Sea: Welcome to Saga Kraft. Myths, fairytales, legends. Stories comfort us, inspire us and heal us. Please join us as we share stories both old and new. More than anything, we're open to the story and it's unfolding. At times, it may be one story told by one person. At times it's the same story told through three different voices. In the end, we go where the story takes us and we invite you to follow.
I'm Sea, a writer, artist, and storyteller.
Betsy: I'm Betsy, a medium and teacher of mystery traditions.
Gabriela: I'm Gabriela, an artist and practitioner of folk magic.
Saga Kraft: We are magical fairy godmothers in training.
Gabriela: Today's stories will be about this time of the year. Winter time, Yule time, the winter solstice. So many traditions, sacred traditions around this time. So many customs. We want to honor the sacred time with our stories today and share with you the stories of Yule time. And we hope that they bring blessing to you and that they sooth you during the season.
My story is called the secret supper.
The wind was unusually wild this year, Jania thought, while glancing out the window before she pulled out the final batch of Christmas Eve rolls out of the oven. The gusts of snow whirled and danced joyfully outside against the blue- black winter backdrop. How nice it was to watch it from the safety of a warm home, she thought, smiling. It was almost time for their feast. As soon as the first star of the evening was spotted by one of her grandchildren they could sit down and start the festivities.
As usual Jania spent the last few days cooking and getting the home celebration ready for her and her family. The winter holiday, and especially Christmas season, was very important. It was the most magical and sacred time. And she was so lucky to have a big family to share it with, and a warm home and a table full of food. This was a great blessing.
"I see it! I see the star!" Cried out excited Tomek, the oldest of her grandchildren, which encouraged the younger sister and cousin to cry out with excitement.
"All right everybody, let's gather together." Announced Stefan, after checking with Jania to make sure everything was ready.
He was always happy to help her, but Yanya rarely took him up on the offer. The kitchen was her domain and he knew better than to interfere. Besides, their two daughters circled around her effortlessly. The three of them moved with grace and precision and created dishes that smelled and looked heavenly. After all, they have been making these dishes together for many, many years. Since it was time, Stefan turned off the electric lights and lit candles to aluminate their evening in a more intimate way.
"Ahh, this is more like it," Jania sighed gratefully as she entered the family room. Now they could truly start.
They shared the Christmas wafer with each other, an old tradition of offering good wishes to each family member while eating delicate bread. The oldest couple would always start first. They would share with each other, then their children and grandchildren. Kind words and simple blessings were exchanged.
"In the coming year, I wish you happiness and good health. That is most important." Stefan said to Jania
" And I wish that your arthritis will ease up so that we can enjoy more walks together like we used to." Jania said.
The younger couples wished each other success at work, ease in their marriage and happiness. The children mimicked the words they heard from the adults and made their own sweet, heartfelt wishes to the family. Siblings promised not to argue and to help parents around the home. Even at a young age, they took the sharing of wishes seriously. They could see and feel how important these exchanges were for their family and how open everybody's hearts were.
Twelve dishes, no more, nor less, were served. Vegetarian and fish dishes only. No roasted red meats or poultry could be consumed tonight. Red borscht with dumplings, fried carp, pickled herring, cabbage stew, mushroom noodles, fried potato cakes, poppy seed rolls, and a variety of breads and gorgeous rolls and ginger cookies, which were shaped like stars, deer, canes, and evergreen trees. The family ate, sang songs - carols - shared stories, and laughed for hours. Their bellies full and faces warmed by joy and the soft glow of candles on the table and all around. And as always an empty seat and plate we're left at the table, the chair decorated with extra ribbons and a beautifully embroidered cushion on the seat.
Little Gosia, the youngest of the children, admired the cushion and seat with curiosity. "Who will sit there? Are we waiting for somebody?" She inquired, while reaching out for another sugar glazed bun.
" It's the seat for the wandering guests. Don't you remember? You asked about it last year, too." Her mother Maryla answered smiling.
