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The Foundations of the Temple

In the soft glow of the lights framing the four Gates, the Gods breathe gently. Wave upon slow rolling wave of presence drips from the icons, the altars, overflows the offering bowls. We sit drinking presence. Time happens elsewhere in the rush and jostle of the event. Here there is only glow, presence, stillness, power, communion, memory. The prayer beads turn in my fingers. Sid co nem, nem co doman. Sid co nem, nem co doman.

A worshiper comes in, genuflects, turns to the largest shrine, catches her breath, reaches her knees. Her friend stops and stands, hand pulled to his heart. I sit in stillness, eyes half-lidded, one heartbeat here in this Temple, one heartbeat in its counterpart in the Otherworld, watching in both. Visitors come and go. A woman whispers urgently on her knees before the Great Queen. Another worshiper stands with the gaze of rapture, smiles, pours out whiskey. Another weeps achingly. I begin to sing.

This was the Coru Temple at PantheaCon last weekend. On Friday afternoon, we began building the Temple as soon as we arrived at the convention, first purifications in a nearly-empty room before building the altars. All afternoon and into the evening the priests gathered, swirling about the space, raising the shrines, laying out the regalia, preparing the offerings. That night with a room full of worshipers, we consecrated the Temple of the Morrígan and the Tuatha. We invoked the Gods, heroes, ancestors. Opened the Gates to the cities of the Otherworld. Poured out offerings, chanted, prayed.

I thought that night that the Temple felt full of holy and Otherworld power. I thought that night that the Gods were present, vibrant, alive, speaking.

But that was only the first night. As the hours and days slipped on, and further waves of machaworshipers came through the temple in singles, handfuls, groups; as offering after offering were poured out, the bowls filled to overflowing, emptied at the feet of the birch trees outside, and filled again; as prayers filled every shrine… The presences only grew stronger, brighter, more resonant. By afternoon of the second day, the Gods were so numinous I could feel the wave of responding presence wash over me as if the air itself moved whenever a fresh offering was poured. By the third day, They stood like pillars, outreaching the Temple itself, as tall as the whole building, it seemed.

Sleeping in there was an adventure, let me tell you. We drifted in and out of Otherworld shadows, Gods looming over us, listening to the muttered talk of heroes and ghosts. Yes, ghosts. It turns out that if you build a spiritual refuge in a busy crossroads place, wandering spirits will find it and take solace there. They too were greeted, tended, given hospitality, and sent on their way.

I like to imagine a time when being at a Pagan convention doesn’t just mean big rituals and big parties. I like to imagine a PantheaCon where there are Temples and shrines for all our various pantheons. I like to imagine a whole floor of suites where instead of just hospitality rooms and parties, there are Temples in every suite. I like to imagine visiting my cohorts in other devotional traditions, paying my respects in their Temples, priests introducing me to their Gods in a more intimate and personal way than a big group ritual allows for. How beautiful would that be?

One word to the wise, though. If this idea inspires you and you’re contemplating establishing a Temple like this next year – it may be a bit of a Devil’s bargain. Once your Gods have had a Temple of Their own and the opportunity to be bathed in offerings and worship in this way, They may not settle for anything less afterward. The joy and the burden of service.

The statues, icons and regalia have been carried back to the different homes of the Coru priests. My tiny bedroom is full of huge Gods now, every available surface converted into a temporary shrine until I find places to honor Them all properly. The vessel of earth that contains the foundations of the Temple is heavy, heavy, heavy. I carried it with awe as I unpacked it, acutely aware of what I held in my hands. The joy and the burden of service.

PantheaCon 2014

Here are my details on happenings at the upcoming PantheaCon Pagan Convention in which I and some of my fellow Coru priests will be participating. I’m especially excited about the blood drive, a devotional project that is close to my heart, as well as our Temple space for the Morrígan and the family of Celtic deities. The Coru hospitality and Temple suite will be the best place to find me at the Con. I look forward to meeting some of you for the first time, and reconnecting with old friends too.

Blood Drive PantheaCon 2014: Find the Hero In You

Following the success of last year’s blood drive, this year we’ve added a second bloodmobile and expanded the drive to Friday! Bloodmobiles will be on site Friday 2/14 through Saturday 2/16 to receive blood donations. Please sign up in advance for a blood donation appointment – this helps the Blood Center allocate enough staff and equipment to meet the need. We also need volunteers to help staff the blood drive signup table.

Details on how to donate or volunteer to support the blood drive can be found here: http://bansheearts.com/bloodheroes/

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/571373586290525/

 

Temple of the Morrigan & Coru Hospitality Suite

Please visit us in the Coru hospitality suite & Temple: Rooms 269 & 271. Come and honor the Great Queen, and get to know us better!

