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The Shieldmaiden Blog

30
Oct - 12

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.)

24
Oct - 12

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…

08
Oct - 12

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

29
Sep - 12

Battlefield Invocation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here follow the English verses:

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

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

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

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

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

21
Sep - 12

Introducing the Coru

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battlefield Devotional at Great Western War

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

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

Western Gate Samhain Festival

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

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

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

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

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

PantheaCon 2013

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

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

The Heart is Our Nation: A Morrigan Devotional

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

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

07
Sep - 12

Why We Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31
Aug - 12

Endgame

Last night, I went with a dear friend for a night hike to enjoy the nearly-full moon and do some work with the Great Queen. On the way, we found ourselves talking about the feeling we’ve both had that She is on the move somehow, on the rise. That She’s preparing, and preparing us, for something. This observation is one that I have consistently heard from people all over who have made contact with me about working with the Morrigan. It seems She’s telling many of us very similar things. So I’m musing yet again on this question. What is She up to?

The overarching messages I’ve received, and the ones that are consistent with the greatest number of others I’ve heard from, are essentially these:
A storm is coming
Gather your kin
Get ready to fight and to survive

There have been many more messages, of course, and much more nuance, but these are the ones that come up consistently from many different people contacting me, and often in nearly the exact words.

I have tended to think about this as a message of warning for something that is to come; about the many signals of our decaying empire and the possibility of some form of societal collapse. I have tended to think about this as something we were meant to gather in preparation for, almost in waiting.

Today in my morning communion with Her I found my mind wandering, and asking a new question. What if the storm isn’t coming. What if it is here, now?

We are in the midst of a failing empire. I know so many people who cannot find regular employment, who find themselves slipping down the economic ladder. Most people I know cannot see a doctor for their health care. All around us the social fabric is unraveling, while the elites who rule can seem to concern themselves with nothing  but political advantage and wars of conquest. It has begun to seem to me that collapse is here – it’s just a slow decaying collapse rather than the kind of cinematic catastrophe that the entertainment industry has taught us to look for.

And then I wonder, if the storm is here – if what we are feeling now are already its first lashings – how to make sense of these messages about preparation for something?

A couple of months ago, I was at a spiritual retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. I found myself sitting up late in the hot tub with a fellow priest of the Morrigan, staring up at the stars between the towering redwoods and talking speculatively about our Queen’s urgings and what they might  mean. Asking each other that same question: What is She up to? What is the big picture? My friend asked me, “What do you think Her endgame is?”

I started talking without really listening to myself. Rambling speculatively. Then thought that what I was saying was starting to sound grandiose and mad, and I said, “But really, I sometimes think She’s more concerned with specific issues, like restoring proper respect for the war dead. I don’t know if She’s really out to fix what’s wrong with our civilization as a whole.” I didn’t finish the sentence though. In the midst of it, I found myself speaking into a sudden and overwhelming silence as the entire forest went dead silent on an instant: the million frogs and soft crickets and little night noises that had been all around us, all dead instantly. My friend and I stared at each other, and stared around, unnerved. Then, into that silence and stillness a vast wind came marching, sweeping down between the towering trees, as though the majesty of the sky itself was marching toward us. It approached down the contour of the land and swept over us and I felt Her presence overwhelmingly, the tall, haunting might of Her, vast and mighty as the sky itself, bearing down on us as that wind stalked through.

After it passed, the crickets and frogs found their voices before we did. Finally I turned to my friend and said, “I stand corrected. I’m pretty sure we just got told, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE ME.”

Today I’m wondering if perhaps, what She’s stirring us to prepare for isn’t the storm itself, isn’t collapse, but a new society She’s seeking to build within the decaying shell of the old one. That perhaps the urgings toward kinship and tribalism, toward self-sufficiency and autonomy, toward fighting ability and survival, are all directed toward making of us the kind of people who can form the kinship units at the core of a more tribal and localized civilization. The one that we all know must come after us. The one in which we hold our sovereignty in our own hands again and live within the capacity of the land to sustain us.

My friend who I hiked with last night said at one point that the Morrigan seems like a patron deity of our times, and maybe this is so. The great challenges we face are those of sovereignty and survival, of facing down a massive, corrupt, and war-hungry empire in order to restore the sovereignty of the people and of the land. Who better to arm us for this struggle?

What messages has She given you? What do you think Her endgame is?

