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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.

Notes and Quotes

Due to a preoccupation with preparations for PantheaCon 2013, I’ve not had much time for writing in the last couple of weeks. I’ll return to more in-depth content here next week. For today, I have a few intriguing tidbits and links for you:

1. Kings Arise to Battle

Isolde Carmody at the Story Archaeology Podcast has published a translation of the Morrigan’s “Kings Arise to Battle” poem, from the Second Battle of Maige Tuiredh. Previously, I’d never found a translation of the full poem; most translations of the story give only the first line of the poem, followed by ellipses (…). It is incredibly exciting to me to have access to this full poem, and it’s a powerful one. Here’s an excerpt:

[A hundred] cuts blossom
Screams are heard
Battallions are broken
Hosts give battle
Ships are steered
Weapons protect

Every bit the fierce incitement to heroic ardor promised in the first line. I encourage you to go and read the full poem.

2. Rebuilding Her (Their) Cult(s)

Saigh at Flying with the Hooded Crow has posted a thoughtful response to my recent blog post on the historical cult of the Morrigan. She gives some fascinating descriptions of what a modern reconstructed cult of Gaelic warrior Goddesses might look like, following the model of the Gaelic warrior bands in a modern context:

So for me rebuilding Her/Their Cult/s is about the devotional practices, often very embodied ones. And in a modern context. These things would vary by whether one is a professional soldier or a, well, amateur walking the warrior path, of course, as well as on ability and talents. But it would involved fitness, practical martial arts training (which may not always be traditionally Gaelic and could include firearms training), culturally traditional Gaelic martial arts training (which may not always be practical), ecstatic shape-shifting, Seership, poetry and other arts.

The post is a good read and provides some enticing leads into what modern followers of the Morrigan might do as we gather into stronger communities. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation after I get back from travels.

3. Morrigan Devotional Ritual

John Beckett, Druid and Patheos blogger, writes an account of a recent devotional ritual to the Morrigan that he and his cohorts undertook.

She asked us to make our oaths on a spear, and warned us not to promise what we would not do…
One thing She said I clearly remember: “this is only the beginning.” This matches what I’ve heard from others who are working with and for Morrigan: a storm is coming. Gather your tribe. Reclaim your sovereignty. There is much work to do.

It always gives me a smile to see the ways in which She speaks similar messages to Her many devotees. I think it’s valuable for those of us working with Her to share experiences like this one.

4. Coru Priesthood Website

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, the Morrigan dedicant group I work with, has its own website now! You can find us at www.corupriesthood.com. The website is just going live today, so you may still see the occasional error if you’re following the link soon after I post this. We will be continuing to add more content as time goes on, including more prayers, invocations, spiritual exercises and rituals, devotional artwork, and essays. You can also check out our Events page, which includes initial details for our events coming up this spring, including monthly devotionals and workshops, as well as our June weekend intensive, Kindling the Hero’s Light, with special guest teacher Brendan Myers, Ph.D.

5. PantheaCon 2013

Finally, a last reminder – for those of you coming to PantheaCon this weekend in San Jose, here’s the schedule of my doings with Coru folk and others. Don’t forget to sign up to donate blood if you can at our Blood Heroes blood drive! Details on this and all our happenings here:

The Four Treasures in Myth and Practice
A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna and Ankhira SwordPlow
Friday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Meeting the Morrigan
A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna, Amelia Hogan & Brennos
Saturday 10 am – Coru Hospitality Room 261

The Heart is our Nation: A Morrigan Devotional
Coru Cathubodua Priesthood with T. Thorn Coyle & Sharon Knight
Saturday 7 pm – Cedar/Pine rooms

Battle Maiden: Morrigan Devotional Dance
Performance by Morpheus Ravenna as part of the “Many Faces of the Goddess” dance presentation led by Didi Gordon and Sarah Astarte
Saturday 11 pm – San Martin/ San Simeon rooms

Mimosa Mixer/Coru Meet & Greet
Coru Cathubodua Priesthood
Sunday 10 am – 12 noon – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Warriorship Traditions: A Moderated Panel Discussion
with Brennos, Robert Russell, Peter Dybing, Stefanie Clark, and Scott Rowe
Sunday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Brigid’s Forge: A Healing Ritual
with Rynn Fox
Monday 11:00 am – Cedar room

That’s all for now – I’m off to finish packing for my journey through the Pagan looking-glass!

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.

PantheaCon 2013

This blog has been quiet for the past couple weeks, as I’ve had less time than usual for writing due to moving and settling into a new house. I hope to be back to more regular posting here in the next week or so, with new posts on spiritual practice, Celtic virtues, and the question of rebuilding the cults of the old Gods. For today, since folks have been asking, I’m sharing details on happenings at the upcoming PantheaCon Pagan Convention in which I and my fellow Coru priests will be offering.

Visitors are welcome to stop by and see us in the Coru hospitality room, #261, for any of our public happenings. We’ll have additional open hours as timing allows when you can drop in and say hello.

Blood Heroes: PantheaCon 2013 Blood Drive

Hosted by Coru Priesthood, Solar Cross Temple, and Blood Centers of the Pacific
Saturday & Sunday 11 am to 4 pm – Bloodmobile at the Doubletree Hotel

donor_headerEvery three seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. The Coru Priesthood and Solar Cross are hosting this blood drive as an act of kinship, hospitality and devotion to our community and to the Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of sovereignty, prophecy, and battle. We encourage all people to donate the gift of life, whether in the name of your own deities, the Morrigan or without devotional intent. Visit this page for details on how to register in advance, or drop by the Blood Drive info table in the hotel lobby. Donors will receive special ribbons, “I’m a Bloody Hero!” and/or “I gave my blood for the Morrigan”.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/438611166191966/

The Four Treasures in Myth and Practice

A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna and Ankhira SwordPlow
Friday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

