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The Shieldmaiden Blog

Jan - 13

What Use Violent Gods?

In the comments to my last post, on the historical basis for the Morrigan’s cult, I was asked this question by a reader:

Given all this history, I have to ask — why is this deity willing to cooperate with you on nonviolent goals?

It’s a good question, and one which I often hear in one form or another, so I feel the subject really deserves its own post. Do war Gods, and does the Morrigan, relish slaughter? And, the part of the question that usually goes unspoken: If we worship war Gods like the Morrigan, won’t this engender more violence rather than assisting us to solve our problems more peacefully?

It is true, the Morrigan is classically known as a war Goddess; if only one descriptor of Her nature and function is given, it’s usually that one. Reading the medieval Irish source literature, one finds ample material to draw an image of Her as bloodthirsty and violent, reveling in slaughter. On the other hand, if you read shallow Llewellyn-style books about ‘Celtic Magick’ and the like, you may find Her being re-interpreted as a misunderstood form of earth/fertility Goddess, or equated with Morgan le Fay, her violent aspects smoothed away in favor of some polished archetype of ‘women’s empowerment’. The truth, of course, is more complex than either image.

Does the Morrigan relish slaughter? According to the Irish literature – the only substantial literature we have on Her – yes, she does. There is no point denying or whitewashing it. We read things such as this:

Here and there around us are many bloody spoils; horrible are the huge entrails the Morrigan washes. She has come to us, and evil visitor; it is she who incites us. Many are the spoils she washes, horrible the hateful laugh she laughs. She has tossed her mane over her back; a good, just heart hates her. (Reicne Fothaid Canainne, 9th century poem)

Here we have everything She’s so often accused of: inciting war, reveling in the bloodshed and carnage. But of course, within the same body of lore, we also find Her described as a poet and satirist, a high and strong queen, an alluring woman holding wealth in cattle, a shape-shifting druidess, and many other things besides. As I wrote in reply on the previous post,

Yes, She does have an epiphany that revels in the slaughter, and because it’s one of the ones documented in literature, it gets a lot of attention… I think in part because the Irish heroic literature was written down by Christian monks, we get a clear picture only of those aspects of the Celtic heroic ethos that were comprehensible to them. There are a lot of places where the Morrigan, or one of her cognates, is glossed as a demoness, or a fury; images that were familiar to the people of the time from the Greco-Roman literature, but which turn out to be a great oversimplification of our Queen. Because they are purely wrathful entities with a fairly limited function, whereas She is a multifaceted tribal Goddess who possesses wrathful qualities and forms.

I think, however, that it’s important not to write off the Morrigan’s violent aspects entirely to Christian slander. That would be an injustice to Her and to the historical context within which She arises. Battle was a way of life to the Iron Age Celts, and this reality is reflected in everything that was written about them, just as it is reflected in the nature of their divinities and their religious practice.

So, again, if we aren’t personally interested in creating bloodshed, why would we want to invite this deity into our practice? Because the battle aspect arises from something deeper than bloodlust, something that we need to survive. I’ve said before that warriorship, the willingness to fight, is love in action. And just so, the Morrigan is sovereignty in action.


Sovereignty in action. This is the essence of why the Morrigan is a helpful divinity even for those who wish never to participate in violence of any kind. This statement isn’t a new-age revisionist view of Her; it is borne out by scholarly study of Her history. The earliest manifestations of deity that can be traced to Her were in the form primarily of tribal/territorial Goddesses – that is to say, the Goddess of our land and our people. When the historical context of these tribes led to the sovereignty of their land and people being under threat, these tribal/territorial Goddesses begin to take on martial, protective aspects, eventually emerging as full-blown war Goddesses, of which the Irish literature presents the most detailed image in the form of the Morrigan.

In the exhaustive study, Goddesses in Celtic Religion, Noemie Beck writes,

As will be seen, various goddesses, such as the Irish Mórrígain and the British Brigantia, possess the double aspect of land and protection in their character. They were originally goddesses embodying the landscape and were later attributed significant war-like attributes and pictured protecting their people and territory… As representatives of the tribe, they preside and rule over the territory and people; a sovereign role which leads to a significant function of protection and defence of the land. The Irish mythological legends indeed evoke the pronounced war-like character of the territorial/tribal-goddesses… The land-goddess was thus turned into a war-goddess when protection was needed in time of conflict.

