The grove was still as the sun set, a chill upon the evening settling the spirits of the students into a contemplative gaze. The Druid felt the cold in his bones a bit more every year, and this evening particularly. Age and the world weighed upon him almost as heavily as memory.
He sighed. “We’d thought we could go on like this forever, you know. You, who weren’t yet born cannot perhaps understand what such an illusion is. What are your illusions, what’s clouded in your mirror? This is not for me to know, or to say. Perhaps you are enchanted by this world now, as I am. Perhaps you are enchanting this world, as I’d hope to do.
“Burn down a house, and nature returns. Grasses grow up in the ashes of forest-fires, and then bushes, brambles, and finally again trees. But you do not need to burn a house for mosses to grow upon its roof, for trees to share its space, for gardens to spring up near its walls. You do not need a cataclysm to build something new, because the new is birthed always amongst the ruins of our everyday.
“A few among us had taken to teaching others to grow food long before oil dried up. Others learned and taught skills our ancestors knew, ways to work with what is around us rather than what we could spin from fibers of petrol.
“It was not just the Pagans, though I do not think I am wrong to suspect our respect for the past knitted itself into the lives of others. It was not just the witches who wove with threads of the Other, but they had much light for those seeking sense in the darkness. The worshipers of Pagan gods were not alone amongst those who built shrines and temples to Those who’d always been with us, but their wisdom and methods waited ready for others who did the same.
“We did not need to wait for chaos to start building the world we wanted, because what good is death if there is no life waiting to rise amongst it? Gardens awaited the emptying of supermarkets, skill-shares awaited the darkening of the computers, bridges between peoples awaited the uselessness of roads.
“Not just us, you understand. But also us. Pagans built with others, taught others, learned from others, and understood that what we fought against is what all others fought against, and the gods and spirits and ancestors stood with us, as we stood with them.
“As the world that we thought we knew, the world that we thought could go on forever began to crumble around us, we who sought meaning, sought the return of our gods and the celebration of the spirits, the stars and sun and moon kept building in the spaces in-between, like chamomile in the cracks of pavement.
“Pagan became something you tried to build, not an identity you adopted, and those bridges we built between us and others was enough to create something that could last as the lights began to fail, the oil dwindled, and the money ran out.
“And this place,” the Druid said, seeing the end of the wending path that had been his story before him. “This place was a failure.”
“This grove is what we built from the ruins of bank. Again, not the bank of a river, but the banks in which we kept our compensation, in which we deposited our hope, banking money towards a future, banking up the eroding shoreline of our greatest illusion.
“To transcend nature, you must hate it. To conquer nature, you must hate others. And to profit from it all? You must be human, a human without gods.
“This thing has happened repeatedly in history. Banks start to fail, and people run to them, run on them. It would bemuse me that we so often ran to symbols of Capitalism when we saw Capitalism begin to fail, as if to rally around it, but it does not bemuse me because it also caused much death.
“It happened elsewhere, I know, but it happened here, where I saw it. The banks had begun to fail, the torrents of our guilt and exploitation surging back against our bulwarks, and people rushed to take out of them what they’d put in. But there is never much in a bank, for a bank is an idea just as Capitalism was an idea, a thing which existed because we caused it to exist and sustained it.
“Little plastic rectangles were not enough to withdraw our faith from the banks, for there was not enough of our money within for everyone to have. When the money-machines ran dry, just as the oil has run dry, there was such panic and such rage.
“There is no face to Capitalism, because it is every face. The tellers had to tell that there was no money to be had, and they did not deserve their fate, because it was not their fault. They were like us, just another face in what we thought we needed.
“So much rage. So much fighting. It is said ancient druids could part warring armies, create peace between them. I may look old, but I am not ancient. I can no less negotiate myself out of an argument than stop frightened people from fighting.”
He shook his head. “But I was there. I watched what we had become, what the crumbling walls and the flooding banks had wrought upon us, and I did nothing to stop it. No soldiers came that day, because there was no one to pay them. No sirens, just shouts and blood and death and fire.”
In thirty years, he had not once tried to staunch the sadness of that day, nor the sorrow which overtook him. He wept.
“So, this grove. It is what I built from our ruins. I and a few others, some who were there, many who were not. A goddess of fire had seen the destruction and demanded creation in its place. A goddess of springs demanded something new should well from its blackened foundations.
“And so this place. It took a long time to remove the set-stone, and it’s taken 30 years for these trees to grow. Some things remained,” he said, pointing at a wall of ivy. “Behind those vines is a safe, kept safe now under tendril and leaf. What is within is gone, what remains is a memory of what we thought we needed.
“It is this we built from our ruins, something sacred to remind of a time when we’d forgotten what mattered. This grove, a place to a goddess, these trees a reminder of what is more ancient than us, and more true.”