Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cauldrons in the Dishwasher: Devotion in Action

   This will be a short post, as I’m writing it in an underground bunker at the moment.  Well not exactly a bunker, but we are below the ground surrounded by poured concreate. Maybe we can call it the Raven Lair.  I’m lucky enough to have a partner who’s job both requires him to ride out hurricanes at work (making sure everything stays running) but also welcomes family and pets to ride out the storm in a safe location complete with generator, water and snacks.  Maybe the internet will hold out long enough for me to finish this blog post.

  This week has been a long one of watching the weather channel and getting a crash course in armature meteorology.  So as a category 5 hurricane barrels across Puerto Rico and Cuba, and heads toward my home in Florida along with all the other mundane hurricane preparations of boarding up windows and filling water cubes and the bath tub, there have been other less mundane preparations happening as well.  Libations poured, offerings made, advice asked for and received. Now that everything is done and we are set up in the Lair, safe and waiting for the storm to do whatever it is going to do, I realize just how important my devotional work is to me.  How interwoven and vital it is to my life.  In between organizing food stores in the pantry I light the candle on the Dagda’s sprawling altar.  It was much smaller at one point, and I had this incredulous image in my head of him with a raised eyebrow saying “Really? Me. I’m going to fit in this tiny space”. He has an entire shelf now, his items somehow have become sprawled out like that person who is a bed hog and just stretches and takes over the whole space.  I pour him whiskey and ask Him to stand between us and danger.  His cauldron which is a resin replica is fragile so I put it in the dishwasher so if anything does get through the windows it is safe.  I saw a post online about putting photos and things you want to keep safe or from water damage in the dishwasher.  Other people are putting photo albums in there, me I’m storing God Bling for safe keeping.

   We board up the windows and later that night I make offering to Hekate to guard the boundaries, to protect this place and those who dwell here.  Each morning I made offering to the Great Queen, going through my usual prayer cycle and adding to it a prayer for protection written by Morgan Daimler.  There are other offerings made, to Oya, to Brighit, and to all the Gods I have a deep relationship with.  Its as vital to me and the practical things we are doing to prepare for the storm.  Their voices are familiar, the prayers I say are familiar too, because I speak them often, they are a regular part of my life.  And I realize how important these relationships are to me.  

   Devotional practice is often a difficult subject to describe to others. By its very nature it is a very personal practice and each individual will go about it in a myriad of ways.  In the end its all about building a relationship with the divine.  Its not a 1-800 number to the divine vending machine, and its not a number you dial only when you need something.  Building a relationship with a deity is a rewarding experience.  Just like any other relationship you learn to recognize Their voice, likes and dislikes. The strength of that bond is carried with you in everything that you do.

  Devotional work, our relationships with the Gods, should be something that sees us through hard times.  Its not just there on Mabon or Samhain etc, or the next Pagan festival.  Its there all the time, fulfilling us, urging us onward and sustaining us as only the Gods can.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Halidom of Macha: Oaths on the Point of a Blade

"Fergus said: ‘By the point of my sword,
halidom of Macha, swiftly shall we wreak vengeance.."
-Tain Bo Cuailgne

   The topic of oaths has been on my mind lately.  There are many different kinds of oaths, and none should be entered into lightly.  The oaths we take often can shape our lives, our relationship to the Gods, and the very core of ourselves.  Because once spoken, they can never be unspoken.  They weave threads through our lives and choices.

   This past Morrigan’s Call Retreat myself and a few priestesses were asked to facilitate a private dedication ceremony for a member of Morrigu’s Daughters.  I loved how we all came together to create something meaningful and beautiful for that person.  Challenges were met, and one of the items used in the ceremony was a sword that I had sworn my own oaths on, with the blade point resting again my chest.   That sword has a story of its own.  If our little tribe of Morrigan devotees have our own magickal treasures, like the Tuatha De, this sword would be one of them.  You can check out Morgan Daimler’s blog posts about its creation which literally involves being forged in a storm ( 

   In the Tain there is a line about Fergus making an oath on a sword dedicated to Macha (again see Morgan’s blog for more about this) and it reminds me very much of that sword and my experience with it. I’ve seen people make grand oaths during ritual, oaths that are forgotten shortly after, not unlike new year resolutions, and then soon after they find their life is in an uproar and don't understanding why.  In my experience the Gods expect us to make good on our promises, especially ones made in a sacred way.

  I’ve made oaths during initiation rituals and when I dedicated as a priestess, but I think the one that has truly impacted me the most, shapes my life and myself by holding true to it, is the one I made upon that golden sword forged in a storm and dedicated to Macha.

  Here is part of something I wrote about the experience after that first retreat.   