Okay, but does She have to enjoy it so much? It might be pointed out that, at least in the Irish literature, we have descriptions of the Morrigan and Her related manifestations (Badb, Nemain, Fea, Macha, etc.) not only protecting the tribe in time of war, but appearing to actively incite war. She is said to lust for battle and to revel in the bloody slaughter, dancing over the spear-points of the battle.

Yes, in brief; She does have to enjoy it. Warriors do not prevail in the arena of war by maintaining a distaste for bloodshed nor an ambivalence about violence. A warrior may love peace, but when a moment of conflict does arise, the necessity is to throw your whole being into the act, leaving no room for hesitation or ambivalence. The warrior in that moment must love battle ardently, must desire nothing but the mad glory of the fight, the perfection of violence as martial art, the destruction of all who threaten her/him. This is what will give her or him the greatness of heart, the madness required to charge forward into the waiting blades of an adversary against all the natural instincts of self-preservation. And this is what the Morrigan incites, when She is inciting warriors to battle. She is drawing them into their battle ardor, pushing them to a state of enhanced fury and power that will allow them to survive, to achieve greatness and heroic glory. It is a service She is giving them.

And it goes deeper, too.  She has to enjoy it because it is Her job to devour the slain. It is part of Her eco-spiritual function as a scavenger bird deity, and a Goddess of death. She, like the Valkyrie, enables the transition of the souls of fallen between this world and the Otherworld. She Herself is the gateway through which the dead pass as She literally devours their bodies, drinks in the release of life force, and receives their souls. Should we tell the mountain lion she ought not to revel in the death of the deer? Tell the carrion crow to close her eyes and think of England when she wets her bill with the blood of the dead? The Morrigan lusts for blood because it is Her role in the shape of things. All beings hunger for that which they must eat.

Yet She is more complex than this, still. She doesn’t only enjoy the slaughter, She also weeps for it. The very specter in which She is often most gruesome, the Washer at the Ford, seen on the eve of battles washing the horrible and bloody spoils of the dead – is the same epiphany in which She displays the full pathos of Her role. Weeping and moaning, warning of the doom awaiting, sometimes even begging the warrior not to go to the fight. It is as though the gruesomeness of Her aspect, the reveling in carnage and bloody horror, is there in part to remind us of the terrible cost of war.

After one of my communions with the Morrigan some years ago, in which I asked similar questions of Her, I wrote in my journal of what I had seen in Her eyes:

Washer at the Ford, Alan Lathwell

It is not only we humans who pay the cost of our people’s choices; the Gods bleed too. The Morrigan isn’t only the sword that slays in battle; She is also the blood that spills, the ground that swallows the blood and receives the dead, and the phantoms that remain, echoing the horror. She is the frenzy of the slayer, the terror of the slain, and the grief of the bereft. A human being only pays the cost of war for the duration of a human life; She has been paying it again and again for millenia… Seeing war through the eyes of the Morrigan, the whole long, aching view of history littered with mountains of corpses offered up to futile wars to achieve something that no one now remembers, the rivers of blood and tears that have flowed through Her, the countless efforts to communicate this sorrow to people who don’t want to listen; I could no longer imagine that Her rage was born only from delight in the carnage.

Ultimately, my contact with the Morrigan has shown me that warfare and violence are our own responsibility, our own failure to fully evolve. It has taught me that we are the product of our heritage, just as She is of Hers: inheritors of the whole bloody river of history and all its ingrained cultural habits. That we are what we eat, and should we ever reach a stage of evolution where we no longer feed Her through war, She will go on receiving the souls of the dead in perhaps a less violent form.

I sometimes think that the problem with our culture isn’t that violent Gods move us toward violent goals. I sometimes think the problem with our culture is that we have given up our war Gods, or at least pretend we have. That we might be infinitely better off if our relationship to warfare and violence was framed by worship of entities such as the Morrigan, who at least will insistently remind us to count the cost of war, and will remind us of our honor and what’s worth fighting for. Instead we seem to have some faceless death-machine for a war God – the great military-industrial destroyer, its totemic winged drone-birds hovering around it, as we relentlessly feed our youth, our wealth, our humanity, our liberty into its grinding maw while carefully looking away.

I’ll entrust what I love to the Battle Raven over that God any day.

24 comments on What Use Violent Gods?

