The riches that are in the heart cannot be stolen.

Russian Proverb.

“Deep in the still darkness of the forest, wandering in the dim light, wandering in search of something she does not quite understand, she comes across a small, poor-looking house, reeking of poverty and ill health. The roof needs fixing, the gutters are full of weeds, and several trees have fallen nearby. No one has taken the time to clear the trees, and they rot where the wind has blown them, sprouting fungus and providing homes for the countless beetles of the forest floor. An air of desolation mixed with the faint whiff of death mingles with the damp aromas of moss and dead leaves, the resulting cocktail straying through the undergrowth to join the thin trickles of warm light which escape with difficulty from the filthy windows. The hopelessness of the hovel is tempered by this combination of light and dark, indicating that life remains despite everything.

Quietly approaching the dilapidated building, she comes as close as she dares, not so close that she risks discovery, but enough to see through the window, to find out who resides within.

Soon enough she sees her there, the old woman, the woman who lives in this dark place. She is sittng in a large wooden chair with her back to the window, a mean and paltry fire burning in the grate, into which she stares at the few embers glowing there as if her very life depended on them, as if they alone provided her with her last link to life. Despite being shrouded in sever layers of thick woollen clothes, she sees that the woman is actually not so old as she at first appeared and yet here she sits, apparantly steeped in mourning, grieving the passing of her life; a life that seems to have slipped slowly from her grasp, despite everything she has tried to do.

Her children have gone from her, the once magical forest they played in, now nothing more than tired weeds growing amongst the shaded thickets of memory. Her husband’s chair is empty, only his echo remains, for he has departed too, to take his pleasures in the arms of those young enough to be his daughters. She sits, in the silence, with her companions, the cat and the dog, one on either side, and she stares into the coals as if her life depended on it.

She spies on the strange woman as she goes about her day, as she shuffles from one onerous task to another, dwelling on the meaninglessness of the life she is leading, a life filled to overflowing with emptiness and the echoes of what has been left to her. Each day she rises with the sun, and goes about her day, and each day, as the sun sets, she finishes her tasks, and waits for the forgetfulness of sleep to throw his blanket of darkness across her eyes.

She watches the woman as she turns fear and hatred, pain and loss, over and over in her mourning hands. She watches her as she writes, she weaves, and she makes dolls out of wax, melting them again in the scant embers of the fire. She watches her scanning the ashes for portents as she studies the stars and examines the companies of crows waiting for their portion. She watches her as she searches for signs that will lead her to safety, as she dreams with her cards, wandering in distant worlds, looking for a way out of the forest of darkness, an escape from the torture of her discontent.  

She finds herself growing cold with the lack of movement, standing there in the darkness, watching this sorry creature, dancing with her silent howling pain. At times the woman appears to have died in her chair, she looks so still, staring, like a statue into the slowly dying light. And just when she thinks that the fire has finally gone out, the woman reaches forward, and puts another log into the grate, sending sparks shooting up the chimney into the evening sky like miniature comets.

Then suddenly, just as she is about to leave, the old woman rises, surprisingly quickly for someone who she has only seen shuffling about the place, and throws off one of the heavy woollen shawls. She starts moving things around the room, aimlessly picking up odd items before putting them down again. She throws a few more logs on the fire, and then puts on the kettle before turning directly towards the window and asking her if she will at least come inside and join her for tea.

Horrified by the realisation that the woman has been aware of the silent watcher all along, she feels suddenly ashamed; she has been caught out, spying on the poor woman’s darkness, greedy for her losses, as if she covets them for herself. She realises she has no option; she must accept the invitation, even if only to explain herself. Skirting around the cottage, picking her way through the weeds, she eventually finds the rotten door and pulls it open, stepping inside. The fire blazes brightly now, and the old woman, rather strangely, seems to have grown taller. The kettle is boiling, the teapot is ready, and cards and charts are waiting upon the table; it is time she went to meet her anyway; it is time to sit down with destiny; it is time to take tea with the witch, and see what she has to say.”

Images: Vania Zouravliov, Ohara Koson.

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“A new age is dawning, with a need for a new wisdom, one that comes from the heart. This book is dedicated to all those who find themselves, for whatever reason, in darkness; given with love, this work, is a product of our times.”

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