   The candles flicker in the small room, a gentle glow that illuminates the golden polished bronze of the sword pointed at my heart.  The bite of its point against my skin feels so welcoming, and I would impale myself upon it if I could.  Not in a real sense, but there is power there, flowing from the woman who holds it fast in her hands, and I would soak it in.  I would let it fill me, no matter the danger. So I hold my arms out welcomingly, and lean towards the danger, because I am not standing before a mortal woman anymore, but a goddess. 

  After a devotional ritual to Macha deep in the woods of Massachusetts the rest of our companions had returned to their cabins and tents, while myself and two of the priestesses who had facilitated the ritual returned to the little screened in building we had created as a temple to the Morrigan and her many guises for our stay in the woods.  The camp we were staying at had been using it as a mediation area, up high on top of the mountain, and that is where we had hauled our altars, swords, and statues for the Great Queen.  And I’m not even sure how we managed to make it up the small dirt path, that we had been jokingly calling a “goat trail”, in the dark after an exhausting ritual.  But we did.  Nothing is easy with the Morrigan, at least not at first.  

   During the ritual one of the priestesses had channeled the Morrigan in her guise as Macha, and we had called for those who wished to speak to Macha to come forward to meet Macha’s challenge and offer her their oaths if they wished.  I had felt the need, but resisted.  I was helping facilitate the ritual, I was there to help the others move through the ritual.  And that is how we have ended up here, in her temple, just the three priestesses, in the dark.  Because there is more to say and more to be heard.  The ritual isn’t over.  Not until the Morrigan says it is.  And when I look into my friend’s eyes they are not her own, there is a vast wild depth to them.  I am almost afraid to be caught too long in their gaze, but I resist looking away all the same.  Her voice has a new familiar edge to it, I have heard that voice in my dreams.   And she seems taller, perhaps the only time I have ever felt short next to my friend who is easily a head shorter than myself. 

   Those eyes look at me expectantly and I say my oath, three in fact.  Three promises that would shape the course of my life and practices for the next several years, and I have no doubt will continue to.  Because once said an oath can’t be unsaid, it’s as binding as steel.  And then the Morrigan speaks, and there is truth and warning in her words.  And prophesy, always prophesy.         

   The Great Queen spoke for a long time that night.  Afterwards we sat exhausted on the wood floor of the temple.  Candle light illuminating her statues, my friend drained but back in possession of her own body again, the bronze sword returned to its sheath.  The sounds of our friends’ laughter further down in the woods calling us back to the normal world.  But the Morrigan’s words stayed with me. The feel of her blade pressed against my breast remained. 

   It would not be until a few years after that I fully understood all of what she had said or the path that my own words would set me on. That night in the woods I made what was both a heartfelt vow and one that I foolishly thought I could easily keep.  I stood before the Morrigan and vowed to fight for my own happiness.  Simple right? Well I thought so.  I wasn’t happy with many of the circumstances or people in my life.  And some part of me felt, if I just did the right spell, asked the right deity to help me, it would be easy to fix.  All the puzzle pieces that I was desperately trying to force to fit together would magically connect with ease. Or perhaps my perspective would change.  I couldn’t really be unhappy with my life, I was just looking at it the wrong way.  I would gain a new perspective, and learn to be content.  Of course that wasn’t the case.  What I had to accept was that what I had to do was turn my life upside down, burn parts of it to the ground and remake myself out of the ashes. I would also make some unpopular choices, but ones that were for my own good, even if others did not like them.  I would leave a long broken relationship.  I found one that nourished and fulfilled me.  I moved and found a better job.  I pulled the dead things out of my soul, and realized I couldn’t please everyone.  That I didn’t need to. Deep powerful magick, doesn’t come without a cost.  Healing festering scars doesn’t happen until you burn the rot out of the wound.  And the process isn’t easy, nor is it without pain. Nor does it happen without criticism.   Yet I don’t regret it. I chose to fight for myself that night. I put myself first.  Not everyone was happy about that, it is amazing the amount of enemies you’ll make when you stop placating people, and when you do what is right for yourself despite the opinions of others. Or when you speak your truth no matter the subject. But I can say that once you have burned your life down to ashes and risen up from them renewed, you’ll never be afraid to do it again.  Because you’ll know exactly how strong you are, you wont put up with the bullshit of others so easily.  You wont be as afraid to have unpopular opinions, because you’ll know yourself, and you wont loose site of who you are as easily. 

