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Rites of Sovereignty

Yesterday, I awakened quite suddenly with a sovereignty ritual unfolding in my head. It’s been on my mind to write about sovereignty for this blog – prompted in part by the urging of my matron Goddess to teach sovereignty, and also in part by my observation that there are a lot of mixed conceptions out there as to what sovereignty is and what it may mean for us both personally and collectively. So today I write of sovereignty. It is a deep and broad topic, worthy of books in its own right, so I cannot say everything there is to say about it. But I will try to begin.

The most immediate definition of sovereignty, and the one most people are familiar with, is the modern collective notion of sovereignty, which is essentially self-rule of an autonomous people or nation. We see this aspect of sovereignty being discussed with regard to the rights of Native American tribes to treaty rights as sovereign nations, for example.

In the circles I move in (Pagan left-coasters, for the most part) sovereignty is often spoken of in the context of personal empowerment, autonomy, and self-possession. There’s an awareness that as spiritual practitioners and empowered individuals, we should be seeking full ownership of our own lives, to become “the monarch of your own skin,” subject to no one, answerable only to our own inner guidance. As a personal spiritual practice, yes, sovereignty encompasses these things.  I keep feeling something’s missing from this understanding of sovereignty, though. And it was this missing something that woke me up in the late dawn.

Scottish king stone

Let us go back to origins. Sovereignty, in its historical context in Celtic culture, appears centrally and pervasively throughout many of the foundational Irish myths, including the early mythological tales, the heroic cycles, the pseudo-historic annals of kings, and on down. Many of the famous battles around which the mythological tales are spun are presented as battles for sovereignty; and many of the important and storied kings have sovereignty legends told about how they were marked for kingship and vested with the power.** The sovereignty themes are continued in the early medieval Welsh tales and the British Arthurian and Romance Grail mythology. Reflections of these mythic themes are preserved in the rituals and customs of the monarchies as well as folk custom. Sovereignty myths typically include certain classic features: victory in battle under prophecy by, and supernatural aid from, the sovereignty Goddess; the stone that cries out under the foot of the true king; the sword that is pulled from the stone, or given by the hand of the Goddess; the ritual union with the Goddess in the land; the cup from the Otherworldly wellspring that is offered in token of sovereignty given.

These themes are deeply woven throughout all of the Celtic literature, right back to the oldest written texts. They express a fundamental concern of the culture: How shall our land and our people be rightly governed? And, further, how can we know who is fit to lead us? This, then, is the central question of sovereignty: the question of fitness to hold power. It is no different from what troubles us today in our own societies.

The answer of Celtic societies, generally speaking, was this: Let the land choose the sovereign. The sovereignty was understood not primarily as a social contract between subjects and kings, but as a natural force: a numinous power within the land, which was vested in the person of the ruler by the source of the power, in the shape of the Goddess of sovereignty. Thus the symbols and vessels of sovereignty were embodiments of the land, through which the soul of the land was understood to make its will known. The Lia Fail, or Stone of Destiny, was the primary embodiment of sovereignty demonstrating this principle – it was said to cry out under the true king, acting quite literally as the voice of the land. We also see the embodiment of the land coming to life in the form of a Goddess who confers victory in the contest for sovereignty, and who bestows the kingship on the one She has chosen. Her hand rises from the lake, offering the sword; or he meets Her and mates with Her in a flowing river; or he meets Her in a Faery mound, where She offers him a cup to drink. Everywhere She arises with waters, the wellspring of the life within the land. That life force itself is the sovereignty.

This notion that the sovereignty is itself the very life of the land has powerful consequences for the one who is tasked with holding and wielding it. In the tales, every judgement and act of the sovereign are manifest in the life of the land. So long as he makes truthful and fair judgements and acts rightly, there is prosperity in the land; cattle grow, milk is plentiful, grass is lush, trees come in fruit, the rivers run with fish. But when there is an unjust king; if he makes false judgements, if he does not carry that power rightly, the produce withers, the grass will not grow, the cattle will not calve, and even the walls of the royal fortress may shudder and fall.

