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News & Notes from Morpheus & Banshee Arts

It was recently pointed out to me by friends that readers of the Shieldmaiden Blog may not be seeing the rest of the work that I do in addition to writing this blog. I’m an artist, performer and ritualist much more than a writer. So to better share those aspects of my work with you all, I’ll be adding an occasional post with updates and reflections about what I’m doing in my arts work, and news about performances and events. These will be posted under the category “Banshee Arts Blog”, in case anyone prefers to manage them separately in your feed readers.

Today I have several upcoming events to announce, and I’ll share some production photos of the latest design work too.

RAW Artists Showcase – October 23

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I will be a featured performer and artist at this arts showcase. Dozens of fine artists, musicians, aerial trapeze dancers, costume designers, stage performers, photographers, and film creators. Full bar. You, in costume or cocktail attire, maybe with a date. Me, performing my latest ritual dance piece and exhibiting my artwork.

Your ticket purchases DIRECTLY support this artist, but in order to support me, you must purchase your tickets in advance and identify me as the artist you’re supporting. This is the first RAW event I’ve been invited to exhibit at, and a good showing from my supporters will make a big difference for me.  And it’s only $15 for an amazing evening of arts and creativity.

TICKETS: http://www.rawartists.org/morpheusravenna

WHEN: October 23rd, 2013 – 7:00PM to 12:00AM

WHERE: 1015 Folsom St., San Francisco

FB Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1419093631637213/

Coru Cathubodua Priesthood presents

Feast of the Mighty: Waking the Dead – November 2

I’ll be joining my fellow priests in the Coru Cathubodua Morrigan Priesthood to present our annual Samhain Feast.

Celebrate Samhain with a CELEBRATORY WAKE. Let ritual reintroduce you to the POWER OF THE DEAD. Nosh on a CELTIC-STYLE FEAST. Honor your Beloved Dead and SHARE TREASURED FAMILY RECIPES in an ancestral potluck.* Learn to CEILIDH DANCE to a proper Irish fiddle. Dance again with your lost Loved Ones. Remember the THRILL OF BEING ALIVE! Seating is limited and we expect tickets to sell out, so you may want to grab yours soon.

TICKETS: http://wakingthedead.brownpapertickets.com/

WHEN: November 2, 2013 – 6:00 to 11:00 PM (Doors open 6 PM; Doors close 6:45 PM; Ritual start — 7 PM)

WHERE: Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists – 1924 Cedar at Bonita Ave, Berkeley, CA

FB Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/186145894898646/

Book of Jane Film Premiere – November 21

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Written and directed by independent filmmaker Antero Alli, “The Book of Jane” is a story of three women bound together by fate to advance the values of an ancient culture but at a deep cost no one expected. In the film, the Morrigan makes appearances as an Otherworldly visitor, and I was filmed in Her role, dancing the dance of Death.

“Drowned in your waters, swept away by your storms, laid bare on your rocky shores — my corpse ravaged by a murder of crows. I am yours to do with as you will. Phantom Queen, Great Queen…where will you take me today? – JANE

WHEN: November 21 – 7:30 PM

WHERE:  Berkeley Arts Festival – 2133 University Ave, Berkeley, CA

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/134599656733880/

Film Info: http://www.verticalpool.com/beyondthegods.html

Artist Updates

Morrigan Great Queen, 2" size - front

Morrigan Great Queen, 2″ size – front

If you follow me on Facebook you may have seen my branching out into metalwork this year. I’ve been busily at work creating a line of etched copper and bronze talismans and medallions with Celtic, totemic, and mythopoetic themes and images. I put a good amount of research time into many of these, basing my designs on artifacts, images and poetic texts from historic sources. They give me pleasure to create, as I love bringing new life and a new eye to artistic motifs from the ancient world. They also give me pleasure to share with people. I believe in authenticity, so I don’t just call them talismans, I make sure that they actually are magically alive before I send them out to people. I pray over them and make offerings, and then give them some time charging on my home altar before I am ready to package them up. Because of my hand-production process and the time I take doing this magical work on them, I can only make these talismans in small batches, but I like it that way – each one gets a personal touch. So far I’ve released two totemic animal designs (Wolf and Boar), a Spear and a Sword, two protective Shield charms, a Wealth and Success bindrune, a Dagda/Cauldron medallion, and two designs for aspects of the Morrigan: Battle Goddess and Sovereignty Goddess.

