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Of blood and battlefields: Sacrifice in Pagan practice

So today I’m thinking about sacrifice again. It’s a subject that’s been showing up recently. Not long ago, my friend Sam wrote an excellent blog post on the subject of sacrifice; and the comment discussion on the post is very revealing of the fearful attitudes many people still hold toward the notion of sacrifice. You’ll find a commenter in that conversation blithely stating that he eats meat, but virulently objects to animal sacrifice as wanton murder, and seeing no contradiction in these two positions.

Not long after that, I traveled to a Pagan gathering in British Columbia, where as part of a series of intensive rituals working closely with Macha, an epiphany of the Morrígan in horse form, several of we Coru priests and our allies held a ritual feast of horse meat and other ancestral foods, cooked over a sacred fire and eaten within ritual. We experienced very mixed responses to this ritual. Some of those present were moved and honored to participate; others who heard about it after the fact reacted with horror to the idea that we would ritually consume horse meat.

The common theme expressed by those who object to blood sacrifice seems to be the idea that it demeans or insults the being that is sacrificed. That to spill blood for a religious offering is to waste life, when something else could be offered. I think this is arising from a misunderstanding of the nature of sacrifice; and I encourage readers to go and read the entirety of Sam’s article on the subject. We should know, of course, that the term sacrifice means ‘to make sacred’; and that sacrifice is, historically speaking, a core practice of Pagan religions in the ancient world. I’ve written on this subject before, as have many others.

This week, I’ve just returned from a weekend of  armored combat and ritual offerings to my Gods. As part of our martial and devotional practice, when I and the other Coru priests and warriors attend large war events, we lead battlefield devotionals to bless the fighters and the field, and to dedicate the combat to our battle Goddess, the Morrígan. As this practice has developed, it became clear to us that blood offerings were needed. In the past, every time we performed the battlefield dedication without offering blood, at some point in the fighting day one of us who had been involved in the dedication would take an injury, and blood would flow.

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Coru priests and allies performing Gaulish battlefield dedication

This tells me something important about how this devotional process operates with the Morrígan. How many times have people told me that libations, food, flowers, whatever, are sacrifice enough for the Gods? How many times have I heard that offering your time, dedicating acts of service to the Gods, time spent in devotional prayer is just as good a sacrifice? Well, we did all that, and She asked for more. Rather, She took more. We offered beer, whiskey, cream, woad, etc.; we brought Her many fighters to raise their voices with us and dedicate their fighting in Her name; we gave Her the battlefield, and we threw our bodies into the fray; we offered Her our many bruises and every ounce of fight we had in us. She took all that, and then She took blood, too.

Until this time. We got wise and added a sacrifice ceremony the night before the fighting, in which we made blood offerings which were placed into the cup with the offerings that would be dedicated and poured out on the field the next morning. Several Coru priests, as well as some of the other warriors gathered, chose to offer their blood. And this time, none of us took a bleeding injury during the fighting. I can only conclude from this that She requires blood sacrifice in the context of a battle dedication.

This should not surprise us, really. We know that it was a common practice among the warrior traditions of the Gaulish Celts to offer dedications to their war Gods prior to a battle, and we know that human and animal sacrifices were among those offerings. It stands to reason, and I think has been shown, that these Gods (or at the very least our Goddess) still expect some kind of blood sacrifice. Modern Pagans love to talk about how the Gods evolve with us, and how forms of offerings can be different in modern times. I agree – but I think the important thing that has shifted isn’t whether or not living sacrifice is needed or useful. What has shifted is the importance of the individual soul and the idea of consent, the willing sacrifice. Everyone whose blood went into that cup offered it of their own volition. Similarly, when we organized the blood donation drive at PantheaCon last year, that was a form of sacrifice which was purely volitional. That focus on volition with regard to human offerings is reflective of how sacrifice can evolve in a modern context – a religious practice now shaped by modern values on individual liberty, but still preserving the core function of the act, which is the offering of vital life.

