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.  CĂșchulain’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.        

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Nature of Offerings

My own altar, Samhain 2015

   There has been quite a lot of heated debate on the internet concerning the appropriate types of offerings to give the Morrigan.  And whether or not bullets are a legitimate one.  What I think about all those discussions boils down to two main points.  Firstly that offerings in general are a very personal thing.  The context in which an offering is made is important. And the type of offering reflects on the relationship between the devotee and the deity in question.  Secondly it begs the question: What exactly is an offering? And this is what interests me the most.  Because it’s not something often discussed in Paganism, and to be honest I find that not many Pagans necessarily make offerings as a part of their daily or regular spiritual practice.

   So what exactly is an offering? Why do we do it? Are we bribing the gods? Putting a quarter in the celestial vending machine, hoping to get the prize we want?

   Questioning whether or not an offering is appropriate to a deity requires us to consider why we are leaving that offering in the first place.  For myself it boils down to reciprocity.  I offer the gods something out of respect, love and devotion, and they offer at times something in return.  What is a small thing to a god can be something that makes a big impact in my life.  Leaving offerings helps build a connection to deity, it is something that is a regular part of my devotion to the gods I work with. 

   The spirit in which you offer something is immensely important. We are not bribing or bartering with the gods, and sadly I think this is the approach a lot of people take.  If I offer the right stone or herbs then I have essentially “bought” or bribed the gods into giving me the thing I asked for.  If a person approaches making offerings in this manner, then I’m really not surprised when the gods don’t fulfill their request.  No matter what I am offering I approach the process with love and gratitude in my heart.  Even if I have nothing more than a cup of water to offer the gods, it is the spirit in which I offer it, the devotion I imbue it with that matters the most.

   I also spend a lot of time thinking about what to offer to deity. Things that are a part of a deity’s myths, or have been historically offered to them are always good places to start.  Also if a god finds something repugnant in their myths then maybe that’s not the best thing to offer them.  For example there are specific things that certain Orisha, either via myth or tradition, should never be offered.   And lastly the offering has to have some kind of meaning to the person giving it.  On occasions I offer herbs or incense, but it worries me that these have become the fall back offerings to many people simply because they see someone else using them, and because they really aren’t thinking about why they are choosing to offer that particular item in the first place.  At a festival a few years ago I attended a ritual where those present were asked to throw an offering into a fire for the gods.  The ritual revolved around cleansing and bringing change.  A friend who was there had asked the gods to help her with something that was very important in her life.  We had known about the ritual in advance and she had brought something very special to her, and item her deceased father had given her, to offer to the fire.  The offering fit with the thing she was asking the gods for, and all was well until she noticed the items other people were throwing into the fire.  She whispered to me that she felt silly offering something so grand and so very different that those tossing handfuls of herbs and sticks of incense into the fire.  She actually felt embarrassed to offer what I felt was a beautiful gift to the gods.  A true sacrifice. Something that could not be replaced.  Eventually she did go up to the fire and make her offering.  And the gods answered her plea not long after.

   My point is that there should be some thought that goes into offerings, and that by their very nature offerings will differ from devotee to devotee.  What has value to each person and what the gods want from each of us will be different.  And it should be.  The Morrigan has many devotees. One may be a single mother, another a police officer, a soldier, a teacher, a Wiccan, a Reconstructionist, a Druid, a conservative, or a radical, the list goes on.  All of these people may have a dedication to the Morrigan but each will more than likely offer her different things.  And guess what.  That’s how it should be.  There are some things that people offer the Queen that I never would, and it really doesn’t offend or hurt me that they do so.  If it works for their practice and reflects their connection with Her, awesome.  I’ll honor Her in my way, and others in their own way.  All that really matters to me is that they are honoring Her. That they are approaching Her with devotion.  The problem with people getting riled up over someone offering something they personally wouldn’t give to a deity or personally find repugnant, comes down to confusing taste for morality.  Just because I don’t like something, or something doesn’t work well for me, doesn’t negate the fact that it could hold an entirely different meaning for someone else.

