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The Shieldmaiden Blog

Aug - 14

I see it crimson, I see it red

The black birds thunder overhead. Below, the combatants gather. They are marked by red. They speak the names of the dead.

It is afternoon and I am sitting quietly in the warm sun. I have taken the afternoon off from working on the book to join a peaceful demonstration against police violence and racism. Around the steps at the front of Oakland City Hall, some hundreds of people have gathered, wearing red clothing and armbands and carrying signs of protest. They have recited softly the names of youths killed recently at the hands of militarized police forces. I am sitting with friends, wearing red, holding up the names of the dead, breathing together in silent prayer.

#NMOS2014 Pic courtesy of Julia Wong ‏(@juliacarriew).

Pic courtesy of Julia Wong ‏(@juliacarriew).


The demonstration was planned as a “national moment of silence”. Silence doesn’t come, though. Helicopters beat the air overhead. I’m not entirely sure when the official minute of silence begins. I go on praying silently, the peace prayer I use regularly as a meditation: Sid co nem, nem co doman. Peace to the sky, sky to the earth.

Beneath the beating wings, the combatants chant battle songs. They cry outrage, clamoring for justice, restitution. Light breaks over them.

The loud minute of silence has come to an end and people are beginning to rouse and cry out and chant. “Hands up, don’t shoot! Hands up, don’t shoot!” I begin to hear the outrage beneath the calm of the demonstration. “Black lives matter!”

Speakers step forward and begin to address the crowd. I’m deep in my prayer cycle. I’m not sure if I missed a speaker before Alan Blueford’s mother steps forward and begins to speak. She speaks with power about her son, another Black youth slaughtered unarmed, going to his death with his hands raised in surrender. She speaks of her community, their exhaustion with unending oppression, racism, violence, tragedy. She speaks of the end of patience and the need for action. “And I am a mother of action!” she cries out.


Another voice thunders it behind hers. It echoes silently over my head, over the thrumming of the helicopters, over the crowds with their red ribbons, over Jeralynn Blueford. The Hero’s Light, or something like it, breaks open over her. Anger and passion ripple through the crowd.

I can see that this demonstration is not one that will become a pitched battle today; but I sense a hunger for confrontation here. None of these people want battle for its own sake, but they are hungry for an opportunity to confront those who wield the powers that hold in place the oppressive situation they are living in. They contain an enraged desire to confront those who have brought about all these deaths, and who still refuse to be accountable.

I am starting to grasp why, apart from my own desire to help somehow, I felt the Morrígan pushing me to come down here today.  I grip the devotional stone in my hand and I return to my prayer cycle. The stone is dry against my palm, so dry. Peace to the sky, sky to the earth.


There is no bloodlust in the voice, though. I pause, sink inward and mull over what that means. I don’t think She’s saying She wants more bloodshed; the message feels impersonal, like the word of an unflinching observer. I think She’s saying that’s what it’s going to take for us to fully confront what we’re doing. I think She’s saying we can’t have peace until we can face this down, complete the confrontation with the specter of our own horrors. I find myself thinking of the seeress Fedelm, giving voice to her vision of the battle that her people have instigated for themselves.

“O Fedelm, how do you see our host?”

“I see it crimson, I see it red.”

They are all wearing red here today. And they are ready for this fight, past ready. Jeralynn Blueford is still speaking. People are echoing and responding to her words in quick, angry outbursts. I change to a new prayer: one for strength and victory. For justice. That is what these people are crying out for passionately. They are wise enough to know that before peace can come, justice has to come. The signs here say as much: “No justice/No peace” and “There can be no justice without struggle”.

I am reflecting on conversations I’ve seen recently, on the subjects of peace and war, violence and nonviolence, racism and justice. Asa West wrote this blog post, “I Have Conversed with the Morrígan about Gaza” in her blog Jewish Witch. It has provoked conversations in some Celtic polytheism forums about the nature of the Morrígan; whether She would ever advocate for a position of nonviolence as suggested in the blog. Whether it is incorrect to associate Her with peace as well as war. People have their various reactions. I think back on what I have learned of Her, and what I’ve experienced. Does She advocate for war, in Her mythology? Yes, no doubt. She is ever working to bring conflicts to a head. Sometimes, the texts say it’s so that She can revel in the carnage. But much of the time, Her motives are cryptic. Often, I think it has as much to do with observing the latent tension between conflicting forces, and bringing that tension to open battle so that it can be resolved.

