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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

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.

Morrigan, armed and disarmed

After the deep journey of the Samhain gathering, I went out to work on the Morrigan statue today. She was with us in the ritual and through the haunted night, and still very present while I worked, layering resin onto the torso to strengthen it. I listened to the cool November wind in the pines and the calling of ravens, the ting-ting-ting of the hammer on the anvil and thought about ancestors.
All the things our ancestors made, things we either cherish or forget. Old tools handed down or lost in a junk store somewhere. That tired quilt your mother kept. Old books, houses, handkerchiefs, weapons. Your very bones. The work of our ancestors’ hands. You and I, each of us came from a line of ancestors. What did their hands, their minds make? Even if these things were not handed down to you, they are somewhere, whispering a story of the lives that shaped them. That story, and those works, are your inheritance.
I thought about the work of my hands, this big work of devotional art that I am driven to create. I thought about the work of my husband’s hands as he hammered down in the smithy. I thought, I am an ancestor. You, each of us is an ancestor. Even if you never have children yourself, you are part of a generation, and to those who come after, you will be an ancestor. What are the works of our hands? What are we building? Would your ancestors take pride in the works you are creating? Will your descendants?
In a little while, Shannon came up from the forge with a spear for the Morrigan, iron hafted on a long copper shaft. I fitted it on to the statue; She was armed.
Then while I bent down to clean my brushes before laying on the next layer of resin, the wind came up and knocked the statue over. She fell backwards against a pile of bricks. The right shoulder cracked open just before the join, and the left shoulder was crushed in where it impacted. I sat down, frustrated. I suppose the statue is getting a bit top-heavy and poorly balanced because of the arms and now an iron spearhead poised out in front; the little base the mannequin came with is no longer adequate to hold it up. I considered stopping work for the day. Eventually I  took a long metal stake and pounded it in to the ground in my yard, and slid the hollow leg of the statue down over it. Now She was pretty firmly in place and I could keep working.
Start again, just like on day one, reinforcing the shoulder joins. They were the weakest part of the statue to begin with, and I don’t know if I can make them strong enough to hold the weight they need to when I start adding the framework for the cloak. I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m doing it anyway. You build, working toward something; sometimes it falls down, or you fall down. You breathe, get up, you keep on working. Our ancestors worked their way through glaciations, famines, wars, emigrations, always moving forward. If anyone in your ancestral line gave up on their journey, that line might not have been carried forward to your hands. We are the inheritors of a heroic legacy. No matter who you are, there are heroes in your line. Human beings who worked, suffered, sacrificed, quietly building your inheritance. Now it’s your turn.
Statue as of November 1. Spear crafted for me by my awesome husband Shannon.