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poetry

05
Sep - 19

The poetics of sorcery

This post contains an excerpt from the chapter on poetic and verbal enchantment in my work in progress, the Celtic Sorcery book. The full draft chapter was shared with patrons – I’ll be continuing to post excerpts from the work in progress here. It’s in rough unedited form, so reader beware.


The Irish poetics that is so richly represented in the medieval literature arises from a deep ritual tradition that is threaded throughout the Celtic cultures, as well as the rest of the Indo-European family. These poetics are equally central when it comes to magic and sorcery in the Celtic context. We find a profound relationship between Irish rosc poetry, as well as other metrical forms, and the Celtic curse texts of Gaul and Britain, as expressions of a distinctly Celtic poetic magic.

Those curse texts of Gaul and Britain represent an interesting fusion of Celtic with Mediterranean practices. As a literate form of magic built upon inscribing magical formula on metal tablets, the magical technology was adopted into Celtic cultural practices through contact with Greek and Roman customs. However, in the language of the texts, an indigenous Celtic poetics emerges that is recognizable to us from the study of Irish poetry. In the words of Bernard Mees, “the reason why the Celtic curses which are metrical seem more removed from the [classical Latin curse tradition] is because there was an indigenous Celtic tradition that curses, as spells, were things that were usually sung.”

This relationship between poetry and magic is also encapsulated in the term bricht and its cognates in different Celtic languages. In Irish, the word bricht means “charm, spell”, but also refers to a specific type of poetic meter, or the poem or spoken charm itself. Bernard Mees sees in this double meaning “evidence for a key Celtic relationship between magic and metrical form.” The importance of this dual concept of poetry as spell is also represented in the phrase brichtu ban, “spells of women”, preserved in multiple medieval Irish texts – most famously in the context of the protection charm called the Lorica of St. Patrick, invoking protection against “the spells of women and smiths and druids.” Its importance is also signaled by its preservation across time and distinct cultures, as a precisely cognate phrase bnanom brictom is invoked in a Gaulish magical tablet from the 1st c CE, deposited several hundred years earlier in a tomb in France. This phrase seems to have persisted as a way to describe a class of poetic sorcery especially associated with women.

The poet and seer Fedelm is introduced to us in the Táin Bó Cúailnge; she identifies herself as banfili, “poetess”, and appears in wealthy clothing, armed, and standing in a chariot from which position she chants poetry. She is clearly identified as a person with Otherworldly status or powers, having “three pupils in each of her eyes.” Her name is traces from the proto-Celtic root *uid– “to know”, with a connotation of knowledge gained by visionary sight. Her name is cognate to the Gaulish Uidlua, attested as a title for a female enchanter in a Gaulish curse-text. Fedelm is also identified, by Medb, as a banfaíth, the term for a female practitioner of the art of prophecy, and cognate to the Gaulish vates, diviners and sacrificers. Fedelm seems to represent an Irish reflex of a very ancient role or archetype, the high-status female seer and enchantress whose poetry reveals Otherworldly knowledge and power.


For access to the full draft chapter on poetics in Celtic sorcery (around 3,000 words), you can join as a supporter on Patreon.

What do you think about spiritwork in sorcery? Leave a comment or join the conversation in our Discord community.

30
Jun - 19

Poetic Armor

This is a snippet from the chapter on apotropaic (protective) magic in my work in progress, the Celtic Sorcery book. The full draft chapter was shared with patrons in May – I’ll be continuing to post excerpts from the work in progress here. It’s in rough unedited form, so reader beware.


Loricas & poetic shields

It should not surprise us to find verbal protection charms occupying a prominent place in Celtic magics, given what we know about the importance of poetry across all aspects of the tradition. In this section, we’ll look at lorica prayers and other forms of poetic spiritual armors.

Loricas are part of a class of protection prayers that invoke “armor” to shield the person; the word lorica is from Latin, often translated as “breastplate”, and more generally referring to armors of various kinds worn by Roman soldiers. Lorica prayers, and similar poetic armors, typically use verbal incantation to invoke divine protection, drawing these protections specifically to each of the parts of the body to build spiritual “armor”of protection over the person.  