Because, you see, the power doesn’t only flow from the land to the sovereign – it flows through him and back to the land. In the act of taking kingship, he has both literally and symbolically merged with the land (thus, the mating with the Goddess of sovereignty). When he takes up the kingship, his life is no longer his own – it becomes one with the life of the land.

So here we have that missing element. Sovereignty is not equivalent to freedom or autonomy. To be a sovereign is to be bound.  He has not simply claimed the sovereignty; he has been claimed by it.

This notion was deeply held, and was understood quite literally in early Celtic society. The rigorous requirement of kingship was complete integrity, in body and soul – to the point that even a physical blemish or injury on a king was considered a threat to the health and integrity of the land. Enter sacrifice: the fate of the sovereign. In some times and places, this may have meant literal sacrifice, as the king who was weak, injured, or no longer serving right judgements might be physically sacrificed to renew the life of the land. In other times and places, this simply meant that an injured or unjust king was required to step down and pass the kingship to another. Instances of this are clearly iterated in the mythological and historical literature. This, too, is sacrifice.

So what does this mean to us now in terms of sovereignty as a personal spiritual practice? There is much to be said about that, but what I want to convey today is that personal sovereignty isn’t a principle that can be boiled down to “I’m in charge of myself and you aren’t the boss of me.” The lore of sovereignty teaches that it is intimately connected with integrity; that sovereignty conveys a model of power where the only true authority arises from integrity. That sovereignty can be claimed by force, and sometimes must be, but can only be held through justice and integrity. And further, that the practice of sovereignty is one of commitment – full and unreserved commitment of one’s very life force – to the honor and benefit of that which we claim as ours. Thus, sovereignty cannot be separated from the fundamental values of service and sacrifice.

And I want to convey that personal sovereignty isn’t about being answerable to no one, just as collective sovereignty does not make a king answerable to no one. Because we are, in both cases, answerable to the very power that we wield.

 

**Note: I write here of kings in the masculine gender, because historically speaking, most of the source material refers to male sovereigns. There were of course many powerful queens in Celtic societies throughout history, but they are notable exceptions, and certainly the mythology and folklore of sovereignty is highly gendered and consistently refers to a male sovereign and female sovereignty Goddess. Of course, when it comes to personal sovereignty as a spiritual practice, we adapt this model to be spiritually suitable for all sexes and genders of people. So when referring to personal sovereignty, I try to avoid gendered language, but I preserve it when speaking of history and lore.

Disambiguating the Queen: #1, Morgan Le Fay

I’m feeling compelled to begin writing about some common misconceptions about the Morrigan that I’ve been seeing with increasing frequency in online and print publications discussing Her. This will likely be the first in a series of posts of this sort.

Today’s subject: The Morrigan as Morgan Le Fay, Lady of the Lake, Lady of Avalon and similar identities. I’ll offer this in the form of a conversation – the conversation I so often find myself having when the subject comes up. Here’s how it usually begins:

“Morgan Le Fay is obviously a guise of the Morrigan, because their names are so similar, so I work with them as the same Goddess.”

Actually, their names only appear similar; they’re actually completely distinct. You see, the Celtic languages branched into two separate families fairly early in their development: the Gallo/Brittonic languages, also known as P-Celtic and including Gaulish, Brittonic and later Welsh, and the Goidelic languages, also known as Q-Celtic, and including Irish and Scots Gaelic (both families also including minor Celtic forms such as Manx, Cornish, Breton, etc.) The name Morrigan comes to us from the Irish Gaelic branch, whereas the name Morgan comes via the Welsh/Brittonic branch. Being manifestations of Celtic language, both branches do retain many related and mutually intelligible word constructions, but Morgan/Morrigan isn’t one of them.

The name ‘Morrigan’ comes to us from the Irish Gaelic branch, and is composed of the terms mor (connoting phantom, terror, or the dead) and rígan (queen). The name is also sometimes given a long accented ó: mór (great). Her name can thus be constructed ‘Phantom Queen’ or ‘Great Queen’.