  1. Angela says:

    I don’t have the words to describe how much this hit home, how much I love it and how thankful I am that you have shared it. It is so wonderful to see someone else who views our Queen this way.

    Blessings of the Ancestors

    1. Morpheus says:

      I’m so glad to hear that this resonates with you, Angela. Always good to connect with a fellow devotee, and thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. michi says:

    I have learned to differentiate between Sekhmet enthroned and Sekhmet going forth. Also to seperate out Bast as an aspect of Her.

  3. Xot says:

    When I was younger I had problems with rage. What you said about a warrior needing bloodlust in the moment (not your exact words by far) reminded me that my rage hasn’t gone anywhere, I’ve just accepted it as part of myself. Anyway, I wanted to share the haiku that your writing inspired:

    Rage dwells within me
    My Core molten like the Earth
    My Skin a thick crust

  4. John Beckett says:

    Thanks for this. It’s important for people to begin to understand deities in the full context of their many functions and in the full context of the ancient societies of which they were a part, instead of a few lines from a website or a book of questionable scholarship.

    The best definition I’ve heard of “warrior” is “one who does what must be done, no matter what.” Perhaps that means fighting off a foreign invader. Perhaps that means working a bad job to provide for your family. Perhaps that means spreading the message of sovereignty to a society of zombies.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Yes yes yes! I am in a mode of really wanting to reach people with a deeper and more contextualized understanding of who the Morrigan was and is. As part of my work, I’ve been looking up all the different communities and net-circles focused on Her that I can find, just to see what people are saying and doing. There’s a lot of really shallow theology about Her being circulated in Morrigan-focused Facebook groups, let me tell you. I cringe daily when I look at this stuff in my feed. My list of future blog topics is getting more and more full of misconceptions about Her that I need to address. I am sure all the Gods probably need this kind of education done for them, but I’m dedicated to this one.

      On the definition of warrior, I might go with something just a few degrees angled from yours: I think a warrior is someone who puts themselves in harm’s way, in service to a need or greater good. That is to say, there are many kinds of people who are dedicated and bear burdens in service to what is needed, without necessarily being in a combative position where they must fight for something. I think that notion of fighting for something has to be in the definition, because, well, the root of the word ‘warrior’ is war, combat. And I think that taking on significant risk of direct personal harm has to be part of the definition. That doesn’t have to mean physical harm always, and I’m not saying you aren’t a warrior if you don’t face death every day. But it seems to me that with the looser definition of ‘doing what must be done even if it’s hard’, the majority of parents would qualify, as would masses of other people, and the term kind of loses its meaning. Perhaps it might be accurate to say, ‘doing what must be done, against opposition, and at personal risk’, or something. Because you might be dedicated to a thing, and you might be practiced for and willing to protect it, but in some sense you aren’t a warrior until you’ve actually had to fight for it. Just as a young person can have great martial skill and practice every day, but their people might not consider them a real warrior till they’ve faced an adversary for the first time. And we might not consider a mother to be warrior just because she gives up sleep to do what’s needed to take care of her child; but that mother who stands down a mountain lion, or a home invader, to protect her child – that one we call a warrior.

  5. Helix says:

    Thanks for this articulate series of posts.

    I hear you saying that within the Morrigan, there are qualities that inherently balance Her bloodier and more violent aspects. Nevertheless, it does sound like her primary context is war (though she participates in all the roles within that context).

    Do you ever find it difficult not to apply that paradigm and context to parts of life where other paradigms are possible? I have worked with my share of dark gods, but I’ve never chosen to pledge myself solely to any one deity. I think I would be concerned that however much wisdom a deity has to offer me, that deity is still only a piece of the whole, and fully internalizing Her or His values might lead me down a narrower path than would be ideal. (Though, to head off the obvious objection, I certainly see that a refusal to commit also deprives of the kind of depth needed for growth — rather, since our culture is already so soaked in agonistic language and thinking, I would hesitate to choose death or war as a primary context.)

    1. Morpheus says:

      Thanks for continuing this very engaging conversation, Helix! I am appreciating the deep questioning.