From the Lorica of St. Fursa:

“The arms of God be around my shoulders
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all, my entire being.”

As this example shows, most extant examples of lorica prayers are generally Christian in framing and in the type of divine protection being invoked. It is not known if lorica prayers of this sort were known in a pre-Christian context. Some scholars posit lorica prayers as a hybridization of Celtic and Christian cultural elements, and that their use originated in Roman Britain, possibly as protection against pagan sorceries.  It has been observed that the overall structure of lorica prayers follows a similar pattern to that of the typical Celtic and Mediterranean curse tablet texts: invocation of divine aid, followed by the detailing of the body parts to be affected, and ending with a closure that may take the form of a pact with the divine entity invoked for aid. In view of these patterns, scholars have suggested that the lorica prayer developed as a Christianized protection magic, following a familiar and culturally ingrained magical formula while weaving in the religious iconography of the new faith.

Another way in which lorica prayers appear to inherit aspects of pre-Christian cosmologies lies in the iteration of the parts of the body. Many Celtic cosmological myths, as part of their inheritance in the Indo-European culture family, contain similar litanies of body parts in the context of the creation of the physical world from the body of a primordial sacrificed being. These litanies convey a cosmological construct in which the world itself is life created from life, matter from matter, following the sacrifice of a first divine being. They often follow a pattern of sympathetic linking of similar things: earth made from the being’s flesh, mountains from its bones, plants from its hair, and the like. In a similar vein, lorica prayers often sympathetically link divine qualities to the parts of the body being protected. In a sense, this type of prayer invokes a microcosmic mirroring of the divine act of cosmological creation into the building of spiritual armor.  

Other types of poetic shields exist which invoke more general spiritual shielding and protection, rather than focusing on building armor to a litany of specific body parts. A famous example of this type of protection prayer is the Spell of Long Life, also called the Deer’s Cry:

May Fer-Fio’s cry protect me upon the road, as I make my circuit of the Plain of Life.
I call on the seven daughters of the sea,
who shape the threads of long-lived children.
Three deaths be taken from me,
three ages be given to me,
seven waves [of plenty] poured for me.
May I not be molested on my journey
in my radiant breastplate / Breastplate of Lasrén without stain.
May my name not be pledged in vain;
May I have long life;
may death not come to me until I am old.
I call on my Silver Champion,
who has not died and will not die;
may time be granted to me
of the quality of bronze.
May my double be slain
may my law be ennobled,
may my strength be increased,
may my tomb not be readied,
may I not die on my journey,
may my return be ensured to me.
May the two-headed serpent not attack me,
nor the hard pale worm,
nor the senseless beetle.
May no thief attack me,
nor a company of women,
nor a company of warriors.
May I have increase of time
from the king of all.
I call on Senach of the seven ages,
whom fairy women reared
on the breasts of good fortune.
May my seven candles not be quenched.
I am an invincible fortress,
I am an immovable rock,
I am a precious stone,
I am the symbol of seven treasures.
May I be [the man of] hundreds [of possessions],
hundreds of years,  
each hundred in its [proper] time.
I summon my good fortune to me;  
may the grace of the Holy Spirit be on me.
Salvation is of the Lord
Salvation is of Christ
Your Blessings, Lord, upon your people.

Here this prayer shifts the formula to include an invocation of divine protection, and an enumeration of the forms of protection being called for, including a lorica (breastplate) of protection, but outside of the typical litany of body parts we see in most lorica prayers. It closes with a recitation of faith and invocation of divine blessing.  