   So that brings me to what do I personally offer the Morrigan. Me personally. Not what you should offer.  What works for me.  Well surprisingly 98% of the time I offer Her whiskey or an act of bravery.  Offerings don’t have to be physical things.  One of my first teachers told me “Do something today, that you were afraid of doing yesterday. ”   Given the Morrigan’s connection to strife, battle and sovereignty, I find this to be a worthy offering.  Facing my fears, having the bravery to stand up for another person, these are all things I think She values more than any physical item I can offer to Her.  For the rest of the time I do find that the Queen likes her whiskey.  I’m that crazy Pagan who wanders a liquor store waiting to feel a nudge that says a deity wants a certain libation. 

   As to the drama on the internet, yes I have a few bullets on my altar. Two of them are from WWII and have been carried through real combat.  Near them , against the wall, is a bayonet that my grandfather brought back from WWII.  Having two great uncles and a grandfather who survived D-Day these all have meaning to me.  There is a modern bullet there too, alongside the WWII relics, sitting beside candles, offering bowls for whiskey, swords, spears, a drum painted with a raven, and multiple statues.  Bullets are not what I offer on a daily basis, but it’s something I have felt called by Her to leave on Her altar.  Because my altar to Her is a reflection of all Her aspects, not just the ones I like the best.   And because she is still a goddess of war.  Not iron age war, or just war that involves swords.  She reminds us what is worth fighting for.  What do we love enough to lay down our lives for?  When humanity stops asking ourselves those questions, maybe she will cease being a war goddess.  But I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, or ever really.

 Another picture of my personal altar
   For myself personally a bullet doesn’t represent violence.  If they do to you, then I suggest you find other things that have meaning to you to offer Her.  For myself bullets and guns are just tools, just as swords are simply tools.  The violence we connect with them originates in the person holding the tool, not the tool itself.  The swords that we romanticize has no other purpose than to kill, specifically to kill other humans.  At very least the argument can be made that spears and guns have been used for hunting. But not the sword. So the next time you pick up your ritual sword, reminded that while other weapons have replaced it over the years, it is still a weapon meant for killing.  A weapon the Celts ritually broke and offered to the gods.  That LOTR replica sword (not knocking anyone here I have a few!) may be beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t change what it is.  So in that fashion having bullets on Her altar does not bother me.  Like a sword, a gun can be used in self defense, and for myself it represents the idea that I have the right to defend myself.  I have two friends who owe their lives to having concealed carry permits.  One prevented a car jacking.  In the other case it saved a friend from being raped. We both went to college together and she had one of those so called “gun nut” fathers.  We joked with her about how he insisted she get a concealed carry permit and bought her a small gun to have with her when she walked to her car late at night from her bartending job.  And one night a man tried to assault her and force her into his car.  Luckily she was able to scare him off long enough to call the cops.  If she hadn’t had a gun at very least she would have been raped, and more than likely she would have ended up losing her life.  Similarly I know one military devotee who leaves bullets on his altar before deployment, asking for protection and that he may do his job without having to take a life. 

   Oddly enough, perhaps because I’m a vegetarian, offering meat is one of the few offerings I at first had some difficultly with.  But on occasion, usually for a very special purpose, I will offer a small portion of raw beef (the best cut of course).  I may not have had to slaughter that cow myself as our ancestors would have, but the fact that I am offering flesh remains forefront in my mind.  To offer that bit of beef something living had to give up its life, and the gravity of that goes into the energy and emotion behind my offering.  And as I said before I truly think the gods care more about the manner in which we give an offering than what the physical item is.

   This is not the first time devotees of the Morrigan have gotten heated over what other people choose to offer to the Queen.  What troubles me is that we have trouble respecting that what one person does in their practice can be different than our own.  What is repugnant to you may hold a different meaning to me.  Let the gods decide what is to their liking and what is not.  Offer what you are personally called to offer, and respect what others give in their devotion.

   Lastly what concerns me is this idea that the Morrigan’s connection to war does not apply to modern times, but instead to only the romanticized war of the past.  The Morrigan has many guises, she is far from just a goddess of war.  But war remains a part of her nature. She is not a tame lion.  She did not retire from the war goddess business once swords stopped being the high tech weapon of the day.   In some ways I see a shift in her approach.  As I said, she reminds us what is worth fighting  for.  That can apply to a personal battle or a literal battle.  And today I find she is very concerned with claiming personal sovereignty and goading us into facing our personal demons.  But that makes her no less a goddess of war. To pretend she is otherwise, simply because we find modern warfare distasteful, is to deny a vital part of Her being. Morgan Daimler puts it quite succinctly:
"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."
   When someone offers something to a deity, respect that it’s a personal choice.  It is part of their devotion to deity, not yours.  And may we remember to respect that gods may represent things we are uncomfortable with, and that to turn a blind eye to part of their nature is dangerous.  When you make offerings to the gods think about why you are offering a particular item.  What meaning does it hold for you? What connection does it have to the god you are giving it to?  Find what works for you, not just what works for other people.  Because you are the one making the offering, not anyone else.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dangerous Gods