      Nevertheless, it does sound like her primary context is war (though she participates in all the roles within that context)

      This is a whole subtle and tricky space. Whether Her primary context was war historically, somewhat depends on where you draw the boundaries of identity between Her and other divinities that can be variously understood as separate Goddesses or as aspects of Her. For example, Macha is a name and personage often glossed and identified as the Morrigan Herself in the texts, though some people treat Her as a discrete entity. Macha is one of the older layers within the Morrigan complex, and the name Macha means, literally, plain or field (deriving from the word mag, e.g. Mag Tuiredh, the plain where the battle of the Tuatha against the Fomoire takes place). Looking at Macha, Her primary associations are with horses, queenship and sovereignty, pregnancy and childbearing, and She has very strong linkages to cultural practices surrounding sacred kingship and the binding of the sovereign to the land; seen in practices such as the Iron Age Brittonic kings who were said to mate with a white mare as part of the kingmaking ceremonies and the blessing of the fields. Macha also does appear in battle contexts, but it could well be said that her primary context was rulership and its attendant rituals.

      Similarly, other epiphanies of the Morrigan, sometimes under that name, sometimes under the name of Badb or Badb Catha, frequently occur in the context of bardic poetry, where she serves the function of giving prophecy: often of battle outcomes, but also of other things, such as the number of generations a king’s line will last, the well-being and justice of the kingdom in its future, etc. She also fulfills a bardic role in announcing and retelling great deeds, as well as Druidic satire. She gives a famous poetic benediction, “Peace up to the sky; sky down to the earth; earth beneath sky; strength in everyone; a cup very full; a fullness of honey…” It goes on to invoke an eternal peace where destructions have forever departed. This is the Queen acting in the realm of tribal and land Goddess, blessing the people.

      This was kind of the point of my post – it’s actually a misunderstanding to look at Her as fundamentally a war Goddess; not because war isn’t Her sphere, but because Her participation in war is always derivative from Her primary function, which is as a tribal sovereignty Goddess. If you come to the table, as most people do, with an assumption that you’re dealing with a war Goddess, you might be inclined to separate out entities such as Macha because they don’t fit the mold; or to dismiss Her other spheres of action. That’s a mistake I think a lot of people make, resulting in a narrowed understanding of the Morrigan’s realm and identity.

      That being said, I also think there is a historical evolution happening. Warfare was the primary arena in which people met challenges to collective sovereignty in the Celtic Iron Age. When your country was facing destruction, enslavement of its people and looting of its wealth, this was in physical terms that were resisted physically by force of arms. Today, in most Western countries at least, enslavement is a matter of more subtle forces of disenfranchisement and erosion of liberties; the looting of nations is happening in the abstract world of multinational finance. It could well be said that even if Her primary context was war in ancient times, it isn’t now. I can vouch from personal experience that She is evolving along with this. She has been very active around happenings such as the Arab Spring and, Occupy movement, and other mass protests, and is keenly concerned with the same forces those movements are responding to.

      Do you ever find it difficult not to apply that paradigm and context to parts of life where other paradigms are possible? I have worked with my share of dark gods, but I’ve never chosen to pledge myself solely to any one deity. I think I would be concerned that however much wisdom a deity has to offer me, that deity is still only a piece of the whole, and fully internalizing Her or His values might lead me down a narrower path than would be ideal.

      Fair question. Actually, I think I was more at risk of applying combative responses where they didn’t belong in the earlier days of my association with Her, when I was still being broken in, you might say. Ironically that tendency has become less and less the deeper I went in my relationship with Her. You would probably get a more objective picture if you asked associates of mine, but I’ll venture to say that I’m not known as someone who goes around picking fights. I’m known for being pretty direct, and for often being the one who’s willing to start the uncomfortable conversation or say the painful thing that needs saying, but I am actually very compassionate about how I handle that stuff, and I tend not to have enemies.

      She’s urged me to learn how to fight and to study martial disciplines, but that hasn’t resulted in the problem of “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Because dedication to the Morrigan doesn’t result in having only one tool or response. She’s far more subtle and complex than that. I would venture that most ancient divinities actually are, if you take the time to understand them deeply. And though I do belong to the Morrigan, I still have active and meaningful relationships with other Gods, too – some of whom She has demanded me to approach, because they had something to offer that She wanted me to learn.

      1. Helix says:

        Thanks so much for these detailed replies. I certainly acknowledge that every deity offers greater and greater complexity as we deepen our relationships with them.

        I may have missed you writing about this already, but what is “sovereignty” in our modern political context? I understand it on an individual, spiritual basis — sovereignty in one’s own life — but I am less clear when it comes to the intricacies of international politics. For instance, in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, sovereignty for one seems to inherently mean destruction for the other. You mentioned protest movements — do you understand Her as being particularly interested in the sovereignty of the underdog, so to speak? And is sovereignty necessarily political?