ResistanceStone, spear, sword, cauldron. These four vessels of power appear earliest as the Four Treasures of the mighty Tuatha De Danaan: The Stone of Fal, the Spear of Lugh, the Sword of Nuada, and the Cauldron of the Dagda. We can trace their appearance throughout esoteric traditions in the Grail Hallows, the Tarot suits, and the sacred tools of witches and magicians. The Four Treasures form the core of Coru spiritual practice and carry the symbolism of our core values of Sovereignty, Warriorship, Service, and Kinship. Join us for this workshop and discussion on the powers of these vessels and how to integrate them into spiritual practice.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/193641047442688/

Meeting the Morrigan

A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna, Amelia Hogan & Brennos
Saturday 10 am – Coru Hospitality Room 261

morrigan_screenres_croppedShe is called the Great Queen, the Phantom Queen, the Battle Raven: the Morrigan, Celtic Goddess of war, death, prophecy and Otherworld power. Who was She to the ancients, and what do history and literature tell us about Her role in ancient religious practice? Who is She to us today? Drawing on both history and personal experience, this workshop will give you the tools to begin connecting with the Morrigan, or to help you deepen your devotional practice.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/131610630338059/

Journey to Center: Lessons in Grounding and Centering

A workshop with Rynn Fox
Saturday 1:30 pm – San Jose room

The Cry of DestinyGrounding and centering are vital to effective magic–and living. When used to unify the body, mind, and spirit, it can help you achieve a more present, integrated, and balanced life. With specific exercises and information, this workshop will provide step-by-step instruction on applying grounding, centering, and mindfulness techniques to all areas of your life. Helping you to become fully aware, connected, and alive.

The Heart is our Nation: A Morrigan Devotional

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood with T. Thorn Coyle & Sharon Knight
Saturday 7 pm – Cedar/Pine rooms

The Morrigan, great Celtic Goddess of sovereignty and of battle, asks us: What do you love, that you will fight for? How will you find the strength to fight, to resist? We take strength in kinship, in the heart’s blood that pulses through us all, joining us as one human family. We shall not be divided. Join us in this ritual as we invite the power of the Great Queen and our own resolve, to strengthen our hearts for the battles we face. Step forth and claim what you love. Take your place in the kinship of all. Doors close at start time.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/392424437511059/

Battle Maiden: Morrigan Devotional Dance

Performance by Morpheus RavennaThe Battle Maiden dances
as part of the “Many Faces of the Goddess” dance presentation led by Didi Gordon and Sarah Astarte
Saturday 11 pm – San Martin/ San Simeon rooms

 

 

Mimosa Mixer/Coru Meet & Greet

 

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood
Sunday 10 am – 12 noon – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Join members of the Coru Cathubodua Priesthood for morning refreshments and conversation at our hospitality suite! Mimosas (champagne and non-alcoholic), coffee and fine teas, baked delectables, and inspiring conversation. Want to connect with members of our priesthood, and find out what we’re all about? Looking to meet and talk with other folks who are drawn to the Morrigan? Interested in Celtic heroic spirituality, and core values such as sovereignty, warriorship, service, and kinship? Want to find out how you can get involved in the Coru’s mission? Come introduce yourself and tell us your story!

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/307704379341467/

 

Warriorship Traditions: A Moderated Panel Discussion

 

with Brennos, Robert Russell, Michele Jackson, and Scott Rowe
Sunday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

323223_10151272992833438_323541974_oMany pagan traditions and groups, including the Coru, call themselves “warrior” traditions. What does this mean, and how does it relate to the world we live in? In a modern context, most of us are less concerned with our physical survival than we are with cultural survival; how does being a warrior inform the idea of cultural survival? This moderated panel discussion will explore these and other questions from the perspectives of several traditions that claim warrior heritage.

Event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/422474884489932/

 

Brigid’s Forge: A Healing Ritual

 

with Rynn Fox
Monday 11:00 am – Cedar room

What harm scars your soul? What pain holds you from full vitality and magic?
Pain and trauma can be used to fuel a hot, healing fire. And the hottest fires create the best forges – a fact that Brigid, Goddess of healing and smithcraft, knows intimately. Join us in healing ritual and put yourself into her healing fire and under her hammer to be remade, reconstructed, and renewed. Transform your trauma into strength, opportunity, and revitalization. Doors will be closed 15 minutes after start time.

Votum Solvit

Lately I’ve been hearing statements like this one: You don’t make a deal with the Morrigan. Or, similarly: Bargaining is for demons, not Gods.

There seems to be a belief out there that because the Gods are mighty and powerful, we can’t or shouldn’t attempt to negotiate with them. That when we have something to ask of them we are supplicants, and must accept whatever unknown thing may be asked of us later in the relationship. This view has been articulated a couple of times recently by one of the bloggers I read, Druid John Beckett. But I’m not picking on John; I’ve seen this expressed elsewhere and frequently, which is why I’m addressing it today. In particular with regard to the Morrigan, the perception seems to be that She’s a scary, powerful, terrible Goddess and so it is unwise to negotiate: the advice is to ask, and ask nicely, and hope She doesn’t demand anything too painful in return.

I respect John, but I’m here to offer another view. I am here to tell you that you can, and you should, negotiate with the Morrigan. It’s absolutely because She’s as powerful and as demanding as She is, that you should be 100% on your toes about cutting a deal with Her. Yes, She must be approached with respect. Yes, if She wants something from you, She’ll have it one way or another. That’s exactly why you MUST negotiate for terms that are safe for you and support your needs.

It is true that the Gods have powers we do not; the relationship is inherently one of unequal power. We do often relate to them as devoted servants. But this is a crucial point: We are not slaves without agency or will of our own in the relationship. When we enter into a devotional relationship with a God, it is an act of choice on our part: we are entering service as an act of devoted will. Your devotion is coin – it is empowered surrender, of the same kind that we offer a lover when we surrender to their embrace. Any relationship has terms that are negotiated, however subtly. When that relationship is with a being of greater power and insight than you, all the more necessary to be utterly articulate about what is being offered and what is expected.