   I’m home from PantheaCon and finally catching up on sleep!  I had a great time connecting with old friends, plotting shenanigans, and talking and connecting with some great people.  After the workshop I taught about Badb and omens someone asked a question I get quite a lot in regards to the Morrigan, and was later asked the same question by another person later at the Con.  “Do you think the gods are dangerous?”  On one level I’m glad the conversation has moved past ‘Is the Morrigan dangerous?’ to us thinking about the nature of the gods in general.  But it is something that comes up a lot when we are talking about dark deities or ones we perceive to be.

   So are the gods dangerous?  Well the short answer is, yes.  And well when you get down to it, isn’t living dangerous too? Taking the subway or getting in your car can be dangerous too. But it’s a kind of a risk or danger that you accept.  Working with dark and dangerous gods is kind of like that.  Life is not without risks, anymore than magick or working with the gods.  I’ll get to my own definition of “dangerous” in a moment, but first let’s look one or two rungs down the spiritual hierarchical chain of beings.   Consider what any good teacher will tell you about Faeries.  Or angels for that matter.  Caution is required.  The Sidhe can be beneficial or try to eat you.  No one has any qualms over calling the Sidhe dangerous, because well they can be at times.  But it also doesn’t negate that having a connection to them and working with them can be rewarding.  The danger is understood.   We understand that although many of the Sidhe have human like appearances they are inherently not human.  They are something other, and we can’t expect them to play by human rules of have human moralities.  Likewise with angels there is an understanding that they are not human.  And if you have read the traditional descriptions of angels (they resemble fat little winged babies about as much as the Sidhe resemble Tinkerbelle) you’ll find they can be quite scary, and they rain down the wrath of god quiet often.  But again we have an easier time accepting the danger, and the understanding that some are beneficial and others we may have to be warry about or take certain precautions.

   To some extent the logic we apply to these beings we also must apply to the gods.  No matter how human they appear or what form they take, the gods are powers so vast and unknowable that our little human minds can’t really completely comprehend them.  They created stars and planets, created us and all the beings be share this planet with.  I do think the gods care about us and aspects of our lives, but at the same time I think they also have their own agendas and have a must vaster picture in mind.  We can’t apply human expectations on them, or moralities.  We want them to be human, but they are not.  That is not to say they are not a part of us, and I feel we are a part of them.  There is a connection, and interaction between us, but that is not the same thing.  Just as the Sidhe and angels may appear human-like in appearance, yet by definition are something completely “other”.      

  So where does the danger apply?  Well we can’t see the gods as spiritual parents who never get mad at us.  Trust me, gods can and do get mad at people.  And usually you get the point pretty quick when it happens.  Not showing respect to the gods, treating them like spiritual vending machines when we want something, can have consequences.  Particularly depending on the god in question.  Asking them for help and not really wanting to do the work can be dangerous too. You can’t expect the gods to wave a wand and make everything better, you have to earn it.  They will help you, but you have to be willing to bleed a little sometimes.  For example when some people have described their work with the Morrigan they will often describe a whole lot of upheaval and crap happening when they asked Her to help them bring some kind of change into their lives.  The Morrigan will goad you, throw you off the deep end so to speak.  She will place things in your path until you have truly dealt with your demons.  It’s not to say She won’t help you, she will, but it isn’t in her nature to give you the easy way out.  Similarly a friend who works with Odin has said to me in the past that “If you give him an inch, he will take a mile”.  Knowing the gods you are working with, things they might find distasteful, knowing their personalities can all help when working with them.