        Thanks for your willingness to write about your relationship to this deity and these issues. It’s helping me to contextualize my much more limited contact with Her.

        1. Scott Schulz says:

          I would second the request for a deeper dive into your thealogy of Sovereignty. My one quibble as an otherwise happy participant of the most recent Samhain ritual was its intent to “…returning Sovereignty to its rightful and natural source…” (from your earlier blog entry “The Hollow Place”). I presume that you are reaching for something deeper than a return to a monotheistic feudalism (the Divine Right of Kings) or even a henotheistic dedication to the particular Goddess of a willing and self-selected tribe of like-minded people. Your writing and art seem to point toward a thealogy of deep individual worth via a profound reconnection to a particular deity, and yet the fear is that in the telos of such a path we’d be merely exchanging places with the current oppressors. Thus, other branches of the Feri-tree (Reclaiming in particular, I believe, though I have no direct experience with Reclaiming) have endeavored to root out hierarchical language, and yet “Sovereignty” seems to mean something more, deeper or other to you than Auntie Starhawk’s dismissed “power over”.

          Thus, Sovereignty at first blush appears to be problematic in itself, and that’s compounded by dedication to a purportedly “violent god”. One approach to dark gods is that their activity defines their opposite. You see this approach in, for instance, Gaiman’s The Sandman where the Endless all define their opposite (Death defines life, Delirium defines sanity, Destruction defines creation, your namesake defines reality, etc.) But that approach does not appear to be what you’re arguing for here.

          If the Morrigan has compassionately and passionately committed to entering (or being) the fray, to inhabiting the worst of human conflict, to collecting and carrying the wounds and grief of unrelenting battle across this good green earth, to being the tip of the bullet AND the sharp shock of each body riven, then the question for me, at least, is why? I think you are trying to get at that reason by appealing to “Sovereignty” but I’m not seeing how that concept represents a transformative path from what we sentient beings have now to want we want to have or, at least, to evolve towards having.

          1. Scott Schulz says:

            Eek: sorry for the double post.

          2. Morpheus says:

            Ah, it sounds like we needed to provide more background at the Feast about what is meant by sovereignty. Since I’ve been steeping myself thoroughly in this lore and work for a while now, it wasn’t until quite recently (last few months) that I’ve started to realize that sovereignty itself is not an idea or body of knowledge that many people are familiar with. I’ll be addressing that in this blog in upcoming posts. For now, I’ll have to give you some very brief shorthand on it.

            Sovereignty does not equal ‘being ruled by a monarch’. Actually, far from it, even though in most of the ancient Celtic cultures kings were the designated vessels of sovereignty. So no, what we are NOT trying to do is create some kind of feudalistic rulership system in the Morrigan’s name. If that’s the impression you were left with, OOPS.

            Sovereignty, in the historical context in which it arises in Celtic lore, is a power arising from the land and its people, which is conferred upon (i.e. delegated to) a worthy leader by the action and blessing of the Goddess of that land and people (aka, a Goddess of sovereignty), for the protection and stewardship of that land and people.
            Some key elements to note:
            –Sovereignty is understood as a power, not just in the sense of a leader having power, but also in the sense of spiritual power. In the Celtic paradigm, the justice, worthiness, and integrity of the ruler are inherently connected to the well-being and health of both land and people, because they are understood to be connected by this flow of power.
            –Sovereignty differs from the authoritarian power you reference in that you cannot make yourself the true (read: rightful) sovereign by taking power from people. It has to be given, because it arises from the land itself, and the people of the land.
            –Sovereignty has the notion of self-determination implied within it; or at least is compatible with modern notions of the right of a people to self-determination through democracy. We don’t go for kings here, but we do delegate our sovereignty into the person of leaders, giving them a mandate to rule. (And for what it’s worth, in many cases Celtic kings were chosen by election and confirmed by ritual via the sovereignty Goddess; though election was usually only from within the royal warrior classes, still some level of self-determination of peoples does trace back with sovereignty).
            –Sovereignty in the derivative modern sense as practiced by spiritual folk is also understood as personal autonomy: the idea that ownership of one’s own body and life is an inherent, sovereign right of all people, and is necessary for spiritual integrity.

