I am standing in the cool air of the evening with my feet on the stone of the entryway. The night is full with the smell of winter and I can hear only my breath and the breath of my sisters around me. We have been dancing for so long that I no longer remember when we started. Our training and our muscles took us past the point where we thought we might fall to the ground. They took us to the place where the spirit expands and the body keeps moving because it is willed to do so. To the place that is full of the music of what we are making together as we dance. It has been the most beautiful time of my life and there are tears in my eyes at the pleasure of being a part of this extended moment that spirals on and on as the night turns to day and back again.
Now we are still because we have called the Guardians from their places of rest. We are silent to give them space for their arrival. Our heads are lowered as we sense the change in the air that means they are taking their places at the points of the triangle that surrounds and protects this sacred spot. At each point is a high stone carved for them to stand upon as they look out into the night and back at what will happen here tomorrow as the golden smile of the sun opens to the new day and the new time ahead.
I begin to feel the places where my bare feet have been hitting the flat surfaces of the stones over and over as I spun round and round in time with the others dancing with me. Our feet beat out the rhythm we danced to and sang with in a circle of increasing energy that fed itself over and over again as we built it up. I have seen the feet of other dancers in other years, and I know how bruised mine will be tomorrow. But tonight I feel only joy that I gave my body’s movements and my song to this working.
Sweat is rapidly cooling as it pours down my back. Now that I have stopped moving, I am starting to feel the muscles in my arms that have been upraised since it was the time of the night before we began to dance. They are shaking like I am a blade of grass in the wind. I look out of the corner of my eye to see if the others have lowered their embrace of the starry sky. I see that they have not. This is my first time joining in the dance. I am proud of the strength of my young body and do not want to be the first to give in to the shaking that is starting to move down form my arms and through the rest of me now that I am no longer stirring the energy of attraction and desire that has brought the Guardians to us.
We dance because we love beauty. Every one of my sisters and I adore the slow, careful move of the arms, the short, staccato steps of the feet, the undulating curves of the body. Each of us has spent many years, all of our young lives, watching and listening to the fish, the birds, the trees, the streams and everything around us that moves so that we can learn from each movement how to make our dance more powerful. It needs to not only grow in power as our people grow in number. The dance also needs to grow with the world around us as it changes day by day and season by season. If we moved the same way tonight as we did last time, it would not work. We would be out of step with the larger dance around us and the Guardians would notice. They might not come as we call them, and that would be a terrible thing for our people.
We dance because we are beauty. Every one of us has been chosen by our people because we embody the power and wonder of our Mother in the curve of our hips, in the shape of our fingers, in the flash of our eyes, in the dark waves of our hair. We were dedicated by our parents to live this life apart from all others so that we could do what we have done tonight. Every day, since before each of us can remember, we have trained to draw in more energy, to last longer, to move with greater precision. It is a life of ordeal and pain. We have all healed from deep blisters, strained arms and sometimes broken bones or torn joints. Some do not make it to the place where I now stand because their bodies are not able to do what I have done to get here. They find along the way that it is too much for them to live like this. 5 years ago I heard the terrible cry of the elders wailing a lament because one of my sisters jumped into the ocean and did not return.
For me and the others who now stand beside and around me, it is also a life of joy and ecstacy. Every day we move a little easier, a little faster, a little more fluid. We seek to embody the depth of wells, the laughter of streams, the rush or the rain as it comes again after a long absence. When this happens, smiles light the path we move across and we shine out into the world so brightly it is said the caretakers of the mountain shrines can see us. We are the callers of the Guardians and the language we cry out to them with is the language of our bodies in dance. What we do is essential to the survival of our people. We are beloved by all around us. Our sisters become healers when they are too old to dance as we do this night and take care of those who do the stirring so that each year our calls will be heard. I have never known anything else but this life. I have never wanted anything else either.
I remember this and my arms stay high above my head in the gesture that calls to the sky where the three stars shine in the triangle that mirrors the one formed by the three high stones where the Guardians come to rest. It is the first step in preparing for the arrival of Therasia. Tomorrow it will be her face that smiles the smile of the sun. But I will not be part of that ritual. It is for another sisterhood to welcome her once again into our lives. My place is out here in the darkness, dressed in the skins of the three animals sacred to the Guardians. I am once of those who prepare the way.
Part of my training was learning to hunt each one. I started with the stag because I was born in the woodlands down lower on the mountain. My people came from His forest, so I started by seeking His prize. After I have learned to listen and to find what I sought, I moved higher up to search for the goat. That one took three years to find. Once the skin of the goat hung next to that of the stag, I climbed even higher than where I now stand and hunted the Ibex, wily horned beast of the rocky highlands. The trails of sharp rock were much harder on my feet than on his hooves. Now there are three sets of horns on the part of the altar I am responsible for and my clothes have three kinds of fur. I had forgotten that I was wearing anything during the dance, but hearing the sounds of the Guardians breathing above my own breath reminds me. I have eaten the flesh of their sacred animals and it has helped me grow strong. They bring water so that my people can live. They are part of me and part of my people. I never forget the fact of this connection.
