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.

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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.

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.

Morrigan Hymn #5

Dark lady, you whisper in my ear.

Witch queen, you whisper:

Weave magic into the wind

And carry it to the far places.

Feel the lamia writhing in your blood.

At night she becomes your power.

Warrior queen, you whisper:

Bare your teeth and howl to the sky.

Let the land mold you

Into a glinting knife,

Ready to slice through greed

And banish the invaders.

Prophetess, you whisper:

Be shrewd and thoughtful.

Look to the far future.

Let the battle-frenzy take you

And let it fade like incense.

 

Lady, you speak for the rivers and meadows.

You speak for the spirits whose voices are soft.

You call to the thousand goddesses and say,

See, sisters, the world swells to reclaim itself.

This is my age, stripped bare by my anger,

Molded by my wisdom.

 

Lady, the world shivers around me,

Watchful and awake.

I will listen, O shadow.

Morrigan Hymn #4

O Angry Earth,

We have relinquished our claim to you.

How patient you were! How lovely your face, young maiden!

How many blessings you gave us!

Now, crone, your storm clouds roil

And your teeth are bared.

You prepare to expel us, your arrogant tenants,

In search of a new people

To be crowned your consort.

 

O Goddess, help us become that people.

Seep into our minds and hearts;

Fertilize the grass with the work of our hands.

Allow our bodies to become sacred things.

Help us love you once again.

Morrigan Hymn #3

Lady of Peace!
Lady of Power!
Lady of Sweetness!
Lady of Honey!
Lady of Bloodlust!
Lady of Entrails!
Lady of Agony!
Lady of Sorrow!

Terrible hag and beautiful maiden!
Carrion crow and life-giving cow!
Why would the Shapeshifter be only one thing?
Eel becomes wolf becomes heifer becomes raven.
Daughter becomes lover becomes warrior becomes god.

Does my body contain you, O goddess?
Can my mind comprehend you, old queen?
I see you in the grass that waves in the wind.
I know you in the quiet of my land and my heart.

Pagan Blog Project: Offerings

A few weeks ago I was invoking East for an esbat when I let the word “worship” slip. “Join us,” I think I said, “as we worship and make magic.”

Since my coven works within the Reclaiming tradition, we make up most of our invocations on the fly. I was just saying what came to mind. I didn’t think anything of it. But later that night, one of my coven-mates brought up a gentle objection to the word. “We don’t worship,” she pointed out. “We work with deities, not for them. They’re our partners, not our bosses.” Everyone nodded, although no one looked at me. It’s possible no one else even remembered the invocation. Still, I felt embarrassed.

I completely understand why Witches and Pagans shy away from words like “worship.” Worship is a Christian thing, right? It’s what you do if you’ve been brainwashed into thinking you’re powerless and flawed. It’s what you do when your god is an authoritarian dictator, easily enraged, thirsty and desperate for praise. Right? That’s what worship is. It’s unhealthy. It’s degrading.

So then why did the word come to me in my invocation? And why don’t I regret saying it, even after my coven-mates took issue?

A few days ago Jason Mankey published a post on Patheos about The Wind in the Willows, and its portrayal of Pan as “the Friend and Helper” with an “August Presence.” He quoted this well-known and beautiful passage:

“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.

To me, that sounds like a very different kind of worship: an act performed not out of a sense of obligation, but out of reverence and awe and love for beings much bigger and older than us. When we forget that sense of awe and see deities only as partners–or, as I see far too often, life coaches and personal cheerleaders–we not only cheapen and probably offend them, but we diminish the benefits we get from working with them.

I’m not afraid–and yet, O, I am afraid! is a feeling I know very well. It’s a beautiful kind of fear. It’s a sign that your animal instincts are picking up on the presence of A Very Big Thing. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would even go so far as to say that if you’ve never felt even a tiny bit shaken up in the presence of a god, then you have never truly perceived that god.

It’s that reverence that moves us to give offerings to our deities.

When I ask a god for help with magic, obviously I try to give them something in return, if I feel it’s appropriate. (Some deities and ancestors just like to help, and it feels wrong to pay them off.) A glass of wine. Some flowers. A homemade cookie. It depends on the deity and the magic. But I try to give something.

Most of the time, though, I give out of the sheer joy of giving. I try to give milk to the Morrigan semi-regularly by pouring a jar of it into my garden. When I’m out in nature, I sometimes arrange some stones or flower petals into a circle as a hello. (The first time I did this, I soon came upon a bigger circle of stones on a part of the trail I’d already passed. I hadn’t heard any signs of other people around.) Giving gifts feels good. I marvel at the feeling of peace and contentment that comes over me when I tip that jar into the soil or place that cookie on my altar.

And when I think of giving offerings, I think of bigger offerings, too. I think of offerings of service. I think of myself as an offering. I have told my gods that I will do their work. I haven’t gotten an assignment yet, but I wait and try to be patient.