25
Aug - 12

The Shield-Wall

For months now, I’ve been focusing obsessively on the history of the Celts in Gaul and Britain: their ancient dominion, conflict, conquest and eventual subjugation by the Roman Empire. In part, it’s a personal quest to understand a period, culture and language that fascinates me. I’m seeking detail for a sensed personal history there; past life, perhaps, or ancestral memory. The sound and rhythm of the Gaulish language, the look of dress and weapons, place names, votive inscriptions – they stir something in me. I follow the stirring.

This obsession of mine is also a contemplation of disaster. I’m drawn over and over again to the accounts of battles lost, uprisings crushed, tribes decimated and destroyed by the inexorable tread of imperial conquest. Why this restless recycling of dead stories, dead languages, dead histories? Why this focus on the past, I’ve been asked by friends. Instinct, I answer. Something haunts me. I sense a crucial lesson buried in these histories; something that matters very much for our time, something we need to learn from the destruction of Gaul.

What are the lessons of Gaul? I’m still piecing it together, but I can’t escape certain glaring parallels with the struggles of our time. It has seemed to me that we are seeing a conflict within our civilization where the survival, integrity, and sovereignty of the common people are under attack by a ruling elite. This ruling elite – a class of wealthy plutocrats who control the machines of war, the halls of governance, and the mechanisms of finance and industry – maintains its position through subjugating, pacifying, and exploiting populations across ethnic and national boundaries, while extracting their wealth and concentrating it in trans-national centers of hegemony. Does this not sound familiar? It’s no secret that the ruling elites look to Rome as their model for a powerful and successful civilization. Why? Because the Romans won. The great Celtic homeland of Gaul with its fierce, indomitable tribes was brought to its knees. At the end of the Gallic Wars, it is estimated that the population of Gaul was reduced to one-third of what it had been. Whole tribes of thousands of human beings were destroyed, slaughtered or sold into slavery in other parts of the empire, while the legendary gold and agrarian wealth of Gaul flowed into Rome. Those who remained were quickly Romanized, their tribal systems dissolved and re-organized into the Roman system of social order. The Gaulish language and its neighboring Celtic tongues died out within a few centuries.

I am no scholar of history, nor a military tactician. But here is what I see, so far. The story of Gaul is in part a story about tribal sovereignty versus the hegemony of empire. This, I sense, hinges on identity. Our Celtic ancestors held tribal identity above nationhood – the unit of kinship and ethnic identity was the tribe, not the Celtic nation. Thus we see tribes fighting each other at times when standing together might have allowed them to better resist the crush of empire. We see tribes refusing opportunities to collectivize and protect another tribe’s lands, because the locus of sovereignty was the tribal lands of one’s own kin. We see tribes forming temporary alliances with the forces of empire, maneuvering for advantage against other Celtic peoples as they had done for centuries; while from our hindsight perspective we can see how these alliances invited the march of empire into their lands.

These apparently self-defeating moves were driven, I think, by the fundamentally tribal nature of Celtic identity. They did not seem to conceive of the notion of a national identity, at least not in the way that the Romans legions did, where personal ties, kinship, and tribe were all dissolved into an allegiance and identity within the state. This difference of identity seems to pervade every aspect of the conflict between Gaul and Rome. I think it was our undoing. They say that the advantage of the Romans, which allowed them to prevail in battle after battle, was their uniformity in action on the battlefield. Celts were known for their passion, their bravery, their ferocity; they could strike terror into an enemy from their fierce, mad, seemingly fearless rush into battle. Their approach to warfare was characterized by individual honor and bravado, by contests of champions, by a fearless personal devotion to winning honor or a glorious death. Romans were known for their uniformity in training, their consistency, their ability to operate under strict discipline. They were known for the effectiveness of their shield-walls, the strength of which depends on every man holding the line, every man holding together as one creature. The technology of warfare.

So I’ve been contemplating the shield-wall, as a symbol of empire, and perhaps a key to the lessons of the period. It seems to encapsulate the characteristics of hegemonic empire that were our downfall. I note that in the earlier period of Celtic expansion and dominion in Europe, there were conflicts with Rome – and in most of these, the Celts dominated. In fact, they overran and looted Rome, and this early sacking of their city engendered the grudge that lent fuel and vitriol to the Roman drive to conquer the Gaulish tribes. What was different in the early period, and why did the Celts prevail then as they could not in later years? I don’t know, but I suspect the answer is tied up with the evolution of Rome from tribal city-state to Republic to empire. In those later years they had perfected warfare as an institutionalized function of a hegemonic state, and the individualized, honor-driven tribal warriorship of the Gauls could not stand against the shield-wall.

