Olivia placed a white candle on the table. Then she removed a blue candle from her bag. "Blue is for Water and West. And Green is for Earth and North." After Olivia placed a green candle on the table, Harry added, "Also, you don't always have to place quarter candles on the altar. You can also try free standing pillars."
Then Olivia removed a small earthen bowl from the bag and placed it on the table. "This is an Earth bowl," she said. "It can be filled with something that represents that particular element. We usually fill it with soil to represent Earth or holy water."
"Holy water?" Phoebe declared. "Wiccans deal with holy water?" Harry explained that holy water is used by many religions - Pagan and otherwise - and not just by Catholics.
"Next, is the Wine Chalice," Harry said, as Olivia removed one from her bag. "It's for drinking sacred wine that has been consecrated for magickal use. The chalice, like the White candle, represents the Goddess."
Olivia and Harry continued the list, removing objects from the knit bag. They removed the God and Goddess figures, an incense holder, a non-wine chalice for those who did not indulge in alcohol . . .
"That would be great for me," Paige said, interrupting.
Piper added, "Is it just me or does the God figure look a like the Devil?"
"That's the Horned God of the Wild," Olivia explained. "Not the Devil. Don't forget - Wiccans do not believe in Satan, the Devil and other forms of 'Satanism'. The Horned God represents the masculine aspect of nature and the Goddess, the feminine aspect."
Olivia removed a cauldron from her bag. "I'm sure that you guys remember this. For the altar, it's used to hold a piece of self-lightning charcoal." The list continued - consecrated oil, a lighter for the candles, the altar bell, a wand for channeling energy to a specific direction, an athame, a candle-snuffer, and a pentacle.
Harry explained, "The pentacle is basically a grounding tool. When magick is done on the altar, it's done over a pentacle to ground the magick's energy." He paused. "Now, if you would all study the chart I have given each of you, you'll have a basic idea of how to set up an altar."
Phoebe displayed a piece of paper, attached to her copy of the altar's diagram. "What's this?" she asked.
"Oh, that's the ritual used for the altar. And be sure there is a circle on the floor."
When the sisters finished examining the material given to them, Olivia said, "I guess that we can go on to the next lesson. The circle. You, ah . . . You guys do use a magick circle for spells, right?"
Once more, the Halliwells exchanged uneasy glances. "Uh . . . yeah," Paige finally answered. "I think."
"Sometimes," Phoebe added. "I mean . . . we know that a circle should be used."
Olivia asked, "Do you know why?" When the sisters failed to answer, she sighed. "Okay. The circle is the area in which magickal worship, spells and rituals take place. There are three basic reasons to cast a circle."
"One," Harry said, "to create a sacred space, or a place that is different from the mundane world. Two, to keep the energy from magick, focused and contained in one area."
Olivia added, "And three, a circle provides protection from negative outside forces. It provides safety, since witches inside the circle are able to travel across veils and into different dimensions. In other words, the circle provides safety, as we travel."
"Like Paige and I did, when we projected into Piper's mind," Phoebe said.
Harry opened another yellow envelope. He poured out the contents - more stapled papers - and passed them around. "Now, you each have a list of methods to cast a circle. If you don't know how to cast one, the instructions provided should be simple."
"Wait. There's more than one way to cast a circle?" Phoebe asked.
"Actually, the list I just gave you provides at least four methods on casting a circle and instructions on closing one."
Paige asked, "What kind of circles?"
Harry sighed. "Well, there is the commonly used method of casting a circle. There is one for casting a circle in a hurry, one for casting a Celtic circle, and one for casting a circle on your hand. Uh, if you guys want to go over each one . . ."
"That's okay," Piper quickly interrupted. "These instructions don't really seem all that difficult."
The youngest McNeill glanced at his sister, who shrugged. "Okay, sure. I guess we can move on to the next lesson."
Phoebe sighed. "The final one." Her voice seemed tinged with relief.
Olivia stared at the middle Charmed One. "Are we getting bored?"
"Huh? Oh . . . uh, no. I just . . . I guess I'm a little hungry."
Glancing at her watch, Olivia noticed that it read eight forty-seven. "Haven't you all eaten dinner, yet?"
"Of course we have," Piper replied. "We just . . ."
Impatience tinged Paige's voice. "Can we please just get on with the lessons?"
Nodding, Olivia said, "Right. Next lesson - pentagram."
"We all know what a pentagram is," Piper commented. "It's a five-pointed star, held in an upright position. It's an ancient symbol of protection from evil."
"Did you know that it's also called the 'endless knot'?" Olivia added. "Or that the symbol can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Summerian cultures? And it's also been found on Native American tools."
Piper replied, "No, but we do know that each point represents the five elements - earth, water, fire, metal and wood."
Olivia blinked. She wondered if she had just heard right. Then she glanced at Harry, who also looked confused. "Piper," he asked, "could you repeat that list of elements, again?"
"Earth, water, fire, metal and wood," Piper repeated. "In fact, this house is situated in the middle of a pentagram. Of a nexus. It lies in equal distance from a place or object that represents each element."
Phoebe added, "Yeah, and that's why I'm more susceptible to evil than my sisters. Since I was born in the manor, I can easily swing to either evil or good."
"Honey, I hate to break it to you," Olivia patiently explained, "but you've just about described every living being in existence. Any one of us can easily swing one way or the other. It's a part of who and what we are."
Harry added, "And I think I should explain to you guys that the elements associated with Wicca are earth, water, fire, AIR and SPIRIT. The elements that you had mentioned are associated with Chinese spirituality."