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Hospitality Room: Want to know more about the Coru priesthood? Looking to meet and talk with others who are drawn to the Morrígan? Interested in Celtic heroic spirituality? Join us in our hospitality room for conversation and fellowship with our community.

Temple Room: A dedicated sanctum for reverence of the Morrígan and the family of Celtic Gods and heroes. Join us for collective worship at the scheduled times below. Or, visit our Temple during open hours for solitary worship.

  • Friday 9-11 pm: Temple dedication rites, followed by social time in the Hospitality Room.
  • Saturday 10 am – 7 pm: Temple and Hospitality Rooms open
    • 10 am: Temple opening prayers; 6:30 pm: Temple closing prayers
  • Sunday 10 am – 7 pm: Temple and Hospitality Rooms open (except during Coru Great Queens ritual, 3:30-5:00)
    • 10 am: Temple opening prayers; 6:30 pm: Temple closing prayers

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/620252948054695

Sacrifice and Modern Paganism: A Panel Discussion

With Coru Cathubodua Priesthood | Saturday 11:00 AM – Oak room30949057_1219274447_Gundestrup_Cauldron_detail

From offering the best wine and grain to the finest animal or tribal member to the Gods, sacrifice was a central part of many ancient cultures. But as modern Pagans we must ask ourselves: what is the role of sacrifice today? How is sacrifice relevant to our experience, and should we invest the time and energy to restore ancient sacrificial rites to their place within Pagandom? Or should we invent modern sacrificial rites, and if so, what would they entail? Explore these questions and others as we discuss the place of sacrifice within ancient and modern traditions.

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/697226960296466

The Great Queens: An Ancestor Ritual

With Coru Cathubodua Priesthood  | Sunday 3:30PM – Cedar room

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They fought, they stood strong, they overcame, and they were victorious. The past is radiant with great Queens. Yet much of history remembers only the stories of Kings. Thus we are all impoverished, men and women, losing the wisdom of half our human lineage. In this ritual we reclaim the ancestral power of the great Queens with Macha, ancient Lady of Queenship, as our guide. Join us as we invoke the ancestral Queens of all tribes and nations as we seek the strength they drew upon to do their great deeds; that we too may walk tall as sovereigns.

Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1411025139139646

Runes of the Ancestors: A Journey to the Roots of Runic Power

With Hannah Lipsky & Grant Guindon | Sunday 9:00 pm – San Jose/ Santa Clara rooms

viking stone743In this ecstatic ceremony, we evoke the primal power of the runes through ancient guardian animals. Algiz and Dire Elk ward; Eagle and Ansuz open the way. With Gebo and Dire Boar we make offerings to Odin; the untamed power of Aurochs and Uruz lend us strength. Raidho and Wild Horse draw us along our path; Cave Bear and Perthro open the deep mysteries. The bright torch of Kenaz brings Sabertooth cunning; Othala and the clan call of Dire Wolf carry us home. Come explore these runes with us and leave with their magic in your head, heart and hands.

Polytheism: How hard do you like it?

I suppose it’s time I got around to a proper theology post. I’ve been talking with lots of folks about belief and practice, about polytheist ritual that assumes the Gods are real, and on like that. Polytheism, hard or soft… a subject of much debate in the Pagan world right now. (For anyone reading this who hasn’t yet been introduced to the question: Here’s a book excerpt with an overview of the terms.) And because I insist that to me, the Gods are undeniably real, living beings with personhood and agency, it’s been assumed that I’m making claims about other aspects of Their natures (e.g. that they are local, discrete, individual, anthropomorphic, etc). I’m not sure I’ve ever said, in this blog, where I stand on this theological question.

So. Polytheism: how hard do you take it? Well, it depends on my mood, see.

OK, not quite. But I think there’s something missing from a lot of the dialogue about polytheism, and that thing profoundly influences my perspective on the Gods. That thing is ecology.

A lot of my college study was in ecology and life science. The ecological paradigm informs pretty much all of my thinking about spiritual realities and theology. And coming from that perspective, the whole question of hard versus soft polytheism keeps looking to me like a false dichotomy. Because ecological thinking is all about relationships, and which relationships you see or don’t see depends on what scale you’re looking at. And if the Gods are in any way real, then They are necessarily part of nature (just as we are), and we can use the same lens to look at them.

So the natural world is this matrix of beings and forces interacting at different scales. You can look at one scale and see individual creatures which appear to be separate and discrete, interacting with one another. Look at another scale and you see populations, separable from one another and interacting with other populations. Look at another scale and you see huge, global forces that subsume the individual into great ecologies of energy and life force. Which scale is the correct lens? Which perception is true?

At one scale, we might see a tree. It’s easily identifiable as an individual of its species – we can measure its DBH, canopy, height, age. We can take the same measurements of the tree next to it and get a different set of data. They’re clearly individual beings with separate identities. If we looked at their DNA that would be identifiable too. And no question, it’s a different species from the mushrooms growing over its roots. The soil isn’t even an organism, it’s just a matrix to hold the tree’s roots.