What am I working on now? Finishing touches on a third Morrigan design, to complete the trinity: Macha, the Horse Queen. This design took some time to create, because there are actually several women in Irish mythology and historical legend who were named Macha, and each of them has a compelling story that could have yielded images for this medallion. I knew that I wanted to give pride of place to the horse as Her icon, so I focused on the Macha of the famous curse of Ulster, who was forced by Her husband to race the king’s horses while pregnant, and who gave birth to Her twins on the finish line, cursing the men of Ulster with Her dying breath to suffer the pangs of childbirth whenever their land was most in need of them. Her story, of course, is much more detailed than this, and scholars see in it reflections of ancient sovereignty rituals involving the land Goddess, the sacred marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, and horse-racing. Since we have no native images of Macha from Iron Age Ireland, I incorporate images of Epona (continental/British Celtic Horse Goddess), horse iconography from Celtic coins, Celtiberian battle standards, and decorative metalwork from Macha’s home fortress of Emain Macha. Her own words will be emblazoned on the medallion.

Iss ed mo ainmse ol si bias arin oenuchsa co bráth.

Telcid tra na neochu frim thoeb!

(“My name will forever cleave to the place of this assembly.

Release the horses beside me!”)

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Seasons of Death and Life

As Samhain-tide is here, I have been thinking about the two great festivals of the Celtic year, and how different our modern Neopagan interpretation of them is from their origins. This subject came up for me at Beltaine this year, and has been simmering in the back of my mind ever since.

You see, the modern Neopagan conventions around these two festivals are so: Beltaine is understood as the season of life, expressed and celebrated through sexual and fertility imagery. Samhain is understood as the season of death, expressed through ancestor worship, death imagery and offerings to the dead. This is at least true of nearly all modern witchcraft revival traditions. Would any of my readers be startled to learn that for the ancient Pagan Celts, this scheme is nearly backwards?

As in so many other respects, the tendency of modern revivals of Paganism is to suffer from oversimplification of theology and spiritual philosophy. Samhain and Beltaine are a prime example of this effect.

We call Beltaine the “season of life” because the plants are flowering, fruits are swelling, small animals mating, and the sun is growing stronger. So much is true on the surface of things. For the ancient Celts, however, Beltaine (and summer generally) was a season of great risk, and for this reason, was a season for sacrifices – both animal and human. The primary evidence for human sacrifice (apart from the distorted reports of it recorded by contemporary non-Celtic writers) comes from preserved bog burials such as the Lindow man of Wales, and similar remains found on the Continent and Ireland. Remnants of the last meals of these sacrificed people show that in many cases, they were in fact killed in late Spring. Folk culture in these areas preserves many, many references to death and sacrifice in connection to Beltaine; such as Morris dances, scape-goating, effigy sacrifice, etc.

Why should this be? If the season when the natural world visibly comes into contact with death is the onset of winter, why not make that the time of sacrifices, of propitiating death with offerings? Because the timing is wrong for the magick to work, that’s why. For people dependent on natural cycles for their survival, when the threshold of winter arrives at Samhain, the time of greatest risk is already past. Whatever harvest the summer gave you has been gathered in, and you only have to hope for the length of the winter to be merciful. At the onset of summer, on the other hand, everything is at stake. What comes in the months between Beltaine and Samhain can make or break your clan. If there is too much summer rain, and the crops rot in the fields – if there isn’t enough, and the grain and calves don’t fatten – if any of a thousand things go wrong during the growing season, your people may go hungry when the winter comes. Thus the growing season is the time of greatest risk, and the greatest need for sacrifice to propitiate the Gods. The Celts believed that life had to be fed by the sacrifice of life, and so sacrifices were made. Beltaine is thus the season of life, but also the season of death.