Let us remember that the Morrigan is, above and primal to everything else that She is, a Goddess of Sovereignty. To accept an unnamed and unspecified obligation is to cede a bit of our sovereignty. Would the Lady of Sovereignty wish for you to give yours away without setting a price on it? Would She respect you if you did, even to Her?

Friends, the moment when She asks you to surrender to Her is the moment when She is testing your sovereignty. Your willingness to treasure it, defend it, obligate it only in exchange for what is truly worthy of it. Yes, you bloody well do make a deal with the Morrigan. Please tell me you will, if you deal with Her at all.

Those who know me might say of me that I’m hardly one to talk on setting a price for surrender to the Goddess. I’ve formally and by oath dedicated my life and being to the Morrigan; She holds my life and my death. It’s true: When I took that oath, I didn’t hold anything back. But did I negotiate my terms ahead of that oath? Hell yes I did. I made my needs very clear to Her, and they were not trivial things. I didn’t kneel and ask. I stood and set terms. She blessed my terms, held me to Her and told me I and my kin would be under Her protection. Then I knelt and gave Her my gift of loyalty and surrender. She is a Queen, after all. The dignity of fealty is something She understands.

The practice of making deals with the Gods goes right back to ancient times. Ever heard of a votive candle? The term ‘votive’ means pertaining to a vow or dedication (votum). Ancient Pagans throughout the Mediterranean and Celtic worlds were in the habit of making little deals with their Gods all the time. Help me with this thing I need, and I will offer you some extra act of devotion. Help me win this battle, carry this child to birth safely, survive this illness, succeed in this business venture. I will donate this money to your temple, light this candle for you, offer you this period of service, build this shrine for you. We know this because it was common practice to commemorate these vows in physical dedications and inscriptions, and innumerable votive artifacts remain. One of the most common forms of devotional offering in thanks for help expected or received was the votive offering, or ex-voto. A special plaque, altar, vase, jewel, or other devotional object would be purchased or commissioned, and given to a temple or shrine, with a dedication inscribed, such as: “Ex voto suscepto …”, “From the vow made by [the dedicator]”. We can assume that there would have been many forms of votive dedication which did not leave physical evidence, such as acts of service and devotion undertaken in payment of a vow where a commemorative inscription was never used.

Here is a beautiful thing: A record of the devotion of a Gaulish woman, from the era of Roman Gaul, after the conquest.

Votive altar dedicated to Cathubodua

The inscription on the altar reads, “Cathuboduae Aug Servilia Terentia V S L M“. Cathubodua is a Gaulish deity name which translates ‘Battle Raven’ (or Crow). ‘Aug‘ is a shorthand of ‘augustae‘, an honorific. The formula ‘V S L M’ represents a votive convention for the fulfillment of a vow, “votum solvit libens merito“. Translated, the inscription reads, “To the August Cathubodua, Servilia Terentia paid her vow, willingly and deservedly.”

Votum solvit libens merito. A story unfolds. This was a woman, Servilia Terentia, who lived, who spoke to the Gods. Who made a vow to Cathubodua, and in fulfillment of her vow, she had this stone altar commissioned, inscribed, and dedicated. She was a Roman citizen with a dual Latin name who had enough means to pay for an altar to be built, but who worshiped a Celtic Goddess. Servilia Terentia made a deal with the Battle Raven. Why? We don’t know, but she fulfilled her vow. Willingly and deservedly, the inscription tells us. Servilia Terentia felt her devotion was merited and repaid.

Votum solvit libens merito. This is devotion. This is what devotion means, quite literally: The word derives from ‘votum‘, a vow. Devotion, both as term and as concept, traces its origin to this ancient understanding of reciprocity, the exchange of offerings, acts of kinship that established the bonds of loyalty and mutual support between humans and Gods. We have always made deals with the Gods. Do not be afraid to state your terms.

Way of the Spear

I’m freshly returned from my first armored combat event and thinking about the nature of being a Spear.

Some months ago when I undertook a new phase of dedication to the Morrigan, She said this to me: “You are my Spear.” This touched off a lot of thinking on my part as to what it means to be a Spear in Her hands. As is my habit with messages from my Gods, I turned to history and source text to try to understand.

The Spear appears earliest in Irish mythology in the hands of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, as written in the Lebor Gabála Eirénn:

From Failias was brought the Lia Fail which is in Temair, and which used to utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland. From Goirias was brought the spear which Lug had : battle would never go against him who had it in hand. From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu : no man would escape from it ; when it was drawn from its battle-scabbard, there was no resisting it. From Muirias was brought the cauldron of The Dagda ; no company would go from it unsatisfied. 

These, Stone, Spear, Sword, and Cauldron, are known as the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, the old Gods of Ireland. I began to read everything I could find about them. What does it mean to be a Spear? That must tell me something of the work She wants of me. And  if I am a Spear, surely there are other Spear-folk too. And Sword-folk, Cauldron-folk, Stone-folk.

The Stone is the first mentioned, in almost every case where the Treasures are written about. It is the foundation of Sovereignty. Then, we come to the weapons; perhaps arising from the necessity of defending Sovereignty. First the Spear, then the Sword. And after, to feed the hungry company of the warriors, to restore them at the end of the day, comes the Cauldron.

In a battle line (at least, from my beginner’s understanding of archaic Celtic weapon use), spears are first out to stop as many adversaries as possible before they come within sword-range. Light spears or javelins are cast through the air (as are arrows; small mechanically assisted spears). Long spears or pikes are thrust before the shield-lines to hold them at bay or impale them as they come. And the warrior’s first weapon in the fray might often have been the fighting spear. Thrust and cut with your long weapon first, until it sticks in someone’s ribs or too many enemies come in close range; then let go of it and draw your sword.

