The First Guide

As I sat idly in my armchair, staring at the dapple of leaves
and sun on the floor below, I heard a knock at the door. I went to
it at once, and opened it to find a woman standing in the dark. She
was quite tall, and quite old, though not a bit bent, and she wore a
gown of vivid crimson. In her hand she carried a staff, a sturdy rod
of dark wood, topped with a cluster of quartz crystals which gave
off a thin silver light.
“Mistress,” she said, inclining her head toward me.
I peered past her into the darkness. I could see a faint
sparkling, sense a subtle movement of air.
“Hello, Old Mother,” I said. “How kind of you to guide
me tonight.”
I picked up my bag and said, briskly, “Shall we go?” I
motioned with my hand to Katy, who sprang to my side, tail wagging,
dog smile shining toward the crone.
“Come, child,” she said, and turned to walk away. I took one
last look at my little cottage, the sunlight shimmering through the
windows, throwing prisms on all of my beloved objects. It was the
last I would see of it for three months. I stepped over the
threshold into the darkness.
Immediately I tripped over something. I stooped to feel for
it, and found myself holding a large geode. I tossed it into my bag
for later study.
We wound our way through tunnels, small rooms filled with
stalactites and stalagmites, caverns with the sound of dripping
water, through iron gates and crystal doors, through rooms lit by
phosphorescent lichen, and past a singularly magnificent room,
penetrated by a single shaft of light falling on a small pool ringed
with pink lotus blossoms. After some time, we stopped to rest and
dip water from a shallow depression in the rock to our mouths.
“Not all are called to the Grotto, Mistress,” my guide said.
As she faced me I noticed that her skin was firmer, her eyes
brighter, her hair less silvery. She looked familiar. “Those who
are called must make use of the gift, or be lost.” She pointed her
staff at me. “You could be lost, Mistress. Take care.”
As I pondered her words, we passed through what was to be
the final gate, entering a central atrium of sorts, a cathedral-
shaped cavern with a central pool, a small waterfall, and a statue
of a dark goddess, a goddess I had not seen before. Instinctively, I
knelt before her countenance. The crone laughed with delight, and I
looked up to see her shed her gown and frolic naked around the pool.
She was young as a girl, firm-skinned and silken-haired, and she
danced lightly. I gasped.
“Welcome to the Grotto della Sibilla,” she said, and danced
down an adjoining tunnel. Her laughter echoed in the chamber. I
approached the pool, from which Katy was drinking, and looked into
its depths. I saw within it a young girl, the girl I was at age 10
or 11, fearless, creative…wild. I touched my face; it still bore
the wrinkles and roughness of my forty years, but within the heart
of the pool, I was reborn. A lotus blossom unfurled near my
reflection. In its center was a shimmering jade-green snake. It
uncoiled itself in a leisurely manner, glanced at me with a knowing
look, and slid onto the cave floor. It proceeded along a corridor,
and it was clear I was meant to follow. After some length of time,
we reached a bright blue door with a raven painted on it. The snake
slithered up the door and wrapped itself around the knob, waiting.
I opened the door and my guide silently slithered away. I
was in a chamber, comfortable and cozy, hung about with vivid
tapestries and silks. There was a downy bed laid with pillows and a
soft robe, a glowing lantern next to it, and a great expansive
length of table set with a simple plate and cup. Fruit, cheese and
bread waited. A small alcove in the wall was carved with the
words “il desiderio del cuore” (the heart’s desire). I
would explore this later. Tired from my journey, I lay on the bed,
and within minutes, my eyes closed. I was at rest.