The young girl pinched her face in fierce concentration and shook her head.
"No, I don't remember. Who is the wandering guest and why haven't they arrived yet?"
"Nobody knows who it is until they arrive, and often they don't arrive at all." Her grandfather told her, smiling under his mustache, knowing that this will make her ponder even more. "But whoever it is, no matter how strange or unfamiliar, there must always be a seat ready for them at the table. They can not be turned away. Not on this night." He added, glancing at his wife Jania lovingly, who looked at the empty plate and smiled.
"Yes, tonight is a true test of hospitality, communion, and relationship. I learned this from Father Foka Szumej a long time ago." she said
"Who is Father Foka Szumej? Is he coming? Is the plate for him?" Now all the children were curious.
Jania's eyes softened and fixed outside the window, where the whirling snow gave form to beasts and creatures of the mountain nearby. She could almost hear their songs from far away.
" Who is Foka Szumej, you ask. In order to tell you that, you must hear the whole story." Jania said, and settled more comfortably in a chair near the fireplace with little Gosia climbing onto her lap, excited to hear another one of granny's tales.
"It was a long, long time ago. I was just a girl that older than you, Gosi, and the night was Christmas Eve. Very much like it is now, cold and windy and snowy. My father, mother, and I were traveling around the mountain to visit my great parents, your great grandparents, who lived one village over. We had a basket full of sheep cheese and honey to share with them as well as some freshly baked ginger cookies.
We left a little later in the day than we had hoped, and a blizzard came out of nowhere and caught us by surprise. Papa knew that we were taking a small risk of venturing so late in the evening in December, but since he knew the side of the mountain so well and we didn't have a long way to travel, he thought we would be able to avoid any mishaps. But the weather fates had a different plan.
The road we normally took was blocked by a massive tree, and we had to go around a north side of the wood to the more treacherous side of the mountain to get to town where their family was waiting for us. The winds were sharp and cold, and the snow obscured our vision and it was very difficult to walk.
"Oh sweet Lord, help us find our way, help us find shelter." Mama whispered under her breath while holding me close to her. I could tell she was anxious.
She was not from these parts. She married the handsome shepherd, my Papa, and settled in with him in the hills of the Carpathian mountains, near the town of Alicia. She often complained a little about how wild and untamed the winds were in these parts, and how the people connected to the winds and trees in a non-Christian way. Papa, even though he was familiar with this land and the non-Christian ways, was beginning to grow nervous too. We wandered in circles unable to find our way safely to the path we needed to be in, and the wind only grew stronger.
My father turned to my mother and said, "We have no choice. We must head to the north side of the mountain where the old man Foka Szumej lives, if he still lives. My grandfather used to tell me stories about the man, and other people talked of him, too. He is a hermit, a guardian of the mountain.A weather worker, among other things. He lives alone and is not fond of people, but right now his dwelling is our closest safety, and I know the way."
My mother nodded, understanding the dire situation we were in. She trusted Papa and had faith that God and this Foka Szumej would offer them shelter and save them from the cold. Smiling tightly at me to console me, she held me closer and followed Papa around the other side of the mountain, which appeared more ominous and treacherous than where we just came from. The trees swayed and bowed intensely, almost as if they were ready to lift off the ground and start walking. The wind sounded like harsh whispers, but we kept going.
Father seemed driven by an invisible force. Forward and onward, looking back to make sure we were close by, he kept going. How did he know where he was going? I don't know. It was impossible to see anything, and the winds only danced stronger as we went up, the dense snow beating our faces sharply. Suddenly Papa stopped ahead and mentioned for us to stay back.
"Who goes there? A loud booming voice rose above, seeming to be coming from all around as if the wind itself was questioning us.
We saw the beast first. A white/gray wolf dog charging towards us at great speed. Then we heard a loud, sharp whistle and the creature stopped just a foot away from where we were. And then the wind stopped, too. Suddenly. Abruptly. Freezing a moment in time so I could hear my mother's heart beating as I clutched to her belly. We heard thundering footsteps, and a staff driven into thick snow with a thud.
