For the rest the vision of that night was prophetic, and the feet of my friend are now set on that way which was the innermost impulse of his soul.
—May 15, 1893
The Priestess of the Woods
Here is a legend whispered to me, the land or time I cannot tell, it may have been in the old Atlantean days. There were vast woods and a young priestess ruled them; she presided at the festivals and sacrificed at the altar for the people, interceding with the spirits of fire, water air and earth, that the harvest might not be burned up, nor drenched with the floods, nor town by storms and that the blight might not fall upon it, which things the elemental spirits sometimes brought about. This woodland sovereignty was her heritage from her father who was a mighty magician before her. Around her young days floated the faery presences; she knew them as other children know the flowers having neither fear nor wonder for them. She saw deeper things also; as a little child, wrapped up in her bearskin, she watched with awe her father engaged in mystic rites; when around him the airy legions gathered from the populous elements, the spirits he ruled and the spirits he bowed down before: fleeting nebulous things white as foam coming forth from the great deep who fled away at the waving of his hand; and rarer the great sons of fire, bright and transparent as glass, who though near seemed yet far away and were still and swift as the figures that glance in a crystal. So the child grew up full of mystery; her thoughts were not the thoughts of the people about her, nor their affections her affections. It seemed as if the elf-things or beings carved by the thought of the magician, pushed aside by his strong will and falling away from him, entering into the child became part of her, linking her to the elemental beings who live in the star-soul that glows within the earth. Her father told her such things as she asked, but he died while she was yet young and she knew not his aim, what man is, or what is his destiny; but she knew the ways of every order of spirit that goes about clad in a form, how some were to be dreaded and some to be loved; By reason of this knowledge she succeeded as priestess to the shrine, and held the sway of beauty and youth, of wisdom and mystery over the people dwelling in the woods.
It was the evening of the autumn festival, the open grassy space before the altar was crowded with figures, hunters with their feathered heads; shepherds, those who toil in the fields, the old and hoary were gathered around.
The young priestess stood up before them; she was pale from vigil, and the sunlight coming through the misty evening air fell upon her swaying arms and her dress with its curious embroidery of peacock’s feathers; the dark hollows of her eyes were alight and as she spoke inspiration came to her; her voice rose and fell, commanding, warning, whispering, beseeching; its strange rich music flooded the woods and pierced through and through with awe the hearts of those who listened. She spoke of the mysteries of that unseen nature; how man is watched and ringed round with hosts who war upon him, who wither up his joys by their breath; she spoke of the gnomes who rise up in the woodland paths with damp arms grasping from their earthy bed.