In ancient times, the common fighter who was not an elite hero and did not possess the wealth of the aristocratic warrior class, might not carry a sword at all. Swords require far greater mastery of metalsmithing to manufacture, and far more expensive high-quality metal, than do spearheads; how many men could be armed with spears from the same metal that would go into the making of a single hero’s sword? For this reason, armies were once counted as the number of spears a leader commanded. A man might not be a trained warrior, but hand him a long spear and you can make a soldier of him; he will figure out how to thrust. It is a weapon of instinct. It won’t protect him much in a melee, but it weaponizes him. Spears are the expendable resource of an army.

From these readings, and from noting the patterns common to myself and to other Spear folk I’ve connected with, I make an observation about Spears: Commitment. A spear once cast cannot be called back. Thus, to be a Spear is to be cast toward one’s destiny. Fully given and committed, risking all with fierce abandon. Or, as some of my friends have said of me recently; a zealot. I take that criticism as worthy. Caution seems not to be the way of the spear. We are beings of instinct tending to sense the moment and thrust ourselves forward, past the safety of shields, crying victory. We throw ourselves into the destiny we sense before us, in ways that sometimes seem reckless or mad to our friends. Perhaps we are. It is a way of risk.

This all came back to me as I was riding home from the war event yesterday. I’m new to armored combat and had only just finished my armor the day I arrived at the war. Thus, I’d had no chance to practice my fighting skills with my teachers while in full armor before going in to the full fray. Little opportunity to even test my armor under another fighter’s blows before facing an army of them. I was, truthfully, not ready for war combat – and the marshal who authorized me knew it, and nearly didn’t. But I passed, and in spite of significant nerves about not knowing what to do out there, and being smashed to a pulp by hundreds of men three times my body weight, I threw myself into the combat. Trusting, I suppose, that the urging of my Goddess and the sense of destiny that drew me into the fighting arts were not leading me astray. And they didn’t: it was one of the most epic experiences of my life.

Showing off my bloody fighting tunic.

I was crushed in shield-walls and knocked to the ground. Hammered by swords, pike thrusts. Took a hard thrust to the faceplate of my helmet that split my chin so I bled all over my armor; paused to get it bandaged, then threw myself right back in. I was fighting with a glaive, a type of long-bladed fighting spear wielded with two hands, which meant I had no shield to protect me, and with my lack of experience, I’m not the best at blocking with the glaive, so I took a lot of hits. I’ve been told by many fighters I should be starting with sword and shield to save myself bruises… but you see, I’m a Spear, and it’s the spear that feels natural in my hands, it’s the spear I’m called to fight with. It’s the reason I’m there at all. So in I went without a shield, madly, gleefully, fiercely, not minding the pounding and the bruises and the blood. Reveling, glorying in them. Why? Because they were initiatory, overwhelming, ecstatic. Because I am a Spear, and I must immerse myself. Because I am a Spear, and I need the risk and immensity of being thrust wholly, body and soul, into my calling, holding nothing back, pouring myself out on the battlefield.

I am a Spear that cries out for blood
I am the Spear-point that gives battle

Battlefield Invocation

The topic of the week has been Sovereignty – several people asking questions about it in response to the mention of the Sovereignty rites I and the Coru are planning for Samhain. I’m working on a post delving into Sovereignty more fully, but as it’s a very big subject, that post will have to be published another week soon. Instead, I’ll respond to another of the questions from readers. I’ve been asked to share the Gaulish invocation of the Morrigan that I mentioned in my last post. So today I’m sharing that here.

A few words of explanation by way of Caveat Emptor… First, let me be clear that I have no pretense about the accuracy of the Gaulish language used in this invocation. I am not a scholar of the Gaulish language, or any Celtic language. I am an enthusiastic amateur. Further, the language used here is not exactly ancient Gaulish as it would have been spoken in its contemporary period. I have never been able to find a complete reference on the ancient Gaulish language sufficient to be able to translate a text into Gaulish. What I have used is a reconstructed system called Modern Gaulish, which was developed quite recently by a linguist, to fill exactly that gap. As I understand it, Modern Gaulish uses what is known of the ancient Gaulish tongue, extrapolated using linguistic mechanisms known to other Celtic languages to develop a more complete grammar and vocabulary. Since that was what I could find to use, I’ve used it. (I’m afraid I can’t reference it since the website is no longer online; if readers are curious, I’ve got the contents of it in PDF.)

This is a devotional work, not an academic one; what it seeks to do is to speak to the Battle Goddess in something at least having the poetic sound and feel of the language She may have heard from devotees in the Gaulish period, as an act of devotion and of honoring Her history. If a Gaulish language scholar is reading this and can correct my work, by all means I welcome the assistance.

So here’s what I’ve done. I read a lot of ancient Gaulish inscriptions to get a feel for the kinds of things that were written in votive and magickal texts. Then I wrote this invocation to the Battle Goddess, first in English, and then translated into Gaulish. It was written for use in a specific context: it is the invocation and blessing that I use at combat events, to invoke Her and to ask Her blessing on the fighters and the field; accompanied by libations which are offered to Her and then poured out on the battlefield.

Édhi ni in Coru Crúach Cathubodúa
Ávo ni sin iuranoch a no Rígan en brathíon ri in ségiu ródhithu

Guthanu mi in Déuan Morrígu, Cathubodúa, tar nemna in Anthúmon
Guthanu mi in Rígan Cingethed ganth gwalíon in taránu
Morrígan a’n Bodhúed, Morrígan a’n Taránu: Diáiu ni ganth sin supethárion
Áchi nemna in Anthúmon a ch’ánon súó cingethed pí en édhi ér sú
En ór a’n cath a pé diáiui, éran ach diái ani, Déuan Cathu
Rígan Már Cingethed, o pí en canu in caníon cathach, tanu ni ér sú
Inth lathúach ach en sathanoch lúied-ni ávo ni sin iuranoch

Ganth sin briethéron, techolsíu in ledhíam nerthach, techolsíu in criníon lathúach, bí í cathéronthu dineáion ech ni
Ganth sin briethéron, ávo ni briethanoch a’n ségiu
Pí lavarthu é ó ánu, dresíu é gwer in lan-cath
Pí ré ródhithu é ócríd en cúírel, techolsíu é bélu, ach ré bathithu ó calghíon ganth gwalíon taranu
Déuan Cathu, apái nathúech in ségiu a’n cingethed-sin, suo maped ach duthired: Ánéís
Nathúeu mi sú tar nemna in Déuan Cathu