"WHAT?" Both Phoebe and Piper cried out at the same.
"If you're correct about this house being in the center of some kind of nexus," Harry continued, "perhaps it's . . . I don't know. Chinese?"
Phoebe exclaimed, "But that's impossible!" She paused, as she stared at the two McNeills. "Is it? I mean, are you saying . . .? Which list is correct?"
"I haven't the foggiest idea," Olivia replied. "Both lists may be correct. Every form of philosophy or religion has its own list of elements."
Harry added, "Olivia has her own theory about the elements." Knowing what he was about to reveal, Olivia glared at her brother. "What? C'mon Livy! You've already told the family."
"And no one bought it, I might add."
Paige frowned. "What theory?"
After a long and heavy sigh, Olivia finally capitulated. "Okay, I give up." She paused. Then, "While studying some of the different religions and philosophies, I had noticed something about the elements associated with them. Although they varied, if you combine them all on one list, you will probably end up with at least seven elements. Namely - earth, water, air, fire, wood, metal and spirit. This leaves me to suspect that there are seven elements, not five or in the case of other religions or philosophies, some other number of elements. By the way, did you know that the Buddhists refer to the spirit element as the Void or Ether?"
Silence hung over the Sun Room like a heavy fog. Disbelief and confusion whirled in the Charmed Ones' dark eyes, while Harry's mouth hung open in anticipation. "So what do you think?" he asked. "Makes sense?"
Piper shook her head. "I don't understand. You're saying that there are seven elements and not five?"
"That's my theory," Olivia coolly replied.
Phoebe spoke up. "But that would make the whole idea of a pentagram irrelevant! And the pentagram, as a symbol, has been around for ages."
"What?" Harry demanded. "She's not allowed to challenge a belief that's been around since the dawn of man?"
Olivia glanced at Paige, who seemed equally dubious. "I guess you don't buy it either," she asked her friend.
Paige squirmed with discomfort. "I don't know, Livy," she finally said. "It's just . . . well yeah. I guess I don't. I just find it hard to buy."
"Why?" Harry demanded. He seemed disappointed by Paige's reaction.
Shrugging her shoulders, Paige answered, "I don't know. Maybe Phoebe's right. The pentagram has been part of Wicca beliefs for many years. And a part of Celtic and other forms of paganism, long before that. Right? Is Olivia trying to say that the pentagram isn't a symbol for protection from evil? And if so, what is?"
Olivia thought to herself. Why did I allow Harry to goad me into opening my big mouth? Then she sighed. "I don't know, Paige. How about a heptagram?" The sisters merely responded with blank stares. So much for her clever idea.
Before the uncomfortable silence could get any worse, Harry came to the rescue. He glanced at his watch. "Look, why don't we call it a night? I think that we've basically covered everything for today's lesson. And besides, there's a movie on cable I want to see. And it starts in less than an hour."
"Good idea," Olivia quickly agreed, thankful of Harry's suggestion.
Piper asked, "Before you go, may I ask you guys a question?" The two McNeills stared at her. "Is it really necessary to have a permanent altar in the house?"
"It's not mandatory," Olivia replied. "But I would highly recommend having one around for major spells and rituals. You don't want to take the chance of the magick getting out of control."
"Our magic never gets . . ." Phoebe began. Then she broke off, as a sheepish expression appeared on her face. "Okay, maybe it does. Sometimes."
Piper asked another question. "Do we really need an altar for our Book of Shadows?"
"Where did you get that idea?" Harry asked, with a frown.
Giving her eyes a contemptuous roll, Phoebe shot back, "From one of Leo's old whitelighter buddies. Natalie. She once told us that we should keep our Book of Shadows on a hidden altar."
"We had ignored her advice, of course," Piper sardonically added.
Olivia said, "So did we. When Leo first told Bruce and me the same, years ago. Frankly, I think it's a lot of nonsense."
"Leo, huh?" Piper looked slightly embarrassed.
"Besides, I don't keep my Book of Shadows on an altar," Olivia continued. "There's no need, as far as I'm concerned. Harry keeps his on a computer CD-disk. So does Nathalie Gleason."
Paige's voice rang with disbelief. "A Book of Shadows on a computer disk?"
Phoebe added, "And why would you all maintain separate Books of Shadow, anyway? Isn't there one for the entire family?"
Harry shook his head. "Not really. Each witch usually maintains his or her own personal book. I'm surprised that none of you have your own book. I mean, what if one or more of you move out?"
"So, you think we should each have our own book?"
Oh God! Impatience tugged at Olivia's mind. She wanted to end this session. Now. "Look, it's like Harry said. Every individual witch maintains a Book of Shadows. Paige, Phoebe, Piper - if you don't want to follow this rule, fine. It's not a problem. Do what works best for you. Anymore questions?"
Wearing dazed expressions, the Charmed Ones shook their heads. Harry shot to his feet and began removing some of the items on the makeshift altar. "Okay, it's time to go." He placed the items in Olivia's bag.
While Harry finished loading her bag, Olivia stood up. "Okay guys, I guess I'll be seeing you, tomorrow evening."
"Why not the morning or afternoon?" Paige asked.
"Because Cole and I are going to Sausalito, tomorrow morning," Olivia said. From the corner of her eye, she saw Phoebe stiffened at the mention of the half-daemon's name. "And we won't be back until five or five-thirty. So, I'll be seeing you around six, at my apartment. Okay?"
The Charmed Ones agreed. Then much to Olivia's relief, she and Harry gathered their belongings, bid their hostesses good-bye - and finally left.
END OF CHAPTER 4