The etymology of ‘Morgan Le Fay’, on the other hand, comes from the Welsh/Brittonic branch, and it has nothing to do with queenship. It derives from môr (sea) and gen, from genos, a common Gallo-Brittonic name-suffix meaning ‘born of’ or ‘child of’. Thus Morgan is ‘Sea-Born’, and refers to a spiritual being or Goddess connected with the sea. We see this surviving in folklore about the Morgens or Mari-Morgens, a class of Otherworldly sea-beings from Breton folklore.

“But doesn’t Morrigan also translate as ‘Sea Queen’?”

No, I’m afraid it doesn’t. The name Morrigan doesn’t appear in Welsh, it appears in Irish. And neither mor nor mór means ‘sea’ in Irish. The word for sea is muir, but there is no evidence at all identifying this as the etymological root of Her name. Nor is the Morrigan anywhere directly linked to the sea in any of the source texts in which Her name appears. Unfortunately, this false etymology has been published in a number of places, and people often assume if it’s in print it must be correct.

What about Avalon? Isn’t Avalon the Celtic Otherworld, and so wouldn’t the Morrigan be linked to it?

There have been many names for the Celtic Otherworld (or it might be more accurate to say Otherworlds; a topic for another time). Avalon derives from a much later stratum of mythology than the Iron Age period referenced in the Irish mythological literature that describes the Morrigan. Avalon is a British Arthurian literary concept that does not appear until late medieval Grail romances, a fusion of medieval British and French mythologies containing traces of earlier Celtic concepts fully intermixed at that stage with Christian mysticism. Earlier and more Celtic-influenced literature refers to Ynys Afallon, or ‘Isle of Apples’; this may in fact be loosely linked to the Irish Emain Ablach; an island associated with Manannan, a God of the sea and of magic and illusion, among other things.

So yes, there are concepts of a Celtic Otherworld appearing in Welsh and Irish lore and linked to the sea (or lakes) and to apples. But nowhere is the Morrigan directly associated with this Isle of Apples concept. And the image of Avalon, as a mysterious lake-bound isle of magic associated with priestesses veiled in blue, pseudo-Druidic symbolism, and a mythical Celtic Goddess-cult… IS NOT FOUND in the late Iron Age Celtic tradition that describes the Morrigan. That Avalon, while beautiful and inspiring, is a fiction. Marion Zimmer Bradley creatively imagined it based on late medieval Grail romance, mixed with some additional Celtic mythology, and liberal amounts of modern Wiccan-style theology and symbolism. I don’t mean to insult anyone – it’s really a lovely archetype and inspires much beautiful and effective spiritual practice today. But it’s not historic and it’s got no real connection to the Morrigan.

“Well, the Morrigan is clearly connected to sorcery, and so is Morgan Le Fay.”

Yes, the Morrigan is one of the primary Druidesses of the Tuatha De Danann, so of course She performs magic. The Tuatha, you see, are ‘the people of Art’. It’s right there in the first episode where they are introduced in the source texts: we are told that the Tuatha came to Ireland from islands over the sea, where they had learned wisdom and magic and sorcery, and they brought these arts to Ireland. As the Morrigan is one of their Druidesses, She performs all the classic Druidic functions: poetic recitation and incitement; prophecy and seership; recording of deeds and epics; and of course, battle sorcery. But show me a Celtic Goddess who doesn’t use sorcery or magic. That doesn’t make them all Morgan Le Fay.

“But the Morrigan is referred to as a ‘Faery’, and that sounds like Morgan Le Fay.”

The Morrigan being referred to as a ‘faery’ just means She is an Otherworldly being. This status applies to all of the Tuatha, the tribe of Gods to which She belongs. In their representations in the mythological literature, they are variously described as Gods, as faeries, or as heroes, depending I suppose on which Christian was writing down the lore and how they chose to interpret what they were receiving from the Pagan oral tradition. But regardless, being a faery isn’t a special quality of the Morrigan apart from all the other Tuatha. The lore is full of faery women, many of whom engage in actions reminiscent of Morgan Le Fay, such as healing, hexing, illusions, and transporting people between the earthly realm and the Otherworld. Again, this doesn’t make every faery woman in Celtic mythology an appearance of Morgan Le Fay (or the Morrigan). It means the world of the Celts was peopled with Otherworldly beings of all kinds!