    An oath isn’t something you say once and forget, its something we are constantly reaffirming.  Something we are constantly challenged to hold true to.  A constant reaffirming of our devotion to the Gods and ourselves.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Finest of Wolves

"I will break thee against a green stone of the ford;
and thou shalt have no healing from me, if thou leavest me not."
"I will in truth be a grey wolf against thee," said she
-          Tain Bo Regamna  
  In both the Cattle Raid of Cooley and the Tain Bo Regamna the Morrigan and Cúchulainn have an exchange where she promises to come against the hero in different animal forms, and he in turns promises to deliver his own attacks. One of the shapes she takes is that of a wolf. While most are familiar with the Morrigan’s connection to crows and ravens her connection to wolves has a particularly important connotation for me.  There is a personal meaning behind it, and one that is often on my mind. 
   In 2014 I was teaching at a conference along with my friend and fellow Morrigan cohort Morgan Daimler.  A few of us were splitting a hotel room for the conference and one night while decompressing in the hotel room we were out of the blue given a very strong message from the Queen.   If you are familiar with channel work you might already know that if a deity needs or wants a message to come through, sometimes there is very little you can do to stop Them. This was that kind of unexpected message. And a message that has guided a number of my decisions, and approaches to community, since that night.
  I was not the one who channeled the message but I share it here with Morgan Damiler’s consent, as we both feel it is something important. Part of the imagery she saw was devotees fighting like dogs over scraps of bones while the Queen urged that She wanted wolves, or hounds, who perhaps where not quite a pack but at least ran in the same direction and not against one another.  Afterwards she saw those wolves going off into all the directions of the globe, accomplishing their own work and purposes.
"My followers are headstrong proud people. They are strong willed. This is good. But nothing is accomplished when all fight among themselves like dogs snarling over a bone. To achieve anything of worth you must find common ground and seek what unity can be had in diversity. I would have a hunting pack fit to take down any prey, not feral hounds fighting over scraps."