That core function is also present in animal sacrifice and is the reason why the practice is still relevant today. Obviously, consent cannot work the same way with animal offerings as it can with human blood offerings. But it seems to me that we don’t expect to receive consent from the domestic animals who are raised and slaughtered for our food, so it is an unreasonable standard to apply to religious sacrifice. To my mind, if we’re willing to kill to eat (and I think all beings have a moral right to kill when needed for sustenance or self-defense), there is no reason to be squeamish about dedicating the life force that’s being spilled in a religious fashion. From a Pagan perspective, an animal that’s being killed humanely and with attentive care in a ritual context is being honored far better than one that’s being killed as part of a routine assembly line, packaged for food without attention to its soul process and the spiritual quality of its death. Thus, unless it comes from a person who eats no meat nor otherwise supports animal processing industries, I can’t give much credence to categorical objections to animal sacrifice.

There’s another argument about consuming animals based on totemic links, and this was part of the objection to the horse meat that we heard. Reflections of this exist in history and mythology of Pagan cultures – as one well-known example, the Irish hero Cú Chulainn had a geis which prohibited him from eating dog meat, and this is usually interpreted as resulting from his totemic connection to dogs. This is a valid spiritual argument, but it still only holds for those individuals who have a specific relationship with the animal that would confer such a prohibition. Others’ relationship with horses doesn’t preclude me from participating in ritual horse meat consumption, any more than Cú Chulainn’s geis means no one in the world should ever eat dog.

There’s much more to be said about this subject. We’re hopeful of organizing a discussion on the subject of sacrifice at PantheaCon next year (spearheaded by my sister Coru priestess Rynn Fox). I hope the conversation on sacrifice continues, because I think it’s a very important one in the evolution of Pagan thought.

The Voice of the Sacrificed

This week brought my 37th birthday, and with it the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Yes, it was my good fortune ten years ago, to watch as my country preemptively invaded another and lit its skies on fire with “shock and awe”, on my birthday. I remember it vividly.  Though I knew the war wasn’t launched on my birthday for any reasons to do with me, somehow that coinciding still did make it more personal and even more unsettling to me than it already was. My oldest friend had recently joined the army and I knew she would soon be deployed there; I’d been worrying about that all winter as the war loomed inevitably closer. And then it launched on my birthday.

That war felt terribly intimate, as though it had attached itself to me; as though by inaugurating on my name-day it had taken my name and was ruthlessly marching its destructive way in my name. Well, it was. Not just me, of course. It was destruction in all our names, all American citizens.

And I suppose it also felt intimate because I was eyeballs deep in a personal moral struggle over my devotion to a war Goddess. As the country stomped its bombastic way toward war, I had been engaging in a series of deep meditations communicating with the Morrígan. I was confused, scared, disturbed. I had always felt some unease about my devotional relationship with a war Goddess – had wondered if on some level I was condoning the brutality of war by worshiping Her. Now those questions haunted me irrepressibly as the war began. I went to my altar and prayed, chanted, begged for answers. She spoke.

I recorded my memories of those conversations in my journal (to the extent that direct nonverbal communications with a divinity can be translated into words). Here are a few fragments:

Why have I been chosen to have this connection with you? You know I am ill at ease with your warlike aspect.

It is in your blood. You are descended from invaders, violent warring Celts. Warfare and violence are part of who you are. You cannot run from this. You must understand it, and it is through me that you can understand this part of your being.

I am troubled about this war, about the justice of it. How can we tell a just war from an unjust war?

There are no just wars. For each individual who experiences it, war is an injustice. It is an injustice to those who suffer and die when they should have lived; it is an injustice to those who find themselves doing violence to their human kin in the service of war. War is always an injustice. The Gods cannot tell you whether your war is right or wrong by the standards of your justice; you must count the cost and choose, though you are blind. And sometimes it will come on you without your choosing, and that too is an injustice. Your task, when you do choose to make war, is to pursue it swiftly and strike with certainty. You must recognize that every life destroyed is in your hands and it is up to you to make that sacrifice worth something.

