Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cattle Raid

Yesterday, I marched on Market Street in San Francisco. Today, I worked on the Morrigan statue, and thought about wealth.

The protests, which are beginning to take on the character of an uprising, are about wealth, and the distribution of wealth; they are about the apotheosis of wealth, and its demonization. They are about something much bigger and more subtle than wealth. They are about the way in which wealth has become a vehicle for the undoing of a civilization and the debasement of a people.

I think of wealth, and the symbolism of wealth. From the earliest times, since before domestication, cattle have meant wealth - cattle in fact were wealth before they were a symbol of wealth. They arise again and again in iconography. Wild cattle painted on cave walls. The Golden Calf. The cattle of Catal Huyuk. The Fehu rune. The Irish Cattle Raid. The bull of Wall Street.

It is the last two that catch my attention today. Working on the statue, contemplating the controlled rage against Wall Street that I had observed, I found myself thinking about the Táin Bó Cúalnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, one of the central texts of the Irish heroic cycle.

It begins when the royalty of the province of Connacht, Medb and Ailill, send messengers to Ulster to ask for the loan of their great Brown Bull, Donn Cúailnge, the most excellent and most valuable breeding bull in the provinces of Ireland. Medb and Ailill had a petty argument, you see, over which of them controlled the greatest wealth. Medb was losing the contest, so to prove herself the wealthiest, she had to gain control of the Brown Bull. So: nine messengers are sent to Ulster, and they courteously arrange with the Ulstermen to borrow the bull, and to compensate Ulster with a fair fee of fifty heifers, lands and a fine chariot for the year's use of their bull. This being arranged, the messengers that evening are feasted by their hosts. During this feast, as the tongues of the guests are loosened by drink and enjoyment, they begin to boast that it was inevitable that the great bull should go to Connacht, "for if the bull were not given willingly, he would be given perforce," by way of a threat. This arrogance of course outrages the Ulstermen, whose chieftain proclaims, "I swear by the gods whom I worship unless they take him thus by force, they shall not take him by fair means." Thus the bargain was broken between the provinces, and the hosts began massing for war.

Is there a message in this story that is relevant to our times? It struck me so. Not for nothing is the very icon of Wall Street finance a great, brown bull.

Most people I know do not resent the rich for being rich. Most people I know don't truly envy the rich - we just want enough wealth to live well. We want a social contract within which there is a reciprocity between labor and capital, between workers and employers, between the financial class and the producing class. A fair deal is what we want, and when we feel we have this, we are able to sit down at table together. It is not the wealth of the wealthy that enrages people - it is not class envy or a rejection of their own part in the bargain. It is the arrogance of their position that enrages us.

If the bull is the wealth of our land and the productive capacity of our people, it was willingly that we would have lent it to them, in exchange for a fair and reciprocal sharing of the benefits it would generate. In an honest agreement we would not have begrudged them the use of the bull, because the sharing of it would enrich everyone. But when they show us that they are willing with a careless disregard to take our wealth and give nothing back - to nationalize losses while privatizing profits - when they laugh at us in our own feasting hall, while dining richly on the best of our land, demonstrating that there was never any intention to negotiate honestly - this is where the bargain breaks.

And so we march.

I think that there is a colossal arrogance which has been at play in the halls of finance and government (which are nearly indistinguishable at this point). The actions of these people in disregarding their place in the social contract display an assumption that there is no limit to what they can take from civilization, and no consequence.

I think they are wrong. We have the position of strength, because there are vastly more of us than there are of them, and what they have forgotten in their arrogance is their dependency on us, our productivity, our courtesy as hosts, and our willingness to allow the taking.

They are a few, and we are a legion. They are in our house. This is a cattle raid: they have come for our nation's wealth, and have defied us to stop them taking it.

I think they will be surprised.

On November 5, a coordinated day of action is planned, where people everywhere will pull their money out of the big Wall Street banks and move it to local banks or credit unions. What better way to show that we will not let our wealth be arrogantly taken from us while they laugh at us in our own hall? This is not a protest action. It is your right of self-defense. In the meantime, the occupations and marches continue everywhere. I encourage everyone to engage.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Honor of Ancestors

It's the season of the Dead, and I've been thinking a lot about Ancestors. This is partly inspired by the preparations we've been making for the Ancestor Shrine at Stone City, which we have been hoping to build at this year's Samhain gathering.

It's also inspired by conversations I've been having with my partner about the notion of Ancestor cults. Most of our historic Pagan cultures on which Neopaganism is based practiced some form of Ancestor worship, many of them quite prominently. Yet for most modern traditions (with some exceptions, of course), there is no such practice, or only a vestigial one. It feels like a piece of the reconstruction or revival of Pagan traditions that is not yet complete. Many of us commonly invoke the Gods, work with land spirits, and the like, but many traditions lack a coherent pattern of practice for connecting with our own Ancestors. Here I mean Ancestors in our own family bloodlines - not just spiritual Ancestors such as the Mighty Dead of the Craft, or long-distant generic Ancestors such as "the Celts". And I think perhaps that distinction is part of the reason this practice has not yet been more fully developed: The vast majority of modern Pagans are first-generation. In other words, most were not raised Pagan, and therefore I suspect that for many, their recent family Ancestors may not seem like meaningful spiritual contacts. Why would I want to invoke the presence and guidance of my great-great-great-grandfather, who was a Protestant? Well, here's why: he has a direct, vested interest in seeing his bloodline succeed. And who should we expect to take a greater interest in our personal problems and successes: the Gods, or our own Ancestors? Our Ancestors may have more limited powers and spheres of influence than the Gods, but their wisdom is of a kind that is more directly linked to our human needs and conditions, than the (relatively) vast and timeless powers of the Gods.