" Who goes there?" the booming voice asked again, much closer this time. But now the voice seemed to be coming from one direction. I turned my head and saw a figure of a man and a big hat with a tall walking stick looming over us.
My father took off his cap in a greeting gesture and said "We were caught in a blizzard and have lost our way Father Foka Szumej we seek shelter for the night. We don't mean to disturb you this evening, but we are desperate and cold. I will gladly repay you however I can."
The old man pulled his wolf dog closer to him as the creature was restless and still unsure whether we were friends or foe, ready to strike on us at the slightest nod from his master.
"Put your hat back on. Only a fool would take it off in such weather, and only a fool would travel in such a night." the old man grumbled, as he eyed our family with dismay.
My father put his hat back on immediately. My mother crossed herself discretely, though not unnoticeably. His icy blue eyes settled on me, as I was staring right at him, hypnotized by his electric blue eyes peering like cold fire from under his hat.
"Come, follow me quickly while the wind is still, which won't be long." he said, as he turned around and began to hike back up towards the house, expecting us to keep up, which we did just barely.
The man was incredibly fast for his age. The uphill slope didn't slow his pace at all. At times he appeared to fly up in steps, his cane and feet above ground more than on it. My mother, gripping my hand, tightly, her eyes wide in mild horror. But we followed him. What choice did we have?
After some time we arrived, shivering and breathless at the front porch of his cottage. Old man Foka Szumej knocked the snow off his boots while the Wolf dog shook vigorously. Foka Szumej didn't invite us in exactly, but left the door open, so we followed him inside, grateful for the warmth of the hearth fire and the shelter. We took a few moments to slow our breaths and shake off the freezing cold which we came from. After a few minutes, Papa addressed our host who seemed preoccupied and indifferent with what we were doing.
"We are in your debt, Father Foka Szumej we don't want to be a bother. We can just sleep in the corner of the room." Papa said, while pointing to a humble side of the house.
" You will do no such thing." Foka Szumej said sharply." You will take my bed chamber and stay out of my way. You have stumbled here on a most auspicious night. My guests will soon arrive and you can not get in the way of my custom. You will remain behind closed doors, unheard and unseen." he said in a tone that meant no negotiation.
"Guests?" I wondered, "He was expecting guests? "
I looked around the room and saw a sturdy wooden table with rustic plates and wooden spoons upon it. Winter berries, nuts and dried meats, as well as cups of golden liquid were laid out carefully. Mama looked confused, but Papa had a strange tight look on his face as he slowly took in the table setting.
"The secret supper." he whispered.
"Yes, it is tonight. And you will not interfere." Foka Szumej said clearly. He could hear across rooms as well as make his eyes glow in a blue fire.
Father reached out into our basket and pulled out a round package of fresh sheep cheese and jar of honey.
" Please, for your feast. May it appease your guests." he said, while offering it to Foka Szumej
the old man didn't refuse.
"Set it on the table and to go retire to my bed chambers. Close the door. I don't want to see you at all for the rest of the night. No matter what you hear out here, stay in that room." he said, and added while looking right at me, " and you, under no circumstances, can make a sound. Understood.?"
I nodded in agreement, stunned and amazed by the events of this night under strange and terrifying hosts. Without further discussion, the three of us went to the room and closed the door as Foka Szumej demanded. In the privacy of the room, Mama and I had all kinds of questions.
"What is the secret supper? This sounds very unchristian." Mama whispered, concerned.
"It's an old custom, very old. I didn't know anybody practiced it anymore. I've heard about it from my grandparents. It happens on this night. It's a sacred night to more than just us Christian folk." Papa told her
"Are there people really coming here? Why can't we see them and sit with them?" Mama asked
"They're not exactly people. Remember, these ways are different from what we know and remember, and much older. Better we just get some rest. At least we are not out there in the snow with whatever creatures roam the night." Papa said, which caused Mama to cross herself again.