Sometimes I destroy my offerings: I bury the cookie or throw a piece of bread into the fire. Other times–say, if I’m offering something I’ve harvested from my garden–I’ll leave it on the altar for the god to eat and then take it and cook it for dinner. I go by intuition.

Our relationships with our deities are allowed to be complex. We can be supplicants one day and partners the next. Our minds are as flexible as our gods, and they can hold multitudes.

May your offerings bring you closer to the gods you love the most.

Pagan Blog Project – Nature Goddess: My Morrigan

I had a post all planned for the Pagan Blog Project’s M week. I was going to write about the Morrigan. I was going to pour out everything I’ve been ruminating on for the past several months, as I’ve studied her, spoken with her, gotten to know her, dedicated myself to her. I was going to bring in Kali, crows, the significance of the color black. I was going to talk psychology. It was going to be a very long post.

But I got so tangled up in what I was trying to puzzle together that I missed both deadlines and barely looked at my blog for two weeks. I was so afraid I’d say something stupid.

We’ve had a guest staying with us this week, and I haven’t been doing my devotionals. I haven’t been lighting my incense or burning my essential oils. I’m afraid the smell will waft downstairs or the guest will hear me whispering and I’ll have to answer questions. The Morrigan isn’t impressed, but she’s been patient.

I have, though, been tending my garden. In my garden I have tomatoes, zucchinis, sunflowers, strawberries, lemons, nasturtiums, lavender, basil, mint, rosemary, and jasmine. Hey, sometimes a plant even produces a fruit or flower or two! Much of the time the garden is a source of frustration and stress–why are the lemons dropping again? Why is the zucchini dying? Why does the mint taste bad?–but it’s also a place that calls to me. It’s just a few pots on a patio but I’m drawn to it. I’m compelled to examine each flower, touch each leaf, whisper “welcome” to each new seedling. It’s where I commune with Cernunnos. It’s where I blow kisses to the moon. It’s where I drum while my daughter dances her funny toddler dance. And it’s where I give the Morrigan her offerings of milk.

I tried to see her as a battle goddess, as a sovereignty goddess, as a psychopomp. I tried to meditate on war and violence and colonization, thinking she had wisdom to share with me. And I know she does. But despite all that, when I think of her, all I can think about is nature. Wild lands. Hidden spiders. Twisting vines and running water. Green growing things.

I expressed in my hymn that the Morrigan fertilizes the grass with blood. This is true. Life comes out of death, and Morrigan is the one who culls, who splits open the body and disassembles it. The Morrigan doesn’t always fight on the right side, the Indigenous side or the side with nicer people or a better cause. Every body is of equal value to the Morrigan. that’s her mystery.

Cernunnos turns corpses into trees; the Morrigan supplies those corpses.

I always feel like I have to apologize for the fact that, for me, the Morrigan is primarily a goddess of the earth. For me, it’s not just one of her aspects–the fertile ground that becomes the battle field–it’s her fundamental aspect. The aspects of battle and sovereignty and prophecy and magic are offshoots. It’s the face she shows me, again and again and again, even when I try to find the others. She’s no gentle mother goddess, though–she is fierce and possessive and untamable. Her love is the love of a mama cat hissing and clawing to protect her kittens. Her love is the crow dive-bombing the hawk.

For awhile I thought I should take up a martial art as service to her. But I just have no interest in martial arts (except maybe archery). And yet she calls me incessantly. In a dream, she was teaching me to dance. The wild places make me want to dance. Tonight, on my roof, I danced by my garden, twirling in my sandals. I have no interest in warfare.

She’s the thorn on the squash plant that makes you pay for your dinner. She’s the hideous spider who bites you and keeps beetles from wrecking your plants. She’s the tree who falls on the person who didn’t deserve it, the frenzy that allows the fighter to win, the tingling of precognition, the rush of inspiration that turns into a poem, the feeling of hauntedness in the dark that is terrifying and beautiful. She’s the one-eyed hag who smiled at me during trance work, before I ever learned that Cu Chulainn put out her eye. She is my anger and my courage. She is my fierce, unapologetic love.

Nothing I’ve written here captures what she is, because she can’t be expressed in words.

She is the river and the field and the rooftop garden, the Great Queen, the crow, the horse, the eel, the wolf, the cow. She is death, death, death, and life, life, life, life, life.

A Hymn to the Morrígan

O Morrígan,
You are an ancient power.
Before blade and bullet,
Before tooth and talon,
You were there, feeding the grass with blood.
O Queen,
Teach me to face my rage and sadness and shame
And mold them into weapons
That slice through delusion
From now until the end of things.
Help me walk in love and peace,
O lamenter of souls.
Let me look upon your face without fear.

So mote it be.