The reason your ancestors revered their enemies so much is this: when you slay your opponent in battle, the spilling of their blood is a sacrifice to your sword. It is required that you honor their sacrifice by dedicating it to a worthy purpose.

The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains. I arose in the form you know me among the old Celts. Their culture was shaped and defined by tribal warfare. You, and your culture, are the inheritors of this in many ways. When you alter your culture to contain a different set of possible actions, then you may be able to solve your problems without bloodshed. Until then, I will always be present. My role in war is to make it swift and terrible, and effective; to carry for you the knowledge that you could learn from your actions if you choose to listen; and to mourn the cost.

Well, ten years. Have we learned the lessons of war? Have we made good on the blood we spilled, the lives we sacrificed? The war Goddess teaches that life is both precious and expendable – that blood is a mighty currency. Several thousand young American lives have been sacrificed, and countless Iraqi lives. Did we spend them well? Did we make heroes, or just corpses? What have we bought with that terrible flood of bright, bloody coin?

Is the world more free from brutal dictators with cruel habits and rumored nuclear ambitions?

Are the streets of Baghdad, of the towns and cities of Iraq safer for unarmed people to live civilian lives?

Is the Middle East a more stable and democratic place?

Are the Iraqi people enjoying the liberty we insisted on buying them with their own blood?

If all these things were true, would the price still seem too high?

I will not even try to answer these questions myself. We have been fed volumes in answer by the war-leaders in government, by the military-industrial elites and their pocket-congressmen, by the corporate media, by everyone with an opinion.Perhaps we should instead try listening, for once, to the voices of the sacrificed.

Dying Iraq veteran Tomas Young wrote these words in an open letter to the architects of the Iraq war:

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I urge you to read the whole letter, and the accompanying article about his life. These are words of power, coming from one who is facing his own death and who knows full well that he has been sacrificed, that his life has been spilled on an altar.

What are we feeding with these sacrifices? Tomas Young believes he has been sacrificed to greed. Who among us is willing to dismiss his authority to speak about the meaning of his own death? I think we are compelled to listen. I have written here before on my feelings about the Gods our war machine is feeding. Tomas Young offered himself in sacrifice to protect his country, and instead his blood was spilled on a different altar. That, my friends, is a grave dishonor.

I read Young’s letter on my birthday, the tenth anniversary, and again the war feels personal. Because we are all part of this sacrifice – we are all implicated, no matter how vigorously we may have protested, no matter who we voted for, no matter whether we support the troops by hoo-rahing the war or by demanding that they be brought home. We are all implicated. We all have Tomas Young’s blood on our hands. His dishonor is our own.

We cannot undo the waste of blood that has occurred. But let us at least commit ourselves to never dishonoring a sacrifice again. Can we do that, at least?

Not Rebuilding Her Cult

Talk has been going round the Pagan world about rebuilding the cults of the old Gods. My friend Sam Webster has been calling publicly for this as well as in private conversation, a call echoed by Druid writer John Beckett. (It was Sam, by the way, who sat me down two years ago and gave me encouragement to take up the Morrigan’s mandate and begin drawing Her priesthood together, when I was still hesitating. I need to thank him again for that.) P. Sufenas Virius Lupus spoke of bringing back the Gods of the ancients as well.

So rebuilding the cults of the Gods; that seems to be what I and fellow priests are engaged in. Rebuilding, restoring, bringing back. This language  presupposes continuity with our Gods’ ancient cults – an assumption that we need to be very circumspect about, particularly in the case of Celtic deities, such as the Morrigan, whose cult was never documented by its adherents.

Thus I thought it was time for a post examining this question. The historical cultus of the Morrigan: What do we know?