Déuan Cathu, apái nathúech in criníon gwirth nó namanthed, pan ápisu ís in coru bor suo lathued
Ávo ís ledhíam érin, o íuru ni sú in ségiu
Desu ni in iuranoch ri Cathubodúa
Desu ni nó namanthed ri Cathubodúa
Desu ni ís Bodúa
Desu ni ís Bodúa
Desu ni ís Bodúa

And here follow the English verses:

We, the Bloody War Band of the Battle Raven
We make this offering to our Queen in gratitude for victory given

I invoke the Great Queen, the Battle Raven, through the powers of the Otherworld
I invoke the Queen of Warriors with the force of the thunderstorm
Morrigan of the Ravens, Morrigan of the Storm: We come to you with this plea
Bring the powers of the Otherworld to inspire your warriors who are before you
In the hour of battle which approaches, rise and come among us, Battle Goddess
Great Queen of Warriors, who sings the song of battle, we stand before you
Fiercely and in fulfillment of our oaths we make this offering

With this incantation, the weak shall be made strong, the fearful shall become fierce, doubt shall be cast from us
With this incantation, we make the enchantment of victory
He who has spoken Her name shall be lifted over the battlefield
He who has given his heart in loyalty, his arm shall be made mighty and his weapon strike with thunderous force
Battle Goddess, send the charm of victory upon these warriors, your sons and daughters: Protect them
I bless you by the magic of the Battle Goddess

Battle Goddess, send the whisper of fear against our enemies, when they behold the proud host of your heroes
Let them weaken before us, as we offer the victory to you
We prepare the offering for the Battle Raven
We prepare our enemies for the Battle Raven
For the Raven, we prepare them
For the Raven, we prepare them
For the Raven, we prepare them

If readers are inclined to use these invocations in ritual, I am glad to share them, so long as any use or distribution of them includes attribution of their authorship to me: (c) 2012 Morpheus Ravenna.

Introducing the Coru

I thought it was time to give my friends and readers a proper introduction to the Morrigan priesthood group I’ve been working with, the Coru Cathubodua. Although we’ve been meeting and working together since spring, we’ve only begun offering public services very recently, so I’ve been receiving lots of inquiries about who we are and what we’re up to. So here’s a little introduction, and some information on how to connect with us.

The Coru Cathubodua is a newly formed priesthood dedicated to service and devotion to the Great Queen, the Morrigan. I and several other priests in Her service received clear messages around the early part of this year that it was time to gather Her priest-folk and form a cohesive priesthood to better serve Her and to be of help to people in our communities seeking a deeper connection with Her and with the spiritual traditions in which She is rooted. I sent out an invitation to those who were known to me as Her priests and some who She had sent my way, and we began meeting in the spring. Presently, there are nine members of the Coru: Amelia Hogan, Ankhira Swordplow, Druin Heal, Hannah the Storyteller, Brennos, Rudy Heal, Rynn Fox, Scott Rowe, and myself. The members comprise a wide range of skills and talents, including priests and priestesses who carry the Queen as a possessory vessel as I do; who serve Her as warriors both in this realm and the Otherworld; who work with spirits, Faery folk and the Dead; who are bards, singers, poets, healers, dreamworkers, artists, and many other skills besides.

Our purpose, as I would describe it, is to serve the Morrigan through devotional practice and ritual, to share Her teachings of sovereignty, warriorship, and Otherworldly wisdom; and to promote strength, autonomy, and sovereignty within the communities that we serve. We are, of course, just beginning this work. We are primarily based in California, and most of the members reside in the San Francisco Bay Area; however, we will be traveling to connect with communities outside our area as much as funds and schedules allow.

The name Coru Cathubodua? Cathubodua is the Gaulish name for the Morrigan; it means ‘battle raven’ (cath=battle, bodua=crow/raven) and is the exact cognate of Her Irish title of Badb Catha. Coru is the Gaulish for war-band, corps, or army. Why this Gaulish name? It’s a phonetic language and easier to pronounce than Irish; and since other groups are already using similar titles in Irish (such as Clann na Morrigna, which we also considered), we felt it would help us not be confused with other groups.

The most common question I’ve been receiving is, “How can I get involved or join your priesthood?” Since, as I said above, we are just beginning our work, we are not yet ready to invite new members to join the priesthood. I feel confident that is in our future, once we have taken the time to prepare for opening to new members. But we welcome allies now, and we do want to hear from people who are drawn to the service of the Morrigan. You may be able to support us in this work now, and we may be able to support you in your work. You can contact us via our Facebook page, or by emailing one of the members privately. We hope to have a website of our own shortly, as well as an email list for announcements.

You can also connect with us at our upcoming public events. Here is what we have planned presently, and more will come soon.

Battlefield Devotional at Great Western War

At Great Western War, a medieval reenactment and armored combat gathering of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Coru priests will be leading a morning battlefield devotional prior to the start of fighting. We will invoke the Battle Raven to bless and inspire the fighters and see them safely through the day’s fighting, and to dedicate the battles in Her name. Invocation is given in the Gaulish language, with English translation.