So I've been asking myself this question: What would a modern Ancestor cult look like? I began my practice by adding people from my direct family line to my Ancestor altar, and speaking to them when I make my offerings. Perhaps we can devise practices in which we make honoring our own Ancestors a more regular part of our workings: since most Pagans open ritual space with an invocation or invitation to helping spirits of some kind (Guardians, elementals, etc.), perhaps we ought to invite our own Ancestors at the same time, rather than just honoring them at Samhain. Perhaps we ought to revive folk practices like Decoration Day, or adopt elements from Latin Dia de los Muertes celebrations: visiting cemeteries, caring for and beautifying the graves of our Ancestors, bringing them gifts.

Lately I am also thinking about Ancestral legacies, and in this I'm also inspired by two other things: the movement toward re-learning and restoring old-fashioned skills and crafts, and the current democratic uprisings taking place all over the world. These movements are both responses to the instability of people's lives in present times, and the degradation of basic security and standard of living of the common people in much of the Western world as the plutocratic elite class strips the wealth of our nations. These movements both strike me as very powerful, perhaps the most powerful, ways of honoring our direct Ancestors. It is all well and good to offer libations and prayers, but I suspect that my great-great-great-grandfather, whose family were farmers and who fought in the Revolutionary War, would be more glad to know that the skills he learned and passed down through generations, and the Constitutional Republic he risked death to establish, were being restored and not dissipated.

No matter where your bloodlines come from, some of your Ancestors likely fought for something equally historic and equally meaningful. How might you honor them and what they worked to establish and to pass on?

October is the season of the Dead. This year, it is also the month that marks ten years of American wars, starting with the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. Here in the US and most of the Western world, we are coming to grips with the fact that we have been sorely betrayed by our democratic leaders, and that our self-governing process has been fundamentally corrupted by greed and wealth. This month is being observed by worldwide occupation movements in protest of the degradation of democracy and human life. This month, I am honoring my Ancestors with prayers, and with actions. I will be joining the Occupy San Francisco rally on October 15, in honor of my Ancestors who contributed to the first American Revolution and so that their legacy might be preserved. And in honor of the life-preserving skills of my Ancestors, I'll also be bringing eggs and produce that we grew here, to help feed the occupiers.

And maybe, if we remember them and if we honor them in ways that matter, our Ancestors can help. Perhaps we should invoke their spirits to march with us. Perhaps they might bless and help this movement toward re-invigorating the tree of liberty, hopefully without blood this time.

You can find related October 15 events here. For other info on Occupation movements in your area, here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Answering the Call

This is a quick post to announce the upcoming intensive I will be offering this fall along with my beloved co-priestesses T. Thorn Coyle and Sharon Knight.

We are calling this intensive Answering the Call: Battle Goddesses in Times of Change. It represents the next stage of the work the three of us have been called to by our Gods. Those who have been reading this blog or were present with us at the Morrigan devotional last PantheaCon will be aware that my work with the Morrigan, as with many of you, has been taken "up a notch" in the past year or two. We three, as with many of you, have been hearing an urgent call to rise up, prepare ourselves for times of change, help our communities become strong and resilient.

Two years ago, during our collaboration on the Stone City Samhain rituals and intensive work with the Morrigan, we talked about the strong call we had each felt from both the Morrigan and Freyja in our devotional work. At that Samhain, the Battle Goddess workshops were conceived, which Thorn began offering last Samhain along with her partner Robert, and has continued throughout the year, providing short workshops for self-defense and empowerment training.

We came together again for the great Morrigan devotional at PantheaCon, and as I have written here, that ritual was like the unleashing of a dike - it was a call to battle, opening the door for a great force of inspiration and empowerment that many of us in Her service continue to feel.

This fall's weekend intensive is the next stage in this work. We each feel a strong calling to help mobilize and prepare our people for the challenges of our times, through the guidance and urging of our devotional relationships with these Battle Goddesses. So this is the purpose for this gathering.

It will necessarily be smaller than the massing of the PantheaCon ritual - our focus here will be on in-depth work and practice with those who feel strongly called to join with us in this work. Attendance at this gathering will be limited to 30. It will be held at Stone City, where my work on the Morrigan statue and shrine are underway, and will provide an opportunity for participants to help with that project.

Initial details are up on a FaceBook event page, as well as on my website. Registration will be through Thorn's Solar Cross organization.

I look forward to meeting you in Her service.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

At the end of empire

London burning. This weekend, along with the rest of the world, I watched the reports coming in with awe, distress, dread. It is not entirely unexpected, but terrible nonetheless.

