Gather ‘round, children, gather ‘round, and I shall tell you the way of the world and how it came to be.
Once there lived a hunter who was skilled in the use of bow and arrow and spear and blade. He would travel the length and breadth of the wilderness in search of deer and boar and elk and many other fine animals. The hunter was a wise man, never taking more than he needed and always leaving an offering of thanks to both the spirit of the animal and the Mother of Beasts, who ruled over hunters and wilderness alike.
Now it happened one day that the hunter was stalking a fine antlered stag when he came across the Mother of Beasts herself, bathing in a cool woodland stream. Her skin was a sun-warmed brown, her hair was the green of moss and pine, and around her throat hung a necklace of claws and fangs.
The hunter hastily averted his eyes and offered up his bow in penance. But the Mother of Beasts only laughed and invited him to join her, for long had she admired his skill and his wisdom and his devotion.
And so the hunter set aside his bow and joined the Mother of Beasts in that cool woodland stream.
The seasons passed, the wilderness now green, now bare and cold, now green again.
One day, when the hunter was alone in the wilderness, without the Mother of Beasts at his side, he came upon the trail of a beautiful white sow. He followed the trail deeper and deeper into the wilderness, paying no heed as the day darkened into dusk. Only when the Crescent Woman, the moon herself, and her shimmering daughters rose above the edge of the world did the hunter stop. He found shelter in the high crook of a tree, drawing the branches around himself as a blanket, and watched the Crescent Woman dance higher and higher into the sky.
So awestruck was the hunter by the beauty of the Crescent Woman that he could not close his eyes to sleep. Instead, he watched the moon all through the night as she danced slowly across the sky, brightening clouds and silvering the leaves of the trees.
Only as she slipped towards the edge of the world, her shimmering daughters following in her wake, did the hunter leap to his feet. Digging his fingers so tightly into the bark that he bled, the hunter shouted his love to the Crescent Woman. He shouted until his chest was a painful hollow and his voice but a rasp of sound.
The Crescent Woman heard and saw him, but continued on her way, dancing over the edge of the world — for she had heard the same from many before him, and would hear the same from many after him.
His heart an ache that would not heal, his voice rough and raw, the hunter curled up in the high crook of the tree and wept. He remained there all through the day, hunger curling his stomach and thirst curling his tongue.
When the sun at last slipped into the underworld and the Crescent Woman and her shimmering daughters rose from the underworld to dance across the darkened sky again, the hunter climbed to his feet. Once again, he shouted his love, his voice becoming more rough with every word that passed his lips.
Again the Crescent Woman heard and saw him, and again she continued her dance across the sky towards the far edge of the world — for his voice was but one among many, and she judged his declaration of love to be no different than so many others in the light of her beauty.
And so the hunter curled up again in the high crook of the tree and wept. There he remained all through the day, hunger curling his stomach and thirst curling his tongue.
Once again, the sun plunged over the edge of the world and the moon rose, the Crescent Woman and her shimmering daughters climbing up from the underworld to dance through the darkness. And again the hunter called out his love to her, his voice so low and raw that she could barely hear it. And as the sun crept back up from the underworld and the Crescent Woman and her shimmering daughters glided far into the west, the last of the hunter’s strength left him. He fell from the high crook of the tree to the ground far, far below.
And there he breathed his last, his blood red against the green of the grass and moss.
And so it was that the Mother of Beasts found him, his bow shattered at his side. She fell to her knees, crying, and cradled his head in her lap. But though she wept and wailed and tore at her green, green hair, the hunter could not return to her from the depths of the underworld.
When the Crescent Woman began her dance across the night sky once again, she heard the cries of her sister. She slipped down a ray of quicksilver, her steps so lithe and nimble that she left no marks upon the ground, not even the delicate moss bending beneath her silvered feet. Her breath formed luminous clouds and her hair was every shade of darkness, curling with the breeze.
“What grieves you, my wild sister? Why do you weep so?”
“My beloved!” the Mother of Beasts cried. “My beloved is lost to me, away in the underworld!”
“Your beloved, he was indeed. But it was me he called out to in the night, declaring his love.”
At this, the grief of the Mother of Beasts turned to anger. She leapt to her feet, drawing her bow and arrow, preparing to strike down her sister, the moon herself. As the string pulled taut, the Crescent Woman held open her arms to the Mother of Beasts. She shook her head and said, “I bear no fault for his love of me. I am as I am. If he loves me, if he hates me, that is his own heart’s doing, not mine.”
When the Mother of Beasts did not set aside her bow and arrow, the Crescent Woman spoke again. “You are my sister, and to you and my shimmering daughters have I given my heart. And so for you, I shall do this terrible thing: I shall dance through the underworld and when I return with the rise of night, I shall bring with me the soul of your beloved hunter. But beware that he shall not be as he was, nor may he return to the dark forests and grottos of the underworld, for what is done is done and cannot be undone.”
And the Mother of Beasts set aside her bow and arrow and said, “I care not. Do this terrible thing for me, my quicksilver sister. Return my beloved hunter to me.”
With a nimble step, the Crescent Woman leapt back into the sky. She danced through the night, over the edge of the world, and finally through the great bone gate in the west of the underworld. Her shimmering daughters trailing in her wake, she continued to dance, her silvery light illuminating the dark forests and grottos of the underworld. And the souls of those who had gone before gathered around, pale and thin, following her nimble steps. And among them was the hunter, his heart an ache that would not heal, his voice rough and raw.
The Crescent Woman wrapped him in her arms, hiding him within the clouds of her breath and the darkness of her hair. And so she secreted him through the great blood gate in the east of the underworld, over the edge of the world, and into the night sky. From her great height, she saw and heard her sister still weeping in the wilderness. Slipping down a beam of quicksilver, her steps lithe and nimble, she returned the hunter to the Mother of Beasts and then rose again into the night.
But the hunter was not as he had been. Pale and thin, he was, like a moon-silvered cloud. She could not run with him through the trees or hold him in her arms or kiss him upon the lips. And when she saw him so, the truth of her sister’s words sank deep into her heart. Her beloved was not her own, nor could he return to the dark forests and grottos of the underworld, and he would never be as he was.
And so as penance the Mother of Beasts took up her bow and her arrows, her spear and her blade, traveling the length and breadth of the wilderness in search of deer and boar and elk and other fine animals. From them she took heart and liver and lungs, bones and fat and flesh, and the claws and fangs from her necklace. These she wove together with sinew and breath, wrapping them around the thin, pale soul of her beloved. And when she was done a new beast stood before her, furred and fanged and clawed, and she named him Wolf.
Since that day, year upon year, season upon season, age upon age, the Wolf has hunted free through the wilderness; sometimes he can be seen running alongside the Mother Beasts as she stalks deer and boar and elk and other fine animals. But the hunter’s love for the Crescent Woman has never waned, and you can hear him still, howling at her long into the night.
And now you know the way of the world, children, and how it came to be.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]