    I remember the strength that came through in those words, the demand to not disappoint in them. And the look in Morgan's eyes that were not her eyes anymore. We really are a headstrong bunch. But even if we disagree with one another, even if we are given different marching orders in this world by the Queen, have different takes and viewpoints on life, whether you see the Queen as simply the Irish Morrigan, or the Gaulish Cathubodua while someone else instead connects to her as Morgan le Fay, or Nemain etc and you do not see her as such, I hope that we can respect each other despite those differences.
   Let us not be stray dogs but the finest of wolves.  The kind of regal wolf I envision meting Cúchulainn’s challenge.
    If there is one downside to be a devotee of a goddess connected to war, it is that Her followers have a tendency to fight a lot.  Although perhaps it’s not just something rampant in the Morrigan devotee’s community.  It’s a growing thing I keep coming across a lot in Paganism in general. We’ve kind of forgotten how to get along with one another, unless of course the other person believes exactly what we believe.
    I’ve come across other devotees who relate to the Queen in completely different ways than I do. Some are new to their relationship with her, others have had a relationship with her for just as long as I have or longer. And to be quite blunt some of us never will relate to her in the same way. And probably shouldn’t. The marching order she gives one person might be very different than the ones she gives to another.  Any good general isn’t going to send all the troops off to do exactly the same task.  And a tribe is only a tribe because of its differences, the myriad of talents, coming together that support the whole. And you know what? That’s ok. She shouldn’t want the same things from each of us, because we are not all the same. We don’t all need the same things in life, or to learn the same lessons, nor can we as devotees all offer Her the same things. I don’t think the Gods are here to just make you a better person. There are elements of that, they teach us certain lessons, and a devotional relationship can be mutually beneficial, but the Gods I think always have the long game in mind. They are looking at the big picture. They move in the world with a purpose.  And they have Work for each of us to do.
    More and more in Paganism I see the trend of UPG (unverified personal gnosis) battles, and devotees arguing over what is the correct way to honor or view a deity.  Or getting bent out of shape if someone has a view point or UPG that doesn’t fit with their own views.  For many people Paganism is appealing because there is no dogma. No bible, no holy book, sometimes really no “spiritual roadmap” other than the one you discern for yourself.  Being a devotional polytheist I don’t have much of a problem with not having a set in stone road map.  When the Morrigan first showed up in my life there was barely anything out there written or really being said about her. A few scant references in books that warned me DON’T GO THERE. DANGEROUS GODDESS. All of which I ignored, having to jump off the deep end and just trust my relationship with the Morrigan.  Many times I would have an experience with Her then not long after find something in my research or in reading the lore that would confirm something about that experience.  It was like a spiritual trail of bread crumbs if you will.  Did I worry about if I was doing something wrong? Sure everyone worries about that at some point. But I trusted that relationship and continued on, and eventually I learned to rely on that connection with Her.  I really didn’t have anyone else to ask about how to go about my practices other than the Queen herself. Saying her name in circle was like brining up Voldemort.  And as hard as that was, I’m kind of glad that I was forced to trust my instincts, and my connection to Her.  Because if I didn’t learn to build and trust that connection, I don’t know if it would have formed so strongly.
    While the appeal of Paganism is that there is no dogma, the problem with it is there is no dogma.  A lot of people really don’t know what to do with that.  A natural reaction might be to just let someone else figure it out for you.  Find someone who has been doing it longer than you and has “the answers”. We pick the Pagan Guru we like the best and defend their methodology vehemently but never take the leap of discovering our own way of doing things, or finding our own answers.  And when we don't figure out the answers for ourselves, when someone questions why we believe something or do something a certain way we react defensively out of our own uncertainty.  Because no one wants to think they are doing something as personal as their spirituality incorrectly.  We loose site of that fine line between 'We can agree and still be friends' and 'You don't agree with me so clearly your judging me'.    
  Michelle Skye makes an insightful observation in a recent post. She laments that Paganism has become very judgmental, and that her own experiences when she found Paganism where very welcoming and open to different modes of thinking and opinions.  She mentions in passing that Paganism has gone from a grass roots movement/religion to a more social media based one. 
“It has come to my attention lately that there is a decided judgmental quality to Paganism. A feeling of one way is the best way. The only way. The true way. Thus, derision and defamation are acceptable when directed toward any individuals doing things any other way.……… Now that Paganism is becoming bigger, more mainstream, more social media and less grass-roots, I hope that new Pagans are experiencing the same feeling of being welcomed. I never once, in all my new-Pagan-growing-years, felt judged for my thoughts, opinions, or beliefs.”
– Michelle Skye
   I have to agree the Paganism of today isn’t the same as it was twenty years ago.  Back then you were just happy to find another pagan in the same town as you, you wrote to green egg or scrolled through profiles on Witchvox to find other Pagans.  Now there is no need. We can communicate with almost anyone we want to interact with online through social media, emails, webcam, you name it.  There is something somewhat impersonal about online interactions, or being able to use anonymous names or accounts.  You don’t really have to be polite, and most people get into fights and dramas online that they probably wouldn’t have in a face to face interaction.  And if you do interact with some you don’t like or has ideas that you don’t like, or go are simply different that you personal UPG well then you can just unfriend them or block them.  In short we have forgotten a very vital skill: how to interact with someone who think differently than ourselves, and in short how to be civil in a lot a cases.  I wonder if Skye has hit the nail on the head. Maybe we have lost touch with our grass roots? Maybe social media and interacting online has changed paganism in ways we haven’t expected.  And we have lost touch with our base. Paganism is growing up.  If we consider the emergence of Wicca as the beginning of the rebirth of Paganism in general in the western world, then we are talking about a religious movement that is about 100 years old if that.  Regardless of whether you practice Wicca in particular or not it is the spark that started Paganism as we know it today. We have grown out of our infant stage and are now a moody teenager movement full of snark and trying to figure ourselves out. 
     I have no problem interacting with people I don’t agree with, but this idea that you can’t have fellowship and pray with someone who thinks differently, has different politics, beliefs, or have to worry if they will unfriend you or accuse you of not being “pagan enough” or not honoring the Gods in the “correct” way, is toxic.  Having an opinion on a practice or simply saying it is not something you would personally do are all valid things in my opinion, but they all require the simple etiquette of having respect for one another.  Instead of taking pride in how many people we unfriended for not agreeing with us, maybe we should take pride in being able to find common ground, in being able to respect someone else’s view point even when it’s not one we share.
   Wolves are predators, they are dangerous, they have opinions.  But they are also loyal.  Working together they can take on things far bigger than themselves.  I hope we learn to do that too.  I hope we learn to truly be Her wolves in a way that honors Her.   

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I See All Who are Born in the Blood-Zealous Vigorous Battle: The Morirgan and Peace

“I see all who are born [in the] blood-zealous vigorous battle,
In the mossy margins; the helpful raven drives strife to our hardy hosts”
- From the Second Battle of Moytura,Translation by Isolde Carmody