“But the Morrigan is associated with streams and rivers, so She’s a water Goddess, like the Lady of the Lake.”

To begin with, the Morrigan has no particular association in the Iron Age lore with lakes or sea. We do see a very strong association with streams and rivers, but this doesn’t equate to making Her a water Goddess generally, nor to linking Her to lakes and seas. One of the reasons She frequently appears at rivers is that the rivers are boundaries between different provinces, and when She makes these appearances, it is most often connected to a battle occurring at these boundaries between factions or tribes. For the same reason, most of Cu Chulainn’s important combats take place at fords of rivers; but we wouldn’t on that basis conclude that he is a water God!

In the Celtic imaginal landscape, bodies of water generally are liminal places – boundaries of sovereignty, as well as gateways to the Otherworld. Thus, a great many significant events in the mythological literature take place at river fords, lakes and the shores of the sea. This reflects into the stories of nearly all the Irish Gods. In addition, these bodies of water also carry life-giving qualities of watering the land and providing fertility, fish, and other aquatic produce. Rivers in particular are strongly connected with female power in much of the lore. Thus, throughout all the Celtic lands, we consistently find rivers named for Goddesses, and some lakes, too. Given the predominance of rivers and lakes named for Celtic Goddesses, there are actually remarkably few carrying any name connected to the Morrigan. Because, while water bodies are everywhere associated with female power and the Otherworld generally, they are not directly linked to Her particular functions.

“But isn’t the Lady of the Lake a sovereignty figure, like the Morrigan? What about the sword?”

Yes, clearly the myth of the Lady of the Lake offering the sword to King Arthur is a form of sovereignty myth. But you see, that’s not enough to equate her with the Morrigan. Sovereignty attributes can be traced within many Celtic Goddesses, and obviously no one would claim they all are the Morrigan. The sovereignty figure is a fundamental form of the Celtic conception of female divine power. It tells us that the Celts understood sovereignty as a power arising from the land, conferred through the action of a female divinity. That doesn’t mean all female characters who carry the power of sovereignty are the same Goddess. It means that relation to sovereignty is a crucial element of female divine power, and is therefore carried by many of the Celtic Goddesses, taking a distinct shape with each based on Her particular sphere of concern and mode of action. The Morrigan’s form of sovereignty is the form it takes when it is called upon to defend itself, when it becomes martial, protective, and warlike. She is female divinity and sovereignty in the shape of battle. But we cannot conclude from Her sovereignty connection that any female figure offering sovereignty in folklore is the Morrigan.

“But I work with Morgan Le Fay as an aspect of the Morrigan, and She’s real to me. Are you telling me my practice is invalid?”

No, I would never presume to judge what another’s personal spiritual practice should be for them, unless I’ve been asked my opinion. I see nothing wrong with Pagan folk venerating both the Morrigan and Morgan Le Fay, or any other combination of deities, within their personal practice if that works for them. I am saying that there is not significant historical or literary evidence to support interpreting Morgan Le Fay as an appearance or ‘guise’ of the Morrigan. I am saying that there is not evidence for the Morrigan having any direct or significant historical link to the medieval folklore of Avalon and the Lady of the Lake.

I’m not here to tell anyone that their personal experiences are false if they’re experiencing these two as one deity. But I would like to suggest that if your personal experience is substantially at odds with the body of available evidence about the origins and nature of a deity, it might be wise to look more carefully at how you are interpreting your experiences. And I definitely think anyone teaching or publishing about these deities needs to take into account the whole body of evidence.

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…

Resistance

This blog has been quiet lately, in part because my work on the Morrigan statue project slowed this spring while other responsibilities came to the fore. The other reason is that I’ve been struggling with what to say. I started this blog to share my process with the Morrigan statue, and along with that my observations, thoughts, philosophies arising from my work as Her priestess.

