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 CĂșchulainn 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 meeting CĂșchulainn’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