There is this: Every time I’ve tried to ask Her about the merit of a particular war my country has engaged in, She has refused to answer. No, She tells me. Your wars are yours to own. Your sovereignty is your own and you must bear the weight of how you wield it. I will be there where the consequences unfold. For me at least, She never seems willing to advocate for or against. In the mythology, She gives poetic prophecies of both war and peace. But where the vision of peace comes, it is delivered together with a vision of conflict and suffering. Always presenting us with the choice, never allowing us to stand down from the consequences of choice.

There is also this I have learned: Peace is not the absence of conflict. Peace is more rightly to be understood as the condition of being free to live well. Freedom from violence is only one of its elements. That is to say, a situation where there is no active violence happening can still be very far from the peace we would hope for. Injustice may be enforced in the name of preserving “the peace”; but what is being served there is order, not actually peace. Where order comes at the expense of human life and dignity, and relies on coercion and threat, there is already no peace, even if there is no violence yet.  That is a condition that is neither war nor peace – and it is in that charged in-between space where we most hear Her voice inciting toward the conflict.

In Ferguson, Missouri, I’m told there were no homicides this year until the day that Michael Brown was shot dead by police this week. Someone might have said that the town was at peace. No blood had been shed. But look what latent violence was held there: That the white police force could be so tightly coiled in militarized terror and racialized contempt of its own population that the single trigger event could unleash all this violence against the people. That the Black community had been coexisting with a police force that hostile to them has to have meant coping with a constant threat to their ability to simply live daily life. This was not peace. It was simply a latent battle waiting to be unleashed. As are so many of our cities. Ferguson is no different than many places in America. On the same day I went out to the demonstration, I had to engage online with Celtic Pagans muttering veiled criticism against the idea that a Jewish woman like Asa West has a right to worship the Morrígan at all. Racism is in our culture. We cannot call this situation peace. We cannot hide in it from the conflict we have created for ourselves.

“I see it crimson, I see it red.”

I am not saying that I foresee bloodbaths needing to occur. I think we have opportunities every day to choose better ways, to choose for justice, to be more human to each other. I am hoping that the example of Ferguson may teach us something about the costs of choosing order instead of peace. I think part of its lesson, and the message I take today from the Battle Goddess, is that when the existing order has been enforced with injustice, that injustice demands to be confronted before peace can be found. That injustice represents a state of latent violence that must like a spring be uncoiled before the system can come to rest. That conflict and violence are not always antithetical to peace: peace and conflict do not exist in metaphysical opposition, but as coupled aspects of one dynamic.

And this: We have to fight for justice before the time will come when we can pray for peace.

7 comments on I see it crimson, I see it red

  1. Asa West says:

    Thank you so much for this incisive post. I knew I’d get flak for my post on Gaza, but I expected it all to be aimed at Gaza. I didn’t expect it to center on an unconventional interpretation of the lore (which, despite my perhaps questionable choice to use that line as the post excerpt, wasn’t even the main focus of my post). I was left feeling really off-kilter, but you’ve helped me center myself.

    A couple of days after the post went up, I meditated on it and asked the Morrigan what had gone wrong. I got one word–“battle”–along with a strong sense that things had gone exactly right. Perhaps all the issues tied up in the post and its reactions–lore versus gnosis and creative interpretation, antisemitism and tribalism, and, I think, a fair amount of sexism–were another example of latent tension that needed to come to a head.

    It’s just a shame that *that’s* where our community’s energy went, when meanwhile violence against people of color around the globe goes unchecked.

    Thanks again for all the work that you do.

  2. Lon Sarver says:

    Thank you, both for the action and the insight.

    A great deal of the harm in this country comes from people who will not take responsibility for their own actions, who will not take responsibility for the mistakes of their ancestors. Who don’t know the difference between fault, blame, and responsibility.

    The harm will continue until many more find the strength and compassion to take that responsibility.

  3. These are wise words indeed…

    While anti-Semitism in Ireland is a relatively modern thing (and has been especially bad, despite widespread cultural illusions and convenient fictions to the contrary, since the late 1800s), I’m especially disturbed to hear it in relation to Asa’s post and some “Celtic” practitioners’ reactions to it. My ancestry on both sides is heavily Jewish, and I didn’t have any difficulties connecting with the deities and heroes of Ireland when I went there and was accepted–even if as a cú glas–into the country both legally, socially, and (perhaps most important) spiritually. Julius Pokorny, a German Jewish linguist, helped to establish Old Irish as a respectable field of study for modern people early in the 20th century, and was able to evade the Nazis while doing so. It sickens me on multiple levels to think that people claiming to follow the gods are as racist and exclusionary in who they think is allowed to be devoted to Whom as they have (yet again!) demonstrated themselves to be in this matter.