Another form of shield prayer is the caim, known primarily from the Scottish Gaelic tradition. It is also called a “circle prayer”, as it invokes a spiritual shield encircling the body. Caim can mean a “loop” or “circle”, and is also sometimes translated “sanctuary” or “encompassing” (in the sense of “encirclement”). Caim prayers invoke a ring of protection which centers on the body and moves with the person as they go about. Folkloric collections such as the Carmina Gadelica indicate that the incantation was performed along with a physical ritual. The verbal incantation invokes holy powers to enchant an encircling shield of divine protection, while the invoker “stretches out the right hand with the forefinger extended, and turns round sunwise as if on a pivot, describing a circle with the tip of the forefinger while invoking the desired protection.” This ritual of encirclement certainly suggests a pre-Christian origin to the practice – the turning in a sunwise direction to invoke blessing is a practice found across many Celtic cultural sources, including the earliest Irish mythological texts.

Several examples of the incantation are preserved, including this one from the Carmina Gadelica:

The compassing of God and His right hand
Be upon my form and upon my frame ;
The compassing of the High King and the grace of the Trinity
Be upon me abiding ever eternally,
Be upon me abiding ever eternally.
May the compassing of the Three shield me in my means,
The compassing of the Three shield me this day,
The compassing of the Three shield me this night
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.
From hate, from harm, from act, from ill.  

Again, these incantations as we have them exist in a highly Christianized form. Given how much pre-Christian cosmology is contained in many of these prayers, it is blessedly easy to “back-engineer” them for use in a pagan context. This can be as simple as replace the names of Christian powers with other deities and adjusting a few images, or simply write new ones on a similar structural formula.


For access to the full draft chapter on apotropaic magic (around 5,000 words), you can join as a supporter on Patreon.

What do you think about poetic armor magic? Leave a comment or join the conversation in our Discord community.

05
Feb - 15

Adventures to come: PantheaCon and beyond

This blog has been quiet as I focused on completing the manuscript for the Book of the Great Queen. I hope to be back to regular blog writing soon as work on the book winds down. For now, I’m just sharing some updates about what’s coming up next for me.

Book Publication

I completed the manuscript for the Book of the Great Queen on December 31st, in alignment with my devotional commitment to the Morrígan and my publishing contract. Folks who have been following the story of this book may be amused to hear that the  day I handed over the manuscript to my editors and peer reviewers for critiques, was the very same day that my physical therapist gave me clearance to begin walking on the injured ankle using only one crutch. As a good friend said that day, “Good to know none of this magic stuff is for real, eh?”

Presently, I’m receiving the last of the critiques from my peer reviewers and will be completing edits to the manuscript throughout the rest of this month. I’ve been seeing early sketches and drawings for the cover design and illustrations from Valerie Herron, and I’m virtually frothing with anticipation, because they are gorgeous. Publication is on schedule for early May.

Poetry Project

cover imageAs part of the crowdfunding for the book, we raised extra funds for a special project to create audio recordings of the Morrígan’s poems, in Old Irish and English translations. The Poems of the Morrígan project completed recording and mastering in January, and have been released privately to campaign backers. I’ll be making them available to the general public later this month, starting with a public listening session at PantheaCon, in the Coru Priesthood’s Temple space and then opening them for download online.

What I’m particularly thrilled about is the inclusion of the Poem to Cú Chulainn, from the text Táin Bó Regamna. This poem has not been previously published in English translation to my knowledge. It will therefore be new to most students of the Morrígan’s lore, and I feel incredibly honored to be bringing this poem to the community, with special thanks to Isolde Carmody of the Story Archaeology Podcast for translation help. I am also grateful to P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, the folks at EMB Studios, and all the fine people who contributed their voices and talents to the recording.

And speaking of PantheaCon

PantheaCon Happenings

So much is happening at PantheaCon! I have too much on my PCon schedule to delve into detail in this post, so I’ll just list them and link to event pages and other sites for details:

Blood Drive PantheaCon 2015: Find the Hero In You | Fri 2/13 – Sun 2/15

Details hereFacebook event page here – Organized by the Coru Priesthood and Solar Cross Temple. Volunteers and Blood Donors are needed!

Coru Priesthood Temple of the Morrígan | Fri 2/13 – Sun 2/15

Details hereFacebook event page here – Temple Consecration rites take place Friday evening at 7 pm, and are open to the public (though space is very limited). Open worship hours are listed in the event page.