It has been said that there is no evidence for Her actual worship – and in the strictest sense this is true. Direct evidence of cult practice specifically linked to the Morrigan, by name, within the lands relevant to the early medieval Irish texts in which She appears, is virtually absent. However, we have a very interesting body of indirect evidence that suggests the outlines of Her cult, and it is from this that we can build a modern cult practice. Notice I say here that we can build, not rebuild. In my work to establish a priesthood and practice of worship, I make no claim to historical reconstruction. I trust if you have the patience for this long post, you will see why.

So. What do we know? People have written dissertations on the topic, so I will only attempt to highlight a few core concepts.

1.Where She was worshiped. The name Morrigan arises from Irish sources beginning in the early medieval period and referencing Iron Age culture. While this is sometimes taken to mean that the Morrigan is strictly an Irish deity, there is a substantial body of indirect evidence pointing toward a pan-Celtic presence of a Goddess at least closely resembling Her. In almost every Irish source text speaking of the Morrigan, She is given multiple names and forms; and if we look at these names and forms, we can easily recognize them beyond Ireland. For example, the Morrigan is frequently also referred to as the Badb, or Badb Catha, an epithet which means ‘battle crow’. In the continental territories of Gaul, we have sources which refer to Cathubodua, a Gaulish name which is exactly cognate to Badb Catha. In addition, if we look at the meaning of the name Morrigan, translated as ‘Great Queen’, we also find references throughout the Celtic world to Goddesses of this title, occurring in virtually every Celtic language branch. While ‘Great Queen’ may have been a title applied to multiple different Goddesses (such as may be the case with the Welsh Rhiannon), in many cases it appears in context with attributes that do indicate a battle Goddess and/or one taking the form of a scavenger bird. Since there is compelling evidence for continuity of other deities between Irish, Brythonic, and Gallic lands (for example, Lugh/Lleu/Lugus), I think it’s safe to conclude that we have a pan-Celtic Goddess in the Morrigan, though naturally the forms of worship must have varied geographically and over time.

2. Seasonal worship. We know that there was a broadly pan-Celtic bi-seasonal calendar in effect which, at the very least, recognized major transition times at dates corresponding roughly to Samhain and Beltaine. Within the Irish context, we have a substantial literature documenting the importance of Samhain itself as a feast time associated with kingship and the sovereignty of the land, as well as battle, Otherworldly encounters, sexual rites, and epiphanies of the Morrigan Herself. Many of Her appearances in literature occur at Samhain; but also, folklore still exists throughout both Ireland and Britain of the Morrigan or Her cognate figures emerging from the land at Samhain. As we know that great tribal gatherings did take place at Samhain in many Celtic civilizations, it is not too far a stretch to suggest that seasonal devotions may have taken place at these times, and in particular to the Morrigan since She is closely linked to the season in lore.

3. Incidental/temporal worship. Beyond seasonal rites, there are suggestions that devotional practice may have taken place on an incidental basis – that is, in connection with particular historical events. We know for example, that in Gaul, temporary war shrines were set up in connection with battles taking place in historical moments. Remnants of these temporary war shrines have been found, showing the placement of enclosures, the contents of offerings that were made, and corresponding to a discrete time horizon that bears the hallmarks of warfare – mass graves and other evidence of slaughter, captured arms and materials, etc. – and then deliberately closed down soon after. None of these shrines carry the name ‘Morrigan’ on them; however, pictorial evidence has been found that links funerary sites of this kind with carrion-birds. And we also know that at least one of the specific deities linked to warfare and warriors, and taking the form of the carrion crow, was Cathubodua, our Badb Catha, or Morrigan.

Many other kinds of incidental devotional practice probably existed. We know of Celtic leaders and Druid priests in the ancient world making sacrifices and taking omens on many kinds of occasions – at moments of tribal importance such as kingmakings and royal weddings; before important battles (such as the omen-taking of Queen Boudicca before her final battle with the Romans); and many other kinds of occasions. We can presume that if the Morrigan did have a historical cult of worship, She probably would have received devotions on occasions such as these – and in particular those related to sovereignty, battle, and funeral occasions.