  The next logical question is of course “Are they too dangerous to work with?” My answer to that is No.  But like working with the fay or other beings we must approach the work with some understand that there is a certain element of risk.  The gods will challenge you, make you stronger than you have ever been, but at the same time can completely rearrange your life, and sometime it can be exactly what we need.  But when we ask them for things we must realize risk is involved, we may have to let go of other things to achieve the things we want, to become the kind of person we wish to be. My relationship with and devotion to the Great Queen is deep, there is great love there, on both ends I think.  It’s a relationship that has built and grown over many years.   But I can’t see her as a spiritual mother who will wipe my ass either.  We have to let go of that image of the gods.  That image of God the Father way up in the clouds looking down benevolently on his children, doesn’t apply to my gods. And really doesn’t describe the old testament Yahweh either.    

  So yes gods can be dangerous, working with them has consequences and rewards.  The oaths we speak to them have consequences.  We must remember that these are vast and powerful beings, they are not human, not truly, no matter how close to humanity they are they are still something “other”. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Working with Dark Deities: Or Harm Ye None, and Other Lies I’ve Been Told

Working with Dark Deities:

Or Harm Ye None, and Other Lies I’ve Been Told

  Firstly I will say that the concept of Dark Gods is a modern one.  Yes I use the term, because it’s the best descriptions I have at the moment for the gods that challenge us, force us to transform, and sometimes seriously fuck up our lives for our own good.  Trust me as painful as having some things in our lives torn down is, sometime it really is for our own good.  Because it’s human nature to hold onto things for too long.  To cling to the things we know even if they are poisonous to our very being.  For the most part we don’t like change.  And the unknown terrifies us, because there are no guarantees.  And there are no guarantees when we meet dark and dangerous gods, who we will be at the end of our journey through the dark.

   There are pitfalls and challenges to working with any deity, and there seems to be a consistent pattern to the challenges many of us run into when working with dark gods.  And I think some of these arise because of how we are taught to approach the gods and how we have been taught to view change.

   Quite a lot of people find Paganism out of a desire to create real and meaningful change in their lives.  The idea of casting spells, connecting to a powerful deity and reshaping our lives into something better than it is can be a tantalizing thought.  If I do just the right spell, say just the right chant I can land the job of my dreams, find love, have a happy and content life.  Magick can do that. The Gods can do that.  But like any genie worth his salt, they will remind you that wishing for things and more importantly manifesting them isn't as simple as you’d like them to be. What we want is the Emril Lasgase approach to magick.  BAM, and you got instant change!  But it doesn’t work that way.  There is always, always a price.  And we don’t like the idea of magick or working with the Gods having a price.  But trust me it does.  Real magick, real devotion and dedication to deity, has a cost.  And its completely worth paying.   

   When I am asked about my work with the Morrigan one of the questions I am often asked is how exactly to go about causing life changing transformation in one’s life……without causing any harm.  The answer is simple, and completely not what the person wants to hear, it’s impossible.  Because Harm None doesn’t work.  When we are “baby Pagans” we buy into the idea that transformation can be as easy as burning a candle and calling on the right kind of God that we find off a list of correspondences on the internet.  Change is a beautiful pain free process, like a caterpillar changing into a beautiful butterfly.  Love and light.  Harm ye none. These are all the lies those new to Paganism are fed, and the old hats fall victim too.  So for the record, change sucks.  It hurts.  It’s painful.  And worst of all there are no guarantees where you will end up when you start down the path of true change, spiritual or otherwise, in your life. 

     In Paganism at large we get caught up in the idea of Harm Ye None, in the idea that to be a Witch you have to work in a Love and Light paradigm.  But it doesn’t work, it isn't realistic.  And not subscribing to these ideas doesn’t make you immoral or a bad person.  There are many words I use to describe myself.  Pagan: I’m a polytheist and see the Gods as very real beings with personalities and individual likes and dislikes. Priestess: I am dedicated to the Morrigan and my devotion to Her influences and drives much of my work and spiritual practice.  And I am a Witch, but I don’t buy into Harm Ye None.  Don’t get me wrong it’s a pretty thought.  But just by living breathing we effect the rest of the world, sometimes in a good creative way and sometimes in a destructive way.  Whether you ate steak last night or the vegetarian special you destroyed something to fuel your continued existence. The nature that Pagans worship is brutal and deadly at times.  Lions eat zebras, and I have no problem as seeing his brutal truth as being balanced and having a kind of beauty.  Nothing comes for free, especially in magick.  And when we get caught up in the idea that we can do magick without cost, create change without cost, we are either left wondering why our magick didn’t work or why our world is suddenly turning into a world of shit.  By “cost” I mean deep and powerful magick, or deep and powerful transformation, requires work.  You don’t have to offer grand sacrifice or your first born child to the Gods, but the things you want to bring into your life may cost you some tears and some honest soul searching.  Doing the work is a kind of offering to the Gods.  Morgan Daimler puts it quite succinctly:

