It was the night of the Visioning Ritual, and she was nervous. The water spirit before her clan was speaking about burdens, both her burden and the burden of the participants, and in her hurry to be ready, she was not paying full attention.
Taking her place in line, she took a sharp rock from the basket. Her burdens – rough and sharp and demanding. She clung to it as they moved down the path, made unfamiliar by the dark. Her clan was lined up on the shore of the lake, and instructed to throw their burdens into the water. She reached back and hurled with all her might, and felt a great weight lift from her shoulders.
Suddenly, there was a nudge from her left; a large stone was being passed to her, and she took it in confusion. She hadn’t heard anything about this, and she didn’t know what to do with this sudden weight. In her confusion, she held on to the stone. It was much larger than the one she had just thrown, but not terribly heavy.
The clan was instructed to cover their eyes, and she felt her hand guided to a rope. She hefted the stone to her other side, cradling it while the clan was pulled along by the rope, falling into step with her fellows.
Step, step, step, step… she barely noticed the ache building in her arm as she marched in darkness, feeling her clan around her. They were stopped, separated, instructed to remove their blindfolds, and shown to the next doorway in the path, one by one.
Now she was alone. Now and then she would catch up with a member of her clan; sometimes she would encounter another spirit with instruction; at times she would find the member of another clan on the path. She shifted the stone in her grasp now and again, first to one arm, then the other, then both. The night was warmer than expected; she stopped once, setting the stone down while she removed a layer, fastening it to her waist before picking the stone back up and resuming her path.
Roots jutted out from the ground to stub her toes; rocks rose up beneath her feet, some steady, some slippery. The stone in her arms seemed to be growing heavier, her arms aching to hold it while steadying herself on the steep, rough path ahead. She tried to concentrate on the path, but the growing weight was distracting.
She reached another spirit, who held out another basket. “Take a stone,” she was instructed. It was the same size as the first, smoother by far but still holding edges that bit into her fingers. “Your burdens returned,” she was told, “smoothed for their time in the water, but not gone. You still must face them.”
The path continued ahead, but now she was upset. None of the spirits she had met that night had addressed the large stone she still carried. No word, no deed had given her any hint of what to do with it. Now she was carrying two stones, and she was getting warmer still.
Again she stopped, to think and catch her breath. As she pulled off another layer, she felt her arms scream with the weight they had carried for who knew how long, felt the new stone in her pocket. “Why am I carrying this rock?” she asked herself.
She couldn’t answer. With one last look at it, she left it on the ledge, continuing on with only her own small rock secure in her pocket.
The next day, she told the story to her clan. The leaders exclaimed, “You stole the water spirit’s burden!”
“I seem to do that a lot,” she replied. “I take on the burdens of others – even when they do not ask – and never ask myself why. Last night I asked myself, ‘Why am I carrying this rock?’ When I couldn’t answer, I put the rock down.”
So… why are you carrying that rock?
True story. This occurred during my second Twilight Covening; I was the one who stole the water spirit’s burden. I found out later that I was not alone – I found at least one other person who carried the larger stone through the entire ritual. It is now a source of much humor among my friends, who (rightly) laughed out loud when I told them the story. It is also a fantastic metaphor for taking on burdens that are not ours to bear, and we now ask each other: Why am I carrying this rock?