I am reading that the riots are to be understood as an uprising motivated by class and racial inequity, by the frustration of an underclass betrayed by ruling elites of the failing empire in which they live, watching the wealth and privilege that surrounds them slip through their fingers as their standard of living degrades. Have we seen this before? Watching London burn, I am irresistibly reminded of Boudicca's rebellion and burning of London during the Roman occupation. The parallel between the two is surely not complete, but I can't help contemplating it. Much of the youth engaged in the riots, I read, are the younger generation of Britain's colonized peoples. Britain may not be their ancestral homeland as it was that of Boudicca's people, but nonetheless both are responses to the inequities generated by empire. It is important to note that the Iceni, Boudicca's tribe, were collaborators with the Roman empire before rebellion; their uprising was motivated by betrayal that pushed beyond the limits of tolerance; it was motivated by a sudden realization that the promised benefits of empire would never be theirs, that the empire was in fact built on their backs. This is not to glamorize either movement, nor to justify the acts committed in them. The youth mobs have hurt innocents and destroyed homes and businesses of their own neighbors who suffered as much as they have; Boudicca's armies killed men, women, and children alike and visited unspeakable atrocities on those in their path. Uprisings may be sparked by real injustice, and in the releasing of that rage and frustration go far beyond the boundaries of justice.

We are witnessing now the decay of our civilization, which is unmistakeably an empire in collapse. Many of you reading this, are, like me, viewing current events from a position of relative privilege and comfort, but it seems clear to me that this privilege and comfort are both built on the backs of others, and cannot last much longer at that. Our own cities may burn with strife some time soon. The unrest in Europe, of which the current riots are only the most recent and severe oubreak, has largely been triggered by forces which are already in motion here in the US as well: Debt/bank default crises, currency collapse, government austerities forced by uncontrollable deficits, abandonment of the poor and needy as services are eliminated, and civil unrest as the disenfranchised by class and race realize they have nothing left to gain by playing within the rules. Every one of these forces is already in motion here in various stages. The President himself announced baldly that austerities will be taken from support services before any cuts to the military budget are considered. This could be a scene straight out of the late Roman Empire.

Meanwhile, representative government in our Congress is being strangled by the new "Supercommittee", which has been set up with little outcry, while we were distracted by the WWF wrestling match in Washington and historic downgrading of the government's credit standing. This new body, in case it has not yet been made clear, gives its 12 members, to be appointed from within Congress without public input, sweeping powers over taxation and use of public funds - the power to select which elements of government will be supported and which will be defunded or discontinued. This while having only the merest nod of responsibility toward Congress itself; our representatives can only respond to the committee's decision via a ratifying vote, yes or no; and even this is a coercive vote where failure to approve the committee's plan will result in disabling cuts to all branches of government. This, my friends, is taxation without representation. From any point on the political spectrum, left to right, this is surely plain.

The federal government has quietly been laying the groundwork for military troops to be deployed into the streets to quell future unrest, increasing secret surveillance of private citizens, positioning the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA to deal with "threats to national security". I don't think it requires a paranoid person to put all these things together into a rather dystopic picture of our near future.

Watching London burn it was borne home to me that this is what the Morrigan has been urging me, urging us to prepare for. This is a call to action, to arms. Not just for those who hold an allegiance to Her, but all people who love their liberty. We are at a juncture in history where corporatist/industrial capitalism is hitting a wall in terms of resource depletion, fiscal and economic decay, and it is dragging democracy down with it. Almost no one now denies that our government serves corporations more than it serves people. Our civil institutions are decaying as the ruling elites consolidate ownership of government in order to protect themselves as they finish looting our society of material, financial and social wealth. When the elites have taken everything they can, what will remain is the shell of a democratic society in which the people will be slaves in all but name. Or, perhaps we will be left to reinvent ourselves in a post-industrial civilization like peasants after the withdrawal of Rome, choosing between autonomy without help versus feudal serfdom under the protection of the remaining elites.

I think we have some choice about this: we can fight the looting of our civilization, and we can protect ourselves and our kin from the worst effects of it. But I also want to say that much of this change is inevitable. If, as so many of us have been saying for so long, our civilization is unsustainable in its current form, then it follows that the current form will end, and the question really is how to best position ourselves toward what is to come after, and how to minimize the suffering caused by the transition. Thus for me, though the near future looks rather terrifying, I also feel enormous hope and exhilaration about the opportunity for change in the long term. I also feel that I have an obligation both to my ancestors and to those who will come after us, to heed the Morrigan's call to arms and do what I can to help prepare our communities to better weather the storm.

So what can we do to protect ourselves, to protect the resources we still have? I don't claim to have any new answers to this question. Many thinkers and leaders have put more time into this question than I have. But here is my instinct: power is to be found not just in numbers, but in strength of bonds. That we need both unity and autonomy. I find myself thinking again and again of the cellular pattern of Celtic tribal society. Individual households within clans and tribes, operating locally and relatively autonomously except at times of threat and need, when war leaders were chosen and delegated temporary authority for specific campaigns. I'm drawn to the parallels between this system and the leaderless cellular structure of revolutionary undergrounds and resistance movements.