We’re told that Samhain is religiously celebrated as the season of death because at this time cattle were slaughtered that were not being kept (and fed) through the winter. And because the vegetative life of the land is visibly dying as winter approaches. All this being quite true, Samhain is naturally a season of death. However, if you look at the mythology and religious practice of the Celts, a more nuanced picture emerges. Samhain is everywhere linked in the lore with sexual matings; and in particular the mating of the human realm and Otherworld through sexual unions. For example, the tryst of the Morrigan and the Dagda on the eve of battle occurs at Samhain; following their mating, She prophesies His victory over the Fomoire, and offers Her aid in the coming battle. Cu Chulainn, the great hero of Ulster, makes his tryst with the Faery woman Fand at Samhain; likewise Nera, the warrior of Cruachan, also meets and marries his Faery wife at Samhain. In almost every case, the warrior meets an Otherworldly female on Samhain eve, mates with her sexually, and then is sent into battle on her behalf or under her protection. There are countless examples of these Samhain couplings, often linked to battles: Aine and Ailill Olom; the elopement of Etain and Midir, etc.

Dagda and the Woman, by Jim Fitzpatrick

These myths tell something deeper about the Celtic view of Samhain than the simple label, “season of death.” They tell that the threshold of winter was also understood as a season of sexuality, both human and divine. That the “veil growing thin” which we Neopagans speak of, does not just permit the dead to speak to us, but opens wide the gates for Otherworldly unions of a sexual nature. That these divine or Otherworldly matings presage and are inextricably linked to battle. As it is among the horned and antlered animals: the stag and the bull, worshiped throughout the Celtic world in the form of Gods such as Cernunnos, mate in the fall, accompanied by ritualized “battles” as the males of the species may lock antlers or horns in displays of strength for mating rights. The sexual attentions of Sovereignty Goddesses such as the Morrigan, if they are linked to a season, nearly always occur at Samhain. For many Celts, sovereignty was conferred through ritual marriage of the human sovereign with Sovereignty Herself, the Goddess of the land. Among the Irish, inaugural rites and other acts related to kingship always took place at the great feasts that were held annually at Samhain at royal centers such as Tara, Cruachain and Emain Macha. Thus the entire concept of the sacred marriage among the Celts is inextricably linked to the Samhain season.

These are just a few examples I highlight here for contrast with the prevailing Neopagan conventions about these holidays. In truth both have very complex histories arising from their changing practice across many different tribes and shifting with the tides of history. I suppose what I want to communicate here is not so much that our modern ways of celebrating these holidays are wrong; but rather that I feel something is lost when we simplify them down to equating Beltaine with sex and Samhain with death. There is a deep wisdom embedded in the ancients’ understanding that sexuality, fertility, death, sovereignty, and sacrifice were all inextricably linked. That our human work is to understand these linkages, feed them, and find our places within them. There is a potency in celebrating sex and death together, as alternating currents of a single numinous power, perhaps, rather than as separate seasons.

As we like to sing in the Coru: Balu! Maru! Balu! Maru! (Sex! Death! Sex! Death!)

(Of course, it should go without saying that I don’t advocate a return to ancient practice as it was; I think it is entirely right that we abandoned human sacrifice and find other forms of sacrifice by which we can participate in these exchanges of life.)

The Hollow Place

I’ve had a post started on the topic of Sovereignty, for the last couple of weeks, intending to return to it and finish it. In the meantime, I went on an epic journey into the Northlands (Pacific Northwestern states and British Columbia), and now find I have something more personal to say about Sovereignty.

Instead of an educational post about the nature of Sovereignty, I’ll refer you to an excellent blog post on Sovereignty from a couple of weeks ago, by Druid priest and fellow Morrigan devotee John Beckett. He touches on most of the main points I was going to cover about Sovereignty in my own way.

That shared, I’ll take you on a journey with me. In the Coru priesthood, over the past several months we’d been receiving messages from the Morrigan urging us to look to Sovereignty, both personal and collective; and in particular to make the restoration of Sovereignty a major focus of our work. It stands as a core value underlying everything we are doing. At the same time, we had begun receiving invitations to travel to a few places and bring devotional ritual and teachings of the Morrigan to other communities. Planning was underway for the ritual work in these far communities, as well as for Samhain rites in our local community.