" Who is coming? Who is coming to the feast of Papa? I asked desperately curious.
" Nobody we know, Jania, and they are no friends of ours, but that is the way. Just keep quiet and go to sleep. Tomorrow will be Christmas morning and we will safely find our way home, I promise you." he said, while bringing me and mama closer to him and towards the big bed.
With me snuggled safely next to them, and them so exhausted, they fell asleep shortly. But not me. I could not and would not sleep, not with such a mysterious feast soon to occur in the next room. The winds howled wildly outside and the tree branches tapped on the cottage windows and roofs so loudly. Wolves close by howled, as did other creatures, making noises I have never heard before. I listened to all of the sounds wide-eyed in the darkness of the room, with my parents sleeping soundly huddled together.
Through the wind and cracking branches, I heard a loud knock. I snuck out of bed and crept up to the door, which was old and rough, with some of the tree knots holes just big enough for me to spy through. I promised Father Foka Szumej to be quiet, but I didn't promise not to look. I pressed my eye against one of the small wood holes and could see the main room and Foka Szumej at the table and the arrival of his first guest, a frail man, in wet clothing, shivering, his skin and bluish hue.
"Welcome brother. Come in and warm yourself and eat" Foka Szumej told the man, who entered without a word and took a seat at the table, leaving a pool of water in the place where he sat.
Another knock and another guest arrived. A woman, snow clinging to her cloak. She had blue lips and frost bitten hands and held a bundle at her breast.
"Welcome sister, come in and warm yourself and your child. Sit at the table near the fire."
The woman entered quietly and took a seat closest to the fire. More guests kept arriving, all looking ghastly, pale or haggard. Some couldn't even walk very well. Some were so transparent that they were barely visible, like wisps of smoke setting into form one by one. They took their seats at the table quietly, not looking at the other guests or even Foka Szumej serene, their faces slowly shifting color and even shape as they ate.
And as if they were in strange enough, other guests came too. F. opened the door to anyone that arrived.
"Welcome, Brother Bear, come and feed. Nourish yourself for the long winter." he said to the bear, who entered the cottage and took a seat at the table, the chair cracking under its weight.
"Welcome Brother Fox. Welcome Sister Wolf. Tonight you are most welcome." Foka Szumej said as these wild beasts arrived.
Other beasts and creatures that I've never seen before came, too. Strange and terrible, with large hooves, human faces, and antlers, black wings and goat tails. All knocked and all were welcomed. Together they sat in quiet company while the wind howled outside and snow whirled in a frenzy.
Foka Szumej honored each guest equally. To some, he whispered words which I couldn't hear, but could see the faces of those he talked to softening lightning. Even those that had most grave expressions and looked scary. They stayed all night. Or at least I think they did, for I fell asleep at the door at some point, exhausted by the day's events.
When I woke up it was still dark, but the darkness was more blue now and hinted at the dawn soon to come. The gusts were gone. Foka Szumej sat in a rocking chair by the fire, smoking a pipe. A look of calmness on his face. He blew rings of smoke and all kinds of creatures formed in that smoke and drifted around the room. He gazed at these shapes. What he saw interpreted, I do not know, but it seems important. He nodded and spoke to himself about what he was seeing, waving his hands at some shapes, beckoning others in like a symphony of signs and messages he was the conductor of. One of the shapes was a stag, which seemed to surprise him a bit because of its size, and the fact that the shape turned and headed right in my direction.
I gasped loudly and Foka Szumej looked at the door, his electric fire blue eyes burning through the door, seeing into my own. I, pressed against it. Slowly without turning away and still looking at me, he smiled and blew a huge gust of smoke with such force that it entered through the crack in the door and filled the bed chamber and caused me to fall asleep again.
That was the last I saw of Foka Szumej, for in the morning he was gone, and my parents and I safely found our way back to our side of the...