When: Saturday October 6, 2012. 9:00 am on the War Field.
Where: Great Western War, Buena Vista Aquatic Recreational Area, 13601 Ironbark Rd, Taft, CA
Tickets and info: http://www.caid-gww.org/

Western Gate Samhain Festival

A festival in celebration of Samhain featuring workshops, rituals and live music, located in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Our aim is to bring together people practicing diverse aspects of the magical and esoteric arts. Together we will honor the Ancestors and the Celtic goddess Morrigan as we journey into the mysteries beyond the world of the living. Amelia will be presenting Celtic music workshop and performance; Morpheus will be presenting a workshop on Meeting the Morrigan, and a talk on Sovereignty and the Liberation of the Soul. Coru members will lead the main Samhain ritual as well as the morning Sovereignty ritual at the lake.
When: Friday October 19 – Sunday October 21
Where: Unitarian Fellowship of Kelowna, 1310 Bertram Street, Kelowna, British Columbia

Feast of the Mighty: A Celtic Samhain Feast with the Gods, Ancestors and Mighty Ones

Come join us at the turning of the year to celebrate the great Celtic feast of Samhain! Share a Celtic-style feast of ancient foods as we dine with the Otherworldly host. Raise a glass in honor of your Ancestors, Gods and those who are to come after us. Join in the tale as the myths of the mighty heroes of old are brought to life to inspire our lives. Lend your spirit as we renew the Sovereignty of the land at the turning of the year.

This event has two options: tickets with the full feast are $39 for adults; or you can opt to attend as a ritual participant without signing up for the feast, for $18; this option still includes a glass of mead or cider so you can participate in the toasting. Reduced tickets are also available for children.

When: Friday November 2, 2012. Doors open at 7 pm; Feast/Ritual begins at 8 pm.
Where: Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland, CA
Tickets: http://feastofthemighty.brownpapertickets.com/
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/156515591139520/
Tickets for the feast are limited and must be purchased in advance, by October 26th.

PantheaCon 2013

At next year’s PantheaCon, the Coru will be joining forces with Solar Cross to organize a blood donation drive at the Con in honor of the Morrigan. We’re working with Stanford Hospital and a bloodmobile will be on site during part of the Con to receive blood donations. Donors will get a special ribbon, “I gave my blood to the Morrigan!” (or words to that effect).

In collaboration with T. Thorn Coyle, we’ve submitted a ritual proposal for the program following the theme of our shared humanity and the kinship of blood. Here’s what we submitted to programming:

The Heart is Our Nation: A Morrigan Devotional

The Morrigan, great Celtic Goddess of sovereignty and of battle, asks us: What do you love, that you will fight for? How will you find the strength to fight, to resist? We take strength in kinship, in the heart’s blood that pulses through us all, joining us as one human family. We shall not be divided. Join us in this ritual as we invite the power of the Great Queen and our own resolve, to strengthen our hearts for the battles we face. Step forth and claim what you love. Take your place in the kinship of all.

The ritual is not confirmed until acceptance by the programming staff of the convention; schedule information should be out in January to confirm.
Tickets and info for PantheaCon: http://pantheacon.com
Morpheus has been invited to lead a Morrigan devotional ritual with the Ancestors at next year’s Witches’ Ball, and additional Coru members will hopefully be joining to assist with this ritual. Info about the 2013 Ball will not be available until after this year’s event, but you can visit their website for general information and details about this year’s event.

Why We Fight

In response to my last couple of blog posts, I had a lot of questions/comments along these lines:
“Why do you talk so much about battle and fighting?”
“Your blog seems obsessive/one-sided/scary to me.”
“We don’t need to fight, we need love.”

So I thought I would expand a bit on this. Why do I talk about fighting all the time?

The simple answer, or the beginning of the answer, is that this blog is primarily about my devotional relationship with the Morrigan, and is a venue for me to share my thoughts and experiences arising from that relationship. Do I think the Morrigan represents only battle? Of course not. I know Her in many forms: as a shadowy phantom, as a Gateway, as a storm, as druidess, poet and prophetess, as a raven, a flight of ravens, as a Queen, a temptress, a teacher, a hag, as blood in the water, as the tomb itself, as the land and its sovereignty, as a tribal mother, an ancestress, and many other forms besides. But I write as the inspiration comes, and in recent times Her presence and Her messages to me have carried a strong feeling of battle-readiness.

The Morrigan, you see, is a shape-shifter. This is so in the literal sense – throughout the Irish texts in which She is described, She is often shifting forms within the course of a single story. Heifer, wolf, eel. Maiden, hag, crow, demoness.  But I also mean in the larger sense: She takes the form that the times call for. I have long sensed that Her epiphanies must shift in response to the changing millenia and evolutions in the cultural forms and worship given to Her. And it is reflected in the scholarship about Her history. Noemie Beck writes that the Morrigan, like so many Celtic deities, was at Her earliest roots a tribal Goddess – a matron and embodiment of the land and its people, and of the identification and unity between the two – that is to say, sovereignty. When the safety and autonomy of the land and its people is threatened, the Sovereignty Goddess takes a martial and protective form, and we know Her as a Battle Goddess.

This is the form in which She has been most strongly speaking to me. Because, I must infer, sovereignty needs defending. I think this is both a personal and a transpersonal message.

So to the question, “Why all this talk of fighting?” the first answer is the personal one. Because I trust my Queen, when She told me I needed to, at the beginning of this year, I started fighter training. I study SCA armored combat, primarily with glaive (a type of long fighting spear), and for a while I was also studying Krav Maga. I soon learned why She required me to fight. Since I began fighter training, profound shifts have been occurring in my internal landscape, in parallel with the shifts in my body’s abilities. I lost my fear of conflict, and along with it my willingness to compromise my own integrity in order to buy peace. I had been for years engaging in all those terrible little betrayals of the self: lying to myself or others, internalizing and accepting blame and guilt that I didn’t earn; trading pieces of my soul for the cessation of conflict in my relationships. Selling my sovereignty, in other words, simply out of fear of the discomfort of conflict. Learning to fight shifted this irrevocably. I no longer crumble and weep when my autonomy is threatened. I simply do what it takes to hold my ground. Fight, when I need to, or not. I take it as it comes, and I hold my sovereignty.

Is there a transpersonal message too? Of course. Is there any one of us who does not know at the roots of our being that in the American nation, the sovereignty of the people is under attack? When the process by which we delegate our rulership mandate to our chosen leaders is utterly and profoundly corrupted, so that non-voting corporate ‘persons’ purchase so much political influence that the voter’s mandate is nearly meaningless. When many people are directly disenfranchised from voting altogether. When the fundamental personal sovereignty of the female sex to own her  body and choose her sexual life is being denied. When the document that protects personal liberty and human rights, our Constitution, is wilfully disregarded by our rulers – when there is neither sovereignty nor justice, can anyone still wonder why the Battle Goddess would be rising now?