I feel strongly and with a near-prophetic force that this is going to require more militancy than most of us are comfortable with. I'm contemplating this article I recently read on the role of militancy in resistance movements. The authors interviewed hold radical views, and I don't endorse everything they say. But I encourage you to take the time to read the full article. The authors bring up some points I think we need to consider. Primarily, the insight that persuasion and reasoned debate have no influence on the drives and incentives motivating the elites - force and money are the things they understand. If this is true then the two forms of action which have the greatest real potential to bring change and to benefit people rather than corporations, are removing our wealth from the economy of empire and investing it in localized tribal economies; and intelligent application of resistance force. In both cases, we have to first be prepared. We have to create the localized tribal economies which will allow us to support ourselves autonomously, and we have to be willing, daring, and skilled enough to make forceful resistance viable.

Most of my community and probably the great majority of readers are not militant folks. We are soft, urban, sophisticated; accustomed to comfortable homes, costume parties, and the assumption that we can change the direction of civilization by voting, recycling and not buying clothing from the Gap. I know for many of you my views will seem extreme. But I can only speak the truth as I see it, and what I see is that we are nearing the end of Weimar USA, and what life requires of us will be different from what we have known before. Even if you are not personally called to active resistance against the elites, you will need the same self-defense and survival skills in order to survive and thrive in the era of instability we are entering.  We need discipline, intelligence, preparation. We need to be a skilled people, who can survive together when the trucks aren't delivering enough food to the city's markets or when soldiers or mobs threaten our neighborhoods. We will all need to know who our kin are, whose support we can count on and what each of us has to offer. We need to train ourselves in self-defense, weapons skills, first aid, survival, self-sufficiency. Above all, we need to commit ourselves to honorable resistance.

I am continuing to think on ways of supporting and mobilizing our communities. For today, please think about making a commitment to yourself in Her name, or in the name of your ancestors and descendents: to begin preparing. As a place to start, think about commiting to beginning training in one self-defense skill and one survival skill: Judo and vegetable gardening, or Krav maga and first-aid, or handgun practice and food storage, or Irish stick-fighting and home energy production. If you are already on your way with skills like these, please consider what you can do to bring others in your community along.

I hope to have more to share soon; I leave you with this quote from the British chieftain Calgacus:

You have not tasted servitude. There is no land beyond us and even the sea is no safe refuge when we are threatened by the Roman fleet... It is no use trying to escape their arrogance by submission or good behaviour. They have pillaged the world: when the land has nothing left for men who ravage everything, they scour the sea. If an enemy is rich, they are greedy, if he is poor, they crave glory. Neither East nor West can sate their appetite. They are the only people on earth to covet wealth and poverty with equal craving. They plunder, they butcher, they ravish, and call it by the lying name of 'empire'. They make a desert and call it 'peace'.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


This blog has been quiet lately, in part because my work on the Morrigan statue project slowed this spring while other responsibilities came to the fore. The other reason is that I've been struggling with what to say. I started this blog to share my process with the Morrigan statue, and along with that my observations, thoughts, philosophies arising from my work as Her priestess.

Since PantheaCon, I've been in a queer state of ambivalence. To those of you who were present for the huge Morrigan devotional ritual we held at the Con, it might sound strange to hear that what I came away with was ambivalence. But it's true.

The ritual work leading up to and in the ritual itself triggered something very big in my relationship with the Morrigan. I think most participants would agree that the ritual tapped into an enormous current of desire and something that I can only describe as urgency. There is a tide rising in our communities, a sense of readiness for a call that we all somehow know is coming, and that we yearn for. The ritual felt galvanizing, transformative. A massing of forces on the eve of some battle. People took oaths. Thresholds were crossed.

Afterwards, I came home continuing to think about where those thresholds are taking us now. What exactly DID we tap into? What now?

For what purpose are these forces massing?

I came home carrying the sword, the one upon which all those oaths had been sworn. It held a force and vibratory power in it that was clear to the senses of everyone who touched it, and impossible to ignore. For a few days, we had it on the altar in our bedroom (oops). My husband described it thus: "There is a sword, and I have a house around it." Shortly afterward, I took it up to the Morrigan's shrine site, planted it in the ground there with prayers to Her, and left it there for a night and a day to let the power of the oaths pour out of it and be earthed in Her shrine. While I was up there, I prayed and sat and listened and She, still overshadowing me in the aftermath of the big ritual, whispered to me. "Yes. You have brought me the sword. Soon, you will bring me warriors. The time is coming."

That message left me shaken, and hence my ambivalence. I continue to feel a great urgency from Her, a sense of pressure as if someone were literally leaning against me, or the way you feel when someone is staring hard at the back of your head. I realized then that the big ritual was not the culmination of a process, but the start of one, and I have an obligation to Her to see it through. But I still do not fully understand what "it" is. The hints and whispers I receive from Her continue to point toward mobilizing our people, our communities, in preparation for something. Mobilization, preparation, massing and honing of forces. That's what She keeps whispering. I remain ambivalent about this because whenever I talk about what it is I sense She wants from us, I begin to think I'm sounding delusional, militaristic, or at best naive. And because I can't yet figure out how it is that I, without even any genuine fighting skills to my credit, am going to bring warriors to the Morrigan. Not alone, that's for sure.

This has been my state for the past few months. Waiting, listening, looking for further insight. Talking to friends and companions. In the meantime, the signs keep coming. I've had messages from both friends and strangers that She has been speaking to others, appearing in their dreams, sending warnings, delivering the call to action. Meanwhile, I continue to watch the distress signals flickering on in the world around us.

