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.        

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.