Theurgic Binding: A Response

For the past couple of days, I’ve been mulling over whether to post some kind of response to Morpheus Ravenna’s post on dedication to a deity. But whenever I begin drafting something, I get frustrated and delete it. Nothing seems to quite get at what I feel needs to be expressed.

Then, today, a friend of mine linked to a post contrasting the Buddha’s “Parable of the Raft” to Mormon Teachings. Here’s the parable:

A man is trapped on one side of a fast-flowing river. Where he stands, there is great danger and uncertainty – but on the far side of the river, there is safety. But there is no bridge or ferry for crossing. So the man gathers logs, leaves, twigs, and vines and is able to fashion a raft, sturdy enough to carry him to the other shore. By lying on the raft and using his arms to paddle, he crosses the river to safety.

The Buddha then asks the listeners a question: “What would you think if the man, having crossed over the river, then said to himself, ‘Oh, this raft has served me so well, I should strap it on to my back and carry it over land now?’” The monks replied that it would not be very sensible to cling to the raft in such a way.

The Buddha continues: “What if he lay the raft down gratefully, thinking that this raft has served him well, but is no longer of use and can thus be laid down upon the shore?”

The monks replied that this would be the proper attitude.

The Buddha concluded by saying, “So it is with my teachings, which are like a raft, and are for crossing over with — not for seizing hold of.”

I find online conversations about the Morrigan to be very strange and not much like the practices I see in real life. If you read something about her and find it frightening, or if you find it leaves you with guilt and shame and a sense that you thought you were okay but now you feel like a total fuck-up and you think you’d better let an expert tell you what to do before you get hurt or worse, then take a breath.

Take another.

And one more.

Dear one, you’re doing okay.

This is me, a mother and an educator and a priestess who may or may not have a little more experience than you, promising you that you’re doing okay. Maybe you flew headlong into a formal dedication because it just felt right. Maybe you’ve had a good relationship with a god but now it’s starting to go sour. Maybe your practice is just in a rut right now and you’re discouraged and anxious that some all-powerful being has it out for you.

You’re still doing okay.

You didn’t sign away the next nine generations of your family by telling a god you wanted to be close to them. You’re not going to meet some disaster because you followed your gut and not a contract. If the Morrigan or any other deity is putting other people through those kinds of tests, then it’s because that’s what they need in their lives at this moment. You’re your own person, with your own needs and strengths.

Maybe you know for a fact that the gods are real and powerful. Maybe you know for a fact that they’re just archetypes. Maybe you know for a fact that they’re all aspects of one divine reality. Maybe, like me, you have absolutely no idea and you feel your way along, day by day, wanting only to live an authentic life of service and gratitude.

Whatever the case, gods can’t hurt you unless you continually give them that power. And no, you didn’t already sign that power away by lighting a candle and saying some words. Did the god give you any indication at all of what they wanted to take from you? No? Not even a hint? Then they’re not entitled to it unless you consent.

And even if you did knowingly sign away your life and your house and your dog and your Playstation 4 and now you’re losing sleep because it was a huge mistake, then simply tell the god you need to terminate that contract. Figure out a good compromise. Maybe they get the Wii instead. Tell them you’ll throw in Smash Brothers. Our spiritual lives aren’t mortgages. Put down the raft; you were never meant to carry it forever.

But above all, let me reiterate: no matter what scary things you read on blogs, you’re doing okay. As we say in the Reclaiming Tradition, you are your own spiritual authority.

Always.

No exceptions.

Blessed be.

Morrigan Hymn #7

Behind the teeth of nightmare there is knowledge.

Within the monster’s chambered heart is love.

Your fear can be a threshold to the sweetest wisdom,

Your mind a mirror of the earth.

Go in, go in, go in.

Tantrum (A Prayer to Badb and Nemain)

Tonight my daughter happily emptied three baskets of toys onto the floor. Before her bath, we asked her to clean them up. But she didn’t want to clean up–she was busy drawing. I gently took the marker out of her hand. The tantrum started.

This was her second day of preschool and, for the second day in a row, she was fragile and exhausted on the ride home. I was reminded of days that I spend walking through busy city streets or ploughing through projects at work. Those days when my physical exertion is minimal, but I finish the day unable to move, my brain putting all its energy into processing the stimuli to which I was subjected.

Which is to say, this tantrum was a landmark on a very clear map.

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Before I found a good treatment plan, I had days so bad that I cried my throat raw. I had days so bad that I hurt myself just to relieve the pressure. I had days so bad that I wanted to tear myself out of my own head. This is what depression and anxiety feel like. I lost weeks, months, to the lowest periods.

By the time she was in the bath, my daughter was jerking and catching her breath from crying so hard. She screamed and screamed, her voice hoarse. “Are you all done with the bath?” my husband asked. “NO!” she shrieked. “Do you want to stay in longer?” I asked. “NO!” she wailed. In a tantrum, a toddler no longer knows what she wants. She’s a slave to her most primal self, the part of the brain that squirt cortisol into her blood and make her writhe with rage. My daughter flailed her arms and screamed piercing, staccato screams.

In her agony, I saw myself. I saw those days before I found the right medication, when anxiety would send me over the edge and I would curl up on the floor and grab my hair, wanting anything in the world except to be conscious. I saw those days when I really, truly believed things would never get better. I saw the hell my brain created for me.

I felt such sharp compassion for my screaming girl.

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While my husband toweled her off, I went downstairs to get a binky. By the time I got back up, the tantrum had subsided, and glassy-eyed, she opened her mouth to let me pop it in. “Medicine,” I whispered.

Then I knelt in front of her and stroked her hair. “I’ve been there,” I said. “I know how it feels to be sad and mad. I know, sweetie. I’ve been there. I know.” She watched me wordlessly. “Do you want to go put on your nightgown?” I asked. She nodded and when I held out my hand, she took it.

I thought of my own mother, brushing me off when I was upset, snapping at me when I was suicidal. If I hadn’t had my own experiences with emotional horror–and if I had never learned to navigate through it and come out the other side–I would have never been able to give my daughter what she needed at that moment.

“Dismemberment…is a universal shamanic symbol of initiation,” writes Peter Grey in Apocalyptic Witchcraft. “The initiate is often seized by a flying creature and torn by talons and beak.” One might be tempted to believe that a Witch can only achieve this kind of initiation through deep trance or flying ointment or a carefully rehearsed ritual. Those initiations absolutely have their place in our practice, but to chase after them will only ever make it brittle and shallow. If you live a life of any meaning at all, you will be destroyed more times than you can count.

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I made my daughter’s nightgown do a dance and she laughed. I asked her if she wanted a hug and she said yes. Then, when we took her downstairs for her snack, she cleaned up her toys.

I recognized in her the deep, wrung-out peace that comes after the catharsis of weeping. I saw in her that good soreness that comes when you realize you made it through the dark tunnel.

Hail to Badb, the dismantler. Hail to Nemain, who brings chaos. Hail to the Morrigan, dark lady of the deepest self. When I hold my little daughter, I know why you chose me.

Morrigan Hymn #6

Sacred lover,

Your menstrual blood the wine of warriors,

Your breath that which shudders the earth into flower–

Come to me, proud queen,

And, quaking, I will accept your gifts.

Shrieking one, whispering one,

Bathe me in the bliss of knowing you.

Let me embrace you in the dew of dawn

So that I may smile at your perfect love.