   In our continuing adventure of visiting battlefield we chose the Castillo de San Marcos as the next trip for our battlefield devotions in honor of the Great Queen. I thought that we would have to walk into a park or through another area to get to the fort, that it would be set aside from everything modern and ordinary but instead one moment we were driving down a normal looking street then bam you are driving next to a 17th century Spanish fort along a stretch of beach. Before walking into the fort itself we walked past an old graveyard that is still in use but also houses those who passed from yellow fever. After leaving an offering at the gates and trying to avoid the tourists asking what I was up to, we visited the fort itself and the surrounding grounds.  We walked along the low wall that surrounded the lawn surrounding the fort where other tourists walked.  We found a quiet place and took a few moments to connect to the land beneath us.  The smell of the ocean filled my lungs and below the wall on one side tiny crabs where waiving their claws at us as if challenging us. There is an eerie stillness to old battlefields.  Even ones that have been memorialized as state parks and are frequented by many people.  It was strange to see people flying kites and having family picnics on a patch of land that was once the home of several battles, and while there were no gravestones, was perhaps just as much of a graveyard as the one we had passed earlier.   
   We made our offerings to the Queen, and said our battlefield prayers as crows called out and flew overhead. And we spent some time just sitting and listening to the land.  I have said before I think if we really distill the essence of the Morrigan down to her core she is concerned with conflict in all its forms. Battle is simply one expression of this. As a modern polytheist you are often stuck between two worlds. The identity and function of a god in times past and the identity of that god now. I do think the gods evolve, they are real vital beings, they are not stagnant.  And I think in many ways we have chosen to see our war gods not as they actual are but in a tamer light that suits our modern mindsets about war, violence, and battle. Despite that modern attitude I don’t think that changes what the Queen actually is. She may have evolved with us, the battles she calls us to are different but that does not mean she is tame. She hasn’t transformed from a goddess of battle to a hippie, we just have forgotten how to relate to her. And I wondered as we sat on the battlefield, if we have forgotten what battle really mean, maybe we have forgotten what peace means too?  After all while the Morrigan goads us into battle, she is also the one who announces the peace.

“Now after the battle has won and corpses cleared away, the Morrigu, daughter of Ernmas, proceeded to proclaim that battle and the mighty victory which had taken place, to the royal heights of Ireland and to its fairy hosts and its chief waters and its river mouths. And hence it is that Badb (i.e.,the Morrigu) also describes high deeds…..
Peace up to heaven
Heaven down to earth
Earth under heaven “

(Ancient Irish Tales. ed. and trans. by Tom P. Cross & Clark Harris Slover. NY: Henry Holt & Co., 1936)

  As we drove home I contemplated what peace meant to me. Real peace, not the idealized clean version of that word.  I thought of all my own battles, all of the things that had lead me to my own sense of peace.  There were real battle scars there, even if they were inner ones and not visible. My own battles have fundamentally changed who I am over the years. Real peace it seems was born out of conflict, sadness, and strife. It wasn’t something conjured up from mediating in a lotus position. In the end peace means you’ve utterly destroyed your enemy, even if it’s a figurative “enemy” you are fighting.

   I think a lot of us within Paganism have been taught that to find peace (inner peace or whatever version of peace you relate to) that we have to spend a lot of time being positive, raise your vibration blah blah blah. 

I used to think that. I used to think all I had to do was become more positive even when things turned to shit and I could will the pieces of my life to become better. But a lot of times all that really is, is allowing yourself to be blind to the problems that are in front of you.  If I say nothing is wrong, then the things that are wrong will cease to exist.  This is probably one of the biggest hurtles the Morrigan swooped in and ripped out of me. And by swooped in a mean kept blocking my way and made it impossible for me to do anything else but see the ugly truths before me, and decide what I was going to do about it.  Peace is messy. Its something we have to fight and bleed for. It something that when the battle is over and done with we stand like the Great Queen on the heights counting the bodies, counting the sacrifices we’ve had to make for our victories.  We just have to decide if the price we paid was worth it. Peace really isn’t peaceful. Its earned only when you are willing to fight for it.


Daughter of Ermas

You who proclaim the battle

And the peace that comes after

You who proclaim high deeds

And mighty victories

You who see all who are born in the blood-zealous vigorous battle,

helpful raven woman who drives strife to the hosts

Hear us

May we remember why we sharpen our sword

May we remember what is worth fighting for

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Battlefield Devotions

Dade Battlefield State Park

    I’ve lived in several places in New England. The land has a particular feel to it.   The land has deep roots, roots that dig down into the heart of the hills and mountains that make up the land.  Its bones are the stones that litter the soil and make up the hight of places like Kent falls and the boulders that I’ve enjoyed hiking up to and dangling my legs over at the hight of the waterfalls.  I live now in a place just as beautiful yet the polar opposite of New England.  While everyone up north thinks of Florida in terms of heat and sunscreen, the land is more shaped by water than the its lack of winter temperatures.  The water table is so low there are no basements. And when I kayak it is no longer in a lake, but along the runs from natural springs, fine sand and crystal clear waters instead of dark water and river beds full of stones.  I do not feel the deep bones of giants here, but land that was once an ocean long ago, a land whose energy is a mingling of soil and earth and underground rivers.