4. Forms of devotion. Direct evidence of devotional offerings to the Morrigan in particular are scarce. We have an altar dedication to Cathubodua from Gaul, following the ancient pattern of votive offering in fulfillment of a vow. Other votive inscriptions to related names also exist (Rigantona/Rigani, Bodua, Cassibodua, etc.)

If we look at forms of devotion known to be practiced by the Celts in general, however, we can fill out the picture a little more. We know that throughout many of the Celtic lands, devotional sites often included a hollow altar – essentially, a sacrificial pit into which offerings were deposited, and then eventually the site covered over and a new pit established. Contents of hollow altars vary depending on the site, cultural context, and time, but common to most sites are the bones of animals cooked or burnt, and offered to the Gods. Many sites also included valuables such as armor, weapons, jewelry, tools, and the like. At war sanctuaries such as the ones described above, as well as permanent sites such as Roquepertuse and Gournay-sur-Aronde, we also find evidence of offerings specific to war deities, and including war spoils, captured arms, heads, skulls and bodies of captured foes, as well as horses and other more common offerings. A common feature of these sanctuaries is a highlighted, massive portal in stone (or wood in the case of temporary battle shrines), typically with carved skulls and/or niches for the display of heads and other offerings. At Roquepertuse, the portal is presided over by a large raptor or carrion bird. Other such war sanctuaries have been shown to be associated with funerary practice specific to slain warriors, who appear to have been excarnated (given to carrion birds) as a form of both offering to the war deity in bird form, and of funeral ritual for the dead. This practice was also documented by contemporary Roman and Greek historians, who were appalled at the Celtic practice of excarnation, not understanding that to give the bodies of fallen warriors to the Battle Raven to devour was to sanctify them far above burial or cremation. The practice of human sacrifice to Celtic deities in general is also well documented both by contemporary authors, as well as archaeological remains, throughout Ireland, Britain and the Gaulish continent. Irish cromlechs and stone altars exist, in some of which have been found traces of blood, likely from such offerings.

Portal of Roquepertuse Sanctuary

Thus, while we have no documentation of such an altar or sanctuary clearly dedicated by name to the Morrigan, we have a fairly clear picture of cult practice for war deities such as would have been appropriate to Her: shrines to war deities in carrion bird form, in which funerary rites were conducted; stone or hollow altars, at which blood, the bodies of the dead, animal sacrifices, and spoils of war were dedicated as offerings; and these offerings were both elevated for display on the portals and palisades, as well as being deposited in hollow altars.

There is naturally much more to the picture. For instance, while cult practices related to Her martial aspects are easier traced than, say, Her role as prophetess and poetess, clues exist which we could examine.  And there is the question of Her sovereignty aspect, and whether it can be linked to the Celtic devotional practice of water deposits. But for a blog post, this is about as far as we can go.

All of this of course begs the question: Assuming a historical cult of the Battle Raven existed as described, why would we want to rebuild it? Blood-drenched altars, human sacrifice, mass excarnation, spoils of war? How does any of this fit into modern Pagan practice?

Answer, of course: It doesn’t. Nobody I know is seriously interested in offering severed human heads to the Morrigan, and if I met someone who did, I wouldn’t invite them to my rituals. We aren’t attempting to rebuild the ancient cult of the Morrigan. We are rather working to bring a new tradition to life which honors Her in a way She hopefully recognizes, but which dignifies our present human values.

Blood Sacrifice

Yes, the topic I’m writing about today is blood sacrifice. Do I have your attention?