Yesterday I spent a little time working on the statue, preparing Her for the next stage of the sculptural process. While I worked, I asked Her again for guidance, and I listened. The word RESISTANCE sounded in my head.

Today, this article caught my eye. And this one. Those are just examples - I've seen many of these signs, too many to enumerate. They remind me of that word, resistance.

Am I saying that I want to form a militia? I don't think so. I think the forces of authoritarian control would have us hopelessly outgunned, and I think as soon as we limit our thinking about resistance to the level of guns, we have already lost. But I think we need something. We need resilient networks of community that are decentralized, that provide real, manifest support for their members - not just mental support, but survival skills and material necessities that will allow us the real-life autonomy from which to resist. We need these networks to be in place and vibrant before they become a survival necessity. And yes, I do think fighting skills are among those survival skills we need to cultivate. A person who has the ability to protect themselves and their loved ones, and the means and resources to live autonomously if needed, is a person who cannot as easily be cowed or seduced into toeing the line - or buying the line. It takes a warrior to resist, even if that resistance is not in the form of conventional armed resistance.

I still don't really know where to begin, and I suppose that is why I'm writing this. Nervously, at that. I want to hear from you. Have you heard the Morrigan's call? What are your Gods urging you toward? What do you sense we are being called upon to do?

In the meantime, my co-priestesses from the Morrigan ritual, T. Thorn Coyle, Sharon Knight, and I are planning to hold a weekend workshop intensive focused on this work, in November of this year. It's a place to start. I'll have details to post soon, I hope.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Cry of Destiny

Today I have some thoughts to share about destiny. This post has actually been brewing for some weeks before I found the time to write it down; if you've read my postings before, you've probably noticed that I'm a writer only after my other vocations, and sometimes the blog goes by the wayside while I'm busy chasing my destiny. So then, on the subject of destiny.
From Failias was brought the Lia Fail, which is at Tara, and which used to cry out under each king who assumed the sovereignty of Ireland.
The Four Jewels of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Yellow Book of Lecan

We might tend to think of destiny as something rare that belongs to special people, those who are 'chosen' for some greatness that is beyond the reach of most of us. Destiny might feel like a concept for heroes of myth that seems out of place in our ordinary lives. But this is not so. Everyone has a destiny on them. You, reading these words, you have a destiny on you. Simply put, your destiny is that thing you were made for. That thing you are uniquely equipped and gifted to do, that without you will not be complete; and that you
will not be complete without doing. I really want to emphasize this, so I'll say it again: There is something unique and meaningful that only you and no other being can give to this world. I don't care who you are or how empty you may think you are of gifts; this is still true of you. Whatever that thing is, that is your destiny. It may be subtle; it may not be the kind of thing that is recorded in history books, but it is a destiny, and it is meaningful and it is yours.

Do you know what it is?

If you don't, isn't it perhaps time you should find out?

Let me put that question another way. What have you got to do that is more urgent or more important than discovering your life's purpose? If you can answer that, you may already know your destiny.

If not, here are some things to contemplate. The Lia Fail, the Stone of Fal which was also called the Stone of Destiny, would cry out under the true king, who held the sovereignty of the land. Sovereignty is the holding of power by virtue of right relationship to its source; in the case of an Irish king, the land itself. So ask yourself: In what place does the rightness and truth of your action cause such power to flow through you that your soul cries out? Have you felt that? That was the cry of destiny. If you have never felt that, if till now you have only heard the silence of the stone, it may be time to seek new experiences, try out new ways of serving the world until the cry comes. Drew Jacob, in his Rogue Priest blog (which I highly recommend), talks of the heroic path, and his first piece of advice for those who have not discovered their heroic purpose is to travel. If travel seems out of reach because of cost, and it may indeed be for many of us, there is still nothing stopping you from going out of your established routines and experiencing something new. I would add that service is more likely to open us to destiny than pleasure. We find our purpose, paradoxically, by going outside of ourselves.

The next thing I want to make clear is that destiny is not fate. It isn't predetermined. It's what you're meant for, but you can fail to fulfill it, or you can choose to ignore it and do something else with your time and life energy. We are all endowed with will, and if we're diligent at liberating ourselves from social and media manipulation, we can even aspire to possess free will (or even better, be possessed by it). I do not believe in fate, at least not in the fixed sense.

So - your destiny is not predetermined: It is yours, but it will not just happen to you. That is one way that we differ from the people in story. We must court destiny like a lover, or a muse; chase it like a quarry; most of all, serve it. This is work. Nothing is born without labor, and this thing you have within you may take a life's labor to bring forth. This may be why so many of us prefer the aimless comfort of the consumer life to the purposeful striving of the destined life. It is hard, and it's scary, too. Dedicating yourself to fulfilling your destiny means sacrificing some things you might otherwise put more of your life energy into, things that are easier and more comfortable. Things that are more predictable. Most frightening of all, there is no guarantee of success. You might spend years serving this destiny, only to see it partially born; it may not come to fruition or be recognized for its value until after your death. It is up to you, and the allies and resources you can muster, to fulfill your purpose and give to the world what you have to give. And to do so we have to struggle against not only our own fears of failure (or fears of success), but against very great and subtle forces in our civilization that derive enormous profit from an aimless population accustomed to thinking themselves small, and content to fill their longing for meaning with stuff. For all these reasons, it may be easier not to know your purpose. And as I said, you do have that option. You can turn your face away from destiny. But I will venture to say that it will haunt you until you step into it.