Roving Hero/ine Cultus Ritual with P. Sufenas Virius Lupus | Fri 2/13 – about 11 pm

Details here – We host a portion of this ritual dedicated to Cú Chulainn, the Morrígan, and in honor of veterans.

The Morrígan Speaks: Arise to the Battle | Sat 2/14 – 7 pm

Details hereFacebook event page here – A ritual inspired by the powerful words of Her ancient prophetic poems and Her call to battle, facilitated by the Coru Priesthood.

Poetess and Prophetess: The Morrígan and Poetry | Sun 2/15 – 11 am

Details hereFacebook event page here – A workshop with myself and Rynn Fox of the Coru Priesthood.

Coru Meet & Greet + POEMS OF THE MORRÍGAN Premiere | Sun 2/15 – 7 pm

Details hereFacebook event page here – A social gathering, and first public audio screening of the Poems of the Morrígan recordings.

Whew, that’s a lot!

More Adventures To Come…

Also launching at PCon is Sharon Knight’s PORTALS project, which looks very exciting. If enough people buy in to pre-order the album, and stretch goals are reached, I’ll be on board to do some artwork for this project. So go check it out.

I’ve updated my Events Calendar for some of the adventures coming up later this year, including book tour visits to Seattle and Vancouver, Many Gods West polytheist conference, and the Coru Priesthood’s Body of the Morrigan pilgrimage to Ireland. More details and book tour stops will be added soon!

Stay in touch, and I look forward to seeing some of you along my travels this year.

14
Feb - 13

Notes and Quotes

Due to a preoccupation with preparations for PantheaCon 2013, I’ve not had much time for writing in the last couple of weeks. I’ll return to more in-depth content here next week. For today, I have a few intriguing tidbits and links for you:

1. Kings Arise to Battle

Isolde Carmody at the Story Archaeology Podcast has published a translation of the Morrigan’s “Kings Arise to Battle” poem, from the Second Battle of Maige Tuiredh. Previously, I’d never found a translation of the full poem; most translations of the story give only the first line of the poem, followed by ellipses (…). It is incredibly exciting to me to have access to this full poem, and it’s a powerful one. Here’s an excerpt:

[A hundred] cuts blossom
Screams are heard
Battallions are broken
Hosts give battle
Ships are steered
Weapons protect

Every bit the fierce incitement to heroic ardor promised in the first line. I encourage you to go and read the full poem.

2. Rebuilding Her (Their) Cult(s)

Saigh at Flying with the Hooded Crow has posted a thoughtful response to my recent blog post on the historical cult of the Morrigan. She gives some fascinating descriptions of what a modern reconstructed cult of Gaelic warrior Goddesses might look like, following the model of the Gaelic warrior bands in a modern context:

So for me rebuilding Her/Their Cult/s is about the devotional practices, often very embodied ones. And in a modern context. These things would vary by whether one is a professional soldier or a, well, amateur walking the warrior path, of course, as well as on ability and talents. But it would involved fitness, practical martial arts training (which may not always be traditionally Gaelic and could include firearms training), culturally traditional Gaelic martial arts training (which may not always be practical), ecstatic shape-shifting, Seership, poetry and other arts.

The post is a good read and provides some enticing leads into what modern followers of the Morrigan might do as we gather into stronger communities. I am looking forward to continuing the conversation after I get back from travels.

3. Morrigan Devotional Ritual

John Beckett, Druid and Patheos blogger, writes an account of a recent devotional ritual to the Morrigan that he and his cohorts undertook.

She asked us to make our oaths on a spear, and warned us not to promise what we would not do…
One thing She said I clearly remember: “this is only the beginning.” This matches what I’ve heard from others who are working with and for Morrigan: a storm is coming. Gather your tribe. Reclaim your sovereignty. There is much work to do.

It always gives me a smile to see the ways in which She speaks similar messages to Her many devotees. I think it’s valuable for those of us working with Her to share experiences like this one.