So now we go underground, and it turns out that the forest is made up of all these trees, but their roots form a network that isn’t just intertwined, but in fact the roots merge underground. And it also turns out that the mushrooms don’t just feed the trees by feeding the soil, but in fact make up a mycelial web that is integrated into the soil AND the root network of the trees, and they are all bonded into each other at the cellular level. And suddenly at this scale, what’s real and identifiable as a functioning organism, a being, is the forest. At this scale, the tree is just an organ of the forest. Which scale is correct?

The forest interacts with other ecologies. It creeps forward, shrinking the grassland. Or desert pushes it back. They dance, wrestle, collide. At the continental scale, we just see vast interactions measured in energy, oxygen, carbon, water vapor. The biosphere breathes its oxygen from the great forested lungs. They pour down carbon from the air to the surface. Day heats the oceans and moisture shifts on oceanic currents. The being breathes in, out, in, out. We’ve seen it from space. It’s clearly a distinct, identifiable individual with obvious boundaries, glowing blue and green against the black. Surely this being is the real one. Surely its identity is the clearest we could look for.

At another scale, we can watch the sweep of planets clinging round the gravitational core of a sun, like organelles of a cell membrane-held to its nucleus, swimming in the solar wind that carves their magnetospheres. Is this an organism, an individual? At another scale, we can watch interactions between galaxies, each with their own shape, composition, gravitational force, rotation speed and trajectory. This one has a black hole in its core, that one has a concentration of dark matter. They’re unique, beautiful, evocative, nameable. Is this an individual being? Is this the correct scale?

This is our universe as we are able to know it. Where in these scales do the Gods live and operate? I cannot see why we would assume that They exist at only one of these scales. The universe is full of structures that live, act, and function on every level, from the atomic to the multiversal. Why, my friends, would we think the same is not true of the Gods?

So when someone asks if the Gods are cosmic and universal or if They are local and individual, I want to say YES OF COURSE. Or, “Which ones do you mean?” I want to say, “I don’t know, and you don’t either! Who can have lived long enough to have met Them all?” I think that if we have any awareness of the multi-scaled infinitude of the universe we live in, if nothing else we have to maintain some humility about the scope of what we know, and ever can know. And I think it strongly suggests that the Gods include ALL OF THE ABOVE. Local spirits-of-place Gods, like the tiny endemic population of this-kind-of-poppy-with-the-spot-on-its-petals which has only ever been found on one mountain in one county in one land. Gods of landscapes: this river, this mountain, this desert. Gods of natural forces and structures. Thunder Gods, snow-and-winter Gods, wildfire Gods, moon Gods. Cultural Gods: the Gods of the Celts, the Saxons, the Nubians, the Saami, the Maya. Gods of cycles and systems: of spring, the tides, the night. Gods of human patterns and motive forces: civilizing Gods, Gods of love and war, of justice and sovereignty and truth. Gods of cosmic forces: decay, death, rebirth, time, eternity, space.  Gods who are mysterious intersections of multiple forms of power. Gods who are simply Themselves and show up in whatever milieux and culture They feel like tomorrow. Gods with no face. Gods who are nothing but the endless omnipotent life force endlessly taking shape in all things.

I ask you, who are we, any of us, to say that we know which of these many kinds of Gods are real and which of them can’t possibly exist?

Here’s the thing – and this is where it comes back home. There is so much we can never know. What we can know is the evidence of our senses. That is all we have, folks. Everything else, and I mean everything, is a story we spin, individually or collectively, to weave together the evidence of our senses into a picture that makes sense to us. That means ALL of our interactions with the Gods are embedded in the context of being human. But it doesn’t mean we should be confused into thinking we’re all there is, or that our perceptions are absolute. Our perceptions are and will always be anthropocentric. Our values, and the stories we weave to interpret those perceptions, shouldn’t be.

I call myself a polytheist Pagan, and not a monist or archetypalist or anything else, not because I am sure that I know the nature of the Gods, and certainly not because I want to get stuck looking at Them at only one scale. I call myself a polytheist because what matters in religious practice is not the ultimate-cosmic-objective-truth which I have no way of ever verifiably knowing. What matters in religious practice is the level on which we as beings inhabiting bodies are able to sense and interact with all the worlds. Thus, while I acknowledge that it is possible that the Gods I know are merely reflections of some great unified cosmic God-force that is beyond identities, it is kind of irrelevant to me. Because when I do my ritual practice, They show up with faces (sometimes) and identities (usually) and They engage with me as persons. Multiple identifiable God-like persons. Thus, poly-theist.