Why do I care so much and why am I lecturing you about pursuing your destiny? Well, because I myself have been haunted by a growing sense that difficult times are coming. That is to say, difficult times are here already - most of us know at least a few people who are out of work; costs of living are rising faster than incomes; the unsustainable economic and political structures of much of the Western world are beginning to crack; and in the US at least, we are seeing clearer and clearer the emergence of the national security
police state. I have a persistent sense that these are signs of harder times to come soon, that our lives will get tougher for a while before they get better. And my Gods, most especially the Morrigan whom I serve most closely, have been haunting me too, with a message that I need to be doing anything I can to help prepare our people for difficult and transformative times. That we, the spiritual-minded and magickal folk, have something needful to offer the world in these crises, but that we are not ready, and that unless we can get prepared to ride the tides of change, we can't hope to help the rest of the world through it.

To explain what this has to do with destiny, I will quote Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. Informed by his experiences observing what inner powers helped people to not only survive in the hells of the concentration camps, but even find the strength to help others, he wrote:
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Man's Search for Meaning, 1946.
And elsewhere in the same book:
A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."
In other words, the human being who knows her purpose, who knows she has a destiny to fulfill, carries that meaning within her like a talisman, and through that can find the strength to survive anything. She can bear almost any conditions. She has heard the cry of the Stone of Destiny, and so the strength of the stone is hers, the grounding force of sovereignty. My friends, this is how heroes are made. How kings and queens are made. This simple thing: the knowledge of one's destiny, and a commitment to it. That is all it takes.

Don't worry if you aren't ready. No one ever is. The cry of the stone will carry you, and you'll find a way.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rising up

Then the Morrigan the daughter of Ernmas came, and she was strengthening the Tuatha De to fight the battle resolutely and fiercely. She then chanted the following poem:

"Kings arise to the battle! . . . "

 Immediately afterwards the battle broke, and the Fomoire were driven to the sea.

--from the Second Battle of Mag Tuired

On sunday night I had the privilege of working with a kickass team of ritualists to create the Morrigan devotional ritual at PantheaCon. I came away sore from pushing myself to the limits of my stamina, with a voice a little hoarse from screaming. And feeling gratitude for the courage of the many individuals who chose to join us in answering Her call.

In the dreamlike flashes of my memories of the ritual, a few images and sensations stand forth. I remember being profoundly overshadowed even before the invocation began. I remember being able to acutely feel the pounding of the myriad hearts as a sensation in my own body, something like the way a great pounding sound too deep to be audible is sensed as a massive vibration in one's bones. I remember feeling the massing of armies in the movement of the many bodies round the space. I remember when the taking of oaths began, feeling Her devouring them as a starving creature might swallow meat, as though I could taste the life force contained in each one.

I saw the Hero's Light shuddering round the faces and brows of some there who were moved by Her spirit, saw their souls rise up within them, answering the call.

This ritual represented a new threshold in my relationship with the Morrigan. The first decade of my devotion to Her was observed almost exclusively in intimate coven rituals or private practice. It has only been in the last five years or so that I began working as Her priestess in a broader public context, but until now the largest group in which I had channeled Her had been around 40 people at an open Samhain ritual. So to bring Her to an overflowing convention ballroom of 500 people was unprecedented for me. I will admit that I felt some hesitation about letting Her fully come through in the chaotic, zany environment of the convention. I did it in spite of that because I sensed a particular urgency, a tugging in Her presence during the recent months that said this needed to happen. As we went through the final planning and preparation for this ritual, I felt Her hungering for the big energy of the host. I sense that in these later days, there are few enough moments when human beings gather in the hundreds to chant Her name, let alone the thousands who perhaps once did.

I cannot help musing on the timing of this working. While we were massed in that ballroom raging and chanting, "RISE UP! RISE!" folk all across the Middle East and North Africa were, and still are, rising up to fight for their liberation. This is not to imply that our little ritual has any causal connection to the uprisings. I think rather what I am sensing is that the insistence with which the Morrigan has been pushing me to share my devotional work with Her beyond the sphere of private practice and into a broader public venue, is in some way connected to the urgency of the times in which we live. Perhaps She feels that the world needs Her especially now.

I have since found myself thinking on the taking of oaths - there is something very powerful about the act. An oath takes the continuous gradual path of the spiritual life and sets into it a gateway, a threshold separating the road ahead from all that has come before. We challenge ourselves to dare the threshold. We speak our oath in the presence of our Gods and our companions so that there can be no turning back; the gate closes on what has gone before. Once spoken, an oath cannot be undone. It binds us to our own will and to the future we have committed to. We now must rise up and find the power within ourselves to fulfill that oath.

The keeping of an oath grants strength. An oath is much like that thing known in Celtic lore as a geis, generally translated as 'taboo' or 'prohibition'. A geis is an obligation which is laid on a person, to which they must adhere. The heroic stories teach us that the keeping of a geis grants power; that its protection may be so great as to make the hero undefeatable. To break a geis engenders loss of power and protection, weakness, downfall. The deaths of the great heroes are brought about through clever means of forcing them to break a geis and thus render them merely human, vulnerable to wounding and defeat. The hidden truth here is that, conversely, a geis intact renders one more than human, for it is a magickal bond with the Otherworld, and while it is kept, it wraps one in a mantle of Otherworldly power. And what is an oath but a geis taken under free will? In oath-taking, we rise to meet the destiny that is laid on us; and in return, as we keep the oath we rise up in greater strength and power.