We face something like this in the present time, don’t we? People who wish to stand up for individual rights, for civil liberties, for freedom and justice, for the sacredness of personal sovereignty – we face the shield-wall. The forces of empire have increasing control of the guns, armies, tanks, police forces, communications systems, financial systems, surveillance systems. These mechanisms of control are held tightly together against protest and counter-action, like the shields locked into the shield-wall. How to break through or escape? How to face this overwhelming force?

I don’t have this answer yet either, but the question has been haunting me more and more. Two nights ago, the Morrigan spoke to me again in a dream, and She said, “It is time to resist.” How? I ask, again and again. How?

The only clue She gave me was an image. A tribal group, feet painted blue with woad, like the Picts are said to have done.

The Picts, and the other tribes of northern Britain, were among the few Celtic groups who were never conqured, never subjugated by the Roman empire. Again, I don’t claim to be a historian, but it’s my impression that the Pictish and Caledonian tribes didn’t survive by prevailing against the shield-wall. Open-field conflicts between massed armies were relatively few in the northern British campaigns. The northern tribes survived by fighting guerilla-style; by taking advantage of their treacherous, mountainous terrain; by picking off targets of opportunity, by making it impossible for the Romans to ever decisively destroy them. At the end of decades of tribal guerilla warfare, the Romans finally decided the cost to subjugate these savage folk was too great, and they built a wall to protect the territory they had taken, and backed off behind it.

Is this perhaps the lesson of Gaul? Don’t meet the shield-wall. Resist fluidly, subtly, invisibly, so you can never be decisively beaten. Disappear and reappear, take them unaware, erode their will to subjugate you. By contrast, I think of Alesia, and the final decisive battles in Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Vercingetorix had managed finally to gather almost all of the tribes of Gaul into a mighty army of the Celtic nation – perhaps the only time in history this was ever done. And he met Caesar on the battlefield, on Roman terms – army to army, shield-walls and siege machines, at the walled city of Alesia. The Romans employed their technological advantages to perfection and utterly destroyed the Celtic national army that vastly outnumbered them.

I can’t help wondering if the lesson here isn’t that we cannot win by adopting the form, tactics, and identity of our adversary. That our very strength is that tribalism, that unshakeable personal sovereignty and kinship identity. That we should never have tried to become a great national force like that of empire, because in attempting to remold ourselves into what we are not, we give away our power, and our sovereignty, the very thing we seek to protect. We cannot resist empire by becoming it.

Still contemplating this, I turn to you, readers. “It is time to resist,”said the Queen. How?

20
Jun - 12

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.

01
Mar - 12

The Battle Maiden dances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02
Feb - 12

Meeting the Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19
Jan - 12

Shieldmaiden’s Song

Inspired by the incoming storm and my devotions, here is a new poem I wrote this morning.
Shieldmaiden’s Song
Storm front walks the landscape,
Hooded dark in thunderhead, towering,
Massed weight of storm cascading from shoulders,
Sweeping down to cloak the shadowed land in sheets of rain,
Whispering mist trails behind.
In your wake the dead rise
In the mist the dead rise
Tree tips bare rake the sky
Sharp spear-points glinting wet in the dawn,
A forest of spears, shuddering in the spirit wind,
Ravening for battle,
Massing before you.
Over the spear-points the black wings thunder
Over the spear-points you are winging
Reveling in storm and terror,
Raven-folk gathering,
Tribes of your nation,
We come to you
We rise to you
Phantom Queen, your hollow eyes pour nightmare
And the deep and endless hunger of the grave.
Kind folk turn from you in awe,
Good folk, hoping never to hear you speak their names.
But I have heard you.
I have heard the haunting cry of your voice
And I cannot unhear it.
I have heard the cry of destiny,
I have heard the war drum thundering.
In the night beating
In my chest beating
And I will open for you
I will open for you the Gate
I will give you this life.
No other dawn is coming but this one that has come,
The day of calling,
The day in which we live.
And I in my small frame, breathing courage,
No great chieftain I, but all I am is given.
I will heed the war drum
I will heed your calling
O Queen of mine, terrible in your beauty,
Make of me an ardent spear
Lifted by the strong heart of a hero.
I am yours utterly
I am your weapon,
I am yours utterly
I am your shieldmaiden

In the blood light of dawn
Sky wet with cast droplets, singing blood,
Silence before thunder, harrowing,
Comes the storm Queen,
Comes the great Queen,
Morrigan cloaked in the red dawn
Destiny cloaked in the red dawn.

(c) Morpheus Ravenna 2012

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