I sat in communion with the Morrigan, seeking guidance about what we should be doing in our public ritual work. She said, “Go to the Hollow Place.” And She showed me an image of a lake. (Our local Lake Merritt, to be specific). I sat puzzling with this for some time, and then in conversations with my fellow priests and further communions with the Queen, it started to come together. In fact, the other places we had been invited to travel for ritual also happened to be associated with lakes. And it is from a lake or river that the Goddess of Sovereignty, in the form of the Morrigan or other forms, so often emerges. It was from a lake that the Sword, the tool of authority, was given to King Arthur, in that Sovereignty myth; and it was into the lake again that he must return his sword when he could no longer wield it as a true sovereign.

We began thinking about the Morrigan’s message to us, that Sovereignty has been eroded in our society; how we each have compromised it. How it has been taken from us. How the restoration of that Sovereignty seems to be our overriding mission. We began to dream of taking it back out of the hands of the corrupt elite who are tending to wrest it from us, into our own hands. Of returning Sovereignty to its rightful and natural source – the land and the people, who are one. Thus, the Sovereignty ritual was born. It is this simple thing: in each community where we bring our devotional and educational work, to charge a sword with the blessings and will of that community, and of the Ancestors and the Gods, for the renewal of Sovereignty. And then to take that sword and cast it back into the waters of the lake, in an act that dedicates it to Sovereignty, and also hearkens back to the forms of water sacrifice practiced across ancient Europe by the Celts and other tribal folk.

The first of these rituals took place at Lake Okanagan, up in British Columbia, where we traveled for the Western Gate Samhain Festival. The festival itself, and the journey there, was a whole beautiful adventure that I haven’t the space to describe here. (Sarah Lawless, another of the fine presenters, spins a lovely tale in her blog.)

Meeting Lake Okanagan (photo by Brendan Myers)

What I want to talk about is the lake. Oh, the lake. Being newcomers to the land and wishing to introduce ourselves, we walked down to visit the lake ahead of the rituals. We cast our spirits down, greeting the lake, feeling its contours and its being. I felt vast depths, primordial and ancient. I felt at its bottomless depths a kind of doorway or crack that seemed to open into vast Otherworlds: the Hollow Place. One of our priestesses dropped the first offering into the waters, and a wave of power rippled through the lake. Later that night, we returned to make preparatory offerings before the next day’s rituals. To our chanting and shrieking, the lake returned a deep, booming call, and drank in our offerings to the Queen of Sovereignty. Over the course of the weekend, I returned to the Okanagan’s shores again and again, drawn to its depth and power. The lake became a teacher for me. How vast that numinous power is that upwells within the land. How vast and bottomless the well of Sovereignty.

There was a sword, donated by a member of the local community. We charged it, all the folk gathered for the ritual, with the Morrigan and all the heroic Ancestors we all carry in our lineages. I have only vague and dreamy memories of that ritual as I was under possession, but I’m told it was potent. I remember looking up at it in the hands of the priest, and I remember seeing the throng of Ancestral spirits pouring through the hearts of the living people present in the circle. I remember the sword growing warm in our hands. The shining of the eyes all around.

Later that evening, as I stood in the final circle of the night, my own Ancestors whispered to me about the work I’d been brought there to do. One of my family lines (Corey) derives its name from a kind of glacial tarn formed in the mountains of Scotland, and called a coire, which means cauldron or hollow. I carry the Hollow Place too. I too am a vessel for Sovereignty. So are we all.

In the morning, we walked out again to the lake, and our first sword was cast for Sovereignty (by Sarah Lawless, as it seemed most appropriate to have someone born into that land cast the sword). Into the Hollow Place, the deep well from which the power in the land flows; into the threshold of the Otherworld and the hands of the Goddess to whom it belongs. There was a feeling of exultation, victory as we walked back. Joyous power. Is that what Sovereignty feels like?

So that is the story so far. It seems it’s the beginning of an arc, and we’ll be doing this work elsewhere too. The next Sovereignty rite is planned here in Oakland, at Lake Merritt, following our Samhain Feast. After that? I do not know which Hollow Place may come next, but we do have New Orleans and Lake Ponchartrain on our horizons for next Samhain…

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.