4. Coru Priesthood Website

The Coru Cathubodua Priesthood, the Morrigan dedicant group I work with, has its own website now! You can find us at www.corupriesthood.com. The website is just going live today, so you may still see the occasional error if you’re following the link soon after I post this. We will be continuing to add more content as time goes on, including more prayers, invocations, spiritual exercises and rituals, devotional artwork, and essays. You can also check out our Events page, which includes initial details for our events coming up this spring, including monthly devotionals and workshops, as well as our June weekend intensive, Kindling the Hero’s Light, with special guest teacher Brendan Myers, Ph.D.

5. PantheaCon 2013

Finally, a last reminder – for those of you coming to PantheaCon this weekend in San Jose, here’s the schedule of my doings with Coru folk and others. Don’t forget to sign up to donate blood if you can at our Blood Heroes blood drive! Details on this and all our happenings here:

The Four Treasures in Myth and Practice
A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna and Ankhira SwordPlow
Friday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Meeting the Morrigan
A workshop with Morpheus Ravenna, Amelia Hogan & Brennos
Saturday 10 am – Coru Hospitality Room 261

The Heart is our Nation: A Morrigan Devotional
Coru Cathubodua Priesthood with T. Thorn Coyle & Sharon Knight
Saturday 7 pm – Cedar/Pine rooms

Battle Maiden: Morrigan Devotional Dance
Performance by Morpheus Ravenna as part of the “Many Faces of the Goddess” dance presentation led by Didi Gordon and Sarah Astarte
Saturday 11 pm – San Martin/ San Simeon rooms

Mimosa Mixer/Coru Meet & Greet
Coru Cathubodua Priesthood
Sunday 10 am – 12 noon – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Warriorship Traditions: A Moderated Panel Discussion
with Brennos, Robert Russell, Peter Dybing, Stefanie Clark, and Scott Rowe
Sunday 3:30 pm – Coru Hospitality Room 261

Brigid’s Forge: A Healing Ritual
with Rynn Fox
Monday 11:00 am – Cedar room

That’s all for now – I’m off to finish packing for my journey through the Pagan looking-glass!

22
Dec - 12

Faith in the Incandescent Sun

Inspired by conversations with friends about the Winter Solstice, and the old notion that we Pagans keep vigil fires lit on the Solstice in the belief that the Sun would not rise again unless we did: I post this poem for you. I wrote it for the Winter Solstice a few years ago.

Solstice Night

I have heard it said the sun will not rise again
if we sleep, if we
do not keep the vigil fire lit.
I wonder at this certainty:
Where the sun journeys in the long dark,
on what road traveling down the hidden ways,
can my signal fire reach him?
And whose voice is it echoing
in the black well of time
that turns the burning face of the sun
toward this earth again?

Long moments wane in the still night.
I am certain of few things:
Winter’s hand chills the door of my house.
It would be a mean season
but for these resolute, ardent
fires in our hearts and hearths.
I cannot tell if this fire warms the blind reaches
of winter’s deep cloak where the sun sleeps.
But I know the longing for heat and joy brings
us here to wake through the watches of the night,
not alone, but kindling together
our faith in the incandescent sun.

I am certain of the nameless age this earth
has turned always, ripe to cold to ripe again;
through which age if the sun had not
risen faithfully, aeon without number,
with yet no human tribe to call him home,
I would not now sit here burning the bones
of trees nursed from nut to leaf to arch by
this sun through long seasons, never failing
to rise when the earth called for day.

No, I think it is not we who will rekindle the hidden sun.
We keep the vigil fire in the hearth to
keep vigilant the flame that illuminates the heart.
It is we who have departed through long
toil and forgetting,
we who need calling back from shadow to rejoice with new eyes,
naked from gazing on the darkness,
now seeing as if new the sun’s radiant daily birth.

It is not the people calling who compel
the sun to wing back toward the spring,
however sweet may be our longing or how
bright may be our song;
this my heartbeat tells me.

For I know what impels the sun to bloom again each year:
It is the force that drives the rushing tide, that splits
the nut, that lifts both sap and blood;
it is the thunder of life surging through us all,
the urgent, wild, unyielding hunger to rise,
to rise again.

(c) 2008 Morpheus Ravenna

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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