    Victory and blessings to Asa; victory and blessings to you, Morpheus; and victory and the blessings of the Gods and the Non-Gods be on Herself, now and always!

  4. Pingback: Really | PAGANARCH
  5. river devora says:

    I have also asked various Gods for their opinions on some of the international conflicts and gotten similar responses: basically, that there is no quick fix on any of these issues, and it is the job of us living humans to fix our own problems. The Gods can inspire us to greatness, but our hands have to do the work. They will eat the energies of conflict and be nourished by it, if that is what we feed them. They will eat the energies of many things, as far as I can tell.

    Thank you, for what it’s worth, for standing up for Asa West’s right to engage with the Morrigan. I’m also Jewish, as well as being a polytheist, and we’re a tribal oriented culture. When you stand up for one of us in this way, you stand up for all of us. I’ve been involved with the broader pagan community for a long time, and have experienced a fair amount of anti-semitism. I don’t take my allies for granted. Blessings to you and your Lady ♡

  6. Benjamin says:

    A most cogent and thoughtful post.

    There is certainly ample precedent for the concept of “latent violence” in the natural world. Meteorology is an avid hobby of mine, and when we see a sunny morning turn into an afternoon with thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes, it is because there are imbalances in the atmosphere that must be resolved. Until the latent heat of the water vapor is expended, until the solar heat radiates fully into the atmosphere and into space, until the convection cycle ends, the storm continues. We have hurricanes every summer that form to disperse the heat and moisture of the tropics into the mid-latitudes and polar regions, and so it goes.

    We live in a society of profound imbalances, of patriarchy run amok, of massive disparities in wealth, of rampant racial chauvinism, of unsustainable industrialism. To expect everything to be sunny and peaceful whilst such gross inequities exist is to expect the laws of physics themselves to stand in abeyance. They will not. The sociopolitical thunderstorms will come–indeed, the longer we try and suppress them, the more powerful they will be when they do finally appear.

    I do not think Morrigan wants the storms to be suppressed. She is about sovereignty, and these imbalances deny it to millions–billions, even, if one has a planetary perspective (and Her race surely does). I feel She wants us to prepare to build a new society, one that learns from the mistakes of this one, so we can have peace after the storms rage through. By serving Her, we serve our own species too.

    1. Generally I dislike the mixture of politics and religion, it’s gauche and usually a transparent attempt by many to justify their own position through faith. I see these as separate things, and especially since my own libertarian political opinions are terribly unpopular in the pagan community.

      What is interesting is how we can agree: something is rotten in Furgeson. The standard lefty outrage over covert racism is intersecting with a libertarian concern over the militarization of the police, despite the fact the evidence is showing more the shooting may have been justified. We cannot know if was, but what is horrifying is the reaction from the State.

      I agree wholeheartedly that one of the Queen’s strongest connections is to personal sovereignty, and when the citizenry demand accountability from their servants, and are met with threats and guns pointed at them, She might have something to say about it. Something rather powerful.

      That voice, that gnosis is private and may compel me to action, but *I* own all the choices that gnosis compels me towards. She says that I must honor sovereignty, and in Furgeson sovereignty is being trampled. Do I protest peacefully? Violently? Where are my red lines?

      That kind of decision is mine to make, but I offer that decision and accompanying action as honor to Her.

      I will never tell you something as patently self serving as the Morrigan endorses my political choices; I will say only She asks me to stand by principles, strive for excellence, operate from a higher standard of care, and defend the innocent against injustice.

      I admire your choice to act. I don’t have much faith in such protest actions as having much effect. Why? Nothing backs up your actions against the brutality of the State. Look at the Bundy ranch standoff, regardless of your opinion, what convinced the BLM to back off and stop stealing this man’s cattle? The threat of violence. Of a people who’d had enough, really had enough, and took up arms against it. This was an object lesson on what the thugs really respect – the will of people who will not be ignored, pushed down, threatened or intimidated.

      You see crimson and you see red. But do your oppressors know it yet?

      I submit that maybe that’s what she means by “I will be there where the consequences unfold.”

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