    The land here was beautiful but alien at first.  And so I endeavored to learn its rhythms.  To become friends with the energies of this new place.  So what does all that have to do with battlefields?  Well besides spending time hiking and visiting the wild places of my new home, I also spent a lot of time learning the history of this place.  And the more I learned the more I discovered there were quite a lot of battles fought on this soil I was learning to connect with.  From the Seminole Wars with the native tribes to the Civil War, Florida was no stranger to battle.  Many of the sites of these battles have been preserved as state parks or marked with monuments.  And in my research some of the odd names given to towns and other places in Florida began to make more sense. Like Osceola county, named after an Indian chief by that name who was a pivotal figure in the Seminole wars.  And both myself and my other half being devoted to a war goddess, we started to get an idea.
One of the markers at the site of the massacre that began the second Seminole War

    For those dedicated to the Morrigan we talk about battle a great deal. We talk about them in rituals, perhaps reenact our imaginings of the battles of myths in ritual drama, and spend time conceptualizing what warriorship means in a modern context.  And I will be the first to say there are about as many opinions on what warriorship, battle and being devoted to a goddess connected to battle mean (or ought to mean) as there are Morrigan devotees.  We tend to fight about it a lot. Go figure.  For some its more about the battles they face in life, not a physical battlefield but one just as brutal.  For others they find a connection in SCA, and others in learning practical self-defense as a devotional act.  I practiced foil fencing in college, now days I practice self-defense skills at the range.  All of which have been personal and meaningful acts of devotion.  My altar has swords beside it, and yes bullets, both from World War II and from my own weapon, on the altar.  Modern war and old, side by side.  And battlefields less easier to conceptualize captured in my words written in journals that sit on the shelves below the altar detailing personal battles and growth over the years.       

   I have said before that in an attempt to make the Morrigan more palatable we have forgotten that she is a goddess of war. We have “declawed” our war gods to make them more palatable to our modern morals and tastes. But I wonder, when we do see her as the unabashed war goddess, what do we see? Do we see only the battle itself? The anger, fear, chaos of battle? Do we only think of the height of battle, the conflict and the struggle of it? Whether it is our own battles in life or physical ones? Have we forgotten also there is more to battle than the actual act of conflict.  There is a before and an after. There are the reasons that we set out for war, and there is the peace or the destruction that comes after.  If the Morrigan is a goddess of battle, war, and strife in all its contexts then it is not just the battle fervor that she rules over. She rules of the peace as well. The aftermath of the battlefield, the destruction that leaves room for new things, and the peace that comes after.  In mythology she both instigates battles, spurs them on, and it is the Morrigan who also announces the peace, as we see in the well known prophesy she speaks after the second battle of Moytura.

A statue of Chief Osceola

    The more I learned about the battles fought on the land I was become acquainted with the more I felt there was something important to be done.  I decided I wanted something real, not a pretend battlefield, not a game. I wanted to honor the land and what had happened there.  I also wanted to remember why we fight, and not just get caught up in the actual struggles of the battle itself.  War, battle, strife, isn’t just about the crisis point.  In these places that we began visiting the battles were long over.  The bodies buried, the blood long ago soaked into the land.  We fight for the peace that comes after.  It felt important to honor these places.  The people who died there. On both sides.  Because I stood years and years after, on the ghosts of these battlefield in that peace.  It felt important to remember.  So my partner and I have been visiting these battlefields, in state parks, obscure monuments, forgotten out of the way places.  We honor the battlefield.  We pour offerings to the mighty dead, pour offerings to the Great Queen.  We honor the battlefield, we honor the peace, and we recognize what it costs. 

   The very first battlefield devotion we did was with a very literal piece of the battlefield.  I had acquired a few 9th- 10th century arrow heads at an auction and made them into pendants. They are still sharp even after all this time. And so I made offerings, spoke our prayer over them, these literal representations of the battlefield. Our other battlefield devotionals will continue as we travel to what remains of the battlefields in our corner of the world. More to come on these devotional workings and our travels to come.

  The following comes in part from the Morrigan’s Peace Prophesy with our own words for honoring the dead and the battlefield.