Of course She urges us to fight for our sovereignty. It is Her very being and nature. But this is not a call to armed insurrection. It is infinitely more subtle than that. Because, as I said in another post recently, we cannot overcome the forces of empire that are eroding our sovereignty by taking them on physically in literal combat. That is their territory, the domain of the military-industrial monster. What I mean instead is that we become sovereignty itself, reclaim it into our being. We must become inviolable.

This is why we fight. Because, as all practitioners of the martial and meditative disciplines know, what you practice in the body, you cultivate in the mind. When you practice yoga, the mind becomes supple, centered, energized. When you practice meditation, the mind becomes clear, calm, attuned. When you practice the fighting arts, the mind becomes resilient, resolute, indefatigable, alive with survival instinct. We need all these things.

I fight because I want to be someone who can think instead of react, who can keep clarity of mind while threats are flying at me. Fighting teaches this. Because it is the fear of pain, discomfort, conflict that holds us paralyzed while our sovereignty is taken from us. I fight because it trains my mind to fear pain and conflict less than I love autonomy and the joyous freedom of motion of the body at its height of power. I fight because to revel in the practice of fighting liberates me from fear and apathy, and coupled with my commitment to sovereignty, that makes me a greater force to be reckoned with. Because she who would uphold sovereignty must become sovereignty, and Sovereignty is a Goddess who stands Her ground.

And here is my take-home message, friends. In answer to the questions about why I urge us to fight, and whether I am devaluing love by focusing on battle readiness, here is my answer. What I am encouraging – strength in kinship, survival skill, and ability to defend what we love – these things are of benefit whether we ever meet trouble or not. My answer is that to fight for love is love in action.

Notes from the whirlwind

Hello, friends. Since time for longer writing has been scarce, I realize you haven’t heard from me for some time. I have some musings in the works on Sovereignty, and the lessons of Gaul. For now, a few updates on what I’ve been up to and what’s coming.

During the last few quiet months, I’ve been busy with a new mandate from the Queen: Gathering Her priesthood. I have brought together a small group of folks who share the faculty of having been chosen by the Morrigan or dedicated to Her service. We are gathering, presently under the name Coru Cathubodua, and marshaling our skills and resources for Her service. For the last few months and through this summer we will be continuing to develop our ritual practice privately. Beginning this fall near Samhain, we will be coming forth to serve the community through public ritual and other offerings. You can look for a Samhain ritual to be offered in service to the Queen and the Dead, somewhere in the Bay Area; and we’ll plan on sharing something at next year’s PantheaCon in February as well.

Also this fall, I’ve been invited to teach and bring a Morrigan devotional ritual to the Western Gate Samhain Festival, in Kelowna, BC, Canada. I am excited to be joining Brendan Myers, Sarah Lawless and other fine practitioners at this gathering, including our own Amelia Hogan and other members of the Coru. Along the route, we’re looking at arranging stops in Portland and Seattle, where you may be able to catch a performance of Amelia‘s exquisite Celtic song, and meet or attend a workshop with us. For now, the only details set are the Western Gate dates of October 19-21 in Kelowna. I’ll post more details as we settle them.

On the personal level, I’ve been undergoing seismic changes in my private life, reflected in my devotional practice. I’ve taken up fighter training and am currently studying spear/glaive fighting in the SCA, along with Krav Maga. I’ve been very drawn to the Spear, as one of the Four Weapons of the Tuatha, and have long used it spiritually. It’s deeply fulfilling to be learning now how to wield it in the body. And not only for fighting: after my last devotional dance performance at Hexenfest, I received an inspiration to develop a devotional dance with the spear as well. So now both dance and combat movements with the spear are part of my daily practice. I expect to have something ready to perform by next year’s Hexenfest, if not earlier.

Oh, and I had the Morrigan’s Spear tattooed on my back. That’s been a long time coming.

Progress on the Morrigan statue continues slowly. My relocation away from Stone City interrupted the scheduled Devotional Days when we had planned to make it available for folks to assist with it, so as a consequence work on the statue has mainly been within the priesthood group. I hope to have another work session on that soon and new photos to post.

That’s all for today. May your days be full of honor and joy, and I’ll write more soon.

The Battle Maiden dances

In my last post, I promised I’d write soon on devotional practices, and I hope to get to that soon. Today I just have a quick post to let you know about an upcoming event.

One of the ways that I channel the Morrigan is through devotional dance. (OK, so this does relate to devotional practice, after all.) I perform a kind of ecstatic devotional dance with a large set of wings, in what I’ve taken to calling my “Battle Maiden” dance. I call it that because the form of Her energy that comes through this dance is a Valkyrie-like epiphany, the Battle Maiden who comes in raven or vulture form, dancing over the spearheads, reveling in the blood and chaos of battle, and who gathers the souls of the slain heroes and carries them to the realms of the mighty. I’ve been developing this dance form in my work with Her for several years now, but opportunities to perform this dance come only infrequently. The photo here is from one of my first performances of it. Each time I perform the dance it changes, as it’s partly invocatory ritual and partly performing art.

I will be performing the newest version of this Battle Maiden dance piece at the upcoming Hexenfest, a festival of magick-inspired music and arts next Friday March 9th in Oakland. Hexenfest is a new event that we hope will grow to be an annual festival in support of Pagan and magickal arts and music. It’s being produced by the band Pandemonaeon, the leaders of which are dear friends of mine, powerful ritualists in their own right on top of being very inspiring musicians. Pandemonaeon plays at Hexenfest, along with another band, plus Gothic bellydance by the inimitable Anaar (from whom I’ve learned much about ritual dance), Jason Pitzl-Waters of the Wild Hunt as DJ, and a Tombo Studio fashion show.