Since PantheaCon, I’ve been in a queer state of ambivalence. To those of you who were present for the huge Morrigan devotional ritual we held at the Con, it might sound strange to hear that what I came away with was ambivalence. But it’s true.

The ritual work leading up to and in the ritual itself triggered something very big in my relationship with the Morrigan. I think most participants would agree that the ritual tapped into an enormous current of desire and something that I can only describe as urgency. There is a tide rising in our communities, a sense of readiness for a call that we all somehow know is coming, and that we yearn for. The ritual felt galvanizing, transformative. A massing of forces on the eve of some battle. People took oaths. Thresholds were crossed.

Afterwards, I came home continuing to think about where those thresholds are taking us now. What exactly DID we tap into? What now?

For what purpose are these forces massing?

I came home carrying the sword, the one upon which all those oaths had been sworn. It held a force and vibratory power in it that was clear to the senses of everyone who touched it, and impossible to ignore. For a few days, we had it on the altar in our bedroom (oops). My husband described it thus: “There is a sword, and I have a house around it.” Shortly afterward, I took it up to the Morrigan’s shrine site, planted it in the ground there with prayers to Her, and left it there for a night and a day to let the power of the oaths pour out of it and be earthed in Her shrine. While I was up there, I prayed and sat and listened and She, still overshadowing me in the aftermath of the big ritual, whispered to me. “Yes. You have brought me the sword. Soon, you will bring me warriors. The time is coming.”

That message left me shaken, and hence my ambivalence. I continue to feel a great urgency from Her, a sense of pressure as if someone were literally leaning against me, or the way you feel when someone is staring hard at the back of your head. I realized then that the big ritual was not the culmination of a process, but the start of one, and I have an obligation to Her to see it through. But I still do not fully understand what “it” is. The hints and whispers I receive from Her continue to point toward mobilizing our people, our communities, in preparation for something. Mobilization, preparation, massing and honing of forces. That’s what She keeps whispering. I remain ambivalent about this because whenever I talk about what it is I sense She wants from us, I begin to think I’m sounding delusional, militaristic, or at best naive. And because I can’t yet figure out how it is that I, without even any genuine fighting skills to my credit, am going to bring warriors to the Morrigan. Not alone, that’s for sure.

This has been my state for the past few months. Waiting, listening, looking for further insight. Talking to friends and companions. In the meantime, the signs keep coming. I’ve had messages from both friends and strangers that She has been speaking to others, appearing in their dreams, sending warnings, delivering the call to action. Meanwhile, I continue to watch the distress signals flickering on in the world around us.

Yesterday I spent a little time working on the statue, preparing Her for the next stage of the sculptural process. While I worked, I asked Her again for guidance, and I listened. The word RESISTANCE sounded in my head.

Today, this article caught my eye. And this one. Those are just examples – I’ve seen many of these signs, too many to enumerate. They remind me of that word, resistance.

Am I saying that I want to form a militia? I don’t think so. I think the forces of authoritarian control would have us hopelessly outgunned, and I think as soon as we limit our thinking about resistance to the level of guns, we have already lost. But I think we need something. We need resilient networks of community that are decentralized, that provide real, manifest support for their members – not just mental support, but survival skills and material necessities that will allow us the real-life autonomy from which to resist. We need these networks to be in place and vibrant before they become a survival necessity. And yes, I do think fighting skills are among those survival skills we need to cultivate. A person who has the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones, and the means and resources to live autonomously if needed, is a person who cannot as easily be cowed or seduced into toeing the line – or buying the line. It takes a warrior to resist, even if that resistance is not in the form of conventional armed resistance.

I still don’t really know where to begin, and I suppose that is why I’m writing this. Nervously, at that. I want to hear from you. Have you heard the Morrigan’s call? What are your Gods urging you toward? What do you sense we are being called upon to do?

In the meantime, my co-priestesses from the Morrigan ritual, T. Thorn Coyle, Sharon Knight, and I are planning to hold a weekend workshop intensive focused on this work, in November of this year. It’s a place to start. I’ll have details to post soon, I hope.

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.”