Síth co nem.
Nem co doman.
Doman fo nim,
Sky to earth.
Earth below sky,
Strength in each one,
A cup overfull, filled with honey,
Sufficiency of renown
Morrigan you who see all
Who are born in the blood-zealous vigorous battle,
Hear us we speak to the blood soaked earth
We speak to the battlefield
We speak to the fallen friend and foe alike
The land remembers and we remember
The clashing of wills
The hosts giving battle
The strife of men
May the dead be honored
May there be peace
Peace as high as the skies
Summer in winter,
Spears supported by warriors
Warriors supported by forts
Strong leaders
Justice when asked for
Banished are sad out cries
Peace as high as the skies
Sky to earth, strength in everyone
Both the living and the honored dead
Macha whose harvest is upon the battlefield may there be peace
Badb who washes the sorrows of the dead and spurs on the battle, may there be peace
Anu whose sacred land receives the bodies of the dead may there be peace
Great Queen may we remember why we sharpen our swords.
That we fight for the peace that comes after strife
And may we remember that peace has a price
And may we honor that price now in this place
Great Queen, Honored dead, accept our offerings.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Adventures in Ireland

   I travel a fair amount, and usually by the end of a trip I am more than ready to come home.  Sleep in my own bed and cuddle with the cat.  But Ireland was different.  We had an amazing group of people on the Seeking the Great Queen pilgrimage.  I was honored to share ritual space with them, meet new friends, connect with old ones, and serve as the Morrigan’s priestess.  Our co-facilitator Morgan Daimler was awesome as always, sharing the old stories, as well as other assorted fairy doctors services.  Vyviane Armstrong who organized the trip (I highly recommend her and Land Sea Sky for any trips you want to go on or want to plan) was our fearless leader, and I can’t say enough how amazing she was or how truly amazing the whole experience was.  So watching the land of Ireland fall away as the plane took off on the last day was incredibly sad.     

  I am still processing some of my experiences.  Where do I even start? Being in the Cave of Cats on the eve of Samhain was one of the most moving experiences with the Queen that I’ve ever had. Ironically we were greeted at the Cave of Cats by the most adorable kitten, Minky, who pounced and played with us.  The cave looks quite small in all the pictures I’ve seen, but the cave is actually quite big once you reach the natural cavern below the manmade area.  I probably should have been scared shitless. Once we turned the flashlights off we stood in pitch blackness for most of the time.  It was disorientating to open my eyes and it be just as dark as when they were closed.  It almost gives one the feeling of being blind, yet it didn’t bother me at all.  I felt deep connection and euphoria.  I reaffirmed vows.  I could have stayed down there forever and been quite happy.  
Cave of Cats

Minky the Guardian of Cruachan

  Then there were the carins of Carrowkeel.  We hiked up to the summit while mist surrounded us and made it look like we stood on a floating island in the sky.  The cairns were more rugged then the pristinely restored Newgrange, and yet it made them far more beautiful.  And the energy was welcoming.  Emain Macha and the Hill of Tara resonated with me more than I expected.  Standing on the Hill of Ward, and participating in the ritual, on Samhain was amazing.  A good chunk of the 2000 people there weren’t even Pagans, yet despite their religious leanings there was a very strong sense that being on the hill was important.  They were standing in a place that was holy to their ancestors, on a holy night. An old man at one point wanted to light a candle he held from the ritual fire. Another older gentleman insisted on staying out in the cold to see the ceremony, even though his grandson insisted it was too cold to be outside. It really didn’t matter that they were not Pagan, this was part of their heritage.  And you could tell it was deeply important to them.     

Cairn at Carrowkeel

  It really struck me how important the sites we visited still were to the people who lived there.  Cúchulain’s stone stands in the middle of a field.  A field that is still farmed.  And somewhere there is a farmer who has to put up with tourists coming through his field to see that stone.  A farmer who has to plant around that stone and assumably run machinery around it as well.  I’m not sure that would happen in the US.  It would be so much easier for that farmer to remove that stone, regardless of the historical/spiritual value.  And if it was in this country, sadly I don’t think that stone would still be standing in that field.    

  One of the experiences that struck me the most was visiting the Ogulla triple spring.  Ironically it was not a site that I connected with strongly.  At least not in the way one would expect.  The day before the pilgrimage officially began we visited both of Brighid’s wells in Kildare, and I felt a strong connection to them.  But this was different. The well was clogged with overgrown weeds. Although we could see the water flowing away through a stone channel it was hard to see the springs themselves. We were asked to clear out a handful of the weeds before we left as a way to care for this sacred place.  We ended up doing far more than that.  Did I mention how awesome our pilgrims were? 
Clearing the weeds and the springs afterwards 