First, I have this to share with you. The Coru Cathubodua (the Morrigan priesthood I serve with) has joined forces with Solar Cross Temple to organize a blood donation effort for the upcoming PantheaCon 2013 Pagan convention, in connection with our Morrigan devotional ritual also planned there. We are encouraging convention participants who are able, to donate blood in the Morrigan’s name as an offering to Her and an act of kinship with our fellow humans who need blood donations. (Or, if you happen not to want to give in Her name, feel free to give in the name of your own deities, or just give.) Blood donors at the convention will receive special badge ribbons so you can proudly display your heroic gift and encourage others to do likewise, such as: “I GAVE HERO’S BLOOD” and “I GAVE BLOOD FOR THE MORRIGAN”.

We are working with Blood Centers of the Pacific as our blood collection agency. For Saturday and Sunday of the convention, a bloodmobile will be on site receiving blood donations raised by this effort. In order to ensure that the Blood Center can allocate enough staff to serve the need, it’s best if donors can sign up in advance for their blood donation appointment. You can sign up online, even with a guess as to what time you want to donate – it’s easy to reschedule your appointment online if you should need to do so when the PantheaCon schedule is announced.

The website is bloodheroes.com. To sign up for a donation appointment for the PantheaCon drive, go to the website and register yourself as a donor. Then go to the ‘Donate Blood’ page, and enter our sponsor code ‘PCon’. You can then select your preferred appointment time for Saturday or Sunday during the Con.

The earlier folks sign up to donate, the more staff capacity the Blood Center will be able to allocate, so please sign up early, even if you expect to have to change your appointment.

Why do this? The simple answer is that blood donation is a medical necessity, and countless lives are saved by donated blood every single day. You may not have money to donate to causes, but you can help your human kin immensely by donating blood.

To delve a little more into the subject of this post, there is a spiritual basis for the act as well. Our initial inspiration for this blood drive came during a creative meeting when the group of us (the Coru Priesthood and Thorn of Solar Cross) were meditating on our theme for the Morrigan devotional ritual at the con. In meditation, the images that kept coming up for me and others were blood and kinship. The Morrigan wants blood, I thought to myself. Surprise, surprise.

Blood and kinship. In some contexts, the two are synonymous. We say that we share blood with someone if we are familially related to them, if we are ‘blood kin’. Sharing blood is also understood as a way to establish kinship where it does not exist from birth: the old blood brotherhood or sisterhood. Why does this work (or to look at it another way), why is it believed to work? Because our blood is the essence of our life – it is the vehicle and condensed liquid form of life force. To share that is to be kin.

In ancient times, blood was also understood by many peoples as the ultimate gift to the Gods. Because, again, blood is life force, and many ancient peoples believed that the Gods needed to be fed life force in order to maintain the kinship bond between human and divine. Thus we see substantial evidence that the Pagan Celts practiced blood sacrifice through the sacralized killing of human and animal victims and offering their life force to the Gods. We moderns like to avert our gaze from this, and often prefer to skim over that aspect of Celtic culture, but it is there. Bodies preserved in peat bogs showing every sign of ritual killing. Altars with traces of blood remaining embedded in the stone. Contemporary accounts by observers pervasively describing the sacrifices.

I feel it’s important to tease out the threads here. I think it is right and good that we have abandoned human sacrifice, but I also think that these ancient religious practices still show us something important about how to feed our kinship with the Gods. Undoubtedly, there are many ways to feed that kinship without spilling blood: libations, prayer and praise, food offerings, acts of dedication, effort in Their names; and endlessly more. And yet, undoubtedly the most intimate of offerings must be the life force of the body. That is the powerful truth I’d like to bring forward from the ancient practice.

We can offer life force to the Gods directly and intimately, without ending the life that gives it, and while upholding our modern ethic that says only the owner of that blood has the right to shed it. And here is one way. Offering your own blood in Her name (or in the name of your own Gods) while giving it to sustain the life of the people. To sacrifice means, literally, ‘to make sacred’. And it also makes kinship.