The first Guardian is the Goat of Water Stones. He was born from the she-goat who lives at the top of the mountain overlooking the sea. On the day he was born, the flat stone where His mother birthed Him split in half and water flowed out of it and down the mountain. Through His favor we are fortunate to have the water of springs where the moss grows soft and green. The gentle wall of moss means it is clean and safe to drink from the water within it. His brother is the Stag of the River where the water winds down through the meadow and brings life to the roots of trees and the wide meadows on their shores. This is the land where my family comes form, so we have always had a special love for Him.
The third Guardian is the most difficult to find. Our ancestors used to go out to the cliff where it overhangs the place that the deep water carved from it before anyone can remember. It is a high, sloped cliff that is ochre in color. The bottom layer where the water carved it out is darker than the rest. Many snakes live in the cracks between these dark stones. Below them is a deep pool that is all that remains of the lake that used to be here. Before we learned to call the Guardians by dancing, our ancestors would take their shining black stones and long pounding rocks out to this place where the lake had carved the yellow cliff to make the Rain Sound that would call the Star Ibex down from where He lives on top of His pyramid that is higher up than anyone I know has ever climbed. Our ancestors would speak with Him and ask Him to bring the rain. Now we call all three of the Horned Ones of the Stars at once with our dance. But the story of the Rain Sound remains because we need to remember it was not always this easy.
All three Guardians are standing at their points on the triangle surrounding our temple. They have not spoken to us, but they have come. The elders begin walking out to them to listen for messages they will share with us as the need arises. It is forbidden to approach the stones where the Guardians arrive until they take their places. An old story tells me that this was learned when our ancestors first started using the dance to call them. An elder waited on each stone to welcome them to the new way fo speaking with us. As they arrived, each Guardian killed the waiting elder. Then they left. There followed a winter without rain. Since that time, the elders wait just outside our dance and do not go up to the stones until they are occupied.
My sisters and I move into two lines to form a pathway that leads to the opening of the small temple inside the stones ahead of us. We have completed our task. Now it is our turn to stand and hold the space of protection as the seven Star Maidens begin the Dance of the Day. We walk silently in step into the sides of the small room that is at the heart of the temple. Our movement draws the path the Star Maidens will use to begin their part fo the dance. Once we enter the temple, we sit carefully on the floor and wait. Attendants emerge from within the temple and hand each of us a sistrum made of wood with shells and pieces of copper strung between the open V of the body. We wait for the Star Maidens in silence.
We hear them before we see them. Each of them is covered in a dress of golden bells and is wearing wide bands of the same bells on their legs. They cannot take a step without bursting into music. Their dance is more delicate than ours. The float gently into the mouth of the darkness outside the temple full of small flames. We raise our sistrums to welcome them and begin the rising and falling change that pours out the path for them to dance upon. Everything about them is as small, bright and delicate as we are powerful and dark. Our people tend to have hair the color of the back of a cave and eyes that span the range of obsidian colors form deep, shining browns to intensely sparkling black. But a few of us are born with lighter eyes, more delicate features, and an energy that sings a special song from somewhere else. From these are chosen the Star Maidens. I learned to hunt for my clothes. Each fo them learned to sew the tiny golden bells onto their skirts and make the bands for their ankles and arms. I learned to stand outside all night, no matter how cold. They learned to move in precise and perfect unison through the complexity of the dance that travels only a few body-lengths across this one stretch of floor. We are as different as can be, but our differences meet in this ritual that could not happen without either of our sisterhoods. I raise my sistrum and my voice as they enter the doorway. Every three steps they stop and turn so that the light can bounce of of their gold in all directions and the sweep of their voices can encompass all who are present, and reach out to all of our families and all or our people.
Once the Star Maidens enter the temple, The representatives of the families who have not given a daughter to my sisterhood crowd in behind them. Not all fo them will fit, so the rest stand outside to catch what they can. They song inside is plentiful and there is enough to spill out into the night as far as there are ears to listen. As the gilded dancers step and turn, they are sweeping away all things that might get in the way of Therasia’s coming tomorrow morning. It will take them some time to reach the thrown at the end of the hall where the goddess will sit when she comes to speak with us. But this is no time at all compared to how long I have danced to prepare the way for them to do exactly this. Soon I see them arrive at the step to the throne. The room is full of incense and I can see the light of what we have done together this night traveling out from here to all of our people. The darkness holds it gently and allows a safe passage. The music and the dance stops as the Star Maidens lay their fresh herbs onto the throne. We cry out to announce our success. The cry is taken up by those outside. We are ready.