            The work that I and the other Coru priests have been doing with the intention to support the restoration of sovereignty arises from the feeling, I think shared very widely by spiritual folk, that in our present political and economic system, there is a massive erosion of sovereignty via disenfranchisement of the voter, corruption of our democratic process, economic slavery, imperialism, and forces of that kind. It arises from the perception that the power being wielded by the ruling class in our society has overreached the sovereignty we entrusted to them, and amounts to a theft of our sovereignty. Thus the intention with the ritual of the sword and the lake is to help return the power of sovereignty to its source, so that the rightful flow of that power can be re-asserted.

            Does this clear up a few things for you? I’ll be addressing this subject further in upcoming posts, too.

          3. Scott Schulz says:

            Thanks, Morpheus, I look forward to reading more from you on the topic. I wasn’t really confused at the Feast: most Pagans share the belief that our society’s connection to the Earth is largely broken, and that re-establishing that connection is an essential, necessary and revolutionary action. But the idea reviving of Sacred Kingship is fraught with issues that should be carefully considered and addressed particularly by our bards.

            One such issue is the loci of power investing in a single individual from a particular caste (“…only from within the royal warrior classes”) even when that power is moderated and blessed via a hieros gamos with the Divine Feminine as embodied by Her High Priestess. There have been many Pagan societies in history (not just in Celtic cultures) that have been structured in that fashion (Fraser’s The Golden Bough contains many examples as does Campbell’s Primitive Mythology). The concentration of power (particularly, judicial power) in the hands of few generally created structural issues as population increased and cities grew. One of the key reasons for Christianity’s growth in the Roman-era Pagan Mediterranean was that the ecclesiastical courts were far more immediately available when it could take years for a Roman governor to return on the circuit to reach a particular city.

            Thus, I am skeptical that the sovereignty invested in our political leaders is, by itself, a panacea. If we could flip a switch and immediately elect a Pagan President of the US who went through the hero’s journey to the Kore and returned fully committed to this good Earth, it wouldn’t matter much if the rest of society were still driven by consumerism. Thus, any Pagan vision for the future is currently competing against at least two larger and dominant paradigms: secular and largely atheistic Modernism and mostly Christian Traditionalism.

            Therefore, I’d like you to dig at the eschatology implicit in your vision of sovereignty. We can conjecture the ideal towards which Modernism aspires: an entirely farmed and exploited planet sustaining the maximum number humans and only those species that are proved necessary for humanity’s survival. And Christianity will largely focus on the next world rather than this one as it always has so that the Earth and all its non-renewable resources can be fully used up since it’s useless after the Second Coming. Contrary to these two visions, where would a Goddess-fueled sovereignty take us?

          4. Morpheus says:

            Scott, I’m not sure where the disconnect is, but I’m still not being understood. The Coru priesthood is not a political action committee, and we are not trying to revive the practice of sacred kingship as a political system, nor are we endeavoring to install a Pagan president. Those are all assumptions you’ve brought to the conversation.

            We are a priesthood, not a political organization. With regard to sovereignty, our mission is toward helping people to understand what sovereignty is and how it functions for them both personally and collectively, so that they can make their own empowered choices about what best serves their sovereignty, and ours as a society of people. My vision is based on the hope that with greater awareness of personal and collective sovereignty, people may be better armed to work in whatever realm they choose (social, political, economic, ecological etc) for the betterment of our world. Politically, it is my hope that these efforts would contribute to restoring, and strengthening, a healthy system of representative governance, because I believe that when it functions properly, such a system best serves the sovereignty of the people (as well as the relationship of the people to the land). But what’s most important for you to understand is that I and the Coru are not about direct political action toward this end – as a spiritual body, not a political one, our mandate is to support people in developing the awareness, inner strength, and spiritual tools to allow them to act in a more empowered way toward the restoration of sovereignty in whatever form best serves them. I hope that makes sense.

        2. Morpheus says:

          Sovereignty is such a big and deep topic that I’m not sure I have directly addressed it in this blog, though I’ve certainly referred to it. I suppose it’s time I devote a post (or a few) to exploring that.

          I’m not sure I’m in a position to make statements about how the Israel-Palestine conflict can be resolved while preserving the sovereignty of both peoples. If someone as remote from the details of the issue as me could come up with such an answer, I imagine it would have been solved by now. I can only say that it has started to seem to me that their answer may have to be found in shifting/softening the boundaries of the body for whom sovereignty is being sought. In other words, finding a more inclusive national identity in which both populations can participate. Not saying that’s likely or feasible any time soon, although I’ve heard about some beautiful things happening that might give one a gleam of hope.