Note: There are eligibility restrictions on who can give blood. Here is a link to find out if you are eligible. As you may note, there is a very severe restriction listed prohibiting any man who has had sex with another man since 1977 from donating blood. As I understand it, that rule has been applied to anyone who has had sex with such a man as well. Many people feel this is a homophobic and excessive restriction, and a petition will be on site at the donor information table, along with information about how you can help in the effort to change this ruling.

Morrigan cloaked, and the cost in blood.

This weekend I started a new phase of the statue: building the cloak. Here is where I begin to depart from the pre-formed structure of the mannequin. I formed the cloak from sheets of metal lath, cut to size, wired on and formed to shape. Then began the long process of layering fiber cloth and resin on to the metal. I make this sound simple, maybe, but it’s tricky and awkward and took me most of a day just to get as far as laying on the fiber cloth.

I am inspired to see Her beginning to take shape. I can begin to see a slow convergence between the image in my mind and the object before me; maybe there is a chance that I’ll pull this off and manage to create an image that is potent enough to be a vessel for Her presence here.

S. tells me She looks like Lady Gaga now, between the shiny black material on the body giving it a fetish-suit look, and the white fibrous material on the cloak getting a bit feathery. I am amused by this. Also, determined that by the time I’m done, She will be distinguishable from Lady Gaga. My Queen, I give you my word.

The day was unseasonably warm for January and the hours slipped by me while I steadily wrestled the metal into shape onto the statue. It’s hard on the hands; the cut lath is very sharp along the edges like a comb of tiny razors. My hands are nicked and sliced; at one point I have to lean against the edge of the cloak to reach around both sides and wire the parts together. I feel a couple points of the cut lath start to sink in to the surface skin on the side of my neck. I smile a bit when a cut on my fingertip wells up with a few drops of blood that find their way on to the statue. She takes Her offering, and I am glad to give it.

The blood gets me thinking, and I find myself flashing on the quote from Dante that Michelangelo wrote on his sketch for the Pieta: “One does not think how much blood it costs.”

How much blood does it cost? Your life’s work – the destiny that pulls your heartbeat onward like the current of a river. The task that is before you. How much blood will it cost you to bring forth what is in you? Do we dare to find out?

Here is what the Morrigan told me, and what the heroes of my ancestors tell: It may cost everything. It may cost you your life. The battle that you have before you – whatever that is – the birth struggle of that world that can not come to be except through your unique effort – this will not be achieved without blood. The price of your destiny is your life. To achieve the greatness that is in you requires you to give yourself to that purpose, and this giving will transform you. There will be no turning back. This is how heroes are made; in the simple choice to give. Sacrifice: to make sacred. That which is given in dedication to a greater force is made sacred by the giving. And it does mean giving something up. There is only so much time in a life, so many heartbeats. Giving yourself to the pursuit of your great Work will cost you in opportunities to spend your life more frivolously. And it may cost you much more than that.

Is this why we often shy away from success, from the fullness of our capabilities? Do we sense intuitively that the pursuit of greatness requires the death of the small, safe creature we were accustomed to being? Are we not sure we are ready to spill that blood?

Perhaps, I thought. And then came Her next answer: It doesn’t matter. Because willing or no, death will come to you. There is nothing to fear when the end of the story is known. Your blood will be spilled one day and will flow back into the river that birthed you. The only question will be when, and whether you had enough time yet to pour that blood into something meaningful while it was still yours. Being small will not save you.

So this is the heroic ethos; this is what Cu Chulainn knew. That a life is best measured in meaning, not in length or comfort. ‘Little care I,’ said Cu Chulainn, ‘nor though I were but one day or one night in being, so long as after me the history of myself and doings may endure.’ And though he was younger than a warrior should be, and people did not think him ready, he took up arms on that day and went to seek his destiny. We have this choice: to wait for an easy moment, staying within the comfort of our ordinary life, and keep the illusion of safety. Or to make the sacrifice, the gift of our very life, to achieve the greatness that is within us.


I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.

Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let’s buy it.


-Jelaluddin Rumi

Morrigan statue with cloak structure. Not Lady Gaga.

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