So to those who took the oath: you have taken a geis from the Morrigan. Guard it well and your honorable name in the Otherworld will make you great in all the worlds. The strength of the kept oath will sustain you. In the words of Cáilte: "I am persuaded that these three things will sustain me in my life: the truth always maintained in my heart, strength of my arms for the honor of my deeds, and in always keeping my word."

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two roads diverged in a wood and I

Today I am writing about the changes occurring in the Feri Tradition community. I imagine most readers of my notes here will already be aware of the tradition; if not, then this post will probably not be of interest to you. For an excellent overview of the tradition, check out this article by Niklas Gander.  The changes in the tradition I refer to are summarized here by Jason Pitzl-Waters, here by T. Thorn Coyle, and here by another group of Feri initiates.

I hesitated to say anything public about these changes. I have felt some pain at seeing the process we are going through hit the sphere of internet news and blog discussion at this stage. It's not that I think people shouldn't know about it, it's just that I feel it's premature to try and say anything definitive about what the landscape will ultimately look like. I think that much is still unformed in this process, and I would have preferred to let it settle on its own terms. Annie Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, tells a story about a giant Polyphemus moth emerging from its chrysalis in a schoolroom. In order to display it so the schoolkids can watch, the teacher puts the moth into a bottle while its wings are still wet; but the wings cannot unfold, and they harden in the confined shape given to them by the bottle. Making public statements at this point about the new forms the Feri community is shifting into feels like putting the moth into the bottle. And so, rational or not, I was reluctant. But as I have waited, I see the speculative discussion broadening about the internet, with bloggers who have no direct connection to the tradition announcing opportunistically that we're "falling apart". So I am here to share my own perceptions of the 'split' in the Feri tradition; what it is and what it is not in my view, and where I think we go from here.

First, I wish to say that what the initiates of the Feri tradition are experiencing is not just another witch war. It is not a petty personality conflict - it is the fruit of long-standing, deep-seated and substantive differences in philosophy and practice. Some kind of change or divergence of paths was probably inevitable for a tradition growing as fast as ours. In the minutia of the process, of course personal conflicts have arisen, but that is not what's really driving this, and I feel like it would be demeaning and harmful to our process to frame this as a Big Personality Conflict between two opposed sides. "The Sundering", as it's being called, is not nearly as severe as that title implies. The reality is, people are still in communication across all sides of the philosophical debate, and the community as a whole is far from divisible into two camps.

At the heart of the issue is the tension held between our nature as an initiatory mystery cult, and the urge to share our wisdom as widely as possible. The central question, I think, is whether or not it is possible to transmit the Mysteries of the tradition through mass methods, or whether this approach by its very nature alters what is being transmitted into a fundamentally different Mystery than the one that can be shared in a more intimate context. The group of initiates who have announced their separation from 'public Feri' on the new websites, are doing so to demarcate themselves from the most extreme examples and consequences of the open approach, but in fact there are a great many more than two answers to that central question. And not all who disagree about the answer are in conflict over that difference. I think most of us are striving to hold the view that we have become different breeds of the same species, and the stable, peaceful place will be found by acknowledging both breeds for what they are and are not. Thus the 'split', in the big picture, is less a tearing apart than a recognition of divergence. It is primarily a matter of putting a name to what is - this is a Pippin and that is a Red Delicious - so that we need not argue about what an apple should be.

I think in the long range, after we get through this winnowing or distillation process and the accompanying distress and discomfort, what we will see is the emergence of a nested anatomy within the tradition, like the way a cell holds a nucleus within it. The larger exterior body of practice being an exoteric tradition, which is accessible to the public and can be shared via mass means such as books, websites, distance courses and the like. Within that, there will be an esoteric tradition, a much more occult, closely held and mystery-based practice which is shared intimately via the initiatory method. You see this within various world religions - the Buddhist and Hindu paths, for instance, typically have a more public school and within that a more hidden or Tantric school. Likewise Judaism and the esoteric Qabalah. I am sure there are other good examples.

In many ways, Feri is very like a Tantra; it is a body of spiritual practice which delves into those things which threaten our power and autonomy - those things that tend to overwhelm, addict, or frighten us, those things which are either obsessions or taboos of our culture. A Tantra is a practice which seeks liberation from a thing's power over us through delving deeply into it, rather than through aversion or negation. This is by its very nature a psychologically and spiritually risky form of practice, and thus in most religions, the esoteric or Tantric form of practice is usually closely guarded and shared under very intimate supervision by the teacher. Feri tradition, until very recently, was so small and hidden that there was no need for an outer and an inner tradition; it might be argued that Feri tradition itself has functioned in some ways as the esoteric school of the broader Craft revival. But this has been changing. In the last half-decade or so the rapid growth of publicly accessible material and mass teaching methods have created a large population of students of Feri who are not on an initiatory path and lack access to a teacher who can provide for them that intimate initiatory context for transmission of the Mystery. Thus we are being pushed toward that two-tiered or nested structure that characterizes the larger religions.