  People waded in the mud and tore up the weeds clogging the springs.  We piled armfuls of the floating water plants behind a stone wall, and it soon piled higher than the wall itself.  We pulled up garbage, CDs, tea lights, a dead rose bush complete with plastic pot, and all sorts of things out of the water.  We cut off all manner of insane things that people tied to the branches of the tree over the springs. FYI do not tie things that aren’t biodegradable to a tree.  The synthetic ribbons, hair ties, among other things that people tie on rag trees more often than not are killing the trees.  Soon the springs were actually visible with all the growth cleared away.  The water moved easily, and there was a very good feeling coming from the space.  Our guide for the day, Lora O’Brien, told us that people usually only took a single obligatory handful of weeds, and that we had gone above and beyond.  Afterwards more than one person mentioned that the experience of caring for the well was quite profound for them.  While Pagans in general are more mindful of caring for the earth, in general we go to a sacred or natural place, perhaps leave a small offering and of course expect to receive something profound.  We expect to be given something.  The take, take, take, mindset of modern life even finds its way into Paganism. Doing the work, caring for this place was a deeply rewarding experience. And no I didn’t have any profound visions or messages from this place in particular.  Yet it was one of my favorite things about the trip.      


Monday, February 29, 2016

Toothless Lions: A Dangerous View of Gods of War


   This is somewhat of a follow up to both my blog about dangerous gods and about the nature of offerings when a war goddess is concerned.  Something that Morgan Daimler said has stuck with me and inspired a lot of good conversations with other Morrigan devotees.

"You know when my dad came back from Vietnam, when he got off the plane, people in the airport spit on him. This makes me think of that. We are spitting on our war gods because we are mistaking them for the gory collateral damage of war that we abhor. But they are not that. They are the spirit to fight and win and defend the things that matter. They are the spirit of battle that makes anything in life worth fighting for. And I think its dangerous to forget that, and very dangerous to disrespect  them. They protect us, and we need them, just as we need soldiers whether we want to admit it or not.”
 – Morgan Daimler

   When I first started working with the Morrigan she only showed me her harshest aspects. And really I needed them at the time.  It was a long time before I understood that she was more than a goddess of war.  She is a shapeshifter after all, she has many aspects and guises and often takes the exact form needed to achieve her goals or those of the Irish gods.  For a long time her connection with war made many Pagans uneasy about working with her.  Saying that you were a devotee to the Morrigan in a circle was like saying your patron goddess was Voldemort.  Over the last couple of years that has changed.  But what I wonder is whether or not we have gone to the other extreme? Have we forgotten she is a goddess of war?  Have we reshaped our idea of the “war” she rules over to better fit our morals and comfort zones?  Have we declawed our war gods? Not just the Morrigan, but all of them.  Have we made them toothless lions? Connected to the war of bygone days and movies, and not actual war, right here, right now, in modern times?

Honestly I think we have. 

   In my opinion the nature of the gods remains the same despite what we would like them to be, but ignoring a vital part of a deity’s nature is never a good idea.  Realistically most of us will never be a part of actual physical warfare unless you are in the military.  And I am grateful for that, and I am also grateful for all the men and women in uniform who risk their lives to protect myself and everyone in this country.  But I can not forget that in other countries war is very real thing to everyday people.  It still doesn’t make modern warfare extinct simply because I am not a part of it.  And I can not see the Morrigan hanging up her “war goddess hat” and saying “Well it was a good run with the spear and sword, this modern warfare I’ll just leave for someone else to carry on with!”  While they are in the minority I do know, and have come across in my travels, several Morrigan devotees in the military who do pray to her in the context of going to face actual warfare and ask for protection when they go on tour.  

   We don’t really like the idea of violence, and so we try to divorce our gods from any connections to it.  As so called nature worshipers you’d think we would pay a little more attention to how inherently violence nature is.  Volcanos erupting, lions eating zebras.  All of this creates balance, but a lot of it is through fire and blood.

   Part of the issue is that most of us work with the Morrigan in the context of conquering personal battles.  The majority of my own work with her has been just that, and she is quite good at it.  But that does not negate her connection to other types of battles.

  Perhaps we need to look at "war" a little differently.  Really think about why we connect that word to Her.  Because with gods we are talking about vast and powerful beings and it really is hard to describe all that they are, and all that they encompass into tiny mortal words.  In the end I think if we really distill the essence of what the Morrigan rules over (and I cringe to nail her down to just one thing) it is conflict.  She rules over conflict of all kinds.  And I think this makes her fluid nature easier to understand than quibbling over what the term “war goddess” really means.  If we think of her ruling over conflict of all kinds it makes sense that she can both rule over a physical battlefield and internal conflict at the same time.  I don’t think she really cares whether or not the battle is a literal one or one where you face your own demons.  Both have costs and casualties, and real or metaphorical blood will probably be spilt in either case.  And in either case she goads us onward, she reminds us what is worth fighting for, and that peace has a price to it. 

   We need our war gods, whether we like all of the things they represent or not.  I would rather see all of their harsh beauty, in all its cold hard reality, then turning them into something more pleasing to my modern eyes.