          You mentioned protest movements — do you understand Her as being particularly interested in the sovereignty of the underdog, so to speak? And is sovereignty necessarily political?

          As I understand Her, she seems to be interested in both personal and collective sovereignty. I’m not sure I’d have put it in terms of underdogs, but it has seemed that She’s taking an interest in places (even remote from Her cultural origins, such as Egypt) where there are large bodies of people uprising against forces that have undermined or taken their sovereignty. Is sovereignty political? Yes, I would say so. If we understand sovereignty as the power that arises from the unity of land and people and is vested in leaders for just government and stewardship of land and people, then that is certainly a political dynamic. That’s generally what’s meant in the historic context, within the lore. The notion of personal sovereignty, being the ‘monarch of one’s own skin’, is derived from that collective notion of sovereignty. But even the personal sovereignty has political implications. We see that in the political battle that’s being re-fought currently in the US and elsewhere over women’s reproductive rights. That’s an example of personal sovereignty being highly politicized.

          1. Helix says:

            That’s interesting. It sounds like you’re approaching the ancient idea of personal sovereignty from a post-Enlightenment individualist standpoint — assuming that collective sovereignty is achieved through the sovereignty of individuals (“the personal is political”), not that the sovereignty of individuals must necessarily follow from collective sovereignty. (Or perhaps there’s a back-and-forth there where collective and individual sovereignty are dependent on each other, but it’s easier at this point in history to begin with the individual.) That’s certainly in keeping the values of a democratic society, but it seems a very different model of the flow of power than I find in older societies. (This is not a judgment in any way, just an observation — I’m American, I can’t help thinking that the basic social unit is the individual. :> ) Is that a fair paraphrase of what you said?

            Thanks again for the stimulating conversation. I look forward to your unpacking the concept of sovereignty in a modern context further.

          2. Morpheus says:

            I think it flows both ways, from personal to collective and collective to personal. But I think that a person’s awareness of sovereignty begins with the personal and expands from there, or at least that seems like the best place to begin in teaching the awareness of it.

            I think the shape of how collective sovereignty manifests in a political system is going to look very different from, say, Iron Age Ireland. Kingship, even a limited kingship with some proto-democratic features, is not what I think anybody in our sphere is looking for. I just feel that these strata of history and culture have something important to teach us about the concept of sovereignty itself, its relation to land and spiritual forces and to the heroic ethos, and it’s my hope that in bringing some of that forward, we might help people to claim a more empowered stance with regard to their sovereignty and their place in the collective.

  6. Lon Sarver says:

    The gods are not manifestations of our ideal world; they’re embodiments of the forces in this world. One of those forces is violence, so of course we have violent gods. The world is not all violence, though, and so neither are the gods.

    I was fascinated to read your account of your communion; I’ve gotten similar insights from Dionysos. He is drunkenness and the life of the growing vine, he is the hangover and the DTs, the euphoria and the nausea. He is all that alcohol is and does, and the drink itself. The face and name are just the smallest part of him.

    The gods are complex and embody all aspects of whatever it is they’re “god of.” Even the ones we don’t like.

    1. Morpheus says:

      Yes, and I find myself even shying away from language that describes them as ‘the God of’ something. At least, for many of the Gods I’m close to, that kind of terminology is problematic. They’re the God of so many things… Because they are living beings. It’d be like saying I’m the woman of tattooing, or the woman of red hair, or something. It’s tough to describe without defining, if you know what I mean.

      Totally unsurprised to hear those insights into Dionysos. Yes, yes, yes, the being all the contexts and aspects of His spheres of influence. Very much parallel to my experience.

      And with regard to violence, it has occurred to me before that a very great number the ancient Gods have some violent aspect. It might be more an exception to find Gods from the ancient world who have NO violent aspects. My impression is that in those times, by averages the human experience was more likely to include violent experiences than what many of us are privileged to know today. Besides the fact of the cosmos itself encompassing violent forces as well.

      1. Helix says:

        > It’d be like saying I’m the woman of tattooing, or the woman of red hair, or something.

        And yet it seems like so much ancient literature constantly uses epithets like that for both human beings and gods. Our modern perception of what makes up a self must be fairly different from our ancestors’.

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