In Honor of Ancestors

It’s the season of the Dead, and I’ve been thinking a lot about Ancestors. This is partly inspired by the preparations we’ve been making for the Ancestor Shrine at Stone City, which we have been hoping to build at this year’s Samhain gathering.

It’s also inspired by conversations I’ve been having with my partner about the notion of Ancestor cults. Most of our historic Pagan cultures on which Neopaganism is based practiced some form of Ancestor worship, many of them quite prominently. Yet for most modern traditions (with some exceptions, of course), there is no such practice, or only a vestigial one. It feels like a piece of the reconstruction or revival of Pagan traditions that is not yet complete. Many of us commonly invoke the Gods, work with land spirits, and the like, but many traditions lack a coherent pattern of practice for connecting with our own Ancestors. Here I mean Ancestors in our own family bloodlines – not just spiritual Ancestors such as the Mighty Dead of the Craft, or long-distant generic Ancestors such as “the Celts”. And I think perhaps that distinction is part of the reason this practice has not yet been more fully developed: The vast majority of modern Pagans are first-generation. In other words, most were not raised Pagan, and therefore I suspect that for many, their recent family Ancestors may not seem like meaningful spiritual contacts. Why would I want to invoke the presence and guidance of my great-great-great-grandfather, who was a Protestant? Well, here’s why: he has a direct, vested interest in seeing his bloodline succeed. And who should we expect to take a greater interest in our personal problems and successes: the Gods, or our own Ancestors? Our Ancestors may have more limited powers and spheres of influence than the Gods, but their wisdom is of a kind that is more directly linked to our human needs and conditions, than the (relatively) vast and timeless powers of the Gods.

So I’ve been asking myself this question: What would a modern Ancestor cult look like? I began my practice by adding people from my direct family line to my Ancestor altar, and speaking to them when I make my offerings. Perhaps we can devise practices in which we make honoring our own Ancestors a more regular part of our workings: since most Pagans open ritual space with an invocation or invitation to helping spirits of some kind (Guardians, elementals, etc.), perhaps we ought to invite our own Ancestors at the same time, rather than just honoring them at Samhain. Perhaps we ought to revive folk practices like Decoration Day, or adopt elements from Latin Dia de los Muertes celebrations: visiting cemeteries, caring for and beautifying the graves of our Ancestors, bringing them gifts.

Lately I am also thinking about Ancestral legacies, and in this I’m also inspired by two other things: the movement toward re-learning and restoring old-fashioned skills and crafts, and the current democratic uprisings taking place all over the world. These movements are both responses to the instability of people’s lives in present times, and the degradation of basic security and standard of living of the common people in much of the Western world as the plutocratic elite class strips the wealth of our nations. These movements both strike me as very powerful, perhaps the most powerful, ways of honoring our direct Ancestors. It is all well and good to offer libations and prayers, but I suspect that my great-great-great-grandfather, whose family were farmers and who fought in the Revolutionary War, would be more glad to know that the skills he learned and passed down through generations, and the Constitutional Republic he risked death to establish, were being restored and not dissipated.

No matter where your bloodlines come from, some of your Ancestors likely fought for something equally historic and equally meaningful. How might you honor them and what they worked to establish and to pass on?

October is the season of the Dead. This year, it is also the month that marks ten years of American wars, starting with the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. Here in the US and most of the Western world, we are coming to grips with the fact that we have been sorely betrayed by our democratic leaders, and that our self-governing process has been fundamentally corrupted by greed and wealth. This month is being observed by worldwide occupation movements in protest of the degradation of democracy and human life. This month, I am honoring my Ancestors with prayers, and with actions. I will be joining the Occupy San Francisco rally on October 15, in honor of my Ancestors who contributed to the first American Revolution and so that their legacy might be preserved. And in honor of the life-preserving skills of my Ancestors, I’ll also be bringing eggs and produce that we grew here, to help feed the occupiers.

And maybe, if we remember them and if we honor them in ways that matter, our Ancestors can help. Perhaps we should invoke their spirits to march with us. Perhaps they might bless and help this movement toward re-invigorating the tree of liberty, hopefully without blood this time.

You can find related October 15 events here. For other info on Occupation movements in your area, here.

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