  “There is risk with all powerful magic, and the bigger and more bad-ass the better the chance that someone’s gonna get hurt during the process, and that means the person doing it and that means the people effected by it.  When you’re trying to shift years worth of entropy and BS out of your life you’re going to bleed in the process and your going to spill blood as well.  Some healing cant begin without first opening wounds, and some freedom cant be gained without first cutting away that which holds us back, even if it means cutting out a part of ourselves we don’t want to let go of.  You cant uproot a tree and replant it without breaking the roots and letting the sap run, after all.  If you seek to do such a thing without harm you have failed before you’ve begun.”

   Dark deities will help you through the process of change, they will give you exactly what you asked for but at the same time they expect you to earn it.  They will sit there tapping their feet , arms folded over, until you get the point.  And that requires a certain amount of trust in the deity.  Many people who experience this will chalk it up to the deity being spiteful or dangerous.  But they are there to help you work through your darkest fears, your biggest challenges.  They are like drill sergeants preparing you for war, for the hard realities of life.  They are on your side, but they wont do the work for you.  Ultimately I trust the Morrigan.  Sometimes I don’t know were She is leading me, I may face the challenge willingly or go kicking and screaming, but there is trust between us.  Because there is a long standing, deep relationship there.

  Another aspect to the challenges many of us have with dark deities, and really working with any deity, is that we don’t really treat them as if they are real.  And If we don’t treat them as real, there is no way for us to build that Trust with them or a deep meaningful relationship.  Witchcraft as a craft /practice/magickal system when you really boil it down to the nuts and bolts is excellent at teaching us a magickal system, correspondences, and how to do ritual.  But to some extent the Gods are an after thought.  Put ten Pagans in a room and there is a pretty good chances every one of them will know how to cast a circle, call the quarters and do ritual basics, whether or not its there particular tradition or flavor of Paganism.  How we approach the Gods and relate to them tend to be where we divert in thought and practice from one another.  For myself after I started practicing Witchcraft the Gods just kind of stepped in and took over, my devotion has always been a vital part of my spirituality.  But not everyone has that experiences, and for many the gods are sock puppets.  They aren't always treated with the proper respect in ritual, and sadly in some rituals I’ve been a part of I don’t really think the person invoking them expects the Gods to actually show up. And when they do it can get quite interesting.

   At one festival I attended there was a ritual that call on the Baron Samedi.  As part of the ritual drama his hat was knocked off (let me just say a bad idea right there) and at the end of the ritual there were no offerings given or any kind of thanks.  Later that night, myself and several other people had odd things happen to them.  Someone or something knocked on our cabin door in the middle of the night.  When we opened it, no one was there, and there was really no where for anyone to hide.  And it kept happening several times.  A friend thought she saw the Baron walking through the woods near her camp, and others felt a sense of unease. As Edward Rickey would say:

 “We must deal with them as real, if we expect them to treat us and our needs as real. Reciprocity, bitches" 

No matter what we think the Gods are or aren't they are real beings with personalities, likes and dislikes, and a sense of humor.  At least that has been my experience.  The Baron I doubt cared if everyone there though he was real or no.  They called him, so he showed up and started kicking up some dirt because proper respect and protocols were not upheld. 

   I think this is true with other deities.  We call of the dark gods and forget to treat them as real beings, who can really do things.  And we feel stuck or unprepared when things actually start to happen.  Building respect and trust with a deity is a long process.  Its like any other relationship we have, it builds over time and needs to be fed to flourish.  I do see a shift in Paganism where we are becoming more centered on the Gods.  There are more events focuses specifically on deity, and more people speaking about their devotion.  And I hope that continues.

   Working and building a devotion to dark deities can be a rewarding process, and an utterly life changing one.  If you feel called to dark and dangerous gods, don’t be afraid to embrace the path, challenge what you think you know, and how you practice.  Follow the gods into the dark and be transformed.  You may cry and scream and rage along the way, but you’ll never feel more alive and your life will transform for the better.