The following excerpt has been taken
from the new book The Way of Wyrd, by Brian Bates. It is published by
Hay House (February 2005) and available at all bookstores or online at:
The Way of Wyrd
Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer
By Brian Bates
The Sorcerers Spirit Circle
"WASTE-DWELLER, WHY DO YOU spin your spell?"
The sorcerers voice rasped from gaping fangs as he crouched over
the sick woman like a giant Wolfman. He looked awesome, wrapped in an
enormous, gray wolf-skin, the wolf-head resting on top of his own so that
he towered at least seven
The Spirit House was crowded with the entire population of the settlement,
including children and even babes-in-arms, but no one moved or made a
sound. People sat still as carved icons, fire-shadows dancing on faces
crammed three deep around the walls. Inside the Spirit Circle, bounded
by ropes suspended from stakes pounded into the earth floor, only I sat
next to the sorcerer, dry-mouthed, gripped by the imminent presence of
the pagan powers of darkness.
Firelight crawled over the giant wolf-skin, glowed on the snake-clasp
at the sorcerers throat, and brought the gold-wrought eyes of the
wolf-head glittering into life. Slowly, carefully, the sorcerer settled
into an attacking position opposite the woman, humping his back like a
hunting wolf. The woman sat stiff and straight-backed, her scrawny body
clamped by fear. Her head bobbed and weaved to avoid the Wolfmans
glinting eyes until, twitching, she dropped her head and stared at the
ground as if spellbound by the floor straw. In the smoky light, I could
see the grotesque growth at the bridge of her nose and the flesh around
her eye, puffy and angry with infection. Abruptly, the Wolfman howled,
hoarse with emotion:
"Spirit, why do you dwell on this womans face? You have snatched
this womans soul and left your battle scars on her face. Without
her soul, this woman is dying. Where are you now? Where do you lurk, nursing
her soul like a flesh-ripping carrion eater? Are you prowling the forest
like a dealer in death? Are you on Doddas Ridge? Grendels
Pit? Eagle Mountain? Or are you lying low, like a wounded fox, in stagnant
ditchwater? For an evil sickness, voyaging far from home, you have outstayed
your welcome. Wherever you are hiding, I shall hunt you down!"
There was a short silence, punctuated only by the hiss and snap of the
fire. Suddenly, without warning, the sorcerer ripped off the wolf-skin
and rolled into a hunched shape next to the woman, his back humped and
head pressed between his knees, his elbows projecting out from his sides.
"Leave me alone!" he said, in a high, shrill voice. Astonished,
I darted a furtive glance around the room; serious faces watched the proceedings
intently, and I choked back a nervous laugh.
The sorcerer leapt back into his wolf-skin.
"Leave you alone?" he snarled, stalking menacingly back and
forth in front of the woman. "You are leaving, banished to the Land
of the Dead from whence you came!"
He threw off the wolf-skin and jumped back into his humped position. "What
are you going to do?" he squeaked, again impersonating the wart-shape.
The Wolfman leapt to his feet, his eyes flashing like dragon-flame before
they disappeared beneath the wolf-head. "I am going to hunt you down!"
The crumpled wart-shape again stared at the empty wolf-skin. "Why
are you hunting me?" it squeaked. "Who summoned you?"
"Worthy spirits summoned me, for you are a burden. You are a waste-dweller
trespassing where you are not wanted. You are a menace, to be driven out!"
ranted the Wolfman, strutting around the Spirit Circle, the massive wolf-skin
swaying from side to side.
I glanced back at the womans face, almost anticipating a reply from
the little wen sitting imperiously on her nose. In a mead hall, the charade
would have been greeted with roars of laughter as worthy drinking entertainment,
but in the smoky Spirit Circle, the proceedings were haunted by the choking
chill of danger.
The Wolfman turned his attention back to the woman.
Squatting in front of her, he slipped a hand inside the wolf-skin and,
like a conjurer, produced a beaded leather strap. He handed this to me
and pointed toward the womans head. I scrambled to my feet and knelt
behind the woman in order to tie back her long hair. I had been expecting
such a task for, although totally alien to such rituals, I was sitting
inside the Spirit Circle as the sorcerers assistant. But suddenly
becoming the center of attention terrified me, and my hands trembled like
the limbs of a frightened rabbit. The womans hair slipped out of
the loop before I could tighten the knot, and the audience stirred impatiently,
pushing against the hemp-rope barrier of the Spirit Circle. Blinking sweat
from my eyes, I tried again; this time the knot held, and I tied it back
Again the sorcerer dipped into the wolf-skin, and this time produced a
large linen sack from which he drew handfuls of spiky leaves, still fresh
and green. Quickly and skillfully he folded them together, intertwining
the stems, and rubbed them vigorously between his palms. I could hear
him murmuring in a strange, high-pitched voice, as if he were singing
"Little wen, little wen, you have stolen this womans soul.
She is now as hollow as a rotten tree, but not for long, not for long."
He padded softly up to the woman and tipped his head to one side, the
glittering eyes of the wolf-skin glowing craftily. Then he addressed the
spirit in a high, wheedling tone.
"Little wen, you should return home to the wastelands, where you
will be happy."
Suddenly he slapped the pack of crushed leaves directly on to the womans
face, and she swayed back with the impact. The Wolfman glanced at me sharply,
and I moved quickly behind the woman to give her support, holding her
head in my hands.