There is of course more to it than this, in terms of precipitating events, but that is the essence of it from my perspective. As the forecasters say, I reserve the right to be mistaken, and to change my opinion if conditions warrant. For the sake of transparency, here is a bit about my place within the tradition. I have been an initiate for about 13 years or so. I came in through Vanthe coven, which represents one of the smallest and most reclusive lineages within the tradition. My line tends toward the secretive, mystery-cult system and coven structure rather than the public method. However, I have alliances and close friendships among the very public teachers and lines as well, and as readers may know from my involvement with American Mystic, I am open in some ways myself. I seem to occupy a middle ground or third place and it has become my work to support the initiate community as a whole and try to foster communication and shared culture across lines. I am continuing that work as best I can through the present changes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Morrigan cloaked, and the cost in blood.

This weekend I started a new phase of the statue: building the cloak. Here is where I begin to depart from the pre-formed structure of the mannequin. I formed the cloak from sheets of metal lath, cut to size, wired on and formed to shape. Then began the long process of layering fiber cloth and resin on to the metal. I make this sound simple, maybe, but it's tricky and awkward and took me most of a day just to get as far as laying on the fiber cloth.

I am inspired to see Her beginning to take shape. I can begin to see a slow convergence between the image in my mind and the object before me; maybe there is a chance that I'll pull this off and manage to create an image that is potent enough to be a vessel for Her presence here.

S. tells me She looks like Lady Gaga now, between the shiny black material on the body giving it a fetish-suit look, and the white fibrous material on the cloak getting a bit feathery. I am amused by this. Also, determined that by the time I'm done, She will be distinguishable from Lady Gaga. My Queen, I give you my word.

The day was unseasonably warm for January and the hours slipped by me while I steadily wrestled the metal into shape onto the statue. It's hard on the hands; the cut lath is very sharp along the edges like a comb of tiny razors. My hands are nicked and sliced; at one point I have to lean against the edge of the cloak to reach around both sides and wire the parts together. I feel a couple points of the cut lath start to sink in to the surface skin on the side of my neck. I smile a bit when a cut on my fingertip wells up with a few drops of blood that find their way on to the statue. She takes Her offering, and I am glad to give it.

The blood gets me thinking, and I find myself flashing on the quote from Dante that Michelangelo wrote on his sketch for the Pieta: "One does not think how much blood it costs."

How much blood does it cost? Your life's work - the destiny that pulls your heartbeat onward like the current of a river. The task that is before you. How much blood will it cost you to bring forth what is in you? Do we dare to find out?

Here is what the Morrigan told me, and what the heroes of my ancestors tell: It may cost everything. It may cost you your life. The battle that you have before you - whatever that is - the birth struggle of that world that can not come to be except through your unique effort - this will not be achieved without blood. The price of your destiny is your life. To achieve the greatness that is in you requires you to give yourself to that purpose, and this giving will transform you. There will be no turning back. This is how heroes are made; in the simple choice to give. Sacrifice: to make sacred. That which is given in dedication to a greater force is made sacred by the giving. And it does mean giving something up. There is only so much time in a life, so many heartbeats. Giving yourself to the pursuit of your great Work will cost you in opportunities to spend your life more frivolously. And it may cost you much more than that.

Is this why we often shy away from success, from the fullness of our capabilities? Do we sense intuitively that the pursuit of greatness requires the death of the small, safe creature we were accustomed to being? Are we not sure we are ready to spill that blood?

Perhaps, I thought. And then came Her next answer: It doesn't matter. Because willing or no, death will come to you. There is nothing to fear when the end of the story is known. Your blood will be spilled one day and will flow back into the river that birthed you. The only question will be when, and whether you had enough time yet to pour that blood into something meaningful while it was still yours. Being small will not save you.

So this is the heroic ethos; this is what Cu Chulainn knew. That a life is best measured in meaning, not in length or comfort. ‘Little care I,’ said Cu Chulainn, ‘nor though I were but one day or one night in being, so long as after me the history of myself and doings may endure.’ And though he was younger than a warrior should be, and people did not think him ready, he took up arms on that day and went to seek his destiny. We have this choice: to wait for an easy moment, staying within the comfort of our ordinary life, and keep the illusion of safety. Or to make the sacrifice, the gift of our very life, to achieve the greatness that is within us.

I would love to kiss you.
The price of kissing is your life.

Now my loving is running toward my life shouting,
What a bargain, let's buy it.

-Jelaluddin Rumi

Morrigan statue with cloak structure. Not Lady Gaga.

Morrigan ritual details for PantheaCon

What I'm doing at PantheaCon this year:

Call of the Battle Raven: A Morrigan Devotional

Sunday February 20, 2011 - 9:00 pm

Come lend your voice as we call the Morrigan, the great Celtic Goddess of death, battle, prophecy and Otherworldly power. In every heart She conjures the commitment of the warrior and the wisdom of the poet. She teaches us to find the steel within, unsheath our souls for the work that lies before us at this challenging moment in our history. In this ecstatic devotional ritual we will raise power to feed the Great Queen and offer our hearts that She may incite us to greatness.

With Sharon Knight and T. Thorn Coyle!