Details, tickets, and VIP options are here. Even if you can’t make the show, you can donate the ticket price and get a downloadable audio recording of the live show, and you’ll be supporting a great thing too.

On the horizon much further out, I am also thrilled to say I’ve been invited to come lead a Morrigan devotional ritual at the 2013 Witches Ball in New Orleans. It is a huge honor to be invited, and even though that’s still a long way off, I just had to share because it’s damned exciting.

The Queen has lately been making it clear to me and some of my close kin in Her service, that She wants us to be traveling to other places, seeking power spots and sacred sites as places to do ritual with Her and feed Her presence and power in our world. This invitation supports that path perfectly and I’ll be looking for other opportunities to move about the land more and bring Her work and presence to more people.

That’s all for now. I hope to see many of you soon at Hexenfestand share my devotional performance with you.

Meeting the Queen

Recently I’ve been seeing more emails from folks who have begun feeling the Morrigan’s call for the first time, asking me for guidance on how to integrate Her into their lives and spiritual practice. So I felt it was time for a few posts about that.

This is what I frequently hear: “I’m being haunted, and I find it both terrifying and compelling. What do I do?”

The Morrigan chooses people. When this happens to us, the experience is like being haunted by something. People often speak of Her coming to them in nightmares, or at least disturbing dreams. Her presence might be felt in waking life as a shadowy, spectral presence that seems to loom over us, and to follow our steps. She is, after all, the Phantom Queen. Her presence can also be channeled into our lives in unsettlingly personal ways: relationship dynamics may take on a charged quality; we may suddenly find ourselves fiercely intolerant of limitations we once accepted; we may find ourselves driven to take a stand on something. Her presence is characterized by compelling attention to certain things: the dead, and death itself; warfare and violence; heroism and honor, kinship and loyalty; and viscerally ecstatic experiences – blood, rage, sex, grief.

So the question that I get from people is, “What do I do?” The answer depends on what you want, and what you dare. Being Hers means a lifetime of being haunted, to at least some degree. It means those close to you being haunted to some degree as well. Those She claims may find their lives being reshaped, sometimes painfully, to make space for Her demands. It means you yourself will be reshaped, and this can also be quite terrifying. But here is what She offers in return: She makes a weapon of you. She delves into your soul and finds the strength, the fierce unconquerable will, the heroic heart you didn’t know you had. She offers you greatness. And She protects Her own, so Her claim also confers protection on both you and your kin. I could really go on for pages; perhaps that’s a post of its own some day.

People sometimes ask, “Why me?” I can’t presume to speak for Her reasons. But from my own observations, I can tell you this. If you think you aren’t cut out for Her service because you’re not tough or bad-ass enough, because you’re wounded, because you’re emotionally vulnerable, that may be precisely why She chose you. Experience has shown me that more often than not, it is those with raw hearts and poet’s souls that She chooses, rather than the stoic and macho among us. I think perhaps She finds a deep well of emotion provides a lot of raw material for shaping into Her creation, and a passionate heart is more readily sharpened to the fierce joy She cultivates in us. But there are many reasons. Some are chosen because of ancestry and blood. Some for reasons known only to Her and themselves. Some choose themselves and come to Her of their own volition.

You might have the option to decline the relationship if it does not feel right for you. If this is your choice, my very earnest advice is to be exceedingly respectful in your way of declining Her claim on you. The story of the great hero Cu Chulainn is a cautionary tale about what can happen: he not only refuses Her protection and guidance, he insults Her; and She brings about his downfall, giving him a hero’s death. So if you must refuse Her, do so with reverence and with gratitude for what’s been offered to you. And if you’ve ever asked Her for anything, if you’ve called Her name with feeling, I don’t recommend attempting to refuse Her claim on you. In Her world, you’ve already offered yourself to Her.

For those who choose to accept the claim and move into the relationship, a few thoughts on that question, “What do I do?”

The nightmares and the haunting are often Her way of gaining your attention. While being in Her service does mean always being a little haunted, the frightful quality that often comes with the initial contact will usually transform into a more intimate experience once you establish devotional practice. That devotional practice is a whole topic unto itself, so I will delve into that in a future post. For now I just want to close with a bit of advice for those experiencing the initial disturbances.

Your situation will be unique and personal, of course. Generally speaking, the first act you need to do to ease the disturbances and enter the relationship, is to acknowledge Her claim on you, and communicate your willingness to engage. Second, establish a regular devotional practice, with offerings and time in meditation listening to Her. This gives Her opportunities to communicate Her message to you, and begins to create intimacy. Over time this will tend to refocus Her presence into your devotional practice, thereby easing the nightmares and other uncontrolled manifestations. Third, it helps enormously to have a physical space or vessel for Her presence: a shrine, altar, or other space that you intentionally dedicate and invite Her to occupy. This helps to externalize Her presence so that She does not have to constantly occupy your dreams and waking mind in order to have a foothold in your life. It allows you some measure of control over when you engage with Her and when you choose to focus on other things.

Finally, a few resources, since people also ask me what they should read to acquaint themselves with Her. Here are my recommendations:

Source texts: The main source material for Her lore is a handful of Irish texts, most of which were written down in the medieval period by monks, recording a much older stream of oral literature. The texts in which She appears most significantly are the Lebor Gabala Eirenn, or Book of Invasions of Ireland; the First and Second Battles of Mag Tuiredh; and several texts of the Ulster cycle, most especially the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or Cattle Raid of Cooley. She also makes appearances in many other texts throughout the Irish literature.

Analytical/folkloric studies: The most comprehensive work on the Morrigan is War Goddess by Angelique Gulermovich Epstein, a folklore dissertation that surveys all Her appearances in medieval source texts, and uses them to analyze Her lore and role in the Irish mythological and cosmological system. Second, I recommend this 19th century essay The Ancient Irish Goddess of War by W. M. Hennessy.

Next time I’ll post some more detailed thoughts about devotional practice.

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