Sitting back on his haunches and pushing the leaves against the womans
face with his left hand, the sorcerer slowly raised his right arm above
his head: Rows of eyes flashed in the firelight, following the gradual
rise of his empty hand and watching his white fingers spreading apart
above the wolf-skin. Suddenly his hand held a large object. A gasp whistled
around the packed darkness, and my stomach lurched sickeningly, for he
was grasping the enormous claw of a birdthree huge, black eagle
talons glowing menacingly in the flickering firelight.
The sorcerer moved the claw slowly toward the womans face. Her eyes
must have been open, for I could feel her head straining to keep the approaching
object in her line of vision. She began to tremble violently, and when
the hideous stump touched her she whined and whimpered like a sick dog.
Clamping the leaves on to the womans face with the eagle claw, the
Wolfman began a strange writhing, crawling dance, his body weaving slowly,
silently, the wolf eyes locked to the womans face. He chanted again,
his words a wet cackle:
I begin my singing,
and begin my chanting.
Mighty spirit sitting at earths rim,
wrapped in eagle feathers.
stallion of the sky,
lend me your power
that fares over Middle-Earth
and the affairs of men.
His voice reverberated inside my head like a chanted mass, and the room
began to spin before my eyes. The Wolfmans voice faded to a hoarse
My words wing from Eagle-Spirit,
sharp-eyed dealer of death. . . .
Under the Eagles claw may you wither,
under the Eagles claw may you dry and drain
like barley in a bail, and water in a pail.
May you become as small as linseed grain,
and become so small that you become
nothing at all.
Silently, like a specter, the humped wart-shape appeared at the Wolfmans
side. I thought that my eyes were playing tricks and shook my head to
clear the dual image, but the wart-shape remained, not moving or breathing,
but staring directly at the Wolfman. I had not even had time to take in
the physical appearance of the monster when suddenly the Wolfman shivered,
jerked violently, and was thrown to the ground, the eagles claw
dropping from his hand. The room burst into uproar, and immediately the
spirit shape disappeared. The Wolfmans body convulsed and writhed
dangerously close to the fire, and I scrambled over to him and forced
my right leg between him and the fire as a barrier. The sorcerers
body was bent backwards like a hunting bow, and under the wolf-head his
face gleamed as he gasped and gurgled for every breath.
Feverishly I struggled to snap open the snake clasp that secured the wolf-skin
around his throat, but it was stuck fast. Desperately I whirled around,
peering through swirling fire-smoke for help, but at that instant, the
sorcerers knees slammed into his chest, shot away from him, and
he sprang to his feet like a willow whip. The heat of the fire burned
into my leg, and I jumped away with a yelp. I crawled back to my place
on the edge of the Spirit Circle, watching the Wolfman in utter astonishment
and unable to believe that his desperate choking had been merely an act.
Stepping away from the woman, the sorcerer paced around the fire again
and began to hum. The audience fell silent immediately. Barely audible
at first, the Wolfmans humming rose higher and higher in pitch,
then became loud, harsh, and plaintive as if he were pleading with someone.
People around the packed room took up the refrain the Wolfman had established,
the humming gradually rising and falling with increasing power, the sounds
vibrating against the walls and echoing into the roof-beams. Soon the
audience began to sway back and forth, clapping in time to the rhythms,
the smoke from the fire seeming to break up the movement of their bodies
into small staccato jerks. The effect was spellbinding. I raised my hands
and began to clap with everyone else.
While the noise continued unabated, the sorcerer turned back toward the
woman. He seemed to have changed tactics. Squatting purposefully in front
of her, he took another linen bag from inside the wolf-skin. Pulling open
the drawstring, he carefully tipped out about a dozen irregularly shaped
stones, each about the size of a mans fist, and arranged them on
the ground, apparently laying them out in a set pattern or sequence. When
he had finished, I could see that each adjacent stone interlocked with
neighboring cavities to form an unbroken ring.
The sorcerer reached again into the sack and brought out a small glazed
pot, painted with a mass of angular symbols, which he placed carefully
in the center of the small stone circle. Each movement was carefully controlled
and precise, even elegant, and utterly compelling. Not once did I take
my eyes off him.
A third time the sorcerer reached into the linen bag and this time pulled
out a small pouch of the type used for storing finger rings. He picked
open the knots on a drawstring threaded with tiny beads and poured the
contents of the pouch into the glazed pot. Then he dipped a taper into
the fire until it popped into flame and, slowly and deliberately, passed
the burning taper back and forth over the bowl. The taper went out.
All around me, the clapping and humming crashed rhythmically into my ears,
as the Wolfman relit the taper and again applied it to the bowl. Wreaths
of copper-colored smoke spiraled slowly from the circle of small stones;
immediately he discarded the taper, leaned over, and blew steadily into
the bowl. He exhaled powerfully, hissing like a striking snake, and the
burning power-plants crackled, popped, and glowed deep red, smoke pungent
as altar incense billowing into
The smoke drifted around my head like a shroud, and I sniffed at it cautiously.
At once the hairs inside my nose prickled and stiffened as if frozen by
a winter frost, and I felt a tightness in my throat. My eyes began to
stream tears, and a moment later my ears buzzed and hummed. It was a disturbingly
powerful sensation, and I shut my eyes tightly in an effort to regain
control of my senses.
When I opened my eyes, the sorcerer was leaning directly over the smoking
substance, his face close to the bowl, breathing deeply and rhythmically.
Incredibly, the wolf-skin expanded and contracted like a weapon-smiths
bellows as he pumped his body full of the orange smoke. I watched in horrified
fascination, my head still floating from the merest whiff of the smoke.
I could not conceive how he could fill his lungs with it.