In other words, I speak to Them in the language of human ritual, human hospitality, and I-thou relationship in recognition of Their agency as beings. Whether Their agency is more like the agency of a free-willed thinking human-like entity, the agency of a cat, or the agency of a supermassive black hole (which also, I’m thinking, doesn’t answer to orders very well) ends up being a bit of an angels-on-a-pin question for me. Because the part of Them that I can interact with is the part that translates into human-Other relations, and is therefore detectable and relatable to my senses. In practice, this means for me a religious and ritual practice that is human-shaped and leans toward historical traditions for my particular Gods, and those traditions model ways of relating to Them that are human-shaped. This approach yields fruit for me.

So there you go: I like my polytheist ritual good and hard because it gets me there. But I like my ontology nimble and pliable.

Rising up

Then the Morrigan the daughter of Ernmas came, and she was strengthening the Tuatha De to fight the battle resolutely and fiercely. She then chanted the following poem:

“Kings arise to the battle! . . . “


Immediately afterwards the battle broke, and the Fomoire were driven to the sea.

from the Second Battle of Mag Tuired

On sunday night I had the privilege of working with a kickass team of ritualists to create the Morrigan devotional ritual at PantheaCon. I came away sore from pushing myself to the limits of my stamina, with a voice a little hoarse from screaming. And feeling gratitude for the courage of the many individuals who chose to join us in answering Her call.

In the dreamlike flashes of my memories of the ritual, a few images and sensations stand forth. I remember being profoundly overshadowed even before the invocation began. I remember being able to acutely feel the pounding of the myriad hearts as a sensation in my own body, something like the way a great pounding sound too deep to be audible is sensed as a massive vibration in one’s bones. I remember feeling the massing of armies in the movement of the many bodies round the space. I remember when the taking of oaths began, feeling Her devouring them as a starving creature might swallow meat, as though I could taste the life force contained in each one.

I saw the Hero’s Light shuddering round the faces and brows of some there who were moved by Her spirit, saw their souls rise up within them, answering the call.

This ritual represented a new threshold in my relationship with the Morrigan. The first decade of my devotion to Her was observed almost exclusively in intimate coven rituals or private practice. It has only been in the last five years or so that I began working as Her priestess in a broader public context, but until now the largest group in which I had channeled Her had been around 40 people at an open Samhain ritual. So to bring Her to an overflowing convention ballroom of 500 people was unprecedented for me. I will admit that I felt some hesitation about letting Her fully come through in the chaotic, zany environment of the convention. I did it in spite of that because I sensed a particular urgency, a tugging in Her presence during the recent months that said this needed to happen. As we went through the final planning and preparation for this ritual, I felt Her hungering for the big energy of the host. I sense that in these later days, there are few enough moments when human beings gather in the hundreds to chant Her name, let alone the thousands who perhaps once did.

I cannot help musing on the timing of this working. While we were massed in that ballroom raging and chanting, “RISE UP! RISE!” folk all across the Middle East and North Africa were, and still are, rising up to fight for their liberation. This is not to imply that our little ritual has any causal connection to the uprisings. I think rather what I am sensing is that the insistence with which the Morrigan has been pushing me to share my devotional work with Her beyond the sphere of private practice and into a broader public venue, is in some way connected to the urgency of the times in which we live. Perhaps She feels that the world needs Her especially now.

I have since found myself thinking on the taking of oaths – there is something very powerful about the act. An oath takes the continuous gradual path of the spiritual life and sets into it a gateway, a threshold separating the road ahead from all that has come before. We challenge ourselves to dare the threshold. We speak our oath in the presence of our Gods and our companions so that there can be no turning back; the gate closes on what has gone before. Once spoken, an oath cannot be undone. It binds us to our own will and to the future we have committed to. We now must rise up and find the power within ourselves to fulfill that oath.

The keeping of an oath grants strength. An oath is much like that thing known in Celtic lore as a geis, generally translated as ‘taboo’ or ‘prohibition’. A geis is an obligation which is laid on a person, to which they must adhere. The heroic stories teach us that the keeping of a geis grants power; that its protection may be so great as to make the hero undefeatable. To break a geis engenders loss of power and protection, weakness, downfall. The deaths of the great heroes are brought about through clever means of forcing them to break a geis and thus render them merely human, vulnerable to wounding and defeat. The hidden truth here is that, conversely, a geis intact renders one more than human, for it is a magickal bond with the Otherworld, and while it is kept, it wraps one in a mantle of Otherworldly power. And what is an oath but a geis taken under free will? In oath-taking, we rise to meet the destiny that is laid on us; and in return, as we keep the oath we rise up in greater strength and power.

So to those who took the oath: you have taken a geis from the Morrigan. Guard it well and your honorable name in the Otherworld will make you great in all the worlds. The strength of the kept oath will sustain you. In the words of Cáilte: “I am persuaded that these three things will sustain me in my life: the truth always maintained in my heart, strength of my arms for the honor of my deeds, and in always keeping my word.”

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